I have shared my dream and hope to write and publish a collection of my fathers stories. My sister and I began our caregiving for dad more than 15 years ago, it was quite a journey that ended just last December. I now have a decade and a half of experiences tucked into my journal, where I tend to process everything. A journal is a very inexpensive therapist and a patient listener.
As I moved along in my caregiving experiences I realized that my apa was telling his life stories and experiences, hijole! I am thankful that I started taking notes.
I had to have a pen, paper or any available writing tool and surface to record his stories. The most random activities or situations provoked dad’s early memories and I had to be quick with the draw of my pen. Sometimes, I was quick enough to open up my notes on my phone, but other times, napkins, newspaper pieces, scraps of packaging or backs of cartons, asi es, I began to capture his story. Ya se, you’re probably wondering why I just didn’t video him. I did try a few times, but I’m terrible with my phone and it’s camera. Grabbing a pen was quicker.
As life would have it, my apas life, se fue gastando poco a poco. As dad got weaker we got busier with his needs. It was too hard to remember to write notes, I had to focus on the present with him. We had to talk about current things so he wouldn’t forget his children or brothers. He had too many nietos y bis nietos to even try to stick them into his memory. I had to lay aside my yellow folder where I collected my notes. I didn’t realize that those current events would soon also be stories to share.
Closing A Chapter
In those last days as I watched my father close the chapters of his life, I was frantically writing posts for my blog. It was therapeutic, quizas a desperate attempt to hold onto him here on earth. What in the world was I gonna do without my dad? It was rough to turn to the last page of our time with dad. I had a lot of time to plan this moment, it wasn’t supposed to happen asi nomas. Really, I don’t know what I hoped for or wanted to see in this last page.
Since my dad’s passing I’ve kept writing, but his stories had remained in my files barely opened. My yellow folder sat tucked away in my desk drawer.
I have plenty of reasons, excusas, to explain my paralysis in writing the “collection of my dads stories” book. One big one was the lack of information. Many of his memories lack description or have gaps. Could his accounts, his memories be considered a story if they lacked detail? I mean, he did give me all the information he considered vital. So I’ve sat at my desk, many days just twiddling my thumbs, wondering how to proceed.
Out of nowhere, mi prima shared some youtube videos of the history of my apas childhood towns! La Mina del Amparo. It was right there on the world wide web! Pero como? She saved the day, the book, and maybe even the writer.
Esperate, I had researched El Amparo and did have some info already, it was all buried in my files, like the treasures in the minas of old. Something revived in me and I had my vision again. Pues entonces que hice? Unfortunately some things come to us almost too late at times, but I am thankful for whatever I can get. I made plans to go visit with 2 of my apas siblings.
My prima, who is one of the daughters of one of my dad’s younger sisters, helped me make arrangements for a day trip to see her mom, my Tia Chepina (Josefina).
It was time to see dads brother and sister, I hadn’t seen them since before dad passed. I was on a mission to get more information and get a link into my family history. Anything and all things would be written down. I pulled out my yellow folder and opened up my files. I had a lot of gaps to fill. I got organized, hay si, muy professional, I wrote down all my questions. I called my sis hoping she would join me, I needed her back up or support, and she jumped on board . Did I tell you I can always count on my big sis?
One of my dad’s younger brothers, Jesus (Tio Chuy), lives here in San Diego, so I picked him up and we drove to Los Angeles. Mira nomas!, everytime my sis and I looked over at tio Chuy, we saw our apa, unable to describe what happened there in our gut.
A Sea of Emotions
It was day packed full with emotion. My father was the oldest of 9 children, 7 boys and 2 girls. He was 6 years older than this brother and 16 years older than his hermanita. Tia said that there was 2 years between each child and Tio sadly pointed out that there were only 4 siblings left.
Tia Chepina cried so much at the loss of her 2 oldest brothers who died within months of each other. She had been unable to see them or attend their funerals, covid pestilence marred her final goodbyes. In those last days with my apa, I called her so she could at least speak to him.
It was five days before he passed, and his birthday. He stepped into his 96th year and she was wonderfully amazed at his longevity.
Apa: (speaking very loudly) Bueno!?
Tia Chepina: (speaking just as loud) Manuel! Hola hermano, como estas? Feliz cumpleaños? (Tia wanted to make sure he would hear that clear resounding happy birthday wish 🥰)
Apa: (speaking just as loud) Bueno!? No se oye. (His last few years the phone always confused him so he was unable hear it clearly)
A few days later, marque su número, easy to dial when you don’t have to look up a number. I hoped hearing his sister’s voice would spur him on in his new year. She cried and expressed her love for him, he wasn’t responding anymore, but her words did not fall to the ground. My dads sister lavishly gives us the love she had for him.
Now that they are in la tercera edad, my tia is 80 now, they’ve given up their main house and live in a cozy loft upstairs for just her and her husband, disculpa, mi tio Mundo. When we arrived she was busy making caldo de res, imaginate! Que sabroso! I will always put up with L.A. traffic for her cooking. We shared a simple, wonderful meal and I was overwhelmed. While it was sweet, I felt my fathers absence. I rolled my tortilla and gazed across the table to my Tio Chuy, apas little brother. He head bent down, he focused on eating his caldo. Did I mention he is 89 years old, a strong man! Zepeda genes are strong, I’m picturing dad sitting straight up, proving his agility at 95 still.
Some Missing Links
I came away with some missing puzzle pieces. How my parents met, this was a gold nugget! That’s for another post.
I got a very small glimpse of my amas mother and I was left thirsty for more. She too had a large family.
I came away with a better view of when dad came to America. That time line of his early adult days trying to “find himself” como dicen los gringos, I loved my tias description of seeing my father for the first time again since being in America.
Tia: Llego Manuel con su pantalón de mezclilla. Yo y Consuelo no podíamos dejar de mirarlo. Usaba esos pantalones Americanos. She was getting her first eye full of the famous Levi Strauss jeans and couldn’t stop staring at him.
Me: Levi’s? Con botas y sombrero? He had to have been also wearing his cowboy boots and hat verdad?
Tia: Si. Tan guapo que se veía mi hermano. Creo que nos trajo unas muñecas.
With a sigh she admired her handsome big brother and remembered as an after thought that he brought them dolls del Norte.
Tio: Si, todos se fijaban con esos pantalones Americanos, eran muy diferentes. Tio was impressed by those jeans too!
Tia: Manuel siempre fue muy guapo. (She was making sure we all knew it wasn’t just the pants that made him so guapo! 🙂
Oh my goodness, my heart pitter pattered at the idea of her seeing her big brother so handsome looking like a cowboy, my brothers Arturo and Hector look alot like him. Of course Marina and I looked over at each other. Claro que si sabemos how good looking he was, some nurse was always shocked at his age because he looked so good. Imaginate, if she would have seen him in his youth, olvidate!
I must say that while I did ask muchas preguntas and they were absolutely in their glory remembering their youth, I left with plenty of questions still unanswered, and many new questions. Each new puzzle piece fills in a piece of my dads history and reveals more still to uncover. I’m not sure if I’ll get much more answers, pero we were all happy to have spent the day together. My sis and I cling to whatever we can of our father. I’ve made plans with my prima to do this trip again.