My great-grandfather was a very wise man. He was my step great-grandfather, but I didn’t know it until I was an adult, nor did it ever matter. My great grandmother was a widow raising three children when she met him in Los Angeles. He worked as a secretary in a large steel company until his retirement, when he went to work for General Electric as a security guard.
He bought a modest two- bedroom house in South Central Los Angeles. That house was a gathering place, and often my home when I was growing up. I called him Nino, but his name was Joseph. He had a huge backyard where he grew fruit trees and vegetables. He always said that you should grow things you can eat. He always made sure there was plenty to eat. For lunch he would holler in Spanish, “Ninos, venga!” Lunch was an array of fruit from the yard and tortillas that my great grandmother made.
Nino came from Cuba and was diligent about reading. He told me that Reader’s Digest helped him learn English. School and church were important to him. He told me that reading books is the key to life. When there was a Father-Daughter fashion show at my school I asked him to take me. He also took me to Dodger games and explained the game to me. He said that a fan is always faithful.
When I got married, I asked him to walk me down the aisle. He was the one constant in my life. Nino would tell me little bits of advice, like, “Brush your hair 100 strokes every day to have it grow long and shiny.” I think that’s why I still have long hair.
I never heard him raise his voice. When he was displeased, he’d shake his head and walk away.
When I got diagnosed with a very serious illness he gave me a piece of paper with the words, “Take up thy bed and walk.” I think of his words when it gets hard to get out of bed.
I named my son after Nino in hopes that my son would be as kind and loving as my Nino. He is.