In my blue linen outfit, I wandered out to the kitchen,
where Dillon was at work. Since Dad died, Dillon has shouldered the
responsibility of cocktails. Tonight was margaritas, of course, in quantity, to
go with the Mexican food. A graveyard of lime husks littered the counter.
Guacamole, his other specialty,
had him chopping tomatoes with frustrated intensity. “This knife is shit,” he
informed me, mincing the bloody fruit on a comically small plastic cutting
board. “And they don’t have any normal cutting boards.” He worked through this
sad state of affairs with dogged perseverance, moving on from tomatoes to
scallions and then cilantro. His dedication to his craft touched me. I took his
picture as he chopped, and posted it on Facebook.
The caterer arrived with huge
aluminum containers of beans, rice, enchiladas, chiles rellenos, tamales,
miniature flautas, and her own rendition of guacamole, plus chips and salsa. We
held a referendum on which guacamole was superior; Dillon’s easily bested the
pretender. I was pleased to have a reserve of guacamole in the fridge, even if
it was inferior. Guests began to trickle in; two couples whom Mom and Dad had met
on their yearly pilgrimage to a Mexican beach town; my mother’s sister Mickey; our
cousin Terry. Kendall put on the playlist we made on the plane. Mom, fluttery
with hostessing, protested that we were too sweet to think of her, and was her
hair okay, and who needed a drink? We all did.
Mickey, my mother’s older sister,
was widely regarded by Websters of all generations as the biggest
pain-in-the-ass in the extended family. Tiny, foul-mouthed, and self-absorbed,
she was emphatically Dad’s least-favorite sister (there were four other
O’Connor sisters besides Mom, all beautiful and obnoxious each in their own way).
He would shake his head and close his eyes, muttering “Oh God” at the mention
of her name, as though to banish her from his thoughts when she intruded.
Mickey’s halo of corkscrew curls and the ceramic white veneers of her smile
shone in the late afternoon light from the doorway. She held me to her chest,
the two hard round balls of her aging breast implants pressing against me, then
stepped back to appraise my appearance. Her daughter Terry, also tiny but
polite and solicitous as a reaction to her mother, joined us. Terry, still in
contrast to her mother, was a favorite of Dad’s. As we sipped margaritas at the
table on the back porch, Terry said that Tic was good with kids. “He was good
with animals and little girls. Not so much with teenagers,” she chuckled, “but
pre-teens and younger…a genius.” Nope, not so much with teenagers, I agreed.
The party began recounting times with Tic. It had been almost two years since he died, long
enough that the trauma of watching his body die had faded from immediate
thought, but not so long that his loss was less acutely felt. My
California-based natal family had come to Tucson on this April weekend to
celebrate what would have been his 72nd birthday and to scatter his
Dad and Uncle Tom grew up in Tucson;
Mom spent her junior-high and high-school years there. Terry split her time
between Tucson and Portland; Mickey had lived in Tucson since high school. I
happily left my husband and two children in Oakland, Kendall left her boyfriend
in Petaluma, and Dillon left his new bride in Boulder to join in this last rite.
Mom, no longer having anyone to leave behind, entrusted her house to the
housekeeper and gardeners. Also invited for the occasion was Dad’s older
brother, Uncle Tom, and his third wife, Gretchen, but they wouldn’t arrive
until the next day.
The talk turned to tomorrow’s
mission: scatter the ashes at a site in Sabino Canyon, part of the Coronado National
Forest in the Santa Catalina mountain range that lay to the northeast of
Tucson. Sabino Canyon, a starkly beautiful riparian corridor in the cracks
between towering walls of reddish rock and saguaro desert, where Dad had
scattered his mother’s ashes 25 years ago, was the place he had chosen for us
to distribute his own earthly remains. He entrusted this sacred job to Kendall,
whom he correctly pegged as the only member of the family who would actually
follow through on the request.
The two white, aging couples talked about other friends who recently died of cancer, as though it were something trendy. These were friends from Mexico, where Mom and Dad began vacationing in
retirement. San Miguel de Allende, a favorito of retired US expats, was loved
for the richness of the art in the city, which was full of museums and art
schools. The markets featured gorgeous indigenous craft items. The houses were
large and tiled in terra-cotta, and Mom and Dad went back to the same air bnb
every year. They bought a piece of property, Dad with dreams to build an adobe
home where they could live out their elderly years. They could be part of a
utopian rammed-earth commune, the building already in progress, headed by a
gringo couple. They spent six weeks in Mexico every year. These people—Jean and
Pier, Bobby and Brenda—they were friends made during the golden years.
Everyone brought booze. Dillon, at Mom’s behest, had purchased six not-cheap bottles of wine, and made
an entire gallon of Margaritas; Jean and Pier brought a 6-pack; and Bobby and
Brenda two bottles of wine, one white, one red. And everyone proceeded to get
After one margarita, the food was
even less appetizing—the gluey tamales, the soggy cheese enchiladas, the
sawdusty beans and rice. Retreating from the progressively more and more
sentimental drunks on the patio, I settled onto the beige pleather couch next
to Dillon, who was squinting at the corner of the ceiling and neatly
dispatching a plate of food. I scooped the remnants of the superior guacamole
with the edge of a cardboard-like corn chip.
“Your guac is gone,” I said to him.
“Would Dad have liked this?”
Dillon took a swig of beer. “Well,
these people were his friends. He saw them every year. They partied together.”
I had met the San Miguel couples
once before, in Trancones, a beach town in Mexico. Another favorito. Eight
months before he died, Dad was enjoying the renaissance provided by the first
round of chemo, and in celebration/mourning, our entire family took a spring
break vacation together. Dad was rail-thin, and his enormous height made him
look almost otherworldly, the skin of his face drawn around his handsome
cheekbones as though he had become another, much older person.
Dad was using cannabis to manage
his chemo symptoms, but only took the CBD strain, disliking the mental high of
THC. My husband Tom had brought some medical cannabis chocolate from home, hoping Dad
would enjoy it. Dad ate a large piece, then spent several hours lying on the
couch with Kendall, Mom and I gathered around him, listening to music. Dad
requested Father and Daughter, a Paul Simon song, which made him cry.
I tried to cover my own tears and
my shock at his sobs by asking, “Dad, are you super-stoned?”
“I feel pretty good,” he responded,
his voice choked.
Dillon had made another one of his
famous rounds of margaritas, painstakingly squeezing each hemisphere of lime in
his muscular fist. Dillon’s girlfriend Debbie carried a tray of glasses with
ice and salted rims out to the pool cabana, with a beautiful view of the beach
and sunset. Dad heaved himself off the couch and hefted the pitcher of
margaritas, already mixed with tequila, proffered by Dillon, and began to walk
slowly down the rocky path after her. I
watched him from the porch, thinking about how the cannabis affected him, as he
stumbled down the path, and then stared as his sandal snagged beneath him, and
he pitched headlong sideways into the garden, throwing the pitcher of liquid
out ahead of him.
We all ran to him.
Dad didn’t hit his head, but he did
scrape himself up, and split open his left heel pretty bad.
chemo gives me neuropathy in my toes,’ he grunted as Kendall and I heaved him
up. He leaned heavily on us, bleeding. We took him into the bedroom and put him
to bed, all of us shaking and sad. Later we sat without him in the pool cabana
and drank micheladas, nowhere near as good as the margaritas would have been,
not talking much, each of us trying to find a silver lining, but there was
Not counting medieval Spanish history.