Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Obituary: Fredy Babilonia Rodriguez (1933-2014)

Fredy Babilonia Rodriguez, early 1950s. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco
We weren't exactly close. He had stopped talking to me because I asked him to do a DNA test, in the hopes of learning more about his paternal ancestry, but he probably took umbrage because he thought it was a straight paternity test.

Location of Santa Isabel, P.R. Image: Wikimedia
Fredy lived in the barrio pueblo (town ward) of Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, having returned to the island for his retirement. It was a struggle for a meager living, and he worked for a metal company in Brooklyn that made pots and pans. He might have had a pension, but someone stole the pension money from the company he worked for in Brooklyn. The embezzler left him and his co-workers without any money for their old age beyond whatever meager amounts Social Security could provide. His golden years were not exactly comfortable, and he was plagued by health issues. Still, I was glad to see him when I was in Puerto Rico, and to have the chance to talk to him a few times.

He began life in Moca, Puerto Rico, on  November 23, 1933, the son of Alicides Babilonia Lopez and Felicita Rodriguez Vale. They died, first Felicita and then Alcides, and the family was split up to be cared for by relatives. As soon as they came of age or near it, each sibling left the small town to make a life for themselves between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Perhaps it was the string of deaths begun by his brothers, each named William, dying, one as infant and the other as toddler, followed by his mother and then his father, that kept him moving. He married and had partners, and left a legacy of several children in the city, my wonderful cousins. They too would have liked to know Fredy better.

He loved baseball, and played locally in a team both in Puerto Rico and in New York. He told me about an incident in New York in 1952, where he boarded a bus and the driver had a heart attack along the route. He rushed up to the front, took control of the vehicle and was able to drive the bus and its passengers to safety. It was a newsworthy moment that brought him some coverage in the local press and a degree of pride that he responded so quickly.

Fredy Babilonia Rodriguez, 2006. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco
I'll remember his smile, the face that shares the features of my mother, my aunt and the grandparents I never got to meet or see in photographs. One of his daughters went to Puerto Rico and saw to his care after suffering a brain aneurysm. She hoped to bring him stateside once he recovered, but his condition was too fragile, and he died a couple of weeks later in the hospital in Ponce, on my mother's birthday. Seneko kakona, tio, QEPD.