When I was about 5 years old, I had a pet pigeon. Mom named him Parvenu. The city was full of pigeons, but Parvenu sat on the windowsill of my bedroom every morning and waited for his popcorn treat. Every day, I walked to the Chinese laundry and my friend would give me a handful of chicken scratch to feed my new feathered pest. The Chinese laundry had the only backyard on the block and they raised chickens. The neighbors never complained. The Jewish people bought them, koshered their feathers and boiled them in their famous soup. The rest of us bought eggs when there were enough to sell.
It didn’t take long for one of the alley cats to catch the unsuspecting bird and one morning I found what was left of him on my windowsill. As I sat on the old iron fire escape staring at the almost unrecognizable remains, mom went through the usual parental ritual. Shoebox in hand and with tears in my eyes, we placed the lifeless form into the box, covered it, taped it shut so nothing could get in or out and headed for the old cemetery at the Christ church across the street. The bird would join Revolutionary War veterans in his final resting place.
Mom tried to console my grief, but my question was always the same: “Where do we go after we die?” Seven decades later, I am still asking the same question, realizing no one will ever find the answer on this side of reality.
Regardless of some religious myths regarding the hereafter, the personal loss of a loved one is heartbreaking. Even the nonreligious communist leader Joseph Stalin admitted that, “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.“ In the case of my friend, it was both a tragedy and a heartbreak.
Serafin Pizano was 89 years old. He is survived by his wife, Bertha, six children and numerous grandchildren. He came to America from Mexico more than 70 years ago. The first responsible thing he did was become an American citizen. The second and smartest decision he made was marrying Bertha and moving to San Francisco.
He found a job at Glidden paint. After 39 years of perfectly mixing and blending colors that could be found “everywhere on everything,” at least according to glidden’s advertising slogan, he retired at the age of 62.
A devout Catholic, Serafin was a member of the Knights of Columbus. He assisted in the communion service on Sundays and helped out with the church’s bingo games. He also really liked slot machines and Reno.
Twice a year he and Bertha would visit his daughter, Linda, in Sparks. Linda and I would take them downtown to play the slots and would somehow lose Serafin. When we found him, I would always ask him, “Well, how did you do?” For 30 years I always got the same response: With a child-like grin, a shrug of the shoulders and a sheepish look, he would say, “Not too bad.” He wouldn’t have been a great poker player. Needless to say, we will all miss him.
So, where do we go when we die? Part of our mourning and grieving process is not only for the deceased but for ourselves. Being close to death reminds us of our own inevitable demise. However, religious faith, personal beliefs and human intuition is what provides the spiritual conduit that delivers our eternal soul through the shadow of death to rest in the valley of greenfields beside the still waters. And that sounds good to me.
Serafin died a week before a scheduled annual family get-together in Reno for his birthday. One of the last words he whispered to Linda was “Reno.” During all that physical pain and mental agony, he still longed for one more good time playing the slots in Reno and Sparks.
So I wouldn’t be surprised if we start getting reports from The Nugget of a Mexican man dressed in a Knights of Columbus uniform, sword and all, playing a slot machine while on his way to join the angels in heaven. But don’t ask him how he did. He’ll just smile and say, “Not too bad.” Enjoy your trip, my friend.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.