BUSHWICK — Stalwart hands shuffling the "Puerto Rico"-inscribed game pieces on their foldout table, this fraternity of revered seniors returned to their summer corner for their ritual afternoon match. The players, rules, hand-tallied score and witty Spanish banter echoed past years for the "members only" Bushwick domino club. But one crucial piece was missing on the Linden Street sidewalk: the treasurer.
"He was with us all the time," said member Freddie Colon, 78, of his cousin Rafael Garrastegui, who guarded the key to the domino box before he passed away May 4. "He was sick, but he still played."
Now Garrastegui, who lived around the corner and played every warm weather day with the club — whose members' names are scrawled on a wooden sign on the tree above the domino table — is memorialized with his own wooden plaque and bouquets of flowers on that same tree.
Colon said it was the least he could do to honor his cousin, who died at age 69 after years with lung congestion and heart problems.
"He'd be the first one here to unlock the box with our scorebook, our pencil and our dominoes," said Colon. "How long had he played? I don't know, years, a very long time."
Since Garrastegui, who came to Bushwick from Puerto Rico in the late 1940's, had spent so many years in his life battling health problems, he had clung to dominoes when he couldn't work and when he lost his wife about 10 years ago, Colon said.
"He had kids but they don't live nearby, some in Puerto Rico and some in the city," said Colon. "He was a close friend of all of us."
As Colon and three other members slapped down their pieces under Garrastegui’s memorial, other neighbors stopped to watch the game and to cheer on the men under the group’s plastic canopy. Even new passersby inquired about the sign, and Colon began telling them the story of the club’s lost gem.
“I’m sad, but if God says he’s coming for someone, you can’t stop him,” said Colon of Garrastegui's death. “Nobody can stop him.”
Then rain started pounding down, drenching the players through holes in their makeshift shelter. But the “rest in peace” sign, under a tree branch, stayed dry.