Archive | 11:52 PM

Easter and Family Stories

6 Apr

 When I think about Easter. I usually think about two people … no … not Jesus and not the Easter Bunny.

A Cute Little Bunny With Some Eggs

A Cute Little Bunny With Some Eggs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think about my uncle Erick and my Dad. I’ve talked a lot about my Dad and the different things and events that remind me of him. He was an awesome Dad. But I’ve never spoken about my uncle, probably because it saddens me to think that he’s no longer here either.

Two of the most important influences in my life and they both passed away due to crappy-ass diseases they should have never gotten in the first place. These type of terminal diseases should be reserved for jackasses, but instead two of the best guys I know got them and it sucks. It was a situation where I wish Gregory House M.D. was their doctor. 

But he wasn’t and now I just have memories … at least I have those … Easter happened to be one of them.

My uncle usually went all out. Brunches. Egg hunts and Loteria. We’d start in the morning with brunch and continue all the way to a ham dinner and old family stories. One of my favorites happened to be how my uncle became the man with the house, pool, and seven pairs of Levis … 

We had many relatives living with us back in the day. Some did little favors; others did very little. Some stayed months, others years. My uncle Erick stayed the longest. For 13 years, our living room was his bedroom.

Uncle Erick was the coolest one, the brother I never had.  He came over when he was 16-years old. I was only five when he arrived. I don’t remember what he looked like back then, he probably had more hair and weighed less. But what I do remember is that after his first couple of months he bought seven pairs of Levi jeans. He had one for every day of the week and was very proud of that. Erick came from my mom’s side of the family. He was the youngest of nine and the tallest standing at 5-foot-6.

He struggled when he first arrived. Hard core. There were no kids his age living in our building  and those in the neighborhood that were his age wanted to beat him up because he was different. He was ESL – English as a Second Language – and that made him different. But we watched a lot of television together and that helped with the A, B, C’s. “Heckle and Jeckle,” “Felix the Cat,” “the Pink Panther,” “Mighty Mouse,” “Sesame Street,” and “the Electric Company” were my favorites.

Uncle Erick was a fast learner. He had to be. He often ran into the type that didn’t appreciate non-English speakers and came home with messed up hair, dirty clothes, and small bruises here and there. Erick told my parents he had joined the football team, but they knew better.

One day after Erick came home with a very noticeable black eye and bloody nose, my dad took out the old purple Everlast boxing gloves with yellow laces and taught him a couple of moves in the patio. My dad’s compadres, Rosendo and Macedonio, who used to live in apartment A helped out as sparing partners. My dad convinced Erick that he didn’t go through an El Norte experience  of crawling through a tunnel of crap and surviving a voyage in the desert to get pushed around by some mocosos.

My hopscotch evenings were suspended for a while as Rosendo, Macedonio, and dad got into their right jabs, left hooks, and combinations. In no time at all, Erick was light on his feet and heavy with his hands. We never saw bruises after Erick was introduced to the purple Everlasts. He even joined ROTC where he met other ESLers. Eventually he joined the soccer and football teams.

But Erick had goals beyond standing up to the ESL-haters. He had passion, and he knew school would get him there. He studied every night. After everyone went to sleep, he would turn on the big GE flashlight with the built-in clock, lie on the brown sofa, and try to finish his homework.

Despite the nights when the police helicopters would thunder above our building with their flashing lights and sirens, chasing a suspect on the run, Erick would keep solving problems with the Pythagorean Theorem. Despite the loud arguments of people’s parents in the building, Erick would keep looking up words in the orange coffee-stained Webster’s Dictionary in order to finish his english or history homework. And, knowing that those ESL-haters hung out near the park library, Erick would still take a chance every week and walk to the park library to check out the maximum seven books.

Everyone in the building made an effort to help improve his English. They constantly spoke to him in English, as best they could. Dona Margarita, from apartment F, suggested watching those English soap operas that never end, like “GeneralHospital” or “Days of Our Lives.” She even mentioned the night ones like “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” which proved to be juicier.

Don Chuy, from apartment I, recommended shows like “Hunter,” “T.J. Hooker,” and “Hawaii-Five-O.” He said they would help Erick just in case he ran into the police.

Rosendo and Macedonio lent Erick their “Ingles is Easy” tapes, where they taught Erick to say “a little” and not “a leedle.” After a couple of months, Erick learned to speak, read, and write English just as good or even better than anybody in the building.

Erick graduated from high school and got some kind of ESL scholarship from the state of California and a full ride to the University of Southern California. The scholarship was for, what they called, his “commitment to academic excellence in the face of adversity.” It sounded very important and we were all proud of him. My parents, my sister, Rosendo, Macedonio, and everyone else in the building were happy for him. They were even happier because the scholarship was more than a piece of paper. It was proof –evidence—that he’d made it and they were a part of that.

 We threw a party. It was a pachanga with carne asada, frijoles, mole de pollo, arroz, platanos fritos, plenty of Budweiser and the sounds of La Sonora Dynamita playing on our Sanyo stereo. Everyone brought out their vinyl kitchen chairs and we sat in the patio. There were yellow ones with green flowers, brown ones with rusted legs, orange ones with food stains, and white ones with the plastic tearing at the corners. We didn’t mind the wear and tear; we were all family.

Once everyone finished eating, my mom, Dona Margarita, Dona Imelda, my tia Eugenia, and her comadre Letty began swinging their hips to the sounds of cumbia. They all looked like busy washing machines, moving every part of their body with just the right rhythm. Moms could always do stuff like that. They brought Erick out to the center of their circle and continued dancing.

 Uncle Erick was no longer a beginner. He made the transition successfully and everyone respected him because of that. He graduated from that expensive college and moved on.

We had a party for that too. He left la vecindad and moved into a building with no bullet holes or cone factories nearby. But he always came over for dinner.

When he grew up Uncle Erick  no longer wore Levi Strauss to work, but a suit-and-tie. Erick, who got chased by suspect elements at age 16, who spoke no English when he got here, and who slept on my couch for 13 years, became an attorney in private practice. He specialized in immigration law.

I miss my uncle. I miss the stories. I miss him at Easter.