Tuesday, July 4, 2017


By Juan Montoya

It was the Fourth of July in 1980 when my friend and I were driving to the cemetery in San Pedro, just upriver from Brownsville.

It was just past mid-morning and the sun was burning. The hot air was blowing through the open windows of the pickup truck. I was going to bury my little brother. Frank was driving. He didn't know that it was the day my brother was going to be buried because we had lost touch with each other while I was in southeastern Michigan. I was in Fennville, near Holland, interviewing for a job with the Holland Sentinel. I had left to join my brood, who lived in the Isabella Chippewa Reservation near Mount Pleasant.

Jose Luis had been killed in Houston by his roommates – who then fled to Mexico – on June 25. I had been reached July 3 and had flown back in time for his burial on the Fourth in San Pedro.
The reunion with the rest of my family who were already here was heart-wrenching. One look into the eyes of my mother destroyed me. My father sat in the shadows of a large palo blanco alone in his grief. My siblings just cried quietly, disconsolate.

I had been give the use of the pickup truck because the rest of the family was riding with relatives following the hearse. I had turned to my friend Frank so he could drive me to San Pedro because, to be honest, I don't think I would have been able to drive.
Frank, like a modern-day Charon, was quiet as he ferried me along the river, the sounds of firecrackers popping incongruously as we drove along the old military highway in the countryside. Tears streamed silently down my face.

He was my younger brother and only 23 when he was killed.
His murder had been particularly gruesome. Joe was one of those active guys who preferred being outdoors and doing physical work rather than go to college. As migrants, he showed up the older kids at whatever work was performed. He hoed beets faster, picked cherries quicker, and filled the hampers with tomatoes ahead of us.

When he could not find work in Brownsville, he had left for Houston and soon was working for a company that trimmed tree branches off power lines for Houston Lighting and Power. He worked among rough men, people who liked to spar while barbecuing and drinking beer after hours. To make things worse, since he was fluent in English and they weren't, they had made him the crew leader.

We later learned that he had bested them at fisticuffs during some of their off hours parties and that it may have fueled their anger and resentment toward the younger guy who bested them.
I had been the last member of the family to see my brother alive. I had stopped in his apartment on the way to the newspaper job interview to visit.

By coincidence, my other younger brother had pulled me aside before I left Brownsville and handed me a .25-caliber Saturday Night special. Even though I had left the Marines and was acquainted with firearms, I had never cared for them and told him I didn't want it. But he insisted for some reason and I put in the trunk of the car when I left just to please him.
When I was in my brother's Houston apartment, I probably met his killers, but to be truthful, I don't remember their faces.
Before I left, I gave him a copy of some of my poems published in a periodical at the community college in Brownsville. Then I tried to force the handgun on him and he refused it, laughing.
"You know I don't like guns," he said.

And so I left and a few days later, in Michigan, I got the word.
When I got home, the house was a somber, mournful place. I was not permitted to see him because the funeral home had ordered a closed casket. Partially it was because of the length in time my brother had died, and partially it was because of the savage knife attack by his two roommates that left his face disfigured. They had stabbed him at least 27 times.

My father had been called to pick up his belongings at the apartment and had walked in before the blood was scrubbed from the floor and walls in the mortal struggle he put up against his attackers. He saw the full  aftermath of the carnage,

All of us partially blamed ourselves for not keeping him close to us so that he wouldn't have had to go to Houston.
"I should have told him to come to Corpus with me," sobbed one of my sisters.
"He could have come to Dallas with me," said another.
"I should have insisted on him keeping the gun," I told myself.

That night, I went to bed in the old room he and I shared and found my father crying silently in the dark room. I held his shoulders and cried with him before he left to sleep.

That night I had a dream.

I had always been taught by my parents that I was my brother's keeper. If I came back home in the evening and Luis was not with me, I was made to go back outside and get him. It was my responsibility to look out for him and protect him.

In the dream I was walking toward a dark plain. There were some ruins to my right and in the middle of the plain I could see a funnel of light, like a bright spout, extending from the ground to the clouds. It was a wondrous sight and I looked until I realized that I had come looking for my brother.
"Luis!" I shouted.

As I finished speaking I looked toward the ruins – those of a pyramid – and I saw that there were people there. I met the eyes of my younger sister. When our eyes met, I understood instantly that he was gone and I started turning to walk away, Just then, turning the corner of the ruins, Luis was walking in his usual rolling gait toward me.
I turned and walked blindly away down the dark dirt road from where I had come.

The sound of pounding hooves startled me and as I looked over the dark plain, I saw three large gray horses galloping at full speed at a distance parallel to me. Instinctively, I reached down to grab a rock to scare them away as I would an approaching dog. I looked down in my hand and saw that I had three shiny round balls of steel – like ball bearings. The horses wheeled toward me and stopped suddenly before I had a chance to scare them with the steel balls.

"Como estas?, Juan" said the middle one in my brother's voice.
I regained my composure at the sound of his voice and told him: "Our parents are really taking it hard, Joe."
The horse reared its head back violently and said: "That's the way it had to be," before the three of them galloped off into the darkness.


Anonymous said...

GOD called him home. no need to shed tears, bro.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. The death of a loved one never ceases to hurt us.

Anonymous said...

nobody gives a shit, bro. not in this town.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss, but you are far from the only one to suffer such loss.

Time to move on and stop living in the past. Shit happens to those who don't deserve it and to those who do.

Anonymous said...

God bless your brother and you too, he didn't have to go in that manner but his killers are paying wherever they are, all their actions are paid here not in the after life.

Anonymous said...

Our community should be massive and prosperous. We have so much talent and intelligence amongst us. Also dedicated hard working people. Cameron county area has so much potential. Brownsville is located to conquer economically. The Rio Grande River, the Arroyo Colorado, the jetties the Port Aransas pass are gems. Port of Brownsville and Shrimp Basin are jewels. The problems are Lucio's, Oliveira, Tony Martinez and Filemon Vela. Change them all

Anonymous said...

Stupid voters fooled by the rhetorick of Oliveira Lucios and Martinez. Ass kissing dumb asses. Wake up. Change the bastards like you change your underwear stupid freaks. Dirty bastards

Anonymous said...

McHale is caca. He will sale his ass for a story. He is a journalistic whore who sucks up to Tony Gray who does not impress me. Analytical scholars in their own mind. You stupid people are so dumb and get influenced by those weed heads. Stick to Montoya s stories. This is real

AT said...

" Anonymous Anonymous said...

nobody gives a shit, bro. not in this town.

July 4, 2017 at 6:11 PM "

Shut the front door, Frank Mar.