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A Visit with Grandma

This past weekend, the family packed up and headed South. First to San Marcos, then onward to see grandma in Seguin. It had been nearly a year since we’d made the trip. Last time, the baby was just 2.

One thing I knew…we were going to feast on some awesome authentic Mexican food. My family has been in the restaurant business forever…Tijerina’s Tortilla Factory, proudly selling the best barbacoa and corn tortillas in the state…quite possibly the U.S. The tamales are awesome…carnitas make my mouth water just thinking about them, and the menudo is to die for. We’ve also sold masa for decades…fresh ground, on the spot. You can even request your own consistency. Anyway, you get the picture…authentic…to the core…that’s my family.

When we arrived in Seguin, my Grandmother, Alvina Tijerina, was sitting at the table…waiting for us. We wondered how Olivia (our daughter) was going to warm up to her great grandmother…but within a few minutes, “Livie” was running around, showing off her new dance routines and singing Elvis songs.

While she was playing, I decided to get into a deep conversation with my grandmother, who’s 84 years old and sharp as a tack. We talked about the “old” times…recalling what it was like when everyone was still alive.

Although my grandfather passed several years ago, it seemed like he was sitting right there with us.  My grandmother recounted several memories…talking about our Grandfather, and how great a man he was.  He was 15 when his father died. With a mother and several brothers and sisters in the house, it was up to him to provide for his family. He did what he had to do to survive.

My grandmother was telling me about the 250 man crew he managed in Michigan. He was responsible for transporting them from Texas to Michigan…along with their spouses and children. All together, nearly 500 people. Once they were all in camp, he’d make sure they were all taken care of and had what they needed…then he took care of them for the entire season.  He drove them to town to do laundry, buy groceries and get supplies.  He was the foreman, but treated everyone like family and felt responsible for their well being.

He was a respected man…no doubt about it.

“If you can take that fifty cents and turn it into a dollar, you’ll be a rich man one day,” he would say. Always teaching…always challenging. I was fortunate to have been raised by my grandparents, who ultimately started up three restaurants, bought and sold land and paid for everything in cash.   They instilled values that follow me today and wisdom I call on all the time.

I try to remember his stories…

She also told me about the time my mother was pregnant with my older sister. She wanted to get married. My father, recently drafted and heading to Vietnam, came to my grandfather and asked for permission to marry my mother. Being the wise man my grandfather was, he said, ” If you really love each other, it can wait. You’ve each got a few more months to graduate. After you get your diploma, I’ll drive you to wherever he is and you can be married.”

At a critical moment, he stepped forward as a leader and held my mother accountable for her actions. He knew the importance of education, and all of his children graduated from high school. Some went on to college for a few years, but none finished. My mother eventually became a nurse, which she loves and continues to do till this day.

During our visit, several cousins came in and out of the house. Ages ranged from 3-30. Did any of them have a plan? Were they aware of what’s at stake here in Texas? Is our family prepared to deal with the reality facing our Hispanic community?

We have a community in crisis…highest drop-out rates, highest teen-pregnancy rates…lowest percentage going to college or advanced education.

Everyone’s busy. Busy figuring out how to survive. But if we’re all busy and in a rut, how do we climb out? We must do something different. We all know the saying about insanity…but when will we organize to make a difference? It’s not easy making a difference. It requires sacrifice, self-less actions and hard work. It requires those of us who acknowledge there is a problem, to do something about it.

It becomes our responsibility.

Life’s not easy. My grandmother only has one leg, she carts herself around in her wheelchair, wakes up every morning at 5am and helps next door at the restaurant. She has an incredible attitude and is thankful for every day.

She taught me how to make my first paper airplane out of heavy gauge butcher paper, and she reminds me of who I am and where I come from.  Most importantly…she’s always praying for me.

We should visit our grandparents more, if we’re fortunate enough to still have them…

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