The First Tears of the Year

Today, I saw the first tears of the year.

Not mine, although I shed them pretty easily these days. Pregnant = a tad Emotional.

They were my father’s.

I have only seen my father shed tears a few times. One of the more memorable times was my wedding day.

It was almost time to walk down the aisle. Everyone left the dressing room to line up. It was just me and dad. We paced around the room quietly and finally sat down on a bench in the middle of the room. Our backs were turned to each other slightly. I looked over at him to say something, anything to break the awkward silence, and then I saw it. A tear on the corner of his eye. I looked away. But it was too late. My eyes were welling up with tears. I looked up at the ceiling and tried to think about something else so the tears would dry up. I had been just fine until then, when I realized how big this really was for him, and not just me.

Somebody came to get us at that moment. We choked the tears away as we walked down the aisle. He kissed me and handed me off to my future husband.

There have been other moments of joy of course. Too often, however, my father’s tears have been brought on by the passing of a close loved one.

My uncle, Julian Rigoberto Valdes Sanchez, passed away almost 8 years ago after a short battle with cancer. He had been sick for months before doctor’s could arrive at the right diagnosis. But, it was too late. I believe he had just one chemotherapy treatment, and then he was gone.

We visited him at the cemetery today. He would’ve been 83 years old.

My uncle was a natural teacher and leader, although many might have only seen him as a servant.

He was a simple, God-fearing soul. He didn’t care about the luxuries of this world—things he knew he couldn’t take with him. He cared about people, his friends, his family.

Tio Rigo did not know how to sit still.

Whenever he came to stay with us for a couple of days, he could never just kick back and relax. He was always in the yard, uprooting weeds, replacing old plants with new fresh ones, arguing with the gardener about the right way to trim the rose bushes. If something needed repairing he just got out the ladder and got to work. We didn’t ask him to do it, it was just his nature.

He was noble and kind, and very wise, but in a quiet unpretentious way.

I remember one day when I was about seven. He was trimming the palm trees in my parents backyard. I wasn’t much help, but ever curious, I hung around the yard, and watched him work endlessly.

He came down from the ladder after cutting a palm branch. He had a nest in his hands. Cute, except it was a rat’s nest.

There were 5-6 little babies just squirming around blindly. I knew he was going to kill them; my father was terrified of rats.

“Please don’t kill them, Tio. It’s not their fault they were born rats. They have as much a right to live as anything.”

Thinking back, I don’t think he was as shocked as he should’ve been by my reaction. He told me he would just release them somewhere else. There was always a goodness and a sincerity in his eyes. I don’t know what he really did with the nest, but he loved and respected me enough to let me believe he would spare them. He was a hero that day.

Another time, many, many years later, one of my pet turtles died. Mr. Turtle, who was actually a Mrs., was 5 years old. My husband had given her to me when we started dating. She was obviously very special to me. I buried her in the backyard, even made a little makeshift cross with some twigs to mark her little mound. It was really very silly.

But, a couple of days later, I walked outside and found my uncle kneeling down in front of Mrs. Turtle’s tiny grave. He was praying. I couldn’t believe it. It was something anyone else would’ve just walked past and ignored, but he took the time to acknowledge it. He lowered himself on his knees to pay respect to my pet.

That was my uncle. He never presumed himself to be above anyone or anything. He was a humble servant, son, brother, father, grandfather… my uncle.

“Not many people can say they had a brother like Rigo,” my father said looking away from my uncle’s grave. We slowly walked away.

My father has lost other siblings, and he has suffered dearly with each passing, but Tio Rigo, I think, was something more. A father figure perhaps, rather than just a brother.

And I can’t imagine losing my father.