'He's In Our Soul': Sisters Remember Their Dad's Legacy On Father's Day

Jun 14, 2019
Originally published on June 14, 2019 10:22 am

This Sunday, as sisters Estela and Candi Reyes mark Father's Day, they will be thinking of their dad, Juan, who died in 2010.

Juan Reyes was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1940s, eventually settling his family in El Paso, Texas. Estela, 50, and Candi, 46, adored their dad, and at StoryCorps in 2012, they recall the lasting influence he had on them.

"Papito era lo máximo," Estela said. "He was everything to us."

Growing up in El Paso, Estela remembers Juan was a "tough guy."

"Very formidable. Very strong-willed. Very commanding figure. His nickname was el canillón — the big-wristed man," she said. "I remember being a little kid — Papi just reaching down and lifting me up like I was tissue paper, this delicate little weightless thing."

Juan Reyes sits on a swing in the early 1970s.
Courtesy of the Reyes Family

Juan was diagnosed with diabetes in the early 2000s, and when he began experiencing complications, Estela said, he transformed from el canillón to "a little weak bird."

"About four days before our dad died, he was still able to speak," Estela said. "And he let me know that he was very hungry. But you know, how do you make a healthy, strong meal for somebody that you know is in incredible pain?"

Faced with the important task of feeding him, Estela surveyed the ingredients in her parents' home. She discovered a package of shrimp and some black beans — "Mexican comfort foods," Candi said – and set about making a batch of shrimp enchiladas.

"I don't think I've ever diced anything so slowly and with so much care," Estela said. "And when I took that little plate, I remember physically feeding him, watching him close his eyes with each spoonful."

Though enfeebled and in pain, Juan summoned the energy to express his satisfaction.

"He looked up at me and gave me a little wink ... and he gave me that little gesture that he would make when he liked something," Estela said. "He'd make a tight fist and just sort of shake it next to his chest with one good blow to show that it was so good, it was so rich. There didn't need to be any words. And I was so happy.

"The next day, that was when he slipped into his coma. And he never spoke to us again."

Juan died on May 23, 2010. "We knew that although he was going to pass, he wasn't really leaving us," Candi said. "He's in our soul."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Mia Warren.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

: 6/14/19

A previous version of this story misspelled Candi Reyes' first name as Candy.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've got a special StoryCorps for you as we head into Father's Day weekend. Estela and Candi Reyes grew up in Texas. Their father, Juan, was from Mexico. He came to the U.S. in the 1940s. Estela and Candi sat down at StoryCorps to remember him.

ESTELA REYES: Our dad was a tough guy - very formidable, very strong-willed, very commanding figure. His nickname was El Canillon - the big-wristed man. I remember being a little kid, papi just reaching down and lifting me up like I was tissue paper - this delicate, little, weightless thing. Unfortunately, you know, in his later years, he became almost like a little weak bird to me.

About four days before our dad died, he was still able to speak. And he let me know that he was very hungry. But, you know, how do you make a healthy, strong meal for somebody that you know is in incredible pain? You and I had gone shopping and stocked the fridge with all sorts of foods that, throughout our family history, we always associated with deliciousness - you know, camarones...

CANDI REYES: The Mexican comfort food (laughter).

E REYES: Exactly, Mexican comfort foods. And one of my dad's favorite things was just plain beans. That morning, early, I had put on a pot of black beans. I looked in the fridge, and I noticed you and I had bought a pack of shrimp.

C REYES: (Laughter).

E REYES: And so I set about the task of making the best batch of shrimp enchiladas I had probably ever made in my life. I don't think I've ever diced anything so slowly and with so much care. And when I took that little plate, I remember physically feeding him, watching him close his eyes with each spoonful. He looked up at me and gave me a little wink.

And I asked him then, like I always would after every meal that I would serve, you know, le gusto, papi? You know, did you like it, daddy? And he gave me that little gesture that he would make when he liked something. He'd make a tight fist and just sort of shake it next to his chest with one good blow to show that it was so good; it was so rich. There didn't need to be any words. And I was so happy. The next day, that was when he slipped into his coma. And he never spoke to us again.

C REYES: We knew that although he was going to pass, he wasn't really leaving us. He's in our soul.

E REYES: Papito era lo maximo - he was everything to us. And my daddy knew, until the moment he left this world, that we adored him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATTHEW STEVENS' "SILOED")

MARTIN: Estela and Candi Reyes at StoryCorps in El Paso, Texas, remembering their dad, Juan, who died in 2010. This interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.