My dad, who lived to be 94, might have been called a dandy in his younger days. We don’t use the term much nowadays, and for those too young to have heard it, it describes someone overly concerned with appearance.
Today’s most proximate term might be “metrosexual,” although not all the connotations of the term apply to Dad. And in absolute fairness to him, I emphasize he worked hard to support his family of eight. But he still liked being dressed up.
My dad, J.D. Trujillo, is remembered in his neighborhood on Railroad Avenue as “the man who always wore a suit and tie.” He walked to work, to the Ford dealership three blocks south, on Grand Avenue, and sometimes caught up with a number of other Werley Auto employees, who also lived in this barrio. In those days, people bought homes close to where they worked and took jobs close to their homes. Few had cars.
There was a contrast: My dad in hat, suit, white shirt, tie and French cuffs taking his diurnal stroll with a bevy of other men dressed in street clothes or overalls. I remember Cayetano “Shorty” Bustos, Jess Gallegos, Larry LeDoux, Leo LaChar, Perry Salazar and Bob Hood.
Cravatted and wing-tipped, Dad always welcomed compliments about how he looked. The dress code at the dealership certainly didn’t require tux-and-tails, or even a suit, but since Dad worked in the front office and processed all the paperwork, he chose to dress to the nines, even when things were at sixes and sevens.
And he couldn’t bear seeming or looking older than his years. In my parents’ later years, my mom Marie, almost a decade younger, constantly implored him to accompany her for lunch at the Senior Center. She enjoyed socializing, joining clubs, going on walks, taking a water aerobics class and traveling wherever the local court of the Catholic Daughters of America pointed their compass.
But not Dad. He turned down many of Mom’s invitations to join her for “lonchecito” at the local Senior Center. His reason: “No quiero estar con el viejestorio.” Ah, so if he didn’t like mixing with the old people, what was he? Sr. Younger Than Springtime?
Yet he was willing to attend Sunday Mass at Immaculate Conception Church, which included lots of “viejestorio,” and to get in line at the Flamingo Dining Room’s after-church buffet, which we sons and daughters referred to as “the haunt of the geriatric set.”
What is this preoccupation with looking young, even when we’re not? Does a somewhat youthful appearance translate to better health, immunity from disease, even longer life?
I got a taste of age-consciousness a couple of weeks ago after signing up for Mayor Tony Marquez’s Fitness Challenge. It’s a program that, in addition to providing discounted monthly memberships at the recreation center, monitors participants as to loss of inches and pounds, in the style of TV’s Biggest Loser.
The Challenge is co-sponsored by Alta Vista Regional Hospital and the City of Las Vegas and involves participants in three age groups: 16-35; 36-55; 56-78. Participants receive a basic health assessment, and after 90 days are monitored. The winner — the person registering the greatest loss of poundage and square footage — receives a new mountain bike donated by the hospital and a free year’s pass to the center.
It is heartening to see a number of seniors, people around my age, joining fitness activities at the rec center. Though not all of them necessarily have joined the Challenge, quite a few remain regulars on the exercise equipment and pool.
In the several years I’ve been a member, I’ve come to know and admire others’ stick-to-it-ive-ness. And many of the members signed up as long as a dozen years ago, when the facilities and program were located at Highlands.
A few of many seniors I’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the exercise equipment and other facilities are Ernie Abreu, John and Lucy Moya, Bobby and Henrietta Duran, Gilbert and Mary Ann Baca, Grover Durham, Rose Fresquez-Trujillo, Helen Olivas, Lucy Maez, Eloy Gonzales, James Montoya, George Salazar, Tony Lucero, Carlos Thomas, William Oshima, Lee Norman Gonzales, Ron Maestas, Jerry Manzanares and Eugenio Mathis.
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For a second two weeks ago, I felt a jolt to realize how much like my dad I’ve become. No, I don’t preen; I wear a suit only for weddings and funerals; I loathe ties and any button-down shirt. In short, I disdain any hint of foppishness and would have worn a bowling shirt to my wedding, if allowed.
In fact, the word “chayote,” which for years I believed Mom coined just for me, has fit me well. Although “chayote” is a chubby, squatty squash, Mom’s interpretation was “sloppy.” Point well taken.
Look up the word in Mom’s slightly abridged personal dictionary and you’ll see my photo.
The jolt to which I refer came in passing a series of mirrors in one of the exercise rooms and seeing who I thought was my father, who’s been gone exactly 10 years.
I recognized the hairline, the profile, the way of walking and realized, “I’m getting old.” It wasn’t any comfort during the fitness assessment and measuring session when exercise technician Albert Tafoya said, “You’re at risk, sir.”
I’d been holding an electronic device that measures body fat. It looks like some video game control. That piece of equipment determined I’m w-a-y too heavy for my height and age and indicates diseases await, unless there’s a change in lifestyle.
When Tafoya placed me on the scale, I wished he’d been secretly pressing down on the platform with his foot, in order to say “just kidding!” But that poundage showed my real weight.
And when another exercise tech, Edmund Ekeoha, measured my waist and gave me the news, I almost suspected he’d wrapped the tape around me at least twice.
So, as I approach my 70th birthday, I urge all of you to continue taking exercise and diet seriously.
As for me, no more of the sweet, sugary stuff. For years, I’ve enjoyed a little Danish with my matutinal coffee, but no more.
While on the subject of “a little Danish,” I forgot to mention the birth in Copenhagen two weeks ago of our fourth grandchild, Ellen Vestergaard Trujillo. That’s a little Danish I will really enjoy. But that’s all I will say about the child, as I don’t like to dote.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.