Friday, December 23, 2011

Mi Abuelo: Antonio Valenciano (February 15, 1926 - December 19, 2011)

grandpa faceshot
My grandfather passed away on Monday. It was a long time coming, but it still doesn't make the heartache any easier.

I grew up really knowing only one set of grandparents. I often envied my friends and their relationships with both of their sets of grandparents. They seemed to talk about their grandparents like a pair of their most favorite people. I didn't know otherwise, I just knew that I wanted to make it a point to enjoy the ones I had, even though I was shy about it. When I was in second grade, I spent the night with a friend who talked about her grandmother who had just passed. She pulled out an old smock her grandmother wore, pressed it to her face and the look that consumed her face had me curious. She tearfully blurted out, "Grandma had the best smell!" She carefully held it out for me to smell. Cautiously, I leaned forward and took a short whiff. I told her I didn't want to ruin it and take all of the smell out. A part of me was afraid of what I would have smelled. I had it in my mind that her dead grandmother was wearing the smock when she passed. I was afraid I would smell death. (shaking my head now) I suggested she put the smock in a zip-lock, bag to lock in the smell. She thought it was a great idea and sure enough, she put it in there. Years later, I wonder if that smock is still in her baggie. That memory stuck with me, though. It stays with me today.

I was always intrigued by my grandfather. He had strong, but weathered hands. I remember him in white t-shirts and bubble vests. His hair was always combed and I remember him smiling, often. On Sundays, ooooh boy howdy did he clean up!! He was fresh shaven, clad in a crisp guayabera and slacks. He would smell of Old Spice and Listerine. His cheek was soft when I would lean in to kiss it. My eyes would water from the cologne, but my heart would smile with familiarity. The rest of the week, when I kissed his cheek good night, it was rough and prickly. We would spend part of our summer break with our Grandparents from when I was 3 until I was 10. A few of those summers, we would road trip from El Paso to Los Angeles. They took us to Knott's Berry Farms and Disneyland. We visited Chavez Ravine, stayed in East Los with relatives, and his brother would talk about baseball and reminisce of the days when he, himself, played in "the show." (For this reason, Disneyland will ALWAYS trump Disneyworld for me. It is a family thing, near and dear to my heart.) Here we are on such a road trip, I was less than a year old:

look at that 59 cent gas price!
Grandpa built the house my father grew up in. More accurately, he built it with the help of friends and his sons. Their home, for as long as I could remember, was white with a green trim. BRIGHT green trim. All around the home were trees planted by my father. He had a green thumb. Also, they had several rose bushes and a fig tree out back. Out back, Grandpa had a shed that he used as a work area. It was an original man cave. I don't remember EVER going in there. I do remember him encouraging us to play on the swing set in the backyard, which was also painted in the familiar green to match the trim. He also didn't mind when I made a makeshift swing that hung off of Grandma's drying line. Grandma told me of all of the parties they had at their home. I can tell you about the nooks and crannies around their house and how it was the best place for my imagination. I can tell you that I felt safe there, no matter how very different the climate in their neighborhood changed.

I grew up being afraid of my grandfather. I don't know why. I was an extremely shy and curious child. I also took things literally. When my parents told me to not misbehave on our visits, I believed them. I also believed that my grandparents were wealthy beyond measure. They had lamps dripping with glass beads that I thought were diamonds. They also had a chandelier dripping with similar gems. To me, they were larger than life. Grandpa seemed unapproachable to me. He spoke very little to me. When he did speak, in broken sentences, he said things to me like, "Food is good always." Which was a response to my not wanting to eat my vegetables or whatever else I was not enthusiastic to eat.

My grandparents were great travelers and they loved to dance. Grandma told me of a trip they once took where a dance troupe was performing. The music was on, so Grandpa whisked up Grandma and began to tear up the floor. The ENTIRE floor was cleared and the performers stopped to watch them. I believe this. Their dancing captivated room of people. I've often thought, it wasn't fair for them to dance at other people's weddings because there was no possible way for the bride and groom to look that good...but maybe someday. At my Quinceanera, I had the honor of dancing with my grandfather. I was so nervous!! I was not a very good partner dancer. Here, I was going to have the honor of a dance with him. I hoped I didn't screw it up. As he held me in his arms, I apologized to him for my lack in experience. The only man I'd danced with was my father and he was the only one I was able to trust. He just grinned at me like it was a non-challenge. He whirled me around that dance floor guiding me me along and lo' and behold, I was actually graceful. That whole night I discovered a dancing grace within me, passed down from generation to generation. 10 years ago, at their 50th wedding anniversary, Glen Miller's In the Mood was on (their song), and he and Grandma cut a rug and tore up the dance floor.
See the guayabera? My grandmother made my dress.
My first year of college, I dated a boy that spoke mostly Spanish. Granted, it wasn't the same dialect I was used to, but it was still Spanish. My confidence in speaking it grew exponentially. My grandfather and I had some of the best conversations as a result. He told me that what mattered most in life was family. No matter the trials and tribulations that we went through, our family would always be there. And then he looked me in the eye and paid me one of the best compliments of my life. "Bianca, you are like your father. You are smart, curious, and a bit stubborn. Not as stubborn as he was." I was and remain humbled.

The Labor day after Don and I were married, we made the trip out to visit my grandparents. I wanted them to know Don. Health reasons prevented them from attending the wedding, so this was a great opportunity for us to share some dedicated time. Some how, Don and he managed to communicate. They dove head first into a fast friendship over Grandma's fiery salsa. I acted as an intermittent mediator, with topics ranging from when to best plant trees, mulch, electricity work, tile/grout work, and so many other things. We took them out to a steak dinner. When we left, Grandpa had gifted us with a few of his old guayabera's and his old clay water pitcher. He told me it was perfect for filling with water and keeping cool on a hot day. and then he leaned in and told me that it would keep my tequila nice and cool if I wanted that too, after all, according to him, "A bit of tequila keeps the doctor away. It keeps you strong and healthy." Obviously, because he lived to 85! (wink)

grandpa 7

Grandpa loved Bruce Lee movies, my grandmother's cooking, spicy foods, steaks, a great beer, a crisp guayabera, his family, reading the paper, and doing puzzles. When I think of him, I will remember him putting beans on his pizza. Shuffling through the house in leather slippers and robe. Combing is tuft of hair atop his head. His smile. His hands. Sitting at the kitchen reading his Bible. Praying over us when we would depart our visit, then pressing his hand on our forehead, giving us our blessing. Whistling to get my grandmother's attention. Dancing or relaxing, while listening to music. So many, many things. I'm so very blessed to have shared in his life.

grandpamemory
Doing his puzzles

Today, we take Grandpa to his final resting place. He's gone home to Jesus and is now dancing in heaven,waiting for us to join him. Please keep us in your prayers as we mourn this great man. Thank you for all of the outpouring of love and support we have received so far.


3 comments:

Melissa G said...

You had me bawling the entire time. I'm so sorry for your family's loss and I'm so grateful that you shared your memories with us. Hugs :)

E said...

So sorry to hear about your grandfather. I hope the ceremony today went well.

Angi said...

Reading this I could see grandpa doing everything you just mentioned. I still can smell his cologne and remember his hands the most. That is the memory that will remain with me and dancing with him. He was a GREAT dance partner. Thanks for writing just a great tribute! Love you cuz!

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