Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Isidro Files, Volume 5

Moses was something of a turning point in Abuelito’s story. There are times and situations that are so intense that your heart cannot break or rend. It just fails you and your spirit faints within you. But those times are also the most beautiful and we saw that in the Duarte family at this time.

Abuelito revered Moses and the mission he had been called to serve in this lifetime. He said that he had been trying to keep death as far away as possible but then saw this barely three year old step fearlessly across the veil and he said that Moses paved the way for him and made the concept of death an easier one to accept. He said that Moses was truly a “Moses” leading the way for everyone else to follow.

Abuelito was always intelligent but as one might expect became somewhat contemplative on certain subjects as his life edged towards its finish line. One of his favorite scriptural passages became the speech of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon where it discusses that when you are in the service of others you are only in the service of your God. His favorite hymn was the third verse of “Count Your Blessings” which I here include.

“When you look at others with their lands and gold, think that Christ has promised you his wealth untold. Count your many blessings money cannot buy your reward in heaven nor your home on high.”

Nearing the end he once was speaking with my mother and told her, staggering with pain, that he was full. She asked of what, thinking full of tumors. He said “I am full…full of…blessings.”

At the end he began to look forward to the journey. He looked back on his life and remembered all the times he had been alone with no mother, no father, without close family and as he felt, no real place in this world. He said that as he neared the end of life he understood that though he had not known it, there had been someone who had been watching over him nonetheless. He said that there was a young girl in her early twenties who had clung to life as long as she could because she loved him so much and he began to hope and look to the day when he could finally meet his mother.

He said as his mind started to cross back and forth across the veil that he could see things and at one point said he could see Moses. He described the things he saw before him, and when my mom asked if there was construction on the other side, he said there was.

At one point he seemed a little reluctant and said that he was hoping to leave this earth with two dozen grandchildren but Moses was dead and thus he would have to leave with only 23. Mom told him that he might be mistaken and told him to go talk to Veronica. He brightened and asked what she meant. She said that it wasn’t for her to say. So Abuelito looked forward to Alex as his 24th that would be alive in this world and thus allow him to pass to the other side with a greater sense of hope and peace.

We knew things were drawing to a close and he called all his kids and their spouses together for one last family home evening. I was obviously not there but from what I understand, these are the details of that meeting.

He taught about life and families being together forever. As I understand there was not a dry eye in the room. He taught from his bed, where he was waning and suffering the last stages of cancer, and for the closing song he said they were going to sing “Count Your Blessings.” Abuelito was the only one of the Duarte family, as I understand, who could carry a note in a bucket on normal circumstances but this time as they started singing he stopped them and said “You guys sound awful” and with superhuman strength pulled himself to the side of the bed and for the last time in this world led his family again. He sang, as I hear, with strength and rhythm to the last, and then asked my mom to give the closing prayer, thinking she would be able to give it without crying. She bawled shamelessly.

A few days later he was in the hospital and in extreme pain. My mom who was extremely attached to her father told the nurses to increase the dosage of painkiller. She said that there was no reason to let him be in so much pain, since he was not going to live through the month and likely not the week.

I do not recall who was at the hospital at the time, but the siblings had taken turns watching over their dying father. My mom was at home, I think, with Benny, and Rosalina can confirm this if she will. She said that they started to hear voices talking faintly far away happily and excitedly as if in a party or reunion. Anyone who has worked in a hospice like Coral knows that such things are not unheard of at the time of death. She asked Benny if he could hear it and he said he could. She said she recognized some of the voices to be from relatives who had died long before. Not long afterward they received the phone call that told them that their dad had finally gone home.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Isidro Files, Volume 4

I know that my younger cousins would like to know what it would have been like to have known Abuelito. Since I saw him frequently either at his house or mine, I will endeavor to explain that a bit, though I was only five when he died and surely my older cousins and siblings can do a more accurate job than me, particularly Coral.

Abuelito as I knew him was always pretty relaxed except when he was working, which was frequently. I always remember him in a plaid shirt and jeans. He must have had many plaid shirts, and all of them that I recall long sleeved. He also frequently wore a brown leather belt. I particularly remember him often relaxed in a chair in his kitchen and he liked to hold me on his lap and tickle my ear with his mustache. He rough housed with the boys, which I am sure he likely enjoyed more than playing with granddaughters. But he was always very gentle and good natured with me, notwithstanding I had a habit of calling him “monkey face” and running away laughing. At that point I think he just mentally brushed me off as a silly little kid, which I undoubtedly was. He did speak a little English, more than Abuelita does now, but I do not remember him speaking in English to me. Usually my mom had to translate because I was too stubborn to want to learn Spanish at the time.

I do not remember much else, except that he was very generous with his labor and his time when it came to his family. I remember him helping my dad move furniture in my house, and he was always there when one of his kids needed him.

Here I come to the part of my childhood about which I think far more than any other part and which I recall with some mixed feelings of pain, honor, and love unfeigned. Allow me to set the stage of the months before we lowered his casket six feet into the ground. Pardon my emotional passion for the rest of the Isidro files, for I cannot reflect upon this time without much emotional upheaval.

It started with Alberto, actually. Abuelito was about 60 when Alberto was told that he might have cancer. His children were young, he himself was relatively young, and his family depended upon him entirely for their support in so many ways.

(Deep breath.) Abuelito by this time had become converted to the church, had been to the temple, been sealed and the like. He had had problems overcoming cigarette smoking but eventually was able to beat it. When he understood the trial that awaited his son and grandchildren, this extraordinary patriarch retired to his backyard and prayed. He told the Lord that he was old, that he had lived a full life, and that his children were comparably grown. He petitioned his God with all the fervor of his heart and faith of his soul that if someone had to die, to spare his son’s life and take his instead. If you ever wanted to know why God didn’t allow you to meet your grandfather, this is why. He lived for his family, he worked for them and he died for them.

Alberto survived and was healed.  A few months later my mom who was a registered nurse looked at Abuelito, noticing to him that his eyes were yellow, his skin was yellow and that he was very sick. Abuelito responded that he felt very sick. Not long thereafter he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most painful, lethal cancers existing, and generally speaking when you find you have it you are a dead man walking and will kick the bucket within three months or so. But there was some strength in this man, because he held on for nine.

He had been trying to find a way to heal or to live a little longer, always a little longer. For those of us who lived through this, it seemed as though a dark cloud fell upon the Duarte family, a realization that life had changed forever and that nothing in this world could halt the impending loneliness that was about to ensue, for he loved us and we loved him, even those of us who barely spoke a word of Spanish. I know my sisters agree with me on this. I think our grieving began with the diagnosis and continued to fester as we watched his get thinner and weaker and visited his bedroom which had hospital equipment by the bed and tubes coming and going from various areas of his body. It was a helpless feeling to watch him limp from his bed to the bathroom in a loose gown and watch the pain in his sweet face as the illness took over his body more and more.

I dressed up as a nurse that Halloween and went to his bedside to take his pulse. It must have been pretty weak because I could barely hear it through the stethoscope. Every party the family had, every reunion echoed with the understanding that this was the last time we would have it with him. Christmas, New Years, birthdays, everything was tainted with a helpless sense of depression.

Then one day my mom got a phone call.


I have never heard such wails of agony in my life as from that time. The ward to which we all belonged had planned a dinner that night. People were about to bless the food when the announcement was made that Gary and Letty’s little boy had been run over and killed and a ward wide fast was immediately instituted. The ward bawled as they cleaned off uneaten food with growling stomachs and heavy hearts.

I was in the car waiting outside the hospital that night. I had always seen Benny as Superman himself. I had never known anyone so strong, so fearless, and the perfect image of invincibility. Looking out the window into the relative darkness I heard before seeing Benny being wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair sobbing so uncontrollably and with such absolute anguish that he had not the strength to stand on his feet. What had been a time of hopeless darkness quickly spiraled downward into complete and utter hell.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Isidro Files, Volume 3

I am going to have to fast forward through much of Abuelito’s life or we will be here all year instead of all month. But if you guys know any stories, please share them! My love for Abuelito is absolutely unquenchable and I am sure you all feel the same.

I could go on for volumes about his work because he worked every day of his life and was still shoveling all day long when he was diagnosed with cancer. But that part comes later. If you older cousins are like me you get a chill down your spine at the mention of his diagnosis. You younger cousins may get an idea of why by the end of this month.

Abuelito didn’t want to join the Mormon Church at first. Maria was the first to join, then my mom, and the rest of the family eventually followed. But when he decided to get baptized it was a strange kind of conviction. He said he wasn’t sure if the church was right or not but one thing he knew was that there was no better way to raise a family than within and according to the precepts of the Mormon Church. And he was willing to do anything at all for his family.

He worked like a slave and gave everything to his children. He gave until it hurt and then gave more. He taught them by example and unlike virtually all the other parents in Agua Prieta and Turicachi never beat his children. He told a story you may have heard in other contexts. It is that there was an Indian boy wearing a coat and the sun and the wind had a contest on who could get the coat away from him. The wind blew harder and harder and the boy held to the coat more and more. When the sun came out and warmed the boy, he took the coat off. He always said that more powerful was the kiss of the sun than the whip of the wind, and taught his children to be the same way to the best of his ability.

He loved his children-in-law and he said that his mother-in-law was the best woman he ever knew. To a great extent I agree with that one though I never knew her which is why I named my daughter after her. He gave not only to his kids but their spouses. He gave my father anything he had that my father wanted. He often spoke up for his child-in-law over his child if they were in the right. He obviously was less than the perfect man but he was a loving and fair man.

He was thin but fast and surprisingly strong. Often in his work he had to push wheelbarrows full of brick and other construction materials but he said that when he remembered he was doing this for his family he felt as though he had pillows in the wheelbarrow and not only pushed it but ran with it. Anyone who ever saw him work can attest to his speed, vitality, and tireless passion even under the scorching Arizona summer sun.

He worked so that his children could have a better life than he'd endured and so that in turn their kids could have a better life than them. So Rosalina, though you never met him, he thought of you and slaved in the mortar and the concrete and worked his shovel like lightening just for you. He thought of you, though you were not yet in existence. Jessica, he was working for your baby and thinking of him or her when he got up at four in the morning to be at a job site before five to finish his labors before it got too hot or to get there to prep before another trade showed up. Paco inherited this characteristic to the core.

There is one story I love describing how he dealt with his children when they misbehaved. Alex and Aaron can tune out since Veronica never misbehaved. But Benny got suspended once for fighting. Abuelito had to meet with the principal and found out how his son had (if I recall correctly) thrown another boy over a car. Perhaps Bondy can enlighten us as to what this fight was about. Abuelito drove Benny home stone faced and silent and when he got home he Benny, and Abuelita met in conference. Benny protested that they had no right to suspend him because it wasn’t on school grounds. His parents came back with the rebuke that Benny was a wrestler and shouldn’t be fighting with smaller, weaker boys no matter where he did it. Benny stood calmly taking the punishment, then responded, “Dad, he’s a wrestler too.  And I beat him every time.”  Abuelito had to quickly leave the room to keep from laughing.  Punishment ended.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Isidro Files: Volume 2

Abuelito and Abuelita had an interesting relationship to begin with and it became more so when he proposed. Our family tree, as many do, rather goes in circles. It has only been in the last century or so and in only in some areas of the globe that relatives marrying has gained a bad reputation but if you look at the greatest prophets in the Bible, first cousins have married for as long as the earth has stood.

To explain their relationship we have to go a couple of generations back to a couple named Rafaela and Sipriano LaMadrid. Rafaela had two daughters, the older named Guadalupe and the younger Juliana. Guadalupe’s oldest daughter was Maria, Abuelito’s mother. Juliana’s youngest daughter was Abuelita. They are not direct first cousins, but there is a definite blood connection between them. And if that worries you, look at people like Alex Hunt and my brother Joe who are known for their intelligence and devotion to learning. I don’t think it hurt us too much. Incidentally, Rafaela and Sipriano were also related.

The marriage between our grandparents may never have been an issue since Abuelito’s family did not think the lady of his choice was half good enough for him. He was hardworking and down to earth and they saw Abuelita as something of an uptown girl and they ensured that both Manuel and Catalina knew that this union would not receive approbation. But our Duarte blood runs hot my friends, and Manuel continued to beg and pester Catalina to elope with him, since in that area and time, if a boy and girl disappeared together for a day or two they would be married. Period. If they ran away together, he figured, his family would have no choice but to accept her as his wife. Finally Catalina agreed to meet him one night when the moon was at a certain point in the sky. He waited outside her house with his mare, waiting to ride off with her in the dark. How romantic!

Our grandparents told this story to people together and laughed.

We left our hero waiting behind a tree in front of his lady fair’s house. Catalina was awake and knew it was time but decided instead to stand him up. When she didn’t come out, the mare got restless and started making noise. Catalina’s 6’4” brother Papa Prieto came to the door with a rifle and 140lb Manuel heard Catalina’s sister Tomasa yell that there was a thief in the barn stealing the corn. Manuel kept his eyes glued to the rifle and held the horse still.

The next morning Catalina came to Manuel’s house with a friend and found him slumped in a chair with his hat pulled over his eyes sipping coffee to try to stay awake. She sat in front of him and remarked that he looked tired. He said something to the effect of “shut up and get out of here.”

Later after his frustration had died down a bit he came to her and asked why she had stood him up. She responded that he needed to love her more than he cared what his family thought about her, and that she wasn’t going to marry him unless he did things the right way. She is a wise lady and has since then remarked that if she had done anything differently it would have been a very negative marriage.

I personally love to hear about Abuelito and all the kinds of work he did. I do not know that I know anyone who worked harder than him. In addition to the construction work he was doing up until he found out he had cancer, he spent quite some time living in the mountains when Abuelita and their kids lived in Agua Prieta chopping down yucca plants and binding them up for a company that paid him by the weight of the sheaves he gathered. During this time of his life he lived in caves, and some great stories and reflections come from those lonely nights in the mountains.

One night when he was again up in the mountains, chopping wood to sell in Agua Prieta he had loaded about 1.5 tons of wood in his one ton truck, which was old and had wheels held on by only two very old bolts each. In the dark of night and with only one headlight he started driving the mountain road, which was unpaved and tilted downward into a drop off with no guardrail toward the distant lights of Agua Prieta. As he headed up a steep hill he felt a jerk and realized that one of his wheels had lost a bolt and was wobbling back and forth held on now by only one.

He had never been a religious man in the sense that he never went to church and didn’t really know which church he would have believed anyway at the time but that night he started praying to the God he had come to know in the lonely nights in the cave and the lonely days without parents or siblings. He said essentially that he knew that there had to be a God up there somewhere, that his wife lit candles to the Virgin and Jesus, and if God was listening and would get him back home safely he would buy a candle to light in honor and gratitude for this God.

Hours later he finally pulled up to his yard and went inside his house. Abuelita handed him a cup of coffee and then heard a heart stopping thud from outside. She asked what that was and as he calmly sipped his coffee he responded that it was the truck and told her to buy a new candle the next morning and light it in honor of the miracle God had performed for him.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Isidro Files: Volume 1

 *I feel impressed to republish a short biography of my grandfather, Manuel Duarte, called The Isidro Files and which consists of five volumes.  I wrote it initially for my cousins, particularly those who never met our grandfather.  It is addressed to them but there are tremendous lessons in this glorious man's life that can benefit us all.  Our family knows and addresses our grandfather as "Abuelito."

Abuelito’s full name was Manuel Isidro Lara Duarte. He was obliged to relinquish his middle name when he came to the states, but it is one of great importance to his identity. San Isidro is the patron saint of agriculture and also of one horse town Turicachi where he lived much of his early life and where some of our closer relatives, particularly Tia Lupita, still reside. He was also born on El Dia de San Isidro in 1925 to Isaias and Maria Duarte. He actually did have older siblings, Catarina and Jose, but both died hours or days after birth and some months after Abuelito was born, Maria followed suit from infection.

No one knows what occasioned this part of the story but Isaias disappeared shortly after Maria’s death, leaving Manuel with his maternal grandparents. There is some evidence that there may have been some issue between Isaias and Maria’s parents at this time and they asked him to leave but no one is entirely certain. Isaias was very much a broken hearted man after Maria’s death and perhaps they thought it best to send Isaias away to start a new fresh life without the memory of pain. Whatever the case, Maria Lara’s family saw fit to keep Manuel in ignorance of the larger Duarte family, and try as I might when I go to Turicachi I cannot find with surety anything about our ancestry there. Isaias did come to his son later and offer to take him but by that time Abuelito was grounded and rooted to his life in Turicachi and chose to decline. He later made an attempt to discover the whereabouts of his father but by then Isaias could no longer be found. There is some evidence that the Duarte family owned silver mines in southern Mexico and Abuelito could have inherited them but the knowledge and paperwork remained hidden until after he had lost the opportunity to claim them.

Okay guys, I am going to stop talking like a textbook now. Here we come to the fun part and the part that I know all of us love so much we can downright taste it. It is one of the great marks of being a Duarte.

One day little Manuel “Lico” Duarte was returning to his grandmother’s house with a small open package of sugar and one of coffee she had asked him to buy from the tienda when two bigger boys started picking on him. He told them to stop, but they continued to kick him, spilling some of the sugar and coffee into the dirt. He stopped and carefully put down the two packages, and knowing that if he showed any fear at all or hesitated these two would pound him into the dust he grit his teeth and made two little fists. We all know the rest of the story. The first boy went down straight and before Lico had time to turn around the second boy took to his heels and bolted the opposite direction. That day, as we all know, a legend was born.

It is well that Abuelito was so honorable a young man, since he easily could have used his talent and strength for unworthy purposes. But he became something of a vigilante in Turicachi. Abuelita’s brother, Papa Prieto, was a police authority in this small pueblo and very mild mannered. When fights broke out he would immediately attempt diplomacy. When diplomacy failed and the men would not stop fighting, he called for Lico Duarte. Our grandfather, gratefully, didn’t need to be a judge, jury or executioner. He would enter into the brawl, fists swinging, level all of the troublemakers to the earth, and then hand them over to the law.
He was chivalrous and generous in the use of his strength as well. As he had no living siblings, he looked upon his very young aunt Tia Lupita, as his big sister and no man alive could have been a better brother and protector to her than he repeatedly was. Tia Lupita married and was madly in love with Rafael Santa Cruz, who was handsome and charming, and unfortunately abusive. More than once Abuelito threatened and pummeled Santa Cruz on Lupita’s behalf, even with Lupita and her mother telling him to stop. One morning Abuelito entered Lupita’s house to find her with a black eye and a story prepared about how a cow had kicked her in the face. Abuelito nodded calmly, sipping the coffee she made for him and said nothing more about it.

Later that night he found Santa Cruz on his way back home, and decided it was time to invite him to Sunday School. Manuel’s fists and Rafael’s face enjoyed a diplomatic conversation, with Manuel seeking to impress upon Rafael’s mind (and external features while he was at it) the virtuous merit of treating one’s wife with respect. Upon the end of the sermon Rafael seemed rather overcome by the Spirit, so much so that he lay barely breathing on the floor in his own blood. Before walking away Manuel offered the kind benediction and pious offer to introduce Rafael to his Maker the next time he laid a finger on Lupita.

The next morning our hero walked back into Lupita’s house in a rather unassuming manner and found a quiet, rather humbled Rafael sipping coffee. To this day I do not believe Tia Lupita knows who beat her husband to a bloody pulp that night.

Since I do not know the story as well as I should, someone (Jessica, Aaron, Amanda, whoever) please comment and tell the story of David, Angelica, and the ice cream guy – you know the one. I do not believe the older cousins are aware that we have a Manuel Duarte walking among us.

I would not have you mistakenly think, however, that Abuelito was all fists and no intelligence. His work ethic was marvelous, which he passed down to his children. His philosophy was simply that if you are being paid by the hour and you do not give your all every minute, you are stealing from your employer, who trusted you. And he would know the emotions of an employer because at the age of 17 he owned his own milpa in Turicachi and had his uncle working for him.

This is hardly a clear snapshot of Abuelito, but no one can capture the man in one note, and I fear this is getting long. There will be much more later. Hope you are enjoying this as much as I enjoy reflecting upon the man.