This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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It was a very quiet and sober trip home for all of us. After arriving at the airport and taking the limo home, I just sat down in my favorite chair and let the tears roll. It took me several days to calm down. I started writing letters about twice a week and was receiving letters about twice a week. At Christmas I sent clothes, toys, games, books and anything else I thought they would enjoy. I didn't receive any presents (I didn't expect any) but did get some homemade cards and pictures the children and drawn. To me these were just as precious as a gift.
I had been talking with Padre Juan every couple of weeks and he would keep me informed about letters he had received from Padre Miguel. I was also supporting Padre Juan's church with a monthly pledge which he greatly appreciated. He told me that most of my donations were going to support some of the poor families in his parish.
About the middle of February I received a call from Padre Juan.
"Paul", he started, "I just had a call from a friend in Veracruz and received some very disturbing and devastating news. I don't know how to gently tell you this so I'll just come right out with it. There has been a lot of rain in the San Pedro area, a dam above the village broke and there was a flash flood. A lot of adults have been killed and the row of houses closest to the river have been swept away. All of the children were at school and are safe. There are about 19-20 adults/parents either dead or missing, and I think José and Mercedes are among those. They were all working their gardens alongside the river."
"Oh my God," I exclaimed as I collapsed on the couch. "I have to get down there for the children. Are you free to go or do you have other obligations? If you can go when can you be ready?"
"I do have an obligation for a funeral tomorrow afternoon, but can be ready day after tomorrow. Do you think we can get airline reservations that soon?" he said.
I stated, "I don't plan to use commercial to get there. I am chartering a private jet for early day after tomorrow. I'll make all the arrangements including hotel reservations in Veracruz and SUV or truck rental and call you back with the details. Did your friend say anything about the roads to San Pedro?"
"He said a lot of the roads in the valley along the river had been washed out, but they were working feverishly to get them repaired so emergency personnel could get into the area as San Pedro was not the only village affected," he replied. "I know how much you cared for the Gomezes and especially your love for those three children. I'll await your call."
We sadly hung up and I begin making calls. I was able to charter a Lear jet for 6:00 AM day after tomorrow, then made reservations for a two bedroom suite at one of the better hotels in Veracruz. I also was able to reserve a Hummer, but not as large as the one we had last summer. I figured with bad road conditions that would be the best. I called Juan back and told him of the arrangements. He said that would be fine. I told him I would pick him up at 5:15 AM.
I picked him up and we arrived at Butler Aviation about 5:50 AM. Our Lear was ready and we departed right at 6:00 AM. Our flight was uneventful. We were both down and our moods were somber. We just made small talk and both took a nap as we were up so early.
We arrived at Veracruz about 11:00 AM, and picked up the Hummer. I asked if they knew anything about the roads to San Pedro. They informed me they were still working on them but with the Hummer I could probably get through. We stopped at the hotel to check-in, dropped off our luggage, and after a quick lunch, headed for San Pedro.
What usually took about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive from Veracruz to San Pedro took us almost 2 hours to negotiate the heavy equipment and bad road conditions. We arrived in San Pedro a little after 3:00 PM. I parked at the edge of the village and we walked to the school. We quietly entered and stood in the back of the room for a few minutes just looking at the children. Maria Theresa turned and saw us standing there. She immediately jumped up and ran to me saying, "Pablo Grande, Pablo Grande." Carlos was right behind her. I knelt down and embraced both of them. They both were sobbing and held on to me for dear life. I soothed them and whispered, "Everything is going to be alright," over and over.
Padre Miguel came over and embraced both of us, me still holding on to Maria Theresa and Carlos, and profusely thanked us for coming so quickly. I said, "Where is Pablo Poco." He took me by the arm and led me over to a window, pointed up the hill and said, "Right there." I saw little Pablo sitting on the ground between what was obviously two new graves. Padre Miguel stated, "We buried José and Mercedes late yesterday afternoon. Pablo has been there ever since. He hasn't left the graves. He hasn't cried, hasn't eaten and even refused to come down here to sleep last night. I checked on him late last night and he was asleep between the graves. I covered him and left him alone. He refused to come down here to eat breakfast or lunch."
I gently put Maria Theresa and Carlos down and told them, "You wait here. I have to go see about your brother." I quietly walked up the hill. Little Pablo's back was to me and he didn't hear me coming.
I stood quietly behind him for a minute and then said, "Pablo Poco." He stiffened, turned and saw me and flew into my arms almost knocking me down saying over and over, "El Papa and la Madre are dead, El Papa and la Madre are dead."
I said, "I know and I came as quickly as I could. Everything is going to be alright." I picked him up and said, "Come with me. You need to see your brother and sister and get something to eat since you haven't eaten for awhile. You need to eat to keep up your strength."
I stumbled down to the school as the tears in my eyes were blurring my vision. We entered the school and Carlos and Maria Theresa again rushed over to me. I put little Pablo down and embraced all three crying kids. I again kept telling them, "Everything is going to be alright."
I asked Padre Miguel if he had something for little Pablo to eat. He said there was some soup on the stove in the church kitchen and left to get him some. He came back with a bowl of soup and some bread. I spoon fed little Pablo for a few bites and then he took over and practically inhaled the rest.
I figured the kids were not going to leave my side for any reason, so I sat down with both Padres and said, "First, what do you need in the way of non-perishable food. Let's make a list and I'll use my satellite phone, call in an order to Veracruz and have it delivered as soon as possible."
We completed our list, I got from Information the number for a supply house in Veracruz, and called in the order. They knew of the situation in San Pedro and promised to have the order delivered the next morning.
We then begin discussing how many children were left parentless and what we could do about it. I said, "Don't worry about these three, I'll take care of them in a way I'll explain later." It turns out there were 23 children (not including my three) left without parents, but about 7 had aunts or uncles still in the village who would take them in. I asked if there were any other villages downstream in the same situation as San Pedro. Padre Miguel said there were two other smaller villages that had about 12 orphans between them. He further stated that they were currently being cared for by non-relatives in the villages.
I asked him what he thought we could do about the situation. He said somehow he would like to keep the 16 San Pedro children together. I said okay, let's put up a building to house them in! He look startled and said, "What?" I repeated myself and said we would build an orphanage next to the existing school. It would be two stories with a central staircase. Up stairs would be two large rooms on either side of the stairway. One for boys and one for girls and each side would have it's own large bath. The downstairs would contain a large living/dining area and kitchen on one side and an apartment on the other to house a resident/supervisor for the children. He just gaped at me. I said if we make it large enough we could also bring in the 12 children from the other two villages.
He said, "Can you afford something like that?"
I said, "Don't worry, money is not a problem. Anything I spend down here I can write off on my taxes as a donation."
He just sat there and stared at me as I picked up my satellite phone and called the same contractor that had built the school telling him I wanted to put up another building in San Pedro.
I distracted Padre Miguel by asking what other supplies we needed. I could see that the children were sleeping on the hard floor of the school, so I immediately started the list with a couple dozen mattresses, clothes in various sizes for the children, etc.
It was getting late by now and a lot of the younger children had already curled up on the floor around the room and gone to sleep including my three.
I said, "I told you earlier not to worry about little Pablo, Carlos and Maria Theresa. It is my intention to adopt them and take them back to the States with me. Where do I get birth certificates for each of them and death certificates for José and Mercedes as I am sure I will need that to start the adoption proceedings."
He seemed to be in a daze but answered, "In the larger cities that is taken care of by the city governments, but in the case of small villages like San Pedro it is taken care of by the local priest. I can supply you with the necessary certificates."
I said, "Great." I turned to Padre Juan and said I intended to stay here for a couple of days and then take the three children back to Veracruz with me for a few days so I could find a family lawyer and start adoption proceedings. He said that would be fine.
I said I was a little tired and ready to turn in. I went out, hit the school's outhouse, came back in and stretched out between little Pablo and Carlos. I picked up Maria Theresa and placed her on my stomach. The two boys immediately snuggled into my sides and that's the way we slept that night.