Passionate about jazz music, Victor Carrasco holds his trumpet and reminisces about performing in his youth. (CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
The old “A” frame house on Hinkle Street is no longer standing.
Betrayed by a damaged roof and old wiring, the 100-year-old residence was deemed uninhabitable, and burned room by room by the fire department.
The story of its destruction, however, isn’t as remarkable as the story of its resurrection, and the life of its owner, Victor Carrasco.
Blind since the age of 6, Carrasco can only detect light and shadow.
“My uncle was never a man to complain about his circumstances,” said Carrasco’s caretaker and nephew, Phillip Carrasco.
“But his house was so old the heating and the plumbing no longer worked. It was pretty much just a shell. My big fear was that it would burn down or he would fall and no one would know. Then we kind of stumbled upon this agency” — the Eastern Plains Council of Governments.
Through federal funding, the agency has rebuilt more than 20 homes in the eastern plains region. But the house on Hinkle, said Bill Moore, homeowner program director, broke the agency’s mold, as a range of entities came together to ensure its rebirth.
“Normally, if a house is not in extremely bad shape, we can repair, rewire and replumb. I inspected this home according to program guidelines and learned it would have cost more to have rehabbed the existing home than to build a new home from scratch,” Moore said.
He called upon the city of Clovis and its fire department for help.
“What we do is we use condemned structures for training new employees with no experience in structure fires. The city notifies us when a home is condemned. In that case, we burn one room at a time,” said Fire Chief Ray Westerman.
Carrasco was hesitant to accept the fire department’s involvement. “I lived in that house since 1958,” said Carrasco, a tinge of indignation coloring his tone. “I had many memories there.”
Five months later, however, Carrasco doesn’t doubt agency methodology. His new home is almost complete. It is equipped with handicap ramps and guide rails, and soon, it will be furnished by the Lighthouse Mission.
Carrasco, the son of a railroad worker — his first home a box car — sat on the porch of the Hinkle residence, “day in and day out,” quietly listening as the crew forged ahead, according to Moore.
A truck rolled by as Carrasco sat in the yard of his temporary residence. Its driver yelled out a greeting.
“Oh,” Carrasco said matter-of-factly, “that’s one of the construction guys working on the house.” A blue film covers both of his eyes, so he says he uses sounds to guide him.
Like the aqua trim that construction workers painted around the door of his new home, Carrasco’s life has been filled with color. A friend introduced him to the trumpet after he broke his ankle, one of a string of injuries he sustained while trying to make a living. The trumpet became his companion. He learned to play the instrument by listening closely to the “greats,” he said, Louis Armstrong and Henry Haag James, and then he joined a traveling band.
Carrasco, although gregarious and well-liked in his neighborhood, is familiar with hardship.
“One day, when we had a wooden stove, my mother said to me ‘I’ll be back. I’m going to get some wood for the stove.’ She came back in without her shoes on and stood in front of me, waving her hands. She said ‘didn’t you see me?’ And I said ‘no, mama, I can’t see.’ I couldn’t see her waving her hands,” recounted Carrasco.
His peers showed him the rougher side of humanity, often times leaving him to work alone in dangerous areas, and later, insulting his musical ability, “because,” he postures, “musicians are jealous.”
Although Phillip Carrasco said a doctor charted scar tissue above his uncle’s eye, and concluded the damage was most likely due to a stroke, the 80-year-old still has no concrete medical explanation for the loss of his eyesight. He says he “just ate too much” as a young boy.
A lifetime of hardship is now, his nephew said, countered by recent acts of incredible kindness.
Phillip Carrasco points to the necklace that now hangs from his uncle’s neck, a donation from a local hospice unit.
“Tita,” he said, “If you fall, you can just press a button now and help will be on the way.”
“It’s just amazing,” Carrasco’s nephew added, “People have really taken my uncle under their wings. So many agencies came together to help him.”