Pinky Pie

When all else fails & me

Posted on: November 6, 2009

Our lady of Guadalupe

Andy and I enjoying our boat ride in the canals of the floating gardens of Xochimilco on the same day as our visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

I had lunch at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine today. When my friend, Nancy, suggested it, I was wondering if it was an attempt to cure my cancer in ways other than chemotherapy. You know, when all else fails, you go to Lourdes.

No, it was not a religious experience. Nancy, who was born and raised in La Crosse, was back for a family visit and had heard it was a great place to eat. It was.

It’s also in a beautiful location south of La Crosse that has become an incredible tourist attraction for some of the faithful. I say some because others have wondered about the investment that created the shrine in La Crosse, Wisconsin, so far from Mexico.

But I’m not here to discuss the controversy. I’m here to remember my last visit to the Shrine of Our Lady Of Guadalupe although that actually was in Mexico.

I was just ten years old and my parents, who loved to travel, took us to Mexico on a three-week trip one summer. But that was not without our spending a year as a family going to weekly Spanish lessons at the Berlitz Language School in St. Louis.

Berlitz, which dated back to 1878, primarily provides language and cultural instruction to business people (or I guess businessmen in those days) traveling abroad. It was rare for a family to take such lessons, especially for a vacation.

But my dad was a quirky guy who did not want us to be “ugly Americans” expecting everyone to speak our language. He wanted us to be able to speak their language. So every week we went to Berlitz, where Señora Garcia attempted to put Spanish in our heads.

What makes the story even better, is that my brother Andy was in his first year of Hebrew school in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. It was far less common for girls to study then for Bat Mitzvah, but that is a different story.

As Andy recalled, he was not the best Hebrew student. “I was as interested as any Hebrew school student could be,” he said.

In fact on the day of his first big test in Hebrew Andy blew it – earning an F. “I was doomed,” he said. “I went home wondering how I would explain to Mom and Dad that I was flunking out of Hebrew school.”

That night Dad came home late to dinner and announced to Andy, “I’m pulling you out of Hebrew school.”

“Oh really,” Andy said, trying to remain cool.

“Yes, we are going to Berlitz to take Spanish lessons. It will be much more practical,” Dad said.

“It was at that point in my life that I knew that there was a God,” Andy told me.

The Hessels took weekly Spanish lessons, which started with dinner before at Mrs. Hullings, a cafeteria. After Señora Garcia did her best to put Spanish in our heads, we stopped for a snack at the Toddle House.

As the story goes, once we arrived in Mexico, I never opened my mouth. That may have been the last time that happened.

So the Jewish Hessel family toured Mexico, visiting shrine after shrine, including of Our Lady of Guadalupe. According to Wikipedia, the shrine honored an image of Mary, mother of Jesus, who appeared miraculously on the front of a simple peasant’s cloak in 1521. That image is still on display in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and is Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural image.

We followed our visit to that shrine with a tour the same day of the floating gardens of Xochimilco, where we stared at a glass-bottom boat for what seemed like hours. Here’s what I remember most from that day: being green – but not with envy. I was sick as a dog and I have the picture to prove it.

If the truth be known, I’ve been a little queasy since my visit to the La Crosse shrine, which might be more of a pre-chemotherapy anxiety.

However, considering my track record with my previous visit to shrines in Mexico, I’ll stick with the chemotherapy/radiation cure.

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