Milestones


Seated: Danny, Rick, Delia, Jerry. Standing: David, Diego, Joey.

Our lives are marked by many milestones. The most easily recognized milestones are birthdays. I don’t really remember any of my birthdays until I reached the age of five. Five was such a magical number for me. Just ask William Carlos Williams about the number five and you’ll see what I mean. Five was special because a nickel was worth five cents (obviously) and that would buy me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup when I was five. Then there was a long dry spell before I reached the next milestone of 10. It sure felt much longer than five years! Probably because I would tell people my age by half years: “You can’t talk to me like that. I’m seven and a half!” But when I turned ten, I had hit the double digits. I felt grown up. So grown up that I talked my mother into buying an electric guitar and amplifier that I promised to learn to play but never did.

Thirteen was another important milestone because, suddenly, practically overnight it seems, I became a teenager. Being a teenager was cool! My sixteenth birthday meant I could take driver’s ed. I felt like I was really moving up in the world. I was sixteen and I had my driver’s license! Of course, I couldn’t drive because I didn’t have a car and no one was foolish enough to let me drive their car. I wouldn’t drive a car until I turned eighteen and I bought my own car. Eighteen was a very memorable milestone for me, too. I also had to register for the draft and I was sure I would get drafted and have to go to Viet Nam! So I enjoyed life as much as possible before I was drafted, even though President Nixon had stopped the draft and no one was actually getting drafted anymore, but I was convinced that I would somehow get drafted anyway. Nonetheless, I was an adult with voting privileges.

Nineteen was also memorable because that’s when the state of Illinois, in its infinite wisdom, lowered the drinking age to nineteen for beer and wine. Let’s just say that I communed with the spirits on weekends to unwind from the long week of work at the peanut butter factory. When state legislators realized they had made a mistake in lowering the drinking age, they raised it back up to twenty-one again. But not before I turned–Tada!–twenty-one! I take pride in having planned my date of birth so precisely. Twenty-one meant I was an adult for real. Even if I would never get drafted. You would think that there would be no more milestones after twenty-one, but then you would think wrong! As all male drivers under twenty-five know, surviving your own reckless driving habits to live to your twenty-fifth birthday grants you the privilege of seeing your auto insurance drop dramatically.

Then the milestones were no longer significant. Thirty? The big three-oh? Thirty was so anti-climactic after seeing my auto insurance rates drop. Forty? What a yawn! I celebrated by taking a nap. And don’t even ask me about turning fifty. So stop asking me already. I actually forgot all about my fiftieth birthday until my sons reminded me that we usually go out for dinner and the movie of my choice for my birthday. Do I know how to celebrate or what?

Now, I hate when people ask me my age. And not because I’m embarrassed about my age. I actually enjoy being my age and I never try to appear younger than I really am, but please don’t ask me my age. That involves math. How old am I? Let’s see. This is 2010 minus 1956, the year of my birth. That makes me … Oh, I hate doing the math. That’s why I majored in literature! After twenty-one, I stopped keeping track of my age. Age became just a number to me–an unknown variable that I didn’t want to calculate! Why do I need to know my own age anyway. If I go to the liquor store for a bottle of wine and the clerk asks me if I’m old enough to drink, I just hand him or her my driver’s license and say, “You figure it out.” Now that I think of it, why am I still be carded?

My next milestone–and one that I look forward to seeing–is my 100th birthday. Triple digits! I hope you read my blog entry on that very special occasion!

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J


2509 W. Marquette Road, Chicago, Illinois

J should have been D. But he wasn’t. He was J. And for a very good reason. My mother said so! Well, I’ve already talked about my mother’s naming process in my previous blog entries. My parents had six children: David Diego, Daniel, Diego Gerardo, Dick Martin, Delia Guadalupe, and Joseph Luis. All of names started with D–except for Joseph (which starts with J and not D, as I’m sure you probably noticed. I have always admired the intelligence of my readers!). The other notable oddity in the naming process is Daniel who has no middle name! I was less than two years old when Daniel was born, so I have no idea why he has no middle name. Were we too poor to afford a middle name for Daniel? Was my mother mad at my father for getting her pregnant again and so she denied my father Diego yet again the opportunity of having a son named Diego? I really don’t know because neither my father nor mother ever talked about how Daniel got his name. To this day, Daniel’s lack of a middle name remains one of the great mysteries of our family.

Before my youngest brother Joseph Luis was born, my parents were in the middle of a hostile separation and later a contentious divorce. How my mother got pregnant was a mystery to me even back then because I hardly ever saw them together for about a year. But somehow she got pregnant. And my father was proud of the fact that he had gotten her pregnant.

However, there was never any doubt the he was my father’s son because when Joseph was older, many people thought he and I were twins. The resemblance was that strong. So how did he come to be named Joseph Luis? Well, he was born in August of 1968, months after our Uncle Joseph, my father’s much younger brother, died in Viet Nam. I remember when my Uncle Placido called to say he had to visit us to tell us something very important. He came after my brothers and I were already in bed, so I knew he had something important to say. I listened from my bedroom, which was right next to the kitchen where they sat. I heard my Uncle Placido say that my Uncle Joseph had died in Viet Nam. I could hear both my mother and father crying. I cried, too, in my bedroom. So my mother named my brother Joseph in his memory. That was actually a very good reason not to follow the D rule in naming us.

Our Uncle Joseph was everyone’s favorite uncle. He loved playing with all his nephews and nieces. Everyone cried when he died. It was the longest funeral procession I had ever seen–and I lived by a funeral home so I saw a lot of funeral processions! My father was one of his pall bearers. The day after the funeral, my father couldn’t get up out of bed. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Whether his paralysis was physical or psychosomatic was never determined, not even by the doctor who came to our house to treat my father. After about a week, my father just got up out of bed and started walking again. He wanted to go to work again.

What happened to D?!

Bonus years


Queen of Heaven Cemetery.

When I was little, I wasn’t sure how long I would live. I was a healthy boy, so I’m not sure why I always wondered about my longetivity. Of course, being a Catholic, I was always reminded not to commit any mortal sins because if I died suddenly and unexpectedly I would immediately go to hell.

And now that I think about it, I could die at any moment. I could some day walk out onto Halsted Street and get hit by a bus. I only say this because I was once almost hit by a bus on Halsted Street just the other day. I was thinking about many things other than paying attention to crossing the street. I’m still not sure why I didn’t see the bus.

When my uncle Joseph “Pepe” Rodriguez died in Viet Nam, I was sure that I would never live to see twenty-one. I was sure I, too, would be drafted and die in Viet Nam. So I always considered all the years beyond twenty-one bonus years.

My mother died when she was fifty-one, and now that I’m fifty-one, eight months old, I have lived longer than her. I have always been an optimist and I realize I’m lucky to have lived to be this old. I actually like having gray hair, particularly because I have a full head of hair. I can still run six miles everyday, when I have time. I’m not rich, but I’m not starving either. Since I didn’t get drafted to go to Viet Nam, I’ve had all these bonus years that I haven’t always used very wisely. However, I realize that I’m lucky to be alive! The way I see it now, all the years that I live beyond fifty-one will be bonus “bonus years.”

There was a time when I wanted to live to be a hundred, mainly because 100 is a nice big round number. Now, I’d rather continue living the happy life that I now have without thinking about how much time I have left. I am ever the optimist!

Men don’t cry!


Evanston, Illinois

Even as a young boy, I was always taught that men don’t cry. I never really saw the men in our family cry, except at funerals. I only saw my father cry when his mother died, his father died, his younger brother died in Viet Nam, and when my mother died. No one criticized the men for crying then. And the men never cried tears of joy.   

But when I was little, I was always reminded not to cry whenever I fell, I didn’t get my way, or someone hit me–even when my mother hit me with the belt. Either my mother or my abuelita would constantly say, “Los hombre no lloran” [Men don’t cry!] Sometimes when I cried, my mother would hit me and say, “¡Para que tengas algo para llorar!” [So you have something to cry about!] Once when I was about nine, I got beat up by one of the boys on the block and I came home crying. When my mother saw me, she asked me why I was crying. I told her what had happened and she started hitting me. She made go back out to beat up the boy who had beat me up. Well, I went back to the boy’s house and I beat him up–and I beat him up good! He felt all the pent-up anger that I had built up inside of me from the previous two beatings–the boy’s and my mother’s. But I finally understood that men don’t cry.   

So I learned to control my emotions. I didn’t cry when my paternal grandmother died; I was too young to understand. I didn’t cry when my paternal grandfather died; he died when he was 68 and he had fathered 18 children, so it wasn’t exactly a tragic death. But I did cry when my uncle Joseph Rodríguez died in Viet Nam; I cried because he was only 22. And, I thought that I, too, would die in Viet Nam. When my mother died, we had a lot of unresolved issues between us. I think the main reason I didn’t cry when she died was because I constantly heard her saying, “¡Los hombres no lloran!”   

¡Los hombres no lloran!