A last name reveals a family’s history, culture and origins and serves as a tracer of continuities and discontinuities within lineages. It can unite groups of people or fuel long-standing feuds between them.
I had my father’s last name, a name my mom inherited by marriage which was passed unto me. Mom, my mom was quite angry when my own handiwork while living in Cali legally changed our shared last name.
“Everyone, is going to think you’re a bastard child”, was mom’s first response.
Well, since the new last name that once belonged to my grandfather Emanuel (mom’s father) is now my legal last name- I can see why she was upset. As far as I know, my new last name did not place me in the ‘bastard’ category much to mom’s relief. If anything, it leads to others assuming I am married and since no husband stands by my side the assumption is usually, married and now divorced.
The name change was prompted by a need to honour my great-uncle Wilfred Mc*****, who passed on, on August 1, 1997.
My great-uncle, whom the family called, Tío Wilfred, was the keeper of family stories, pictures, anecdotes and a living breathing encyclopedia on the idiosyncrasies of the Mc*****’s. At the age of 92, during an afternoon nap, he died, gently in his sleep as his favourite music played in the background.
Tío’s heart deteriorated slowly from coronary thrombosis and surgeries. Diabetes caused blindness as well as an amputation of an infected toe. El corazon de mi Tío (the heart of my uncle) was especially tired at 92. Like a depleting double AA battery in a tape recorder, struggling to push a tape through a cassette, the heart of my uncle also struggled, to push blood and eventually stopped, working.
On a rainy Sunday via Metro North on May 25, 1997, Mom and I made the trip to Ossining, New York to visit Tío Wilfred.
During the ride, we entertained ourselves bickering. From which side of the train to sit in, which car to sit in, who gets the window seat, what are we eating to I’m hungy,I’m not, I’m hot, no I’m cold, etc. Traveling together tends to bring out a war of the personalities. By the time the train reached Ossining, I was worn out from the ordeal while mom was recharged and ready for round two. Mom has her own personal system of madness and I have my own.
A cab flagged down at the station brought us to Tîo’s apartment.
Mary, his partner of almost 40 years greeted us at the door. We walked into a warm one-bedroom apartment to find Tîo sitting at a table listening to a radio program. He could not see our facial expressions or how we physically changed from the last long ago, going into years visit. Although I felt discomfort at first, it gradually gave way to comfort due to Tío’s own facial expressions and movements working in a natural way as if he had sight.
My great uncle was perky and extremely talkative stopping at times to let his breath, rest. Each time he did, mom glared at me as if it was my fault for encouraging him to talk so much. We looked through photo albums describing pictures to Tío and he responded with the background story behind each one. When he had sight, his ferocious reading led to his intellectuality. After sight left, the ferocious reading turned to listening with audio books. He proudly showed off his audio collection.
Mary prepared lunch (oxtails, rice and salad) and we sat around the table eating. On a strict diet, mí Tío (my uncle) could not have the salt his palate previously adored. On the table was a shaker filled with a salt substitute. Tío found it using his fingertips and once located sprinkled white crystals over his food. He described his quest for a substitute and was overjoyed when Mary found this brand at the supermarket. His happiness along with the gleam in his eyes allowed me to feel the effects of how the simplest thing can turn out to be the biggest fulfillment.