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Oct. 6, 2004
One of my oldest friends called me the other day with some sad news. Yolanda Ruiz died. She was like a mom to me when I was growing up, although she certainly didn’t need another son, with seven of her own. Two of them lived in California, but the other five lived just down the street from my parents' house. Carlos Jr. (the oldest), Ricky (a year younger), Anthony (my age), Michael (a year younger than me), and Nicky (the youngest, but the biggest, too). I met them when I was ten or eleven, and some or all of us hung out constantly. They were real characters...athletic, bright and funny, always playing ball, cracking jokes and slamming each other and me and anyone else in their line of sight. And of course much of their humor and intelligence came from their mom, Yoli.
She was beautiful, with olive skin and dark hair, smart and tough, but full of warmth and love for her husband Carlos, her boys, and most of the time for me too. I remember days when we were hanging out after school, and Yoli would come home early — I’d have to hide somewhere in the house because the boys weren’t supposed to have friends over when she wasn’t there. Sometimes I’d be stuck in a closet for an hour, waiting for an all-clear sign to sneak out when she wasn’t looking. You didn’t want Yoli mad at you. When I was there with her knowledge it was a different story, of course. She’d make sandwiches and ask about my family and school and encouraged me not to slack off. In later years she’d ask about my life and my kids, and we’d laugh about the old days. She was proud of my success, and always made me feel welcome in her home.
Although she lived in the D.C. area, Yoli worked for the County of Los Angeles, where she grew up and met her husband Carlos. She retired in ’93 but gave legislative advice for another ten years. She battled cancer for the last few years, but didn’t let the disease or her chemotherapy stop her from volunteering her time to a number of causes. Yoli passed away on September 24th, a week shy of her 71st birthday.
I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye before she died, but I went to her memorial service in Stafford, Virginia (standing room only), and a reception afterward at the Aquia Country Club nearby. While I’ve seen some of the brothers from time to time over the years, this was the first time in 16 years I saw all of them and their father in one place at one time. It was an amazing, emotional, long overdue reunion. We mourned together, celebrating Yoli's life, telling stories, reminiscing about the old days, catching up as best we could. It was incredible seeing those guys again, and meeting their wives and kids. I hope to stay in better touch now. I think Yoli would like that.
May she rest in peace.
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