It’s happened twice in less than a week: This old man has found himself getting choked up. The older I get, the easier it is to become dewy-eyed.
Let me explain:
I delivered a brief eulogy for my father-in-law, Stanley Coppock, in Springer last Thursday. Why me? Why not one of Stanley’s four daughters? Well, to a (wo)man, they emphasized they’d be unable to carry it out — too emotional.
Since I’m not blood, but a son-in-law, and since the daughters had prepared the words I delivered, I was sure I could get through it without shedding a tear. All went fine (and here, I realize, it might even appear that I’m describing a performance instead of paying homage to a man I’ve known for almost 50 years) until I got to the list (neighbor, friend, father, husband, brother, grandfather, etc.). Something about identifying all the things Stanley was, and stood for, made me interrupt my presentation, pause a second, compose myself, think about it, and conclude it.
The same thing happened to my son, who was in fact merely reading a note from his Denmark-residing older brother. But that’s another story.
Back to my lacrimal nature: Is there something in the air, a virus, something contagious, that triggered my waterworks?
I learned Monday that Jesse Gallegos, a long-time friend, student, former boss and current public relations director for Luna Community College, lost his mother. Jesse was on a talk program on KFUN, with Luna’s president, Pete Campos, and the subject was transitions, which includes death. Never having met Jesse’s mother, I listened objectively until he went into detail about his mother’s last few hours on earth. I was touched. Touched enough to begin to feel what Jesse must have undergone.
At my relative’s memorial service, I hope I didn’t create discomfort in my announcement that “since we’re celebrating someone’s life, let’s allow this celebration to be joyous.” There is room for humor.
Let me explain this too:
Some really old clerics who live among us today but whose minds now reflect the Middle Ages, must have decreed that certain things need to be solemn. For most of my parochial school upbringing, I’d been threatened with the fires of that really hot place if I dared laugh in church, or display any kind of levity.
There was to be no smiling during mass, no distractions, no gum, no candy, or anything that affects the decorum of the service. I accept this. And that’s why one of my first recollections of feeling true discomfort at Immaculate Conception Church, in the ‘40s, was when the archbishop himself described something comical, got absolutely no reaction, and finally said, “People, I’m trying to tell a joke here.”
So it was in Springer when I put a light touch on Stanley’s curmudgeonness and noticed a few chuckles in the congregation.
Tears and laughter: opposite sides of a coin?
I’ve done my share of both. A few years ago, as I was being interviewed by the Albuquerque outlet of National Public Radio, the host asked me about the things I love and hate the most. I had to think: I love laughter, as most who know me will agree; I hate cruelty, bullying and deliberate attempts to make others cry. Some believe tears indicate weakness. Ahh, maybe that accounts for my condoning tear-drop therapy.
Once again, let me explain:
Older brothers were created for one purpose only: to make their kid brothers cry. It’s not enough to overpower the runt, humiliate him, out-smart him. No! The job’s not complete until you can see real tears.
Then, the bigger, tougher, smarter person can say, “Did you see? I made Mannie (my nickname) cry.” Then the chanting becomes more generalized, and we hear a chorus of “Cry, baby, cry, stick your finger in your eye.”
I believe almost everyone with an older sibling has been a victim of teasing, which begets taunting, which begets bullying. As a result, many of us steel our constitution; we refuse to give people the satisfaction they crave. Their aim in life is to make someone cry, but some of us refuse to allow that, even if it guarantees humiliation and pain.
Well, little ol’ Las Vegas, with its 5.6 percent drop in population and with its aging population, isn’t quite the war zone I pictured it in my youth. I’ve written many times about needing to try a half-dozen routes to school to avoid Gibber, Trigger, Don, “Sopandas” and the others whose mission appeared to be rearrangement of my dentition.
The years apparently have worn away my need to conceal emotions, and as I age, I find myself much more sensitive to others’ moods, joys and foibles.
And that’s why it doesn’t embarrass me to admit I was touched by the reaction to how I delivered my father-in-law’s eulogy and by hearing about Jesse Gallegos’ loss of his mother.
• • •
But there’s still a bit of pending business:
I don’t mean to libel my older brother, Severino, who will probably insist his rough treatment was “for your own good.” He’s probably right: it was all for the better.
Nevertheless, some day I intend to pay him back for the time he forced me to walk a half mile with him, in uncharted territory (for me), and threatened to throw me into the equator.