Saturday, September 16, 2006

Rex Gallegos

Meet my Dad. This picture was taken in the early 60s, probably at our house in City Terrace, which is part of East LA. My father was just 33 when he died of alcoholism on this date (or was it Sept. 15?) in 1972.

For many years I've wondered about him. I only saw him twice between the time he died and when my Mom and my brother and I left him in the 1969 or 1970. I have my memories, but they are vague and ghostly, like remembering a dream you had a long time ago. Some of my memories are centered on minutiae like the feel of his whiskers on my cheek or the smell of his breath after he had been drinking. Others are more specific, remembering word for word short conversations he and I had. But mostly they are just filled with fleeting images.

My reflections about him have changed since I've become a father. My thoughts about him used to be more romantic, imagining the crazy life of an artistic, poetic East LA Chicano in the 1960s. But now I'm stuck on thinking about him as a father and I'm mystified that he didn't take better care of himself for the sake of us, his kids.

I wish he could have known us. I wish he could have known his grandkids. I wish I could have known him. But that was not to be.

12 comments:

  1. coopersleuth12:24 PM

    I too have often wondered how different your lives would have been to have your father present in them. He was an interesting, creative, gentle and melancholy man who was cursed with this illness. I've often thought about him as a father and how much he missed and now how much more missing there is with grandkids. I know he would have been very proud to have you and your brother as sons and I too wish you could have know each other..Love Mom

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  2. copersleuth12:26 PM

    p.s. He died on September 15, 1972. This is a photo I took in the backyard of our house on Helen Dr. in City Terrace about 1962. You were just beginning to walk...

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  3. What your mother describes is a beautiful man with a gentle heart. If the pain he carried were not so great, if he could have seen with clear eyes, I believe he would be here today, for you, for Sol and for your children. If your father could have taken a different road, I believe he would have.

    I grieve for your loss, and for his.

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  4. Anonymous9:52 PM

    wow, you both look so much like him that I thought it was you or Sol as I scrolled down...what a terrible loss for everyone, but you both should be so proud of the men you have become and I'm sure he watches down on all of you with love and pride. Your child will know him through you, who obviously inherited his creative, gentle soul. Thinking of you all...love Sharon

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  5. JeffP...4:52 PM

    As I look at this picture I remember Rex as a bit heavier, and I don't characterize my mental picture of him wearing glasses or smoking although I'm sure he did both.

    The last time I saw Rex was around 1966 or 67, I think I was about 11 that'd make Aaron 6, Sol 4 if I'm not mistaken, anyway my mother and I had gathered up some of my still useful clothes, toys and other assorted white-elephants into a few bags and made the trek to, (my memory is vague) Nevada street in E. L.A. to bring my sister and her family what we could.

    Their home was a small two bedroom bungalow. Aaron and Sol's room was just off the front living room and there were hand made musical instruments and other art work casually remaining where ever they were last enjoyed.

    Rex was not a boisterous man, his voice was clear, deep and smooth as it rolled out from under his mustache, it matched his demeanor and namesake. My few brief encounters with him always left an indelible imprint. Knowing him gave my young self insight into the life of an artist. It doesn't matter if the artist is active making art, it's more a state of mind.

    I've never forgotten him, I can still hear one of his last sentences to me, it was an awkward moment for him as I happened upon some hand-rolled cigarettes, knowing what they were, I felt the need to say something like, rolling your own was very practical, although I'm sure it sounded more like something a 12 year old would say. Rex replied by saying in his usually smooth deep voice, "[here] Jeff, I'll take those." as he sprited them away. I wanted him to know that I knew what was really in the ciggarettes, and how it wasn't offensive to me, but I couldn't make that happen.

    I also remember him smiling as I struggled to make a rhythm on a bongo-drum or a tune on a hand-made two string instument, it was an encouraging, but don't get too loud look, my desire to create something far exceeded my natural tallent.

    JeffP....

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  6. Thank you SO MUCH Jeff for the unexpected gift of your post. Eyewitness accounts such as yours mean so much to me...truly like discovering a treasure that I believed to be lost forever. I really appreciate it.

    Thanks to the other posters as well. You each are people of so much love and compassion.

    A

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  7. Funny, Aaron (in a not funny way of course). I was just telling my cousin about my Grandfather the American soldier and my dad's young life. A lot of rampant alcoholism. And it does pass on. My dad lives with a lot of pain.

    Thank you for this, though I am very sorry for your fleeting memories. I am very glad your mom is able to be as gentle as she is in her observations. That is one fabulous woman.

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  8. My father passed in 1996 of alcoholism. His funeral was on September 16. He was a Brown Beret and and an amazing musician. Every once in a while my son goes for his guitar and I can imagine him getting to know Roque, and hanging out like his muse. Every once in a while my son laughs at the corner the guitar usually stands while I'm playing it. I pretend it's my dad making funny faces behind my back. I, too, always wondered how he couldn't be there the way we needed him to be. It's only very recently, maybe a week ago to be exact, that I considered it was harder on him not being able to care for us than it was on us. It was the first time I ever thought that. I thought about it as I considered how daily I love my boy more and more. And just as I find my cup runneth over, I also find there is more love to fill it with. I can only imagine my father's fear to know what he was losing.

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  9. Aaron - I have a couple memories of your father. The first is when we were watching one of the Apollo spacecraft landings at our casa in Maravilla; me, Jos and your Da,d about 6 in the A.M. I wondered aloud, for some reason, if you could light an matchbook match on an Ohio Blue Tip box. Rex said he didn't know and I said I'd try. (I guess there was some measure of unspoken adult supervision.) As I was walking back from the kitchen my Mom asked, from her bedroom, what I was doing, and being young and initially guileless, I said I was getting a match. When she asked why, I said it was for Rex. The experiment was unsuccessful. I guess it illustrated the inquisitive/experimental/devil-may-care nature of your father's approach to living and child-rearing versus the more anxious approach of my parents.
    Secondly, I remember the last time I saw Rex. My father has just gotten home and was in the beginning stages of one of his benders. Later that evening, your father showed up at the door, and my mom, who I guess was pretty stressed yelled "Get out of here, Rex!" He quietly faced about and left; I never saw him again. I was accustomed to seeing adults argue but continue in their relationships, but it wasn't the case that time. I remember thinking later that Rex must have been pretty sensitive to never have come by the house again; as close as our parents had been.
    Final Rememberance - I can still see my father crying early in the afternoon the day of Rex's funeral, before they went. He called Rex his best friends through his tears. He wasn't even that drunk. My apologies to anyone who might be offended to the numerous references to substance abuse, but you had to be there.

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  10. Thanks Dylan. I really do appreciate your memories of my dad and our time growing up together. It means a lot to me. Peace brother.

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  11. Also, thank you Dahlia and Karen for your kind thoughts. It helps a lot to remember that I am not alone in my situation. So many of us have gone or are going through similar things. Thank you so much.

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  12. I knew a young man,1959-1961 who I think might have been your dad, met him in east la junior college, but i do not remember him with a mustach, he had a aunt named Laura, and a sister named Diana. IF that was your dad, then know that I cared for him deeply and I am so sorry that he has passed. So young!He was a good man and I often wondered what happened to him. I also knew a good friend of his named Armando Avalos whom I lost contact with in1962.
    At that time I was living and working in Palm
    Springs where I still have family. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.I am
    gcrist@scattercreek.com
    Again, you have my sympathy, although late. Gloria

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