By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
During the Currigan dinner, while Virgil was deciding to join the Morman church, Rosa Linda was having her own epiphany. "I was pregnant with Eric, and there wasn't enough money, and all I could think about was these people doing things for other people. I thought, if I could, I wanted to do that," she says. "I went home and became the chairman of the Head Start in our neighborhood, even though I only spoke a kind of broken English. I went to all the meetings and stood right up there in front of the room so I wouldn't miss anything."
A few weeks later, while Rosa Linda worked in her front yard, she was approached by a neighbor who asked if she would like to attend a meeting of a Highlands residents' group. She went, and accepted a position on the neighborhood council. At home that night, Virgil asked what her new title meant. "I'm not sure," Rosa Linda replied, "but it's going to be great."
That's how Virgil got the idea of starting his own restaurant and naming it after his wife. "I thought, everybody knows her, it will be easy," he recalls.
In fact, it wasn't easy at all. When the restaurant opened in 1985, Rosa Linda's had to serve food continuously from nine in the morning until three the following morning just to make ends meet. There wasn't enough money to hire waiters or cooks, so the restaurant was staffed entirely by Aguirres. Oscar, who was fourteen at the time, remembers a typical day's schedule. "I went to middle school, came home and did homework till about nine, went to the restaurant to help my father clean up, and then woke up and did it all again," he says. "After I graduated from high school, I wanted to hang out at nightclubs, and my dad let me leave at 9:30--but I had to be back at 1:30 to handle the bar rush. People ask me how come I didn't get involved in drugs and gangs. Hey, ask me when I had the time."
As business increased, the restaurant's hours decreased. Today Virgil has three part-time employees. But all Aguirre hands are on deck for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve when, true to their word, Rosa Linda and Virgil feed any hungry person who cares to show up. The first year, 90 came. Last year there were nearly 900, served by 120 volunteers. The publicity that always attended the late Daddy Bruce's similar meals has eluded the Aguirres, but that doesn't bother them. "No," says Virgil, "because at the end of that kind of day, I feel happy." This afternoon Virgil's second-oldest son, also named Virgil but known as Junior, goes straight from North High School to Rosa Linda's. A senior, he has been waiting tables since he was thirteen. During any lulls today, he will do his creative-writing homework; he, too, has hopes of becoming a journalist. Junior greets his father with a gentle "ÀQui pasa, viejo?" and a kiss. He is softer-spoken than Oscar, who has just blazed in, dressed in his trademark pleated pants and silk shirt, and is already yelling about what's going on, where are his sisters, any calls for him? (If a drunk becomes obnoxious while eating at Rosa Linda's, it is Oscar who kicks him out.) Oscar goes off to look for his sisters in his new Geo Tracker. Outside on the sidewalk, where two outdoor tables have been set up, youngest brother Eric throws around a baseball.
A few minutes later eight-year-old Esmerelda and Linda, now in sixth grade, jump out of Oscar's car and run into the restaurant. "Teacher pinned up my paper on the wall today," Linda tells her father, with journalistic pride. "She told me it was really good. I just used the spelling words and it all fit together."
"We must have it in the blood," Virgil decides.
"It's a thing we have," Oscar says. "I was raised and born in it. Maybe I sound cocky, but I'm bilingual and I can communicate with both worlds. That's what I have to offer." He stops to greet another longtime customer. "How you doin', bud? Long time, man, long time. You want a table?" When he returns he says, "Restaurant work sucks. Why do you think I'd rather be a reporter?"
Since enrolling in Metro State's journalism program three years ago, Oscar has won the Greeley Tribune Hispanic student journalist award --with an essay about his grandfather--and worked as a radio producer. He likes to imagine a future in which he is a war correspondent, in Europe, perhaps, with a briefcase full of clips and writing awards. But the newspaper closest to his heart is his grandfather's, and the family often speculates that Oscar will turn out just like Beto.
When Oscar hears that, he rolls his eyes. "Until recently," he points out, "my grandfather was an alkie. He always smelled like cigarettes and beer, and he was always loud. We've never been close, but we serve a purpose to each other, and it's true that he's always been there for me. And he's right about what a newspaper should be. All my life I've sat in discussions about how are we going to revive the newspaper. I can't help wanting to revive it, too."