The eulogy for my father who looked beyond his circumstances and loved norteño music
today at 3:43 pm
How wonderful that we can gather to celebrate the life of our father, this husband, this grandfather, this great grandfather, this father-in-law.
We thank family and friends who have expressed love and support during this difficult time.
As a family, we face a situation none of us imagined. We all knew this day would come. But not during these difficult times. And we have a right to feel angry, and sad, and resentful, or simply feel lost about how it is we are supposed to feel. We’re likely left wondering, “How do we face the unexpected?”
As a family, however, I hope we can find some answers about dealing with the unexpected—not by thinking only about the last four weeks when our father was sick but by reflecting on the life and legacy of Raymundo Salazar.
The earliest memory I have of our father is of him taking me to the Adler Planetarium. We were hanging out as a family with friends by 12th Street Beach, our usual spot, when he remembered the sky show at the planetarium. He took only me; I was a little kid. I remember sitting back in the big chair and staring at the dome as this unexpected trip with my father opened my eyes to the universe.
In our 26th Street home, our father loved to sit in the backyard on summer nights and look up at the sky. Still in his mechanic’s work clothes, a beer at his side on the wooden bench, our father sat in silence, crossed his arms, and looked at the stars. One night, when I was a little, I quietly walked outside and sat next to him. After working another long day as a mechanic, he still smelled like cars. He talked to me about the constellations and told me their names.
I look back and realize: talking about the universe was our father’s way of teaching us to look beyond our circumstances.
Based on our father’s life, that’s the answer to how we should face the unexpected: to look beyond our circumstances.
This understanding guided our father when he came to this country at twenty-one to work as a Bracero, as an agricultural guest worker. He later found his way to Illinois, worked as a landscaper, worked in factories. He attended evening school and became a mechanic.
Our father was wise. Even though he only had three years of formal education in Mexico, our father read. He recited poetry. He had these old records that he played on Mother’s Day, records with old poems he recited when he was in school. Our father admired intelligent people that he described to us as “sharp.” He would tell me when I was a kid, “Mijo, joo godda be charp.”
Our father wasn’t the type of father who had long conversations with his children. He shared his wisdom in brief but meaningful moments.
He taught us how to introduce ourselves with pride and with a strong handshake. He challenged us to sign our names as elegantly as he signed his. He said, “Navy blue is the most elegant color a man can wear.” When I was in college, he reminded me to recognize the value of people who worked with their hands.
Our father established himself as a well-respected mechanic who always did high-quality, honest work. Where he worked in a machine shop, our father posted a sign at the cash register: “Si ud. no habla inglés, pregunte por Raymundo. Él le ayudará.” If someone didn’t speak English, my father would assist them. Our father always used his intellect to help people.
No matter what happened in his life, our father never lost his passion for work. He took us to work with him. He taught us how to turn a wrench. He taught us to get out of bed every morning, no matter what happened the day before.
But he struggled sometimes, too. At one point in his life, he faced an incredible sadness that I, as a teen-aged son did not understand, could not understand. But now, as a grown man, as a father, now, I understand.
Despite that low moment in a long life of eighty-three years, our father never turned his back on us. And, for as long as he could, he worked for us. As a father, Raymundo Salazar never failed.
We cannot remember our father’s life without remembering the most important person in his: his wife, our mother.
Together with Maria Concepcion Salazar, his partner in life for almost fifty four years of marriage, our parents created a home filled with love.
My mom wrote about their first New Year’s Eve after they got married in 1967. She said our father invited her out to go dancing, to the Aragon Ballroom where all the best groups played. She writes that she went to the beauty salon. She bought a pretty pink dress and new shoes. She was freezing as they walked to the Aragon from the car. And her new shoes made her slip and slide on the icy sidewalks, but they arrived at the ballroom, and they danced.
It’s easy to freeze our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents in our minds and hearts as elderly people. But, once upon a time, they were our age, too. Like us, they had dreams. They still do.
Our father would have worked his whole life if he could have. And when his body didn’t let him anymore, our mother helped him look beyond his circumstances. With the greatest amount of love I have every witnessed, our mother cared for our father until his last day on Earth.
A couple of years ago, I watched my mother as she shaved my father’s face. He sat in his chair looking up at her without uttering a word. She held his face in her beautiful hands.
I sat mesmerized by how delicately she caressed his face as she took care of him. Our father, our old man, came to accept that to survive, he needed our mother’s help. And our mother, with all the love in her soul, never let him down.
They didn’t always get along. No one is going to get along all the time when they love each other for over fifty years. A few years ago, when our father was being difficult, I took him out for a drive. We didn’t say much. I played norteñas as we silently drove down Lakeshore Drive. After some time with a little bit a talking, I figured out why he was angry. It was tough for him to accept: he was old. I said, “Ok, Pa. But you gotta be nice to mom.”
He nodded, and he said, “She’s my best friend.”
As husband and wife who together faced some incredibly difficult circumstances caused by situations out of their control, they taught us that in those difficult moments, we do what we can to help ourselves and to help others get beyond those circumstances.
Maybe that’s what made our father be as generous as he was with the little he had. One time when my siblings and I were in the kitchen in our 26th Street house complaining about not getting something we wanted, my father explained the financial limitations by saying, “Yo estiro la sábana hasta donde me alcanse.”
He made us understand that he could only use the resources he had—and he used them as generously as he could. But we still were not going to get everything we asked for.
So we grew up appreciating simple things: Sunday rides to flea markets hours away, to lakes, to picnics, to amusement parks, to museums, to so many tourist attractions in Chicago, McDonald’s pancakes on Saturday mornings—our father always driving.
And, every so often on a Sunday night, our father took us out and taught us that the best dinner in the world was a steak with a baked potato.
When his grandchildren came into his life, he loved them with all his heart. He helped raise some of them and contributed to all their lives. He picked up some of them from school. He watched others play baseball, others dance. Some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren helped watch over him. He always welcomed them in his home with a smile; they all loved their Grandpa.
Over these past few days, many family and friends have shared with us how they remember our father as being joyful, always smiling. And so many have mentioned the music he listened to. Our cousins in California and Mexico talked about how they were listening to norteñas in memory of our father.
Lots of them heard that music in the van he owned for the longest, the green Dodge. That van packed with family and friends on trips here, in Texas, in Mexico, created so many good memories for so many people.
On trips home from wherever our father took us, we could look out the windows of that van and stare up at the sky as he found the way home. That’s how our father showed us the world.
In one of the poems my father sometimes recited, there’s a line that reads, “Con un sabio consejo, me enseñó a ver el cielo.”
“With some sage advice, you taught me to look to the sky.”
When I said goodbye to my father on Friday night, I talked to him about our trip to the planetarium. I told him that I’d look for him in the sky as I carried out his legacy on Earth.
Each one of us is his legacy. And we will carry out this legacy in our own way.
I’m not going to talk about losing my father—because I didn’t lose him. I carry his memory with me. Each one of you will carry his memory with you.
One of the most valuable memories we have as a family is celebrating our dad’s 80th birthday with a group of talented norteño musicians. That party filled our father’s soul with happiness. Our father celebrated life with norteñas. So today, we can think back on Raymundo Salazar’s life with his music.
We’re grateful to have a group of talented musicians join us today to celebrate our father’s life.
This is my father’s music.
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