“Are you still writing?” I asked the tall man filling his 5-gallon jug at the water machine outside RN Market in Lindsay. He turned, saw it was me, smiled and said “Yes—and I think I’ve got something for you.” He left his jug still filling and we walked to his car, where he opened the trunk and took out a copy of his newest book.
He is Robert Rodriguez Jr., whom I first met when he’d stop by his dad’s place to help with his yard. Robert Rodriguez Sr. was a neighbor 2 blocks east of my house, a lovely man who would greet me as I walked my dog past his place. One morning I’d stopped to share my grief about the loss of some bare land along the tracks across the street from him. It was being bulldozed for houses after years of serving as a refuge for birds, bees, wildflowers, weeds and occasionally humans.
My sadness included an almond tree growing wild at the edge of the old concrete railroad platform. That tree had bloomed irrepressibly every spring and made sweet almonds in summer without a drop of water but what the Lord provided. The developers had chopped it down even though it grew beyond the property lines of the oncoming houses. I needed to share this tragedy with someone, and Mr. Rodriguez was the perfect person.
He also was dismayed at this “progress.” But while we were standing there together sympathizing with the earth, the story—the main story—of his life began to come. His first wife was Sara Rodriguez, a woman who had served admirably in the Lindsay-Strathmore Coordinating Council during the 1990 Freeze. She and their daughter Maria, who taught nursing at COS, had been killed in a car accident a few years before. They were coming back from Mexico and were almost home when it happened. It was a tragedy felt by the entire community; their funeral was standing room only.
That tragedy halved their four-person family, leaving only Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. But what I learned from Robert’s book is that it did not leave them unwhole. How they survived that agony and regrouped, held together by love, is profoundly beautiful.
The book is titled “It Seems Like Yesterday: The secret to life is knowing how it will end” (Rocky the Lion Press, 2021). The role of faith in this family’s story is woven through the paragraphs, built into the sentences in a way that demonstrates its value without trumpeting it as a cause. We see Robert’s youthful ignorance of it as a kid; we hear his adult appreciation of it as his father’s life comes to an end. We see it expressed in his mid-life commitments to care for this man; we hear it helping the massive frustrations that come from being a full-time employee, husband and father now with an extra duty to fulfill. We feel love coming to his rescue over and over, the only real help in this time of stress.
For those of us now helping aging parents go through their last years, there are some lovely pieces of advice. Humor, whether the parent is still at home, partially managing, or whether those last days are spent in a nursing home with non-family help—humor can be the necessary grease to get through the rough parts of the still-turning wheel. “You need to find humor in the situation,” Robert wrote. “If you only focus on what is ailing them and consuming you, in a sense, you can go crazy.”
As Robert Jr. tells the story of his father’s life, including his remarriage to a wonderful woman named Rose, Robert Jr. is also revisiting his own. These are full circle stories told with real human humility and wonder, as he discovers the meaning of these things by writing. What this book demonstrates so ably is the value of telling our family stories in order to understand them, and to see our real human significance, as tiny as it is, in this world.
“It Seems Like Yesterday” is available online at Alibris.com and Amazon. My life was made richer by reading it, and I hope yours will be, too.
Trudy Wischemann is a reluctant family storyteller who is grateful for this good example. You can send her your writing revelations P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.