Weeks before he passed away, my step-father, Bene, called me, my sister and two brothers into his room to talk to us as if he knew he didn’t have much more time with us. He said that there was nothing more important than family and that without it nothing else matters much. He looked at the four of us and said that he was a lucky man to have been a father to the four of us. He said that if all he had left in this world was one dollar, he would want us to share it equally because although he was my step-father, he raised all of us and we were all his children.
I can remember breaking down at that moment for the first time since we got the diagnosis of his stage four cancer.
When they married in 1975, I was only two. My memories always included Bene. I can’t really remember him not being there. My favorite memories are of sitting with him on our recliner on Saturday afternoons watching wrestling matches – Captain Lou Albano and Andre the Giant were my favorites. He made the best tuna fish sandwiches with a little onion and “malagata” or hots and taught me how to make rice and beans with potatoes in it.
I don’t remember him ever missing a day of work at the leather tanning factory he worked in for over twenty years – the same factory that exposed him to the very chemicals that may have caused his cancer. When I was twelve, my parents bought a single family home down the street from the triple decker my grandmother owned. We had lived on the third floor.
After receiving my masters from the University of Massachusetts- Amherst, I returned home that summer to look for a job to complete my residency. I found a position that would eventually move me to Connecticut. One afternoon before leaving, my step-father asked me to give him a ride to the store. As we were pulling out of the driveway, he said that he wanted me to know that no matter how old I was or what I was doing in life, I always had a home there. He knew he couldn’t give me much more but he could always give me a home.
He was a man of very few words but when he did it made a great impact in my life. No one ever had an unkind word to say about him and he was always there, in the background at times, because he was never one who liked to be the center of attention. He had a garden in the backyard that he tended faithfully. We always had corn, beans, zucchini, squash, cucumbers and strawberries. We had an apple and a pear tree in our yard and he grew grapes on a vine that covered most of our driveway and he even made his own wine. Every year, family and friends harvested the food and all were welcome to take whatever they could carry. That was the kind of man he was.
The summer of 2011, I drove home to Massachusetts from Maryland almost every weekend. I watched my step-father grow weaker. The man who was part of my foundation was withering away into someone almost unrecognizable. Even while taking medication as his pain became unbearable, he would still ask us if my mother was ok and if she had her dinner yet (he was the cook in the house). He passed away in October of that year. It’s still hard to walk into my childhood home and not see him sitting in his recliner or hear him whistling as he tended to his pets in the yard or tending his garden.
I think part of the reason why some of us do this genealogy “thing” is that we never want to forget people who are important to us. We don’t want others to forget either. My youngest niece was only two when my step-father died and there are things that I would want her to know about her grandfather like how he would get up very early every morning and make breakfast for the grandchildren when they stayed over. To this day, all the grand kids, my son included, remember that “Papai” made the best pápe or cream of wheat ever and no one has been able to replicate it since. I want her to know this and other stories about him and to never forget that this man, who raised me as his own, existed and though he was a man of very few words, showed us through his actions that he loved us all very much.
Benedito Pires Gibau was born in Cham de Sousa, Nossa Senhora do Monte, Brava and was the son of Eugenio Rodrigues Gibau and Julia Turíbio Pires. He was the grandson of Querino Gibau and Rosa Rodrigues and of Turíbio Matheus Pires and Anna da Lomba Neves da Conceiçao. He was the great-grandson of Matheus Pires and Julia Gibau Fernandes of Pe de Rocha, Nossa Senhora do Monte, Brava. The were originally from Madeira and may have immigrated to Brava in the 1850’s.
Bene’s father, Eugenio, traveled around the world several times over working as a cook on several ships and also lived a short time in New Bedford. He was said to be one of the best chefs in Brava. His maternal grandfather, Turíbio Matheus, along with two brothers, Francisco Matheus and Jose Matheus, were American citizens arriving in San Francisco, California in the early 1900’s during the rebuilding of the city after the great earthquake in 1904. Turíbio returned to Brava in retirement while Jose stayed in California and Francisco settled in Hawaii.
Bene’s maternal great-grand uncle was Julio Gibau Fernandes, a whaler and ship captain married to Domingas do Canto, who lived on Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford at the turn of the century. Domingas was the godmother of my great-grandmother, Joanna, whom I’ve written about before. It was with them that she lived with in New Bedford when she arrived in 1917.