There was a time in Freddy Alvarez’s life, just after his divorce in 2013, when he needed to get back on track, and really needed to “keep my mind off things.”
So the 62-year-old literally went to dig into his past and figuratively discovered a pot of gold that would change his life.
The gold came in the form of sheet metal designs and a half-inch metal conduit pipe for the tubes her father made into wind chimes.
His father, Fernando O. Alvarez, was a World War II veteran who fought with the United States Army in the Philippines, then later became a union sheet metal installer and fabricator.
“My dad started making them in the mid-70s as a hobby and to make some extra money,” Freddy Alvarez said with a smile.
“My dad loved being a vet, he loved his country and he loved the flag.”
But Alvarez wasn’t interested in making chimes himself, so he never really got involved.
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“It was his thing,” he said, referring to his father.
At the time, Freddy’s thing was playing trumpet for Los Changuitos Feos, the famous mariachi band from Tucson.
But that’s another story for another time.
When his father stopped making the chimes in the 1990s for health reasons, he stored his tin patterns in a milk crate, sheltered from the weather, until his death in 2005 at age 79.
In the elements they stayed, first with his father, then with Alvarez until 2013, after his divorce.
“I had to occupy my time not to think about anything.”
He found himself drawn to his father’s old milk crate.
Alvarez dusted off the once-familiar metal thinking, “I found this pot of gold, made by my father’s hands.”
Thinking of his father, Alvarez decided to make chimes, picking up where his father left off. Only this time he would make some changes to make them his way.
His life changed again when his friend, Miguel Salazar, a 20-year-old army veteran, saw his wind chime and offered to pay Alvarez to make him one.
The wind chime he saw was painted red, white and blue and Alvarez had dedicated it to his father in service to his country.
“Dude, I can’t sell it to you!” was Alvarez’s response. “You are a veterinarian. I’ll make you one!”
Then he thought, “If I give him one…I have to make one for all my friends who have served.
In 2015, Alvarez, who is not a veteran, started making chimes for veterans and for families of veterans, eventually making as many as 50.
But because the chimes are handcrafted, he struggled to keep up with demand.
In 2016, he needed a new plan. He created what he calls veteran hangers – a single strand of recycled carbon dioxide canisters painted red, white and blue. A piece of sheet metal resembling a military dog tag hangs from the bottom.
Hangers are easier and faster to make.
Since 2016, he estimates he has handed out some 1,200 hangers to veterans, many of whom he met randomly.
Alvarez, who also plays “Taps” with his trumpet on demand at the graves of deceased veterans, admits he doesn’t keep an accurate count of how many hangers he has made. “I focus more on their distribution.”
He left hangers at the Veterans Administration, including for those receiving care there and living away from home.
“Most of the time, I usually approach a person in stores, restaurants, places like that, who may be a vet depending on whether they have a veteran’s license plate or they wears a certain shirt or cap.”
Most of the time, he takes his grandson, Mario, 11, a fifth-grade student at Manzo Elementary, to help hand out hangers.
“I like being with my aunt,” Mario said of his grandfather. “I’m impressed with what it takes to make the hangers and the things he does to get things done.”
Throughout Alvarez’s time working on chimes and later on hangers, he kept one thing in mind.
“I remember my dad telling me that I should always greet a vet and shake his hand, and if he has a story to tell, take the time to listen to it.”
Maybe a similar gesture can get someone to find their pot of gold.