So I donned a pair of wings
it was to say hello
it was to say goodbye
This past year or so I’ve seen the inside of more airplanes than I probably have in the past 20 years. August’s trip to Los Angeles was to attend my father-in-law’s 84th birthday. We all knew, including him, that it would probably be his last.
He’d come close the previous June, so close we rushed to his side, fearful that we might not make it in time. He was so sick then, I doubted he would see his 83rd. But he rallied after chemo was stopped and he was placed in hospice. This gave him not just an extra year, but a quality extra year.
A very good year capped off by the gift of one more birthday. His eldest daughter arranged to hold the celebration in a Mexican restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway. Ortega 120, where you can find “heart felt Mexican cooking.” Its rustic decor made you feel at ease immediately upon entering. And its theme of Dia de los Muertos seemed to coalesce with the religious artworks displayed. Death and hope rolled into one.
My husband led me around the restaurant where we were awed by the hundreds of artworks displayed, murals and ceiling paintings, the Mexican culture that we could both only imagine. I wanted to buy everything, but the pieces I truly wanted were not for sale.
It was a wonderful gathering, the reserved patio filled to capacity with extended family that I hadn’t even heard of. All there to wish Don Alfredo one more happy birthday.
The day before the funeral, my husband’s two sisters were debating where best to take us to lunch. While driving around in search of a place, they remembered Ortega 120. When we arrived, we were shown to the exact same table where we had sat the month before, with my husband ending up in the seat his father had occupied then. We were all struck dumb for a moment as the realization hit us. We’d been taken there, by Al.
The service was held in a wondrous chapel at the top of a sloping hill. From this height, the breathtaking expanse of Al’s beloved downtown Los Angeles lay below us.
Again, the venue was filled to capacity, as was the reception later. I was presented to and approached by numerous family members who became a flurry of names to me. We lost track of how many young people came up to tell us how Al had made a positive impact on their lives. Many went up to the microphone to recite stories about him.
There were many peals of laughter as story after story was told. Though few were able to get through their stories without stopping to wipe away tears. The one story that I think sums up my father-in-law and his self-deprecating humor is the one his good friend recounted. He’d gone to visit Al on a day when he seemed pensive and this is what he said:
“I’ve been supposed to die for several years and yet here I am. So I asked God, why am I still here?”
“And what did God tell you?” his friend asked.
“He said, Al, you just have to wait. There’s too many Mexicans in heaven.”