Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tio Mike

Yesterday my uncle, Tio Mike, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. He was a wonderful man, and a well-loved professor of English at Del Mar College, in Corpus Christi, Texas, for many years.  Older brother to my mom and my Tio Jack, he was the first in his Mexican-American family to go to college, quite a feat especially considering that before him, my grandmother Tita held the record for furthest advancement in school - reaching the 7th grade. My grandfather Papo worked as a filling station attendant, and growing up, my grandmother helped clean houses.  They both saw the advantages that a good education would offer and supported his decision to attend college, first at Del Mar and then East Texas State.  Now, as I'm combing through the web on this grey, rainy day in western Kenya, I came across an article detailing his receipt in 2004 of the highest teaching honor awarded at Del Mar, the Dr. Aileen Creighton Award For Teaching Excellence. The article states he was "probably the most respected and influential person on the Del Mar campus". A few years ago, he was named Professor Emeritus. Papo and Tita would have been proud.  I truly regret not sitting in on his classes to glean teaching pearls from him, though I'm happy for the handful of my friends from college that did get to take his classes.  Since I was in college, hanging out with Tio Mike was consistent and comfortable: we'd usually start with catching the latest sci-fi/fantasy movie, where he wouldn't let me pay, and this would be followed by philosophizing over a beer and pizza at B and J's Pizza in Corpus.

Working in African hospitals, death is no stranger. And while, after years of studying and practicing medicine I have a better understanding of the causes and processes of death, it is always a different experience when it is your loved one that is ferried by Charon across the river Styx. Having seen the suffering involved in long, painful deaths associated with cancer, TB, and AIDS, I'm comforted knowing that this was not in Tio Mike's cards. But what a sudden death takes away from us is the chance to ask the departed those questions we've been meaning to ask, to ask for forgiveness, and to say thank-you, I love you, and good-bye.

I'm heading home to Corpus in a few days for the funeral and to see the familia. And if I'm lucky, we'll go see a good fantasy movie, perhaps the Hobbit, and sit over a good beer and pizza at B and J's, and we'll have a chance to reminisce and be thankful for the time we had with our Tio Mike.


sarah said...

I'm so sorry, Piercy. I know it was good to go be with your family. I hope you enjoyed The Hobbit.

sarah said...

I'm so sorry, Piercy. I know it was good to go be with your family. I hope you enjoyed The Hobbit.

Jefe said...

Thanks, Sarah. It's tough but good to be close to the fam, which wouldn't have happened otherwise. The Hobbit was good. May Uncle Mike be hanging in Rivendell, if he so chooses.

Michael said...

Dear Jeff, I was a student of Mike's and he was one of my closest friends. He was a mentor and felt like a father to me. And yet, as I write this I am filled with regret and guilt that I had not checked in on my adopted father recently enough to have learned of his passing until I got an email today from his dear friend Felipe Tobias informing me of his passing. I am grief stricken and blind sided by the news, but was glad to read your post about him. If you can find it within your time to email me and help me continue contact with those he knew and loved, I would be ever grateful.

With my deepest sympathies and love,
Michael Wells