(Photo: My mom, my oldest brother Tino, and our father, Snoop Doggy-Dog)
Grandma Next Door hit the roof when Tata brought a new mom to her home and she wasn’t the only one who was upset at the union. This woman’s own children were not too happy that they had run off and tied the knot. Of course, Dad wasn’t privy to these conversations since he was just a grandson. All he remembers is not seeing the lady for a long stretch of time and being curious about it.
“Hey, Nino,” he finally asked his grandfather. “Where’s my new grandma?”
“Ahhh, it wasn’t going to work out…” Tata said so nonchalantly that Dad had to fight back laughter.
“So they weren’t just engaged?” I asked Dad. This shocked me because I don’t remember seeing any new great-grandmas around the house, let alone one that was legit!
“Nope. They had to be full on married because they got the marriage annulled by the Catholic Church.”
While he was here in America, Tata managed to do some incredible things and visit some amazing places despite not being able to drive or speak English. Remember from my earlier post how Tata gave up on the whole notion of driving an automobile? Dad remembers seeing Tata’s last attempt ending in him losing control of his car and accidentally driving it up an embankment. Tata got so frustrated that he abandoned his vehicle and never tried to drive again.
This didn’t stop Tata from going places. Not in the least. Tata learned the bus system, got a job at the senior center, and went on several trips with this group of his peers: Disneyland, Vegas, Hawaii. Tata became a world traveler!
“One day, Tata, showed me a picture of him and three ladies from the senior center on a trip to Disneyland that they took,” Dad told me. “He held it up, pointed to the woman that was the furthest away from him, and said, ‘You see this lady? She’s upset because I’m standing next to her!’ and then he pointed to one of the ladies that were right next to him.
Tata didn’t mind all of the attention, but apparently he wasn’t very emotionally invested in any of his admirers.
“Yeah, I don’t really like any of them, ” Tata told Dad. “But they buy me stuff so I let them.”
Nothing ever worked out romantically for Tata after he had his second marriage annulled. This was probably because he never really wanted to get serious again after such a turbulent first marriage.
Tata is the oldest relative that I have memories of. He was alive until I was just about 5 years old. I have many memories of playing in my front yard with my little brother and my cousins when I was very young. I would look down to the end of my street for Tata. After a while I would see his figure appear at the corner of West Cedar and J-Street carrying huge bags of recyclables on his back. He always had the same hat on every day. I was so overjoyed that I would run to him in dramatic slow-motion while inspirational music played in the background. Then I would look up to him with my little eyes full of fresh tears and say, “Tata, can I have a dollar?”
Yup. I bummed a dollar off of Tata for the ice-cream man every single day and I don’t remember him ever saying, “No.”
But that was Tata; full of generosity. Every time he went to Mexico to visit the adult children that he still had living there he would take 3 to 4 thousand dollars with him and give it away. Dad also remembers working on a beat up truck with his brother Navi and Tata coming over to see their progress.
“What’s it going to take to get this thing running?” he asked.
“Parts,” Tío Navi said. “It’s going to take about a thousand dollars in parts.”
“Here,” Tata said handing him a grand. “Take this and pay me back when you get a chance,”
One night, Tata made a point to go to every single person in the house and tell them all, “Good-night” and that he was going to bed. This wasn’t that unusual. He would often say good night, but not to the entire household. Since he was now in a room all by himself he turned on his fan and cranked his TV up full blast.
It was the TV blasting that lead the family to Tata’s room the next morning where they found him on the floor, dead. The cause was most likely a massive heart attack. Grandpa Next Door picked him up and put him in his bed. Dad came from our home next door as soon as he got the call. Everyone was stunned because this was the first loss in the family that was so up close and personal. It was definitely my first experience of death. As the family was trying to process everything, an employee from a local funeral home came in and began talking to them.
“I just wanted to let you know,” the man said. “That all of the arrangements for the funeral have been made and paid in full so you don’t have anything to worry about. We will take care of everything from this point on.”
This was more than a little strange to my family, but at the same time that was Tata. Even in death, he refused to be a burden to anyone. He picked out his own mausoleum, he made sure to say good-night/good-bye to everyone, and even picked up the tab for his own funeral.
“He was a class act all the way to the end,” Dad said. I agree and not just because of all of the dollars I bummed off of Tata. Learning all of these stories that I never knew about him has made me hope to be half of the man that he was; in generosity, in kindness, and in courage.