In Search of the Zone

This post also appears in North Queens Runner

Esther, Cristian and I after finishing our Hangover Fun Run
Esther, Cristian and I after finishing our Hangover Fun Run

This morning Esther and I continued a family tradition when we took Cristian to Eisenhower Park for the New Year’s Day 5-Mile Hangover Fun Run (can something two-years old be called  a tradition).  For some of you my last sentence is one big oxymoron—New Year’s Day, Hangover, Running, all of the above.

The tradition started last year when our friend Coach Maria sent our team an email suggesting we run this event as a team-building exercise.  Esther and I bundled up our barely three-month old son anxious for the chance to mix activity and socialization.  Although we both ran slow awkward miles it was the spark we both needed to get moving.

Cristian always seems to find a friend
Cristian always seems to find a friend

Wednesday Morning I posted The Road Back on both blogs.  It wasn’t a resolution post, I wrote about setting new goals and creating new habits.  This morning was the first step.  We got up early, bundled up the baby and headed out instead of crashing on the couch with the remote watching a Twilight Zone or Honeymooners Marathon.

Since I started running, I worked to find the zone, the elusive place where the miles are smooth and easy, and excuses are few and far between.  In the Zone, I’ve raced half marathons in 14 degree weather, 18 milers in driving rainstorms and ridden bike tours through flooded roads wondering whether or not I was going to blow a tire.

I’m not suggesting this morning’s slow creaky miles launched either of us into the Zone.  Every year on New Year’s Day, the gyms start filling up with people making resolutions to lose weight or fit into smaller clothes—those resolutions usually die a violent death around Valentine’s Day.

The morning was Day One, a chance to do something I love and reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a few months.  It was a chance to start creating healthy habits and hopefully the beginning of a family tradition.  If it leads to more, so be it.

With our friends and teammates
With our friends and teammates
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The Road Back

Running the 2012 Battle of Brooklyn 10 Miler
Running the 2012 Battle of Brooklyn 10 Miler

Note this post appears in North Queens Runner in addition to I’m Not Grandpa

I’m back in a familiar place—in front of the keyboard writing another how do I resolve my weight gain post.  I’ve written several over the years, like this one and this one.

Keeping fit gets tougher as you get older, this year was more difficult than past years. Being a stay-at-home Dad, managing my Dad’s health care during his illness, and caring for Mom, were among the challenges I faced. A sedentary consultant gig didn’t help much either.

It’s not like I’ve been completely inactive, I haven’t been able to maintain consistency.  Every time I’d gain traction, something came along and derailed my progress.

The way my clothes fit and how my bulging belly looked in pictures, I knew I gained weight, I just didn’t know how much.  A few weeks ago I replaced a broken bathroom scale—it was a wake-up call.  Like recent pictures of me, it wasn’t flattering.

halloween party 2

The scale said 225.  Stupid scale.  This was before celebrating the Christmas holiday with the family. Two days of solid eating, lasagna, ribs, pernil, chased with beer, wine and coquito (Puerto Rican Egg Nog) and lots of desserts during Christmas Eve spent with my family and Christmas Day with Esther’s pushed the scale to 228 as of yesterday morning.

Now it’s time to fix the problem.  This isn’t a resolution post—I don’t make resolutions—I set goals.  My current goal is more about creating new habits, than resolving to lose 15 or 20 pounds.  My first goal is getting active or more accurately fitting activity time into an already busy schedule.

Over the past few days I started with slow runs, actually run/walks. Sunday Morning Esther and I bundled the baby up taking him for a long walk in his jog stroller.  This morning I woke up at 5am before things got hectic and ran for 30 minutes, it was more of a challenge since Cristian woke me up at 1:30 this morning for a bottle.

My second goal is eating healthier and smaller portions.  Although I started running again, unless I consume less calories than I burn, I’ll keep gaining weight.

Motivation is important and mine is simple, it’s not about race times, personal records, or about maintaining my brand as the Badass 50-something marathon running first-time dad, it’s about Cristian.  He’s getting bigger and more energetic and deserves a dad who is there for him.  I owe him that.

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RIP Chico

Posing Chico

I started blogging because the thought a 50-year old first-time dad’s journey into uncharted territory was too good to pass on.  I envisioned light-hearted posts written with a mix of sarcasm and sentiment, along with a few serious posts.

At the time I had no idea, I would be writing two eulogy posts in three months

I will always remember 2015 as a bittersweet year.  Watching Cristian’s progression from fragile newborn to curious toddler is the highlight.  Burying my father after a long illness was painful.  Thursday night, Esther and I shed more tears, when we made the painful decision to put Chico to sleep.

I tried writing this post when I got home Thursday night.   After placing Cristian in his crib I sat down at the keyboard but my mind was flooded with too many memories and emotions.  The post just didn’t want to be written.

Chico in Hoodie

As a teenager, my sister-in-law Rose Marie, or Nequi, her family nickname, wanted a dog.  One evening her father brought her a mysterious bag as a birthday gift.   Placing the moving bag on the living room floor out came two puppies, Chico and Chica.  Chico staggered out and headed directly to Esther.

At the time the Santiago family knew little about caring for a puppy—much less two—that changed quickly.  Esther learned fast asking friends, co-workers, and pet store owners for tips and advice.

Taken from their mother at about two weeks old the family took turns bottle feeding Chico and Chica baby formula.  Swaddling Chico in a blanket Esther carried him like a baby.   Neighbors rushing over to see a baby were greeted by a dog snout.

When caring for two puppies became overwhelming, Esther found a new home for Chica, keeping Chico—he was friendlier.  He spent the rest of his life rewarding that decision.

One of his favorite places, lying in a pile of laundry
One of his favorite places, lying in a pile of laundry

Esther and Chico were together for over 18 years—her longest male relationship.  He was her first child, running partner and weather dog.  When Esther worked for a special-needs preschool, Chico’s morning walks served a dual purpose.  If he hopped like a bunny through snowdrifts after a heavy snowstorm, she called her boss canceling the day’s classes.

He was with her through good like the birth of nephews and godchildren and the bad, helping her cope with the loss of her first husband Luis, when he was killed in a car accident.  My late mother-in-law Maria called him her first grandchild.

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At Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.
At Shea Stadium for Bark at the Park Night.

I met Chico shortly after Esther and I started dating.  Before my first visit to her apartment, she warned me, “He’s protective and barks a lot when he meets new people.”  She was stunned when we started playing shortly after my arrival.

We bonded immediately, Chico had a special vibe—he didn’t think he was a dog, he thought he was a person.  I remember waking up in bed with the flu and finding him stretched out next to me with a contented look that said, “Great nap Frank.”

When I became a runner, I used Chico’s morning walks to gauge the morning’s weather so I knew what gear to wear for that morning’s race.

Chico stayed with Grandma Maria, when we had a travel race.  Together they watched novellas and Sabado Gigante.  Whenever Esther and I went out of town he knew Ritz Crackers, Hagen Dazs and Don Francisco were on the menu.

Chico with Santa
Chico with Santa

As parents we spoiled him taking him on two-mile walks.  We admired the Tudor houses while he played with the neighbors dogs or searched for the perfect tree.  Trips to the drive-through window included chicken nuggets for Chico.

We took him on many vacations with us.  He played among the pine trees in Maine, cruised the boardwalk in Asbury Park, and walked among the brownstones on Embassy Row in Washington DC.  Chico sat on my lap with his head out the window during my first trip to Florida.

He was my practice child.  Yes I’m a aware caring for a baby is more involved than caring for a dog—I’ve written about it but the responsibility and discipline I learned caring for my canine companion helped when Cristian was born.

Chico was with us through two miscarriages and three failed IVF cycles.  Sensing something was wrong he curled up with Esther offering comfort and warmth as if to say, “I’m here for you Mommy.”

Cristian’s birth was a rough adjustment for him, he initially refused to acknowledge him—that baby was taking time and attention usually devoted to him.  He acted up demanding a walk when I was giving the baby a bottle and avoided Cristian, walking around him whenever we placed the baby in front of him.

After a few weeks Chico accepted the baby, or maybe he realized that baby wasn’t going anywhere.  Coming inside from walks he stopped and sniffed Cristian’s feet and played with him as the baby rolled around on comforters.  He was patient when Cristian grabbed his fur or an ear.

Before long the boys started working as a team.  When Esther and I assembled the Cristian Zone, the baby’s play area, Cristian watched closely as Chico squeezed between the ottoman and the toy box—this was valuable information to be used for future escapes.

Wathing Sesame Street together in the Cristian Zone
Wathing Sesame Street together in the Cristian Zone

Chico started showing his age over the past months.  The sweet disposition was still there but after 18 plus years, his body started betraying him.  He hips weakened and he needed a diaper because he couldn’t hold his urine.  The vet, we took him to was shocked—he’d never treated a dog that old.

Last Tuesday night, he deteriorated further—his back legs stopped supporting him.  Wrapped in a blanket, on Esther’s lap with the World Series as background noise was painful—more painful than Jeurys Familia’s blown save.

Chico fought back Wednesday morning, giving us hope as he struggled out his bed.  Determined to walk, he staggered around on shaky legs defiantly squeezing into the Cristian Zone.  As evening approached we realized it was a false hope.

Waking up Friday morning was rough, Chico’s bed was empty, there was no dog to walk.  I miss his morning walks, with a cup of coffee in one hand and his leash in the other.  The memory of him racing Esther to the subway as she hurried off to work makes me smile as I type it.

His full name was Chicolindo, in Spanish, that means Pretty Boy.  In Esther’s family there is a long line of Chicolindos—until now.  Sitting in the vet’s waiting room, I suggested it’s time we retire the name.

We stayed with him to the end—I’m comforted knowing he went peacefully. He was an amazing dog who was more than a pet—he was family.  We spoiled him giving him a great life and he rewarded us with better memories.

We will miss you my friend.

Chicos Paw Print

 

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Just Roll With It

Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.
Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.

Responding to and meeting challenges is a big part of life, because you are constantly thrown curveballs.  Since Labor Day Weekend Esther and I have faced our fair share, making us long for something simple, like a sleepless night with a cranky baby.

Over the past years my Mom cared for Dad—putting her life on pause and neglecting her own health.  56 years of marriage makes you do that sort of thing.  During Dad’s illness, Mom and I spoke about her health, and maintaining the house as I drove her to and from the hospital and nursing home.

Eighty-five years old and restricted to a walker, those tasks are considerably tougher than they were five-years ago.   The neighbors helped, sweeping sidewalks, shoveling snow, and bringing in trash cans.  While much appreciated it’s not the sort of thing one can expect done on a consistent basis.

After many conversations with Mom and Esther both separately and together, we decided it was best if Esther and I moved in with her to.  Moving in with your mother at 51 is never an easy proposition—moving with a wife, baby and 18-year old dog, is a reality show in the making.

After Dad passed away in July, we started the twofold process of packing our apartment and decluttering Mom’s house—no small task. I come from a family of pack rats—it’s in our DNA.  My old bedroom looked more like an oversized walk-in closet than Cristian’s new bedroom.

Clearing a home after someone passes away is never easy—especially if you are doing while keeping an 11-month old baby entertained.   Fifty years of memories needed to be dealt with, old clothes, old pictures, and just plain old junk.

Moving day was the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.  Our team of friends and family (those who didn’t go away for the long weekend) squeezed the contents of our two-bedroom apartment into an already cluttered house.  It was like recreating the set of Sanford and Son.

Cristian’s room was priority one.  One group unloaded the truck moving things into various rooms, the garage and the backyard.   A second group reassembled the crib and looked for boxes marked “Baby’s Room.”

Chico enjoying his new front yard
Chico enjoying his new front yard

The first day was the roughest.  Boxes and packing bins were piled high everywhere creating an obstacle course.  I worried about the boxes in the backyard, many were covered but some weren’t.  Fortunately it didn’t rain.

Sitting in the basement on a third of my disassembled couch with a slice of cold pizza and a beer watching Chico navigate his new environment, I got twitchy wondering if we could put things in order. Making things worse my godmother called with bad news, her 18-year old grandson was killed in a car accident.

As usual Cristian provided stress relief after a chaotic day.  Peeking in on him he looked up from his stuffed animals, giving me a Hi Daddy smile.  Watching the baby play in his new room with Mom, reminded me why were doing this.

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When Esther and I planned the move, we knew there would be adjustments.  I love Mom but she’s old-school and a little blunt—sometimes more than a little.  At times her concepts on parenting differed from ours.  We came to help, but never lost sight of the fact.  We were in her house, not ours.

A main priority was maintaining normalcy in Cristian’s life while we adapted to our new environment.  This meant, not missing his My Gym classes, exploring new parks for him to play in and devoting time to him before during and after the move.

Esther and Cristian playing in the park
Esther and Cristian playing in the park

The rest of the weekend was a blur of boxes, bins, and garbage bags.  The stack of boxes shrunk as things took shape.  More than 70 bags of clothes were donated to the Salvation Army and I filled an entire donation bin—one of those huge containers one sees in your local supermarket parking lot.

Over 100 bags of trash and stacks of discarded cardboard boxes, and recycled items, ensured I’d become fast friends with the garbage men.  Maintaining the relationship Dad forged with them over the years was important, because months of dumping, organizing and decluttering still remain.

The house has a finished basement with a separate kitchen and bathroom.  We set it up as our apartment, with a newly constructed play zone for the baby—The Cristian Zone

In the reassembled "Cristian Zone."
In the reassembled “Cristian Zone.”

Tuesday night Esther, Mom, Cristian and I drove out to Eastern Long Island for my cousin’s wake.   It’s sad when someone dies so young—you wonder what might have been.

The next morning, Esther went to work while Cristian and I took another trip out east for the funeral.  Leaving the church for the cemetery, my phone rang.  A neighbor named Valerie had more bad news—this time about Mom.

Mom’s had issues with varicose veins for years.   I planned on asking for a referral to a specialist during her next round of doctor’s appointments—we never got the chance. Valerie and my cousin Annie were visiting when Mom’s vein popped, spewing blood, a lot of it.  She also fell out of the chair she was sitting in, crashing to the floor.

Valerie called an ambulance and escorted Mom and the paramedics to the hospital.  I called Esther, and asked if she could meet them at the Emergency Room.  Turning the car around I hurried home.

Thanking Annie for her for help and wrapping Mom’s leg as I took her home. I then dropped Cristian off with the babysitter before heading to the hospital.  Esther updated me on Mom’s condition-which tests were run which still remained.  When I finally saw Mom, she was literally white as a sheet.  She lost about a pint of blood and the doctors debated whether or not to transfuse her.

Bob joined us in the ER—the three of us listened as doctors updated us on her condition.  After spending most of the day in the ER, Mom was admitted to the hospital and placed under observation.

The next two weeks were spent visiting Mom in the hospital and consulting with doctors amazed at the lack of common sense.  During my first visit I was sent home for her walker.  Isn’t a walker something a hospital provides?  I guess not.

Although Mom looked better, she still didn’t look right.  Hospitals seem in a rush to discharge patients before they get sick—I thought treating sick people was a hospital’s function—silly me.

Two weeks later, Mom was sent to a rehab facility to regain strength and balance.  Cristian and I visited every morning—it was therapeutic for Mom and her roommate.  Mom’s room was a popular destination during our visits, nurses, aides and physical therapists stopped by to play with the baby.

During a visit Esther’s phone rang.   Her facial expression told me, it was bad news. Her aunt called from Puerto Rico informing her of an uncles passing.   He was only a few years older than me.  This was our families fourth in the past year—that’s too many.  I wondered if the Grim Reaper has the family on speed dial.

FullSizeRender (81)After a month in the hospital and rehab facility Mom was sent home, we were happy.  When she was away, Esther and I felt like children left alone while their parents were on vacation.  Fortunately for all involved, I didn’t do the Risky Business Dance.

Since Mom returned home I’ve worked with social workers, visiting nurses, and home aides and we’ve had appointments with specialists, managing her care.  When it gets overwhelming, I look at Cristian. His big smile and bigger personality tells me, take a breath and just roll with it.

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Going Home

Preface – This is a personal post.  It’s long and doesn’t quite fit the theme of this blog.  Some of the content appeared in previous posts.  It’s a very touching story about someone who meant so much to me.

These past weeks were rough — after three months of fighting Dad passed away due to pneumonia related to Pancreatic Cancer.  I’ve written about him, here and here and am comforted by the fact he died in his sleep of pneumonia before the cancer got him.

Dad had been in out of hospitals over the past ten years.  His procedures included a pericardial stripping , hip replacement, and a gall bladder removal — complications put him in the ICU for two weeks after he developed sepsis

When a doctor explained the details of a lung biopsy needed because of years of abestos exposure on job sites, the doctor stressed the recovery period would be painful.   He then asked Dad when he wanted to schedule the procedure, Dad’s reply was classic.  “Can we do it now?”

Mom and Dad celebrating Bob's second birthday party
Mom and Dad celebrating Bob’s second birthday party

My father was no stranger to death, his older brothers Manuel and Francisco died serving in the Spanish Civil War when he was a child.  His father passed shortly afterward of a broken heart.  He spent many years on merchant ships and freighters surviving two shipwrecks — he was one of only three who survived the second one.  Dad cheated death so many times, I wondered, how many lives does he have?

The past few weeks are a blur of funeral arrangements, phone calls and memories.  Some knew him as the man who installed a door or helped them put a new roof on their house.  Others knew him for the backyard barbeques he hosted and the huge spreads of grilled meat and sardines, homemade wine and sangria—but many knew little about him.

A familiar site, Dad working the grill.
A familiar site, Dad working the grill.

Jose Priegue was born the youngest of five children in 1926, in El Freijo, a small village in rural Spain.  Like his brothers he learned a trade, carpentry, at a young age, out of necessity.  Building and selling rowboats brought in money helping feed and clothe the family of seven.  Home Depot didn’t exist in the 1930’s so Dad and his brothers cut down trees and dragged them home for the wood needed before going to school.

In 1946 he was twenty years old.  Spain’s economy was still recovering from the Spanish Civil War and Europe’s was recovering from World War II, so he joined the Merchant Marine.  When he left home my grandmother told him, “Go find a better life for yourself, but remember if things don’t work out, you always have a home to come back to.”

With Mom and their Godson
With Mom and their Godson

So he went, travelling the world, he collected experiences. He told those stories after Christmas dinner and many summer barbeques.  Usually after a few too many glasses of wine or with a glass of cognac in his hand.  Bob and I didn’t fully appreciate stories of his many trips through the Panama Canal, or time spent in Pre-Castro Havana or arriving in Argentina a few days after Juan Peron was overthrown until we were older and had a few of our own life experiences.

After ten years of sailing on freighters Dad settled in Camden New Jersey where he caught a break.  A friend named Viña needed people for a project he was working on — The New Jersey Turnpike.   Viña  found him, and others like him offering jobs and giving a few a place to live, but there was a condition.

Dad and the others were what would be referred to today as undocumented aliens. Viña had a work visa and wasn’t going to jeopardize his status.  His condition was this…if immigration officials came looking for any of them, he wouldn’t hide them, he would give them up.

One night there was a knock on the door and Dad and two others were taken away. That night, having a pay stubs and a bank book in his pocket saved him from getting deported.  He insisted every employer withhold taxes from his paycheck, although he wasn’t a citizen, he enjoyed the benefits of this country and felt it was the right thing to do.  On that night it made a difference, the immigration agent realized this was a hard-working guy who needed a break, and let him go.

5678998For years he told us stories, Dad loved a good story, about working on the Jersey Turnpike but he never told us what he did.  Years later Bob and I took Dad to DC for a weekend trip so Bob asked him.  He helped build the concrete forms for 23 bridges.  I could see that, he was like a mountain goat, totally fearless when it came to heights.

Dad never forgot Viña’s kindness — in fact he paid it forward.  During his wake an older gentleman named Serafin came to pay his respects.  Walking up to Bob and me he told us, “I owe your father a tremendous debt.  When I came to this country he was the first person who helped me out.  He found me a job and got me into the union.  I saved my money and was able to start my own company.  My grandson started working for us last week.”

Growing up our home was a popular stop for newly arrived Gallegos.   Dad was from Galicia, the region in Northwest Spain sharing a border with Portugal.   Those from Galicia are known as Gallegos. Of all the stories I’ve heard over the past weeks, Serafin’s touched me most because this was part of Dad’s legacy.  Over the years he made many phone calls vouching for carpenters, plumbers and electricians with employers and union reps while Mom served them a home-cooked meal.

From Camden he moved to Spanish Harlem, it wasn’t his first choice — it was out of necessityHe quickly found out Spanish Harlem was a safe haven because immigration officers were afraid to go up there.

Dad with Raymundo
Dad with Raimundo

Expatriates usually find others from their part of the world.  In Spanish Harlem Dad met another Gallego named Raimundo, who is an important person to our family.  Raimundo is Bob’s Godfather, and when he married, Dad was invited to the wedding.  At the reception a charming bridesmade, captured his attention, but there were two problems.  First, she was with a date, and second he was not very confident speaking to women.

A few weeks later, when she and her boyfriend broke up, Raymundo called him up and told him, “I know you like her and the boyfriend is out of the picture.  If you’re still interested, this is your chance, get a move on.”  To make a long story short, Bob and I call this charming bridesmaid, Mom.

Mom and Dad married in 1959 and moved to Brooklyn.   After starting a family Mom and Dad moved to Queens.  He built the house Bob and I grew up in and where Mom still lives in 14 months of weekends and vacations assisted by a crew of skilled Gallegos.  Serafin and my Tio Francisco did most of the brickwork and half the roof.

Working hard to provide for his family, he worked overtime, and worked many side jobs rarely taking a vacation.  We weren’t like the other families who went to Lake George or Disney every year, Dad saved his vacation time.  When we took a vacation he made them count, taking us to Puerto Rico or Spain for six or eight weeks.  If you asked him he would say his favorite was taking us to Spain in 1970.

Dad with his niece Marilola, taken during the 1970 vacation.
Dad with his niece Marilola, taken during the 1970 vacation.

I was six-years old in 1970 so my memories consist of running through corn fields, feeding chickens, and riding in an oxcart El Carro de las Vacas with my aunts.  I also remember meeting my grandmother, Mama Maria and how much she spoiled us.  He always said bringing his kids to Spain so his mother could get to know them was the best gift he ever gave her.

Besides vacations, he had a family to raise.  This was before parenting books, websites or blogs.  He was old school, he was our father, not our best friend.  He didn’t give us everything we asked for, but we lacked for nothing.  He taught me that actions are more important than words.  Anyone can make a flowery speech, he backed it up.

I remember how proud he was when Bob joined the Navy and making him promise not to get a tattoo before he left for basic training.  Years later when Bob and his wife Alicia were building their dream home, he insisted on installing the kitchen cabinets.  He didn’t trust anyone else to do it.

As for me, he had my back when I changed my major from business to photography.  Before my senior year, one of my professors let me use his studio for a photoshoot.  For a third-year student this was like hitting the lottery.  I needed someone to help me bring props from home to the Manhattan studio, Dad, drove me in.

This trip was everything he hated.  After work he liked to watch the evening news with a beer and unwind, but off we went.  We headed to Manhattan on the Long Island Expressway in rush-hour traffic to the Midtown Tunnel.  In those days there was no E-Z Pass so you had to throw quarters into a basket to get through the tollbooth.

I handed Dad ten quarters and he missed the basket.  Rushing out of the car and scooping up quarters, amid the sounds of honking horns, and screaming motorists was rough.  I could only imagine him venting to Mom when he got home.

Driving through the tunnel, he turned to me and said, “You picked a field I know nothing about, so I can’t help you.  If you were a carpenter or electrician I could teach you and introduce you to others who could look out for you.  Just remember this, if you need me for anything, I’m there and remember you always have a home with us.”

Dad with Katie
Dad with Katie

Dad became a grandpa when my niece Katie was born, he waited 74 years.  Two years later a second granddaughter, Jenny was born.  Bob and I immediately noticed he was different as a grandfather than he was as a father.  This wasn’t our strict old-school father, he was a doting grandpa.  He adored his granddaughters spoiling them like our grandmother spoiled us but one thing was missing — a grandson.

As he got older Dad didn’t like receiving gifts, Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day — his response was always the same.  “Why are you wasting your money, I don’t need anything.” So last year on his birthday, I gave him a gift he could appreciate.

Dad meeting Cristian for the first time.
Dad meeting Cristian for the first time.

Taking him to a doctor’s appointment I told him, “Esther was having a boy — you’ve got your grandson.”   Words weren’t necessary — the smile on his face is my second favorite memory of him.  My most precious memory of him was putting Cristian in his arms so he could hold his grandson for the first time.  His smiling face showed me how precious a gift it really was.

As you get older, things are taken away from you, that’s how life is.  First your doctor may tell you to cut down on the red meat, or wine.  Then you are no longer able to do tasks you were able to do when you were younger.  Like fix a leak in the roof.

I remember when the roof leaked, Mom convinced Dad, who was in his late 70s to let Bob fix it.  She reasoned, “he’ll come by on Sunday, bring the girls, we’ll barbeque and have fun.” Dad agreed — a little too quickly.  So when Mom left to do some grocery shopping, Dad took out the ladder.

I arrived late but remember Dad sitting at the picnic table in the backyard.  Mom was on one side and Bob on the other side reprimanding him.  The mischievous look on his face said, “five minutes more and I would have gotten away with it.”

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Then your friends and loved ones start passing away.  Over the past ten years I’ve attended too many wakes and funeral masses.  Some losses hit harder than others but none are easy.

Dad loved a good story so it’s only fitting his funeral gave us one we’ll be telling for years.  Leaving the church the skies became cloudy and turned dark gray upon arriving at the cemetery.   The light drizzle we felt upon getting out of our cars became a driving rain storm.  A friend told me if it rains during a funeral, it’s God’s way of acknowledging receipt of a good man.

Huddled together under umbrellas we listened to the priest’s final prayers. Due to the slippery conditions it wasn’t safe for anyone to climb onto the platform and place roses onto the coffin.  The family took turns tossing them towards the casket but they all fell in the mud.  It was bittersweet but due to the circumstances understandable.

Mom sat with my Godmother in Bob’s car holding their roses during the rainstorm.  Restricted to a walker, she was unable to make it through the mud to the gravesite. Looking at us upon returning to the car, we knew exactly what she wanted.

Turning to me Bob said, “Mom asked us to do this, so let’s do it right.”  Taking their roses we marched through the heavy rain and mud without umbrellas.  Climbing onto the platform we placed our roses on his casket and said our goodbyes to Dad.

Although I’m sad Dad is gone, I comforted that he’s gone home.  Home to the parents he loved, home to the brothers whose lives were taken too soon, home to the sisters who doted on their baby brother.   I’m sure he’s sharing wine and sardines and swapping stories with those who passed before him.

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I remember arriving at my uncle’s home during vacations.  After the hugs and kisses on both cheeks, like they do in Europe, Dad told his sisters, nieces and nephews, I missed you.  We are going to have a great time but remember one thing, I won’t be here forever.  There will be a day when I have to leave.  When that day comes I don’t want to see any tears because we were lucky enough to share this time together.  That is as apt an analogy for a six-week vacation as it is for 89 years of life.

 

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