Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eat A Peach


C. Sanchez-Garcia

1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
3 If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
4 He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.

Ecclesiastes 11 1-4




She recognizes me before I recognize her, even from half way down the Augusta Mall from the escalators. She waves. I'm not used to seeing her this way, a beautiful Pilipino woman, wearing a flowery silk shift with a large pearl necklace and earrings. I think she just came out of the Da Vi nail salon. Not very long ago, her long thin fingers, such as women in vampire novels have, gently cradled my naked balls and tugged them gently while I turned my head and coughed. Every year around Christmas time, she closes the door with a nervous smile and a little small chatter and bids me undress. Don't be shy. Lay down. Relax. While I stare at the wall flowers I hear her rummage for the KY jelly and a moment later her long, cold, index finger goes up my ass to the hilt, in and out, feeling and probing, and her soothing voice behind me “Relax . . . don't tense up . . .relax. . ." A minute later the finger is gone and she passes me a tissue box. Feeling a bit cheap, I wipe myself off wondering if this is how old gay men feel in the morning. Prostate's a little enlarged but well. How are the hemorrhoids? Did you get the medicine all right? Good. This manicured hand which has known me intimately reaches out and her shoulders tense. Too late I realize, as I shake her hand I’ve missed the body language offering me a warm hug. I'm so dumb at these things. We never hugged each other growing up in my family. We never touched each other much at all, so I never picked it up.

"How are you?" She beams. "How is your mother in law?"

I hold up both hands with fingers crossed. I'd cross my toes if I could. The unspoken message is so far so good. We’re not bankrupt yet.


My mother in law, Chencha, is from Panama. Her brothers are nicknamed Checho, Chacho, and Chencho, like the Marx brothers. She has had a hard life, this woman. My wife’s brother, his wife and children all died from AIDS right out from under Chencha in spite of everything she did to save them. She is with us for two months, ending on 29 July at 5:00 pm exactly in the Atlanta Airport. Today in fact. I have cause to count the minutes.

Chencha has, among other things, diabetes. Three weeks ago, she announced she was almost out of the diabetic prescription meds she’d brought with her for her two month visit. Only enough left for a few days. We went to the Kroger pharmacy and showed them to the pharmacist. Melliformis? A generic medicine. Cheap at four bucks a box. Did she have a prescription? Panama? No, from an American doctor. Well, no medicine for you then. (Try not to die or anything.)

I had one of these life changing revelations, where something is revealed that is so obvious absolutely nobody notices it.

"What happens," I asked the pharmacist, "if she goes into a diabetic shock or has a heart attack or something?"

"Are you her sponsor?"

"I guess."

"Is she covered by your health insurance?"

"No."

"Then you'll have to pay the hospital bills out of pocket."

I walked out of there breathing heavy to steady my head. I was beyond freaked out. Was this true? When people visit their families from other countries what in the world happens to them?

We made an emergency appointment with the beautiful Pilipino woman who sticks her finger up my ass once in a while, and she insisted on giving Chencha a proper examination before prescribing anything. As predicted, I paid for the office visit from my pocket, two hundred bucks.

"Yes," she said, after the exam. "She has diabetes and she has a heart murmur, maybe an enlarged heart. Her blood pressure is too high also.”

“If she lands in the hospital, who pays the bills?"

"Are you her sponsor?" Just like the pharmacist, she held out the hoop and I jumped through.

"Yes. And no – she’s not on my insurance."

"In Georgia, you would be responsible for her medical and hospital expenses from your pocket."

"If she had life critical heart surgery, say a double bypass, what would that cost?"

She named me a figure, comparable to what it would cost a highway crew to build a double bypass, say on Interstate 20. At least it sounded like that to a guy with no dough.

Visions of living out of our car swam before my eyes. It doesn’t stop with mere bankruptcy in my case. I have a security clearance. Most of the spies they've caught in the past did it for money alone. If you go bankrupt you’re regarded as an unacceptable security risk. They yank your clearance. That means they yank my job. It all comes down so fast.

She gave us a stock of high quality diabetic medicine and a prescription for more if needed. We walked our beloved little time bomb out of there gingerly and home to the TV and the nice air conditioning. From that moment I began counting down the days to the 29th. Meanwhile the Fourth of July was coming.


My father had died in November last year of leukemia. It was a relapse. The insurance had grudgingly paid for most of the chemotherapy the first time around. We all came to visit him for that Fourth of July in 2008, including Chencha, but we didn’t go up to the lake cabin in Ely. He was in the middle of the treatment and way too weak for traveling. But Chencha was in her karmic element, caring for the dangerously ill. This was an experience she had handled most of her life for one person or another, and she was suddenly herself again. She and Maria made Dad some Panamanian beef soup with lentils, which struck hidden memories of home cooking in his Spanish childhood in Kansas. The soup was emotionally and physically healing for him and his spirits picked up tremendously. We went home with good memories. At the end, he was pronounced cured by the doctors. All traces of the cancer were gone, though there was a small but possible chance of a relapse.

About three months later, the skin blisters began to return, and his trip to Italy was canceled. This time the insurance company said that considering his age and his chances for success, it wasn't really “cost effective”, sorry old fellow, to provide for his medical care. You understand how it is old chap, there's a jolly good sport. Have a nice trip.

Someone in an insurance office, probably some college kid working out of a company policy manual had cheerfully condemned Dad to die and that was that. He got his affairs in order and I made a trip out to spend election night together with him. Wrapped in blankets, he and I drank beer, smoked cigars (lung cancer being no longer an issue is his case) and watched Obama become president. We went through some old photo albums and he explained the images to me, who they were, ancestors going back five generations. Pictures of him when he was a kid in the sticks. The next morning we said our goodbyes in tears. We forgave each other the odd things between father and son that pile up over a lifetime, and said we loved each other. He told me I was a good son. I told him he was a good father, which was true. I brought the album home with me on the plane to scan onto a DVD for preservation. I also brought with me a very special old camera. Three weeks later he was gone.

The funeral was in December, but I didn’t have any money to travel and told Lavonne Anthony and I would come up for a week in the summer and we'd have a private service for him then. With Maria keeping a close eye on Chencha, Anthony and I left for Minnesota on the first of July. Dad's old friend Ron and Sharon, one of Lavonne’s band-mates from “The Wildcats”, picked us up and brought us up to Ely Minnesota, the real life Lake Wobegon. Over an intense four days we ate a lot, swam a lot, and saw a small town parade on Main Street including a marching band which clapped aluminum lawn chairs rhythmically. On the night of the fourth, I sat in a field with Anthony, Lavonne, and my two half sisters and we all watched the fire works and went back to the cabin for more wine, beer and food and rowdy talk. What I found was a taste of what I wanted. A part of me still wanted to be like Dad.

The memorial service was held at the cabin, on the lake shore. About a hundred people came, small compared to the funeral, but still a pretty big crowd. They asked me, the first son, to say a few words.

I had no idea was I was supposed to say to them. The man they knew was different from the man I grew up with. They caught him at a different time in his history. His daughters knew him in ways that I didn’t, had the good things at a time when he could afford to give them, when he was a success, a way of life I never knew in my time. They gave back to him the things I no longer could.

The crowd assembled on the lake shore where different people took turns speaking and telling stories. Then it was my turn. I just opened my mouth.

"The last time I saw Dad alive,” I began, “was after election night. He had only one material possession I wanted; this was his old press camera, a Zeiss Ikon Twin Lens Reflex. It was built in Germany with beautiful Carl Zeiss lenses in 1950. You can’t get film for it anymore. Nobody makes those flash bulbs anymore. You can’t do anything with it. But the thing is, none of you knew him then. I was his first child. You see, that camera was from my time."

I felt myself choking up. I took off my glasses and put them in my suit pocket. I never cry and suddenly I was just falling apart.

"He was a news reporter then. He made about $75 a month or something. And that was with a college degree he got on the GI bill. We lived in the projects in Ames Iowa, Pammel Court, in this thing that was like an airplane hanger made from corrugated steel. When you’re a little kid you don’t know you're poor. If you’re eating oatmeal for dinner, you just figure everybody eats oatmeal for dinner so oatmeal's great. But those were his hungry days, when he was ambitious. And you - " I had to stop and pull myself together. "You see, you were the people he was dreaming of."

I waved my arm taking it all in. "He spoke Spanish then, because he grew up speaking Spanish in his family. When the cops caught a perp who only spoke Spanish, they'd call my dad in to translate and give him the story. Crime. Basketball games. Highway accidents. Dad was there with this camera. A lot of humanity passed through that camera. That's why I wanted it. Over time he forgot how to speak Spanish and started moving up the ladder. When he was a news editor in Wyoming he told me stories about being in the newsroom when Kennedy was shot. When they shot Oswald he was gone for three days covering it. That was my time, when that camera was precious to him, it was how he earned a living. The first time he was sick, he told me I could find it in the upstairs closet and it was okay to take it, but I said no. I said to him, that if I just took it, it was like saying our team wasn’t going to win. I wanted him to give it to me from his hand, father to son. The best things can’t be taken. They have to be given. But our team didn’t win. The last time I saw him, he gave me the camera. I received it from his hand."

I stopped and drew a deep breath. Everything looked wet. "You see, all those years when I was a kid, he was trying to get to you and to all of this. But sometimes there are things that get in the way. That was when my family broke up. He had to make a new start, to reset his life. Everybody runs into that choice, and you have to handle it your own way. I think that was very difficult for him, because he was a moral man, a responsible man and he knew he was hurting us, but it needed to be done. And he watched me and my brother closely to make sure we were all right. He wanted us to be all right."

I was being careful, choosing my words. I can’t tell these people outright what I’m thinking, that we were the sacrifice, my brother and I, we were the lambs on his altar. It wouldn’t be fair to them.

I wouldn’t tell them the painful things, that my brother and mother and I, we were version one. The beta version family, the buggy messed up version that needed a lot of trouble shooting. We were in the way of the future. All the harder because Dad was a genuinely good man.

"I'm very glad," I continued, "that he found his way to all of you. I'm glad his sacrifice paid off. His gamble paid off, not because he became well off, but because of you. Because in the end he was loved so well by so many. You made it worth it. I want to thank you all for loving him and being his friends and making his life full and successful and truly happy during that second half of his life.."

The half where I couldn’t be, because I was off chasing God. Dad, my good stepmother, my two sisters - they were the lambs on my altar too. They wanted me but I was busy trying for sainthood. My sisters grew up together without me. We all sacrificed each other for what we wanted. Isn't that the way of love?

Afterwards there was more food, more beer, more wine, hugs, loud laughter and conversation. Lavonne's brother Ron and I hung out talking about poetry and stuffing ourselves with date bars and getting loud. I looked around and thought, I should have grown up around these people. I should have known them and let myself be known by them. I screwed it all up. I could have had all this. I could have had them.

Anthony loved Minnesota, he loved the lake, the icy water, the loons, the whole northern way of life. He was a natural fit. But we needed to get back to the real world. Hugs and tears, a long car ride to the city. The next day we were back in our own world.

Sitting in the back, with no answers and none the wiser. The real questions have no answers. On NPR radio a woman who lost her job in the recession is talking about food banks. Looking at the little peach tree. It survived June. The June bugs tore it to pieces, but my tattered young tree bravely offers me six peaches. The peaches are split from the sun and the bugs. An odd gray fungus spots a few of them. Anybody can tell I don’t know shit about raising a peach tree. But if a tree can express pride, I feel this tree is proud. It’s proud of its ugly peaches. I wanted to show it to Dad. He would have understood this tree. He would have seen himself in this tree. I pull a peach off. Someday, somehow, somewhere down the road, all this will make some kind of sense.

I bite the peach, hot from the sun, the sweet warm juice bursting and running down my beard, staining my shirt.

It's glorious.

13 comments:

  1. Garce,

    Glorious and powerful. A truly great post.

    Ashley

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  2. "The half where I couldn’t be, because I was off chasing God. Dad, my good stepmother, my two sisters - they were the lambs on my altar too. They wanted me but I was busy trying for sainthood. My sisters grew up together without me. We all sacrificed each other for what we wanted. Isn't that the way of love?"

    Beautiful...
    Chloe

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  3. Some vacations are meant to get away from everything. Others are meant to go find what's important. I know which one you took.

    This was an amazing post, Garce. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Garce,

    Week after week, your pieces make me cry.

    That's a compliment.

    Love,
    Lisabet

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  5. Garceus, this is a moving and insightful piece of writing, thank you for this glimpse into your life.
    Paul.

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  6. This may be my favorite so far.
    It's so damn real, and round and solid.
    Thank you, Garce.
    R

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  7. Hi Ashley! Thanks for reading my stuff. I know it gets pretty long sometimes.

    Garce

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Chloe.

    Thank you for reading my stuff!

    Garce

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Helen!

    Yeah, it was that kind of vacation. I'm still waiting to take the other kind though.

    Garce

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  10. Hi Lisabet!

    I just got back from the airport where we saw Chencha off to Panama. She had a good visit but I think she misses her home too. She left in good health and I quietly breathed a little sigh of relief. We'll try to visit her next year in Panama, God willing.

    Garce

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  11. Hi Paul!

    Thank you for reading my stuff, and I'm glad it reached you.

    Garce

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  12. Goddess!

    Good to see you back again. My inner demons have missed you. Someday I want to invite you to be a guest blogger and/or maybe Tim too. I'm just waiting for the right theme to come up. I'm always open to ideas for a theme topic if you have some.

    Garce

    ReplyDelete