Monday, December 12, 2011

Born September 3rd, 1937

I love my Daddy, born Aristeo Gomez, but known as "Ted Gomez" over the years. Born and raised in west Texas, in the Stamford-Anson region near Abilene. They were pretty poor--it was during the Depression, after all, that he was born--but things got even rougher when his mother (Dominga) left her husband (Jesus) and all the young kids to go chasing after another life, maybe another man--as I've heard. As the second-oldest child, Daddy had to quit school (after 6th grade) to stay home and help Jesus with work in the pastures (Daddy drove a tractor at the age of 12) and raising his siblings (Wendell, Paul, Adela, Lorenza, Stella, Ray, Martin, and Wally). He was gentle and creative, I imagine, because he certainly was by the time he got to raise me, my brother Ted, and sister Miranda. As a father, he was consistently very attentive, nurturing, and patient.

We heard that he once caught a baby raccoon (or two?) and gave it to his sisters for a pet. And for Christmas, all Jesus was able to provide was a paper sack with peanuts and maybe an orange or apple in it.

By the time Daddy was in his early 20s, he was a seasoned hard worker, enough so to have saved earnings to buy himself a new car. He dressed in the coolest threads, Levis and sports shirts and penny loafers. Or in a Western style, cowboy boots and snap-button Western shirt, again with the Levi jeans. And always, the well-coifed hair, with the help of the ever-present Three Flowers Brilliantine styling gel. (To this day, Mama says that whenever she has a chance to take a whiff of Three Flowers it reminds her of Daddy.) Daddy was definitely something to look at. Which is why I often refer to him--when describing him to my friends--as the "Mexican or Chicano James Dean." I really hope that he was happy and had great adventures in the years after he was done raising his siblings and before he had a family of his own.

Love you forever, Daddy.

My daddy as Buddha

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to look back on our fathers as "heroic" but I'll go a bit further and add that, for over a decade now, I've also thought of him as a "Buddha." Strong but silent, patient and enduring, and always kind and helpful. In this early picture, taken in the 1960s, he looks to me like the James West character of the tv series "Wild, Wild West." But instead of a gun-slinging Secret Service agent, Daddy was a ranch hand and field worker who could do everything from shearing sheep and branding and herding cattle to picking cotton and other agricultural products. Because he loved cars, he became a self-taught auto mechanic and he worked on all of our cars--especially near inspection time.

He and Mama loved to dance and she tells us that together they once won a jitterbug dance contest. If only I could have seen that. She and Daddy would sometimes travel to the Mexican town of Acuna to see the bullfights, and to go dancing. The photos we've saved from those trips show a quite stylish couple, looking glamorous and happy. My parents truly loved and cared for one another. I would say that Mama is still in love with him--even after two decades of him being gone. That's enduring love.

21 years ago today: December 12, 1990

Daddy wrote me one letter after I left for college in Maryland. It was the first time I'd been so far from the family on my own for more than a weekend away. It's a precious letter, which I'll keep for rereading for the rest of my life. In it, Daddy wrote how quiet the household was without me and how, when he arrived home from his night job--and i wasn't there doing my homework or up to greet him--that is when he missed me most of all.

There are many many things that could be written about Daddy: what i have heard about his life before my birth and what i remember about him from his years as my father. Those complete and detailed accounts will come in time. For today, suffice to say: he was an amazing man and father, husband and sibling. He left us way too soon, way too young.

On December 12th, 1981--on Virgen de Guadalupe Day--he was overtaken by a brain tumor that had probably been a sinister invader growing since before i'd left for my first semester at college. The next day, December 13th, i received a fateful call from Texas that Daddy was going to have emergency surgery to remove the just-detected tumor, but not soon enough to save the vision in his left eye. Things went on a sometimes-nightmarish freefall from there for Daddy. (He was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes and eventually lost complete eyesight in his right eye, becoming completely blind.)

These changes affected the entire family, of course, and imposed hardships too painful to detail even decades after their occurrence. But i must mention that the Virgen de Guadalupe has figured quite significantly in our family as well. It was on her celebration day (December 12th, 1981) that Daddy was diagnosed to have the brain tumor. It was on Virgen de Guadalupe day that he passed quietly away (December 12th, 1990) after almost ten long years of illness and neglect. Gone but never forgetton, as they say.

So, once again, another Virgen de Guadalupe day to commemorate and remember. It's been twenty-one years without Daddy as i first knew and loved him. But our relationship is stronger than ever, existing on another, more ethereal and spiritual, plane, which sometimes manifests in the most mysterious and miraculous ways. I'll leave those details and explanations for a future date.

Rest in eternal peace, Daddy. And thank you for the gentle surprises and welcomed gifts that you continue to bestow upon me. I love you forever.