Rudy Renteria was a real human being. Flesh and bone, will and intelligence. He lived a short life, just 21 years and yet, for a few folks, now a dwindling few, he left an impression. He died heroically defending fellow soldiers in one of history’s periphery wars of Empire, in this case, our country in Vietnam.
I first became aware of Rudy as a basketball player at San Jose’s James Lick High. He was a couple years older than me. As a sophomore at San Jose High, I went with a group of friends to watch a game, “Lick” against our school. We were mostly jocks from other sports going to see our team. Rudy had a basketball reputation, which was an extra draw.
As I remember, he was big and strong by local high school standards, but there was also an aura about him—he was bigger in a way that the eyes don’t see. Along with his skills for the game, he had extraordinary poise and focus. He was more present, more ready, more aware of movement, development, and openings on court. Probably most important, he seemed more able than others to elevate, to rise above the standard in which the game was playing out.
It was a close game. Our more balanced team against Rudy and supporting cast. Rudy’s moment came in the fourth quarter. While the other nine players continued to move, dribble and pass, to defend, they actually mostly watched as Rudy blew by on his way to the hoop or dropped one after another long arcing, net-swishing shot. Still, I think we squeaked by. I guess I was happy, but not totally.
The next and last time I saw Rudy was picking fruit in a pear orchard on North First Street (now high tech build out). The job was run by a couple of Arab brothers contracted by the farmer. They were surprisingly directive and from time to time pointed our group of pickers to new areas of fruit-laden trees. We dutifully carried our tall, weather-greyed wooden ladders through the orchard, placed them optimally amongst new branches and leaves. We climbed up to pick the pears and place them in buckets, which we hung from hooks on the ladders. When a bucket (or two) was full, we walked the buckets to a large, nearby wooden bin, where we dumped them. One of the brothers or a foreman punched a hole onto a card for each filled bucket. We were paid by the bucket.
Being a Downtown and Eastside sports guy, I was instantly aware that Rudy was in the same work crew as me. I didn’t speak to him, but observed him when he was in view. What I remember, again, was Rudy’s quality of presence, his precise movement in walking, in carrying and placing his ladder, in picking the pears. He had some sort of natural mastery of self, which was different from the rest of us in the orchard that day, even those of us concentrated on efficiency and speed in order to fill more buckets with pears. In these cases, there would be a leaning ahead, a hurry, but with Rudy there was efficiency that was serene.
Rudy’s story, Rudy’s life, concludes as described in the following. https://www.virtualwall.org/dr/RenteriaRS01a.htm
Sometime in the early aughts I was on the Capitol Mall in DC. I went to the Vietnam War Memorial to pay my respects to Rudy and others from San Jose who I might have known or known of.
And to remember.
We’re all flesh and bone, will and intelligence, and then we’re gone in the expanse of time and Eternal Being. But, I don’t think that we simply vanish, end of story. We can hold a larger view, the heart’s view, that appreciates the preciousness of the life we lead and the lives we observe. It’s all happening, this explosion of form and being that we are privileged to experience and witness, including Rudy and his exemplary life.