I really don't know how to start, because this is the hardest and most painful homage that I’ve ever had to write in my life, but here it goes:
My mom Tila García passed away suddenly on July 14, 2008, though she and I talked often during her latter elderly years that the time would come when she no longer would be with me on Earth, and though she tried to prepare me for it, somehow it did not work as planned.
Although I don't want to go into the morbid details of her last few hours here in this Valley of Tears, the saddest thing is that on the day she fell ill, was taken a few blocks from our home to what is supposed to be very good hospital (which shall remain nameless) where I was told by a male nurse that she had lived long enough and that younger people than her died there every day at their hospital. Later on I was told bluntly to go to a small cubicle and watch her pass away . . . watch for the flat line to appear on the screen, and I did wait . . . but seeing someone in a coma, gasping for breath with nothing that I could do about it was too much for me to take.
Now let me regress to happier times, of memories I shall treasure for the rest of my life. If it wasn't for the support of my partner of many years Paul Ryner, whom Tila always referred to as the genius, the loyal friendship of Miss Linda La Blanche, who is also my present musical director and accompanist, and my faithful pets, my life without Mom Tila would have no meaning.
She was my pillar of strength throughout my entire life, and a kind, loving person, a veritable living encyclopedia with several degrees to her name, including Doctor of Pedagogy. Tila started teaching in Camagüey, Cuba, in two schools: in the morning at 'Enrique José de Varona', a private grammar school in which she was the teacher and part owner (which I attended), and in the afternoon at a public grammar school in the district of 'La Mosca' in which she was both a teacher and a principal. Years later, because of the Fidel Castro take-over of Cuba, she came to the USA. Living in Chicago, Illinois, she taught at the prestigious 'Mundelein College' and for the remainder of her teaching career at 'Niles West High School' in Skokie.
When such a wonderful human being dies, it’s like a library that burns down . . . and also as a lovely lady pointed out to me, it's like having a beautiful piece of fabric shred itself to pieces. The horrible void she left behind is apparent everywhere I go . . . the Blues that don’t go away!
Now let's flash back to some of the good times:
Though we did not always think exactly the same, in many ways we did, as for example: we both loved good music, we liked and appreciated the great talents of the one and only Judy Garland (whom we met in Chicago; Judy said to me "I wish I had a lovely mother like yours".), also famed Cuban singer husband and wife team 'Olga Chorens & Tony Alvarez', we loved shopping for real estate, having beautiful trees, plants and flowers in our homes, and rescuing little dogs and birds. For many years she became my afternoon exercise-walking partner.
I also did her hair, make-up and nails. Since I graduated from American Beauty College in Chicago in the mid-1960's she was my longest customer . . . but then all of a sudden that is gone too, and so abruptly from my life. After my father Heri García, Sr. passed away on Dec. 27, 2005, her body and spirit became very fragile. Then she moved in with Paul and I at our home and I made sure (as I always had done) that when she went out anywhere she looked like a movie Star of Yesteryear. Even when she was dying someone at the hospital commented she did not show her true age and she really didn't. By the way, my mom was always very conscious of retaining her svelte figure and to her credit she did so until the end of her life.
But let’s go back in time. After retiring from teaching, my mom helped me for many years in San Francisco, California as my hair salon's personal secretary, and she used her knowledge of Psychology to help any customers who had a personal problem and needed advice. It was a very well-known hair salon in the Potrero Hill district named 'Heri The Hairstylist' which was documented several times on TV. As my mother and I commented many times years later after we left The Bay Area that those were some of the best times we had together in our lives.
My mom attended almost all of my theatrical performances, not only at the world famous Finocchio Club, but other concerts I did on my own, TV shows, etc., and she loved them. Having a degree in music, she was always there to give me constructive criticism, (she did not let me get off easy). For example, if I had a standing ovation and got flowers from a fan, as it happened a few times in my life, oh, how she basked in my triumph, as if it were her own. A month before her death she saw me in concert in Las Vegas, and the good reviews and photos in the local paper that were published a few days afterwards made her happy.
Paul and I moved like gypsies many times during our lives, starting in the San Francisco Bay Area, because we tried to improve by buying different homes. When we moved to other states Tila and Heri, Sr. also moved like gypsies to be always close to us. This is one of the hardest things to accept with both of them gone forever now that we can never have them nearby, just a phone call away, or in many instances a few blocks away.
There are so many wonderful memories going back to my beginnings in Cuba where I was born that it would be impossible to mention them all here, as when she played the piano for me and I would sing some Cuban songs, or listen to her play some classical numbers, the many times my parents took me to Havana to see Olga & Tony perform on TV and live on the radio station. Oh those were the days!
All of her life, Tila contributed to many various charities, and unalike me who loves applause and recognition, Tila was a very shy and modest person. One thing she was very proud of was becoming an American Citizen in 1967. If she knew I would make such a big deal about her death on my Web site now, she would probably blush and say ‘who cares about me’, but on the other hand, she may enjoy seeing that her son Heri, Jr.(David) can't forget her just because she is gone from my life. As long as I can keep my Web site on the air, this loving tribute about her will be up and running.
I don't know how to end this memoir, because really, I wish I had the power to rewind time as in an old movie film strip and bring back Mom Tila, my father Heri, my Grandma María, my Aunt Consuelo and all the sweet, lovely people that were part of my life, including other family members, friends, co-workers from Finocchio's, my hair customers and some fans of my theatrical work. Oh how I miss those golden times and especially you dear Tila . . . hearing your voice, a simple compliment or needed advice, etc. . . so I just have to live on with a broken heart that can’t be mended!
If anyone out there finds The Yellow Brick Road, please, let me know; I lost my way.......
I hope you will enjoy seeing some of the photos from my private collection:
|Tila, 3 years old
Camagüey, Cuba, 1918
Camagüey, Cuba, 1922
|Tila with baby Heri
Camagüey, Cuba, 1945
|Trip to the beach, Heri Jr, Tila, Heri Sr.
Havana, Cuba, 1947
|Tila with Heri at Guanabo Beach
Havana, Cuba, 1947
|ID Card, Teachers School
Camagüey, Cuba, 1953
|Tila at college graduation
Camagüey, Cuba, 1955
|Tila presents diploma and pin to Heri
Enrique José de Varona Grammar School, Camagüey, Cuba
|Tila, her Mother María & Aunt Consuelo
At home, Chicago, Illinois, 1969
|Tila at the blackboard
Skokie, Illinois, Niles West High School
|Niles High School Award
Skokie, Illinois, 1976
|Tila with her Yorkie Terrier
San Francisco, CA
|Tila with Heri
De Haro St., San Francisco, CA
|Tila at the piano (CD Cover)
Brisbane, CA, 1984
|Tila with Heri
Stanford Campus, Palo Alto, CA
|Tila with Heri
Stanford Campus, Palo Alto, CA
Heri the Hairstylist Salon, San Francisco, CA
|Tila, in front of salon
Potrero Hill, San Francisco, CA
|Tila with Heri Sr.
Outside Hair Salon, San Francisco, CA
|Tila with Paul & Heri
San Francisco, CA, 1974
|Tila with Paul's mother, Helen
Circle Star Theater, San Carlos, California, 1976
|Tila in front of home at Calle Feliz
Phoenix, Arizona, 1992
|Heri, Olga, Tila & Tony
Miami Beach, FL, 1980
|Tila with Heri & Heri Sr.
Portrait, SF Bay Area, 1988
|Last photo of Tila with Heri
At home, Las Vegas, NV, 2008
I remember the unforgettable Tila quite often, especially in my moments of solicitude. I met her a few years ago through her son Heri, and I took a liking to her almost immediately.
It takes a mother’s love to make a house a home to be remembered no matter where we go; it takes patience to bring up a child right; to mend his heart when it hurts and to forgive him when he errs; to recognize his needs and reassure him with loving words and deeds; to have endless faith and trust in him to be able to guide him through the pitfalls of selfishness and lust. Tila was all of this, and more, for she was an intelligent, educated, strong and kind lady, blessed with so many amazing qualities. But what she excelled at the best was being a wonderful Mother to her family. Tila was very protective of her loved ones, persevering and hardworking; she made sure that her son got a good education at any cost even when there were hard times on finances.
After she lost her husband of over sixty years, she went to live with Heri and continued to help and advise him in every way she was able to until her time to leave arrived.
No matter how old we are, losing a Mother is one of the deepest sorrows a heart can know, but her caring and wisdom live on…like a legacy of love that will always be with you. It’s impossible for me therefore, to forget such an admirable and wonderful friend, whose life was a paragon of virtues for any of us to emulate some day. God bless you, my dear friend.
David, in the short time I knew your mom, I grew to like her a lot. She had a twinkle in her eye and a certain expression, suggesting to the world she knew everything that was going on. I will surely miss her.
Dear Heri, you can imagine the sadness that the news of the death of my sister Tila gave me, yes my sister Tila, because she was that to me always; she was my handkerchief of tears. The last letter I received from her (written by you [before she died] and I thank you for it) with the photo you sent, I found her still looking young and pretty for her age. How terrible I feel that I can’t tell her myself, but what can we do. I imagine how you must be feeling but remember, she is in a better place than we are here on Earth. We have to have the tranquility that she has in Heaven. She earned it here on Earth for being so kind to everyone.
When I think of Tila.
I see her glasses, her grin; her small body’s frame.
Her son’s devotion; Tila’s her name.
Something about her; she gave gentle hugs.
Just to be near her; hear her bless The Above.
I think she knew how blest she was in life,
To live so long; although a widowed wife.
To have a son who loved her so dear;
In his care she knew she had nothing to fear.
Life is not measured in ounces or cups.
In collections or hobbies or any such stuff.
It’s measured in heartbeats..not your own
But those you’ve touched with the love you’ve sown.
These words just came straight from the heart
that Tila touched right from the start.
When first we met not too long ago
Tila’s kindness to my heart naturally flowed.
Her love of parrots; her dreams of them
Brought us together; she, her son, and his friend.
As sad as it is that Tila’s now gone
The angels in Heaven sing a new love song.
Her work here was done; her heart still full of love
To share with the angels in Heaven Above.
When I think of Tila, my heart smiles.
Tila and I became such good friends and I always remember the years we spent at Niles West and riding back and forth to and from school. She was very special to me, a generous and loving person. I will miss her so much. I have wonderful and lasting memories of her. God bless Tila! We loved you in life and love you even more in death. We will never forget you.
David, I imagine you must be on the path of resignation about the passing of our always remembered Tila. I loved her very much and I always remember her as well as you. I think she is in a better place now and closer to God and the Angels. The friendship I have for you both is for a lifetime. I knew Tila for 42 years as well as you and your dad when we were all in Chicago. I have many memories of your family.
David, I am so sorry to hear of your mom's passing. She was a wonderfully pleasant and gentle person. I only met her that one time, but I could tell she was a tremendously good person and she was very supportive of you. It is good that she went peacefully and didn't have a long passing. I lost my grandfather a couple of years ago, and he lingered for months before passing. I am sure your mother is smiling down on you from Heaven. My sincere condolences.
When I met Tila first time was when you took me to see her at her house, your father was sitting in his armchair holding his dog on a leash. He thought I might be scared of dogs . . . This was so touching! And I felt so welcome as your mother was such a heartwarming lady. She was elegant, full of temperament and of course always [mindful] of her appearance. Having a hairdresser and entertainer in the house . . . and her own beauty parlour other ladies can only dream of. I know, David that your mother was very proud of you and your career because you made her very happy. This kept her spirits and beauty alive. I regret very much that I did not make it to see her again, but I keep memories in my heart forever...and a picture of us on my shelf. Rest in peace, Tila.
The website that you and Paul created for your mom made me and my mom cry; it's very touching. Tila would of been so proud of you! I think every mom's dream is to have such a caring son, like you. I got to meet your mom personally and now I had a chance to look back in time and see how your mom looked when she was young. I noticed that in all photographs Tila had this lovely smile on her face, you can tell that she was a very caring person. People change over time, but [some things] don't change, the eyes stay the same ...
Dear Heri, the news of Tila's passing has depressed me a lot.   It was so unexpected   There are no words, I mean, either written or oral that can express the pain that one feels nor are we able to express to others, as you in this case going though a time that seems interminable.   I know very well the great love that united you and Tila.   It is said and I think it is true, that time makes the pain less and also alliviates the spiritual pain, sometimes faster, sometimes slower.
You are not alone, because Paul and friends like me are spiritually with you.   This is a very difficult period for you, but you have gone through many of them in your life, that makes you stronger and soon you will overcome.
Dear Heri/David, I send you my deepest of sympathy because of your mom Tila's passing, who I had the pleasure of knowing and appreciating. Who would have told me that in recent days when I was seated next to her in the front row watching you perform on stage in that theater in Las Vegas that it would be the last time for me to enjoy her sweet presence. But it was the will of our Lord to call upon her marvelous spirit to be next to Him and to be part of His Celestial Court.
Dear Heri, how painful it was for me to hear the news of Tila's passing! I know very well how you feel, because when the second parent dies one feels totally an orphan, and it does not mean what age you are at that moment. Look at the positive side; Tila lasted you many years next to you. She was an exceptional woman and you got to know the great love of a mother in all its grandness.
She lived to see you happy and I think she acquired it. Now we will remember her as a great example of a human being! I also share the pain because I loved Tila a lot, as also did my mom Hortensia.
I only met Tila briefly but it was a memory that cannot soon be forgotten. The immediate power and integrity of her presence was the first thing that struck you when she offered her hand in friendship. You immediately knew, here was a woman that had grace and style. I had known David for many years, even though it was the first time we met in person. I immediately knew where David got his gentle and human nature. Tila glowed with the humanity and humility of a real lady.
I once heard someone say “…deal with it like a lady.” and those words took me back to the day I met Tila. If I was asked to name the one thing I remember of her it would be that she knew how to deal with anything, any situation and any person “like a lady”. Her soft outward appearance with eyes that were radiant with the strength only a woman with a great spirit can yield, will remain with me always.
David, I only met Tila the one time I was at your home, but in my heart I have met her many times....She is such a wonderful and giving woman, full of love and warmth. Your Mother, Tila, is very special. I say "is" instead of "was" because she still lives in our hearts here on Earth. Life does not die, only the body that it is in. Tila is living a wonderful life, free from the bounds of a body that needs care. She is in heaven, living her dreams. Your Mother, Tila, was honored to have a son such as you, loving and caring, as you are honored to have a Mother such as Tila, who was equally as loving and caring, not only to you but to all those around her.
The most wonderful gift on this planet is the gift of LOVE. The most wonderful act of love is to give your life to another, whether it is a one time act or over time.
Whenever you want to talk to your Mother, just close your eyes and dream of her, you will see her and be able to talk with her. She will always be in your heart and mind.
The end of the World to a caterpillar, to us is a Butterfly.
Tila was a pleasant, chatty, likeable and very intelligent lady. What I admired most in her was her lucidity, her effortless clear thinking and perceptiveness, and I couldn't help but wish my mother today would have the strength and fortitude Tila had. It's so refreshing to witness people who reach such an advanced age and can be as whole and active as she was. She leaves you the satisfaction of knowing she lived a full life and left without suffering. I will always remember her with much love.
Loren and I felt honored to know Tila. She was so sweet and we enjoyed our visits with her, hearing about your family's history and interesting lives. We miss her deeply.
Tila! Tila! Tila! What a gracious lady! I met Tila in San Francisco many years ago, and thru her son David, she was always supportive of his career and all his friends. She had a way of making one feel comfortable around her. Always well-groomed and polite. She will be missed.
Dear Heri/David, my sincere condolences to you. I had the privilege to meet Tila, you and Paul in Las Vegas about five years ago. A nice and gentle old lady looking younger than her age, and you cared very much for her. We had a rich brunch and when you were looking for something she took my arm. In the afternoon she even accompanied us to the Stratosphere Tower. The time passed much too quickly on that day. Some time later you wrote me about Tila’s accident [broken wrist] and I hoped for her soon recovery. You also told me how long it took until Tila moved into your home in Vegas. You said that she prayed for me when I had not so good times. She was a generous and special person. I am glad that you sent me a photo of her on her last birthday. It is very sad that she passed away; it was unexpected. As long as the beloved ones are remembered by us in our hearts they will never be forgotten. This tribute page is a great idea. Rest in peace, Tila.
I know that I had a special spiritual bond with Mother Tila, even though we never met personally. She knew this as well, and a bond such as this, I feel is sanctioned by God Himself and is a very special thing which spans time and distance. It always goes beyond the earthly plane and lies in realm of Pure Love and God Spirit where her heart and spirit are, even while on earth. Now her kindness, love and empathy of the people in her life, near and far, is set in the brilliant warmth of eternal love, as she resides in the Peace of God and with the Angels all around us. She still lives, as a beautiful soul in our hearts and minds, and in Heaven now. Earth is a bit more barren without her here as she was suddenly taken away. Soon we will all meet on The Sea of Glass in The Kingdom of Heaven one day. This is my prayer. God Bless you dear Tila, with love.