Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Jack of All Trades

I thought for a while about how personal I wanted to get about a death in our family just last week. I am the type of person who will always answer, "I'm fine. How are you?" when asked how I am doing rather than go into a long monologue of all that is bugging me or ailing me. However, I figured this is my blog, my chronicle of sorts and I really enjoy the support of other blog friends. Luckily, it is filled with lots of highs. However, tonight I am sharing a low point which takes me a little out of my comfort zone. Yet, it feels like such a relief to put it all into written word......
My Grandfather, Jose Ramirez,  passed away last week. He was born in 1921 and as I recount an endless supply of memories of him, I keep thinking how blest I am to have known his unconditional love for me as his granddaughter and his never ceasing unconditional love for his family. He saw it all; silent films, the Great Depression, the wars, a new thing called Television, assassinations, the man on the moon, Elvis, the Beatles Invasion, Woodstock, 9-11, and the continued growth of his family who loved him so. I had been forewarned that his death would be soon, within a few days and to expect the call. As much as I braced myself each time the phone rang and mentally prepared, one never is really prepared when those types of calls come. He passed away peacefully in my mom's home which was filled with family at the time of his passing. We packed our bags for the long drive back to Texas for the funeral and I wrote down a few words to say at his funeral in the hopes I would be able to pull myself together enough emotionally to get up there and actually share what I had written without turning into a crying tearful sap. I decided to see how I felt about it at his funeral. If I felt I could do it, then I'd share a few words with other family members who were eulogizing my grandfather. I am amazed that I was actually able to do it....anybody who knows me, knows that my tear ducts seemed to be hardwired to pretty much every emotion I feel which makes me a perfect candidate as a Spanish Telenovela star. Nevertheless, I kept my composure and in retrospect, I am so glad that I shared what memories I had. I tried to focus on the little things about my grandfather...things I don't want to forget. It was so nice to hear all the lovely things everyone got up to share about him. This is what I shared......

Grandad had many terms of endearment for his family. He called us Mija or Mijo, Preciosa or Precioso. We called him Dad, Grandad, and a whole new generation, the youngest generation, called him Pepa.
I had asked Grandad not too long ago how he would define his life's work. He thought for a moment and said he would have to say that he was a "Jack of All Trades."  Behind those kind soulfull eyes was a man of many talents and skills. But, what I think preceded him most was his love for all of us. It could be seen in his warm smile as he came to anyone of our homes ALWAYS carrying a white bag of sweet bread, a package of freshly made tamales, or a bottle of Crown Royal.....and if we were lucky, sometimes all three.
Many of us know that Grandad crossed the border when he was five at Christmas time holding his mother's hand. He always told me that he remembers it snowing on the night they crossed the Texas border. Imagine that! He had also told me that he remembers Brownsville when there were both horse and buggy and cars in the streets and how over time there were less and less horses and more cars to where there were no horses and buggies at all and only cars.
As I grew up in my Mom's home, my Grandad always had his very own place at my Mom's dinner table. It seems like the whole world was discussed with my Grandfather and whoever else was present at the time whether it be aunts, uncles, cousins.
We all know that Grandad had an unending curiosity for the world and the events occurring around him. This curiosity kept him young and vibrant. I was remembering on the drive to Texas the various flower shows I would attend with him before we moved to Florida; hibiscus flower shows, rose shows, and African Violet shows. He would pull me over to a flower and point out why it was his favorite. He would stand and admire the colors of a single bloom as if it were a Monet or a Botticelli.
***McDonalds----those golden arches were always the start to his day and before any of us started our day. Gosh, as far back as I can remember, grandad always had his breakfast and coffee at McDonalds where he hung out with other old crooners like himself who he considered his friends.
***Music----Grandad loved music and I think we'd agree that he was such a suave dancer. I have precious memories of dancing with him at Los Molcajetes and at my wedding. He slow-danced like he had learned in the 1940s--a very gentlemanly way, very suave, very sophisticated.
***Granddad's Cars----He always drove a standard & was often in 3rd gear before he was to the end of the street. Who remembers the bumper sticker he had that read, "Down Mexico Way"?
***The Ranch in Hualahuisis, Mexico high up in the Sierra Madres----For those of us who were able to experience this with him know to NEVER EVER accidentally drop a bar of soap down the water well.....or else! The summers we spent with Grandad at the ranch will always be dear to me and I am also so happy that my husband, David, spent time at the ranch with Grandad, as well. On the long exhausting drive to the Ranch, Grandad was the King of the Road...just like the old song. And, negotiating in Spanish and using a little cash on the sly, he was able to get all of us, our cars, our gadgets and goods, across the Mexican border hassle free. We would then be off and continue our extremely long drive up the mountain into the deep interior of Mexico to the ranch where Grandad was born and where he was in his element amongst the mango-scented kitchen, the parrots who flew over us each morning, the countless stars in the night sky, the corn field, the cold mountain river where we bathed daily, the bougainvillea, and the dirt roads where monarch butterflies hovered during their annual great migration.
It is the little things that are the most important which Grandad taught us. Little facts that I recall are that he saved little milk creamers from restaurants to give to stray cats. He loved the color blue not green. He said he preferred Gold-Toe brand socks and chocolate.....he said he liked a yellow box of Whitman's Samplers the most.
I once told him that he looked like Ricky Ricardo in photos of when he was younger.He said that my daughter reminded him of Shirley Temple.
On one of his birthdays, I asked him how old he was and he said, "83" and I teased him saying,"Wow, Grandad! You don't look a day over 80!" and he laughed and laughed at my comment--A hearty laugh that comes from way down in the belly where even your soul joins in. The type of laugh where you have to catch your breath in the middle of it and even when you are done you are still smiling. That is the laugh we shared over this comment and I will always remember how grandad's eyes sparkled with the kind of tears that only come from a good deep laugh. It had made me feel so content inside to know I had caused such a happy laugh and was able to share it with him.
No matter how old Grandad became, he always knew how many kids, grandkids, great grandkids, and even great-great grandkids he had. He never had to stop and do the math or count them out on his fingers. His family was something he was greatly proud of even when we didn't always make him proud. He knew the names of our spouses and never got anyone confused with someone else and he knew who's children were whose. It was a lot to remember. But for him, it was a piece of cake. This is a testament to how much he loved us. Every year, we each received a telephone call and a birthday card from him, without fail, from the Hallmark store. I wonder if he sometimes received a group rate on cards. I rememeber the first Birthday of mine, about 3 years ago, when I did not receive his card. I think that was when I first had to acknowledge and recognized the shift in his aging and how for the first time, Grandad, though his heart and mind were young, had become old.
Grandad taught us how to grow old while staying young on the inside. He also taught us how to get our food ordered in a jiffy at a restaurant by using a stern voice and a respectable level of impatience. It was often comical to witness his impatience with waiters and waitresses.
Grandad's hearing, we all know, had diminished overtime. However, there is no doubt he can hear us now in Heaven and hear how much we love him, how thankful we are to have experienced his love, and how blest we are to be counted as his descendants, his family.

Well, I shared a slightly shorter version of the above at my Grandad's funeral. While retyping it tonight, it gave me more time to reflect and add the detail that I absolutely do not want to forget about him and the details that made him who he was, my Grandad.

Sealed with a Kiss, Kirsten