In 1929, my grandfather was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He was known by so many names over the course of his life: Jose, Quique, Jimmy, Pop, Papa... His life was so complicated; full of loss and sorrow yet blessed...even when he didn't recognize it. I was his only grandchild for 23 years. We didn't speak much for the last few years of his life because I couldn't reconcile how I felt about who he was and choices he made. Now that I am almost 40 I wish I could sit with him one more time and tell him that I forgive him because I just never understood why he was so very very sad. He died in 2009 with 3 children, 4 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. It wasn't until that last year that he really realized what he had created by giving life - a family.
At the age of 7, Quique lost his brother to a rusty nail in the campo. Not long after, he lost his mother to breast cancer. He was 14. He was shuffled around ended up with an aunt in Las Marias. Eventually summoned to Manhattan at the age of 15 by his father who had left to find work in el norte. He left his beloved orphaned siblings behind. In New York he washed dishes in Mid-town and became Jimmy with his light skin and acquired his soft Spanish New York accent. He met and married my grandmother, baptized my mother and was shipped off to fight a war in Korea by the age of 21. Always a stranger in a new land. Upon his return from the war, his love for rum among other things had already gripped him...it wrapped his sorrow of years of loss. After 1964, he only saw his daughters when they came to visit for the summer from their new home in Puerto Rico. That lasted until I was born. My mother, newly married, moved back to the States, not far from New York. I grew up loving to walk around New York with my Papa. He would tease me, tell stories and jokes and make me laugh. He loved to eat in Little Italy and stare at the skyline of New York. He spoke too loudly and used words that made me furious. He detested just about everyone but loved a party. Nights at his house always ended with music and dancing and his laments. Eventually, as my eyes drooped, the rum would take over his stories and I could feel the sadness creep into my dreams with the melancholy in his voice. He'd play his favorite song over and over on the record player as I fell asleep...
"But it's a rainy night in Georgia, baby, it's a rainy night in Georgia I
Feel it's rainin' all over the world, kinda lonely now And it's rainin' all over the World
Oh, have you ever been lonely, people?
And you feel that it was rainin' all over this man's world"