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The Californian

Californian contributing columnist Steve Flores.

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Courtesy of Steve Flores

An undated photo of Richard "Richie" Prado, who sends once-a-year messsages to the Steve Flores family. Prado has been dead for almost 19 years.

It's happened for the last 15 years.

For the first three years, I thought the coincidence too remarkable to share with my family. I thought they wouldn't believe me.

After the fourth year when I found yet another one and I finally shared with my family what I thought to be an annual message from my friend Richard "Richie" Prado.

We live in an older Alta Vista neighborhood. We have lived in our home for almost 30 years.

Some of the great qualities of our neighborhood are the well-aged trees, robust plants and variety of horticulture. The large pecan tree in our front yard gave little shade but did give large amounts of nuts every year. Richie would come over each season to our home and pick several bags of pecans. On some Sundays, I would awaken to the sound of him stealthy picking pecans off our lawn.

Although not blood-related, Richie, his wife, Yolanda, daughter, Celestina, and sons Sam and Andy had, over the years, quietly become an important part of our family. He was a great community activist. When Richie wasn't busy being the director of the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, a very successful local job training program, you could usually find him in his garage tinkering with a new "Yolanda" project.

When I discovered a complete brick driveway buried in my back yard under about 3 inches of old sod many years ago, Richie offered to use the old brick and help build my family a BBQ pit. Before helping people build new careers, Richie was helping people build structures as a bricklayer apprentice.

Richie and I spent many a weekend moving, leveling, stacking and cutting brick. Come to think of it, I was the one relegated to most of the grunt work while Richie performed the art of actually laying the brick.

My wife, Susie, would make us breakfast each Saturday morning we worked and for lunch we would sit under the pecan tree and have a cold one, or was it two?

I'm not sure how many weekends it took for us to build that BBQ pit but when you add up all the cold refreshments we drank under that pecan tree, it definitely would have been cheaper to hire out the job.

But I'm not complaining. I wouldn't trade any of those weekends with Richie. He called my twin sons, Sean and Aaron, "Dyno" and "Mo." He loved my daughters, Nikki and Brenna, and really enjoyed my wife's cooking.

Shortly after the BBQ pit was built and, much to Richie's chagrin, termites, tree disease and imminent domain claimed our 35-plus-year-old pecan tree. Imminent domain you ask? My wife wanted a driveway in our front yard, right where the pecan tree stood.

We also lost Richie shortly after that. Almost 19 years ago, pulmonary fibrosis took him from us. He was 58 years young.

Fifteen years ago, the first pecan mysteriously showed up on my front lawn. I thought it must have been stuck in my oak tree all year and just fallen to the ground. The next year, I found another pecan ... and the next. Never two or three, always only one pecan per year.

When it happened the fourth year in a row, I brought it into the house and showed it to my family. I explained what I had been finding: one pecan each year for the past four years. Their reaction was the same as mine. It was Richie reaching out to us.

Without exception, it's happened for the last 15 years around this time of year. This year my son-in-law found it and brought it into our home.

I know there is a solid scientific explanation why for the past 15 years in a row, one pecan would land somewhere on my property. If you know what it is, please let me know.

But for now, I choose to believe it really is Richie with his once-a-year message not to forget him or the work yet to be done in our community.

Don't worry, Richie. The work continues and I look forward to seeing you again next year.

-- Steve Flores is a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at floressteve32@yahoo.com.