Carlos Ted Gallegos, born in 1927, passed away on Thursday, October 24th at the age of 92. He is survived by his wife, Mavis of 72 years, their three daughters: Carla Harlan, Jacqueline Portokalis and Judith Gallegos; three grandchildren: Jennifer Fedora, Ross Loney and Dr. Erika Egan; one great-grandson: Jacob Fedora. Carlos graduated from Auburn University and was a mechanical engineer at Eglin Air Force Base for most of his career.
I am one of the grandchildren, which means that, for me, the subject of this obituary is grandpa.
It was impossible for my mother to tell a story about her father without imitating his voice, and so this habit was naturally passed down to her children. To say something like grandpa would, we just had to channel the deep, gruff accent of rural New Mexico, practical and to-the-point like the desert he grew up in. Grandpa’s voice was best suited to his most famous phrases, which were about sitting down to eat (“Let’s eat!”), getting out the door (“Let’s roll!”), or getting out the door of a restaurant (“This place is scratched!”).
The Gallegos voice would also come out every time my mom saw an accident on the road. She would emphatically point at the scene, just as her father did, and look at us in the rearview mirror: “You see that? Speed kills!”
Grandpa smelled of pipe tobacco and DoubleMint gum, which he always had a bright-green package in his shirt pocket. He never spoke much to my sister and I when we were kids, but he would always, without fail, find us to ask if we wanted a piece of gum. The peculiar thing about the DoubleMint ritual was that he would only give us half a piece, surgically divided with the paper wrapping still on. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that he didn’t do this out of stinginess, but because he, himself, simply couldn’t imagine chewing a full stick of gum all at once.
One of my most vivid memories of grandpa was the summer he decided to climb up a tree in the front yard and saw off a dead branch. He fell from a good height and cut open his leg, and I remember him laughing when he saw me staring pale-faced from the bathroom door as he washed all that red water away in the tub. “I guess it’s a lot of blood, huh?” he said, grinning. It was perhaps the most amused I had ever seen him.
He was one of those deeply-feeling people who expressed himself more comfortably in actions than in words. When we visited him and grandma every summer, I remember that grandma — who has never had trouble telling you how she feels — would always greet us at the door and hug us and kiss us and fuss over how we had grown. While we were talking with her in the living room breathing in the delicious aromas that were wafting from the kitchen, where grandpa, with the same level of energy, was silently making his famous pot roast with collard greens, cornbread, and homemade fries that he’d serve hot after shaking them with salt in a big paper bag. The next morning, there would always be pancakes and syrup, which grandma would make a point of telling us grandpa never made unless we came. Grandma told us she loved us directly, and grandpa said it through his food.
Goodbyes were never easy, and after my sister and I would hug grandpa, his blue eyes would be shining with tears and his lips would be curled in a way that grandma assures me I also curl my lips when I’m concentrating or bracing myself for something difficult. We didn’t think anything of it, but grandma would pull us aside to drive the memory home: “Your grandpa will never admit it, but he is crying to see you go because he loves you.”
He was also very loved.