I never knew Ralph De La Osa as a young man. I kind of wish I had. Based on all reports, he had quite the life.
No, I met De La Osa at that most dreaded of all events, the one every man must face: the Spanish Inquisition; also known as meeting the girlfriend's family for the first time. Overall, it went quite well. Ralph was a merciful Grand High Executioner.
I later learned that my wife, then girlfriend, had brought quite the string of losers home to meet the 'rents. By comparison, I was the catch of the day. Yet, I'm sure Ralph was less than thrilled with me; after all, I was an interloper come to take his baby away.
What father wants an interloper stealing his baby? For myself, every boy that dated my daughter, I said the same thing, "He has mean eyes." I never had to use the old, "Son, you ever kill a man with your bare hands?" My daughter just told the boys about my sniper training back in college and they were well behaved.
Yet, I digress.
Over time, I learned about Ralph's life. A piano prodigy, he and his sister played from a young age. He was the opening act for Rudy Vallee and played on numerous radio shows.
Later, during World War II, Ralph held a sad position, that is, as a Western Union delivery boy. It meant he was the person who often had to notify families that their young man wasn't coming home. My grandmother, my dad's mom, told me of the fear and dread she felt every time she saw one of those delivery boys enter the neighborhood on his bike. He was like an angel of death. Yet, Ralph did his job without complaint.
Then, as a young man, he found love, but it was not so easy a road to travel. He would stop in at a little bakery in town and he was quite sweet on the cute little sweetie behind the counter. He chatted with the young woman. Desperate to ask her out, she put him off.
You see, Ralph had made a critical mistake in his courtship efforts. He'd brought his little sister along. The object of his affections took one look at the two and thought, "Huh, a married man flirting with me!" As a result, she didn't give him her real name. Thus, Clara has been known as Penny ever since.
Settling in upstate New York, in a big old farmhouse, Ralph became an electrician and eventually had his own company. Their children had a wonderful environment to grow up in, although when Woodstock took place right next door, Ralph was annoyed with the hippies coming into his land. He just couldn't understand why they wanted to sit out in the open and listen to that crazy new music.
The next step in the journey of his life was a long one. Following a heart attack, Ralph a sunnier climate was what he needed. Thus, his family moved to Arcadia, Florida.
Talk about your major culture shock. This was a middle class family from New York moving to a Deep South town in the 1970s; quite different worlds. Yet, Ralph worked to make life good for his family.
He became a teacher and taught many people to be good electricians. Over the years, many would return to express their gratitude for his efforts. He became an elder in the local Kingdom Hall; his faith always an integral part of his daily life.
By the time I met him, he was a well-established family man with a granddaughter that had followed in his passion for the piano. My daughter would do likewise and he and Penny included Alexa on several of their summer trips across the country. She loved spending time with them. One of the happiest days of her life was when Ralph gave her his old piano. It sits in her apartment and scarcely a day goes by that she doesn't play it.
Time was kind to Ralph, but not a good friend. With age came weakness and he and Penny moved to Port Charlotte to be closer to family and have a smaller simpler place. Despite all the infirmities life threw at him, Ralph remained strong and faced them with a smile and his iron-willed faith.
Although, I will admit that he mellowed a bit. The once powerful bear became quite the teddy bear and a tear would grace his cheek at a touching story or kindly act. Although unable to journey to participate in my daughter’s wedding, he still wanted to see it. Kim, his other granddaughter, set up a Skype system, and Penny helped him get dressed in his best, at least from the waist up, so he could sit in his bed and enjoy that special day.
When at last he faced twilight, his friends and family, his faith and his beloved sustained him. Penny came to him almost daily, washed his hands and face, tended to his needs. His body was weak, but his spirit strong.
When he felt his time was nearly done, he did what all strong men do. He made peace.
Taking Penny's face in his hands, he gazed into her eyes and spoke to her with words unspoken. His eyes told her all that his heart needed to say, but his voice could not. He spoke the language that only those who have known love for more than six decades can ever know.
A week later, he was gone.
I've heard it said that a classic is not merely something people like, but something that enriches their lives and that not only would they miss it if it was gone, but that they'd be diminished by the loss. Well, if that's the case then Ralph De La Osa was a classic gentleman. He enriched my life, I'm a better man for having known him; my life is lessened by his passing.
Réquiem ætérnam dona ei Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat ei. Requiéscat in pace. Amer.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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