He liked to be called Gus. He wasn’t too happy about Augie, but neither his English nor his self-esteem was good enough to protest.
Yesterday was five years since he died, and I found out about his death and my friend Andy’s death almost in the same breath, in two separate phone calls that came seconds apart.
He died in a nursing home in the Bronx, a place that as far as I know he’d probably never been to. As a child I remember him speaking fondly of “Delancey,” and “La Catorce,” “El Village,” but he never spoke of the Bronx, and we never lived there. We lived in Manhattan when we first came to New York, then we lived in two different places in Brooklyn, Boerum Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant. He spent the last few years before the nursing home in Hell’s Kitchen, on 47th Street. How apropos for a cook.
He liked being called a chef, and perhaps he was one at one time.
This is a picture of him with Ricardo Montalban the actor in what I think was the Xochil restaurant in Manhattan in the late 50’s. But later in life he spent many years working for the Catholic church cooking for priests in a couple of different places, and they called him a cook, not a chef.
This is a picture of my father and me in 1960, I know because that’s what it says on the back of it. It was taken on Atlantic Avenue near Hicks Street, on a little strip of grass bordering the BQE. We would have little picnics there, as it was the closest green to where we lived six blocks away on Atlantic and Smith streets. Me and my brother and sister would play in the exhaust fumes of the BQE traffic, but we played on grass.
This picture is the youngest one of my dad, he looks to be in his early 20’s, and so it had to be somewhere around 1932 or so, in his hometown of Tampico, Mexico. It says Tampico on the back. He looks like he’s on his second Coca-Cola, and seriously in thought about what the future may hold in store. He rarely smiled in photographs.
By the clothing he and my uncle are wearing in this photo it must have been sometime in the late 1940’s again in Tampico. When I discovered this picture I was amazed at the resemblances between he and his brother and me and mine. I think they were the same age apart, five years; and both my dad and me are the older ones. It could be Luis and me if we wore the same clothing and I slicked back my hair.
This last picture is of course the last picture of him, taken at the nursing home about seven weeks before he died. My son Javier was spending the summer and my dad got to see his first grandson one last time. I know it made him very happy, he was beaming at Javier throughout the visit. The last time the three generations were together.
When he died and I went to the nursing home to wrap things up I found it remarkable that all of his belongings fit into three small black plastic garbage bags. I took a couple of his books as keepsakes and donated the clothing and shoes to the nursing home, for any resident who may need them. Everything else I trashed, it was of no use to anyone but him, and he did not need any of it anymore.
Like Paul Simon said; I have a photograph, actually I have a few as you can see. I also have memories good and bad about Gus, but I’ve learned to think only of the good ones, and see the hidden smile in the pictures of the man that did not smile much in photos.