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Eulogy for Pops

August 31, 2013

Nicolas Guzman - On a bull - Unknown Date

Nicolas Guzman was son, a brother, a father of five children, grandfather to a two year old girl, truck driver, a self-taught businessman, and member of the Catholic Church, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Comite de Pasos. We all knew him in slightly different ways and are finding our own ways to remember, celebrate, and mourn him. This past week I spent a lot of time in my parents’ garage, searching for photo albums in cardboard boxes. I carefully looked though each album, selecting photos, organizing them by decades and genres, and finally with my brother’s help (Nick), scanning and uploading them onto our parents computer. Of all the themes and periods, I keep returning to my father ridding bulls. My initial thought was that this era represented a departure from a more responsible, serious, and pragmatic Nicolas that I came to know: that this was a more adventures and rebellious Nicolas. I have come to understand that my father’s bull ridding era was not a departure or an anomaly. Instead, it embodied his approach to life: attention to detail, careful planning, strong conviction, sacrifice, and a degree of risk.

My father was born in Garcia de la Cadena, Zacatecas in 1958. Like many other Zacatecano families, the Guzman family migrated to the then developing, but already large metropolis of Guadalajara. They settled in la Colonia de Santa Margarita, a poor and working class neighborhood near Zapopan. Jose Maria, my grandfather began his migration north, initially working as a contracted Bracero, but like many Mexican workers who participated in the US-Mexico Bracero Program, went onto live and work outside the legal parameters of the program. Lead by Manuel Guzman, the oldest of the 4 boys, the family found ways to scrap together a living. Manuel sold insurance, the younger boys sold gum on the buses and shined shoes just outside of Guadalajara’s Cathedral, their mother took in other people’s laundry, Jose Maria sent dollars through the mail, and the daughters of the family helped keep the house in order and no doubt kept the boys in check.

While difficult, the family made the most of their time in Guadalajara. Nicolas, Maylo, Lupe, and Lobo played soccer in fields across the city, in the cobblestone streets, and tapped into the Guadalajara’s urban culture. Nicolas worked at Lemus, a music store in downtown Guadalajara, giving him access to all the newest records: English giants like the Beatles, French stars like Francois Hardy, the international and tri-lingual star Jeanette, and American icons like Don McClean and the Bee Gees. When back in their house they huddled around the radio listening to Radio Futura. Nicolas did not know French or English, but this didn’t matter. His pants, like his hair were long, flowing out at their ends.

It was during this time that my father and mother met. My mother was born and attended elementary school in Guadalajara, then junior high school in Mexicali, and the last two years of high school in South El Monte. While living in South El Monte, my mother spent a summer in Guadalajara, where she met my father. They got married in 1977, living in Guadalajara and Los Angeles for a few years, until finally settling into a small trailer in Goleta, California. Nick and Romeo slept in the kitchen, folding the kitchen table into the wall, and laying down blankets in its place. Aimee and Amanda slept on a bunk bed, directly above our parent’s bed. Nicolas parked cars at a valet parking lot in downtown Santa Barbara and drove limousines at night. Francisca cleaned million dollars homes that dotted the pacific coast of Carpenteria and attended Santa Barbara Community College. We were poor, humble, but with class and dignity. My father had 2 suits, keeping them clean and alternating different ties, and shirts, always looking sharp. On one occasion, when Nicolas handed the keys over to the driver, the driver casually flipped him a quarter and blurted “your tip.” Nicolas caught it, slowly walked up to the driver and replied, as he handed him back his coin “I think you might need it more that I do.”

We could be in Santa Barbara talking about Nicolas the valet and limousine driver, but we all know that one of my father’s defining characteristics was an almost relentless quest for self-improvement. While we were in Santa Barbara, my father temporarily moved to Los Angeles to attended truck driving school. We eventually moved to Pomona where most of the Guzman children were raised. Safer than riding a bull, yet demanding careful attention to movement, Nicolas spent most of his adult life on freeways, loading freight, and parking diesel trucks. His primo Isais sold him his first truck and helped him get his start in trucking. My father was grateful for this, helping others along the way, including his brother in-law Fernando. As the sun rose, Nicolas’ white diesel truck’s engine would rumble, finally coming to rest at sunset. Truck driving provided my father a degree of independence, autonomy, freedom and endless opportunity for conversation: jokes with his fellow truck drivers through the “CV” and music through the radio and CD player were an arms length away. Nicolas loved joke and stories, having the ability to tell a joke for any occasion, with almost surgical precision.

My father often incorporated English expressions into his lexicon, though they always seemed a little odd, as if the English language couldn’t quite contain the multiple meanings my father sought to express. For example, “lets make numbers,” simply means lets add, subtract, divide, calculate…but for my father, “lets make numbers” really meant lets put these things down on paper, lets imagine possibilities, lets envision the future. “Lets make numbers” was almost an incantation.

My father’s quest to “make numbers” started really early. In Santa Barbara, when he worked as valet during the day and limousine driver at night, he got together with his cousin Raul and together they brought together enough money to make a down payment on a house. We lived in a small trailer, his primo in an apartment, and the house was rented out (I’m pretty sure neither could afford the rent of the house). When we moved to Pomona and my mom became a registered nurse, my parents bought a new house in Chino Hills-they drove up to the hills from Pomona every other weekend to photograph its progress: the dirt patch that outlined the parameters, the first wood-frame…until its final form. My father, like a good math teacher, cared as much about the process (the logic of things), as much as the final outcome. My father and mother would go on to buy more property, including a few condos in Playa del Carmen, which they also photographed through its various stages.

Our time in Pomona was also characterized by a desire for emotional self-improvement and spirituality. My parents became very involved with Sacred Heart Church-teaching Cathequism classes, attending retreats, and getting married by the Church. They also drove to Palm Springs to participate in “Latinos Unidos” a self-help group therapy organization for working class migrants.

This quest for knowledge of the self and self-improvement continued throughout his life, gaining urgency in his later years. My father’s cancer and our little brother’s alcoholism led my father to learn about and attend Mexican anexos. He loved the humble, almost austere buildings, the direct and frank way of speaking, and that they were completely autonomous and self-funded. For a short period he even pretended to be an alcoholic to continue attending meetings. Eventually my father and mother joined Comite de Pasos, a metaphysical group based on the 12 steps. One progresses through stages and is both given a mentor and is in charge of mentoring others. While we would all love for him to still be here with us: I think this was Cancer’s gift to my father. It gave him the chance to retire—though he continued to work, he managed the truck and truck driver and even took accounting classes. He worked in an H and R block before deciding he didn’t want to deal with the people or really need the money. Cancer allowed him to be mentored, to mentor others, and to prepare for death. He once said of the Comite de Pasos: when you receive this gift, you want to pass it on.

People often confused my father for a priest and a teacher. While he is neither, he taught his children a lot. Nick, the oldest of the five children, an engineer, shares our fathers’ love for numbers. Aimee’s graphic design contains his meticulous attention to detail and an aesthetic whose beauty lies in its simplicity. I’ve inherited his love for words and story telling. Amanda, my fathers’ determination. Dante has his adventurous behavior—sometimes I wish he had a little less of it.

I like to imagine Santa Barbara during the 1970s, when my grandfather lived there. Santa Barbara during the 70s and 1980s, when my father parked valets and drove limousines. The early 2000s, when I attended Santa Barbara Community College, worked at Rusty’s Pizza con Lobo, and lived with my tio Maylo’s family. The mid and late 2000s when Aimee attended UCSB. And, the Santa Barbara of today, Dante’s current home. I like to collapse time and imagine my grandfather, father, sis, and Dante sharing the sidewalks and streets of Santa Barbara, attending a rodeo, sharing a cig, and why not, a few beers. Perfect material for a postmodern novel.

Nicolas Guzman passed away on August 15th, at Pomona Valley on Garey Avenue. He was accompanied by all of his siblings, all of his children, his brother and sister-in laws, whom he loved very much, and his wife and his mother. It was a fitting place to spend his last days. Francisca spent the last 20 years working on various floors of Pomona Valley. The four oldest children attended Garey High School just a few blocks from the hospital. 1798 South Towne, east of the high school, was the family’s first house.  Nicolas, an idealist, romantic, yet always logical and pragmatic, loved life’s coincidences, often contemplating their divine nature. His last days, like his life, was a mixture of faith, serendipity, and careful planning.

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