Friday, April 30, 2010
[caption id="attachment_1764" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="Dad and me"][/caption]
I can’t think of a better way to wrap up my series of Placencia blogs than by writing about Dad. Of all the Placencias I know, I feel it’s safe to say I probably know him the best. After all, I’ve known him my entire life. I grew up with him and when I moved out of the house back in 1992 that didn’t mean I stopped learning from him. He’s still teaching me things to this day. Earlier this week I was on the phone with him and I’m sure it made for an interesting picture: Me, on the couch, Sarah snuggled next to me, the phone between us, just listening to Dad as he gave some of his insights on life.
That’s the way it’s always been with Dad. Even when I was younger, Dad was like my own personal E.F. Hutton: When he talked, I listened.
There are so many stories, so many memories, I don’t know where to start. So many different flashes are bouncing around in my noggin...Should I tell you about the time Ray, Jaime, and I were filming a video and Dad got mad and threw a pillow at Ray, which then made him happy? Or maybe the time he broke his leg and, tired of having to wear a cast, decided to take the law into his own hands and sat on a bucket and began to cut it off with a hacksaw? What about the time the old lady called Dad in the middle of the night because she had a bat in her house and he went over there armed with his tennis racket? I think I already told you about the time he smacked the pipe out of Charlie’s mouth. Or the one time...well...maybe I shouldn’t tell you about that one, but you get the point. I have a lot of stories about Dad.
There have been times when I see people on TV talking about their childhood, how they would have turned out better if their father had only told them that he loved them, bla bla bla. Dad’s kids will never have that problem. On the phone the other day, he told me he loved me and then followed that up with “I know I don’t tell you that enough.” I didn’t let him go on. If there’s one thing Dad’s always done, he’s let us kids know how much he loves us. With every call, every time I see him, and in his actions and words growing up, there’s never been a moment where I didn’t think he loved us.
That loyalty and commitment is something that isn’t saved only for us, either. When Dad is your friend, you know there’s nothing he won’t do for you. There’s no one Dad cares for that doesn’t know he cares for them and he’ll do anything for them. If something happens to someone Dad cares for, he is the first one in line to help.
Dad fought in the Vietnam war and he has an AMAZING story. To say it was a life-changing experience is putting it mildly and it molded him into the man he is today. Dad saw a lot over there: life, death, blood, friendship, bravery, cowardice, and even heard The Voice of God. For the last few years, on Memorial Day he goes to a high school and shares his story and testimony. I was able to go along with him and film his story, which you can see here. It’s a very shortened version of the actual story but still very powerful and moving. When we were living in the Mojave Desert, I sat down with a tape recorder and interviewed Dad about his time in Vietnam. I later typed out the transcript. It’s 32 pages long and it still moves me to tears when I read it. I always told Dad I wanted to make it into a movie script, and he told me I could, but only if I played his role (something I’m a little too old to pull off now).
The other thing that I think of is, of course, boxing. Dad and his brothers grew up learning a lot - not just boxing - from Saxer, and what he learned there he applied in his life: If you want something, you have to work at it. If you work at for it, you'll appreciate it more. Dad has a long string of prizes and titles under his belt and nobody in school ever tried to pull the "my dad can beat up your dad" line on me. Dad has spent the last - wow, I don't know, 40 years is it? - passing on what he's learned to kids. He's a coach now, and when you train under my Dad you know you're not just learning about The Sweet Science. You're learning about life. I don't know how many times I've been approached by people who tell me they "used to go down to the club" and then proceed to tell me what kind of impact Dad had on their life.
Those are the things - the war, boxing, his loyalty - that everyone knows about Dad. But I love the little details, the little surprises, just as much. I remember as a child going into the basement and finding an old black case tucked away in a far corner. Inside was an old, broken down, accordion. Yep. Dad played the accordion as a kid. Who would have guessed? I also recall the image of Dad up in the Sierra Nevadas in the Mojave Desert, panning for gold. He would sit there for hours, just him and his tools, and come back with tiny nuggets of gold in a small glass jar. He loves to read and he loves to watch Clint Eastwood blow the bad guys away. He has an iPod he uses to listen to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Little details and quirks about him that I love.
Dad has a Purple Heart and a Golden Gloves title. He's received all kinds of awards, honors, medals, certificates, and special congratulations. But the title he holds most dear is "Dad."
And you know what? He's earned it.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Simply put, my grandmother was a beautiful person.
I spoke a little bit in my previous post about Grandpa how I didn't really get to know him as a person. I was relatively young when he passed away and we didn't have a lot of deep conversations. When I was living in Indiana a few years ago, I was determined not to make the same mistake with Grandma.
Grandma and I would sit at her kitchen table and she allowed me to interview about everything. Her childhood, her life as a young mother, her parents, her siblings, her children. When I was talking with Grandma I lost all track of time.
One of my favorite topics of discussion was asking her about growing up in the early part of the 20th century: what she did for fun, how she would listen to the radio, even seeing her first automobile. I also enjoyed talking with her about Dad (whose name is also Ed) and my aunts and uncles.
"What kind of kid was my Dad?"
"Oh, he was always a nice boy. He was always so good."
Like clockwork Uncle John would call out from the next room, "You always loved Eddie the most, Mama! You should admit I'm your number one son!"
Grandma would laugh and shake her head and in her accented voice say, "Yea, but he doesn't shout in the house!"
John would then come into the kitchen where we sat, a big smile on his face, and give her a huge hug and say, "I love you, Mama." Grandma would pat him on the arm and tell him she loved him, too.
A couple of times I told her I wanted to record our conversations on video. She had been sick for quite a while and would always just laugh and say, "Oh Eddie, you don't want to film me, I look horrible." The funny thing is, even in the last years of her life, she remained vibrant and beautiful.
That in itself was a testament to how strong she was. She had a rough life for a while and in many respects took care of thirteen kids on her own. When she told me about some of the things she faced I was surprised, mostly because she's always been so kind, friendly, warm, and caring. If you knew half the things she told me, you'd see that she would have every reason and excuse to be cold and bitter.
But she wasn't.
When I would ask her how she found the strength to carry on, her answer was always simple: "I had to. What was I gonna do, quit?"
As Grandma got older, it became more and more difficult for her to get around. Just walking from the bedroom to the kitchen would exhaust her. Whenever it came time for the annual family reunion, it was always the same thing. She would tell me she didn't know if she could go, she's very weak, she doesn't want to depress people by being there, she'll probably stay home. The day of the reunion, there she'd be: sitting in a lawn chair beneath an umbrella and smiling at the rest of us acting like fools. Sometimes she'd be able to stay for an hour or two, sometimes just a few minutes, but she always made the effort.
No matter how Grandma felt physically, she never let that interfere with her love for her family. In fact, there was only one thing that really got her down more than anything else. I would come into the house and she would say hello and greet me with a kiss and I could tell something was wrong.
"What's wrong Grandma?"
Her brow would be furrowed, she would be rubbing her forehead, and I knew what she was going to say.
"Ohhhhhhh, those Cubs. Why don't they ever win? Don't they know I'm rooting for them? I won't be around much longer, they better start winning."
Yep, Grandma was a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.
And still the next day, she'd be back in her bedroom, the TV on, and she'd be watching every inning. Of course she would. That was just who she was. Grandma might be upset, be she won't give up on you. And in my head, I could hear her saying, "What was I gonna do, quit?"
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Blogging about Grandpa is pretty intimidating, to be honest. It seems everyone has at least one story about Grandpa and, depending on who you are or how old he was when you met him, your stories probably differ. The man I knew was (from what I'm told) a completely changed person from the man Dad and his siblings knew growing up, so naturally my memories and impressions are a little different. But that's what makes these blogs so much fun; I've enjoyed reading people's comments and stories that I've never heard before. The conversation these blogs have sparked have become great fun to read.
When Grandpa passed away in 1984 part of me was surprised at how many people in our community were affected, but part of me wasn't. I wish I could remember all of the stories people have told me about him over the years. Most of them have to do with his kindness, generosity, and sense of humor.
Some of the tales Dad and my uncles have passed on to me describe a man I never knew: a stern father, powerful and intimidating, with a short - and sometimes explosive - temper. But, as is often the case, most of those stories end in laughter, as his children usually found ways to skate dangerously close to the brink of his wrath and come away unscathed (ask someone the story about Grandpa furiously throwing potatoes at - I think - my Uncle Dave as a child. Grandpa was upset with Dave and tried to hit him with potatoes. He would throw a potato at Dave, miss, take a couple of steps closer to him and throw again. Dave was standing completely still and with every miss Grandpa became more and more infuriated, until he was only a few feet away, still missing Dave by a mile, and still becoming angrier with each wild throw).
The man I knew was different. Somewhere along the line Grandpa came to know God and his furious anger was exchanged for a complete love for Jesus. He was often heard singing hymns in Spanish as he worked in his garden. He smiled easily and hugged easier. I was only 13 years old when he died, so I didn't really get much of a chance to know him as a person but to this day I can still smell his cologne. I remember his house was always warm and cozy and I can still envision the way his eyes would get crinkly and small when he laughed.
One summer, I must have been around 11 or so, some friends and I were riding our bicycles back from the pool. We stopped by Grandpa's house on the way home and he gave us lemonade. As we left, we gave us each a tomato he had grown in his garden. That moment has always resonated with me, and I don't know why. I mean, it's not a big deal: he gave me a tomato.
But that's the moment that stuck with me. It's my fondest and clearest memory of Grandpa: the time he gave me a tomato.
What is it about that moment? Why is that so special? Is it because I knew the tomato came from his garden? Is it because he also gave one to my friends as well, and showed a bit of love to all of us? Or is it because it is something he gave to me because he loved me?
Maybe it's all of those reasons. Or none of them. I might never figure that out.
But I'll always remember that tomato.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
I suppose at first glance it may seem a little unorthodox to include a guy in my series on the Placencias who isn't related to us at all. But I think most Placencias would agree, we wouldn't be the family we are today without Ray "Bud" Saxer. He's had a profound influence on my family, especially my Dad and all of his brothers, as he trained each and every one of them as they grew up in the Dekalb County Boxing Club.
If I have my story straight, Uncle John was the first one to take up the sport and each of his younger brothers followed suit. They all started off at a young age (I don't know exactly how old they were when they started, but they're pretty tiny in some of the pictures I've seen) and "Sax" instilled in them more than just how to hit someone and block a punch; he taught them about life, things like the importance of perseverance, working hard to achieve goals, and respect. Sax was a mentor, an advisor and in many ways, a father figure.
Naturally, Sax came to know my entire family throughout the years and I think I can speak for most Placencias when I say he has become family to us. He was always at our family reunions, he came to most of my school events, and when my family went through tough times, he and his wife Margie were always there as a rock for us to lean on.
A lot of people compare Sax to "Mickey" from the Rocky movies and I can understand that. He had white hair for as long as I knew him, he's a boxing coach, he tells it like it is...but Sax is more than that. For starters, Sax was hilarious. He loved hearing jokes, he loved telling jokes, and he taught me to eat a banana "like the monkeys do."
Sax and Dad worked together in a painting business and I worked with them for a couple of years after I was out of school. There are things I still say to this day that I picked up from Sax during that time: phrases like "Oh yes," Yesiree, Sir," and "Hey fellas." Sax was a heck of a whistler and every day at lunch we would to listen to Paul Harvey while Sax chuckled along at the anecdotes. And when someone crossed Sax, look out. His profane rants were some of the most hilarious monologues I've heard in my life and when he would finish he would catch his breath, look at me, make his lips go all crooked and wonky, and then smile.
A lot of things I learned about my family, I learned from Sax. He would tell me about the early days of the boxing club and how my Dad and uncles would train in a barn with no heat in the middle of an Indiana winter. He would tell me stories about my Grandma and Grandpa and even recollect tales of my Dad and uncles going off to (and returning from) war. Obviously he was a great boxing coach, as my Dad and his brothers all went on to become quite talented in the ring. Of course, Sax would always give the credit to the fact that "the Placencia boys always worked harder than anyone."
Sax loved our family as much as he loved his own and it became even more evident as Sax got older. In the last few years of his life, he allowed himself to become more open and vulnerable, and rarely would I see him where he wouldn't talk about our family, telling stories, and ultimately tearing up. It gave him such a joy to reminisce and pass on tales and I cherished every one of them he had to share.
Monday, April 26, 2010
MaryAnn has always been very kind and sweet and is always quick to offer up a hug. I have fond memories of her (and my other aunts) singing along to the radio in her home, at family reunions, in the car...wherever there was music. As a teen I remember thinking of MaryAnn, Emma, and Alice as The Pointer Sisters because the three of them were always singing, dancing, and laughing.
The other thing that stands out about MaryAnn is, of course, her love for all things Elvis. I mean, I've been a Weird Al fan since middle school, but I'm not dedicated enough to have any vanity plates to express my fandom. MaryAnn, on the other hand, has not one but two cars with Elvis-themes plates. Because everyone knows of MaryAnn's love for The King, her house is filled with Elvis memorabilia. MaryAnn isn't the only Elvis fan in the family, but it's probably fair to say she is the Elvis fan.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Logan and Jordan, Uncle Arn's youngest children, are two of the sweetest people you'll ever want to meet. Arn set the bar high when he had four children and none of them turned out to be a goofball. For the Placencias, that's pretty good. My Mom and Dad only had three kids, and after they had me, it was all downhill (Sorry Ray and Jaime...it was too hard to resist).
Logan is the extroverted people person. She's the first person to say hello and make a stranger feel welcome. She's what my mom would probably describe as "a social butterfly," friends with everyone she's ever met and able to make anyone feel comfortable and at ease.
Jordan is the quiet athlete who is wise beyond her years. I look at Jordan and marvel at how mature she is. Even when Jordan was in middle school, I remember thinking how much she impressed me with her level-headedness and rational thinking. I'm still not at the level Jordan is when it come to the three C's: calm, cool, and collected.
I love making Logan and Jordan laugh, especially since they have two very distinct reactions to my goofiness. Logan is like my sister Jaime and she laughs easily and wholeheartedly. Jordan, on the other hand, makes me work for the laugh and I like that. And when I see the corner of Jordan's mouth go up, and that awesome smirk makes its appearance, I know I've made it.
When I was in Indiana a few years back, I stayed with Arn and his family for a bit before I found my own place and I got to know them a little better and I have nothing to criticize...except maybe their love of country music. While I was there, I almost came to think of them as my little sisters and to this day I still require all boys they see to come to me first and fill out a questionnaire and go through a 5-step interview process.
The thing I admire most about Logan and Jordan is their love for Jesus. You see it in both of them and you know it's real. They have a sincere passion not only to be closer to Him, but also to be more like Him. They both have a sincere heart for other people and are the first people to volunteer to help those in need.
I'm looking forward to seeing the impact Logan and Jordan have on the world and on people, because I know it's going to be cool. Trust me. This is gonna be good.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Whereas Emma is the eldest of 13 kids, Uncle Rick is the youngest. Like his siblings before him, Rick carries on the tradition of kindness, generosity, and the trademark Placencia sense of humor.
If Sue is the nice one and J is the funny one, then Uncle Rick is the cool one, the guy you can kick back with over a beer and an episode of Seinfeld and just hang. You don't have to be around him long before you know Rick's the kind of guy who's just cool to be around. As a child, he always reminded me of Isaac, the cool bartender from The Love Boat. They both smile all the time, they're good guys, and (at least at the time) they both had amazing mustaches.
While I was living in Indiana a few years ago, Rick was always very eager to open up his home and have Dad and I over to watch the big fight or a movie or just have dinner and relax.
Writing about someone who's as cool as Rick is hard because you never feel like you can never capture just how cool he is. You can't really describe him, you have to be around him to witness it.
So Rick is cool. Just take my word for it.
Friday, April 23, 2010
In a previous post, I incorrectly identified my Uncle John as the eldest of thirteen kids. John is the oldest son, but my Aunt Emma trumps The J.
When I think of Emma, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact she loves to dance. Emma has always had a love for music and if there's music playing somewhere, Emma is the first one on the dance floor. Something tells me she's also probably one of the last to leave.
Emma's radio is usually tuned in to the Spanish station and she knows the dance for each song. Emma once tried teaching me the dancing she does and I'm just not coordinated enough. I prefer to just wobble my legs around at random intervals.
I love to make Emma laugh, especially if I know it's something that will really catch her off guard if I say it. Her eyes get really big and then she gets this 'Shame on you' look and always says, "Oh, Eddieeee...." And then she starts laughing. I assume her sons Evvy and Bobby probably know that look - and that laugh - well.
Not only has Emma always been very warm and welcoming (she always asks how my Mom is), she's an amazing cook. When I was living in Indiana and working with my Dad, I would drive over to their place in the morning (Dad and Emma were both living with Grandma at the time to help look after her) and often times we would get a late start out the door because Emma would be up cooking breakfast and she always made enough for "the boys." Emma also makes homemade tamales that are hands-down the best I've ever had, anywhere.
Emma's always got a twinkle in her eye. The twinkle, I believe, is there because she's about to laugh. Or dance.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
This is the first post in my Placencia Series that focuses on two people in the same blog. They're my cousins Evvy and Bobby. These brothers both grew up just outside of Chicago and, I'll be honest, as a kid from a small town of 5000 people (and at the time my family pretty much made up the city's minority population), these guys pretty much scared the crap out of me.
They had Hispanic accents, they had the big-city tough attitude, they spoke Spanish to each other, and they were loud. Everything about them intimidated me. I was shy around them and never knew what to say.
The first time I ever heard rap music, it wasn't on the radio. It was on a bootleg tape they brought with them from Chicago. I recall riding in the car with them and their mom (my Aunt Emma) and their tunes were blasting. I remember being really curious about some of the weird sounds in the music...they were sounds that I'd never heard before, and I couldn't figure out what they were. Every time the sounds came on Evvy and Bobby would put their hands in front of them and jerk them back and forth. Of course, being the DJ Hero that I am, I know now that they were "air scratching" along with the music. But as a kid in the back seat of that car, I could not for the life of me figure out what instrument they were pretending to play. Who knew you could "play" a turntable?
Evvy and Bobby were also both amazing dancers. Again, the first time I saw anyone breakdance, it wasn't on MTV or on television at all or even in a movie. It was watching Evvy and Bobby, and they were incredible. Spins, popping, locking, everything...they had it all down.
Of course, now that I'm older and have gotten to know Evvy and Bobby (a little) better, I know now how freakin' hilarious they are. Like the rest of my relatives, they are hysterical. It's just that their sense of humor comes from a different place. Where I grew up around a mostly Bill Cosby-sense of funny, they blew my mind coming at me with their edgier Chris Rock-style. They're like a well-oiled comedy team and because they're brothers, it's even that much tighter and funnier. They play off each other, they play off whoever is around them, and you can't do anything but stand back and laugh.
As a kid, I was intimidated because, although we're cousins, we came from a totally different place. Our experiences and influences growing up were totally different; we couldn't be further apart.
As an adult, I've found how much fun it is to jump on the train and roll with them. And once we're there, I find we have a lot more in common I ever would have thought.
And if all else fails, we can always just make fun of Glen.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I know there are some good stories out there about my Uncle Dave (AKA "Gradle"), there just has to be, but unfortunately I don't really know any of them. At least, not any good ones. I'm gonna have to depend on my other relatives to come to my rescue on this one. By the same token, I know Gradle has good stories on the rest of you, so I guess it all evens out.
Like my other Ridgecrest-dwelling relatives, I got to hang out with Gradle during my brief stint in the Mojave Desert. I can tell you two things for sure: Gradle can cook some mean fish, and he's really good at Yahtzee.
When we would go to Gradle's house, it was always a nice time of kicking back and re-kindling an addiction to the game I hadn't played in years. And once Gradle reintroduced my to Yahtzee, I couldn't believe how long it'd been since I'd played last. Most of my other relatives are really super competitive, but Dave would be genuinely happy when someone else had a good roll. His enthusiastic encouragement and support, even in something simple like a board game, is something I still remember fondly.
And there's also the fact that his fish is a-to the-mazing.
Gradle is also very loving and quick with a kind word. Although he's probably the relative I've spent the least amount of time around, I think I've heard "I love you" and been told how much God loves and cares for me from Gradle as much as (or more than) anyone else. That says something.
Gradle's been through a lot, I know that much, and yet he's come away from it all with a strong faith and a heart as big as his smile. How could I not be a fan of that?
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I got to know my younger cousin Anthony while I was living in Ridgecrest, CA. Anthony is a few years younger than I am, but he's still a lot of fun to be around and we always found some kind of crazy shenanigans to get into. One of my favorite memories of hanging around with "Antone" was a weird, crazy game we somehow invented. It didn't even have a name, but I guess it could be called Don't Get Hit By The Ball.
We found a paddle-ball ball that had come unattached from the paddle itself (it was still attached to the elastic string, though). One of the rooms in his house was pretty tiny and we somehow discovered that, if you tied the free end of the elastic string to one of the blades of the ceiling fan in the room, the string would stretch far enough that the ball would madly ricochet off the walls.
So, of course, we tied the ball to one of the blades, turned on the fan, and did our best to not get pelted. Did I mention this was at night? And did I mention that, to heighten the inanity, we turned off all of the lights so we couldn't see where the ball was at? And did I mention we turned the fan on "HIGH"?
It was amazing.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I really got to know my younger cousin Ricky a few years ago when I was living in Indiana. We were both working for my dad and we spent a lot of time trapped in the same room, breathing paint fumes, and listening to the local Top 40 radio station. That radio station brought us closer together by birthing in each of us a hatred for the same local commercials with horrible jingles. We were both there when the Paris Hilton single debuted (I forget now what the name of the song was, but I'll never forget the house in the small town of Corunna we were in when we heard it...and immediately changed the channel).
Ricky and I both shared a passion for Seinfeld, stand-up comedy, The Godfather, and music. When you spend eight hours a day with someone painting trim, you tend to find goofy ways to pass the day, whether it was asking each other trivia questions or laughing about something goofy our cousin Glen said the night before.
My brother Ray and I made a few ridiculous home movies about a super hero named Terocus. Although Ricky is fairly introverted and quiet, it was pretty easy to get him to take part in our nonsense. I was actually kinda surprised he said he'd do it but he's a good sport and took one for the team. We had fun putting him in a goofy movie and watching him react to Ray's utter inane improvised rants and manic screams. Ricky's a good guy...and, as you can see below, also pretty good at keeping a straight face.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
My cousin Gena started the tradition of my Uncle Arn having amazing kids. It's no wonder her little sister Nikki turned out to be so cool, seeing how she had Gena to look up to. She's smart, witty, warm, friendly, and a great conversationalist. Gena and I don't get to see each other very often, but when we do, we're able to pick right up where we left off, as if it had only been a couple of days. You can sit down with her over a cup of coffee and never be lacking for something to talk about and at the end of that time, you know it was an hour well spent.
A few years ago, Gena and her family had my dad and I down for a weekend to attend an Ohio State football game with her husband and Nikki. They have a beautiful home and it was fun to spend time with their amazing kids before we left for the stadium. Of course, being the huge sports buff that I am, I wore blue and yellow...to a game against Michigan. That's just how I roll.
Despite the fact I inadvertently supported the opposing team with my shirt, I had a blast and it was fun getting a chance to hang out with Gena, her husband Jerome, and Nikki again. It was my first time at a college football game and we all yelled ourselves hoarse. Afterwards Gena and her husband took us to one of those cool restaurants you usually only see in movies: cool, soft blue lighting, Sade playing on the video screens, a cool backlit bar, the whole nine yards.
There was a lot to take in that day but after all of the fans and the band and the screaming and the food and the huge wine selection, what stands out was the time I got to spend with Gena and her family. Whenever we see each other, we always say we should get together more often.
And you know, we really should.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
If you've been reading my series on the Placencia family, then you may recall my post about Sue, whom I dubbed "the nice one." This blog is about her son Joe, or "What Happens When Nice People Have Kids."
"What happens when nice people have kids?" you may be thinking to yourself.
Well, in Sue's case, they have nice kids.
I'm not just saying that. Joe really is one of the nicest guys you'll ever want to meet. Not only is he kind and compassionate, he's incredibly modest and I love his sense of humor. While most of our family (myself included, probably) are being goofballs and joking around and being loud and crazy, Joe is the quiet one who's off traveling the world and doing amazing in school and not drawing any attention to himself. And then, you look around and it's like, "Joe! Wow! You did that?! Why didn't you say anything?"
But that's not how Joe rolls, and I love that about him.
One of my favorite past-times is watching Joe at family gatherings. I love watching him watch our relatives, especially after someone says something completely wrong or inappropriate. He gets this really fast smirk, almost like a twitch, at the corner of his mouth and I'm dying to know what he's thinking inside. I wonder if it's the same thing I'm thinking, which is usually something completely sarcastic. If he catches me watching him, he throws me this grin that kinda says, "Yep, that was crazy. I can't believe that happened. But I'm not saying a thing."
Friday, April 16, 2010
I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself as I'm writing this blog series on my family, but I can't help it. JP is really warm and friendly, and like the rest of us, loves to laugh and joke around. When I was growing up, JP and his family would occasionally visit from out of town, and it was always a big deal because JP was "the cool cousin from California." When I grew up and lived out west for a short time, I got to hang out with JP and find out he really is the cool cousin from California.
You remember when I was talking about my Uncle John and all the times my dad, Ray, and I were over at his house playing cards all night? Well, a lot of those times, John's eldest JP was there, too. Whether horseback riding through the Mojave Desert or taking me to cool places like Robber's Roost or just kicking back at his house, JP is a great guy to be around.
One weekend JP took Ray and I camping up in Mammoth Lakes. It was a blast. I remember JP and Ray came up with the idea that the three of us should get matching tattoos and for a short time we drove around looking for a tattoo parlor. I knew two things for sure:
- I didn't want a tattoo
- If Ray and JP got one, there was no way I wasn't going to get one. I couldn't do that to them
Fortunately, we didn't find a place and I secretly breathed a sigh of relief.
When we got to the campground, we tossed around the Aerobie for about 2 minutes before it got stuck in a tree, and JP and I trying to put up a busted tent was an experience I still recall quite fondly (Ray would have helped, but he was busy videotaping everything).
As night fell, the card playing commenced and well...I don't know if it was the mountains, the cards, the full moon, or something else, but it was just....hilarious; I don't know when I've ever laughed so much. At one point, JP made Ray eat a moth. Don't get me wrong, JP didn't hold Ray down and force feed it to him, we were sitting at the picnic table and one of those huge moths was dancing around our lantern.
JP pointed to it and said to Ray, "Eat that."
The words had barely been said and Ray had slammed his hand over the moth, grabbed it, and stuffed it in his mouth. Seconds later, it was gone.
I no longer have any proof this night (or the moth moment) existed. Unless I made Ray and/or JP a copy of the videotape, all of the evidence has been destroyed. Seeing as how Ray and JP are both parents, that's probably a good thing.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
If you ever want to hear some great Placencia stories, then get my Dad and my Uncle Arn together. You won't be disappointed.
It's like listening to those old Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner recordings...the way they feed off of each other, reminding each other of details, and giving you sometimes two different points of view on the same story, which gives the listener a fuller idea of the big picture and what may have actually gone down. I spent some time living in Indiana and during that time I got together with Arn and his family and go to re-know them and who they are. Considering I hadn't lived in the area for about 15 years, it was nice to get the chance to re-connect.
When I think of Arn, an extremely random story always comes to mind. It took place at the annual Placencia Christmas Eve party back around 1977 or '78. I don't know why this story has stayed with me for so many years, but it has, and I still remember it like it just happened.
The family was gathered at my cousin Glen's house this particular year to celebrate and in the gift exchange I had received some comic books. I wasn't a regular comic book reader at this point (I had yet to discover Archie and Richie Rich) so some of the comic styles and shortcuts were new to me. In one particular panel, one character was talking to another, but instead of the usual cartoon bubble the words are in, this bubble was drawn with dotted lines instead of one solid line. (I learned later in life this means the character is speaking in a whisper.)
I called Uncle Arn over and pointed to the bubble (which said something like "I don't think we should be here!") and asked him what these dashes meant. Arn thought I was pointing to the apostrophe in the word "don't" and sat down to explain to me about contractions. Even though I already knew all about contractions from school, I was so taken and appreciative of the fact that Arn would take time out from being with The Adults to explain to me how "do not" becomes "don't", I didn't have the heart to tell him that wasn't what I meant. I didn't care that I hadn't made myself clear to him, I just thought it was neat that he would sit down with one of The Kids and make time for me.
You know how they say spending time with a kid can have an impact? In this case, it's true, and the fact that I still remember this story to this day is proof. It wasn't what he told me, it was the fact that he took the time.
I'm glad to say that hasn't changed about Arni. When I was in Indiana, I got to see him at church working with the youth group and it was inspiring to see. If someone has a concern or a question, Arn takes the time to talk. He encourages and welcomes open communication and there's nothing you can't bring to him. He accepts you in love and is quick with a reassuring word.
Who knew a quick grammar lesson would stay with me the way it has? I like to think Arn did.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
I probably feel like I know Aunt Alice better than I actually do, mostly because she reminds me so much of Jaime. They're both very warm and friendly, and I love to make them laugh. Alice has a great sense of humor and loves to joke around with the rest of the fam. Also, and I can't say this with any amount of certainty because I wasn't around or old enough to know and/or remember, but in the late 60s and early 70s, I believe Alice may have been a hippy. I'm not sure. I'm going solely by the clothes she wore in a couple of old pictures we have of her. Then again, it was the seventies, and it's sometimes hard to tell the hippies from everyone else in the seventies. Either way, I think it's kinda cool.
Alice has lived out west for pretty much my entire life, first in Idaho and currently in Washington, so like other relatives, I always tried to take advantage of the times she was in town for family gatherings.
Like my other relatives I've written about in this series (and will continue to write about this month) Alice is extremely likable and it's not long after getting together that you're cracking jokes and sharing stories. Although she is one of the younger siblings, she doesn't let Uncle John or my Dad get away with giving her a hard time before she's dishing it right back out, and it's always a great amount of fun to watch.
Alice is just one of those people who you don't have to be around for a great length of time before you get a sense of how much she loves people. I also love to hear her talk about the rest of her family because she beams with pride when she does. She's proud of who she's related to and she loves them to death.
And I think I speak for the rest of the fam when I say we're pretty proud to be related to her, too.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
My cousin Jim is the perfect foil to my cousin Glen. They grew up going to school together and are probably as close as Ray and I are. When they're around, they remind me of old school comedy teams like Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Coestello. Jim is the straight man, and Glen is the one getting the two of them into shenanigans.
I don't know how many times I recall the two of them hanging out together, Jim rolling his eyes at something hilarious Glen said. It was usually followed by something like "Oh my gosh, Glen." Classic.
Jim and a couple friends were renting my grandmother's house and I spent a lot of time there in my late 20s. More than a few times I wrangled them into appearing in little short films and videos. Jim worked nights, so he would often miss out on the fun. On one particular evening we were talking about the fact that he always seemed to be gone when we would make these amazing videos, so we decided to do one of our own. Up to this point, our "Cousins Productions" were slapstick comedy, but this particular evening was the classic "dark and stormy night" and we decided to try our hand at drama.
We were big fans of movies like The Breakfast Club where the main characters connected and had that moment where they poured out their hearts and bared their souls, so that's what we went for. A classic mood piece.
We came up with this story about a guy whose car breaks down in the rain in the middle of nowhere and he finds an old barn to seek shelter. There, he meets a homeless man, and eventually they become friends.
Other than that the whole thing was ad libbed, and Jim and I spent an hour or so playing these two guys, fake pretending to cry and really stretching our acting chops. We were out in this old barn, sobbing, crying, yelling, really soap opera-acting it up. The final run time was around 15-minutes, pretty epic for our standards, and I don't think anyone else ever watched it all the way through. I can't say I blame them. It was basically just two guys talking without the added bonus of our words being written by someone like John Hughes. Glen, of course, would never watch it and referred to it as "the one where you guys cried" (which, in turn, would drive Jim nuts, because fake crying isn't easy).
So somewhere out there (I don't have a copy anymore) is a VHS tape with Jim and I acting like strangers, bearing our souls with fictional stories and, yes, lots of pretend crying. If you find it, you're welcome.
Monday, April 12, 2010
This blog has been the hardest one in the Placencia Family Series to write so far. Why? Plain and simple, Aunt Sue is "the nice one." Not that the other people in my family aren't nice, don't get me wrong. But Sue is just...well, she's just a good person. I'm also not saying Sue is boring, don't get me wrong. She's not. I love to be around her and talk and laugh (Sue, like the rest of my family, loves to laugh)...I just don't have any stories about Sue like "the time she robbed a gas station" or "the time she clunked someone with a shovel" or "the time Sue tipped over the grill in a fit of rage at the family reunion."
All of my memories of Sue (and her family: her husband Joe and her son, Joe) are really nice. Being around Sue, you just feel comfortable and (I'll use that word again) nice. Whenever I picture Sue in my head, she's smiling. In fact, I can't think of a time when Sue hasn't offered me a smile. I still recall at my grandmother's funeral Sue touching my arm and smiling. Sometimes a smile says more than words could.
When my Mom and Dad got divorced, it was sometimes especially hard on Mom because my Dad's side of the family is so big, she seemed to bump into a Placencia everywhere she went. And sometimes people were less-than-kind. Not Sue. Mom still tells me to this day that whenever she would see Sue at the store or in a restaurant, Sue always smiled, always said hello, and stopped to talk. To this day, when I see Sue, one of the first things she asks me is "How's your mom doing?"
Sue could have just as easily decided to write Mom off...after all, Mom isn't married to Sue's brother anymore, I understand. But that's not Sue.
You see, Sue's the nice one.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
I love making my little sister laugh. She doesn't hold out, she just full-on laughs and then, invariably, calls me a dork for saying whatever I did that made her laugh. There are about 6-1/2 years between us, the eldest and the youngest, and we have a lot in common. Jaime and I are both artistically inclined. We share the same taste in TV and movies. We went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark together in the theater. Just the two of us at a Saturday matinee. I was thirteen. She was seven. Seven. And I took her to a movie to see Nazis get their faces melted off. She loved it, and my brother Ray was jealous afterward that he chose to go to the pool instead of hanging out with Indiana Jones.
Jaime and I get along really well, probably because we are so similar. But when we were younger...well...we didn't get along so well...probably because we were so similar.
I loved trying to make Jaime laugh so much, I would annoy the crap out of her, to the point where it turned from humor to annoyance to out-and-out rage in a matter of minutes. I would burst into her room where she was lost in the land of Strawberry Shortcake and I would get up in her face and wiggle my fingers at her ears and say things like, "Bllblbelbelbe woooooooooooo woooooooo."
You know, hilarious. Why she failed to find the humor in this, I'll never know. I wonder how many times Mom heard Jaime scream at the top of her lungs, "EDDIE GET OUT OF MY ROOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!"
Probably at least more than twice.
I remember one time Ray and I got the brilliant idea (I don't recall exactly whose idea it was, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was Ray's. He's really good at planning and predicting people's actions and I'm sure he already knew how it was going to play out) to wrestle around in the living room. Mom and Dad were both gone and we decided we were going to both pretend like we were each getting the snot beat out of us and see which one of us Jaime would defend. Because, you know, at that age Ray and I had some psychological behavioral research to conduct.
Jaime was in her room, and Ray and I started horsing around and we both started screaming like we were being murdered.
"Get off me!!!!"
Soon Jaime came out of her room and watched us and Ray, master thespian that he is, started to pretend he was crying. Jaime immediately launched on top of me and punched me in the back of the head - with her fist!- as hard as she could. I screamed "OWCH!" and Ray giggled.
"Jaime, stop it! We're just faking it, you tard!" I yelled. Or something very similar.
Jaime was, to put it bluntly, confused.
I was confused.
Ray was still giggling.
But now, as I think back on all the times I burst into her room and terrorized her with my incredible comedy of screaming in her face, I probably shouldn't have been so surprised with whose side she picked.
And also, Ray's really good at fake crying.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
There's too much to write about my younger brother Ray. At one point I had actually started to write a memoir about Ray, but there was so much material, I was overwhelmed and didn't know where to start.
Although I grew up on stage as "the actor" and kind of graduated into focusing more on comedy, Ray is actually the funny one. My family has a lot of funny people in it, but I have to admit, Ray is the funniest. And this used to frustrate me, because he's sneaky about who he shows his funny to. You don't meet him and walk away saying, "That guy's hilarious." His humor is on some kind of time-release set-up.
When Ray first meets someone he's somewhat quiet and reserved. I'm the same way. I can't explain what it is for Ray, but for me, I have to feel someone out and get comfortable around them before I show them what a dork I am.
I used to get so frustrated when Sunday School teachers and teachers at school would tell me what a nice, well-behaved boy Ray was. I wanted to scream, "No he's not! That's not the real Ray! At home he's goofy and silly and has a really weird dance he does all the time and plays jokes and has funny voices!" I wanted to tell them that, but I never did. I always just smiled and nodded.
One of my favorite "Ray" stories took place at church. He must have been around five or six. We grew up in a pretty small town, and everyone pretty much knew that my dad (and his brothers) were all involved in boxing and did really well. There was this guy at church, he was an Elder and he kind of reminded me of Seinfeld's Newman. His name was Mike. He was always teasing Ray, I don't know why. Ray was six, and this guy was in his thirties. Ok...thinking back now, maybe he wasn't in his thirties. But he was definitely An Adult. He would walk up to Ray and say things like "Ohhhhhh look at the bog tough boxer guy, why don't you hit me, you're sooooo strong, look at you, oooooooh, big boxing champ, try to knock me out."
Ray didn't know what to do or say or how to react. He would just kind of look at the guy and try to walk away, and Mike would follow Ray down the hall taunting him. Ray knew he wasn't supposed to hit or sass The Adults, so he would just take it. I only saw this happen once or twice, but apparently it happened more than that. Week after week this guy would torture Ray, yelling at him, "Ohhhhhh, tough guy, walking away, doesn't want to try to hit me, oooooooh big boxing champ."
After a bit, it somehow came to Dad's attention that this was going on and he asked Ray about it. When Ray told him what had been happening, Dad got angry. "Ray," he told him, "The next time he tells you to hit him, you hit him. That'll shut him up."
Cut to: Church, the following week.
Ray was going from Sunday School to the main sanctuary and Mike caught up with him. "Hey, look, there goes the big tough boxer guy." Ray stopped and Mike waddled up to him, and they just stood in the hall looking at each other.
"Big tough guy," Mike continued, "Try to hit me, you think you're so tough, why don't you show me who--"
Mike was cut off by Ray punching him in the balls as hard as he could.
Mike got all red in his face and grabbed Ray by the arm and dragged him down the hall to find Dad. When Mike finally did, his face was even redder and he began to yell. "Your son just hit me! He punched me!"
Dad has this amazing thing where, when he's angry, he gets really super calm. He just looked at Mike all kung fu zen-like, and said, "Well, did you tell him to hit you?"
"Yes, but--" Mike started to shout, and Dad cut him off with more calm, quiet talking.
"Well if you told him to hit you, and he hit you, then what's the problem? If you told me to hit you, I'd punch you right in the face."
I think it was at that point Mike just froze and realized he was about to get punched in the face. In church.
"Now take your hands off my son."
Mike did, and he shuffled down the hall in a fit of sweaty rage.
And here's a fun fact that just hit me: The first four letters of Mike's last name are F-A-I-L. For real, I'm not making that up.
And that, dear friends, is the story of how Ray punched an elder at church "where it counts" and didn't get in trouble for it.
Friday, April 09, 2010
My first memory of my cousin Glen (or, as we called him growing up, "Little Glen" since his dad's name is...you know...Glen) is actually a very nice memory, which means it would probably make Glen blush to hear me tell it.
So I'm going to.
Glen and I got to see each other quite a bit growing up, as he only lived a few miles away. For a very brief time, Glen and I even attended the same grade school. Glen is a year older than me, but we got to see each other and hang out during recess. This particular day (I don't recall what grade I was in. Maybe the third. Or the first. I don't know. Glen may remember better than I do) we were just hanging out by this wall, talking about whatever elementary school kids talk about.
For some reason, we had decided to lean on the same wall against which kids were playing dodge ball. I have no idea what possessed us to pick the same wall as the dodge balls kids, but we did. We were clearly separated from them enough so they would know we weren't participating in the game...or at least I thought we were. I was in mid-sentence when I was smashed in the face with a ball. And I mean smashed. Whoever threw it threw it as hard as they could, and it felt like it was thrown by a major league pitcher. I still to this day don't know if it was a wild throw, or if they thought we were in the game, or if they were just being a jerk, but it was a direct shot.
I saw major stars and my nose decided it should begin bleeding. I didn't say anything, I didn't cry or make a sound, I was just...stunned. My face was both numb and stinging with pain simultaneously. I didn't look around to see who threw it, I just stood there with my hands in front of me, trying to compute what just happened. I was turned facing Glen when I got hit, so I had no clue there was a ball anywhere near my face.
Thinking back on it, I guess it's a little odd that no one did anything. The kids just kept playing ball and the recess monitors stood there watching me, their whistles in hand, as if nothing happened.
Glen put his arm on my shoulder and walked me to some nearby steps. I remember being really dizzy and disoriented. He sat me down and told me it was OK, and then...just kept talking to me. I don't remember exactly what Glen said, but I know he told me I was going to be OK. I can remember how grateful I was that he was there. My face was still stinging an incredible amount, I could almost feel how red it must be, and my nosebleed was slowly coming under control.
And Glen just talked to me.
It probably doesn't sound like much now. 'Oh big deal, you got hit and someone said you'd be OK.' But it was more than that. Of all the people on the playground that day, Glen was the only one to say something. And it wasn't a panicked 'Oh no, oh no oh no you got hit!' kid reaction, either. Just a calm, solid, "it's OK."
It was nice to have family there at that moment. I guess I needed it.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
We all know those people who are always up to something cool. You don't see them for a while and then when you do finally catch up again, you find out all of these cool things they've been doing.
That's my cousin Nikki.
Like my Uncle John, Nikki and I didn't see each other very often growing up. She lived in Ohio, we lived in Indiana. It happens.
We grew up. We got emails. We re-connected. And apparently when I wasn't looking, my little cousin was doing some crazy cool stuff.
Every time I turn around she's off on a different adventure: Nikki's in France. Nikki's in Italy. Nikki's in England hiking the coast. Nikki is hiking the Appalachian Trail.
We've all had those "One day I'd like to..." moments. Nikki doesn't just have those moments. She makes 'em happen. How can you not admire that?
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
I can't think of a better way to kick off National Placencia Month than a blog about my Uncle John (AKA "Unc" or "The J").
My Uncle John is the eldest son of thirteen children and my hunch is he's just as ornery today as he's ever been. Not ornery in a scary mean -guy Archie Bunker kinda way, but ornery in the sense that as recently as a few years ago before Grandma passed away, John would still "tell on" my dad.
"Ma, Eddie was out late last night."
"Mama, Eddie's making faces at me."
"Mama, Eddie hit me."
Grandma would always roll her eyes, look at me, and exclaim "Just like when they were kids! You see what I put up with!"
You always know when John is around, you're going to laugh. He loves to kid around and crack wise. Because John is the eldest, he has an arsenal of stories about all my other aunts and uncles and is more than glad to share them if given the chance (especially if the aunt/uncle in question is present and the story is more than a little embarrassing).
My only regret about Uncle John is that I didn't really get to know him until I was in my mid-20s. As I was growing up, John lived in California, so I really only got to see him every few years when he would fly home to Indiana for a family reunion.
When I was 21 I moved to the Los Angeles area and a couple of years after that, I moved to the middle of the Mojave Desert to the town of Ridgecrest where my dad, brother Ray, Uncle John, and a handful of other family members lived.
While I was in Ridgecrest, I spent my time wisely. And by wisely, I mean I was at John's house all of the time. I don't know how many Fridays my dad, Ray, and I spent over at John's house playing poker until the wee hours of the night. John knows about 346 different ways to play Poker, all of them more fun than the last. My favorite version he taught me was "baseball", mostly because I loved to hear him shout "Oh, looks like Little Hildo wants to play a little baseball!!"
As a side note, I don't know how I got the nickname Little Hildo, but one day John told me that's my new name. I didn't understand, especially since I never heard him call my dad "Hildo." How was I "Little Hildo'?" And just what the heck is a "hildo"? I've never asked John because I'm sort of afraid he'll tell me. Sometimes it's just better to not know.
When we weren't playing Poker (or Hearts. Or Spades. Or The Great Dalmuti), John would cook for us. He's an amazing chef and his late-night quesadillas are the best I've ever had. John's other specialty is his steak. He brags about the fact that he cooks it so juicy and tender, you don't need a knife to eat it. Ray once made the mistake of asking John for a knife and John made like he'd been stabbed in the heart.
After giving Ray a hard time (and after Ray found out a knife was indeed unnecessary) John made a point to remind Ray for the rest of the night that he had asked for a knife.
More than all of this, though, the one thing I love about Uncle John is the fact that you know he loves you. You know it by the way he smiles and laughs, by the way he says "Duuuuuude" when you steal the hand from him at Euchre, by his big hugs he gives, and by the way he makes it a point to tell us he loves us.
Once in a while I'll get a random message from him that says "I love you Little Hildo" or I'll see a comment he leaves on one of my cousin's Facebook walls telling them how much he loves them. It's really super cool.
We love you too, J.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
I started thinking about the idea this afternoon during a trip to Costco, and I got excited, planning in my head who I would write about and what I might say.
Uncles John and Arn. Aunts Alice and Sue. Cousins Glen, Jim, and JP. And that's just to name a few. I'll be honest...I'm really anxious to introduce you to some of these yahoos. And you thought TBS welcomed characters. You ain't seen nothing yet.
Monday, April 05, 2010
THREE CHILDREN WERE INJURED SUNDAY WHEN AN INFLATED JUMPING BALLOON THEY WERE IN WAS PICKED UP BY A WHIRLWIND AND CARRIED AT LEAST TEN FEET IN THE AIR. The bounce house flew over a wall in El Paso before crashing into a backyard three houses away. The freak accident occurred while the children were playing during an Easter family gathering. Witnesses say a wind, described as a whirlwind or dust devil broke the jumping balloon off a tether. It blew the balloon through the air across the street where it snapped electrical lines, went over a wall and fell into a backyard, according to the El Paso Times."
Yep. I'm still laughing.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
"Hot on the heels of Ricky Martin's announcement on his personal blog that he's gay, "True Blood" star Anna Paquin used an unusual medium of her own to announce that she is bisexual."
Um, Ricky? Anna? You two wanna sit down and be quiet? The adults are trying to hold a conversation.