I never go to cemeteries. I prefer to rely on my memories and silently pay tribute to the life that is no longer here by allowing my spirit to blend with the ghost's and rise to a higher realm. This cannot be called grief, unless grief naturally transforms into celebration.
I never paid much attention to Labor Day, except that it symbolized the end of summer and it provided a three day weekend. But six years ago father-in-law died on Labor Day. This was appropriate, because he was such a hard worker. Now it's a very different holiday for me.
When he was born it was apparently customary to bestow a biblical name on one's child, so he got stuck with the name Gervasio. I have no idea why, but his nickname was Bacho. I always thought both names were a little odd and funny, but they fit him perfectly well because he was an odd and funny guy.
He was born to a large and very poor family in Puerto Rico. They didn't use the term "third world" then, but that's what it was and daily life was primarily about fulfilling one's basic needs. I don't know too much about those times in his life but I'm sure Bacho was observing life, learning to navigate through it and yearning to improve it. He developed an intelligence and cunning skill that far exceeded his 6th grade education. And perhaps it was poverty that inculcated in him a firm desire to succeed at business and make money. He manifested part of his dream, he had many businesses in his lifetime. But financial success in that arena eluded him.
Mother-in-law's memories are filled with resentments towards a man who, somewhat typical of his generation in that cultural setting, could only be described as a MACHO. He was king of his impoverished castle and made all decisions alone. It was not unusual for him to sell the house and announce that they were moving without ever consulting his wife. When they were first married, as one of his business experiments, he took one part of their little house and converted it into a "bodega" (a grocery store). On the weekends, he rearranged the furniture and opened up the house to hold dances, during which he sold booze and food.
My husband recalls that ethics was not a major consideration in his father's business transactions. He sold booze during prohibition. (It's interesting that he was neve a drinker himself.) He passed himself off as some kind of doctor and made and sold "medicine" to folks in the more remote parts of the island, who were even poorer than himself. He would often laugh when he reminisced about this and exclaim, "Hey, you wouldn't believe it but many people actually felt better after taking my sugary remedy." I'm sure. Healing comes from within and is often guided by suggestion. I can hope that after all, he did no harm.
After moving to New York, still searching for that carrot, he worked in a factory for a week. But, taking orders from a boss was not his style and, of course, he quit and decided to pursue his dream. The bumps on that business seeking roller coaster were steep and hard. But, he managed to own and sell many bodegas in the Bronx and Brooklyn, he owned a gypsy cab, he sold clothes, candy, food, whatever seemed lucrative at the time. Like a gambler, sometimes he made money but most often he lost, for in spite of his strong desire and his cunning style, he seemed to make poor decisions that often led to what many would consider failure. When he was older he very reluctantly caved in to his wife's pleas. He gave up business ventures and accepted a job as a maintenance man in a nursery school in the Bronx. He made the best of it.
Retirement was spent in New Mexico, a place he had never even heard of until my husband and I moved here. He lived modestly but considered himself a rich man. He found religion and became an admired leader in his church community.
I've only given you details, but he was more than the sum of these facts. He had an inner joy that was infectious. The day before he died he kidded with his hospice nurse. His grandchildren loved his silliness, adults loved his presence - so full of joy. He loved being a comedian. It seems that laughter nourished his soul.
I had a great relationship with Bacho. I became the daughter he never had and he became my surrogate father.
My husband has been talking about him a lot lately. Bacho's memory has been haunting him too. Someday my husband may write a book about him. I left so much out and there's so much more to tell.
If I had to describe him in one word it would be... paradoxical - loving, kind, at the end religious and moral even, yet he had a red hot temper, was determined as a bull and his morality seemed to often take second place to his innate and instinctive impulse to try and get one over on the other guy. He was fully human.
I love you Bacho.
Bacho playing Dominoes, Puerto Rico's national passtime. About a year before he died.