January 10, 1939–January 23, 2020
Twenty three years ago, I stood in front of a similar crowd to deliver my mother’s eulogy. Her death was a shock to us all. The six of us were far too young to lose our mother. After 23 years growing and maturing into successful independent adults, we aren’t any more ready to lose another parent. Our father was this bigger than life character who has impacted us all in the most profound and intimate ways. Born during the post-depression era, he had no choice but to sacrifice, struggle, and save for that one chance at the American dream. We learned the value of the dollar during our childhood when we couldn’t take showers longer than 10 minutes, wore hand-me downs for years, and heard the same lecture about using too much toilet paper because back in the Azores, they didn’t have toilet paper. He took so much pride in his frugality, parking his dented and manure-covered pick-up truck next to some business man’s Mercedes or Cadillac. We learned the value of hard work when he would race up the dusty drive-way, honking his horn, interrupting our Saturday morning cartoons for us to jump onto the back of the truck and help him retrieve some cows that escaped their pen. As children, we worked hard on the dairy or inside the house. Our parents didn’t believe in giving us an allowance or paying for chores, because taking care of your family shouldn’t come with a price tag.
In the recent weeks, we could see these virtues surface when Anna, after 15 hours of working at the office, took the rest of her day to help our father with the dairy business or his medical appointments. On the day she witnessed our father take his final breath, three hours later, she was at Philomena’s doctor appointment for a broken foot. Tony is a medical doctor and he didn’t waste a single moment to review our father’s medical records to offer his professional opinion and recommendations. Our brother Jesse was Eloisa’s right hand, taking care of their family full-time so that Eloisa could devote her time to our father. Joseph often travelled four hours round trip between Bakersfield and Laton to help our father manage the dairy and farm while our father was in the hospital. I lived in Argentina for the past year, so I missed a lot, but I didn’t hesitate for a second when I returned on Christmas Eve to prepare his last Christmas dinner, and then his final birthday dinner on January 10th, so that my siblings and his grandchildren could come together to break bread with our father one last time. We each stepped forward without hesitation. This doesn’t happen by chance. Our contributions are the fruits of our parents’ hard work, love, and devotion to their family.
For this next part of the eulogy, I asked my family to share some of their favorite memories. Each memory captures his sense of humor, faith, loyalty, generosity, and at times, his stubbornness.
Most of you already know that our father was Catholic, but you don’t know that he was very Catholic, like the kind of Catholic who long aspires for one of his children to be a nun or priest. Sadly, his wish didn’t come true with his own kids, but when he started to have grandkids, I think what excited him the most was that second chance for that nun or priest in the family. On one particular day when his granddaughter Sophia was young, Tia Helena was sorting through the mail, recycling the many letters and prayer cards the Church regularly sent to patrons. Card after card went into the trash, when Sophia recognized Jesus on one of the cards. She blurted out, “You’re going to throw away Jesus???” Our father lit up with pride that his granddaughter would put a stop to this atrocity and said, “Es verdad!” He lit up with more pride when MarcAnthony and JonMichael became altar boys and Juliana and Christiana were accepted into Thomas Aquinas College. Now, a little bit of that glory was dampened by our precious Jessica when she was 4. Dad and Tia Helena had gone to Bakersfield to celebrate Christmas with Joseph and Jean Marie and the girls. Our father never liked to arrive late to Church, so that particular morning, he yelled and pleaded for everyone to hurry up. Little Jessica stared straight into his face and confidently declared, “I’m Done With Church!” Joseph and Jean Marie laughed uncontrollably, and if it were about anything else, maybe school, maybe doctors’ appointments, our father would have laughed right along with them, but his faith wasn’t a joke; however, he couldn’t help himself and smiled.
His laughter was infectious whenever he told a story. Our brother Jesse recalls his wedding day when my father told some joke in Portuguese about some newlyweds and everyone laughed, more because of the way he couldn’t finish that story without laughing and less because of the joke itself. Whether in English or Portuguese, when he told a funny story, it was impossible not to laugh right along with him. For instance, for some reason our father could not keep a straight face when he told the story about our Tia Philomena who had her purse stolen in Italy, but it didn’t matter, you laughed uncontrollably with him.
During the early years of the dairy business, our parents worked without vacations or breaks. It took several years before life could settle down where they could spoil their kids with occasional trips to Disneyland, new clothes, musical instruments, or toys. Tony recalls a sweet moment with our father when we got our first Nintendo. He found Tony playing Duck Hunt with his remote shooter and our father asked to play along. He lay on the bed like a sniper and took out dozens of pixelated ducks in order to spend some quality time with his little boy.
It was no secret that our father adored his grandchildren. They knew they could get away with anything, dressing him up as a princess or getting him to wear a wig. He loved calling Giana, Jessica, and Sophia his coriscas. His grandkids could make him laugh too. When Cristiana was only 2 years old, she wanted to brush everyone’s hair, walking around with her brush. When she stood on the couch to brush our father’s hair, she realized, “Vovô doesn’t have any hair!” He laughed so hard.
Our dad was lucky to have three daughters-in-law who adored him. During his final months, Eloisa took him to doctor appointments, picked up prescriptions, waited long exhaustive hours in the emergency room. Stacy spoiled him with a big batch of sugar-free desserts from her bakery, a diabetic’s delight. When our father first met Stacy years ago, he welcomed her at the dairy, giving her a tour of the barn. It was on this day when Stacy realized that she wanted to be part of this life and revered the man who helped build it all. Today, Stacy and Tony are slowly building their own ranch in Arizona. But Jean Marie had a special place in his heart as his number one corisca who always took it upon herself to call the doctor in advance to alert the doctor about all of our father’s symptoms, even after our father insisted that she could no longer take him to his doctor’s appointments, but that didn’t stop her. When Tia Helena had her back surgery, Jean Marie was not happy with the way his leg looked and our father snapped, “Leave my leg alone!” It just so happened that at that moment his surgeon was walking down the hallway, smiling, and put an end to this family dispute by sending him to the other side of the hospital for further testing. He gave her the most evil look for ratting him out. He always put up such a fight when it came to his health, but round after round, he learned to give thanks and come to appreciate his family and wife for putting up a much bigger fight to save his life.
Our dad had the great opportunity to be a husband twice in his life. With our mother, he enjoyed traveling around the world with friends from the Church. With Tia Helena, they enjoyed trips to Boston to see family and regular trips to their local Red Lobster. After being married for 20 years, of course, special events like anniversaries can take on a whole new meaning. A few years ago, during one wedding anniversary, both Tia Helena and our dad had forgotten about their wedding anniversary. Anna was the one who reminded them of the special day. Right away, Tia Helena complained, “Hey, you forgot our anniversary.” Normally, our father was a good husband and knew to keep his mouth shut and say sorry, but this time, he replied, “Épa, you forgot too.” They both laughed and celebrated afterwards.
There are too many memories to recount. I still see the look of surprise when he tasted my mother’s Portuguese sopas recipe and the way my sweet bread reminded him of our dear Tia Connie’s recipe, God rest her soul. He loved sweets. When Tia Helena couldn’t finish her dessert, he always asked, “Não queres mais? And then there was wine. Our brother Jesse loves the memory of our father who told the vintner in Napa Valley, “Why would I pay $120 for that bottle of wine when I could pay $5 at Savemart.” Theresa and our father shared this special bond over wine, and he appreciated how she would always slip him a little extra despite Tia Helena’s objections. And lastly, that man could sleep absolutely anywhere. Theresa recalls the time when the DuckTours tank entered the water and the boat engines turned on, he slept like a baby. I took him to ONE movie in my life, Saving Private Ryan, and his only complaint about the movie was that he couldn’t fall asleep because of all the bombs and machine guns. He slept at the dinner table, in the backseat, in front of the television, and with a grandchild on his lap.
We laugh at these stories but he also had a tender side, despite his stubborn exterior. When he first shattered his pelvis in cousin Jesse’s house in Boston, he had to stay there for six weeks before he was cleared to fly and return to California. It was the first time that they really had the time to bond. When our father left, he embraced cousin Jesse holding back his tears. He adored our sister Philomena and always filled with emotion when he called her his angel. The last words he uttered to me were on his birthday, the day before I returned to New York. He asked me to help him lie comfortably on his bed. He felt so grateful for my help; he sweetly repeated, “That is love” and stared intently into my eyes. That was the first time in my life that he ever said or did anything like that to me. Although these stories may bring us joy or sadness, they cannot possibly capture the totality of a person’s life. They are woven together like a tapestry for us to wear on those cold winter nights when we seek comfort. It is up to each of us to continue to add to this tapestry and share our stories. Days before his death at the house, our father had to resolve some business for the dairy with our sister Anna. He said, “Let me get out of here, you’ll see.” He never really accepted that he had congestive heart failure. He will probably go down in history as one of the worst medical patients. When doctors wanted him to use two crunches, he proved he could walk with one. When doctors told him to use a walker, he walked with a cane. When his family wanted him to use a pill organizer, he used a Walmart shopping bag. On several occasions, he conspired to break out of the hospital to make it in time for the auction. For our father, his illness was temporary. Whenever doctors asked him how he felt, he would reply, “Pretty good,” slowly nodding his head. No one believed that he could work again, and he wanted to prove everyone wrong. In the end, he got what he worked so hard for. He worked tirelessly with his whole heart to share the love he had for each one of his kids and his wife. And he has gotten out of here for sure, joining our mother, his brothers and sisters, and parents in heaven. He worked hard at love, and that love will forever stay with us. Amen.