Those Wonderful Letters from our Loved Ones
A few years ago (more like seven or eight to be exact), my nephew Patrick Candelaria sent me a letter that kept me standing still in the parking lot while I read it on my email reader. Truly, I was riveted, and his words stayed with me for days. Hello Family is a classic that is part of my treasure box and it will surely go down in a memoir as one of the best pieces of writing I have ever read.
I figured I would take a break from my studies and reply to my Aunt Pat’s last newsletter. I can’t begin to tell her how much her words bring me home. The story’s about Grandpa and Grandma always seem to bring me from this what at times is the rat race of life back to a place of comfort. Like a “warm abrazo” as she often so lovingly puts it.
I am so close to graduating from college and I often can’t help but to want to slam on the brakes and stop growing up. Instantly, just stop time and not let memories of the people I love and an ending childhood get any farther away than it is at this moment.
Memories of times that at once were just yesterday seem to become so lost and distant as the days keep passing. Memories always continue to bring me home. I often wonder which memories are easier to cope with, the good ones or the bad. I often feel that I miss the good memories so bad that it hurts.
This year in my life was when I realized I am no longer the little boy I see in my dreams or the pictures on Grandma’s wall. No matter how hard I wish it so. This past summer the twins, Keith and Kraig, on my dad’s side of the family both got married. As happy as I was it tore me apart. The night after the last wedding was when life hit me. I stayed at my Uncle Pat and Aunt Debbie’s that night after the wedding. Sleeping there when I’m in town is not uncommon. But that night it was just them and I.
Walking into the house that night I realized a new chapter started. The two boys I had so loved and looked up to as a child were no longer boys. All that was left was an empty house, a warm fire and the ghosts of my childhood’s greatest friends. Memories of warm abrazos and the echoes of laughter from a time long past. It was surreal, like walking through an old photograph. Like the pictures of us as children hanging there on the walls in those moments were all that was real. I felt like a character in a book that wasn’t informed a new page had already been started. For a few minutes life moved on without me and left me in a hazed nostalgic void. I didn’t exist.
It is funny how some memories fade and some can remain so vivid. I can sit in Tucson and feel the heat from Grandma’s fire on my face. As if in that moment I were sitting on her blue sofa looking at the rusted rock behind the stove. I can feel in the palms of my hands the warm metal coils of its door handles. It is as if I looked over my left shoulder I would see Grandma’s back as she labored lovingly over the stove in the kitchen.
Memories at my other grandma’s remain just as vivid. I can still feel the cool crisp air on my face. I can feel the coolness in my eyes as they slowly opened. I smell the fresh air, cool, crisp and new. I smell the bacon and hear its sizzle as rain drips outside the window. It beat without timing but its rhythm unforgettable. The brown curtains sway with the morning breeze and thunder from miles away echoes softly through the canyons. The sheets are warm and my pillow is cool. They smell like clean country linen.
I can hear the clatter of pans, the floor creaking as my grandma navigates through the kitchen. Coffee is brewing. On the stove potatoes are frying. Bacon is covered in a plate on the table next to grandma’s homemade jam and the butter dish. Eggs begin to fry. Left over chili waits in the microwave, toast pops from the toaster.
I roll out of bed and throw on yesterday’s clothes, dirty jeans rolled up at the bottom to keep the mud off the floor. They are still wet around the ankles. I grab a clean shirt and pair of socks and turn the corner into the restroom. My muddy boots sit atop a newspaper behind the wood stove in the living room. As I wash my face over the sink a cool breeze enters through the window at my back. A chill that makes me smile runs throughout my body. Rain is still dripping from the roof into a puddle under the window.
I walk past the water heater and around the corner into the kitchen. Grandma is cooking eggs when I tell her good morning. “Good afternoon my boy.” She answers with a smile, her hands shiny from the grease. She holds her spatula and a dirty paper towel as she leans up against the stove.
I serve a cup of coffee and take a seat on the couch beneath the large living room window. The humming birds weave around the water still dripping from the awnings to the red feeder hanging outside the window. Robins prance around the green lawn where the dandelions glisten from last night’s showers. I peer across the road to the barns and further into the horse pastures. The horses stand still as if posing for the painting being etched in my mind. The dogs scamper out in the distance, in and out of the arroyo. The landscape is vivid green and soft grey clouds linger low over the mountain tops, the sun slowly melting its way through. Puddles are scattered down the road. From up above tiny streams trickle down into the creek that runs next to the house.
I never had to wonder why my grandfather never left his home. He made a good life. Home for me is always only a memory away. It is a beautiful place, untouched and undiscovered by the world.
When I was about 11 years old I was driving up the dirt road with Grandpa Sy one summer day. We had just passed Uncle Ed’s house and were nearly to Aunt Lucy’s turn out when he said something I have never forgotten. It is still vivid in my memory. The smell of his truck, the rattle of the coins in the dash are all a small thought away. He used to let me drive from the highway up to the house. I think everyone in my family learned to drive on that seven mile stretch.
The conversation started as I peered out the driver’s window across Uncle Ed’s pastures down to the river. Over the hum of the truck motor I said, “Grandpa I love it out here. I won’t ever leave.” He looked over at me with a smile and said, “You say that now my boy. One day you’ll have a girlfriend and a life in the city and won’t ever come back.” I replied in the only way a child could. With a huge smile and worlds of confidence in my voice I replied, “Na Grandpa. That will never happen to me.” As I looked out over the steering wheel, my nose pointed at the sun visor and eyes straight ahead.
It’s a constant pain in my heart, the kind of hurt that makes it hard to swallow. It brings me vivid dreams, ones that comfort me in my sleep and make me sad when I recall that they were only dreams. There are so many things I miss. There are so many things that meant so much.
I can recall every sight and sound during that drive with my Grandpa Sy that day. It was a decade ago. I was 11. I fly out to Los Angeles this Thursday for a job interview. I still don’t know how I feel about it.
I got to High School, did everything right. Traded summers on the ranch for football two a days. I played on a team that set countless records. I got good grades and was blessed with the opportunity to intern for Sandia National Labs for the next three summers. I’ve climbed to the tops of Colorado Mountains and swam in oceans on the other side of the world. I’ve saddled horses and rode on ridgeline and I’ve tied myself to bulls, pulled down my hat and ended up my face in the dirt. I’ve seen the sun rise in Australia and have seen it set in California. I’ve looked up at the stars from mountains high and beaches alike. I am about ready to finish College and get a degree in Aerospace Engineering. I’m 21. I have no idea where I am going and often have trouble piecing together where I have been. I know one thing and one thing for sure, by the time I was 15 I had spent my last summer on the ranch. When I was a young boy it was all I ever wanted to do. I wish I could have stayed 11 forever.
The last thing he ever told me was “You are doing a good job. Keep up the good work my boy. I love you.” I was a Junior in High School. He died days later. If I had the opportunity to tell him now that he was wrong and the reason I didn’t go back wasn’t because of a girlfriend I don’t know that it would console me any better.
I think I have found (but what do I know?) that the hardest part about life is knowing that some things can only be preserved in our hearts. Many times with only the sadness in our hearts to console, the only thing constant is change. No matter how hard we fight it, kicking and screaming right to the bitter end. It is difficult knowing that any point in time is only a second away from being another memory. Knowing that one day it is the destiny of people we love so dearly to visit us only in our memories. I praise my Aunt Pat and her determination to conserve “local culture” as she recently called it.
I figured out recently that life is simple. There are only three things a person needs to make life worth living; One, for the sun to rise, Two, a loyal group to call mis amigos, and Three, mi familia. Life is simply about living it. It is about living it with and for the people that have and will always be there for you in some way or another. Each day comes and each day goes and with each passing we are left with one fewer. It is that notion and that notion alone, that upon seeing a young boy galloping on his horse, an old cowboy finds worth in that sight enough to warrant the removing of his hat and the raising of it in the air, to sacrifice one of his last breaths to a Yee-haw. For at that moment in his eyes all the world has not gone to shit because they still make some boys like they used to. I was privileged enough to grow up with these boys. All too fitting that life has a strange way of turning little boys with dusty Levis and bloody elbows into the best of men.
One day my Grandma’s fried papitas will become my mother or father’s and sooner than later all I will have left are my own and the memories of what they once tasted like from the stove of that little pink house behind the library on South 8th Street of Pagosa Springs, CO. The street that multiple generations of my family grew up on, only a stones throw from each other. The street that only the locals know. It is more than the “Primo 500”. It is the “Primo Mile”. Everything is only a block away from Uncle Andy’s and Uncle Mo’s and whatever joint project with lended tools they have going that week. It is a place where every memory can be recalled from a simple taste of Folgers Coffee from any coffee pot and a large dash of Bailey’s Irish Cream and the memory of enjoying it with people like cousins Grady and Leonard, Uncle Leo, Aunt Mary, Rafellita, Mary Anne, Lorraine and Uncles Luke, Pancho and Seb. Aunt Pat’s stories bring the stories of those generations only a stones throw from each other. If she preserves a single memory for any one of us to cherish a minute longer then in my book she has been successful.
I have truly been blessed with the company of the most amazing people a life could offer any person. I know no matter where I go in life I departed with warm abrazos, a full stomach and a plastic bread sack of biscochitos. With any luck the kind with a moist raisin center.
I love you all
P.S. Leonard and Annette’s son ; )