Sunday, January 3, 2010

Roberto

I visited the Ranch where I grew up over New Year's and ran into some schoolmates that I haven't seen for over 25 years. This set off a flurry of looking through old photos and reminiscing about the past. I guess it's appropriate at the turn of a new decade to spend some time remembering...

Several of the photos that I found are of my uncle Roberto. He was from Argentina and was the first husband of one of my aunts. He was a very handsome, suave, well-traveled and dapper fellow. All three of my aunts were in show business when they were younger, which is where they met Roberto and his brother Dante. The Half Brothers had a juggling/skating/unicycle act that they traveled the North and South American circuit with, performing regularly in places like Las Vegas and Reno and on television shows like the Ed Sullivan Show.

There's a great story about how Roberto and Dante happened to be performing in Cuba in 1959 when Castro seized power. As a result of the revolution, no one could come or go from the country for some time and they were basically stranded in a hotel in Havana. One day an Argentinian man in military fatigues came to their room and said that he was a fan of their act and wanted to try and help them get the necessary papers to be able to leave the country. He did not identify himself, but did follow through on his promise and a few days later they were able to depart from Cuba. Once back in the US, Roberto saw a photo in the newspaper of the man who had helped them: Che Guevara.

I remember Roberto and my aunt visiting the Ranch a few times when I was very young, always bringing gifts that left a strong impression on me like a jewelry box with a dancing ballerina or a jar of pennies. When they divorced after a few years and he was no longer a performer, Roberto couldn't bring himself to separate from our family and so remained nearby. He and my father started a feedlot operation together. He helped to build the original version of the huge gate that sits at the entrance to the Ranch. He also opened an Argentinian steakhouse restaurant in town and remained close friends with my father. Somewhere along the way (my memory is cloudy because I was so young) his financial situation turned sour and he would stay with us for extended periods. He became less dapper and he drank too much.

Roberto had really wanted a family. I'm not sure why he never remarried, but I remember my father telling me how much he had wanted children and knew he would never have them, so my brother and I were like his children. He loved us. He taught my brother how to ride a unicycle and juggle. He taught me how to cook Argentinian style. He would drive us to school in his two-seater Porche and bring us treats.

This is the part of the story that hurts me to to tell: we were awful to him. Our parents had divorced by this time and my Mom had moved off of the Ranch. Our lives felt less stable than we would have liked and his presence in the house was a glaring reminder of that. We were also just kids at that sort of obnoxious stage of life and we egged each other on. He was a very heavy sleeper and would often fall asleep in front of the TV and remain there all night. That annoyed me to no end. I remember once, my brother and I snickered uncontrollably as we flicked popcorn kernels at his balding head while he lay snoring on the couch. I'm sure I wasn't very friendly or respectful toward him.

He eventually moved out and into a series of depressing apartments in town. He spent much of his remaining days hanging out at the Shady Rest Bar, but still did things like work as a volunteer fireman and help on the Ranch when he could. He died very suddenly at the young age of 52 when I was in high school, when my teenage life was so all-consuming that I barely paid him any attention. I think he may have one niece alive, but left no other family. What are left of his photos and possessions stayed with us. His ashes are scattered by the spring near our house on the Ranch.

As I left adolescence and became an adult I would think about him often and regret the way that I had treated him. I don't remember him ever being anything but kind and caring to me and almost all of my memories of him are very positive ones. I wish that he had lived long enough for me to be able to apologize, and for him to know how much I did love and value him...and that he may not have had any children of his own, but I'm proud to be an honorary one and will try to keep his memory alive.

3 comments:

Jamie said...

Wow Ann. I didn't really remember him until you posted this. A very nice tribute. He was an adult, and I do not recall you or John ever truly being MEAN to anyone...you were kids.

Wendi Helmick

Herself said...

Even though some may find rest in the excuse of childhood, it is noble of you to acknowledge right from wrong and to address this accordingly. Reigniting your uncle's memory for strangers to honour it is a good thing.

I have a similar story and we share the same type of guilt. Nowadays, when I remember my uncle, I light a candle and dwell on his memory awhile. I think some would call this prayer.

My uncle suffered terribly in his isolation. After his wife left him, he never married again because he had loved his wife so much and because the stigma of divorce back then was a source of shame for him. Shame does terrible things to people. He developed cancer at 48 and was dead at 51. It was only after he died that I discovered his champion bull riding history and seafaring exploits.

If I can say but this: concentrate on your happy memories. Talk to those who knew him to get more. You are fortunate to have them.

ASBloom said...

Thanks for the nice comment Herself. I will...