<div><div> <br> <h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p><b>HERITAGE OF A KNIGHT</b></p> <br> <p>In 1942, Da' Harbor gave birth to a squalling baby boy. The smokestacks along the shore belched out their enthusiasm for another infant destined for the steel mills—if he survived that long.</p> <p>There was only one problem; I had no intention of taking the first step inside the steel mill.</p> <p>To anyone who knew me, way back then, the idea of Ralph Garcia becoming a knight was ... well, not very likely. And if you take a look at my family tree, there is no sign of royal blood or names synonymous with wealth. Judging from my grandmother's stories, scoundrels and poverty were more likely the case.</p> <p>But, even a poor boy from Da' Harbor can become an elite warrior. My suit of armor was a hand-me-down, and the weapons were government-issued.</p> <p>The only connections I had were to common folk—friends, neighbors, a few teachers—who took the time to notice me, appreciate my differentness, and see some potential within me that I'd never seen in myself.</p> <p>As for wealth, I inherited riches of a different kind—an adventurous spirit, a growing sense of right and wrong, and a deep patriotism for the country that, I still believe, is worth protecting.</p> <p>They say I look like my father. I inherited what my family calls the Garcia nose. But heredity isn't just some physical resemblance. You also inherit certain personality traits. And to find those, you need the stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Strength of character and determination are traits that always seemed to be present in stories about the matriarchs of my family—and I'd much rather think I inherited those traits than the kind my father had to offer.</p> <p>For me, the stories began in Fort Worth, Texas, where my grandmother, Severa, was married to Estanislado Flores. I never knew Stanley, but he was—by all accounts—a wife beater. Back in 1939, my Grandma Severa left him, taking the kids with her: my Uncle Sam, my mother (Emma) and Aunt Olivia. Olivia was the youngest; we always knew her as Mani, which is Spanish for "peanut."</p> <p>Grandma Severa was probably the boldest person I've ever known. When she decided to leave Stanley, she bought one Greyhound bus ticket to Chicago. That was all she could afford. She gave the ticket to my mother, who was only twelve years old at the time.</p> <p>She gave my mother a handful of loose change and a sack lunch, and then sent her on her way, with the youngest in tow. Mani was only four or five years old. The two young girls traveled all the way from Fort Worth up to Chicago where Grandma's sister, Aunt Josephine, was going to meet them at the bus station. They had no phones, but somehow they communicated, and the girls arrived safely. Meanwhile, Grandma Severa and Sam wound up hitchhiking all the way to Chicago.</p> <p>I remember my mother telling me stories about when she was a kid in East Chicago. They were very, very poor. At first, they lived with Aunt Josephine, but she had mouths to feed and very little money; so my Grandma Severa got an apartment, of sorts—a cold-water flat. She would go out and try to find work, making tortillas at different restaurants.</p> <p>My mother's story was very poignant, as she described how poor they were and how their survival instinct kicked in. This was very important later in my mother's life, because she learned how to persevere in spite of great hardships. Grandma didn't have much money for food. She would send my mother and Mani to visit a neighbor in the apartment building, where they could be fed a little bit. It was a momentous occasion when Grandma cooked one egg for Uncle Sam in a tin can, over the gas burner.</p> <p>Everyone in the city had a gas stove for cooking. And that was sometimes how they heated the house, when there wasn't enough money for fuel oil. They would sit around the oven in the winter so they wouldn't freeze.</p> <p>My mother was a tough old girl, much like Grandma Severa. She was a young uneducated woman, but she was the kind of person who persevered. She was a doer. She was able to get through difficulties without getting defeated. I remember taking a psychology test, as I prepared for the CIA. That was when I came to recognize some of the tough traits that I had inherited from my grandmother and my mom.</p> <p>One of those questions went something like this: You come up against a wall. It is as high as you can see, and as far-reaching to the left and to the right as you can see. What would you do to get to the other side? My ex-wife said she would just sit down and wait for help. There was no hesitation to my answer—I would find a way to go through the wall or under it.</p> <p>Apparently in the psychological test, the wall represented death, and your answer showed how you would likely react to it. My ex-wife would just sit down and accept the inevitable. For me, I would be fighting death. And that's pretty much the type of personality I have. I don't fear death; it's just part of living. You're born, you live, and you die. I will probably go down swinging, when the time comes.</p> <p>My mom is the one who taught me many things about how to get through life. When you come up against a problem, you have to figure out the solution. Rather than let it paralyze you, you have to come up with a resolution that's beneficial to you.</p> <p>I probably learned a lot of that from her mom, too. Severa was one heck of a woman. She was a small lady, maybe 5-foot-two, and weighed 110 pounds. She was very uneducated. The story I heard was that my grandmother began attending first grade—but only for one day. She went to school, she didn't like it, and she never went back.</p> <p>So Grandma Severa was an illiterate person. But she was wise and very creative. I remember she could sew just about anything. Nowadays, she'd be what you call a journeyman seamstress. She used to go window shopping and find some clothes that she liked. Then she would purchase some fabric, go home to her Singer pedal sewing machine, and make the clothes from memory.</p> <p>My grandmother remarried in the 1940s, this time to Ignacio (Nacho) Canela. Nacho was a typical Mexican-cultured man. He worked hard, came home, and expected his wife to care for him, keep house, and be there whenever he needed or wanted her. They had no children. Nacho was always good to us, but our relationship with him was rather formal. He never played with us. Even later, when I was a grown man and met with Nacho, I always held him in a position of great respect, mostly because he treated my grandmother so well. He did not beat her or yell at her all the time. It was always pleasant at Grandma's. But we kids knew our place.</p> <p>Grandma would buy clothes for her husband without knowing a thing about sizes. And she could not speak English. That could have created a problem, because most of the merchants in the area spoke English. In the 1950s, all the men wore hats. Grandma would go to a hat store; she could just try on hats and know which ones would fit Nacho. She did the same with men's clothing. She would buy something, take it home, and it always fit him.</p> <p>I don't know how she did mathematics, but she did. She was able to spend money in a way that was very conservative and frugal. She used to make the best soup and her home was always immaculate. She would lay newspapers down on the floor, so that people would not track up her home. It was a small four-room house, right across the street from us.</p> <p>They lived a nice life together. I remember, as an adult, taking Nacho out for dinner after my grandmother died. I was speaking Spanish to him at the time. Nacho started crying and said, "Oh, how your grandma would have loved it so much, that you're speaking Spanish!"</p> <p>But it wasn't until later in my life that I started speaking Spanish. We had kept up the Hispanic culture in certain things, such as the food we ate – the tortillas, the beans, the chilies, and things of that nature. As a kid, although I understood Spanish, I wasn't permitted to speak it. I guess my mother was trying to Americanize me.</p> <p>My paternal grandfather's name was Ispiririon Lucio Mundo de Garcia. I knew him as Don Lucio, the grandfather. "Don" is a term of respect that is used in Mexican and other Hispanic cultures. Don Lucio was an old man at 60, all stooped over from years of hard work on the railroad line. I suppose the life expectancy back then was only 40-60 years.</p> <p>Don Lucio only spoke Spanish, and he used to ask me why I couldn't speak Spanish. It wasn't my father's fault; rather, it was mine. Don Lucio said, "One of these days, you're gonna go to Mexico and you're gonna get lost. The cops are gonna ask where you are from. Then you're gonna shrug your shoulders and say 'I don't know.'" He was very upset because I didn't speak Spanish. I suppose he wanted to keep the Hispanic culture alive in our family, too.</p> <p>On my father's side of the family, there was my Uncle Henry. He was sort of a sourpuss; he was always angry. He was married to Lupe and they lived in East Chicago, not far from us. Then there was Uncle Angelo, who was married to Connie; they lived in Gary, Indiana. My father was next and my Aunt Mary was the youngest. She was married to a fellow named Joe Yokabitus; they lived in St. John, Indiana.</p> <p>I don't remember feeling close to my father's family as I grew up. They all stayed pretty much on their own. The real bonding came from the maternal side of our family. My Uncle Sam and my grandmother lived right across the street from me.</p> <p>As a young child, I could walk over to Grandma Severa's house anytime I wanted to; and it was very pleasant ... very <i>safe</i>.</p> <h2>CHAPTER 2</h2> <p><b>DA' HARBOR</b></p> <br> <p>When you're a child, the <i>world</i> is your neighborhood. Good or bad, it all seems normal. Then one day, you start to see your world for what it really is. My world was <i>Da' Harbor</i>—and where I grew up, careers were measured in the number of years you attended high school, before heading off to the steel mill for the remainder of your life; and whether you'd choose a life of crime or a dead-end job. Most people never thought they had any other choice. They settled for breathing dirty air, forevermore.</p> <p>I was born in 1942, in the northwest corner of Indiana called East Chicago, or Indiana Harbor (<i>Da' Harbor</i>). Indiana Harbor sits between one set of railroad tracks to the west, and two sets of tracks to the north. East Chicago is part of an area that we call <i>The Region</i>. The Region encompasses the cities of Whiting, East Chicago, Hammond, and Gary, Indiana.</p> <p>East Chicago is a steel town ... a really rough neighborhood ... a place that is well-known for its toughness. While the area has some professionals—attorneys and doctors, most of the people who live there are blue collar workers. They work in the steel mills or in some related industry. They come from all ethnicities, including DPs (displaced persons). DPs are people who fled Europe during WWII and came for the work that was available in the steel mills.</p> <p>It was a filthy world. I remember, as kids, we would go swimming on the beach of Lake Michigan. We would talk about all the pollution from the steel mills. We could see stuff pouring into the lake along the beach. I don't know what all that waste was.</p> <p>Some of the kids would say, "Oh, look at that! The lake is getting polluted." And another little kid would shake his head and say, "Aw, no ... the lake is too big. It would never get polluted."</p> <p>But of course, in years later it did come to pass, didn't it?</p> <p>In Calumet City, State Line Avenue bordered Indiana and Illinois. This was kind of a no man's land, in the old days. It was like an open city with brothels, strip clubs, bars, and dancing hootchy-kootchy girls. I don't remember the notorious back-room gambling casinos but, of course, I was just a kid back then.</p> <p>Trains were everywhere. You would always find yourself in stalled traffic, waiting for a freight train to go by. That was life in the far northwest region of Indiana.</p> <p>It was a tough part of the country, even back in the 1930's, when former Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger, attempted to rob the East Chicago's First National Bank. He was run out of town, but not before his gang of thugs killed a police officer.</p> <p>And in the 1960's, Richard Speck was found drinking in an East Chicago tavern., after murdering eight young nurses one night in nearby Chicago. The Liberty Tavern was right next to Inland Steel Mill in The Harbor.</p> <p>That's the kind of city I grew up in—among people from all ethnicities. Some were good, hard-working folks, but there were others who routinely broke the law.</p> <p>Many of the friends I grew up with wound up in jail or in prison. A couple of my friends, John Everett and David Nickson, became attorneys. One fellow turned out to be a doctor and a few of the guys joined the police force. But most of the ones who stayed in Indiana Harbor ended up in the steel industry.</p> <p><i>Da' Harbor</i> was where the ships docked on Lake Michigan to pick up loads of steel. The predominant steel mill was Inland Steel. To the east is Gary, Indiana, where U.S. Steel is located. You can actually see the air take on a purple tinge as you drive into the area. From an aircraft, the purple pollution is highly visible, spewing out of the smokestacks of all the steel mills that border the area.</p> <p>The east and west streets are numbered; the north and south streets are names of trees. Back then, Columbus Drive divided the town between the North and the South. The nicer houses near the hospital and Washington Park were usually occupied by doctors, attorneys, and other professionals. But in the northern corner of The Harbor, there were mostly small modest homes, small apartment buildings or duplexes.</p> <p>That's where I grew up—in a cold-water, two-bedroom apartment on the second floor at 3605 Deodar Street.</p> <h2>CHAPTER 3</h2> <p><b>CHILD IN THE HARBOR</b></p> <br> <p>My mother was only 15 when I was born—which means that my father, Peter, was a 26-year-old guy who fooled around with a 14-year-old girl and got her pregnant. I guess, in the early 1940's, letting young kids get married was accepted.</p> <p>Some of my earliest memories are when my father used to beat the hell out of my mother—to the point where the priests at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (who were a block away) would come over because of all the ruckus being made. These occurrences were usually on payday. My father would get his check cashed in some bar, and proceed to get drunk. Then he'd come home and start knocking my mother around. That's the kind of environment I grew up in.</p> <p>It was shameful, to have priests show up at our house trying to pacify my parents and keep them from fighting. I don't know who called the police, but God bless them, whoever they were. They probably kept my mother from getting killed. She tolerated some very brutal beatings. He would accuse her of all sorts of despicable things and, of course, she was not guilty of anything. She was just a young kid who was under his control. Some things you can flat out reject in your life. And I was determined to never follow in my father's footsteps.</p> <p>I was the oldest of four kids. My brother, Rick, was 2 ½ years younger than I. Kathy was two years younger than Rick, and Rochelle was two years younger than Kathy—she was the baby. I remember the day Mom brought her home from the hospital. She told me the baby's name was Rochelle, but I thought she said "Rachel." It reminded me too much of a little girl who lived behind us—her name was Rachel, and I hated her (I don't know why). So we started calling the baby "Shelly," instead. That name pacified me and it stuck with her the rest of her life. </div></div><br/> <i>(Continues...)</i> <!-- Copyright Notice --> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'>Excerpted from <b>HARBOR KNIGHT</b> by <b>RALPH A. GARCIA</b>. Copyright © 2013 Ralph A. Garcia. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. <br/>All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br/>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.</font><hr noshade size='1'></blockquote>