My mother's family is where I get my "game face". They are the pensive and stoic people, who intimidate upon a first meeting.
It took me many years to ease that face. My wife merits most of that credit. She has a smile as big as Texas, and has done her best to erase my frown.
It's not all gone. I still get in the zone and revert back to the Aguirre mode often. It's hard, as I'm naturally gene-pooled to that side of the family more than dad's side.
Either way, there was one exception to that heritage. Sadly, we lost her on November 22, 1983. Today, twenty-five years ago, we lost the one bright smile in a family, a family, which, really misses her.
Tia Martha was one of four girls my maternal grandparents brought to this world. For my grandfather (a man who most called, "El Gato"), not having a son made things difficult to manage. He was classic macho, with a very few expressions of fatherly love -- the kind that would make a little girl feel like she was daddy's girl.
My mother was the oldest. She took on that role (oldest) seriously, married in her early 20's and had the only grandchildren in the family -- my sister, brother and myself. Next came tia Aurora, who has devoted more than a quarter century to religious life in the Roman Catholic Church. After her, was tia Martha. And, lastly, tia Dora, who tried many careers and jobs, not really finding a calling in any. She remained single and with tia Aurora, now care for our grandparents, whose health is failing.
Tia Martha was the closest thing we had -- in the Aguirre family -- to laughter, energy and passion for all things life. She was an athlete, playing volleyball and basketball (her height was above average). And, she might have been the one to conquer the tough persona my grandfather put on for the public.
I can still hear faint voice. It sounded to me like she never got out of puberty. It had both a low and high pitch, almost like she couldn't decide where to stay.
One day, she announced she had a formal boyfriend and wanted us to meet him. Grandpa arranged a big feast at his home, as we awaited the arrival of what we thought must be a great man.
He drove up in a silver Mach 1.
My grandparents home in Mexico is a true fortress. It is a home protected by a 16-foot cinder block wall, which surrounds the entire property. When a guest arrives, someone must go and open the huge doors and let them in the drive.
He drove the car in and parked. None of us were prepared for what came out of that classic sports car.
He was about 6' and wearing jeans, a leather vest unbuttoned at the front, black t-shirt promoting Kiss -- the band -- , and tall black leather boots. His hair was long (to his butt) and braided in a pony tail. All his fingers -- except his thumb -- were adorned with silver rings, most of them skulls or other biker-like insignia. Because we were all motionless and speechless at the sight, he finished off the image by lighting up a Benson & Hedges, trying to break-up the thick air.
Grandpa spoke first and extended his hand. His name: Jorge, like my brother. Tia Martha soon introduced the rest of the small family, and we headed inside.
Not sure what to say to the man, who looked like he just stepped off a movie about the Hell's Angels, dad -- in a way only he can manage -- began asking questions.
Grandpa just glared. It was the kind of stare that could and would burn a hole through your skull, given given magic powers. Speechless, he finally said, "Come with me. Let's go outside to the grill and have a word."
So, all the men (grandpa, dad, my brother, the soon-tio-Jorge, and myself) headed outside.
We gathered by the grill and continued the shallow pleasantries, waiting for grandpa to join us. After all, he called the outside meeting to begin with.
Soon enough, he came over. His right hand was behind him, as he approached. When he got near the brick grill, he pulled his hand around, and we all saw he was holding a shiny .45 caliber pistol.
Honestly, I didn't get nervous. I knew he couldn't shoot him there. In my tender mind, I knew he wouldn't do that in front of us!
He did however, lay that .45 on the grill, and began his talk. In so many words he told this Jorge character this: "I don't know what Martha sees in you. I can't imagine anyone liking a man like yourself. You look like most of the criminals I arrest on a daily basis."
The air got thicker, and the faces lost their color.
"But, there is one thing. I trust her and she must know what she is doing. She sees something I don't, and I'll have to learn what that is. In the meantime, be very aware I will stop at nothing to protect her. Nothing."
Dad managed a clearing of throat and my brother went back in the house. Jorge's Benson & Hedges burned all the way to the filter during the one-sided conversation.
Nothing else was said. Grandpa returned inside and put the .45 up. We managed to find our place back in the living room and our best to pretend nothing happened.
Jorge kept looking at tia Martha. I imagine he wondered if she was worth the threat he just got from our green-eyed grandpa.
They married soon after. He cut the pony tail. He stopped smoking. I learned he had a drum kit, four Harley Davidson's and that Mach 1...such a classic.
They moved to El Paso soon after the wedding, and mom finally had a sister to go visit. I dreamed of the day I would have Aguirre cousins to play with.
Disease made its way to her being. In less than a year, she was gone. Tio Jorge, who had completely changed his style and personality for her, was devastated.
I clearly remember mom breaking down for days after the funeral. She'd be busy with house chores and began to sob without notice. On one occasion, she lost her footing, fell, and sobbed intensely on the kitchen floor.
I was only about 11. For the first time in my short life, I asked myself, "Why does God allow this kind of pain? Why love a human being so much, when they could be taken at any time?"
My grandfather had quit drinking -- cold turkey -- years before, and, with tia Martha's death, we were sure he might fall back. He did not. Instead he began a campaign of showering us -- the grandchidlren -- with baseball gifts and time. We were his consolation.
It would be years before things felt normal in the Aguirre home. Today, when I go to that house, as I walk in the living room, the first thing I see is her wedding picture, with tio Jorge.
He, tio Jorge, that "fearsome biker," turned out to be one of the most honest, well-mannered, loyal, and loving men we ever met.
Years after, he re-married and had children. I haven't seen him in over 15 years, if not more.
As we continue our lives as best we can, flashes of her memory remind us 25 years ago she was a huge part of our life. Today, she only lives in our memories. Pictures, stories is all we have.
Life would have been very different if she had formed a family and lived in El Paso. I might have learned to play the drums. Maybe, I'd own a Harley Davidson.
It still pains me to think of the day of her funeral. The pain. The anguish.
I see hints of her in my youngest daughter and I'd like to think it's not my imagination.
To you, tia Martha. Though the world has forgotten you, we have not.
Requiescat in pace, wherever you may be.
We love you.
The Najera Aguirre Family