My papa passed away last week. He lived a good life, and did the things he wanted to do after retirement. He loved to travel, and drove himself across the country a few times. He loved going to the river and the ocean, working on his model railroad layout, and collecting things related to Felidae – cheetahs, tigers, panthers, etc.
Papa was a fazendeiro – a Portuguese farmer, and a factory worker. He used to take us to car races, and that’s where I learned about Al Unser and Mario Andretti. He taught me how to drive, and how to fix my own cars. We once changed the alternator on my car together. My father also taught me how to slow down, smell the pungent earth of the river beds, and watch the breeze through the trees.
Our summer vacations were filled with outings to water holes, the ocean, our cousin’s farm, or trips to see our cousins “down south”. One fond memory I have is of swimming together in the doughboy pool out back. I loved bringing in my toy ship, with little people, and he would play with me. Papa always brought us to Contra Loma Lagoon and the San Joaquin River on hot summer days. He would sleep under the shade of a tree, while my four siblings and I swam in the river.
My father drove very fast! I think he wanted to be one of the race drivers that he so admired. The most thrilling adventures were driving down the steep San Francisco hills as fast as he could go. It made our stomachs hurt, but we would laugh and laugh, while my mother’s face grew white with terror!
On weekends, he often took us to “The City” to the Cliff House to play at the Musée Mécanique, a museum of 20th-century penny arcade games. We would watch the street artists at Fisherman’s Warf, eat sourdough bread and chowder, and walk around Ghirardelli Square.
Growing up, Papa worked hard at two jobs to support his family. He was not a warm or demonstrative person, but he was present, and I felt safe when he was around. Towards the last years of his life, I made great effort to visit him, and be present with him. We would go to the ocean or down to the river together, and have long conversations about the past, about relatives I never met, and about his life of travels. I am grateful for the love of travel, adventure; of Portuguese culture and connection to agriculture that my father instilled in me. Adeus pai, que você descanse no colo do Senhor.