My Tio Arnoldo.
It stole my Tio Arnoldo’s loud jokes, laughter and bright smile.
He woke up early one morning to get his cup of black coffee but he had problems walking. Looking in a mirror the left side of his mouth was drooping. He also had problems seeing out of left eye because it was not cooperating. Now all it could do was open itself half way.
Without an advanced medical facility in the village to properly diagnose his medical situation, it was left up to a young fifth year medical resident Dra. Alma to identify and diagnose the cause.
The Dr.’s diagnosis was as expected – the known assailant was a stroke. Now mind you - my uncle has always been a tough old man and yet I could see in his eyes a sense of despair.
The stroke had also affected his brain and his speech and his entire left side of his body. The stroke’s damage was evident and displayed itself cruelly.
As the months have passed the damage seemes to also have spread, Tio Arnoldo’s body seemes to have shrunk; his once strong wrists and leather tough fingers are now thin and delicate as stalks of wheat.
His beautiful smile of once pearly white teeth, is now no more then a smirk. He always had small legs, “piernas de pollo” or chicken legs, I would tease… but the stroke has made them even thinner and much smaller.
Tio Arnoldo’s house was once a large military stockade with its high ceilings, rustic wooden beams and 2 foot wide walls. He has collected a lot of wooden chairs in all sizes, all hand crafted and numerous wooden benches of pine and oak with at least a dozen elaborate leather and silver studded saddles laying about, many antiques reins and boot spurs… some which had seen much better days.
He also has many indigenous treasures from his many adventures into the sierras and his life long passion and reknowned amateur digging on the river banks. He has a huge collection of old pots and pottery of all sizes with beautiful hand painted markings, many sotol baskets weaved by Indian artisans of years past, a large colorful beaded prayer bowl and a huge collection of arrow heads.
He is a proud Sonoran that once owned over 400 acres of precious woodlands high up the sierras. Now his magestic house and his possessions seem insignificant and are dusty with a surreal dusty cover of sadness.
He never could hear very well and I bought him a hearing aide several years ago, which he still proudly carries in his left shirt pocket. He made sure to tell me that he keeps a fresh battery handy and has it ready to snap into his hearing aide for that special occasion.
Crazy as it sounds but I have only seen it in his right ear once. That was the day almost twelve years ago when we picked it up at the Sear’s Hearing Aide Center in a small town called Sierra Vista in Arizona.
Tio Arnoldo has always needed glasses and has had poor eye sight as long as I can remember. Yet he only took them out to read. Now he is nearly blind from cataracts and an onset of macular degeneration. He stopped driving both his old Ford pick up and riding his companion “El potrillo” - the pony, a beautiful fourteen year old dark brown quarter horse which greets him enthusiastically with loud neighs and tapping hoofs when ever he sees him.
He has been unable to read for a few years now, but Tio Arnoldo still loves his Ranchera music and back in his day, could he dance. He is a great entertainer and a great memory to boot. He is known for telling some very colorful jokes but was always quick on the draw to show his affection and traditional bear hugs.
He was never a very tall man but when he entered a room, he filled up the space… he transformed an ordinary visit into a memorable and amusing experience. Loud and vivacious mainly attributed to his hearing problem, he is a much respected member of the community and beloved hombre.
He was forced to raise his beautiful twin daughters Maria Elena and Maria de los Angeles all by himself. His wife was at one time the village telegraph operator but she died at a young age due to complications from a brain tumor.
Yet Tio Arnoldo immersed himself into the tedious rituals of raising twin teenage girls, even paying close attention to the social particulars including teaching them to cook, to sew and even tutored them through both elementary, secondary and prep school.
When the twins began dating he was the talk of the village. The women admired him and the men gave him a hard time. He refused to delegate the important role of the chaperone (a job typically filled by the younger daughter or grandmother).
I remember he also caught a lot of flack for helping his girls create their formal dresses when they were both crowned the “Reina” queen and “Princesa” princess at the annual five day village celebration (that takes place August 15th though the 19th) each year.
He even hosted a steak dinner, right on the shores of the Bavispe river. He grilled dozens of tasty steaks on a mesquite wood, open flame grill to raise money for the village’s celebration. His musician friends added to the entertainment and the party although had begun around 2:00 p.m. one afternoon was not over till late afternoon the following day.
Tio Arnoldo is also a math wizard – he can do simple mathematics in his head faster then any modern day calculator. When I was starting my foundation he acted as my CFO and gave me accurate and sound business advice.
Even though his blindness prevents him from seeing much of anything. He still spends mornings in his garden tending to a huge rose bush of fragrant white roses.
After hearing that he wasn't doing well I decided to take a special trip back to the village to see my beloved Tio. I was dreading seeing my Tio Arnoldo in this condition but I am sure he hated me seeing him as he is now, even more. We held each other as if we were both holding onto the last plank on the Titanic. I didn't want to let him go.
He said he loved me like a son and that he would miss our long horse back riding adventures. With tears in my eyes, I told him we would one day be racing each other on horseback.
I have to admit that I've been praying that his journey doesn’t take any more eventful turns. He is used to taking short cuts and driving his horse head first in the thickest of brush. I pray that his last earthly excursion takes the fastest path to heaven.
I will be there to make sure he continues to be comfortable. Blessed to be surrounded by his family, friends and his music; I hope that his spirit is strong and lasting, and that it embraces him through his final ride.
His friends still carry him to church and it is rumored that he has only missed a couple of Sundays in his more then 88 years. In these final days, we took turns reading him the many letters he still gets from relatives and friends.
We also play all of his favorite cassettes especially his favorite song, “Una pagina mas,” called “one more page” which tells about writing a new chapter about love. A love without regrets, without fear and filled with peace… about finding a new destiny and enjoying life again.
Each time that we played it his smirk would quiver and tears would fill his grey colored eyes. He kept asking me to play it again and I did. I have to admit we played it at least two dozen times. His visitors all thought we were crazy. I later bought a copy of this CD "Los Cadetes de Linares" in Cd. Juarez and each time I hear his song it still brings tears to my eyes.
On the last evening before I was to leave I went over to his house to say my goodbyes. He knew why I was there and he immediately covered my hand with his frail hands. He kept patting my hands and tried to tell me how much I had meant to him.
He also tried to tell me that he was sorry we never found the gold mine and he chuckled out loud… as did I. I'll leave that story for another day.
The lesson he taught me are many - one was that all of us are nothing more or less than the sum of who we love.
Life offers all of many opportunities to love one another. It doesn’t matter whether you come from a very united family or a lively dysfunctional one.
I believe that the only way to achieve any kind of happiness is by loving in a huge way. By loving with every ounce of emotion in your heart, with passion and as openly and honestly as you are capable of.
I also believe that everyone we love or anyone that loves us ends up leaving us branded. Every love whether we like it or not, leaves a unique marking in our hearts. One that stays with us for the rest of our lives.
I hated to say goodbye or much less leave his bedside. Even now I worry about his comfort and pray he has a kind and gentle exit.
Tio Arnoldo is in me, his voice still calls my name, and I can still feel his calloused hands and hear his off color jokes, his laughter and if I close my eyes can see his smirk.
These are not memories, but a permanent imprint of the actual mark he's left in my heart. He is as present in Mexico as he is here with me.
I have to believe that the best kind of gratitude is the one best felt when its true thankfulness. A deep and sincere feeling of appreciation for others and the experience they leave.
It’s a gratitude that’s not going anywhere – it’s in my heart and it’s here to stay.
An inexplicable feeling of thanks to a man who made a huge difference in my life.
“Adios” for now my dear friend and my beloved Tio Arnoldo. And if you should end up getting ahead of me - please know that we will one day ride together again in search of our gold mine.
Adios querido Tio.