I remember spending a lot of time at my grandparents home. As a matter of fact, I was at their home just about every day. My dad would go to his parents’ home for coffee every afternoon. It was after I arrived home from school. Sometimes I would walk to my grandparents to meet my dad there or I would ride with him in his car. It was a great experience for me.
My grandfather, Dionicio Juan Gorena, was a great man. He stood at 5’6″ tall. As a boy, I thought of my grandfather as a giant–and that he was. I remember his hands. He had thick fingers and his hands were somewhat calloused from working outside. He had so many tools in his garage. While he was out there, I would go and fiddle through his tools and his shed that was so full of garden supplies and garden tools. I was fascinated with all of the things that he knew to do. He had a belly; not big, but he had one. His arms were stout. For his age he was one of the strongest men I had ever known. He could do just about anything that he set his mind to do. My grandfather had an orange Chevrolet pickup with a white top.
During the summer I would go with him to Primera Iglesia Bautista de Brownsville and work in the yard with him. It would be so hot working in that yard and I was always wanting to take a break and rest. I would claim thirst for the reason I needed my break. My grandfather, in all of his wisdom, would cut a piece of cactus, skin it, and give it to me to suck on and eat so I would be hydrated. I hated the taste of cactus. We used to eat it mixed with ground beef as well for tacos back at my grandparents’ home. My grandfather would work hard on that yard. I remember that one year we planted corn in the flower beds. Grandpa was questioned about this and he retorted, “Well, I can plant flowers that we can smell or I can I plant something that will feed one or more of our church members who have need. What would you rather me plant?” Those who complained about the corn eventually enjoyed eating it once it was harvested.
My grandfather loved my grandmother. Fidela was one of the most lovely of ladies. She was simple. She was courteous. She was kind. She was loving to my grandfather and with whomever she came into contact–at least this is what I remember of her. She would take a pot and fill it with water and put coffee grounds in the bottom of it. All day that coffee would sit on the stove and people would just go and grab a cup of coffee out of that pot. There was always food. When I would arrive and say hello to my grandmother, she would always ask, “What would you like to eat? You want some beans? You want a tortilla? You want soup? You want a banana? Do you want milk? Do you want coffee? Do you want water? Tell me what you want and I will get it for you.” Without fail, whether I was hungry or not, I always had a snack that my grandmother provided for me.
Anytime I or one of my siblings was sick, my mother and father would take us to my grandparents house. In their living room, with whomever was present, they would circle around us, hold hands, and they would begin to pray for healing. It was an amazing adventure. My grandfather would assign someone to pray. Then, without warning, everyone that was in the circle would begin to pray out loud when the designee began to pray. As a child I was trying to hear everyone. There I was in the middle of a cacophony of words in Tex-Mex. Some praying in English, some praying in Spanish, and some switching from Spanish to English in mid-sentence. What a sight! But after prayer, within a matter of minutes to a matter of hours, healing took place.
While at church, my grandparents always sat in the front of the worship center. They would be on the first or second row. During worship in music, I would watch my grandparents. Although there were plenty of hymn books for each to have their own, my grandparents always shared one book. My grandmother was always on the right side of my grandfather. They would hold the hymn book together as they sang and my grandfather always had his right arm around my grandmother’s back. When we were not singing he always had my grandmother’s hand. My grandfather joined the choir at one point when my dad was singing. Whatever part my dad sang is the part that my grandfather would sing. One day someone asked my grandfather, “Dionicio, what part do you sing in the choir?” He answered, “I sing fish!” “What? What do you mean you sing ‘fish’?” My grandfather retorted, “I sing bass!”
Back at my grandparents’ home, I remember sitting and listening to my grandfather and my dad talking. It was mostly in Spanish. My grandfather was teaching my dad the Scriptures–the Bible. Day after day, my grandfather would teach him. Day after day, my dad just sat and listened. Although I did not know Spanish as well as I should have, I did understand some of what my grandfather was teaching my dad. Later during the evening hours, my dad would have me come and sit with him and he would teach me what my grandfather had taught him that day. From one dad to another to a son, it was an amazing life.
I remember when my grandmother passed away in 1988. When I saw my grandfather at the funeral home, he was standing right by her casket. He did not move from there. It took me about an hour to gain enough courage to see my grandmother in the casket. She looked as beautiful as ever. There my grandfather stood and hugged me. His strength did not seem to fade as evidenced in his hug. He asked, “Isn’t your grandmother beautiful?” I said, “Yes, grandpa, very beautiful.” He bent down and kissed her never shedding a tear. Then he said something to me that I shall never forget. He said, “She is more beautiful today than she has ever been.” I pondered on what he said. She was deceased, how could she be more beautiful? I asked him the question and he said, “Because God delights in the death of his saints, she is with him in a brand new body and has no more pain and no more tears.” I stood there with him and cried while he comforted me. It should have been the other way around.
My grandfather lived for another ten years without my grandmother. I remember visiting with him and I stayed in his home. He told me to sleep in his room. He had the hospital bed that my grandmother used while ill. For some reason, I have always found hospital beds to be the most comfortable–I have no idea why. It was early in the morning, about three o’clock in the morning and I heard my grandfather stirring. I rolled over and I saw him sitting in a chair on my grandmother’s side of the bed. He was patting the bed and he was speaking to her and there I saw something I had never seen before. I saw and heard my grandfather crying. I lay in bed and simply reached out to him touching his shoulder. He turned to me and told me how much he missed my grandmother. Trying to stay strong for him, I just sat up and cried with him. After a few minutes, he went to his side of his bed and went to sleep. I rolled over and just thought of the love that was between them.
My grandfather died in 1998. It was June of that year. When I arrived at the funeral home, I saw my dad standing at my grandfather’s casket much like my grandfather did for my grandmother. Again, it took me close to an hour to work up the courage to see him lying there. My dad came to the back of the funeral home and helped usher me there to see him. He teared as I began to cry and put his arm around me. He encouraged me to remember what my grandfather and grandmother taught me through the years. What a blessing to remember many of the things they showed me and told me. My dad, even to this day, continues to teach me what his dad, my grandpa, taught and showed him.
I miss my grandparents. They taught me much about life and about living. They were people of faith. They were people who were concerned with their family. They were people who loved others. They were people who lived. Although they are gone now, I know and believe that they are still living. They taught me that through faith in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, I could live life and have it for eternity. They taught me that the faith that I place in Jesus Christ will give me eternal, abundant and free eternal life. He is the One who gave them life and taught them how to live.
Today I am remembering them as I often think of them. Today my twin sister, Denise, is with them in heaven. I can imagine that they are near a kitchen table and my grandmother is asking, “Do you want something to eat? Do you want a tortilla? Do you want some beans? Do you want some milk? Do you want a banana?” I can see Denise nodding her head “no” and smiling and then eating whatever it is that grandma is giving her. My grandfather no doubt is sitting there with Denise and he’s cracking a joke or moving his ears up and down–hands-free! Other family members are hanging out there as well eating pan dulce or tamales or rice and beans.
And I am sure there is plenty of coffee flowing.
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Heaven: “in THY presence is fullness of joy, at THY right hand there are pleasures forevermore”! Ps.16:11.