It all started with a friendly “Hello”.
Moments earlier I had walked pass him, distracted with a self-given mission to find and interview the local historian, and sincerely felt that it would be unjustifiably rude of me to not show some gesture acknowledging his presence when I walked by him for the second time.
He was sitting alone, on a white washed wooden bench, and seemed content to watch the day pass by.
I consciously made eye contact with him, smiled and said ‘Hello’. He looked right at me with eyes as bright as a young child, smiled, returned my greeting and then he started talking. First about the amazing weather we were experiencing and then, without a transition or hint of what was about to open up, about the key moments of his life.
His name is Rudy Sanchez, and he was born in Coleman “a long time ago”. He shared memories about his childhood. Traveling with his family as a young kid to places like Wyoming, Nebraska and Oklahoma for sugar beet and corn harvesting. He proudly boasted how he could clear an entire acre of sugar beets all by himself at the age of 15. That was an experience we had both agreed that most 15 yrs old today could never imagine. Quietly I thought to myself that I couldn’t even imagine such an experience and I was more than twice the age of a 15-year-old.
Growing up, he shared a home with his family and another family. According to him there was no bathroom inside the house, only an outhouse. He remembered not caring about what kind of home that he and his family had, only that it at least had an outhouse outside.
In 1968 he and six other teenage boys stupidly packed themselves into a small cherry red mustang and headed toward a neighboring town for some fun. An accident occurred and four of the seven boys sadly died. Rudy, obviously, was a lucky one, but only barely. For many months he remained in the hospital hooked up to a machine. Many people came to visit him because he was a “miracle”. He still bares the scar from the breathing tube attached through his throat. Years later his sister married the young man who was driving the ill-fated mustang. I get a sense that the union between his sister and his friend the driver was once a sore issue between him and his sister, but as he said several times throughout our conversation: “you can’t help who you fall in love with”. Wise man, this Rudy.
A few years after leaving the hospital he got into some serious trouble with the local authorities – he didn’t disclose those details and I did not ask, thought it was best to let him speak what was most important to him.
The severity of what he did had him looking at potentially spending some hard time in the state penitentiary. Fortunately for him the judge decided that he would instead go to Oklahoma for a Job Corps type of program where he learned carpentry skills and hang out with a few poetic hippies. Even today he can still recite from memory one particular poem written by one of his hippie inmates.
After leaving Oklahoma with some carpentry tools given to him by the program he returned to Coleman and quickly traded those tools in for some beer.
Rudy was a true character to speak with. Soon into our chance meeting I noticed that he would repeat his stories and would ask me the same questions as if it were the first time. I then learned that he has a tumor attached to his brain and understood that some of his quirky and charming behaviors were probably and partially connected to the tumor.
Rudy’s arms are covered with poorly inked tattoos that he gave himself when he was a teenager. They were mostly of hearts and his initials. I asked why he inked his own name onto himself so many times, but he couldn’t give me a clear answer but so that he wouldn’t forget his name. I suspect there is more to the story than forgetting his own name, but knew that my curiosity would not be satisfied at the present time.
Rudy didn’t make much of eye contact during our conversation. He would look down or to his right at the passing traffic and kept calling me “Ma’am” despite that he was obviously my senior in age. He has large almost childlike brown eyes that expressed an eagerness to connect with someone and facial hair that reminded me fondly of the Wolverine. When it came time to leave him, he stopped me and said that I was a special person, and asked that I would write his story down for him and so I did.
It has been over a year since our meeting and I think of Rudy often. He is one of those individuals that you never forget because he reminds you that we all have a voice and the need to be heard. He wanted to share his story and, though I do not know how, knew that I would share it for him.