Jaialdi is more than just a gathering of the Basques of the US. It is also an excuse and reason for people from the Basque Country to come and visit the US. So it was for my dad’s brother, Antonio, who, with his wife Eli, made their first trek to the United States, to partake in Jaialdi but also to visit his older brother.
Growing up, I didn’t know much of dad’s family, except for a few uncles that lived in the US, one of which eventually went back to Spain. My dad didn’t go back to visit often, and when he did, he did alone. I first met Antonio, and the rest of dad’s family, when I went to Euskadi in 1991-92 to live in Donostia and try to learn Euskara and Spanish. The first meetings were awkward, because my Spanish was horrible and my Euskara was even worse. But, Antonio, like the rest of dad’s family, welcomed me, treated me wonderfully, and made me feel at home.
After Jaialdi, Antonio and Eli returned to Bizkaia and it wasn’t much more than a month later when Antonio, in the mountains searching for mushrooms as so many Basques like to do, collapsed. He had a heart attack. He died on the mountain.
I will remember Antonio for his graciousness, his warm smile, and his sincere attempts to engage me in what I was doing. While we came from completely different worlds, both physically and mentally, he always invited me into his and was curious about mine. Though he was retired due to some health issues, Antonio was still very adventurous, taking on the responsibilities of running the Herriko Taberna of his town for a year. His family is truly wonderful, with his two kids, Eneritz and Egoitz, being two of the most unique and independent people I’ve ever met.
Antonio will be missed. I’m just glad that my daughter had a chance to meet him before he died.