Life, Death, and being a Garcia.

by Theresa Garcia Robertson

Death can bring out the best and the worst in people. It can draw out old stories, new stories, forgotten stories. It can help to put anger and bitterness away. It can bring remorse and regret. It can be peaceful or tragic. It can take your breath away or simply close a chapter.

In the last month, our family has lost two Garcia men. Such quick succession is hard to wrap your mind around and is piercing to your heart. And yet, as we reach the final leg of our 3 day round-trip to Louisville, Kentucky one week after a 3 day round-trip to Port Arthur, Texas, I find myself sad and grieving, but content and proud and feeling incredibly loved.

My Uncle Ben was the first to leave us. A loner of a man, unlike the rest of his 6 brothers, my memories of him are sweet. Dinners around my dad’s parent’s table, throwing pecans at the stop sign at the end of the street, and naps snuggled in the crook of his arm are all thoughts that bring a smile to my face. His death closes a chapter of a life lived, seemingly, a lifetime ago. Almost as if he was the last link to my dad’s parents, even though there are three brothers still living. Uncle Ben was a constant to our visits to Texas, always at Grandma and Papaw’s for some length of time to say hello and give (and get) a hug. His life was celebrated last Saturday in Port Arthur, Texas.

Uncle Jess left us Wednesday afternoon. His loss is the kind that has left me and so many others, just gasping for breath at times. A smiling man with a generous and kind heart, he had what my dad calls “a sparkle” or as my sweet Grandmother of the heart said on Wednesday “The last of the most beautiful men to ever walk in Malakoff, Texas is gone.” It’s true, Uncle Jess was a striking man in appearance, but even more so, he made you feel as if you were the only person in the room. His ability to make you feel special, to let you know he cared, is one of the things I will miss the most.

My dad gave the Garcia family history at Uncle Jess’ memorial service yesterday. Dad doesn’t talk about his younger years much. I could feel myself and my siblings leaning forward a bit, hanging on to each word, as he told of his mother and dad, how they met, and the life they led together until his mother’s untimely death at the age of 43. He spoke of the work ethic of his dad, leaving Malakoff for Port Arthur to work for the Texaco Oil Refineries, something most would see as a desertion of one’s family, but for Papaw and Grandmother Manuela, he was simply providing for his rather large family of 9. Dad talked about how the oldest boy took over as head of the house after Grandmother Manuela died, leaving as they reached the age of the draft or of college, the next oldest picking up where the other left off. Dad and his brother, Edward, eventually went to live with the Surls family when Dad was in the 8th grade. Papaw did remarry when Dad was 14, when he met “Grandma” Theresa Solis Garcia for whom I am named.

Dad talked about work ethic instilled in him by his dad and brothers, namely Jess. And how Uncle Jess brought back to the younger boys the expectation of a college education, raising the bar so high that by the time Dad was college age, there was no doubt in his mind that he would be pursuing a higher education.

As we sat with cousins and my sweet Aunt Tootsie this weekend, listening to stories, telling our own, and holding onto one another for the short amount of time we had all together, it was difficult not to feel an overwhelming sense of pride in being a “Garcia.”

No, my dad is not perfect. Neither are his brothers. But the legacy they have given us as their off-spring is a rich one, a history full of hardworking men and women who loved and served their country, provided for their families, and have given generously to those who have crossed their paths. Perhaps being raised with little to nothing is what contributes to their generosity today. Or maybe it’s wanting more for others than for themselves. I’m not sure. What I do know is that if I can live up to just half of the example set before me, I’ll be doing pretty good.

We were able to spend some time at my Uncle Jess and Aunt Toot’s family home in Sellersburg, IN this weekend. Walking through the door, I was immediately hit with the familiar scent that is Uncle Jess and Aunt Toots. As my siblings and I lingered over old photos, art work, and sat in rooms so dear to our childhood and growing up experience, I had to remind myself over and over again that the best of what my Uncle and Aunt have left us is not material or tangible. Instead they have given us a beautiful example of a marriage that was 58 years strong, cousins to love and hold onto, a legacy of hard work and dedication that was evident on Saturday afternoon as co-workers and employees of my Uncle filled the funeral home, and stories to tell of sunny afternoons in the hammock, cool summer nights in the basement playing pool, fishing in the pond, family dinners in a crowded kitchen, and love. Lots and lots of love.

I am thankful that my parents were committed to me and my siblings having a relationship with the Garcias and that they gave us the opportunity to be influenced by our uncles and their families.

Yes, we are two less Garcia men as of this week, but we are full of history, love, and a legacy of strong-willed men (and women) who have come from very little, speaking little to no English, and have created a life for themselves and those they love.

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