Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Other Than That, El Cap, How Are Ya?

The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth

Not that it's an excuse for my poor excuse at blogging, but my Mom died.

The downhill slide started sometime last year.  Her health had been spotty for a few years, but it seemed nothing that regular medical care and medications couldn't handle.

Until they couldn't.

Beginning last fall, she started getting into a vicious cycle of treating one issue, only to have another one react poorly to the treatment of the first.

Soon, there was a cascading set of issues, each moving her closer to the tipping point.  This past April, after many weeks of hospitalization, she'd had enough.  She wanted to go home, and spend whatever time she had left with her family.

At-home hospice care lasted only two weeks.  She passed quietly the first week of May.

For assorted reasons, including the need to gather a widespread family, we delayed the memorial service until this past weekend.   It was nice, and everyone agreed that she would have been pleased by the turnout and the event.

How am I doing?  Not too well, to be honest.  There's a big gaping hole in my life now, but I still haven't quite registered just how far the edges of the hole extend to.   I've got a big cork stuffed in my emotional exhaust port for the moment.  It leaks a bit, but mostly allows me to continue functioning.

Anyway, if you want to know more about Mom, I'm posting the eulogy I delivered at the service below.  It's been anonymized, since I still work for The Man, and The Man frowns on lèse-majesté via blogs.


I'd like to share some stories about my mother, Madre Capitan.

I'm not going to be able to comment much on Mom's early years.  I wasn't around for the first third of her life, so I'll leave that part to Dad & her cousins.

Mom was raised in SmallTown, TX, the daughter of Abuelo Capitan, the B.F. Egypt County Auditor and Abuelita Capitan, a nurse.  Mom and her brother grew up surrounded by cattle, cotton and red dirt.  There's still mostly cattle, cotton and red dirt in SmallTown, but now they've got a Dairy Queen and a Sonic.

Mom had a close relationship with her extended family, and she was the eldest of her cousins.  From all accounts she had a pretty good childhood, though she did complain bitterly when she wasn't allowed to travel to Abilene to see this new singer named Elvis.

Following graduation from SmallTown High School, Mom went to Texas Women's University in Denton for her degree, then took a teaching job in SlightlyLargerTown, where she met my father, Padre Capitan.

They married in early 1964, acquired a poodle named Jacques, & moved back to the DFW area. They did so well with the poodle they decided to give it a go with a couple of kids.

So, that's the early history.  Let me tell you a bit about Mom as I knew her:

Mom read constantly.  My own love of reading came from watching her example.  The shelves in our house weren't full of knicknacks and pictures, they were full of books!  You needed entertainment, you picked up  paper, book or magazine.  No Atari, no Nintendo, and we actually didn't bother with a color TV until I was a junior in high school.  Seemed quite the injustice at the time, but looking back, I'm glad that's how it was.

Trips to the public library were as regular as trips to the grocery store.  She was on a first-name basis with all the used book dealers, and if you ever needed something to read, there were always 2-3 big brown paper sacks full of books laying around.

She tried one of the e-readers a few years ago, but things like USB and Wi-Fi made her nervous.  She was better suited for ink on paper.

Mom was always learning new skills.   I've lost track of all the hobbies and crafts she worked on in her lifetime.  She learned how to reupholster furniture. She wove macrame plant hangers, then filled our porches with Boston ferns and philodendrons. 

There was needlepoint, cross-stitch, & latch-hook rugs.  I don't recall crochet or knitting, but it's possible.

Gardening popped up once or twice.  Entirely too much shoveling and pushing wheelbarrows for my taste, but the tomatoes were pretty good.

Mom loved the Indy 500.  She got hooked on the race during our stay up there, and for years afterward would have the May editions of the Indianapolis Star mailed to Texas so she could keep up with the time trials and qualifications.

She got interested in sailing once.  I remember the family went out to a lake in Dallas one time and climbed in this dingy old cabin cruiser.  Kind of glad nothing more came of that.  It wouldn't have ended well...

Mom once made the world's ugliest purse out of an old industrial lunchbox covered in wallpaper, with wooden thread spools underneath for feet.   

She had dozens of African violets in a homebrewed hydroponic setup that required us to have this awful purple grow light burning in the house all night for years on end.  

She got into stained glass construction, and made several beautiful stained glass panels. She'd cut the glass, solder the frames, and assemble them like a fragile puzzle.  She was really good at it, and I wish she'd made more.

Despite all her skill with handicrafts, Mom had a somewhat adversarial relationship with the kitchen & cooking.  Dad was the chef in the family.  Still, she gave it her best shot, and most times it worked out.

Most times...   

Her broiled fish recipe?  Well, best to not talk about the fish...

Her meatloaf was good, but it always sloped to one side.  Tall on one end, collapsed on the other.  Never did figure that one out...

She had several variations of "S" on a Shingle we ate quite often.  (You young'uns ask your grandparents after the service what SOS is!)

Once she acquired a recipe for bran muffins, where you mixed 6 or 8 different kinds of bran cereal together, boiled it up, then used the resulting glop to pour into muffin tins for a quick hot breakfast.  Problem was, the recipe made 2-3 gallons of muffin mix, so we were eating muffins 3x a day for weeks.  I've since learned that Aunt Okie gave Mom that recipe.  Aunt Okie, those were weeks of great regularity in the Capitan household.  You have our sincere thanks!

Mom was actually pretty good at fruit salads and desserts.  Her 24-hour salad was a regular at holiday dinners for the Capitans and Azucares, though her recipe was a bit quirky.  See, there was one maraschino cherry for the salad, and two maraschino cherries for Mom... Another maraschino cherry for the salad, and two more maraschino cherries for Mom...  She'd get done making it, and her lips would be all red!

She'd also make a special batch of 'tater salad, just for she & I to share.  We liked ours with raw onions, dill pickles and hard-boiled eggs.  So, she'd make a bland tasteless batch for Dad & Sister, and we'd get the rest.

That's what Mom did for fun...

Mom was the living embodiment of the Welcome Wagon.  I can't recall a time she ever turned anyone away who needed a couch to crash on.   Over the years, we had exchange students from Holland & Japan, countless sleepovers with our friends, and a couple of ill-advised visits where she let me board a dozen college friends for a weekend, and a bourbon-fueled bluegrass band I was a roadie for in college.
Most of y'all know Foster Sister.  Foster Sister was a classmate of mine at Spring Woods, and when Foster Sister's mother passed away while she was still in high school, Mom just reached out and pulled her into the family. She's been our "other" sister ever since, and there aren't enough words available to thank her for all the help she's given Mom over the years.

Mom's hospitality extended beyond her front door.  When the church sponsored (Random Vietnamese Names), a refugee family from Vietnam, Mom spent a lot of time helping them to settle in to their new life in Houston.  Despite her complete lack of Vietnamese, and the (Random Vietnamese Names)'s broken English, she managed to explain how to work the electric stove and other appliances we take for granted.  They prospered and did well in America, and Mom stayed in contact for many years.

And then there's Maude...     Maude was a friend-of-a-friend kind of deal.  Maude was in a nursing home, and had no close relatives.  Naturally, Mom adopted her, too.  Maude wasn't an easy person to deal with.  She could be kind of grouchy, and wasn't shy about expressing her displeasure when she'd call the house and Mom wasn't around.  Despite this, Mom befriended this lonely old woman, and helped care for her for several years until she passed away.

That's just the kind of person Mom was...

Mom could be pretty fearless when the situation called for it.  When we lived up in Indiana in the late 70s, she'd climb in our VW Beetle, and putter off to her teaching job on the north side of town, come rain, sleet or snow.  And we got a LOT of snow.

That VW had an air-cooled engine.  Guess how long it takes to get the heater working when it's 10 below?   Mom was a Texas girl.  She didn't have much use for ice & snow...

The last year we were in Indianapolis, the Teacher's Union decided to strike. 3300 teachers hit the picket lines.  Mom decided to keep teaching.  I doubt it was an ideological issue with Mom, we had a mortgage to pay and I needed my teeth straightened.

By happenstance, I was assigned to Mom's school that year, so I got to join her in that little VW crossing that picket line.   Y'know, there's some people on this Earth I got no use for, and I don't even call them the kind of names I heard Mom get called for crossing that picket line.  Still, she did it.  Day after day.

Closest I ever saw Mom come to punching someone came when one of those striking yahoos threw a brick at the VW's windshield.  Turned out to be one of those foam blocks painted to look like a brick, but we didn't know until it bounced off the glass.  I think if I hadn't been there, she'd have jumped out of that Beetle and cleaned his clock.  Kinda wish she had...

We moved back to Texas not too long after that.  Mom did some substitute work from time to time, but she never went back to full-time teaching.

Let me tell you one last story of how strong Mom could be...

Back in the mid-80's, a man named Bob Black hired a hit man to kill his wife.  The hit man did his job, they both got caught. The hitman got life in prison, but Bob Black caught the death penalty.

As it happens, Mom grew up with Bob Black in SmallTown, and she just couldn't reconcile the child she knew with the man the newspapers were describing.  A simple correspondence with Bob Black turned into a lifetime opposition to the death penalty.  And I do mean opposition.  She didn't just buy the T-shirt, she went to the marches & protests. She wrote letters.  She called her Congressman.  She volunteered for years on the KPFT Prison Radio show.

This didn't sit too well with me, to be honest.  We had some pretty heated arguments over the issue, but she stuck to her guns.

Finally, when Black's string of appeals ran out in 1992, he asked her to travel to Huntsville to witness the execution.  And she did.  Sat behind that glass window in the Death House and watched her friend die.

That's the kind of strength Mom had...

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum...

(Mom was thrilled when I chose Latin for my high school foreign language credits.)

De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.  It means "You should speak only good of the dead".

Still, to paint Mom as a flawless saint is to do her a disservice.  She was very much human, and like humanity, we all fall short of the glory of God.

Mom was a bit of a pack rat.  We moved boxes and boxes of old school papers and memorabilia and who-knows-what from Dallas to Indianapolis, back to Houston, between garage and storeroom and garage and attic in Houston, and some of it's currently filling my garage to this day.

Madre Capitan's mother Abuelita Capitan was a remarkable woman.  Skilled at whatever she put her mind to, and fiercely independent, she was a tough act to follow.  Trying to fill her shoes weighed heavily on Mom at times.

Sometimes Mom would get lost in her own Private Idaho.  We had a charity auction once at a SmallTown family reunion, and I really wanted this wooden drink stand/TV remote holder/magazine rack thing that one of my cousins had built.  So, I'm sitting up in the front row, bidding on this rack, and every time I think I've got it nailed down, the auctioneer would say "And another $5 bid in the back!"  This went on for about $30 worth of bids, and I finally turned around to see who the competition is.

There's Mom, deep in conversation with one of her cousins, and popping up a hand to bid.  I stood up and said "Mom!!  What are you doing??"   "I'm trying to win it for you!" she said.
I think I ended up paying $60 for that stand.  Just for that story, it's worth every penny.

Mom burnt a few bridges.  There are people who should be here today that are not, 'cause Mom needed to have the last word.  That's one of the most powerful lessons I learned from her.  Once said, things cannot be unsaid.  You have to live with the consequences of your actions.

As I grew older, especially after Abuelita Capitan had passed, we talked occasionally about Mom's struggles with self-confidence.  There were times she despaired about being a terrible parent.  I wish I could show her all my friends on Facebook who say exactly the same thing!

She worried a lot about appearances.  I know it bothered her that the house sometimes needed a coat of paint, and the cars were usually held together with duct tape & baling wire.

On the other hand, there was always a roof over our heads and food on the table.  She had a solid web of family to help through the rough patches.

Mom, you did a good job.  You were married to the same man, a good man, for over 50 years.

You raised your children right, despite our best efforts against it.  You got me & Sister Capitan out of the house and on to our lives free of addictions, convictions and pernicious infections.
You have nothing to be ashamed of.

You have fought the good fight. You have finished the race. You have kept the faith.

You have earned your eternal reward.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.