A Life Well Lived

An Epic Eulogy for My Tio Wato . . . because we carry each other in who we become

“It’s us against the world” – and in a remarkable way, it really is; us against a world that pulls us in so many directions that we forget to live. We go on about our lives, worrying about bills, about who is saying and doing what to whom, and we get caught up, swept up, disconnected from what really matters.

I find myself coming back to these wise, yet simple words that my cousin Gina shared with me about how her dad raised her and her sister Tina; and it feels like there is a message in there about the legacy Carlos hoped to leave behind for all of us. A legacy of freedom, love, and family – one that calls on us to live. To truly LIVE our best lives with relentless joy in order to make the most of the time we have.

For those that don’t know me, I am Carlos’ niece – more than anything, I am an observer and a translator of sorts here to hold your stories of remembrance as we honor a life well-lived.

My uncle, Carlos Issaac Martinez, (known by many as Wato), was a well-humored man loved by many. His world revolved around his two daughters Gina & Tina, his many animals throughout the years, and his fiancée, best friend, and soul mate Kathleen whose love couldn’t have arrived at a more timely point in his journey.

Carlos was a light hearted and good-humored being that brought the family healing through laughter, even in times of grief. And so, upon his passing, many of us find ourselves at a loss with how to grieve without him while having to grieve for him. So we come together and we tell stories.

So many stories: of joy, lightheartedness, love, family, and so much laughter. Stories that seem to linger freely in the places he’s made home for so many of us.

Memories of bonfires on Wright Avenue,
Horseback riding in San Martin,
Go kart adventures on Hale,
Living with love in Nevada,

Always willing to lend a hand, fixing seemingly broken things that just needed a simple touch – whether it was an animal or a pet, a car, a plumbing issue, or a sour mood; he tended to it as best as he could, always with a good humor, never expecting anything in return.

As I sat with these words and tried to pinpoint one particular memory that stood out, I found myself at a loss; and not because none of them were significant, but moreso, because all of them seemed to have mattered in a subtle and very real way. I can’t remember a time that he failed at making me crack a smile – and for those that have known me throughout my life – that is a tremendous feat in itself! He had a way of making you feel free and joyful – and cared for.

Simple things, like when we would wake up to a case of Monterey mushrooms, and it felt like an awkward culinary Christmas, we knew he had been in in the neighborhood. And those damn mushrooms bring me comfort to this day in ways that rival chocolate.

Or when he would stop by to visit us with his partner in crime, my uncle Tito, and they would swing us by our hands and feet and it almost felt like we were flying – in fact I think some of us believed we could fly in those moments when you were small enough to actually be thrown back and forth between those two.

Or when I was older and he would take us for rides in his convertible with the top down, our hair wild and free –like his spirit. Don’t tell my mom, but some of my most fun memories also involved doing donuts in the parking lot after our haunted house adventures.

Sometimes he was too clever for his own good, and life lessons were delivered through a twisted humor. His daughter Tina shared a story with us about when she was learning to drive. It was her first time on the freeway, and Wato wanted so badly to sit in the back seat saying he’d be safer back there. Tina was so scared because there was a cop driving alongside of her the entire time. On top of it all, Wato kept banging his head on the window screaming for help with his hands behind his back like he was being kidnapped. Tina was freaking out thinking she was going to get pulled over. Then, of course, Wato starts laughing so hard while he waves the officer away, who happened to be his friend, and says to Tina, “Pay back is a B–! for all the times you and your sister went crazy in the car.”

His life was also one of spontaneity. When I asked folks to share some of their most memorable Wato moments, many of their stories were stories of a simple life enriched by uncomplicated snapshots of good humor and a fun luck:

Things like getting on rides he was too big for, getting kicked out of spaces for not following rules, initiating many of us into falling victim to his many ways of sharing his passed gas or lighting his farts on fire (he was notorious for that in ways that magicians are notorious for magic tricks), swinging us on that tire swing as if it were the best ride ever invented, or playing pranks on us that freaked us out and always ended in laughter.

His spontaneity had a sweet side, and I believe that he was intentional about creating memories in ways that you can’t quite capture by over-planning. Some of Kathleen’s favorite memories are of their last minute trips. They loved hopping on his Gold Wing Touring Bike and taking off. People around town used to call them Prince and Apollonia (which is funny because he always did remind me of Prince in a way I couldn’t put my finger on – maybe it was his tight jeans). He would take Kathleen to places like the “Shoe Tree” (which evidently was a big deal – vandals have since chopped it down). He would take her for rides without checking the weather, which lead to a series of other adventures: like the time they got caught in a hail storm while wearing open faced helmets! Kathleen was so scared after they had to pull over because they slid a bit. His response to her frantically asking him what they had to do was characteristic of his perfect, albeit maddening, combination of wild and fearless peppered with a sarcasm often delivered with a very matter of fact pragmatism with his country twang that he spoke in: “Have a Snickers & a Mountain Dew and start pushing.” After she stared at him (as I imagine many of us can relate to in our own stories) baffled by his response, he followed up with “Get on the bike and let’s go” and laughed in his contagious laugh.

On another trip, they took their roadster to Virginia City, again without checking the weather. They were freezing and ended up having to buy a blanket and all huddle together (Carlos, Kathleen and Shelby – his dog – of course) to make it home. Some might say it was lack of planning; I’d venture to say that it was the result of planning for adventure.

He also had a certain kind of wonder about him and loved sharing that with others. He would do things like do all the work around the house during the week, so that he and Kathleen could go play every weekend. They were always going somewhere so that he could show her so many places and things: like zoo’s, Mexican rodeos, car shows, car races, trips to meet our crazy family.

He also had a dumb luck that was glorious to witness and hear about. For instance, my cousin Yvonne recently shared: “[E]every single time [we] went to see him, we would have breakfast and he would walk into the casino, put some money in and come to us and say ok guys I just won us breakfast. [He was] the luckiest man I knew!” Sometimes that luck resulted in less favorable and ironic outcomes, but entertaining ones nonetheless. Like the time he was chased by an alligator; or the time he swerved while driving his truck to avoid hitting a dog on the road, only to then hit a pole. When he got off the truck to check on the dog, it bit him, and he had to get a rabies shot! The result, for him was still a win because he gained another story to entertain us with.

And his stories always brought us joy.

He was compassionate and he showed his love by teasing us in a light-hearted way and through the little things he did here and there. Like cooking for Kathleen every single day and bringing her breakfast in bed. Or, rescuing neglected animals and being the informal on-call vet, plumber, mechanic, and handyman for friends and family. He would drive for miles and across state lines to lend a hand.

Gina shared a touching story with us recently: “My #1 best memory was being small and dad taking me on his work truck on weekends. I didn’t care. Just wanted to be with [him]. I’d wake up at 1am/2am go to work with him, we would drive all over …and deliver mushrooms when he worked at Monterey mushrooms. I’d see shootings stars, we would have doughnuts, give food to [the] homeless — all in a day’s work.”

He was compassionate and sarcastic. Twisted and loving. Spontaneous and calculated.

Always an anomaly of sorts, his existence was one that calls on us to live whole-heartedly, even when your heart is broken. Literally and figuratively.

And we will continue to gather, keeping his legacy alive through our collective stories. And in that sharing, we see the threads of who he is as we reflect on a life well lived. And we will continue to feel the ripples of his existence. And as we make new stories, he will forever live on in the fabric of our lives, woven into our memories, stitched into our hearts, glistening in our tears, echoing in our laughter, reminding us that life is too short to take yourself too seriously.

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