Tag Archives: Epigmenio De La Garza


The recent scandal involving Meghan Markle and Prince Harry has overwhelmed the national media both here in the U.S. and in the U.K.  I still don’t care what goes on with the British royal family and maintain that American media still hasn’t figured out most Americans just don’t give a shit what that band of over-glorified miscreants do or say.  The Windsors are among the handful of Europe’s royal clans that survived the carnage of two global conflicts within a half century.  And, like the other families, they don’t wield any real political power.  They’re merely figureheads.  They may be an institution, but their extravagant lifestyles are supported by taxpayers.

In the U.S. the closest we’ve ever had to a true royal family is from the Kingdom of Hawaii, which still exists – at least in name.  Their power was squashed when the United States formally annexed Hawaii in 1897; a process that began with the usual cadre of White Christian missionaries who thought then – as now – that they knew what was best for the locals.

The interview Meghan and Harry had with Oprah Winfrey about Meghan’s apparently unpleasant experiences with the Windsors proved eye-opening to many – mainly the Windsors and their ardent supporters.  You know – people who aren’t too aware of the world around them.

The only member of the British royal family I liked was the late Princess Diana.  She exuded a sense of class and grace unmatched by any of the Windsor clan.  While she held the formal title of princess, she did more than just look glamorous.  She used her position to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis (a very taboo subject in the 1980s) and landmines in Africa; the result of unfettered wars and European colonialism.  Her boldness with these matters shocked the staid and cloistered Windsors.  Her death traumatized so many.  I think the Windsors were overwhelmed by the amount of love and compassion people across the globe had for Diana and startled by the fact so many Britons would rather have her back than have the British royal family.  In other words, people would much rather see Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles drop dead.  How’s that for public opinion?!

I feel that Diana’s class and grace live on in her sons, William and Harry.  Both served in the British military and have engaged in a number of civic activities to further the cause of humanity.  Meghan Markle adds to that sense of grace.  But, as unsurprising as her allegations are, I’m still upset by her treatment at the hands of her in-laws.  It hints at the disrespect heaped onto non-Whites in the upper echelons of regal European societies.  Like most Europe’s royal families, the British royal clan is at the historical heart of European colonialism, genocide and racist oppression.  The British Crown stormed through Africa, Asia and the Western Hemisphere for centuries, resulting in the deaths of millions and the plundering of cultural treasures.  Two of the United Kingdom’s greatest losses came in the 20th century: Canada and India.  And they still haven’t figured out the sun has set on their empire.

I’m impressed with Harry’s response though.  Instead of trying to defend or explain his family’s supposed attitude towards Meghan, he did what literally millions have men have done since the beginning of time: he came to the defense of his wife, the mother of his child.  He also expressed love for his father, which I don’t doubt.  But it’s obvious Harry is a much different type of royal – whatever that’s supposed to entail.

I have a unique and tenuous connection to the British royal family – emphasis on tenuous.  In September of 1951 King George VI had his entire left lung removed.  A chronic smoker, George had already suffered health scares related to his habit.  My paternal grandfather, Epimenio De La Garza, was also a chronic smoker.  By his own admission he’d begun smoking around the age of 6, which would be 1899 for him.  By 1951 he was in dire straits.  Around the exact same time King George had his lung surgery, my grandfather had his in a hospital in Dallas, Texas.  The connection?  Some of the doctors who worked on King George attended medical school with some of the doctors who worked on my grandfather.  George died the following February.  My grandfather died 17 years later.  Shortly after George’s death, one of my grandfather’s brothers told my father and his 2 brothers that money, power and the best medical care it can provide can’t save anyone if the “main doctor” – meaning God – wants them.

Whatever becomes of the British royal family after this latest fiasco lingers in a strained future.  I just want Meghan Markle to know she doesn’t need their approval for any aspect of her life.  She’s better than that.

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Epigmenio, c. 1924

Epimenio, c. 1924

Today marks the 120th anniversary of the birth of my paternal grandfather, Epimenio De La Garza.  That’s a name you don’t hear too often, if not at all.  But, his moniker is as rare as the man was himself.  I was a little more than five years old when he died in February 1969, but I can still remember him rather clearly.  He had a sharply angular face with blazing green eyes and a booming voice.  He’s been gone for more than four decades now, but his memory lingers strongly and proudly in my father’s family.

Epimenio was born in Eagle Pass, Texas (formerly El Paso de Águila); a city on the Mexican border.  He was a descendant of some of the first Spanish settlers who arrived in the 1580s.  The region was then known as Coahuila y Tejas, Nueva España, or New Spain.  By the time of Epimenio’s birth, the De La Garza clan had carved a unique place in the state’s history.  Unique, albeit separate from the traditional or accepted version of the grand saga of Texas.

The third of nine children, Epimenio left school after the second grade – only because he had the audacity to correct a math teacher in front of the class.  He was a carpenter by trade, so exacting in his craft he could draw a straight line on a sheet of paper without a ruler.  After he and my grandmother, Francisca, wed in 1924, they immediately started a family, and Epimenio developed his construction and carpentry business.  Like most men of his generation, emotional strength and personal pride were uncompromising attributes.  In the late 1920s, my grandparents and their two oldest children moved to Dallas where Epimenio quickly established a solid reputation as an extraordinary carpenter.  One day, while my grandfather and his crew built concession booths at the State Fair of Texas, an Anglo man commented on Epimenio’s heavy Spanish accent.  My grandfather – as fair-colored as the Anglo man – said he had been hired to work there and, picking up a sledgehammer, added, “What are you going to do about it, goddmanit?”

He and his crew built many of warehouses on the southern edge of downtown Dallas, an area now known as Deep Ellum; hoisting massive steel beams onto their shoulders.  Today, many of those warehouses still stand; converted to chic loft and studio apartments for the city’s artistic crowd.  He often did work on the stately mansions of Dallas’ Highland Park and Swiss Avenue neighborhoods; wealthy enclaves where Hispanics and Negroes could labor, but not live.  Shortly after World War II, Epimenio attempted to purchase a large home in Highland Park, but was denied simply because he and his family were “Mexicans.”  But, they definitely liked his carpentry skills.  In the mid-1950s, he purchased a large swath of land in North Dallas and designed and built a home for his family; a large red-brick structure where he lived out his final years.

Epimenio’s tendency towards practicality had no limits.  In the 1930s, he and another man were patching up the roof of St. Ann’s Catholic school on the edge of downtown Dallas, when the local bishop arrived.  The other man set down his hammer and knelt onto the sharply-slanted roof; bowing in blind reverence to the bishop’s presence.  Epimenio scolded him for his seeming idolatry.  “You’re going to roll off that roof and splatter onto the ground,” he said.  My grandfather also refused to kiss the hand of any Catholic official, as was the tradition back then; a response that always upset my devoutly religious grandmother.  But, Epigmenio remained undeterred.  “I’ll kiss the hand of Jesus, but I kiss the hand of no man.”

My paternal grandparents, 1941

My paternal grandparents, 1941

Epimenio began smoking as a boy, a common practice among his generation.  By his late 50s, however, he’d developed lung cancer.  Back then, such a diagnosis was a virtual death sentence.  But, he immediately quit smoking and, in 1952, he opted to have that lung removed.  At the same time, England’s King George VI had a similar surgery at the same time.  In a curious twist of fate, the doctors who operated on my grandfather in Dallas had attended medical school with the doctors who operated on King George.  George died, but Epimenio survived – and lived for another 17 years.

The day before my grandfather’s funeral, I asked my father to take me to the local grocery store.  I wanted to get something for my grandfather.  Not knowing what else to do, my father acceded and led me to the store; whereupon I led him up and down the cookie aisle, searching for a particular brand.  Finally, I found it – whatever it was – as neither my father nor I recall the product.  But, he told me later he had never seen it before – and has not seen it since.  When we visited the funeral home, I placed the package of cookies in my grandfather’s coffin and told him to enjoy them “because they don’t have these in Heaven.”

After we arrived back home, my father rushed into his bedroom and closed the door, while I remained in the front room with my mother.  She went into the bedroom after a few moments, and I could hear my parents talking.  My father had been crying; something I didn’t think, at the time, fathers did.  I still don’t know what the significance is surrounding those cookies, but I suppose it was just the mere innocence of a child coping with something new and thoroughly unknown.

I often wonder – amidst my daily struggles of dealing with personal finances and aging parents – if lessons from my grandfather’s life could impose any meaning on me.  Am I the kind of man that my grandfather was?  It’s one of those eternal questions; contemplating if your ancestors would be proud of you.

One Sunday night in April 2004, I severely sprained my left ankle while walking my dog; rotating it as far it could go without breaking it.  I lay on the cool sidewalk for a minute, excruciating pain swamping my body, before I forced myself back up.  The dog – just a puppy, really – still had to do his business.  I finally visited a local hospital early the next morning, both my ankle and foot swollen.  Then, I hobbled into work – and recalled another incident my father had told me about years earlier.

In one of those only-in-the-old-days situations, Epimenio was working on a house across the street from the family doctor’s house, when he severely sprained an ankle.  The old doctor had witnessed the accident and told my grandfather to come into his home, which doubled as his office.  My grandfather declined the offer and ordered his men to dig a hole in the dirt roughly the size of his foot.  He then planted the injured extremity into the hole and literally wrenched it back into place.  “See!” he called out to the doctor after a few minutes.  “Saved myself three dollars!”

Three dollars is what it cost me to park in downtown Dallas nine years ago.  But, like my grandfather, I had to get to work.  And, I knew – like my grandfather, I suppose – that life must continue.


Filed under Essays