Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Uncle Paul (12/02/1927 - 10/20/2003)

My mom called, "Uncle Paul passed away this morning."

Uncle Paul was my grandfather's 1st cousin. Growing up, we didn't know many Filipinos except for Uncle Paul, his brother, and some of their friends. My parents didn't have family here except for them which was a good thing, otherwise I would have been writing this from Alamo, TX. Most of our social gatherings revolved around these few families who had planted roots in Oakland.

We would visit Uncle Paul in the Oakland avenues. It was a rough neighborhood, but I wasn't old enough to read the newspaper to know the difference between good hoods and bad ones. Though his kids were technically my dad's 2nd cousins, they were closer to our age and called my dad uncle.

Uncle Paul also worked for the City of Oakland. Me and my sister would visit my mom in City Hall and always run into Uncle Paul in the elevator. He had those 1970s thick black rimmed glasses, he was thin, with a receding hairline. As a kid, I never knew what he did there. When we asked my mom once, she said, "he makes coffee." OK, I thought, he makes coffee. In reality, he was an engineer for the city, but since most things were up and running and nothing needed to be built, there wasn't much to do, so he made coffee.

When I got a bit older, I asked my mom again, what Uncle Paul does. This time she added, "he erases numbers so he can add them again." So I imagined Uncle Paul sitting at his desk with a pencil, eraser, and calculator, erasing his marks only to write them down just as before, like a man who has finished the last crossword puzzle only to erase it so he can do it again.

I always thought of him as the quiet brother, who didn't say much, compared to his more gregarious brother, Uncle Fel. But he had eyes that sparkled within the dark frames. A humble, quiet man, who was quite religious.

When I was five, my parents went to some kind of evening event with them. I hid under a chair, upset that they were leaving at night and going out into that deep dark world. I was scared. He coaxed me out and reassured me that it would be ok and that they would be back. He had that way with kids, knowing what they needed.

When I was in elementery school, we got a call. Uncle Paul was in the hospital, an aneurism in his brain. I imagined him lying on a table under a bright light with the surgeons hunched around him as if in a soap opera drama. He made it through, I don't know how, but he lived. An avid smoker, he quit cold turkey after that. He had two grandchildren at the time and I know he wanted to stick around for them. He would live long enough to add several more grandchildren and watch the oldest ones graduate high school.

As the years have gone by, I've seen less and less of that side of the family, though all my years growing up, they were our closest kin. Families have grown up and we don't get together as often as adults. It seems like we only see each other nowadays at weddings or funerals. The last time I saw Uncle Paul was maybe 3-4 years ago at a house warming. He carried around an oxygen tank for his emphazema. Still looked good, modern medicine does amazing things like give someone an extra decade and half to live.

The family will gather Friday to say our last goodbyes and send him off with our final prayers. I wish we were getting together for a happier moment, but what's family if we can't come together during our sad ones.

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