He called me his ángel de la barda. In Spanish, the translation for guardian angel is ángel de la guardia. As a child, I absolutely loved to be in the middle of Dad’s projects at home, whether it was mixing cement to pour on something (which I could then run to and put my mark on), or cutting 2×4’s to size for some project, or even building a rock wall. I was right in the middle of it, most likely in the way. Dad would pause, look at me, especially when he was building the waist-high walls around our property, and say that I was his ángel de la barda— the angel of the wall, on the wall… anyway, it was his special play on words for me. I love remembering those moments.
About two years ago, July 11, 2019, to be precise, after my Mom’s memorial, a man approached the group of people I was with and gave me the best compliment of my life. He said that listening to me speak during Mom’s memorial (about the many things I loved about her) reminded him of my Dad. “You sounded just like your Dad,” he said. Hard to even explain what that means to me. You see, Dad was a wonderful storyteller. I recall my brother and my sisters sitting around the kitchen table, in the dark, with only a candle burning after the electricity had gone out, listening to Dad tell stories, unexplainable, spooky experiences he had as a young man. His melodious voice edged with just the right amount of something something. He was a voracious reader, books, magazines. One of his favorite books, La Isla del Doctor Moreau (The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells). I remember Dad telling Mom and me bits of the story, and Mom saying what a horror it was (¡Ay, qué horror!). I still have that book on my to-read list. His favorite magazines? Popular Mechanics and National Geographic. He would pick up the National Geographic, start talking about an article he had recently read, and then go off and add to the story based on books he read growing up. To be clear, these weren’t books he had read in school. These were books that lined the walls of a room, floor to ceiling as he told it, with one small window opening up high on the wall. This was the room he was sometimes kept in, locked in, as a child, when there was no one to look after him. He was raised by aunts and other women who looked after him; he was orphaned as a child and so when there was nobody to look after him, and to keep him out of trouble, as it was explained to him and as he told us, he was kept in the “library.” Dad spent many a day there, reading every book he could, then when he tired of it, he’d climb out the window. His love of reading began then and his storytelling grew from the escape those books gave him, I believe. Later on in his adult years, working and married with children, he would stop after work at the local neighborhood bar. The locals, our neighbors, were his community there, but they would also become his audience. You see, once Dad shook off the day’s work at the refinery with a couple of beers, the storytelling would then begin. I know this not because I was there at those times, of course, but because I knew my Dad and his ways. The gentleman who unknowingly eased my pain on the day of Mom’s memorial is a former high school boyfriend of one of my sisters. This very nice man had on occasion, I know, sat at the bar with Dad and listened to him talk at length. I thank him for the respect he showed my Father those many years ago and for the comfort he brought me, unbeknownst to him, on one of my saddest days ever.
When Dad sang, he had the voice of Jiminy Cricket, the old movie version. He did, yup. He also had a mischievous sense of humor. I remember him hiding my iced tea before I would sit down to eat lunch with him and Mom after getting home from my morning college classes. I would go nuts looking for my glass while he quietly, nonchalantly, continued eating his meal. Then there was the time he thought it was funny to ask me to touch a battery he was holding between his two hands. I must have jumped two feet as I got shocked and he laughed. Mom didn’t think it was so funny; neither did I. And then there was the story Mom would tell, not happily, about Dad trying to put his stinky socks in her face. Good times.
Dad was a widget- and thingamajig-maker. If he didn’t have a tool he needed for some project, he’d make it. If he needed to weld something and didn’t know how, he’d teach himself, and then proceed to design and weld the arched entry gate to the house, as well as the driveway gate, and let’s not forget, the circular stairwell he built in the backyard in order to reach the roof. He also welded a window grate so that my then dog, Bristol, wouldn’t claw and rip apart the window screen. I have that small grate still. He also had a side gig as an electronics repairman. Way before it was a thing, Dad took classes to become an electronics technician. He learned how to repair the televisions and radios of the era, and successfully did this for years. Mom gave me his diploma. And, by the way, let’s not forget that he helped me and my childhood friends build our first and only, and most definitely non-steerable, go-cart which we drove fearlessly down the hill. Yikes.
My Dad, he was the bestest.
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