Juan and Ramona Espinosa giggling together at their home on Juan's 78th birthday. Credit: Courtesy / Rebecca Espinosa Price

On Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, I held my father’s hand, brushed his hair back, and kissed his forehead. I counted his deep breaths like he taught me to count the seconds between lightning and thunder to measure a storm’s distance. He had never been sick enough to be in a hospital until COVID-19 hit him. He fought all he could, but he was tired and just wanted to go in peace.

Juan Espinosa, born June 1, 1942, in New Braunfels, was a doting husband, encouraging father, and natural teacher. The lessons I learned from him as I was growing up will stay with me forever. 

Before answering his calling to teach, my father served in the Marines and worked for several years at the gypsum plant in town. I remember him coming home exhausted, his work boots and hard hat dusty with lime.

While working to support our family, Juan also attended night school at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State). Late into the night, his books would be open on the dinner table, where he would faithfully complete his assignments no matter how tired he was. Watching him sacrifice his free time to study every night in order to get his degree and teacher’s certificate was truly inspiring. 

(clockwise from top left) Martin, John J., Juan, Ramona, Rebecca, and Roy Espinosa pose for a family photo in 1980. Credit: Courtesy / Rebecca Espinosa Price

Because of his hard work, he was able to enter the teaching profession, even if it was later than most. In his 22 years as a Spanish teacher at New Braunfels High School, his colleagues and students became his extended family and they would strike up conversations with him whenever they saw him around town. His quick wit, bright smile, and infectious laugh quickly endeared him to anyone he met, so it was no surprise to his family when our outings were interrupted by someone calling, “Señor!” His school family loved him just as much as we did.

And he loved and adored my mom, Ramona. He wrote her poems and tickled her when posing for photos, ensuring that there always had to be a retake. He would hold her hand during prayers before our meals and kiss it at the end. He cherished their love for 54 years and loved the family he had with her.

My amazing older brothers Martin, John J., and Roy had strong bonds with him. He taught them how to be great husbands and loving dads. I was his baby girl, and I could do no wrong in his eyes. He was proud of everything I attempted to do and was always my biggest fan. Throughout his life, he gave us the greatest gift of all: unconditional love.

I selfishly want more time with him, but those of us who loved him know our time with him will continue because he lives on in each of us. I am so fortunate I could be with him and make him feel comfortable in his last days. His legacy will continue through the values he instilled in his family and extended family. We’ll make sure to make him proud.