Thanksgiving Day was a reunion of sorts for the Rodriguez family in Chicago. I really enjoyed getting together with my family as much as possible. As usually happens, this reunion was a last-minute get together that turned out better than if someone would have planned it for weeks.
I really had no plans for Thanksgiving Day since my sons would spend the day with their mother and her family. When we were married, many relatives came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. But now, I never know what I’ll do for Thanksgiving until the last minute. I’m not really very good at planning too far in advance. Anyway, our family started the day with a memorial mass for three relatives who had died in the last six weeks: My cousin Shirley, my Aunt Marcela, and my Uncle Meño’s mother-in-law.
My Uncle Placido was coming in from Lubbock, Texas, where he is the bishop of the archdiocese and he would say mass for us. We all agreed to meet at St. John Fisher Church for the 9:00 am mass and then go our separate ways because everyone, presumably, already had Thanksgiving Day plans. Well, we stayed in the back of the church talking awhile and then we started taking pictures. Lately, we can’t take enough pictures of each other. I took extra pictures on my iPhone so I could add everyone to my directory, even though I had no immediate plans to call anyone.
Then, my brother Jerry suggested we go back to his house for coffee for an hour or two, but then we’d have to go because his wife was having dinner for her family in the afternoon and it was the first Thanksgiving without her father because he had died earlier this year. Whoever was available could come back at about 7:00 pm. Well, some of us stayed and never left. I won’t mention any names, but I could name all the people who came and stayed, and all the people who left at the appropriate time–because I was there until midnight. And I didn’t come alone either. I brought my father, my Aunt Conchita, and her son Peter. No one complained that there was extra company in the house, especially not the people who had overstayed their invitation. Uncle Placido showed us the 25th anniversary book for his archdiocese in Lubbock, Texas. Later, we looked at more pictures after we ate a huge dinner. Despite the fact that there were more people there for dinner than were invited, there was plenty of food for everyone. In fact, everyone was invited to take leftovers home. We all said good-bye and promised to see each other very soon. We shall see.
“Wait! I have to go to the bathroom!” my son Adam shouted when we entered our room at the Days Inn Motel in Laredo, Texas. He pushed Alex and me aside and then ran to the bathroom. He immediately called us into the bathroom. “Watch,” he said as he dropped one sheet of toilet paper into the toilet and flushed it down. We watched it spiral downward until it vanished with a roar into the underworld of sewers.
My sons were glad to be back in the U.S. after spending two whole weeks in Mexico without all of the creature comforts to which they are accustomed here in Chicago. I explained that we would lack some of these American luxuries to them, but they were still unprepared mentally for what was in store for them in Mexico.
For example, I told them that in Mexico they only served Mexican food. They were surprised that even the McDonald’s and Burger King food tasted a little Mexican. I think going to the bathroom was activity that most struck home with them. They didn’t like the idea of putting the used toilet paper in the wastebasket next to the toilet instead of just flushing it down the way we do here.
Overall, I think they adapted well, but I don’t think they ever want to go to Mexico again!
Rudy was the consummate pitchman. The last time I met him, was at his mother’s funeral when we were both adults. He was telling about his job as a brake pad salesman and I was thoroughly impressed by his knowledge of brake pads.
However, I shall always remember how he tried out as pitcher for the Chicago White Sox every spring. He was a south sider, after all. The coaches always told him to keep working out. In the traditional Chicago fashion, Rudy always reassured us with the words, “Wait till next year!” One of the main reasons he never made the team was because he focused more on spending time with his drinking buddies.
He was a great storyteller who always attracted the attention of everyone within hearing range. He was a very likeable guy who was fun to have around. We spent much more time in bars than on the baseball field. Although he lost interest in his workout plan for much of the year, he never lost the hope of making the team. Come springtime, he would get all worked up again for the open tryouts. After a few years we lost touch, but I always kept watching baseball with the hope that I would see him on the mound someday.
When I saw him again at his mother’s funeral. He still had not lost the hope of playing in the pros even though he was well past the age of the rookie pitcher. He had planned to try out with one of the Texas teams where he was now living. He was a great brake shoe salesman due to his outgoing personality and doing quite well working on commission. After explaining the virtues of his brake shoes in comparison to the competition, I was sold on his. Then I recalled why I always believed he would one day become a Major League Baseball pitcher. He could make you believe in whatever he was pitching.
In the late 1950s, my parents and I lived in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, where I was born. My mother told my father that she would only marry him and come to America if she could visit her family in Mexico every year. My father agreed even though he would never return to Mexico for another fifty years.
About 1957, my mother learned that her father was dying in Mexico. She bought plane tickets to go visit her father on his deathbed. My mother took me with her even though I was still a baby. My father drove us to the airport. He always had trouble driving anywhere without getting lost. When he asked for directions, he would only confuse himself even more. Well, my mother and I were supposed to fly to Mexico from Newark. My mother told me this story several times. However, I remember the story become more exciting and compelling everytime she told it.
Well, my father asked for directions to the airport in Newark. At that time, neither my father or mother understood English very well and they spoke English even more poorly. So when my father asked for directions to the airport in Newark, the man misunderstood my father and gave directions to the airport in New York, . Well, my parents and I ended up going to the wrong airport. By the time we arrived at the right airport, they told my mother that our plane had already departed. She began crying because she would not be able to see her father before he died. Someone with a private plane heard her crying and when she told them why, he arranged for us to fly on a charter flight to Texas. From there, we flew to Mexico.
When we arrived at her father’s house in Mexico, my mother saw vigil candles lighted all over the house. When her family answered the door, they started crying even more when they saw us. My mother started crying thinking that she had arrived too late to talk to her father. “Did he die already,” my mother asked. “No,” my aunt answered. “He’s still alive?” my mother asked. “Yes,” my aunt said. “Then why is everyone crying?” my mother asked. “We thought you were dead. Your plane crashed!”
When I was a boy, my mother took us all the way to Mexico City by train from Chicago in 1965. We took one train to St. Louis where we spent the night sleeping on wooden benches until our next train departed for Laredo, Texas. In Laredo, we boarded a train toward Mexico City.
What I remember most about this visit to Mexico was my uncle’s fascination with American culture, particularly how important brushing one’s teeth was. He wanted to know what kind of toothpaste I used, what kind of toothbrush, how many times a day I brushed my teeth. He asked many other questions about our life in the U.S., but nothing mattered more to him than American dental hygiene!
Anyway, when we were packing to return to Chicago, my mother announced that my uncle was coming back with us. All he packed was a small handbag that was very light. When the train arrived in Laredo, my uncle showed his documents to the authorities and slipped them some money. Everything was fine until we arrived in St. Louis. Some important-looking people boarded the train and questioned my uncle who presented them with his documents. The authorities then asked my uncle to go with them. I never saw my uncle in the U.S. again. I remember carrying his little handbag home and wondering what my uncle had packed since it was so light.
When we got home, my mother took the handbag for safekeeping. I was never to touch it or look in it. We would give it to my uncle when he would finally arrive in Chicago. Every now and then when I would snoop around in my mother’s bedroom closet, I would see my uncle’s handbag, but I would never open it. One day, I couldn’t resist the temptation anymore. So I looked in the bag. All my uncle had packed for his trip to America was a toothbrush and toothpaste!