Wide-grinned, Dad held the lid of the sealed heavy metal trash can and coaxed Mom over to see what he'd found. Dad had been working on the land all day, and sometimes brought home cute, fluffy bunnies or baby skunks to show her.
As she approached smiling, he lifted the lid to hear her screams and feel a swift slap to his arm as he laughed. Inside was a mess of slithering snakes, rattlers, corn snakes, and every other kind that he'd captured as they wriggled out of the brush he'd been burning to clear land.
Dad had a wicked, Texas boy sense of humor.
My three children know "Papa" through stories, because they never met Dad. He "bought the farm," as they say in the country, or "died," as they say in the city, many years before my three babies were born.
Arturo Quintana Herrera was born in Casa Piedra, Texas, a town that no longer exists. He was the son of a cotton farmer who was literally pulled from the field to take a bus, as he enlisted in the Air Force.
Dad's been gone more than 20 years, but is well-remembered through stories. He owned Art's Barbershop in Tye, Texas after he retired from the military, raised five children with my mom, and continues to live in our memories.
That's how people live on, through the stories you tell of them. Father's Day isn't about a day. It is about a life.
When I decided to take some artsy fartsy photos in my wedding dress after ending my 19-year marriage, I remembered Dad in a mosaic of thought: Catholic, Hispanic, Heritage, Honor, Closure.
Hauling my old wedding dress in the back of my Ford truck in a scented trash bag, I took photos of myself in the dress in places that were meaningful in my life as I moved forward after I divorced my husband. I dubbed it the Acid Neutral Art Project.
The photo at Dad's gravesite was my daughter, Rachael's, idea. "He never saw you in the dress when you got married. He may as well see you in it in the divorce," she said.
At first, I thought it was macabre. Then, I thought about being Catholic and Hispanic.
The Catholic part was the pain of ending a marriage. I think sometimes, as women, our faith instills in us to keep marriage and family together at all costs, even our own. But sometimes, honoring the family, means letting go to be a stronger woman in faith and family. Faith guided me to divorce and spiritually, I knew my father would understand.
The Hispanic part was connecting the past with the present, celebrating where my family came from and where we were going in the next stage of life.
My dad has always been connected to that, even in death.
I have a picture of my daughter playing violin for my father at his grave.
Over the years, we have often visited and eaten fried chicken with him, leaving him a juicy piece. We tell Dad stories about our lives, talking out loud, so he can hear us. My kids climb all over Dad's tombstone, and it is not disrespectful to us at all. If he were alive, they would scale all over him, like any child who loves their grandfather.
Mom, the best woman I've ever met, retells "Papa" stories to my children there, as we eat at the gravesite.
There was the time Dad tried to cover up the gray on his mustache once with mom's mascara. That didn't go over so well once his mustache itched and the side of his face was covered in black.
There was also the time when two baby skunks climbed into the dog food can outside. He took them to the land, in Texas heat, and did something akin to mouth-to-mouth by blowing on their faces to revive them as they looked whiskey drunk and meandered to the woods.
Or the many times, Dad would sit still on a stump, listening to wind through the mesquite trees as birds landed on his hat while he watered his garden.
And, oh, there was also the time the trailer he bought to haul Curly, a big black bull, got so many flat tires he was sure that 666 in the Texas license plate was some sign, so he got a new one. He threw the devil-cursed one over the barbed wire fence into some other rancher's yard.
So for me, posing in a wedding dress at his grave wouldn't be much different. It would create new stories of my Hispanic heritage for my three children.
I toasted him as I entered this new, glorious phase of my life with fake champagne since, Merkel, the town he's buried in, was still debating selling alcohol at the time. I poured him a glass on his side and then poured it on his grave.
"Well Dad, I tried my best. Now, it's time to move on," I toasted, as my daughter Rachael took the photo. "Thank you for making me who I am. I love you."
It was closure. It was honor. It is faith.
Anyone can be a father on Father's Day, but it takes a special man to be Dad. My father, as he was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be, Dad.
(Enriching music: Love Without End, Amen by George Strait; Tu Guardian, Juanes)