Monday, July 1, 2013

Remembering - at length

 I join many others who are saddened at the loss of the 19 Firefighters who died yesterday.  Bold, dedicated, and noble.  They truly gave the ultimate sacrifice.

My deepest condolences is extended to their families.  

I'm afraid that there are members in my own extended family that can empathize with the loved ones left behind in AZ.  And as they feel compassion I'm sure they are being reminded of their own loss in 1968. When I hear about Wildfire deaths I am reminded of my cousin Larry.  He and I lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same elementary school.  By the time we were in the Sixth Grade we were in the same classroom.  

Larry was a sort of surrogate brother and we'd tease each other as sibs will.  I don't remember the name he used to call me, but I remember I used to call him "Goldfish Eyes".  Then we'd laugh and go about our sixth grade business.  

In middle school we went our separate ways.  He ended up getting in "trouble" and eventually became a juvenile probationer.  I hadn't heard much about him until August of '68 when we were both 16.  

It was then I learned that he had died.  He was among seven juveniles that had chosen forestry, instead of kitchen duty or maintenance, as their probation work option in camp.  They were a "volunteer" crew led by a Fireman Specialist who also succumbed to the flames of the Canyon Inn Fire.  

A newspaper quote from his dad, Caesar - "How can you expect a 16-year-old kid to handle a job like that?...In two weeks it is impossible to train them (the juvenile probationers).  I don't know why the hell they took those innocent young kids and made them do that".  

As a result of the loss of these lives,  the practice was re-evaluated and stopped.  

Here's to Larry, his crew, and to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Today is the anniversary of my mother's passing.  She died in the early, early hours of July 1, 2000.   I miss her and am glad for all the stories she shared with all of us.  Let me share the last story that my mom shared - with a little help.  

James and I were with my mom in the hospital during her last days.  When it was time, a nurse encouraged us to gather other members of the family to say their last goodbyes.  Being Roman Catholic, we also made a point of having a priest come to administer the Anointing of the Sick (Last Rites).  

We were crying as the priest finished the ritual.    He then gave my dad, James and me a big, compassionate hug.  It was welcomed and comforting.  

He then leaned over to give my mother a hug.  That was when it happened.  The, the bed, and my mother all began to slide across the floor.  Turns out the bed brake was off.  

At that point the bottom of his shoes were not touching the ground; soles were most visible.  The look on the priest's face was priceless - a combination of mild panic, concern for a lack of decorum, topped off by a good bit embarrassment.

Laughter erupted in the hospital room.  Part release and part just funny.    

After we gathered our composure, I felt compelled to tell the Ooga Booga story.  I asked my mom if it was okay for me to tell the story.

My mom, whose eyes had been closed and who had not been speaking, smiled a smaller version of her "of course" smile.   

Permission granted, here is what was shared.

My parents were devout Catholics.  Sunday equaled Mass and mass equaled Sunday and that was that.  Language at the service was Latin and the priest spent a good deal of the mass with his back to us congregants.  It was what was expected.

One Sunday when I was 16, I attended mass with my folks and was seated between them.  My parents and I would follow the mass as printed in the missalette.  In the missaltette were cues to rise and kneel as well as let us know when the priest would be facing us or the altar.  We knew the routine. We knew what was going to happen, but it kept us up with the service.  

After hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of masses, we knew that when the priest turned around and said, "Dominus vobiscum", we  were to respond, "Et cum spirito tuo".    

And so it came to pass... we were at mass, me seated between my folks.

"Dominus vobiscum", said the priest.  And everyone in church responded in Latin.

Except for my mom who said,  “Ooga booga booga". - quoting David Steinberg.  

And who do you think my father thought had said ooga booga booga, his 56-year-old wife or his 16-year-old daughter?  And who do you think got an elbow to the ribs because of the comment?  And who do you think was laughing, albeit silently, at the whole thing?

Much as she would do decades later in a hospital room on her deathbed.

So here's to my mom, who loved to laugh, loved being a grandmother, and who would have loved seeing her grandson growing up to be Tío Matthew with Lili and Cheli.  

And would have loved seeing Lili enjoying her silly food painted smile.

Booga, booga, Mom.

David Steinberg on youtube:

Dominus vobiscum - God be with you.  Et cum spirito tuo -  And also with you. 

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