My Grandfather and I
My grandfather’s name was Jacinto Quevedo. I feel like I didn’t know that until I was an adult. To me, he was always “Abuelo Papo.” Papo was a nickname given to him at his workplace which managed to follow him into our home. I remember very little about my grandfather from when I was a child. He made a distinct sound when he was sleeping, like a cub trying hard to catch its breath. There was also his scruffy beard that he would purposely scratch us with to make us laugh. That’s what he was always trying to do. It’s as if everything he did was to make my brothers and I laugh.
As a teenager, I remember he would hide sweets under his bed. He would often ask me to run to the bodega to buy ice pops when it was unbearably hot outside. Due to life – and teenage angst – I didn’t see much of my grandpa when he moved out. As is the case with most teenagers, I was more concerned with my terribly “complicated” life. Not until I was an adult did I begin to truly appreciate and cherish my grandpa.
Any time I would sit down for coffee with my grandpa, he would tell me the story of his life. I never got tired of hearing it, because he always told it hilariously. My grandpa migrated to the U.S. when he was in his forties and lived there with his brother for a time. He had left Peru in pursuit of the American dream, and after arriving he thought he had been sold a lie.
“American dream my ass!”
Unable to find work for the longest time and having family back home to feed, he almost went back to Peru. But my grandpa did eventually get a job at Corrado’s, a supermarket, as what he used to call a “cart boy”. His job was to gather all the carts throughout the day. He made most of his money in tips. “I was like the Flash of carting, couldn’t nobody push a cart like me. Them carts were my ticket to freedom.” (Very roughly translated from spanish.) He then moved up to grocer and worked that job for the rest of his life. I used to think, God that sounds boring…how could you do that for so long? My grandpa would always say that in Corrado’s he didn’t see a job, he saw prosperity. His boss even loaned him money to buy a house in Peru. He put all of his children through the college or trade school of their choice and built a comfortable life for them and himself.
There isn’t much else to my grandpa. He was a simple man. He loved his family, and I never heard him complain about working. Like clockwork, he would wake up at an ungodly hour, make his breakfast, and go off to work where he would buy his coffee at the Dunkin Donuts inside the grocery store (his one big indulgence). All the time he lived in the United States, he ordered his coffee: “Geeve me cawfee, wit crim and tree shoogar.” It was like a really awful scarface impression, and a riot because he knew he was butchering the language. He mostly did it to watch the look of confusion on the cashier’s face. Then every afternoon he’d come home and find a soccer game to watch in the darkness of his tiny room with the volume so low only he could hear it; he would do this every day for over twenty years.
The lesson my grandpa was always trying to teach me
From what he told me, my grandpa never traveled. Just to Peru to visit family. Maybe New York once. In his older age, my grandpa was always telling me, “La vida es una lucha, hay que luchar y punto.” This saying of his roughly translates to: “Life is a struggle, so we have to fight, point blank”.
In college I was a music major, and I was by far the least knowledgeable person in my graduating class. Throughout my college career, I would talk to my grandpa about my feelings of inadequacy. I feared I was too old to start a musical career – I was at a level so far behind everyone else. I felt the same way about many things I did and do in life.
But my grandpa would tell me, “Life is long, son, and it’s never too late to make a change – as long as you are willing to take life’s beatings.” These are thoughts that don’t resonate until we’re older. Statements like this one go through a “they’re only saying that because they love me” filter. Now I’ve long since graduated college and find myself in a place where I am making changes to my life that I never would have thought possible. But it’s never too late, if you’re willing to put in the work.
The hardest lesson my grandfather taught me
When I was about twelve years old my grandfather sent me out for ice pops. My friend lived on the way to the bodega, so on the way back (being a kid who was never allowed out to play) I hung out with him and some of our friends. Before I knew it, the ice pops were nearly melted, at which point I hauled ass home. When I opened the door, my grandpa ran up to me and snatched the bag of ice pops from me. “Where did you go to get these? The moon?!” This outburst was the closest my grandpa and I had ever came to an argument. He scolded me for letting the ice pops melt, but an hour later he still offered me one and we watched a soccer game together.
I was 25 when I had the next argument with my grandpa. The reasons don’t matter, but the moment would. Even after the heat of our fight, he kissed me and told me he loved me. He gave me a huge hug (while still being angry) and we parted ways. I let the anger and frustration build up inside me. He traveled back to Peru, and it wasn’t much long after that I got word that he wasn’t doing well. Still, I let months pass by without exchanging words with my grandpa, a man who had always showed me unconditional love. Maybe it was because to me my grandfather seemed immortal. He was just a little sick…he would recover soon. Just like my grandpa always used to say, life gives you terrible beatings.
It was night when I found out my grandpa was on his deathbed. My throat felt like I had dry swallowed a pill, like it couldn’t be happening. When I was finally able to reach my grandpa on the phone all I could hear was his heavy breathing. But I could tell from just that sound that it was him, from all the nights as a child when I fell asleep in his arms. I knew it was him because you know when someone you love is on the other line. I felt his jokes and his advice, his being. “Grandpa, I’m sorry, I love you, please don’t go, I love you, thank you for teaching me to be a man, I love you, do you remember the last time we got coffee? We talked about our lives, and our dreams. You told me I had my whole life ahead of me, and I could do anything I wanted. But you didn’t say it because you loved me. You said it because you truly believed it. When I look at myself in the mirror I will always see you. I will see your struggle, and I will try my hardest to be the man you saw that day. Please forgive me grandpa, I love you and I will never forget you.” But still all I heard was heavy breathing.
The final and hardest lesson my grandpa taught me was that, even though he had always told me life was long, it is just as short. Until that moment, I never understood how it could be both.
My grandpa’s name was Jacinto Quevedo, and I can understand now why people post the death of their loved ones in newspapers and on social media. They want to show others a glimpse of how much that person meant to them, and what an awesome person they were. You don’t want them to die completely; you want to make them immortal, if only on paper.