43 Candles

Family birthday parties were extraordinary!

My dad’s family was excited, he had retired from the USAF at forty-one in 1979 and moved back to his native desert home in the Arizona. Once again, I was living with dad at the age of eighteen.  Remember, six months before my eleventh birthday, my two brothers and I only spent a month with him yearly for eight years. Dad had an ability to really see me. Exemplifying feelings of encouraging, genuine loving kindness and compassion-emanating from his heart and eyes.

Torreon, AFB – Madrid Spain

Dad met Dolores in Spain where he was stationed at Torreon, AFB. He pitched for the base softball team. Back then he was known as the fast Silver Fox. I was exalted with his choice for a stepmom. She left her family behind in Spain to move to the US. Her enduring presence gave me hope. Mom and Dad’s divorce in March 1971, turned upside down and inside out my 10-year-old storybook life. Mom moved my two brothers and I to New England.  A culture shock from being stationed in New Mexico! Dad was stationed overseas long term. In Spain, an adorable little sister was born. Two years later, a cute little brother was born in Florida. Living with Dad’s new family was the best!

Sonoran Desert, Arizona

One Saturday night a month, dad’s family, Tia’s, Tio’s, and cousins, gathered at our house. Celebrations started with traditional Mexican and Spanish cuisine, Mexican and American music, singing and dancing.  Tio Angel playing his guitar, his voice sounded just like Freddy Fender, when he sang “Before the Next Tear Drop Falls”. Live music made my dad smile. He always ordered enormous Baskin Robbins birthday ice cream cakes. Every birthday name was written on top, and candles were added as birth years increased. Each celebrant received their own “Happy Birthday” song in Spanish, English, or both. Singing went on forever!

“Stop, the driver in the car and tell them to wait for you! The Director wants to speak with you.”  

I was only ten minutes late.  My heart started palpitating, the director waved me into her office just a few feet away and she motioned to close the door behind me.

She gently spoke, “Someone is covering your class. You can take all the time you need.”  

What time did I need, to do what? I was twenty years old; I loved my new lead pre-k teaching position for the summer of 1981. I was anxious, nothing was making sense, my impatient annoying boyfriend was honking his silly car horn.

“Your Tia Lola called just a few minutes ago looking for you. Your dad has been taken in an ambulance to Luke AFB Hospital.”

I dropped my Tia Lola at the entrance and parked my boyfriend’s car. I peeked in the door of my dad’s private hospital room. I heard silence in the room, seeing several of my Tia’s standing around the bed with the priest standing in front, by dad’s feet. One of my Tia’s waved for me to enter. Instead, tip toeing quietly backwards, softly closing the door, shaking uncontrollably, and standing with my hands covering my eyes.

Dolores gently, touched my hand, moving me in the room, whispering, “You Daddy, is calling you, put your ear by his face.” I leaned toward him; he kissed my cheek with his final breath. Colon cancer took him away one final time, before the next tear drop and Baskin Robins ice cream birthday cakes stopped.

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