Sunday, June 30, 2013

Missing Papa: Part II

In one of their last conversations, my father-in-law told Mama Goof:
Quiero un caballo.
What kind of horse, Daddy?
Why do you want a yellow horse? 
Para ir a mi casa.
But we couldn’t take him home.  My father-in-law, one of the best men I’ve ever known (and I’ve known my share of the great and the good), was losing his mind.
Papa (his daughters called him Daddy, but I called him Papa) was well taken care of.  He couldn't stay at home, his wife and sister couldn't care for im. hHis children placed him in a comfortable assisted living home.  They found a caretaker for him who did everything in his power to make their beloved Papa comfortable.  The caretaker came from a place where the elderly are revered and he cared for Papa as though it were his own father.  At the funeral, the caretaker shed many tears.
But the loving care could only be a palliative in a lousy situation.
Did he know who we were?
He wasn’t speaking much.  He mumbled a bit in Spanish, a word here and a word there were clearThe little Goofs were wonderful.  They never complained about visiting abuelo and were never uncomfortable around him.  They hugged him and kissed him.  They puttered around in the big yard at the home.  GoofGirl picked grapefruits off the trees and GoofBoy played pool with some of the other residents.
Abuelo made regular circuits around the yard – his caretaker knew he had to move at least a little every day.  The little Goofs walked with him.  GoofBoy “played” ball with him.  GoofGirl drew a picture for a school assignment with the caption, “I helped my abuelo walk.”
With Alzheimer’s the mind goes.  But does the soul remain?
Papa worked hard his whole life.  Sitting still was never an option for him.  As long as he was able at the home he puttered in the yard picking up leaves and shredding them.  And he scouted the yard for things to disassemble.  The caretaker would laugh and tell us, “He’s looking at the water outlet and hoses for his next attack.”
Still, without tools he couldn’t really get to work.  He tore apart his bed on a regular basis – frustrated and for something to do.
One time, I saw a gleam in his eye as some workmen opened up the shed in the yard.  Papa knew if he could just get into that shed, he would find the tools he needed and maybe even his caballo amarillo.  Then he could go home.
I won't post  pictures from the home, they are too said for me.  I prefer to remember him strong, vigorous, and smiling - while working in the yard or sipping Moxie Blue Cream soda his son-in-law bought at a joke.  We really only had one (and later three) things in common.  But we got each other ok.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Missing Papa: Part 1

This is MamaGoof's first Father's Day without her father, although in a sense we lost him years ago.

My father-in-law was one of my heroes - a strong brave man.  (He wasn't a substitute father, I've got a dad and I'm good with him.  This isn't about my dad, it's about my father-in-law.)  He was born in a backwoods town in Guatemala in the 1920s.  He didn't know his father and his mother died young.  He and a half-sister were farmed out to relatives who made them work.  And that's what he did, he worked.  He told me a story about playing matador with the "little bulls" on a farm where he was a hand (he smiled, but it sounded terrifying).  I also heard a story about his working at a brewery - that sounded less terrifying.

He and his sister, Nana, ended up at the German Consulate and an American family looking for domestics visited Guatemala and hired them.  They did that for a while, then my father-in-law started working in construction - he got along well with some difficult bosses because he could do the job right.  Nana worked as a seamstress at a factory, there she met a nice lady and suggested that she meet her brother.

Papa went to work at a GM factory, a hard job, but even harder since he worked the evening shift and had spent all day doing yard-work for extra money.  They invested that money well - Catholic school for their four children.  It paid off, they got a two medical doctors, a PhD in statistics, and a dental hygienist out of it.  It isn't just that the children are all accomplished, but that they help people, they relieve pain and cure illness.

I know there is a lot more to this story and it is to my great regret that I didn't learn Spanish so I couldn't really talk to them.  Although they were always very sweet to me.

He could build or fix anything. He had a number of inventions around the house, and I can only imagine what he could have accomplished with a fraction of the blessings he provided his children (or that yours truly takes for granted.)

He wasn't just a Horatio Alger, doing right all the time.  He had a big infectious smile and loved to joke.  His formal education was limited, but he loved to make clever puns (that I couldn't appreciate because they were always in Spanish.)

He traveled with a tin of pequin chilis because he needed the fire (his daughter inherited his high tolerance for radioactive food.)  He always offered one to me, grinning.  Wisely, I declined.

Growing up, MamaGoof thought her father was Fred Flintstone.  He worked in construction, had a big square face, and loved his ribs - it made perfect sense.

And he loved being a Grandfather.  He and the little Goofs would putter around the yard, poking at plants and exploring his endless collection of tools.  We would go to the park and he would happily dig in the sand with his grandchildren.  On the ride to the park, he and GoofBoy would play-fight in the backseat and laugh.