Let me get your hat.

My dad had a rather backwards way of expressing respect for someone. Whenever someone was worthy of his props, he would say, “I take his hat off to him.”

I tried telling him that expressing gratitude did not require becoming that person’s butler, even a part-time one, but my sweet guy never could get that line right. It was always him getting someone de-chapeau-ed as a way of saying thank you. What’s ironic is that for the last 20 years of his life, my dad wore a baseball cap almost anywhere he went. He could even have written crib notes under the bill, in journalistic shorthand “Tak MY ht, not his ht off 2 him,” but no.

Anyway, you probably know where this is headed. I know I owe you guys a pile of thank-yous for everything you did for my family during this past month, but before I start collecting sombreros, turbans and yarmulkes, I wanna share with you a few of the things people did for my boy and my family during this time. Keep in mind that none of these things was my idea. People just did it out of a desire to help out.

So let me take the hats off the entire team of Cashmere soccer girls, coach and coach’s wife included, who showed up one afternoon and raked all the leaves in our front yard.

Let me take the hats off the girls’ cross country team, who gave their annual Sportsmanship award to a guy in crutches who can run distances as well as a tranquilized turtle.

Off go the hats of hundreds, and I do mean hundreds of people, who –coincidentally perhaps– passed the hat for us, a day after the accident, at the Cashmere-Medical Lake football game.

Off goes the hat (but only until it starts getting really cold) of 102-year-old Sophrona Pusel, who won a stuffed bear at her weekly bingo game, and decided to give it to my Matias, whom she had –and has– never met.

Hatless time for the members of the Wacoka Kiwanis, whom this morning, when rewarding the most improved students of the month -also known as the Terrific Kids– of the elementary school, decided to name my boy an honorary Terrific Kid.

Hatless time for Rex Pittsinger and Casey Ruether and the entire football team of Cashmere High, who showed up at my house hours after the Medical Lake game, a day after the accident and handed me my first-ever game ball, autographed by the entire team.

Helmetless time (but only ’till the sirens start blaring) to Chuck Dronen, Dave Dronen, Shane Rinker and the rest of the Cashmere Fire Department. Special embarrassed mention goes to the dad of my friend Mollie Newberry, whom I called “Mr. Kenoyer,” when I first saw him arrive with the rest of the crew. In my defense, I was still a little bit out of it. But still, Kenoyer? Jeez.

Hatless time to my friend Kameon Smith, who showed up with a stuffed dog for my son, a day or two after the accident. My son was miserable when he arrived from Harborview and the stuffed puppy was the reason for the first laugh I got out of him.

Let me get the hat of the members of the Cashmere School Board, the superintendent Glenn Johnson, coach Blomquist and the great Bob Wildfang from the school foundation, who kept me fed while my wife was in Seattle with our boy. Yes, I know, I took freebie sandwiches and pizza from sources, I broke my own rule, I stink as a reporter, I ate my credibility, etc., etc., etc. All very true, but also, very yummy.

And these people are but a fraction of all the wonderful warmth that has inundated  us during these past four weeks.  The list is long, as in hundreds-of-names long, and I will not forget a single one of them, but I am not going to transcribe it here. All of them, I take their hats any time.

I am a big, weepy powderpuff so sometimes it’s really hard to keep it together when people you have never even met tell you how happy they are that you are still around. And if to that you add the fact that your profession entails criticizing and scrutinizing the same people, for good or bad, such expression of love have a much deeper impact.

And speaking of impact…

The fella had hit us and I was on the ground, watching as Mr. Rinker and the rest of the crew tried to revive my son.  They had assured me he was alive, but he would not wake up, so I turned to my most powerful friend and I offered him a deal. A rotten deal as a matter of fact.

“God,” I said. “If my son wakes up, I’ll never drink again.”

Pretty powerful statement, of course, if the person making it actually happens to be a drinker, which I am if you consider ONE glass of beer a year and some champagne on New Year’s Eve as being “a drinker.”

Later, with my son in pain, but awake and alert, I took measure of the bottle of snake oil I had offered my Maker. “Never drink again? Wow, what a sacrifice, Chilean.  Why didn’t you offer to stop practicing law and retire from coaching the Packers while you were at it?”

Seriously, though, moments like those really help you find out who you are. I never for a second thought I was going to die, not even when I was rolling on the pavement, wondering if I would ever stop. I did wonder if my son was going to make it, especially when I found him unconscious on the ground, but when I heard him cry, I stopped wondering that, and started wondering how I could have ever let something like that happen to him. But then my wife showed up and I stopped worrying about that for a while–, because that’s when I found out who I was…

My wife tried to keep it together, and I tried to reassure her that he would be fine. She still looked shocked –and who wouldn’t, looking at the two of us on the ground of Pioneer Avenue, clothes torn, shoes gone, and her boys in trouble, the big one bleeding and the small one crying. And then, the police officer turned to her and asked, “Are you OK, ma’am?” and my wife immediately replied, looking at Matias, “If he’s OK, I’m OK.”

And I thought, ‘of all the people I could have ended up with, I had to pick her.’

And I started getting better right then and there, because then I knew who I was.

I was lucky.

Until next time…and once again, thank you.

 

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A punchline no more

Some of you, okay, most of you have noticed that my son has blue eyes and that neither my wife nor I have blue eyes. This has led many of our close friends and relatives to needle us with good-natured jokes about who Matias’ real pops is. Milkman, mailman, you name it we’ve heard it.

To boot, my Matias got in on the joke, unintentionally.

He would lie flat on his back as I changed his diaper, and I would talk to him, ask him questions, in Spanish. “Who am I? Hey Matias, who am I?” He would say nothing, so I would answer for him. “I’m your pa-pa.”

That’s when he would start laughing.

Bear in mind, now, this didn’t just happen once. This happened a lot, to the point that it kind of became a joke within a joke. Even Matias knew something was fishy about the origin of those peepers.

Well, today, on the fifth anniversary of my wedding to his ‘Mawm” (that’s how he pronounces it), my boy finally came through on his own. Again, it was new-diaper time, flat on his back, and  just for the heck of it, I decided to ask him. I hadn’t asked him in a few weeks now.   Hey Matias, who am I? What’s my name?

“Paa-pa.”

I was floored, but sometimes he says Ba-pa, so I had to ask him again. I had to make sure. What’s my name? What’s my name? I felt like Mohammed Ali when he fought Floyd Patterson.

“Paa-pa.”

I gave him a great big hug and I thanked him for picking such a great date for it. I told my wife and later I told my mom by phone. “Hey Matias, tell grandma Yeye, who am I? Three for three.

His first word was mom, and that was awesome. Then came truck, tickle, cracker, a-ha, hungry, kitty, train, grandma, and a few others. Today we add one more to the list, the sweetest one yet.

Until next time…

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Bringing the silly.

Today I started my fourth season of broadcasting soccer games for the University of Washington.

The view from my spot, decorative headsets included.               

No, I’m not ‘The Voice’ of anything yet, since Dick Fain and I only get to do three games apiece. Dick Fain is, indeed, the voice of a team, the Seattle Storm of the WNBA.

Someday, someday…

Anyway, today’s game was a study in silly, not just because I was so damned rusty, but because of all the weird stuff that surrounded it.  First off, the opponent was Notre Dame, and since I work where I work the other six days of the week, my brain kept telling me “SAY NORTH BEND! SAY NORTH BEND INSTEAD! NORTH BEND! THE FIGHTING IRISH OF NORTH BEND! GIMME AN N! GIMME AN O! GIMME AN R!”

Second, it was my first game of the year, so I had to show up minus press pass and convince folks that yes, this unshaven creature that probably screams “WSU GRADUATE” actually is one of the broadcasters for UW. Then, when I made it past the gate, the usher lady told me ‘Bill’ at the ticket booth had my press pass. When I went to Bill, he said the usher lady had it. Insert circus music here. Then I went to my boss’ spot, and she wasn’t there, then I went to my booth, where I found Alyssa, my boss, who said she had given my press pass to an usher.

Then, the video feed wouldn’t work, so Alyssa told me I only could do audio and had to be more descriptive. Fine with me. What wasn’t so fine is that I had to direct my voice at the computer’s built-in microphone, which made me look like a guy raving mad at his laptop.  So I asked Alyssa (who, by the way, is off-the-charts cool) if I could wear the headset anyway, if only to look a little more professional and a little less deranged. She said OK. So I did an entire broadcast wearing an expensive headset that wasn’t plugged in.  I’m sure I didn’t look deranged at all. Especially toward the end, when my left leg cramped and I could not stand up, had to remain seated and let my leg cramp up. Remember, the headset mike wasn’t plugged in, so I had to stay close to the laptop. To relieve the pressure, I stretched my leg to the side, so I finished the last minute of the game broadcasting at a 30 degree angle, like I was finally surrendering to the effects of my pregame ritual of meditation and tequila shooters. I finished my first broadcast of my fourth season wearing ‘honorary’ headsets and listing like the Costa Concordia.

The game was a beaut, 3-0 University of Washington, the goal calls came off rather smoothly and for the fourth year in a row, I could not believe for a second that I was actually there. So what if my booth is a canopy and my throat is sore. Four years, baby.

The postscript of the game was pretty sweet. I told my brother about it and he wondered about my ritual (this one is actually real) of not eating anything a couple of hours or so before a game. I told him it was so I didn’t have broadcast a game secretly wishing the stadium collapsed so they could stop the game and I could go potty, and because I need my voice to carry and to sound as polished as possible, and I can’t do that with a full tummy.

My mom overheard this and said, “Yeah, can you imagine that, ‘Good evening ladies and gentleBURRRRRRRRP!'”

My family’s truly great.

Until next time…

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More-lando

Please forgive a brother’s pride and allow me this couple of lines to boast about Mr. Oscar Sepulveda Ugalde, also known as my older brother, and about my family.

One of my mother’s big goals was to have two professional sons. She told us from the start that we were going to college, no ifs ands or buts.

Me with my brother Oscar, circa 1982.

As the older one, Oscar’s turn came first, and he did his momma proud, earning a degree in public administration from Chile’s Central University and then an MBA from Loyola-Maryland, the latter while still living in Chile.

He has worked tirelessly from day one, spending time at Aetna, ING and now Banco Itau, a Brazilian conglomerate. So tirelessly in fact that the boy is now in Orlando at a conference, all the while nursing a horrendously wrenched back.

That’s a nine hour flight from Santiago to Florida, on a bad back. that’s 94 degrees Fahrenheit and high Florida humidity, on a bad back. And then, to his everlasting credit and to my eternal gratitude, next Thursday it’s a five-hour, unscheduled, on-his-own-dime, flight to Seattle to meet his nephew Matias. On a bad back.

We haven’t always been Shaggy and Scooby, but the days when we were Olbermann and O’Reilly are long gone. So, please allow me to raise this glass of milk and salute the only Oscar I’ve ever won, and the only one I’ll ever need.

Salud, hermano.

 

 

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Counting to three…

Let me begin this post by saying that it’s not intended to cause pain to anyone nor make sport of anyone’s pain. I am aware that some people around me are hurting.

Right now,  I feel surrounded by death. Not my father’s. Sons saying goodbye to their fathers is the law of life, as my own old man used to say. I’m talking about sources dying, and sons of sources, and friends of sources, and sons of friends, and sons of friends of friends, and even Junior Seau.

Okay, perhaps not him. Oh, hell. Yes, him too. And let’s not forget the folks, good kindhearted people all, who talk about committing suicide like it’s no thang.

Normally, in times of crisis, I tend to hang on to laughter like a frightened cat to a tree branch. Any source of it, I squeeze every drop of I can. But it’s been such a continued strings of punches to the gut, there’s only so much Frasier reruns can do.

Don’t anybody feel sorry for me, understand? Nothing has happened to me. But good folks around me are hurting.

So what I’ve devised is something I learned from a book by Carol Burnett. Nothing earth-shattering, I assure you, but it’s helped me keep hold of my sanity. If nothing else, it’s helped me realize that in the middle of a darker-than-usual night, there are always a few fireflies doing their thing, even if they are mooning me in the process.

Before I go to bed, I think of three things I’m grateful for, from the day that just ended.

Told ya, nothing earth-shattering. An acolyte of Tony Robbins, I’m not. I’m much more fond of his brother Baskin.
And by the way, so is this guy.

But I digress.

The trick, for me at least, is to not make it mundane. “I’m grateful for the color of the sky and the singing of the birds.”

Boo-hoo.

I also try not to phone it in. “I’m grateful for my friends.”

Who on earth isn’t?

I try to find specifics. It’s a witch sometimes, but it helps me.

Pitifully enough, I fall smack dab into the mundane and the “brought to you by AT&T” territory. But when I don’t, that’s when the good stuff happens.

I’ve discovered I’m grateful for unknown people.  Yeah, interviewing stars can be thrilling but the real thrill is in hearing someone’s life story, a life story that happened miles away from the nearest public relations firm.

I find that the farther I get from people who delight in saying things like “I just wanted to pay it forward,” or “We gotta take it one game at a time,” or “My main flaw is that I’m too honest,” the better I feel about my career choice.

I’m grateful for Mondays. (I know, and I’m a Garfield fan). Sundays have always been my least favorite day of the week, so the farthest point from a Sunday that is not another Sunday is the day most everyone hates. Not that they are easy for me, that’s the day I have to say goodbye to Mr. Chocolate Mustache above until the following Friday, but at least it’s not Sunday again for almost a full week.

I have to say, Sundays are a lot better since Matias came along, though.  Which brings me to my last point, and this is where I can’t help but be mundane and phone it in. It’s simply stronger than me.

I’m grateful for my son. When the son of one of our sources committed suicide, the man who confirmed it put his hand on my shoulder while I held back tears and told me to go back home to Cashmere and tell my son that I loved him.  I had to wait a day because I had to work that Saturday, but that’s what I did.

And the fireflies began working again. Just like the first time I saw Matias again after my dad died, and he greeted me with an out-of-nowhere “Hi!”, this time he smiled and clapped as I walked in the house. I’m sure I’ll get the polar opposite of that reception from him sometime in the next 15 years, but in the meanwhile, I’ll take that ovation for what it isn’t, a vote of confidence, and for what it is, a happy kid who just happens to love chocolate ice cream and hugs from his pops.

Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

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Some pictures of my dad and me (part 2)

A promise is a promise.

As time went by, one of the toughest things to see my dad lose was his sense of humor. He was always trying to be funny, but getting old was no laughing matter for a guy who always saw himself as near-bulletproof.

So whenever he forgot about his aches and pains and decided to just plain old be silly, it was a grand time. During those times, he was one of the least self-conscious men on the planet. Just ask a cousin of mine who saw him jump in the pool in his skivvies at her wedding. Don’t judge, everyone else got in the pool, too.

This picture dates back to 1994, my first Halloween in America and the only time I ever saw my dad don a costume. He felt a little silly, but he still managed to have a good time. We must have been a sight: the grim reaper, a sheik and the Devil driving to Mill Creek in a 1979 Toyota.

At one point during this party, another lady whom people said had a crush on my dad showed up. This lady walked in front of the camera as my mom was posing in her she-devil costume hexing the camera. As a result, the picture shows my mom putting on a devilish hex on her supposed rival.

My dad rarely said no to a party, but he never ever said no to a dinner with friends. Few things gave him as much pleasure as cooking did.

Now that he has died, many people have sent me messages of solidarity and love, and at least five of them have mentioned how at one point my dad either cooked for them, or fed them or taught them something about cooking.  One of these messages came from a friend named Dave.

Dave, two other friends and I carpooled from WSU to Seattle one time for break. As a thank-you, my dad invited them to lunch. I was used to my dad’s cooking prowess, but not even I expected what he delivered that day. There was hardly any room left on that table for the forks and knives. If it was edible and it was in our cupboard or fridge, my dad had cooked it for my friends and I. Beef, chicken, pork, salads, catfish, salmon. I was never more popular around Stimson Hall than when we all returned to Pullman and word got around the dorm about my dad’s cooking.

My dad was never one to gloat. Whatever gloating he did, he did it hoping to get a laugh from you (like when I was little and he would flex biceps and say to me ‘Whaddya think of Tarzan here?’). But when I told him about my friends telling their friends that “Seabass’ dad cooks like a champ,” I could tell he was pleased.

As always, he made a joke out of it. And as always, he used the catchphrase he said whenever he did something awesome. “Well, ya know…artists like us, that’s how we do things.”

My dad loved being a man. He loved having two boys. And he loved watching those two boys grow into men, not that it was always easy. But he celebrated each of our triumphs like it was his own. At my wedding, on the receiving line, he gave me a big bear hug and said, “look at my grown man, all married!”

And he really loved having a grandson. Carrying on the family name was a big deal for my pops, as his three brothers had a total of seven daughters and three sons. Two of those sons don’t have children yet and the third one has two daughters himself. So when Matias arrived, he was elated. He loved his granddaughter Valentina, my brother’s incandescent child, and she loved him. But there was something about having a grandson that just thrilled him.

In May of 2011, he met his grandson for the first and last time, a fantastic weekend of Central Washington sunshine that grows more memorable with each passing week. So happy was my dad with his grandboy, the sixth consecutive generation of Moraga males, that he actually said to me, “Now we don’t have to worry about it. You’ve already paid your dues.”

Although he only lived to see Matias turn one year and a few months old, having him around helped me plenty in the early weeks of Matias’ life, when a doctor suggested he might have hydrocephalia.

Back in 1979, a doctor told my dad the same thing about me. So, having him around helped me stay somewhat sane when it was my time to hear the words and deal with the aftermath. I still wanted to strangle the doctor, but I knew how my father had dealt with the diagnose, how he had responded to it and how it all had shaken out. I knew the odds were on my side. As it turned out, we were right. My boy not only had the Moraga last name, he had the Moraga big noggin, last seen in his pops, grandpops and great-grandpops. As always, my dad was squarely on my side. “There’s no way that boy has hydrocephalia. Show that doc a picture of me, show him a picture of you and that will be that.”

This last picture is my very favorite photo of my dad and I. I once said I wanted to be buried with this photo. I still feel this way, but there’s a few real cute ones of Matias that might nudge this one out of my breast pocket. My dad would understand.

This photo encompasses everything I ever got from my dad in 33 far too short years. Companionship, protection, safety, love, warmth, and an stare straight ahead. Nothing matters but the future. The past is in the past. Tomorrow is another day, another chance to make your mark, to create, to build, to reach out.

I won’t get all maudlin and sad. In fact, this ending will probably be a little unsatisfying to some of you. That’s OK. I just want to thank you for reading along.

Once more, and for always, rest in peace, my Tarzan.

And thanks for everything.

 

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Some pictures of my dad and me, (part 1)

This is the earliest picture I have ever seen of my dad and I. My dad always said that I smiled at him the first time he saw me. Obviously this wasn’t that time. I am looking less than pleased with the situation.

My dad, on the other hand, was over the moon. He was the last one of his brothers to get married and the last one to become a dad. At that point, I was the youngest of all the cousins by almost 10 years.

He told everyone who would listen that I was going to win Wimbledon someday. Once, in college, I only half-kiddingly apologized to him for never fulfilling his prediction. in typical Pancho Moraga fashion, he deadpanned, “Become a good journalist and we’ll call it even.”

It’s on my to-do list, OK?

If ever I did learn something from my father, items one, two and three on that list are his unquenchable optimism, his belief that when it comes to your job,  one must grow where planted, and his philosophy that giving no news is better than giving bad news. If things are bad, keep it to yourself. Things will get better. Just you wait.

This picture was taken in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Get out a map and see where Dutch Harbor is. For a man who trained as an accountant, it’s a long way from the nearest IRS office. He was miserable, his arthritis was acting up and, oh yeah, he was cold. Really cold.

And yet, he refused to let us worry. He sent us this picture, he smiled for it, and in the back, he wrote a joke. “Here I am, playing a game called, ‘Freezing my butt off.'” Then he signed off with “Chao Pescado,” the Chilean version of “Later, gator.”

One of the things for which I will always be grateful to him is that of all the people who know me since birth, only one never ever ever gave up on me. Only one always believed that things would turn out all right, that I would make the right decisions, the right choice, the right call, 10 times out of 10.

I once had the chance to write a column for my job in Moses Lake, and I wrote about how “even back when I was flunking everything but recess and lunch,” my dad still bet on me. I remember once my mom telling him what a lazybones I was, and he replied, “but of course he doesn’t work hard. He doesn’t have to. He’s gifted.”

That was my pops. He’d rather be in denial that not support his kid.

This picture reminds me of all the times he lent me a hand or two. And there were many. One in particular sticks out today. My dad loathed to get involved with my love life. Hated, hated, hated talking about that sort of stuff. But he once saw me so down in the dumps that he couldn’t help himself. Dr. Phil, he wasn’t, but that one time, he was even better. He grabbed the phone from my mom and unloaded: “Listen, if she doesn’t see you for who you are, if she doesn’t treat you right, to (bleep) with her. You deserve better, and there’ll be many others, for sure.”

Everybody deserves a friend like that.

More pictures tomorrow…

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