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Like Father …

January 17, 2014


I apologize for the lack of posts lately, but 2014 has not been the kindest of years thus far. My dad passed away on Wednesday, January 15, so my head’s been elsewhere. At first I thought I’d go dark and not post at all this week, then I decided a short piece on Dad was appropriate. Why an orange grove? Because as a very young man in the 1940s, my dad, Pedro, picked oranges in the groves surrounding Riverside … I could have easily shown cotton, grapes or some other crop, though; my dad’s family would follow them, picking, packing, then moving along to the next. In fact, he was born por este lado, on “this side”, in 1930 in Colorado, during one such trip … It was while he was barely out of his teens that he stayed in Riverside, along with brothers and cousins, picking oranges and making mischief. It was the time of zoot suiters and gangs, pachucas with razor blades in their sky-high ratted hair-dos, the Casa Blanca neighborhood their stomping ground. Dad always smiled while relating how la plebe, the riff-raff, would gather on the weekend at The Fox Theater in downtown, the shows often forgotten in favor of fights and high-speed jalopy chases; he would always marvel that he made it out alive … Dad left Riverside in the ’40s, settling in Temecula and working as a ranch hand on the Vail Ranch; he was now Pete. He would beam as he told stories about life in the bunkhouse, working with the horses and being a cowboy. It was while he worked on the ranch that he met my mother, Carmen, and they fell in love. She was 16, he was 24, in 1955 when they married. I was the soon-t0-arrive result.

dadscanAltogether my parents produced 9 children over 10 years. As a result, life was never easy when we were young. My parents struggled, we along with them; Dad seeking escape in a bottle. Later, he would reform completely, the result of a bargain he made with God: In exchange for healing my next-youngest brother’s terminal illness, he’d give up drinking. Overnight, it came to pass; life got better … My dad found a calling, helped build a church, became a minister. Eventually all us kids moved on, creating lives of our own and over time my parents fell victim to illnesses; Mom passed 19 years ago at age 54. Dad was never alone, however. After a nuptial near-miss with a lunatic, he lived with my sister, Julie, and her husband. At 83, after a long illness, he died peacefully in his own bed.

° ° ° ° °

As a kid, if you had asked me what my dad and I shared in common, I would’ve said not much. Now, however, all I see are similarities. I’m impatient by nature, as he was. I’m prone to stewing over problems rather than dealing with them openly; totally him. I’m given to sentimentality, but loathe to display it, just like him. I also have his spinal and heart problems; thanks, Dad. Traits I wish I’d inherited but didn’t: His dark skin, wavy hair; his ability to sing and play musical instruments; his mechanical understanding. Things I’m glad I didn’t: His name, his height, his anger … I’m definitely not a Pete; at 5′ 5″, I’m tall by comparison, and I never would’ve survived as a newspaper guy with his hair trigger temper. He loved little dogs, could be cruelly truthful  when bestowing a nickname and never met a fart joke he didn’t like …

° ° ° ° °

He was never rich by any means, and barely had a grammar school education; he often felt unloved, unloveable. For most of my life my dad was not the type to say the words “I love you”; at least not that I can recall. But in the last few years, as age and infirmity merged and bowed him, Dad not only used that once-strange phrase, he said it with ease. Almost as surprising, I found myself reciprocating. On the day before he died my Dad was no longer able to speak … I told him I loved him several times and kissed his head, his hair still black mostly and remarkably full. He couldn’t speak but I saw “I love you” in his eyes.


California orange grove photo: from; a history of the Orange Empire Rail Museum, Perris, CA. Inset photo: Undated, likely Riverside in the 1940s; Pedro steps to the microphone with a tentative look in his eye, wearing clothes belonging to someone else. My favorite photo of my Dad.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2014 2:40 pm

    Your dad was very handsome, that’s what I first noticed when I saw his picture…..and I could see that you are related, I don’t know what, maybe the eyes. Thank you for sharing his story which is also about you… is hard to lose parents no matter what……..may your dad Pedro rest in peace. xo

  2. January 18, 2014 3:46 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss, Reuben…your tribute to him is wonderful. I feel like I knew him after reading it. Like your art, you have a lovely sense of how to put in details to tell a story.

  3. Dave in Toronto permalink
    January 18, 2014 4:18 pm

    Sorry to hear it, Reuben. You did a nice job remembering him here … Sounds like quite a guy.

  4. Carol Booth permalink
    January 18, 2014 4:19 pm

    Very loving.

  5. January 18, 2014 5:28 pm

    Reuben, I’m so sorry about your Dad, it’s always hard to lose someone, regardless of age or circumstance. I agree with Veratrine, your tribute to him was wonderful and I also felt like I knew him, if just a little. In fact, your Dad’s history reminded me a lot about a book I read called “Rain of Gold” by Victor E. Villasenor. If you haven’t read it, you should… you could probably really relate to it. Anyhow, prayers and thoughts are going your way my friend.

    • January 18, 2014 5:30 pm

      Thanks, WF, my dad’s life was often like a long, sad book. I’m happy he felt loved in the end.

  6. amajomartin permalink
    January 18, 2014 6:36 pm

    Reuben, I am sorry to hear about your father yet through this piece you’ve honored him and brought him to life so beautifully. I miss you!

    • January 18, 2014 6:41 pm

      Thanks, Amy … for reading and commenting. Think of you often; hope all is well.

  7. carol permalink
    January 19, 2014 12:21 am

    Your tribute to your father was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. May you find peace and know that you now have a new angel watching over you.

  8. Cherie Korer permalink
    January 19, 2014 12:49 am

    We sent our heartfelt condolences to you and your whole family. What you wrote helped me to know your father better. Thanks! Love you!

  9. January 19, 2014 1:50 am

    My condolences… Wishing you happiness. It is a lovely post.

  10. January 19, 2014 3:56 am

    I am so sorry Reuben.

  11. January 19, 2014 7:22 am

    This is a beautiful tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss but so glad you two parted on such good terms and that he passed peacefully.

    • January 19, 2014 7:24 am

      We were on good terms, Heather … that fact, and his going in peace, were all I could have wanted for him and I in the end.

  12. Vickie Perez permalink
    January 19, 2014 7:26 am

    It’s so very hard to lose our parents. As said above, your turn of phrase gave such a lovely view of your father. Our thoughts are with you.

  13. January 19, 2014 4:51 pm

    I’m so sorry for your loss. But what a beautiful tribute to your Dad. I felt like I got to know him through your eyes and this story. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

  14. January 19, 2014 5:38 pm

    It is so hard to lose a parent. My condolences to you. You honor him by sharing his life with us and it helps keep his memory alive. What a wonderful relationship you had with him the last few years and to be able to say I love you with him. At these times, we all pause to appreciate those that are aging and still with us, because we know how quickly they can be gone. Great post, Reuben.

  15. Jeanmarie permalink
    January 19, 2014 11:02 pm

    My condolences to you and your family. Jeanmarie

  16. Annie M permalink
    January 20, 2014 12:15 am

    Thank you for sharing this, and for not “going dark.” It sounds as if your father always chose life, as difficult as it may have been (9 kids in 10 years!). Peace to him, and of course, to you and your family.

  17. Catherine permalink
    January 20, 2014 2:55 am

    So sorry to hear about your loss Reuben… I know, a very difficult time for you and your family. I love the picture of the orange grove. Moving to Riverside from MA in 1954…that was the first thing I remember seeing was the irrigated groves and loving the wonderful smell of the blossoms.

    • January 20, 2014 3:51 am

      The smell of the blossoms always takes my mind to thoughts of my dad working in the groves. Thanks for your comment, Catherine.

  18. January 20, 2014 3:09 am

    Just last Sunday you were describing how frail he had become, and something in your tone made me think it wouldn’t be much longer. What a wonderful sketch of your father. Hugs to you and Paul and best wishes to your family.

    • January 20, 2014 3:50 am

      Thanks, Denise. We knew his time was coming to an end, but it was still a shock … And thanks so much for the hugs, we need them.

  19. Val Rubida permalink
    January 20, 2014 3:07 pm

    Reuben, what a lovely story about the life of your father. I’m sure it has made him proud looking down on you from the orange grove from above. You were so lucky to have had the chance to say goodbye and tell him you loved him. I wish I could have had that chance with my parents. My thoughts and prayers for you and Paul.

  20. valorie larson permalink
    February 17, 2014 6:59 pm

    Because of email problems I just now read this post. I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your father. Your tribute to him was so beautiful and I can feel the love in it. With sweet sadness I still have tears as I am now writing this to you. I am so sorry for your loss, but through you and the story of his life your father will live forever. I truly feel that as humans we are the sum total of all the people we have loved in our life. Stephen and I are very blessed to know you and Paul, and because of it our lives are much richer.

    • February 17, 2014 7:01 pm

      Valorie, what a sweet message. Thank you so much. Paul and I feel similarly lucky to know you and Stephen.

  21. AlgaRythums permalink
    March 14, 2014 3:23 am

    well, i haven’t visited you in many months… and this is how you are. i am totally crying over your tribute to your father. so sorry to learn of your loss. it sounds like your father lead a rich life, and you have learned more than you know about yourself. thank you for sharing this moment… i have learned something too.

    • March 14, 2014 4:15 am

      Aw, thanks for being so sweet; I’m happy you found my tribute to my dad so affecting.

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