My dad was born on January 29, 1946 at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, California. After living in Chula Vista for a short time, the Hughes family moved to Bonita where they started a successful chicken ranch. A hard worker from the beginning, my dad often recalled his days collecting eggs, feeding hens and driving farm equipment. In his spare time he loved a good game of catch with Grandpa, or if Grandpa wasn't able to play at the moment, he would tell me how he would throw the ball against the side of the house driving Grandma crazy - and possibly his two sisters Kathleen and Kris too.
Bonita was the background for many happy memories for my dad. He has always had a great affinity for the land as well as animals and the Bonita wildlife. As a boy, he loved riding horses throughout the valley. He joined 4H and raised prize-winning sheep. He was also a Wolf Scout and spent many afternoons with his friends at the creek on the property. And then there were the famous Hughes pool parties with my dad's favorite: Grandpa's homemade ice cream.
Dad attended Hilltop High School and graduated in 1963. He took a part-time job as a downtown parking lot attendant while attending Southwestern College. In the meantime, he fulfilled a childhood dream by purchasing a 1958 red Corvette. My dad has loved cars since he was 4 years old. He knew his way inside and out of nearly any engine and loved drag racing his new ride every chance he got. However, his life changed in 1967 when he received notice that he would be drafted in the Army and serve in the Vietnam War. Fearful that he wouldn't return from the war that already took so many of his friends, he sold many of his possessions including his 58' Corvette. He told me that he would never forget the day he took the bus up to LA for recruitment - it was snowing in San Diego.
My dad was stationed in Korea for the duration of his service in the Army. Because he tested so highly on military entrance exams, he was placed as a Communications Specialist. He frequently recounted how cold the winters were in Korea - when there was a particularly cold day in San Diego, he would exclaim, "It's colder than Korea!" By the fall of 1969, he was honorably discharged from the Army and free to return home. He bought another car very dear to my heart: a 1963 Stingray Corvette. He also pursued education and training for a career as a draftsman.
His first job as a draftsman not only was the beginning of a 35 year-long career in the field, but also was the start of a 25 year marriage with my mom. He met my mom, Cyndi while working at the same company (Deutsch). After a few years of marriage, my parents moved to their first home in Spring Valley and welcomed three new arrivals: Melissa Ann Hughes: July 3, 1977; Thomas Anthony Hughes: April 2, 1981; and Matthew Robert Hughes: June 13, 1982. The little Spring Valley house proved too small for the growing family, so in 1984, my dad purchased an acre of land in Ramona, designed and built our new family home.
Much like Bonita, Ramona gave my dad great pleasure to work on the land and interact with nature. I remember him mowing the 3-foot tall weeds that would grow after a winter of rainfall. He built chicken coops for our egg-laying hens, planted fruit trees and his favorite - grapes. We raised sheep, dogs, cats, birds…you name it. My dad referred to our property as "The Ponderosa," and was always glad to come home to his homestead after a long day at work at Kodak.
My brothers and I shared a great many experiences with my dad in Ramona. He coached and umpired my brother's Pony Baseball League teams for a number of years and participated in nearly every activity we were involved in. He could pitch a baseball and throw the perfect spiral football like no other. He was very athletic and made fitness a staple in his life. Every summer he would take us to Torrey Pines State Beach or La Jolla Cove for swimming, followed by dinner at our "usual" nearby taco shop. We had memorable family vacations from camping in the Sequoias to jumping off the 30ft rock in Waimea Bay, Hawaii. We couldn't have asked for a more loving, fun and devoted dad.
One by one, my brothers and I left the homestead to pursue college and careers. My parents divorced and my dad moved back to his childhood home in Bonita to care for my aging grandparents. I remember how impressed I was with my dad's ability to be so strong during a time of such great change in his life. But through this period of difficulty came many new adventures and opportunities. My dad met Maria and the two later married. They traveled to New York City to visit Maria's family, they dressed up for the Elk's club annual Halloween costume contests and they danced the night away at nightclubs and American Legion parties with close friends. My dad started a new job working for his sister Kris' company, NTU Technologies, and was quickly a favorite among their customers. He was always eager to host BBQs or "fiestas" as he and Maria called them, at the old Proctor Valley house that he and Maria revived and called home - the happy pair relished life in "paradise."
My dad left us too soon. He was full of life and still had so much left to do. He passed at Sharp Hospital Chula Vista from colorectal cancer on January 3, 2013 - just weeks before his 67th birthday. I will always remember him as being the most generous and compassionate person I have ever met. He was truly the salt of the earth - a selfless man with very simple needs, always worrying and caring for others more than he did himself. He was detailed and sought perfection in every undertaking - he gave every task his all and took great pride in his work. He was a man of unyielding conviction. If he told you he was going to do something, you knew you could trust him implicitly to do so without fail.
I never got a chance to literally tell my dad how proud he made me, but I hope he knew just the same. He was a man of so many talents: he could build anything he set his mind to; he kept our vintage cars running well past their lifespan; he knew how to navigate anywhere in the world with some inherent instinct like a Thomas Brothers Map; he would whip up complex calculations in his head; he could remember the dates and details of any significant event. He also left me with so many gifts and memories. My love for music came from listening and dancing to his records when I was young. We would sing along to Elvis and dance to Michael Jackson's Off the Wall album. I love the smell of gasoline and the sound of a V8 engine thanks to countless hours with my dad working on his beloved Corvette (even though it involved a lot of cursing during the process). Most of all, my dad's hunger for knowledge and understanding leads me to countless hours of "google-ing" much in the same way as he used to grab a book from our encyclopedia set to research something he wanted to learn more about.
Throughout his life, my dad's Catholic faith played a strong role in his life. He believed all his hard work in life and all the love he shared with others would lead him to an afterlife beyond his dreams where he could be reunited with loved ones, friends and pets that have passed. My heart aches over his passing and words cannot express how much I already miss my dad. I hope to see him again in the afterlife and hear him say "well, hello there Melissa!" with a big strong hug… just as he used to greet me every time I saw him while he was here with us.