Stories can be lost. Especially stories about our heritage. I wish I had asked my father — before he had his stroke two years ago — more about his parents. Now, many details are missing and gone. And I will never know.
But I have salvaged something. While going through old papers in my father’s office, I found this piece he had written about his father, mi abuelo, my grandfather. I have rewritten some of it, but the message remains the same. Here is that story.
My grandfather was born in Mexico in the late 1800s — and orphaned. When he was five years old, he was adopted by a couple who owned a bakery. They forced him to sell bread on the streets from early morning until late at night. He was told he could only eat one piece for his lunch and the rest he had to sell. If he came home with bread he had not sold, he would be whipped and sent to bed without supper.
With tears in his eyes, he would sit by the street curb, crying and begging people to buy his sweet breads because he knew what would happen if he didn’t.
Fast forward — and much of the story from his childhood until his adulthood is missing — my grandfather came to the United States. He lost two wives to death. My father and his brother were born from my grandfather’s third marriage.
By the age of 40 my grandfather had opened a chain of small grocery stores throughout South Texas, the forerunners of today’s supermarkets. He was a generous man and financially helped at least 500 people throughout that area to start their own small businesses. Perhaps because of his own childhood, he also loved and helped children. For years at Christmas, he gave gifts to the boys and girls in the small town of Donna, Texas.
In 1948 my grandfather was dying of cancer, and my father saw him cry for the first time in his life. “He was crying not because he was slowly dying,” my father wrote, “but because he would no longer able to give the gift of joy to all the children in the town at Christmas.”
When my father was 10 years old, my grandfather told him this:
“If one day when you are grown up and away from home and you feel alone, betrayed, abandoned and forgotten by the whole world, don’t be afraid to cry. Go ahead and let the tears splash on your clothes or on the ground. These will be tears of relief and a new awareness in your life … more importantly, these tears will be from your heart …”
But after my grandfather died, my father didn’t cry. “I just felt my father had lived his life to the fullest and had earned his reward,” my father wrote.
A month after the funeral, my father took my mother — pregnant with me — to her hometown in Tennessee. After a week there, he told my mother he needed to walk and pray. She suggested a hill behind her parents’ home.
“I sat under the shade of a big tree overlooking the beautiful green pastures and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains,” my dad wrote. “Then I began talking to my father. And I really felt he listened and responded. So I cried and cried and cried. And I thanked him for all the lessons he had taught me. I felt free and ready to go back into the world and share everything I learned from him — starting with the great love he had for humanity.”
My grandfather died a few months before I was born. How I wish I had known him. How I wish I had asked dad many questions about him. I know so little.
But this I do know. A legacy of love runs deep through our family’s lineage. It pulses like a heartbeat, borne from an orphaned boy forced to sell breads on the streets of Mexico. A boy who could have taken any road, but through God’s grace was moved to make something of his life and to offer compassion and service to others.
Those many years ago, he told my father this:
“Don’t ever forget, son, that it makes no difference where life or destiny takes you. Always remember that what you do for yourself will die with you. But what you do for others lives on forever.”
My father took those words to heart. Through his inspirational/motivational talks, he helped countless people to grow spiritually, healed others and saved lives. Now, he is no longer able. But what he did for others lives on.
When the time comes for dad to go home to God, I will remember my grandfather’s words. I will cry. My heart will break. And I will pray to carry his legacy of love forward to the world.
Gracias, mi abuelo, Enrique. Gracias, mi padre, Antonio.