“I was born on Mexico Street which was an alley. There were some old apartments behind the alley off of Comanche. They were like shotgun sort of things. The inside of the house, I remember it very distinctly, it didn’t even have sheetrock. There were boards on the outside and you could see all the 2 x 4’s. My mother always kept it very clean. I remember that. I can remember putting up sheet dividers for the rooms. I had to be at least 3 or 4 years old. This was before we moved out to Retama. My godmother lived right next door. Her name was Petra. I remember her husband, Juan. His feet stunk horribly all the time! It was powerful. I remember that. I remember that behind that place there was a big patio and there was a two story place and I remember we used to walk up the steps and see who could jump how many steps. There was a lot of neighborhood kids.”
“I went to Oak Park Elementary and that’s where I started the violin class. The lady, the teacher, I remember her coming out to the house and talking to mom and dad about going to college with scholarships and encouraging and this sort of thing. I remember we were sitting out in the front yard. That’s where everybody sat. There were some chairs out there and all the neighbors would congregate there. There were flower beds all around the little bitty narrow lot that we were on. I’m deeply indebted to Mrs. Gadkey, Anita Gadkey. She lived on Eunice drive across from Del Mar. She used to give me private lessons and we couldn’t afford it at all. She kept teaching me. We went to see her at the nursing home . When she met Robert she was coherent and everything else. She said, “When he starts violin, don’t let anybody teach him. Bring him to me.” There she was at the nursing home already.”
“Every year after we went to contest she (Mrs. Gadkey) took us to breakfast at S. Bluff park. She cooked eggs and biscuits and everything. She took everyone. This was different for me because all we had was a taco every once in a while or just plain old beans. Here we were with bacon and everything else. That was a real highlight growing up. She always had cookies when we’d go for private lessons. She’d have cookies in the oven.”
“She gave me a violin. She showed up with a Jusek, a Czeckoslovakian violin. We never paid her one penny for that or the lessons. I had that instrument until I was able to afford one, when I was in the Navy. She was very good to me.”
“I started playing in the symphony in Corpus when I was a junior in high school. I graduated from high school the very first year it was Miller High School. I went to Del Mar and then went to U.T. in Austin on a full scholarship. Because of Angel Reyes, the Cuban violinist. He took me under his wing and gave me a full violin scholarship. I was working at the drop off and pick up laundry and they payed me .50 cents an hour and I worked for 3 or 4 hours every afternoon, which was not enough to eat on. The dormitory where I was at was the old Army barracks right across the street from the stadium and I never went to one football game. I couldn’t afford it. I paid $45 a semester for the dormitory. Tuition was $45 dollars. I went to the loan office and got enough money to pay for the dormitory. I got into the Austin symphony and they paid me $25 a concert and that’s how I paid off the loans.”
“There were several instrumental people in my path that helped me get to where I am now. If it hadn’t been for those people, it never would have happened. For example, the violin teacher, Mrs. Gadkey, then when I got to U.T., Angel Reyes. I would have had to quit because I didn’t have any money. I would go two or three days without eating and your grandmother would give me $5 every now and then and I was determined to make it through. Then there was a Lieutenant Commander, Bill Gunther, in the Navy. He liked to play chamber music and when I was in the Navy in California, he actually came after me to take me to his house to meet his family and on the way out there, he said, “we’ve already got your orders for you.” Everyone else in my company, guys with PhD’s and Master’s degree were put on ships out to sea. When Bill came out there, he told me, “you’re going to be flown to New York City and you’re going to be the violinist for the Admiral, the Navy representative at the U.N.” They would send a car out for us to play for his wife’s tea parties. There was a mansion way up on a hill and it would be snowing, covered white. He had a green house and it was gorgeous. We’d be off in the corner with a grand piano playing.”
Today is my father’s 80th birthday. Two days ago, we had dinner at my sister’s home. My sister has a very nice home here in Corpus Christi. We all have nice homes. Me, my brother in Denton, and my sister. My brother just finished building a new home. It’s beautiful as well. He and his wife are teachers. My sister and her husband are nurses. My sister is a nurse practitioner with her own clinic. I have a PhD and I make a decent living as well. My brother came into town with his wife and two beautiful girls and there we were at my sisters house with her and her husband and Emma, a future actress and tennis pro. My wife and kids were there. We are in the process of remodeling our kitchen. My oldest daughter is going to graduate this coming year and wants to be a pharmacist. My middle daughter talks about being a veterinarian and my youngest…he’s just a smart kid who’s not sure what he wants to do yet. He’s only in middle school. I’m sure when the time comes, he’ll figure it all out. Back to dinner.
Jeff, a good friend of my sisters, brought steaks for dinner from his family’s meat processing company and Robby, my brother-in-law’s son, cooked those filet’s up perfectly. We sat around and visited and laughed and then it came time for our meal. My father prayed before dinner and when he said these words, I got rather emotional and tears formed in my eyes. “Father in Heaven, thank you for giving me another year to be with my family.” The words are very poignant when your father turns 80. He’s as healthy as can be and if you look at him, he doesn’t look 80. I don’t see him as 80. I see him as being just as strong and healthy as I remember him when I was a child.
I looked around my sister’s home and considered how good we have it. I thought of the life my father and mother created for us through all their hard work. I thought to myself that we have never had to want for anything and how our children will have it much better than we did because of the struggles that my parents went through and the sacrifices they made. For my father’s birthday…I’m thankful. Thankful to my father for his hard work. I am thankful to my mother as well. I’m thankful for the instrumental people in my father’s life. I only named a few of them in the title but there are 100 more I’m sure. I’m thankful to Mrs. Gadkey for that free violin she gave to my father when he was a child. I’m thankful for Angel Reyes for taking the time to see the talent my father nurtured. I’m thankful to Mr. Gunther for whatever steps he took to arrange for my father to go to New York to play for the Admiral. I’m thankful to my grandmother for the $5 dollars she could send to my dad when she could scrape it together and I imagine his level of discouragement, and even hunger, when he got that $5 in the mail and it kept him plugging along.
I can’t begin to say how thankful I am to my father on his 80th birthday. I hope you have many, many, many more birthdays. But more than anything, I hope that when I’m gone someday, I will have had as much of an impact on as many people as you have had and my children will look around and be thankful for your hard work because you were the turning point for the blessings, the education, and the comforts that we all experience on a daily basis. I don’t take it for granted.