Friday, December 24, 2021

In memoriam.

When my manager, Hector Quetzcoatl Padilla, who I word jumbled into Hector Quesadilla, was a small boy, he was the youngest of nine brothers. The house he grew up in was just two rooms and all the brothers, all nine of them, slept crowded together like possums on a jumble of mismatched mattresses. When one snored, they all woke. When one turned over, they all scrambled for the covers--thin as they were.

Even though Hector became a star in the Mexican Baseball League--a Hall of Famer as a player and a manager--you don't forget about growing up and sleeping nine to a bed. When he began making money--late in his life--there was not a lot of money in Mexico nor in baseball when Hector was a star. When he did begin making money, $200/week, $1000/month, $400/week, he did something he could never have imagined doing when he was just a boy.

He found a shop that sold mattresses and asked to see the owner. 

"I want your very biggest mattress," Hector told him. Even though it was just he and Teresa who would be sleeping in the bed.

"El Rey," the store owner said. "A king."

"No," said Hector. "That is too small. I want you should come to my bedroom and build me a mattress just as big as my very room. I have no need for a nightstand, or a dresser, or a chair even in my bedroom. I want nothing at all except mattress. From window-to-window, from wall-to-wall, from one end to the door, I want nothing at all but mattress."

It took the store almost a year, but they made Hector and Teresa what Hector called, "the biggest mattress in all of the Americas, north and south." You could not be in his bedroom--even when I visited Hector as he lay dying, I had to crawl across his bed to say goodbye and to give him an abrazo of love, honor and respect.

The last time I saw Hector, in his bed as he died seven years ago, he lay in his bed, small against its bigness. He was home there. And like so many people--like most people, perhaps--certainly like me in the sonic boom quiet of my parents' New York claustrophobic assemblage of shingles--he had grown up without having a home.

As a manager, like a lot of managers, Hector spoke in epigrams. He was not very much different from the Oracle of Delphi. Epigrams are short and memorable. If you look, really look, you can find many meanings. If you look with acuity, you can find the correct ones.

"You make your bed, you lie in it," Hector would say. His way of chastising a pitcher for putting the tying run on base with a walk, or a batter in the hole because he swung from the heels when he was told to take a pitch. Hector would not fume. He chided only. "You make your bed, you lie in it."

My best friend since I was thirteen died last night. He died. He was just ten days older than I. We grew up together, grew, maybe wise together, grew old together. And now he is gone.

Fred was the best friend I will ever have. And the very definition of the word mensch. He was not a member of my Tribe. But in fact, he led my tribe. He taught me more about myself and growing up and seeing the world than any other ten people, including my own father.

Many years ago, Fred and I had one of our long conversational peregrinations. He reminded me of a bit of writing from the movie "Stand By Me." "Friends come in and out of our lives like busboys in a busy restaurant. I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone."

Now, my oldest friend is gone.

For over 50 years we shared a lot. Laughter. Tears. The pains of life. And the joys. But mostly love.

That's the bed we lay in.

We were young and lucky once.

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