MY FATHER’S UNCLE: A TRUE ACCOUNT
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Felipe’s house was a little over a mile away. There was a well-worn path leading directly to his house. Pianito knew the way. As he ran he wondered how Felipe was feeling today. He was exhausted, but kept running as fast as his small legs would permit. His chest heaved with every stride, feeding his lungs with the cool autumn air. Pianito kept up his speed until he could see the house in the dim moonlight. At last, he reached the small house with his lumgs heaving heavily. Tired and out of breath, Pianito leaned against the door and knocked furiously.
“Quein es?” someone asked from inside.
“Soy yo!” Pianito answered.
From within, the door latch was unfastened. With caution, the door creaked open as Pianito entered. The dark clay floor felt unusually cold on his bare feet. Pianito closed the door behind him and looked about the room. Marta his aunt and her four daughters were sitting at the table. Amando, his father was sitting in the corner with his head hanging low. Pianito looked toward Felipe’s bed and saw him lying motionless. The room was rather dark. The only light in the room came from a flickering kerosene lamp on the table. No one spoke a word, not even a whisper. One at a time, Marta, his cousins and his father looked up at him. He stared back into their eyes but could not interpret the grieving looks. Pushing the door closed, Pianito leaned against it for support.
Amando motioned for his son to go sit next to him. In the corner beside Felipe’s bed the two crouched on the damp floor like two poor beasts before a benevolent master. They had never been masters to Felipe, but now paid humble homage to the dying man.
“Papa, is he awake?” Pianito asked.
“No, mijo, he’s sleeping.” Amando responded
Pianito stood to take a closer look at his uncle. A beard had begun to grow on the darkened skin. The once smooth lips were dry and grotesque looking. Staring at his hair, Pianito noticed it was wild and matted. It had not been combed for days. His eyes were sinking deeper and deeper into their sockets. Once graceful, Felipe’s face was now almost unrecognizable. Beauty had long abandoned his powerful jaw line and high well defined cheek bones. Pianito stood over his uncle in disbelief. Standing straight as he could, only his head hung low. Nobody paid the young child any attention. Every one was filled with their own grief and disbelief. Small gentle tears began to fall upon the patched blanket. Pianito made no effort to catch them or wipe them away.
Sitting down on the damp floor Pianito leaned against his uncle’s bed. Closing his eyes, he began to nod away until he fell into a comfortable sleep. Hours passed like minutes till morning. The crowing leghorn roosters awoke Pianito while Marta was cooking breakfast. Springing to his feet, Pianito stood up to see how Felipe was doing.
“Pianito, I didn’t know you were here,” said Felipe in a hoarse voice.
“I must of fallen asleep last night. I was real tired from harvesting corn. How are you today Tio Felipe?” asked Pianito.
“Good. Good. Thank God I feel good today. Still can’t move my legs though. Mijo, has my son arrived?” Felipe asked in a struggling voice.
“No Tio. Not yet, but I’m sure he’ll come soon. Don’t worry, Hernan will be here soon. Don’t talk too much. Rest for awhile.” the small nephew replied.
“It’s all I’ve done these last ten days, Mijo. I’m tired of resting. Wish I could get up and move about,” Felipe replied.
“Don’t worry Tio. You’re going to be all right. You’ll see.” Pianito reassured his uncle.
“Mijo, come and eat.” Marta hollered at her nephew.
“I’m not hungry, thank you,” replied Pianito.
“You have to eat something hijo,” Amando commanded his son.
Pianito walked the small distance to the table. Steam was rising from the fresh flour tortillas. Refried beans with goat cheese were in a large earthen bowl. Fresh jalapeños with tomatoes were in a small wooden bowl Felipe had made for his wife. Each plate contained a small amount of scrambled eggs and chorizo. Small cups held the steaming mountain laurel tea. Pianito’s mouth did not water nor did his stomach stir within him. With disgust he looked at the prepared food. Walking toward the wooden stove Pianito whispered into Marta’s ear, “Tia please don’t make me eat. I can’t bare the thought of it.”
“You eat without me and I’ll try to feed Tio some beans. Please get some water for him, maybe he can drink today.” Pianito grabbed a chair from the table and set it next to his uncle’s bed.
“Pianito, go and eat. Why aren’t you eating?” Felipe asked the small child.
“Tio, I’m not hungry. Don’t worry about me. Do you want to try and eat today? Tia Marta is preparing the beans and water for you. Maybe you’ll be able to eat,” Pianito responded.
“No, mijo. I can’t. It just hurts too much! Please tell Marta not to bother. Besides, today they’re supposed to take me to Chihuahua to the doctor. I don’t know why they’ve waited so long, but Marta promised to take me today. It’s been ten days since I saw Dr. de la Rosa, but he told Martha it was just temporary. It feels terrible not to be able to move your legs and I can’t eat or drink a thing. The mere sight of water though I’m very thirsty is repulsive to me. I deep getting this foam... Shh! Shh! Listen! Pianito, do you hear that? I think it’s a plane! Marta please look out and see if it’s Hernan. It must be him. He’s come home! Marta run out to see.” Felipe yelled the commands to his wife with a fragile fading voice.
The same ritual had occurred dozens of times in the last nine days. Felipe’s house was just a few hundred yards from the only landing strip in Los Nopales. Hernan had been sent a telegram urging him to come home, though he had seldom returned since he left the farm for the city. Marta had sent the telegram with a warning to come immediately because his father’s death was fast approaching. Every plane sent a burst of energy into the paralyzed man. Felipe would sit up in his bed and as cheerful as possible would await the return of his son. Marta stood at the door looking at the small plane. Finally, two men stepped out of the plane, but neither was her son. She closed the door and stepped back into the room. Felipe’s eyes were following her every move. He just knew the plane had brought Hernan home but all hope was lost when Felipe looked into her eyes. She could not hide the disappointment and neither could he. Sinking down into his bed, Felipe closed his dark brown eyes. Tears began to stream down the sides of his face. Disappointed, Felipe breathed deeply and fell into a painless sleep.
A cool autumn breeze was blowing across the small valley as the sun dipped slowly behind the sierras. Father Hernandez arrived on his black filly just in time to watch the chickens fly to their roost in the nearby trees. He dismounted and tied his horse to the hitching post. Walking up to the house, he paused at the door for a minute to collect his thoughts. It had been nearly nineteen years since he had joined Felipe and Martha in marriage. Through the years he had also baptized all five of their children. Today however, he had come to give Felipe his last amens. A man of the cloth should not be troubled by the will of God, but Father Hernandez had known Felipe most of his life. Pushing the tears back, he knocked on the door. Martha had been expecting him and promptly opened the door. After greeting everyone, Father Hernandez walked to the corner where Felipe lay motionless. Felipe had been falling in and out of consciousness through out the day. His eyes were closed and he struggled with each breath he took. His lips were white and cracked beyond belief. With prayer book I hand, Father Hernandez stood over Felipe and prayed, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name....”
Opening his eyes, Felipe said, “Padre. Hello, how are you? I’m not feeling too well. I don’t know what ills me. Marta says it’s just temporary but I’m so weak. I get cold an dhot and sweaty. I can’t even move my legs. My mouth. My mouth is so dry. I haven’t had a drink of water in days. I hate the sight of it, but the thirst is unbearable. At first, I was hungry, but now...”
Struggling to speak, Felipe swallowed hard to try to moisten his throat. It was more difficult to breathe and talk than ever before. He raised his hand and pointed to his dry mouth signaling to Father Hernandez it was too painful to speak. Wrapping his hands around Felipe’s, Father Hernandez said, “My son, it’s alright. Don’t talk now. Just rest and know God loves you very much. Don’t be afraid, for God is here with you and hasn’t forsaken you. I’m also here for you and will sit here next to you and I won’t leave till you get better. Between Pianito and I, God will hear our prayers. Do don’t worry and save your strength for now.”
Pianito had been warned not to cry because it would alarm Felipe, but at hearing Felipe’s last rights, he could not hold back. Sitting across from Father Hernandez, Pianito brought his hands to his face and began to weep. Gradually, he had seen his uncle waste away from thirst, hunger, and a terrible disease. It was evident death was near for his favorite uncle and there was nothing he could do. Nothing! Leaning toward the bed, Pianito draped his small arms around Felipe’s chest. Felipe gently patted his nephew’s back saying in a soft whisper, “Mijo, don’t cry. Don’t cry. I’m all right, you’ll see. I’ll be up and about in no time. I’ve been lazy enough these past few days. You know I’ve got to get better. Who’ll harvest the corn if I don’t? Don’t you worry, my strength will soon return.”
It was all his strength would allow him to utter. He had so much more he wanted to say, but could not find the strength to do so. Running his tongue over his parched lips, Felipe closed his eyes and sighed deeply. His once strong chest seemed to eternally cave in. Without any grace his arms slid of Pianito’s back.
With his hand shaking terribly, Father Hernandez made the sign of the cross over Felipe and prayed, “The Lord is my sheperd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters....”