The short and long good-bye

I know that my Redeemer lives,

and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;

27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

Job 19:25-27 NIV


Friday found me in Salinas, where I attended the funeral of a dear childhood friend’s grandfather. For those who didn’t know him, Johnny Camera was one cool cat. There was a moving and yet quite funny DVD presentation of him at the funeral chapel.

The pictures showed a man who served in combat in Okinawa and elsewhere in the Pacific Theater as an Army enlisted man during World War II, earning a Purple Heart. The pictures also showed a man who loved his wife, children and grandchildren.

Photo after photo showed him on fishing trips with his family. Another black-and white photo showed a young, muscular Johnny lifting his baby in the air with one hand.

Johnny always had a fine car. A red Cadillac, a Porsche with a Rod Powell paint job (minus the flames) and another late-model Cadillac — an El Dorado?

He strode through life with a decidedly 1950s air. On special occasions, Johnny wore something extravagant: a black turtleneck, white sport-coat with a black handkerchief tucked neatly in his breast pocket. He had these startling aquamarine eyes and shiny, tanned skin that belied his age. He could have easily passed for a man in his late 60s.

And for all of his good looks, most of the people at the funeral remembered Johnny as a gentle soul who would do just about anything if it made you happy. He was the sort of man who stood when introduced to someone, opened doors for ladies and always had something complimentary to say. All this from a man who had battled cancer in secret since 1991. He made his family swear they wouldn’t tell anyone; he didn’t want anyone to worry about him. Johnny was also the man who fell while working a swing shift at Spreckels Sugar Company refinery. He continued to work his shift and didn’t seek medical attention until he had clocked out for the night.

Johnny and Jeanette Camera made a 2-hour trek, on more than one occasion, to visit my brother when he underwent a kidney transplant in 1983. You don’t forget that kind of thing.

I took the opportunity Friday to visit my grandmother, whose health continues to worsen. She uses a motorized wheelchair all the time now. I remember taking her to church with us around this time last year. We stopped at a bagel shop on the way. I took my wallet out to pay for her order and she had somehow managed to zoom to the front of the line. I remember looking at my wife, slack-jawed and wondering how in the world she stayed so spry at 88 years of age.

If there is any bright spot in my grandmother’s sudden loss of mobility, it is the way her children have rallied around her. Each of my aunts and uncles has agreed to spend the night with her to make sure she’s OK. It’s a duty I’d be happy to perform if I lived closer.

My dear, dear grandmother. She fulfilled the role of mother during those months when my mother was in the hospital with my younger brother. I remember coming home to the smell of hot tortillas on the griddle, my grandmother looking prim and proper in her skirts and sweaters.

One last story: my mother snipped the cord off of the television because I had received really bad grades. I found the cord and thought I would reattach it to the television. I was 10 years old.

Not knowing a thing about positive or negative current, or ground, I mashed all of the wires together and wrapped it mummy-like with sticky, black electrical tape.


The living room fuse in our 1940s house blew. We had a spare but Grandma was worried.

“Jay, I think we should go see your Uncle Freddy.”

Uncle Freddy was a short-tempered pint of a man with a fu manchu who at the time lived in his trailer at the fairgrounds on the north end of “town.”

Uncle Freddy was a tough cookie. He was the sort of uncle who came over and invented things for you to do. Wipe the cobwebs from the whole house with a broom, pull the weeds on the entire side of the house, wash your grandmother’s car. Mind you, he could have done these things. He just felt it was his duty to boss other people’s children around. At the same time, he could be incredibly nice. It was just a matter of how much he had to drink and how much pot he had on hand.

So Grandma and I drove to the fairgrounds. A knot sunk in my stomach as I feared the worst.

“Jay MICHAEL! What did you go do?”

“Uh, well, I think it was the polarity.”

“Ha ha ha! Well I’ll be darned. Mister Polarity.”

I don’t know if it was out of pity for his mother or pity for my sheer ineptitude, but Uncle Freddy came to the house and fixed the television, laughing all the way about the “polarity.”

I wore the title of “Mr. Polarity” as a badge of honor for years.


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Filed under family, friends, Spreckels

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