Monday marked the anniversary of my father's passing. The year was 1977. I recall my mother waking us late at night to tell us the news. I was in grade school then. I have a vague memory of somebody handing my mom a folded American flag at the funeral. (My father served our country in Vietnam.) Apart from that, there's not much to tell about that pivotal time.
The details of how my father died have always been uncertain. The official cause was determined to be aspiration. But my mother didn't know if my father choked on his vomit after a night out drinking; or if he swallowed rain water after falling asleep somewhere near the downtown area.
My father wasn't always around. Recollections of him are scattered and hazy. His persona is patched together through a smattering of stories and a few photographs. On occasion, my father worked in construction -- his specialty being brick laying. According to my mother, he had a hand in building St. Patrick Church on Del Mar Blvd. I know I've seen a photo of him wearing khaki work pants and tan boots. But to this day, I don't know if the building trades was something he enjoyed or simply an accessible form of employment.
My father was far from perfect, but he had his moments. Whether it was his commendation for being in combat, his contribution to society, or the helping hand he gave those he loved, he somehow managed to show signs of greatness. One particular event that brought out the best in him was the time he had to carry his nieces home through flood conditions. My relatives remember the story fondly, of the time one of their own acted like a hero. My father, it's been said, walked several blocks through knee-high waters in order to get his nieces home. My cousins were scared, but my dad reassured them that all would be okay.
There might actually be a newspaper clipping in existence showing my father and his nieces on that fateful day. It may have taken place on May 10, 1972. It's my mission to hunt down that photo. It may not be that hard, given that old newspaper issues are on file at the public library.
My father didn't live long enough to boast about the things he did. And unfortunately, I don't know if he was the kind to blow his own horn. He had a lot of flaws, but he made up for it with honorable acts that most can't lay claim to.
I salute those who leave their mark on the world, as little as it may be. (On the other hand, I don't appreciate those who live for the spotlight.)
Courtesy photo: City of Laredo. [construction site at downtown outlet mall]
Reader submission: Legend has it that an ugly baby was born before the flood of 1972. The nurse said, "que bebe tan feo." And the baby replied, "mas feo va estar el dia de las madres."