Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2019 Joe Wallace

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Poncho Rivera

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Known as Poncho to everyone, Evaristo Sanchez Rivera came from Puerto Rico to work on the farms in Hadley, MA. Poncho loved to cook, laugh with friends and family and work hard. He met his future wife Barbara at the Royal Café in Springfield, MA and together they raised four daughters and a son. 

 

Every summer the family would pack up a U-Haul truck full of food and supplies and spend two weeks camping with friends at Hammonasset Beach in CT. His daughters Cheryl and Doreen fondly remember playing in the sand and waves each summer along with the smells of Poncho cooking rice and beans and home fries. Poncho liked to make his favorite Puerto Rican dishes and their spot at the campground was always popular because of the delicious smells and tastes.

Doreen told me, “I didn’t really realize at the time, but we were poor - a mixed race family in the North End of Springfield. My dad always had two jobs but we were always doing these fun things that other families didn’t do, so I just assumed we had the good life. And thinking back, we did!”

 

I asked Cheryl what Poncho taught his children and she said, “I would say the work ethic. It wasn’t exactly stated, rather it was shown by example.” Poncho chimed in and said, “If you have a bad day you have to keep going. That’s it. We always have each other. We stay together. “ 

 

I asked Cheryl what advice she would give other families beginning their journey with Alzheimer’s and she said, “Soften you heart towards your family members. Embrace the moment.  It all goes back to the basics. Be kind. Be open. Don’t try to control everything.”