We called him Tino. Our family did. I wish I had a picture of him to show you. This guy with an all greased up hair much like the Fonz‘s. Except he’s short. Not quite intimidating, I don’t think. In fact, you’d hardly notice him when he’s mixed in with the crowd. He was never the center of attention nor did he aspire to be one.

But to me, he was.

The guy was always around. When I was growing up, that is. Always present. Always visible. More importantly, he was ready, willing and able to do whatever, really. A dedicated and sacrificial man. Simple but trustworthy. And a funny one at that! Seriously, he didn’t have to crack a joke to get you rolling on the floor laughing. His mere presence and toothless smiles did the trick easily. He was the person you laughed at. At his own expense, in fact. And he loved it. During my college days, my brother and I, along with our friends, would hang out while Tino tagged along. He was the life of the party many a time. I remember my brother and I pulling pranks at him. Like, when he’s driving us to go some place, and suddenly someone cuts him off in traffic or something, he would get really ticked off, right? We knew, at this second, that he would want to chase the guy, if only to holler some inappropriate words at him. Then, in a fraction of a second, my brother and I would glance at each other as I covertly slide the gear stick into neutral. And then… vvvvvrrrrrrooooooommm!!!!

That moment alone would keep us laughing hysterically for a few days straight. Tino, included.

The memories seem endless. I would not have the time or energy to go down the list. But there were special moments that stuck with me forever. I remember when I was about four years old, I was just beginning to learn about life. Tino would be there to hang out with me and tell me stories and things about the realities of life. He would tell me that there are actually bullies in school. And this was months away from my being enrolled in Kindergarten! Great!

I can never forget that one day we were sitting together at our house, just talking. He revealed to me a very dark reality that I came to know him by, to this day. He told me that everyone dies at some point in time. That one day, though hopefully it would take very long, all of us will come to pass and will be no more. My very first “aha” moment, I suppose. And I remember vividly, this was the time my mom would come to interject, being the good Catholic that she is…

“Tino is right. However, you must not commit a mortal sin, ever! No forgiveness there, I tell ya! Venial sins? Well, you have about a hundred points to your credit, little boy. The first ten is okay. Use it up wisely though. Because after that, it’s Limbo time. It’s boring there, I heard. And the next ninety shouldn’t be wasted either. Or else, you’ll be spending eternity with some very ugly guys inside a big hot oven.”

Oooohhh! Let me tell you, that freaked me out so bad, I got good in math if only for that reason!

Anyhow, back to Tino. I almost forgot to mention. He was our family’s hired chauffeur. Yep, I consider myself lucky, not only because we had one growing up, but we also had the best. He worked for us from when I was born until after I graduated from college. He drove me to and back from kindergarten school. He also drove me back home, one too many times, hammered from an all-night college party. He was definitely family.

When I moved to California, we lost touch. Apparently. My siblings and I were all grown up now and living on our own. From what I had heard, he had moved on to other things as there was no longer a family for him to tend to. That job for him was well over with. Yet, very well done, I must say.

Those were the days. And it’s long been gone.

Tino had passed now. Just a few years back, if I can remember correctly. However, what I can remember for sure is what my family told me. They said that he had mentioned to them that he was always waiting for me to come back home. But that he couldn’t wait any longer now. Shortly thereafter, he was gone. I can’t remember how many days I spent in tears after that. I missed him. And yes, I miss him today.

Every once in a while, a glimpse of a memorable childhood such as this one would come to me, for no reason, and make me remember how blessed I truly am for having spent my formative years with such inspirational people as Tino. It continually helps me to grow as a person. It’s a constant reminder that life, no matter how hard it gets, is always good. A blessing in disguise, even.