tio joaquin

Alfonso Zapata

My uncle passed away this past week. He was diagnosed with ALS over two years ago so, while it was sad, it was also a bit of a relief. The last time I saw him over the holidays, he could only move his head up and down, couldn’t speak and had to take his food by a tube going through his throat.

It sucked. The past two years have sucked. Seeing an energetic, funny, kind man degrade over time, seeing his body fall apart, his mind slow down, knowing there’s no cure, nothing you can do… It really sucked.

But he’s no longer suffering and he’s buried next to my Tia Rosa (who passed less than three months ago). It’s been a rough period of time for my family.

I’ve been gone in Houston for the past few days helping my family deal with this, so in lieu of a structured essay, I’m just going to post a few memories that I shared with my Tio Joaquin.

When I was four, I went to visit family in Mexico. On a particularly hot summer day, my uncle took my cousins and I to a local river so we could swim and splash around. We all stripped down to our tighty whites and jumped in. The river was filled with tadpoles which, as most of us know, are harmless. As a four-year old, I didn’t know what tadpoles were, and I didn’t notice them until I was already doggy paddling down the river. My Tio Joaquin made a comment about how, if we weren’t careful, the tadpoles would slip into our penises and eat our insides.

You’ve never seen three grade-school kids jump out of water faster than me and my cousins did that day. It was like a reverse cannon ball. As we sat on the river bank, crying, my uncle just floated down the river, chuckling to himself.

During that same trip to Mexico, I awoke one morning to find a rather large scorpion just hanging out on the wall next to my bed, about six inches from my face.

“Tio… Tio Joaquin…” I whispered. My family was sleeping in a single room, different family members sharing different beds. My uncle was sharing a bed with my cousin, Fernando, and they were right next to me.

Tio Joaquin stirred, sat up, looked in my direction, saw the scorpion, grabbed it with one hand and tossed it into the fire my great-uncle was using to make us some breakfast. Then Tio Joaquin went back to sleep.

One night, on a separate trip to Mexico, my drunk dad was arguing with a bunch of other drunk family members on who was going to drive. They all knew they were too drunk to drive and were trying to determine who the most sober person was. After a few minutes of heated conversations, my Tio Joaquin stumbled out of the house and said “Alright, I’ll drive.” He then got into the front seat of the family Chevy Silverado and passed out on the steering wheel. No one drove anywhere that night.

My uncle has been a huge Astros fan since he moved to Texas in the early 70’s. The Astros have not had many great seasons since my Tio Joaquin became a fan. But that changed this season. Not only did we make it to the World Series, but we won. The Houston Astros were champions. And my uncle was alive to see it happen.

A memory that I’ll cherish forever is watching Game 4 at his house. My uncle, my wife, my cousins, my sisters, my aunts, my parents, a few family friends. My aunt had just passed a few weeks before, but we were watching baseball and drinking beer and just… hanging out. Together. My uncle, although he couldn’t really speak, could still smile. And I just remember looking over after every inning and seeing a huge smile on his face. The Astros would go on to lose the game, falling 6–2 to the Dodgers, but there was a vibe of happiness in the room. A ray of hope.

Three games later, the Astros would beat the Dodgers in a tense Game 7. I wasn’t there to watch the game with him, but my cousins tell me that tears were streaming down his face hours after the game ended. They sat in the living room, my uncle and my cousins, just watching the celebration on TV.

Two months later, my uncle was buried next to my aunt. My cousins put an Astros World Series hat in the casket with him.

He was a good man. And he didn’t deserve to go the way he did. But he lived a good life. And as cliched as it sounds, he was loved. He was loved. He was loved.

And as long as I’m on this Earth, these memories of him will live on.

Te extraño, Tio Joaquin.

    Alfonso Zapata

    Written by

    I once ate two and a half Chipotle burritos. In one sitting. www.alfzap.com

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