My paternal grandfather passed away when I was two and a half, but I still remember him. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear his voice. He spoke in polite Spanish with everyone, the kind of Spanish one uses to show respect. He used it with me also.
He wasn’t warm and fuzzy like my dad, but he wasn’t gruff or cold either though he was known to be stern. Not with me.
Others, even his grown children, hesitated before approaching him casually, but I was too young to be afraid of him and would crawl onto his lap. I would ask him questions and he would smile and answer me.
We lived nearby and would go visit him and Mama Abuela every weekend. He had property out in the country where he raised livestock but lived in town and kept one or two horses, maybe one cow in the corral next to his house. I would walk alongside him whenever he went out in the yard to check on them.
I remember owning a pair of red cowboy boots which he thought were pretty amazing. I had on a little sun dress the day we walked out to the corral. He placed a booted foot on the lower rung of the fence. I did too, except I had to hike my leg a little higher than his. I remember I looked up when I heard him laugh, but he just looked away, a smile on his face, and pretended he was studying the horse.
One visit he didn’t come out to greet us. I checked through the whole house and couldn’t find him, so I asked where he was. My dad’s oldest sister burst out in tears and scolded me for my insolence. Another went and told my dad that “la niña” had asked for Papa Abuelo.
Dad had to be the one to tell me that my grandfather had a weak heart and had died.
I remember missing him, but I didn’t cry. When the grownups all went into the living room to greet visitors, I went back into his bedroom. I climbed onto his high bed and lay down on his pillow, but my aunt found me and scolded me again.
I went outside to the corral. It was empty. No horses. No cows. I stood where we had been not so long ago and I hiked my sandaled foot onto the bottom rung wishing he were there to laugh at me.
Family does not believe that I remember something that happened when I was so young, but I prove it to them. I describe the house, the corral, my grandfather. He is more than a memory; he lives inside me. There are times when I am around my own children and grandchildren and I respond to them with the same love and respect and in the same manner as he treated me. I believe the him in me will carry forward forever. Maybe this is what we mean when we say that our loved ones live on in us.
I know that would make him smile.