One day I hope to get back to blogging regularly, if nothing else to clear out some of the ideas in my head for new ones. But it’s low on the priority list when you’re a stay-at-home parent and also work full-time.
Until then, though, I wanted to share what I said about my grandfather and share some pictures. I combed through thousands of them, to the point where the slideshow at his wake, at its fastest, would still take thirty-four minutes to watch.
My grandfather Bobo was a good man. I remember we were walking through a city once, when I was a teenager, and he dug into his pockets every time someone asked him for change or he saw someone in need. Already being a bit cynical, I asked, “How do you know those people really need the money? How do you know they’re not lying?”
My grandfather looked at me and said, “I don’t. But I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
That was my grandfather. A man who, as a police officer, saw the worst in some people . . . but still thought the best of others.
|Bobo raised money with the Salvation Army to send kids to summer camp. This little girl was one of the recipients.|
My grandfather also never met a stranger. A breakfast at Bella’s wasn’t complete without at least two people stopping by our table to say hello and start what they thought would be a quick hello-how-are-you-goodbye chat. If you were going to my grandparents’ house, you would have to sit down and prepare yourself for the stories, pictures, and maps—it was common for my grandfather to bring out the map of Spain every time a newcomer came over to the house, showing that person where he was from and regaling him or her in stories: about his town; how it took three times to successfully escape Franco’s Spain; how, at ten years old, he came over on the boat and thought he’d get turned away at Ellis Island because he had been so seasick on the journey over; how he didn’t know a lick of English when he got here; how he worked hard and was able to go back to his childhood home in Spain just about every summer since 1980 . . . and it went on and on. My grandfather lived the American dream, and he loved telling people about it . . . sometimes even inviting those people to stay for dinner if he wasn’t finished telling his stories—just ask the Verizon serviceman.
The fact that my grandfather didn’t know English when he arrived in New York was something he was very proud of. I remember when I told my grandfather that I had made it to the National Honor Society. He was so proud. And I couldn’t understand why—to me, the National Honor Society didn’t seem like that big of a deal: I was rewarded for good grades—something that came easily to me in high school—and most of my friends were in it. But to my grandfather, the National Honor Society meant something far greater. You see, because he came here not knowing English, he sat in his classroom and had to learn on the go, not only English but also the material the rest of his classmates were learning. So to my grandfather, it didn’t come easily, and he worked hard, to learn English and to also reach academic success. Being in the National Honor Society meant so much to him that, more than fifty years after he was inducted into the NHS, he still had his pin, which he kept in my grandmother’s jewelry box in their bedroom and which he showed me with pride.
|Bobo's high school graduation photo|
Whether it was in Spanish or English, one thing was clear: my grandfather loved to talk. To my grandfather, the video camcorder was probably the greatest invention, because he was able to take a “photo” but narrate everything he was seeing. And I mean everything. There are hours of footage of his kids and grandkids standing and waving and probably rolling our eyes as he narrated the perfect shot . . . even if that meant standing in the middle of a street in some European city, with cars passing by. And while it was frustrating and a running joke then, it will be nice to continue to hear his voice now.
|A riveting video of putt-putt|
My grandfather’s being bilingual certainly helped him during his career. I’d be doing a disservice to him if I didn’t tell one of his favorite stories, one everyone in this room has probably heard at least two or three times. My grandfather and his partner picked up some guys who were committing a burglary, and since they didn’t know that my grandfather was bilingual, they were speaking in the back of the police car in Spanish about how it was okay because the cops knew about this job . . . but not the others. I can only imagine the grin on my grandfather’s face when he spoke back to them in Spanish . . . because it was probably the same grin he got when he told us that story, every single time. Most of you are probably picturing it now. He was proud that he was the first Spanish-speaking police officer in Tarrytown and of his more than forty years on the force; he would have continued being a police officer if it hadn’t been for the mandatory retirement age.
For a man who spent a good majority of his years working two jobs, it wasn’t easy for him to transition to a life of leisure. But there was something he did have that he loved to occupy his time with: his seven grandkids. I’ll be thirty-four in a couple of months, and the youngest of us will be twenty-six. For the seven of us to say we still had a grandfather for that long is something we’re very thankful for. Because it was one thing to have a grandfather as we became adults, but it was something completely different to have a relationship with a grandfather as an adult. And we all did: many of us traveled with our grandparents in one way or another, some of us—myself included—even moved into their house with them as we were embarking on our adult journeys. My grandfather and grandmother visited those of us who moved away; came to sporting events, recitals, and graduations; and had active roles in our lives. And even though these last five years weren’t the best or the strongest for my grandfather, he gained a new role: that of great-grandfather to his six great-grandchildren. The fact that my two kids got to know Bobo and call him by that name means a lot to me. And I can’t wait to tell them more about him and his legacy as they get older. Because, like my grandfather, I can talk all day about something I’m passionate about. There’s far more that I could say about Bobo, though perhaps you know him by another name: Pipa, Dad, Uncle Bart, Bart, Barney, Baltasar. A stranger to no one; a friend to everyone . . . except to maybe those he locked up.
So even though I could go on and on telling you about my grandfather, I’ll bring this to a close. My grandfather was awesome. He was man who wore a uniform and a badge for more than forty years but let us paint his nails and apply makeup to his face . . . and take photographic evidence of the moment. He was a man who locked up bad guys but also let us “lock him up” . . . using packing tape, sticky side down on his hairy arms, because we didn’t want him to leave our house. He was a man who let me take him to my kindergarten class as my show-and-tell object . . . and of course brought DARE pencils with him. He was a man who memorized license plates for the fun of it and had to stop at multiple rest stops to collect yet another map of the same state. He was a man who loved his Lincolns. He was a man who ordered the same thing at Bella’s every single time he went. He was a man who loved to tell stories. An incredibly hard worker. A loving family man. A good man. The best man.
|I remembered putting makeup on him once, but clearly it happened on at least two separate occasions (and doesn't he look thrilled about it? Ha). |
The things Bobo would let us do to him . . . and the things he would do for us.
I don’t have to tell you any of this. Because this is a room of people who knew and loved my grandfather. We have sat at the table with him and have heard his stories . . . and we’ll sit around our tables and tell his stories for years to come. And he’ll be there, not physically, but he’ll always be there. With his Pepsi—light on the ice—his butter crumb from the Pastry Chef, and that knowing smile: because whether it’s the “Oh, hello, Alice” story, or the one about the baboon at the barbecue, or the one about the two guys who didn’t know he spoke Spanish—he’ll be sitting there with that grin because he knows: this story—his story—it's a good one. Just like him.
|Bobo loved fixing things and could often be found at his workbench in his basement.|
|Bobo always came across as straitlaced: he followed the rules; he didn't drink; he didn't curse. He said he didn't like dancing . . . but if it meant he could be a ham, he was all about it.|
|Nicole and I only remember Bobo with gray or white hair . . . turns out he went gray a lot earlier than we realized.|
|Nicole and I talked about how much we wished we had his knee-slapping laugh recorded.|
|Me and the Bobo man|
|My grandparents had been married for sixty-three years when my grandmother passed in 2015. Here they are on their wedding day.|
|Working in the orange and lemon trees at his childhood house in Spain|
|Sometimes it's hard to see your grandparents as anything but your grandparents . . . but they sure were a foxy couple.|
|I'm just really glad my grandpa never got skin cancer. I don't think that man ever used sunscreen. And we found way too many photos of him pulling down his swim trunks to show off his tan lines.|