Friday, June 24, 2005

Skeletons and Hand-Tailored Suits in the Closet

"It looks good on ya!"

I looked in the mirror and sized up how I looked with my Abuelo's old, beige ascot hat. It wasn't too bad, actually. With the right clothes, I could actually rock that bad boy.

A few hours after I arrived in Houston, my mother, my uncle Angel and I started going through some of my Abuelo's old belongings and documents, looking to see what we could uncover about the old man. Abuelo was definitely a packrat; he saved practically anything of seminal importance he possibly could. Old passports. Plane tickets. Ship logs from when he was a merchant marine in his youth. Each thing we found, though seemingly insiginificant upon first glance, revealed an aspect or history about him that practically reached out to us, dying to be told. Unlike many other packrats, however, Abuelo was as tidy as anyone could be. He might have saved everything, but at the same time, his organizational skills were so superb, he was able to make everything fit in a relatively tiny space and kept it all in excellent condition. For example, we found his naturalization papers, in sterling mint condition, in one of his dresser drawers. They looked as good as when they were first issued to him over 35 years ago. In the same place, we found his old Cuban passport from the early 1940's. The more we dug, the more stuff we found from his earlier years. Some things we all recognized; it's amazing how two generations of family could point to the same thing and all say at the same time, "hey, I played with that thing when I was a little kid!"

There were other things, however, we had no idea where they came from, such as a wedding band that was hidden in his stuff. It definitely wasn't the one he had with my grandmother, so we all began to wonder. We suspect that my grandfather may have been quite the "playa" in his youth, and might actually have another family hiding around somewhere. My uncle and mother started digging through some of his old tax return files, which went as far back as 1954. During a three year period, we saw that he claimed a "Victor Ruiz" as his "nephew" and dependent from the years 1957-1960. The thing is, we have no idea who this person is, or where they could have come from. We later asked my grandmother about it, but she had no idea who he was. Whoever he was, he was in my grandfather's life before he and my grandmother married, so, it's hard to track anyone who might know about this individual. We suspect that he might be the son of one of Abuelo's siblings, but we really can't verify that information since we've lost contact with that side of the family for well over 20 years now. The more we dug, the more we found that simply boggled us. One thing's for certain, Abuelo definitely took quite a number of secrets with him right to the grave.

. . . . . .

As of today, it doesn't look like my mother and I won't be able to see our grandfather's final closing ceremonies take place. Before he passed away, my grandfather specified that he be cremated, thinking that it would be the least troubling thing for us to deal with. However, instead, cremating him is turning into an epic freaking way to go. According to Texas law, my grandfather's body needs to be signed off by the doctor that was with him when he died, and then paperwork needs to be transferred to a judge, who can then issue a death certificate to the funeral home in charge of his cremation. Unfortunately, the doctor went on vacation or something, and we've been having the hardest time trying to find another doctor to start the paperwork process. In the meantime, gramps' body is literally chilling in a freezer, and we can't do anything about it. It's now Friday, and we still haven't heard word yet from doctors. It's freaking ridiculous out here.

Still, we can't view this as a wasted trip. We got to spend time with my family, be with them during this rough time, and serve up a few laughs in the meantime. I'm sure Abuelo would like that, after all.


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