Looking for the grandfather I’ve never met
If your grandma is/was anything like mine, she would fill your family reunions with stories of life back in her native country. In this case, Mexico. My grandma always told us stories about her life back in Mexico, and me being the inquisitive person that I am, I always asked for more because I loved learning about that part of her life. I’ve always loved learning about where I come from and what my family’s history consists of and I think Bita (what I called my grandma) enjoyed sharing that time and stories with me as well.
My grandma, Maria del Carmen Alejandrina Flores Olivar
My grandma was born in Axochiapan, Morelos, Mexico; same place my father was born in. For those of you who might not know, the state of Morelos is located south of Mexico City; about a 3 hour drive to Axochiapan.
She came to the states in the early 1960s looking to build a new life away from the abusive father of her children (my grandma never married my grandpa or any other man). Don’t know if you guys recall the stories about how in Mexico back in the day los muchachos se robaban a las muchachas? Well, that’s exactly what happened with my grandma. My grandfather se la robó. My grandfather was married with kids in the town of Tepalcingo (town he’s from) in Morelos; close to Axochiapan. My grandfather had a taxi business so he constantly stopped at different towns close by and well, being the macho Mexican that he was (and is), he had women in each town he frequented. My grandfather is known to have had one wife as well as several other women. He has over 50 children from different women.
My grandfather, Ciriaco Garcia, my dad’s father.
He constantly physically abused my grandma during their time together. He was a very jealous man and would find any excuse to hit her. On one of those nights, my dad who was was a little boy then (about 6 years old) was with her when my grandfather arrived home late completely drunk with a gun in his hand. He aimed it at her and pulled the trigger. He shot at her 6 times but only 2 of those reached her. One of the bullets lodged next to her temple on on side of the head, and the other bullet lodged in her body. One of the bullets flew by 12 centimeters above my dad’s head. Had my dad gotten up from the bed, it would’ve hit him, too. My grandma had to be taken to the hospital and undergo surgery to have the bullets removed. The doctors were only able to remove the one in her body. The one close to her temples was unable to be removed and she lived with it lodged inside of her for the rest of her life; it never presented much complications. That’s when my grandma decided she had had enough and left for the states because she knew she would never be able to get away from him living in Mexico.
When my grandma passed away a little over 2 years ago, we took her back to Mexico to be buried, just as she had wished. My grandfather’s sister went to the funeral and told us that my grandfather was aware of her passing but he obviously never made it out there. Some of my dad’s younger siblings have never met him and my dad hasn’t seen him since he was very young despite him still being alive. Out of all of my dad’s siblings, my dad is the one that looks most like my grandfather. My grandma would always say that and would also say that the older my dad got, the more he looked like his dad. We couldn’t believe it when she finally showed us a picture of my grandpa. They were so similar. My grandpa is still alive and living in his native town of Tepalcingo. I always wondered about him, how he looked now that he was older, and if age had made him change his ways.
As most of you know, each year we make a family trip to Mexico and this year we decided to visit my dad’s home state of Morelos including towns we had never visited before. I somehow felt the need to get closer to my Mexican heritage even more than I already was. I wanted to visit where my Mexican side of the family comes from and discover places in my dad’s home state. I’ve visited the state before several times as well as the town my dad is from, but this time I wanted to discover more of it. I always heard my grandma talk about some of these towns and decided I wanted to visit them. I also told my dad that I wanted to visit my grandfather’s town. He said we would, so we included it in our trip’s itinerary.
Once we arrived, I was kind of nervous. I wanted to look for him and maybe say hi to him but was worried about how he would respond to that. I walked around the plaza with my camera and phone in hand looking for him. He’s very well-known in town because he still has his taxi business and also owns several businesses there. He’s in his 80s now so I was looking at all the viejitos in the plaza asking myself if that was him, but never dared to ask for him. As we were getting ready to leave town, my dad stopped in front of a business and house next to it and told me that’s where my grandfather lived. I rolled down the window and stared out into the house. For a moment time stood still while I digested the fact that my grandfather who I’ve never met, was only a few feet away from me. I wanted to get down from the car, knock on the door and ask for him, but my dad didn’t let me. I respected that so I just took pictures of the house hoping he would peek out while I was doing so to get a glimpse of him, but he didn’t. I left the town feeling better about having visited the town where my grandfather hails from and where he still lives even though I didn’t get to see him. It’s like a missing piece of my family heritage had been found, but at the same time, not really.
One of my grandfather’s businesses and the house he lives in.
I will always admire my grandma’s courage to leave my grandpa and start a new life alone in a different country with 6 kids. She worked very hard during her life to always give them the best. She never needed a man to help her; she did it all on her own, and that says a lot for that day and age. She never married anyone either because she didn’t want to bring a man into her children’s lives. My grandma was very strict with her children; sometimes hard on them, but knowing her story and everything she went through, I can understand where she was coming from. My grandma did very well for herself eventually buying several properties in California and Mexico.
My grandma’s house in Mexico when she passed away. We (the family) still own it.
I loved (and still do) my grandma. She was the link to my Mexican heritage. She cooked heavenly and she taught me a lot of her recipes. She always knew what my favorite dishes were so she’d always have them ready for me when I visited. She would also bring me my favorite meats and fruits from Mexico every time she visited. The last few years before her passing, she lived with us on and off because her health was getting worse so I would take her sometimes to her dialysis or wherever she wanted to go. Sometimes she’d tell me to cook one of her dishes and that she was gonna show me how so we’d go to the supermarket together, buy the ingredients and come back home and cook it. I treasure those moments because I gave her all my time and attention and she enjoyed it as much as I did. We always chatted about life and I always took advantage and asked her about her life when she was young. I think it’s because I knew that one day she wouldn’t be here and I wanted to be able to piece my heritage together. Today, I’m glad I did.
This post forms part of a series of posts that I will be publishing during Hispanic Heritage Month. I hope you also take the time to read the other upcoming posts. You can read the first one here.