Tag Archives: family

Merry Christmas 2022!

“It is only after the deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come.”

Malcolm X

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A House at 50

“Listen,” I said to my father, “you hear that?”

He didn’t know what I meant.

“Nothing.”

It was December 1972, and my 9-year-old self had never heard such quiet in a neighborhood.  This week marks 50 years since my parents and I moved into this home in suburban Dallas.  The area was newly-developed; former farm and ranch territory that comprised the hinterlands of a growing metropolis.  Family and friends wondered how my parents had managed to find the place.

We had been living in a two-bedroom apartment above a garage in the back of a house owned by my father’s oldest sister and her husband.  Located just north of downtown Dallas, it sat very near Harry Hines Boulevard – a lengthy industrial stretch of road that would later become more infamous as a haven for prostitutes and adult book stores.

My mother was in that apartment with a 17-day-old me on November 22, 1963, when she heard a cacophony of sirens and rushed to a window.  She saw the tail of President Kennedy’s motorcade rushing down Harry Hines, unaware of what had just happened moments earlier.

On the day we began moving into our new home, my aunt made herself scarce.  She had grown so accustomed to having us there that she couldn’t bear the sight of us packing up to leave.

It’s hard to imagine now, but not until we moved here did we get our first color television set.  A month later we finally got our phone.  I still have that number connected.  In 1972, Richard Nixon won a second term in the White House; Watergate reared its contemptuous head; violence marred the Summer Olympics in Munich; HBO launched; Polaroid introduced the SX-70 one-step instant camera; and three of my favorite films – “Cabaret”, “The Godfather”, and “The Poseidon Adventure” – came out.

My parents were excited because they were now living the American dream of home ownership.  My father was particularly enthusiastic to follow his mother’s tradition of gardening and quickly found paradise in the front and back yards.  I was thrilled with the prospect of getting a dog.  It was a promise my parents had made to me upon moving into the house.  They fulfilled it the following summer when they bought a German shepherd puppy I named Josh.  My mother had to swallow her phobia of large canines; having witnessed a man ravaged by a Doberman in the late 1930s.

My parents made friends with many of the neighbors, and I maintain a few of those friendships today.  They each had that type of personality, especially my father – they seemed to make friends with most anyone.  I, on the other hand, seemed naturally reticent to meet new people.  Regardless, our home became a refuge for most everyone we knew.  We often held parties and other gatherings; if for no other reason except to have a party or a gathering.  Family, friends and neighbors relished visiting.  This was a place where all good souls were welcome; where people could feel happy and safe.  We had food (real food – not just chips and dips!), music, beverages, laughter and plenty of love.  No one left here sad or dejected.  Drunk and tired, maybe – but never glum.

When my father lay in a hospital bed in May of 2016, he reiterated that he wanted to die here – in this house.  It was a wish I was able to grant him.  My mother also passed away here in 2020.

A few years ago I told an old friend, Paul, that I suspected I will die here, too, albeit alone.

“What’s wrong with that?” he asked.

“Nothing!” I replied.  It was more a statement than an omen.

So I’m alone now.  This house is quiet.  At a half century it’s showing its age.  But it’s mine; it’s where I grew up and where my parents drew their last breath.  It’s where so many people came to enjoy life.

It’s a house at 50, but it’s always been a home.

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Missing This

In 1995, the British pop duo Everything But the Girl released “Missing”, a song that would become their greatest hit.  Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt paired up 40 years ago to create EBTG.  They found their title in the slogan of a store in their home town of Hull that promised to sell shoppers “everything but the girl”.  I feel they’re one of the most underrated musical acts of recent decades.  There was once a time – before the internet – when people could vanish from our lives and we relied on music like this to fill the void.  Music always seems to fill the void of whatever or whomever we’re missing.

My old friend, Paul Landin, had discovered EBTG in the late 1980s and became instantly fascinated with them.  He was especially enamored with Thorn.  I know he traveled to England at least twice in the 1980s, but I don’t know if he ever saw EBTG in concert there or anywhere.  Paul died in April after a year-long battle with liver cancer.  Shortly after his death, a mutual friend, Mike*, sent a Tweet to Tracey Thorn advising her that “one of her biggest fans” had passed away.  Paul and Mike had met at New York University in the early 1990s where they both studied filmmaking and found they had a mutual love of EBTG.  They couldn’t have been more different: Paul, a Mexican-American born and raised in Texas and Mike, a traditional “WASP” from upstate New York.

A few days after Paul’s death Mike told me he’d dreamed of our old friend.  “It might have been the edible I had last night,” he said via text, “but I felt his presence sitting across from me in the living room.  He was smiling and he said don’t worry, everything is going to be okay.”  Still, Mike lamented, he feels Paul had been cheated out of fulfilling his dreams of being a successful filmmaker/screenwriter.

Paul and I had a strange friendship; almost a love/hate type of interaction.  I supposed that was because we were so much alike in many respects.  Our fathers grew up together in East Dallas.  Paul and I even attended the same parochial grade school in the 1970s (I vaguely remember him) and were altar boys at the accompanying Catholic church.  We shared a love of good food and good cinema.  As fraught as our friendship could be at times, I still miss him and his quirky nature.

Tracey Thorn’s reply to Mike* back in April

I miss a lot of aspects of my life.  But isn’t that what happens to us as we get older?  With more years behind than ahead of us, we sort through the intricacies and chaos of our lives and wonder how we managed to make it this far.

I miss the gatherings my parents and I used to have at this house.  There often wasn’t a particular reason.  Third Saturday of the month?  Good enough!  Family, friends and neighbors would convene upon this simple home and have the best time imaginable.  We had food – real food!  Not just chips and dips.  People often brought dishes out of courtesy, but everyone knew they could actually have a meal.  Ours became the fun house; where people could gather and always feel they were loved and appreciated.

I miss Sunday lunches with my parents.  It was always a special occasion – even when I moved back here in 2007.  We talked about anything and everything.  Like music, food helps people bond.

I miss the 1990s and the excitement of heading into a new century and a new millennium.  In some ways I miss the apartment I moved into in May of 1991; a relatively small one bedroom/one bath abode.  For the first time in my life, I was truly on my own.  I miss happy hours with colleagues at the bank where I worked in Dallas at the time.  I still relish the period from 1996 to the spring of 2001, when most everything in my life seemed to go right.  I know I can never go back (past perfect is only possible in grammar), but I wish I could recapture that feeling of freedom and happiness.  I miss my blue and white lava lamp.

I miss the German shepherd, Josh, my parents and I had from 1973 to 1985.  When we moved to this house in suburban Dallas in 1972, my parents had promised they’d get me a dog.  Somehow I’d become enamored with German shepherds.  My mother had a phobia of big dogs.  As a child in México City, she’d seen a man attacked by a Doberman.  But she swallowed her fears for my sake.  Early on I noticed his eyes seemed to be tri-colored: mostly yellow-gold, but also green and blue.  We didn’t realize how big he was, until we brought him inside the house.  We would bring him in during the torrid Texas summers and (in his later years) during the occasional harsh winters.  Putting him to sleep on Easter Saturday 1985 was one of the most traumatic experiences we ever endured.  It’s not that we expected him to live forever, of course; we just never prepared ourselves for the end.

I miss my last dog, a miniature schnauzer I adopted from a former friend and roommate and named Wolfgang.  I loved the sound of his breathing at night, as he slept.  It remains one of the most soothing sounds I’ve ever heard in my life.  My parents also fell in love with him, after I moved back here in 2007.  My father especially developed a deeply personal relationship with Wolfgang.  I realized how strong that connection was on the day my father died in June of 2016, when the lights flickered, and Wolfgang ambled down the hall.  He stood before my parents’ closed bedroom door and turned to me.  I knew my father was gone.  Wolfgang died less than five months after my father did.  I still maintain my father returned and got him.

I miss my father, George De La Garza, Sr.  I love and miss my mother and everyone I’ve ever known and lost, but I miss my father the most.  We had a unique bond that couldn’t be matched by anything or anyone.  In my worst moments, I often wish he’d come back to get me.  But then, all the plans I’ve made for myself wouldn’t come to fruition.  And when I call to him and get no response, I realize it’s just not my time.  I know.  We could communicate without words.

My father and me, Christmas Eve 1992

So I continue and recollect the best moments of my past years and look forward to what I have left.  Still, I’m always missing someone or something.

We all miss someone or something from our lives.  Who or what do you miss?

*Name changed.

Image: Aeviternitas

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Best Quotes of the Week – July 2, 2022

“We will not live in a world, not in my city, where our rights are taken from us or rolled back. Fuck Clarence Thomas!”

Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago, reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision and Justice Clarence Thomas’ statement that other rulings should be considered, including same-sex marriage

Lightfoot is Chicago’s first openly-queer mayor.

“Mr. Justice Thomas had much to say today about my loving marriage.  Oddly he didn’t have much to say about his ‘Loving’ marriage.”

Andrew McDonald, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice, about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

McDonald, who is openly queer and married his husband Charles Gray in 2009, was referring to the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia ruling that legalized interracial marriage.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar with his family. Bexar County Sheriff’s office

“I’m the Sheriff of Bexar County, but also a Dad of two beautiful and intelligent young women. As their Dad I will defend my daughters’ ability to do what they feel is right with their own bodies and to love whomever they choose.  My job is chasing predators, rapists, and human traffickers, not someone exercising a right… If it’s truly about protecting children, how about starting with the ones in our schools?”

Javier Salazar, Sheriff of Bexar County, Texas, announcing he won’t prosecute women seeking abortion

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Best Quotes of the Week – June 25, 2022

“With sorrow – for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection – we dissent.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in their dissent of the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade

The trio warned that abortion opponents now could pursue a nationwide ban “from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest.”

“Thirty years, murder after murder, suicide after suicide, mass shooting after mass shooting, Congress did nothing.  This week we have a chance to break this 30-year period of silence with a bill that changes our laws in a way that will save thousands of lives.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, after passage of a bill to address gun violence in the U.S.

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Happy Father’s Day 2022!

“Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.  It’s a love without end.”

George Strait

Image: John Darkow

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Wolfgang at 20

Wolfgang, then Docker, at just a few months old in 2002.

When I saw that little ball of gray fur crawling around Tom’s* bare chest, I didn’t know what to think.  After he’d lost his older dog just a few days earlier, I honestly didn’t expect him to jump back into pet ownership mode.  My friendship with Tom soured by the end of that year, 2002, as his health apparently started to wane.  I never knew if he was being honest about that, but we had to part ways in January of 2003.  He left me with some $700 in debt.  But he also left me with the new puppy, a miniature schnauzer he named Docker.  I had grown attached to him since that day in August, when I first saw him.  We had agreed I’d take custody of him.  I renamed him Wolfgang.

If Wolfgang was still alive, today would be his 20th birthday.  He passed away in October of 2016, following a months-long battle with heart trouble.  But I maintain my father came out from the Great Beyond and snagged him.

By the end of 2002, Tom had decided he needed to return to his family home in far Northeast Texas to recuperate from whatever ailments were plaguing.  He had wanted to put up the puppy for sale, since he knew he couldn’t care for him.  I looked at that tiny ball of gray fur one evening, and his large dark brown eyes told me we belonged together.  I had started a new job with an engineering company in November 2002 and when I arrived home from work that Friday evening in January 2003, Wolfgang came bouncing out of Tom’s empty bedroom.  The dog was truly mine.

And I was concerned, almost frightened.  I wasn’t accustomed to having a dog around.  I hadn’t had an animal since 1985, when my parents and I put down our sick German shepherd, Josh.  We could never bring ourselves to get another dog again.  I’d seen so many residents of that apartment complex with small dogs and longed to have one of my own.  Now, here – I was an almost accidental pet owner.

We had a rough start.  I wasn’t used to dogs anymore.  I forgot, for example, that animal babies are like human babies in that they can’t control their bladders or bowels.  So I’d get mad at Wolfgang for messing on the floor.  And instantly regretted it.  He’s just a dog, I’d remind myself.

And that’s what I came to love and appreciate about him – he was a dog.  I eventually realized how comforting he could be; simply caressing his downy ears soothed whatever tensions had flooded my body and mind.  Any pet owner can empathize with me.  When I lived alone, his rambunctious greetings were an end-of-day highlight.  After I’d take him out for a brief walk and changed his water, we’d return to the apartment, where I’d strip down to my underwear and roll around on the floor with him.  His claw marks on my arms and back could testify to that.  But I also understood I was pretty much all he had.  I had my small collection of friends and my coworkers, but he spent most of his time alone.  Thus, I strongly considered getting another dog.  Dogs are pack animals and generally prefer the company of other canines.  I’d also come to feel that – in my 40s by this point – I didn’t need to be around other people.

I grew so attached to Wolfgang I considered him my child; an adopted child, but a kid nonetheless.  My love and devotion were so intense I seriously considered getting him a social security number to register him as a dependent.  I also realized something else: he was the meanest little critter on four legs I’d ever known in my life!

Any concept I had about small dogs being little more than adorable playthings was shattered with Wolfgang.  He was almost fearless.  The name I’d bestowed upon him truly fit his boisterous personality.  At most he weighed about 26 pounds (18 kg), but I know he viewed himself as the same size as that German shepherd.  Strangely he had a voice to match.  People who heard, but didn’t see him, thought Wolfgang was a monstrous canine.  Every vocalization that came out of him was loud – even his yawns!  You know you’re loud when someone can hear your yawns in the next room.

By 2007, my father’s health had started to decline.  He and my mother were in their late 70s.  That fall I made the decision to move back in with them; into this house where I had grown up.  It was a difficult time, as I’m such an introvert and was used to living alone.  I enjoy my privacy and personal space.  But it turned out to be for the best.

Shortly after moving in, I underwent foot surgery.  I placed Wolfgang in a room next to my bedroom and behind a dog gate.  As attached as he was to me, I knew he’d want to accost me in his usual manner when I returned from the hospital.  But hobbling in on crutches would have me too vulnerable.  After I got settled into bed, I told my parents to let Wolfgang come into the room.  Once he entered he slammed his front paws into the side of the bed, as if trying to ensure I was alright, before turning to my parents and unleashing a vociferous round of barks and growls.  His lips were pulled back as far as they could go; something dog owners know is a troubling sign.  I’d never seen him so angry.  But I knew that was also a gesture of how much he cared about me.

As time progressed, I became more ensconced in this house, and Wolfgang grew into a central figure in the lives of me and my parents.  That little dog somehow unified the household.  No matter the issue, he always brought things into focus.  My father developed a special bond with him; announcing Wolfgang was all the therapy he needed.  Indeed, as he’d already done with me, Wolfgang provided a heartening degree of therapeutic consolation.

In early 2016, Wolfgang began experiencing strange – and frightening – seizure-like episodes.  He’d struggle to breathe, as he’d squirm on the floor.  The vet diagnosed him with a heart murmur and placed him on medication, which stopped the seizures.

Shortly afterwards, my father’s health took a turn for the worst and he was hospitalized in May of that year.  He had suffered from gastrointestinal illnesses for his entire adult life and had major abdominal surgery in January 2008.  He was relatively fine for a few years, before he started getting sick again.

By Memorial Day weekend 2016, I told his doctors it was time for him to come home.  My father had said repeatedly he wanted to die in this house; the home he and my mother had worked so hard to get and keep.  And I wanted to honor that wish.

Over the next two weeks, Wolfgang would wander into my parents’ bedroom and start to climb onto the bed on my father’s side.  In his weakened state, I saw my father lift his left hand up and stroke Wolfgang’s head.  And both would sigh.

On Monday, June 6, 2016, I had sat down to watch the local noon news.  Wolfgang lay quietly beside the coffee table.  Then the lights flickered, and I felt a strange drop in air pressure.  I noticed Wolfgang lift his head and turn to his left.  He then rose slowly and sauntered down the hall; he stopped in front of my parents’ closed bedroom door and looked at me.  I knew then my father was gone.

Throughout that summer and into the fall of that year, Wolfgang’s behavior changed.  He became more subdued and less rambunctious – something I attributed to his age.  But I noticed he’d often look off into the distance and occasionally wander into my parents’ empty bedroom.  And stare.  I’d stare at him, knowing he was seeing my father.  In the last couple of years before his death, my father would run his fingers through Wolfgang’s fur and tell him “we’re going to go together.”  A secret, I realized – one he was relaying quietly to the dog, yet loud enough for me to hear.  In my father’s formal obituary in the “Dallas Morning News”, I mentioned Wolfgang – describing him as a canine “grandson”.

During the last weekend in October 2016, Wolfgang became especially lethargic – and cantankerous.  I became annoyed with him, but reminded myself again he was just a dog.  Then, by Wednesday morning, I realized I had to take him to the vet; he was critical.  As I rushed to the office less than two miles away, I begged him to stay with me; that I loved him more than most anyone else.  But it was too late.  The doctor couldn’t save him.  I leaned over him and whispered again that I loved him and to go with his “granddad”, my father.  The vet receptionist stood in the room with us and was already tearing up.

Then she looked up and seemed to sniff the air.  “What’s that?”

I smelled it, too.  It was the scent of Chaps – my father’s favorite cologne.

As tough as it was dealing with the deaths of my father and Wolfgang within a five month period, I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about either in the following years.  My mother’s health continued to worsen, as her descent into dementia intensified.  She finally passed away in June of 2020.

In the years since, I’ve realized how lonely it is without a dog.  I miss my parents, but I also miss Wolfgang.  During some down moments, I often see shadows of a small figure trotting down the hallway and think I need to limit my alcohol intake.  But I’ve also seen that tiny character in my dreams; virtual somnambulations I know are messages from my father.  Animals, it seems, are conduits for hope and love.

In the 1970s and 80s, Josh provided a unique brand of emotional support for various levels of my anxiety – from childhood into young adulthood.  Losing him traumatized me more than I could imagine at the time and ranks as one of the worst events of my life.  Losing Wolfgang wasn’t nearly as traumatic, since I knew he was old and suffering health problems that come with age.  When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to start preparing ourselves for his death.  We hadn’t done the same with Josh.

Wolfgang in December 2010

Stupid animals!  They wrap our hearts around them, make us fall in love with them – and then go off and die.  But they leave that stamp on our souls that we can never eliminate.  But who would?

A generation ago people grieved the loss of pets in solitude.  Yet we now view animals with a greater sense of appreciation.  Wolfgang’s veterinarian cremated him and returned the ashes to me in a small wooden box that I now keep on the same dresser my parents used.  A photo of him hangs beneath a photo of my father and me at a family Christmas gathering in the 1990s.  Another photo of him sits between my parents’ urns on the fireplace hearth.  A photo of Josh sits off to the left, looking towards all of them.

Happy 20th Birthday, Wolfgang!

This box now sits on my dresser amidst photos of other deceased loved ones.

*Name changed.

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Worst Quotes of the Week – June 11, 2022

“I vote to make sure that those parents be held for child abuse.  There is no such thing as trans kids, there are only abusive parents who are pushing that evil, evil sexual orientation onto their child’s mind. I want to make sure that those parents have been held accountable.  We should start putting some of those parents in jail for abusing their child’s minds. Especially in the school system, any teacher that is teaching that LGBT, transgenderism, furries, the groomers, any sexual orientation communication in the school system should be immediately terminated but [teachers should also] be held for abusing young children.”

Mark Burns, self-described pastor running for the U.S. Congress from South Carolina

Burns, who lied about his military service, declared that – if he’s elected – will reinstate the House Un-American Activities Committee so the government can “start executing people” guilty of treason.

“And of course, above all, they lie about the reason that January 6 happened in the first place. And you know what it is – the entire country watched Joe Biden get what they claimed was 10 million more votes than Barack Obama himself. Joe Biden got 10 million more votes than Barack Obama got. And a lot of those votes arrived after the election.  In a lot of places, voting was stopped in the middle of the night. Why? In the biggest states in the country, voter ID was optional. Why is that okay? A lot of the protesters on January 6 were very upset about that, and they should have been. All of us should be. But the January 6 committee ignored all of that completely. Instead, on the basis of zero evidence, no evidence whatsoever, they blame the entire riot on white supremacy.”

Tucker Carlson, about the January 6 Committee

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Worst Quotes of the Week – May 21, 2022

“Because a mentally ill teenager murdered strangers, you cannot be allowed to express your political views out loud. That’s what they’re telling you.”

Tucker Carlson, responding to the mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York grocery store on May 14

Carlson also stated that “hate speech” is just speech that other people hate.  He and other right-wing pundits have been criticized for propagating “replacement” theory, which claims that native-born (White) Americans are being replaced by immigrants from other (non-Western European) countries.

“Abortion is not the way to help single Black mothers.”

Sen. Tim Scott, in an editorial criticizing a speech by Janet Yellen, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, about the impact overturning abortion rights could have on many working women

Yellen had stated, “I believe that eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy.”  She went on to say how abortion affects “particularly low-income and often Black” mothers and how a lack of access to abortion “deprives them of the ability often to continue their education to later participate in the workforce.”

Scott declared, “To me, this was stunning. I thought I had misheard her.  Was Yellen making the case for how abortion is good for America’s labor force?  But when questioned, Yellen doubled down on what I believe is a callous, inhumane reason for ending innocent life.”

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Best Quotes of the Week – May 21, 2022

People gather outside a grocery store in Buffalo, NY where an 18-year-old gunman shot and killed 10 people on May 14, 2022.

“I would like to see sensible gun control.  I would like to see ending hate speech on the internet, on social media.  It is not free speech. It is not the American way.”

Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, New York, after a mass shooting at a local grocery store on May 14

Brown also declared, “We are not a nation of haters. We are not a nation of hate. We need to send the message that there is no place on the internet for hate speech, for hate indoctrination, for spreading hate manifestos.  I will be a stronger voice for that.  I believe that what happened in Buffalo, New York, yesterday is going to be a turning point.  I think it’s going to be different after this, in terms of the energy and the activity that we see.”

“Parents and caretakers across the country cannot wait.  They need our support now.  This bill takes important steps to restore supply in a safe and secure manner. Additionally, with these funds, FDA will be able to help prevent this issue from occurring again.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, after passage of a bill in the U.S. Congress that would help to alleviate the current baby formula crisis

One of the bills provides $28 million in emergency funding to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to address the shortage. The money would also be used to increase staff at the FDA, such as inspectors who could help the agency accelerate the approval process for formula manufacturers.

It has to be noted that an overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted against the bill, even though a majority have been complaining about the ongoing baby formula shortage.

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