Friday, December 24, 2004

De Tal Palo Tal Astilla

My dad was very sick with a mild case of the flu and he sounded terrible. He was really congested and had a sore throat but he’s so hard headed he didn’t listen and he went out on Wednesday of last week, the coldest day that week. He’s eighty years old so you can understand why we worry about him.

I went over to his house one night to take him some medicine because he thought he didn’t have any in the house. Upon inspection of his cabinets I found Theraflu. He’s so old and gets so confused he probably didn’t realize it was cold medicine. Either that or he wanted us to worry and come over to check on him.

My dad is a celebrity of sorts. When my cousin Oscar Casares published his book of short stories, “Brownsville,” ( last year he would mention my father in interviews. He always reminisced about my dad’s visits to his house when he was a child and how my dad and Tio Hector could tell the best stories ever. The tios even got mention in a Texas Monthly story and there was a photo of my dad, Tio Hector, Oscar’s dad and another one of my tios in the magazine.

In another article in a Spanish paper the writer interviewed my dad and he was quoted telling the beginning of one of his barber stories. The writer called my father “un hombre encantador.”

It got to where people started asking about my dad at readings. People started asking about my dad and Oscar’s dog, Flaco (also featured in Texas Monthly). Oscar was able to tell a story about both of them because my father had a small run in with Flaco at Oscar’s dad’s house when my father lost his bridge to his dentures and accused Flaco of taking it. People just love to hear these stories about him.

But the best story had to be the time my cousin was signing books somewhere, the Valley I think, and he got a book that was already signed by my dad. Someone had asked my dad to sign their book and soon there was a line formed in front of him and there was my dad signing away. My dad on one side of the bookstore and Oscar on the other!

Poor Oscar, my dad came in and stole his thunder. I would have been mad, but at the same time it’s so hilarious how can you be mad?

While I was thinking about all this I decided to Google my dad just to see what would come up. Sure enough, there he was in relation to my cousin Oscar. The first website that popped up was the Texas Monthly article. I called my sister to tell her.

“You can Google Daddy,” and I went on to explain how and what I had done.

“Stop it! That’s too funny!” She cracked up.

“I know!”

It isn’t that surprising that Oscar was so influenced by my dad. My dad is the best story teller hands down. I have very fond memories of my father telling me all kinds of stories growing up.

I used to love one of the ways he had of telling stories. He would draw a picture and tell the story as he added in each new character or prop. He laughs when he remembers me as a little girl of around three, coming into his busy barbershop full of customers with a pencil and paper in hand asking him to tell me a story.

He also made bible stories really fun and exciting by making all the voices and faces that went with the story. One of my favorites was the one about Daniel in the lion’s den. I would get so excited when my dad would tell me that God closed the mouths of the lions.

The story of the three Hebrew boys who wouldn’t bow down to the idol was another favorite. He just made the story real to me and I could imagine the three Hebrews in the fiery pit with an angel next to them, protecting them from the fire.

As I got older he told me more family stories. He told me about the time he and his brothers ran off with some men to pick oranges, so they could make some money, and he forgot his shoes next to a tree, of all places, next to a canal. Someone saw the shoes and thought they had fallen into the canal. The town was in an uproar looking for them and they almost turned off the main water line to drain the canal to see if they could find their bodies.

But no story topped the story of Dona Imelda Sandoval and the time he stole her grapefruits. I actually believed my dad when he described the old woman and said her hair was standing straight up with anger. I pictured this old woman with hair sticking straight up like she stuck her finger in an electric socket.

Today my father’s stories tend to repeat themselves sometimes. “Did I ever tell you about the time…” he’ll start. When I’m in a good mood and I feel like indulging him I’ll let him tell me the story again but sometimes I’m impatient and I’ll let him know nicely that he’s already told me that story. What I don’t do is remind him that he’s told me many times.

Since my mother died five years ago we were all surprised to hear some new stories he never told before. Some are stories he never even told my mother because he didn’t want to hurt her. He also tells us some stories my mother didn’t want him telling so he never told them when she was alive. It’s weird to hear them now and to think that she died without knowing some things. It’s weird hearing some things and knowing she never wanted for us to know.

My father has outlived my mother and my older sister and who knows, he could outlive another one of us. He will be eight-one in March and he has a brother who just turned ninety in September. The other story teller, Tio Hector, turns eighty-six in February.

We all inherited his gift for story telling. One of my sisters says that they always say at work, “Ask Casares, she’ll know. She has a story for everything.” Funny, I think we all do.

Quoting from that same article about my cousin and father in the Spanish paper, “Como dice el refran, ‘de tal palo tal astilla.” Translated for you non-Spanish speakers the closest saying is, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

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