“Whatever happened to Troop 432?”

“Whatever happened to Troop 432?”

Dad passed away on Tuesday, February 26. He was 94. I started to amend this piece five days before he died. It wasn’t meant to be a eulogy, rather, a remembrance of a time that is now filtered through a sepia-toned haze. We had lost a treasured friend and I wanted to honor her memory. Now I find myself mourning the passing of my father. The emotional tsunami triggered by his loss is overwhelming right now, but on that Friday night, a sense of determination was in play as you will read below, incomplete or not. 

Growing up in Pico Rivera involved more than just my family. It meant growing up with several families at once. Being a member of the Cub Scouts saw to that. The boys that were part of my Den were all classmates. Our moms were the den mothers and they were all friends with each other, too. They worked at our elementary school as room aides. They were this unified front of power, the watchful eyes over any hooliganism or shenanigans that we MAY have thought about in a given day.

This community gave new meaning to “extended family.” Sleepovers, campouts, merit badge ceremonies, BBQ’s, school events, we remained connected. Granted, in some cases, we kept our Scout life a secret as it was a bit, well, “dorky.” I am caught in a haze of nostalgia now as we lost one of our den mothers last September. I felt like a piece of my life was taken away, too.

Life has carried many of us away from Pico Rivera. Some of us stayed close. Others still returned to take care of ailing parents. I find my memories of my Cub and Boy Scout years are either lacking color or precise detail now. I know it happened because I still feel the warmth of that shared experience with intensity.

We are from a different generation, this group of Latinos, some immigrants, others first born Americans, still others who were several generations into the US of A.

I’m writing this as I watch over my Dad. He’s sleeping in a hospital bed in the living room of my childhood home. His breathing is labored. He makes odd little yelping sounds that startle me each time. His Alzheimer’s is edging too close to stealing his mortality. It’s been over a week since he turned 94. That day was spent in the hospital thanks to a series of falls that caused a small brain bleed and compressed two vertebrae in his spine. He hasn’t been the same since and an infection in his lungs is present again. We worry he may choke in his sleep, so we take turns being sentries. Where he was our protector from the dark, it’s our turn to be his light and love.

Mom, my younger sister, and brother have been fearless and tireless since the day he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over a decade ago. They immediately took charge of research info the illness, his meds, the parameters of his insurance. They question his doctors and nurses with an acuity that rivals the best journalists I’ve ever know. That he’s lived with Alzheimer’s for so long and maintained such steady health is a testament to them. The ravages of this disease have been held off for so long, but we now acknowledge the barriers are starting to be compromised like levies breached in a hurricane. The effort to stave off the inevitable has become a 24/7 marathon.

Dad is home and the full force of emotion by seeing an ailing parent is present and real. Mom makes my heart swell with her devotion and care, even when she allows frustration to reveal its infernal self.

I started writing this entry after attending the rosary service of the inimitable Rosie Canales. She was my Den Mother one year. Her beauty, sense of humor, and wonderful grace were strengths shared by all of our mothers while growing up in Pico Rivera. We’ve lost members of that group, but several still remain. They were there, celebrating Rosie with remembrances that made us all laugh and love this bond we share. I saw my Mom be herself for a moment, surrounded by these indomitable women who shaped so many lives.

We were taught in Scouts to “be prepared.” You can’t really prepare for the loss of a loved one. You can’t make milestones happen on your own timetable because you fear the hurt. Dad has rebounded better than any NBA superstar before. He has the power to do it again. Then I think about the quality of his life. He’s so small and frail now. Choosing to get into a fetal position and covering himself up with a blanket is his want. Then he is alert, eyes sparkling. He is smiling at us or his adoring fans of family friends, and his medical team. His grip is still so strong and he fights us when we try to lift him or move him. His spirit is very much intact.

Whatever happens next has been written for him. All I know is a hell of a reunion is in store for him when that time does arrive. (Rosie, make sure to have a joke and that great smile for him, okay?) Until then, we are going to fight as hard as we can to make sure Poppadoodles knows he is loved and still “el mero mero” of our troop.


From the mind of an Hermana Coraje…

From the mind of an Hermana Coraje…

“I’m glad I cleaned the house today,” she thought in her best Lady Macbeth fashion. “Too many damn cobwebs. Out damn memories.”

She’d contemplated burning some sage but settled on removing old totems from the past as being enough. Finding the photos of “that other family” triggered this latest “limpiada,” a lesson taught by her mother.

“The best way to get rid of the past,” her Mamá Coraje once said, “is to believe it never happened at all.”

Rewriting history was a family skill so well-honed, even Orwell would blanch out of shame. For the Coraje women, lies were irradiated truths. Truths were best regarded as lies told by those who only wanted to destroy their gossamer veneer of perfection. The singular male Coraje — the son or brother  — seemed to lack the focus required. He was a man-boy with feet of clay, desperate to be liked and loved, lacking integrity and grit.

Adept at creating her own reality since youth, this particular Coraje sister didn’t even break a sweat at the effort anymore. Ignoring events, people, the color of her skin, her family’s lower-middle-class reality, it didn’t faze her in the least. She chose to dance on the jagged edge, to remain a beautiful liar en pointe. Yet, the years were now revealing their own subtle truths, manifested in her stick-thin figure and the frozen look of bitter disappointment on her face. Whatever beauty or character was erased now.

It was seeing a photo of her mother with her American-born cousins that triggered this bolt of divine inspiration as she finished cleaning. She’d send the found photos to their original owners. It would be easier to simply place them in the trash.

La basura se junta,” Mamá Coraje would say about people who had lost their use to her.

Another pair of trembling hands would soon hold the plain manila envelope she’d carefully filled with photos covering several years from what was now a different lifetime. The note? Benign in its phrasing, but packing a wallop that would reverberate beyond several area codes: “I thought you could use these.” Its simplicity was almost too perfect! Minimum effort for maximum damage, this bread & butter note written with the same intent as a “Thank you” card or a grocery list.

Would she know that sending this package would elicit feelings of anger and rage? Would she know that emptying her house of what was once treasure would be deemed callous and heartless? That the question of “Who does this?” would be muttered via texts and phone calls and several lunchtime conversations? The frozen smiles captured in these wrinkled black & whites and torn color images belied something she would never allow herself to acknowledge: her own feelings of malignant envy.

As la Hermana Coraje transported the sealed envelope to the post office, she reflected on the scorched earth demeanor of the Corajes. It was a cold feeling, cold and lonely and terrifying in its power. Was this too much? Had she gone too far? But she caught herself before any rationality or humanity could take root. Gripping the steering wheel of her sensible Japanese car, a trace of a smile revealed itself as she accelerating on the gas.