We have conversations with friends and acquaintances all the time. And we never know if that meeting and that conversation will be the last time we talk to them.
After we learn the tragic news that they have died, we think back to the last time we chatted. What was it we talked about? What do we remember about that last chat? Because it was the last time, we try to remember the conversation. We burn it into our memory because we want to remember this friend and our final talk.
I met Pierre Bagur almost 15 years ago. We both had recently retired, he from the parish library system and I from state government. We were members of an adult Spanish class, and we met every Wednesday for 12 years.
Pierre was a gifted story teller. He grew up in New Orleans and he loved “The City.” He would regale everyone with stories of his childhood and the colorful characters he had come to know in his life. And he did it all in Spanish.
Early on our Spanish class adopted a textbook to guide our weekly studies. Years went by, and we found ourselves nowhere near the end of the textbook, but we did not care. We were learning and we were enjoying the journey. Spanish became our second language, and we looked forward to sharing stories, poems, as well as historical and current events, all written and discussed in Spanish.
Pierre had health issues which he chose not to discuss with the class. I later learned that Pierre had trouble breathing and doctors had to remove a portion of one lung. After the surgery, he was on multiple prescription drugs and vitamins. His walk slowed and he could not stand up straight. Classmates often helped him carry his book bag from the library parking lot to the classroom.
Through it all he hardly ever missed our Wednesday classes.
One day I heard that Pierre was in the hospital with respiratory complications. I visited Pierre in the hospital and his condition improved slowly. Like most patients he wanted to go home. Ironically, his home was practically across the street. In fact, he could see it from his hospital window.
His was a home that was literally filled with books. Floor-to-ceiling overstuffed bookcases covered every wall including the utility closet. A few days later he was released from the hospital, and he was breathing with the help of an oxygen bottle.
A few days later he called me. This would be the last time we would talk.
Pierre and I had known each other for the better part of 12 years. Yet, in all that time, Pierre and I only had this one quiet conversation alone.
He began by asking, “Where are you from?” “Are you from the Philippines?” I thought to myself, surely the drugs must be talking. After all these years doesn’t he know I am from Texas? But I answered, “No, Pierre, I grew up in Corpus Christi.”
“Oh, OK”, he said. Then he said, “Tell me about your dad.”
So I told him about how my dad joined the Texas National Guard before the start of World War II. How he participated in the campaigns in North Africa and Italy, and the time he spent as a prisoner of war. Pierre then described what his dad did during the war.
He then said that he probably would not return to our Spanish class. He said he was too embarrassed to walk into the classroom with an oxygen bottle. I told him that our classmates wouldn’t mind that, but nevertheless I understood his concern and respected his decision. I told him that the class was praying for his complete recovery. He said “Thank you,” and I sensed that his was getting weary and so I wished him well and said “Goodbye.” We never spoke again.
My friend, Pierre Bagur, died on June 2, 2017.
Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep. — Carl Sandberg
— Hinojosa lives in Baton Rouge
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