Hanging out with Dad on his 90th birthday in 2016.
Catarino A. Rede: March 22, 1926 to March 28, 2017
We laid my dad to rest this week. On March 28, six days after he reached his 91st birthday, he suffered an early-morning attack at home in Silver City, New Mexico, and died hours later at the hospital with his beloved wife, Oralia, at his bedside.
Lori and I were on a spring break vacation, four states and one time zone away, when we got the word. Just a year ago, we had celebrated Dad’s 90th birthday, with my two sisters and their families. He was so happy then, surrounded by three generations of people who mean the most to him. He looked healthy, even if his vision and hearing had begun to deteriorate. And his first and only experience with Skype had him marveling at the wonders of technology.
(Click on images to view captions.)
Gangsta Grandpa with grandchildren (from left) Bernie, Austin and Simone.
Grandpa goes digital, his first video chat on Skype.
Since the beginning of this year, however, things had changed. He lost his appetite and pretty much quit eating, which caused his weight to plunge and his body to lose muscle. He drank so little water, he became dehydrated and sedentary. Finally, his heart gave in.
His death felt surreal.
More than three years earlier, my sisters and I were in a quiet, darkened hospice room when our mother died. We could talk to her, hold her hand, wipe her brow and feed her ice chips as we watched her life come to a merciful end.
In contrast, all of us were hundreds of miles away when the end came for Dad. It wasn’t until this Thursday when I saw him in repose in a mortuary in his adopted hometown, rosary beads draped across his hands and his handsome face stilled forever, that it sank in. Death had taken my father.
I loved my dad. I admired him and appreciated him more and more with each passing year.
Catarino Allala Rede was born in Artesia, New Mexico, the fifth of nine children, the third-oldest of seven boys who all served in the U.S. Navy. He was the last surviving sibling.
Like my mom, Dad came of age during the Great Depression and had limited opportunities growing up in a family of migrant farmworkers. He experienced discrimination early in his life and his formal education ended at the eighth grade, though he later obtained his G.E.D. in his 40s.
Read his obituary here as published in the Grant County Beat.
My parents met as teenagers in Salinas, California. My dad enlisted in the service when he was 18, saw action in World War II, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area with my mom after they married. They had six children — three of whom died as infants. Among the three of us who survived, I was the middle child and only boy.
My parents divorced when I was 15. He soon met and married a wonderful woman with a gentle disposition, Oralia Caballero, a registered nurse at the same Oakland, California, hospital where my dad worked as a stationary engineer. Dad was a jack-of-all-trades responsible for the operation and maintenance of boiler and other mechanical systems, and he took great pride in his work.
Dad and Ora came to visit Lori and me in Bend, Oregon, in the years before we had kids. Photo is circa 1977 or 1978.
Dad was one of those men who earned his living with his hands and a broad set of skills. He wore overalls with a name patch over his heart; ate taquitos and black coffee from a metal lunch pail and thermos; and variously worked the graveyard, morning and evening shifts.
He became an officer in the International Union of Operating Engineers and I still remember vividly one of the tangible benefits of the health insurance policy that extended to us kids: my first pair of eyeglasses as a 13-year-old.
Marrying Oralia was the best thing that ever happened to him. I told her this week that it was if my dad was born again, given an opportunity to live life to its fullest alongside an affectionate and dedicated wife who fully embraced his adult children and cared for him to the very end.
Ora and C.A. Rede outside their New Mexico home in April 2014.
During their 46 years of marriage, Dad and Ora traveled widely — to Europe and Mexico, to Israel and South Africa — and became deeply involved in civic life in Silver City. Dad was active in veterans, fraternal and religious organizations, and accompanied Ora to music programs and other events at the local university, something he never would have done in his previous life.
On April 6, the day of his funeral, it was readily apparent that my father had made a mark in the little town of 10,000 people in southwestern New Mexico where he chose to retire. Not on the scale of a First Citizen or anything like that. Rather, as an ordinary Joe who had a big heart and could be counted on to participate in a community service project.
“He was a man of few words but a man of strong words,” a fellow veteran said. “He was always concerned about others. He was a man of his word. If he said he’d be there, he was there.”
Whereas my mom’s funeral drew mostly relatives, my dad’s was attended by family, of course, but also a wide spectrum of friends, neighbors, camping buddies, fellow veterans and Catholics.
Dad’s photo hangs on the wall at the Knights of Columbus Fellowship Hall in Silver City.
I especially appreciated the presence of the Knights of Columbus, whose white-haired, white-gloved members, with their decorative hats, capes, cummerbunds and swords, took shifts standing at either end of the coffin during the church service. Afterward, I broke into tears thanking each one of these gentlemen for honoring my father.
Dad was buried at the nearby Fort Bayard National Cemetery under a sunny sky as a gentle wind riffled the U.S. and New Mexico flags, plus those of the American Legion and U.S. Navy.
Seven riflemen fired three volleys each — a 21-gun salute. A priest offered a blessing and a leader of the local American Legion post recounted Dad’s military service.
He enlisted June 15, 1941 in Salinas, California, a week after the Allies landed at Normandy. Following basic training, he was assigned to a unit that was posted to Hawaii on Dec. 29, 1941, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was deployed to Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands for training in anticipation of the invasion of Japan. The Japanese surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, before the invasion could take place, and the unit was decommissioned. Back in the States, Dad was discharged on May 13, 1946, as a second-class machinist’s mate. He received $119.58 with which to resume his civilian life.
Fellow veterans, townspeople and family gathered under a structure for Dad’s burial.
An honor guard stands at the ready before firing a 21-gun salute.
Born into a large family and equipped with little formal education, Catarino Rede nevertheless overcame a lot of life’s challenges. He became a husband and a father, a military veteran, a skilled laborer and a homeowner. He became a second husband, a grandfather and a great-grandfather, and a community volunteer in service to those less fortunate.
I will forever be proud to be his only son.