My brother Jorge Armando “Mando” Vera passed away today from blood clots related to COVID19. He was a much loved person and led a very complicated, interesting life.
He was born March 11, 1963 at Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa, California, the same hospital at which he passed away. He was the second of four kids. I was the oldest. Over our lifetimes we had an often confrontational and contentious relationship.
Our family lived in a lumber camp in Mendocino County from about the time Mando was born until 1972. There, we grew up in a paradise of sorts. We were in the middle of a forest, 45 minutes from the nearest asphalt. Nature, and all she had to offer, was just outside the door of our family’s trailer. This was also the location where we had our most significant confrontation.
I can’t remember the details leading up to the incident (we were about 6 and 7 years old, respectively when this happened). But the event is clear. I pushed Mando off a high bluff located behind the ad hoc trailer park in which we were living. He slid down the bluff and eventually crossed the river at the base of the ravine behind our trailers.
He survived, scraped up, but otherwise unscathed. But that event set the background for our relationship the rest of our lives.
Life in Santa Rosa
Mando was a very faithful person. While I left home to serve in the US Navy, he stayed home and helped my parents run their restaurant, Mi Último Refugio, in Santa Rosa, California. I don’t know if he ever drew a paycheck there but he was always helping there when needed. One of my last memories of the family restaurant is of Mando weighing out the spices that would end up in the food that came to define our restaurant.
Some of you may know that our mother passed away in 1987 at a relatively young age. Her death precipitated the end of the family restaurant and eventually led to my widower father retiring to a life of modest means.
Mando lived with my father for several years. Mando cared for him as much as my father cared for Mando. For several years, Mando worked for a company that conducted store inventories. He, and his crew (he was a crew leader) would go to a store, and inventory all the products on the floor. This was work conducted overnight and he and his crew would often have to drive hours to get to the jobsite before even beginning their inventory. This was tiring, detailed work. He loved it despite being underpaid, overworked, and uninsured.
Eventually, my father moved to one of those senior citizen apartment buildings. That’s when things became difficult for Mando. No longer able to live with my father, Mando became homeless, living out of his vehicle. He always held a stubborn streak that interfered with his ability to hold down a conventional job. He managed to earn enough to survive, but not much more. Yet, he was satisfied with that.
His friendship with Romy
I mentioned that Mando was faithful. Some would say that he was faithful to a fault. While living as a homeless person, Mando met and became long time friends with Ramiro “Romy” Gutierrez. Romy had some bad luck amid some bad decisions and ended up on lists that prevented him from living in certain areas. Because Mando insisted on sticking with Romy, he, too, was prevented from living in many areas. Add in his defiance of a conventional work ethic, and Mando faced several challenges that kept him living in his vehicle for the last part of his life.
Romy passed away a few short months ago. If you look on Mando’s Facebook page, you will note the digital shrine that he created for Romy. Mando’s loyalty to his family and friends was unquestioned.
I would speak with Mando periodically. I would always ask him to seek regular employment and to apply for housing assistance (something that he went without because of his loyalty to Romy). Our conversations often ended in arguments. I would always advocate for a more conventional life. He would refuse, insisting that he would not leave Romy behind. More recently, since Romy’s passing, Mando seemed more interested in establishing a more normal life. Alas, it was too little, too late.
Over his life, Mando made many dear and caring friends. Despite all his challenges, Mando was a very loving person who did not have an ounce of hate in his massive body. When I checked in with him, he would often mention the help provided by his friends.
Tonight, I type these words, once again wishing I could turn the clock back, even for one day. I’ve been here before, with my brother Luis, my mother Benita, my father Tomas, and now my brother Mando. I do not wish these feelings on anyone.
What I know for sure, is that Mando was living life on the terms he dictated. Which is exactly how he always wanted to live his life.