With Father’s Day approaching, I want to take the time to share some memories of my father, Martin Relles Sr., who inspired me in ways I can’t overestimate.
Dad was born in 1915 in Chicago, but soon moved to Sacramento with his family. He lost his dad at the age of five in the great Spanish flu epidemic. His mother re-married soon after that. Being a stepchild is never easy, but it proved particularly hard on dad. His stepfather often disciplined him. One day while he played in his front yard on 14th Avenue, his step-father became so angry, he hit dad on the back with a piece of wire.
When that happened, a doctor who lived across the street came over and said this to his stepfather, “If I see you do that again, I will have you put in jail.” Thankfully, dad never suffered that kind of treatment again.
As with many children, sports provided a healthy outlet for dad and his older brothers, George and Ross. They preceded him at Sacramento High and excelled at football and baseball. So when dad entered high school, he had high expectations to live up to. He took that to heart.
When he arrived at school on the first day, he wore a sweater emblazoned with the following slogan: “Another great Relles comes to Sacramento High.” Fortunately, he lived up to that hoopla. We still have clippings from the Sacramento Bee describing dad’s football triumphs.
Another memory of my dad dates back to 1990. I had just married for the second time and bought a home in College Glen. That winter, rain came pouring through the roof. I was pretty broke, but obviously had to fix the problem, so I told mom I was coming over to Janey Way to borrow some money.
When I got there, I parked the car and came, head down, up to the house. Mom let me in. Dad was sitting at the table with his checkbook in hand. As he wrote the check, he looked up with a smile and said, “I was hoping you would ask.” My father was nothing if not generous.
My final memory is from 1999, the year my father died. On the night of his passing, my sister and I called all of the family to let them know what happened. Soon the aunts, uncles and cousins came over to give their condolences. As I stood on the front porch, my aunt Leone came up, gave me a hug and said sincerely and lovingly, “he was a wonderful man.” He was that and I am fortunate that he was my father.
A few days later, at the funeral, I stood on the altar of St. Mary’s church and eulogized my father. At the end of my speech, I looked up to the heavens and said softly, “uncle George and uncle Ross, you had better make some room up there in heaven, because there is another great Relles coming to join you.” That was 14 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about dad. It’s another heart rending Janey Way memory.