My uncle Lee Baca passed away last Friday, January 28, 2011; he had just turned 80 earlier in the week, making last week the best of times and the worst of times for his loved ones. (The attached photo of Lee with his wife [and my mother's sister] Kathie, which I admit is a bad picture -- the digital camera we owned at the time would flash once, making everyone close their eyes, and then it would flash again and snap the picture while everyone was blinking -- was taken in a restaurant in Farmington, NM in 2004. My mother's family had gathered in Farmington for my Aunt Helen's funeral, and we'd gone out to eat after a viewing at the mortuary.) My memories of Uncle Lee date primarily to my childhood and adolescence, when he and his family lived across the street from us; he and Kathie later moved out to Los Padillas in the South Valley and lived there for twenty-some-odd years before moving back into town. I remember Lee as a hard-drinking man in the old days; however, he always had a heart of gold, and when he finally gave up the booze and became active in church, he turned into as good a man as I've known. His children and grandchildren adored him absolutely, and there can be no finer tribute to a man's life.
I'll always remember the fathers-and-sons outings on which Lee took my brothers and me, together with his sons, out at what once was the Albuquerque East Stake's "stake park" near Chilili. (The park was located within the Chilili land grant, and of course there were heirs of the original grantees who, regarding the land to be inalienable and indivisible, took exception to other people's "trespassing." The stake finally pulled out and abandoned the property in the mid-1970s after several threats of violence; it's hard to fathom that there is a place within Bernalillo County whose residents consider themselves to be living in "occupied Mexico," but there it is.) Lee had an old, large Army tent that we all slept in on these campouts -- I remember getting up during the night one time to go pee and clocking myself on the (unlit) lantern hanging in the center of the tent, both on the way out and on the way back to my sleeping bag.
Lee was an avid hunter, and I have vivid childhood memories of his cutting up his various kills and making deer jerky in their garage. (What a stench!) I went hunting once with my dad and the Bacas in, I believe, the fall of 1973; I didn't know much about rifles -- I didn't even know how to "draw a bead" on a target -- but they gave me a .22, anyway, so that I could play hunter. It was on that trip that I learned I don't have much of a stomach for killing animals; I don't mind eating what another person has killed, cleaned, and dressed, but I'm not exaggerating when I say I'd be a vegetarian if I had to butcher my own meat.
[Update 2/1/2011: I hadn't really thought about it before, but Lee and Kathie had five children, who were all born -- one at a time -- in the slightly-more-than-six-year period between August 1951 and November 1957. That's a lot of babies to take care of in a short timeframe! The house they lived in across the street from my parents' house probably was no bigger than 1,200 square feet, plus it only had one bathroom -- and my cousin Lisa, the only girl in the family, always had her own bedroom, meaning the boys essentially slept on top of each other in the third bedroom until they gradually grew up and started leaving home. I look back and wonder how they managed; we weren't in a completely dissimilar situation in our house -- especially during those times when my grandmother lived with us -- but at least we had two bathrooms (however small they were), and eventually my parents converted our garage into a fourth bedroom.]
[Update 2/3/2011: Yesterday, I attended Uncle Lee's funeral, and then his "committal" ceremony at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. I hadn't fully realized how much his having Parkinson's Disease caused him to suffer; in that light, I couldn't help but recall Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem:
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.]