My father was famous for cussing. He learned some of it in the Navy while diving for dead sailors and some of it later; writing outrageous memos for commissioned officers. This after the stress of pulling his cohorts out of ditched F4U-1As and subs with holes in their sides resulted in a coveted transfer stateside to beautiful San Diego.
Though he honed his craft while simultaneously participating in a team that unashamedly and with great violence forced a very brutal form of fascism back into its very own iron box, he had already learned quite a bit of cussing from his father, a pecan farmer named Albino Carrillo.
Albino cussed in the Spanish vernacular peculiar to the farmers of the mid and lower Rio Grande Valley. He cussed quite a bit, on occasion darkly singing his sometimes poetic damnations. He would cuss in order to express just about anything, but favored admonitions arisen from the frustrations borne of a leaky irrigation system or the joy of realizing a bumper crop.
My father heard it all and had whispered the same words among his friends. So, he too ultimately become bold in his usage, passing with severe pomposity, that seething passion and those damned words to his sons.
When translated, some the phrases seemed wildly obscene; some were more humorous than anything else.
One phrase, used to express extreme frustration, translated as, “How you fuck (with) my soul!” A lesser degree of ire could be expressed by comparing the object of frustration with the agitating action of an electric washing machine.
In fact, cuss-word laden references to machines had often signified the tenuous nature of the real lives of farmers and workers en el valle; and the phrase “a la máquina” reflected a general distrust towards machines and technology, which were typically, resignedly viewed as destined to fail at some unforeseeable point in the future.
My father used these loaded pistols to make his way through life, which he viewed as a struggle. Those words were weapons in his struggle; he half whispered the word chingao and smirked defiantly when informed that he had colon cancer.
Back in the Navy, he had added to stockpile, for full measure and towards his joy of variety in phraseology. Among my favorites: when he was particularly happy about something, the old sailor would say “I’ll be good and god-damned”. The cadence of this utterance became staccato when my father felt true and unrestrained joy, if something had gone inexplicably right in his world, like when his half-assed and duct-taped flashlight actually worked during a power outage.
Often, when he was really excited, he would mix English and Spanish together, creating original and sometimes highly vulgar exclamations. “Get your nalgas over here”, he would yell at the kids, summoning us to account for serious infractions, such as spending the day up in Embudito canyon instead if going to class.
Despite his salty leanings, he was an educated man who served in the legislature, read Foreign Affairs and liked to listen to Ravel and the Beatles. Late in his life, he would often drop by at my house and we would ride around in his Pontiac Firebird. We would listen to music and discuss politics. He preferred to refer to refer to republican politicians and union busters as a babosos and pendejos.
One day he came by on a Sunday morning and asked me to drive up to Sandia Peak with him, to admire the beauty of the summertime in the coolness of the nearby mountains. His lab results from the colonoscopy were setting on the passenger seat, so I read them on the way up the mountain.
He played Bolero and then Magical Mystery Tour as the car wound and wound upwards. When we arrived at the summit, the song Your Mother Should Know began to play. And I noticed that he was crying. He leaned on the steering wheel, looked over the mountain and as we turned into the parking lot near the Crest Trail he said, to no one in particular while grasping the universe with his thick voice, “Sonofabitch, life is beautiful”.