21 April 2008

A memory of my grandfather

When I was little, my grandfather owned an heladería. There is really no direct translation for it in English. It was part bar (only beer, rum and aguardiénte, our national drink), part café, part ice cream parlor. It also doubled as the post office and the principal newspaper distribution center of the town.
The heladería was located in the very center of the town, diagonally from the municipal offices and the police station. It once had a proper name, but that had long been forgotten. Everyone simply knew it as my grandfather's corner, La Esquína de Don Gonzálo.
A little after dusk, the two maids/employees would start cleaning up and shutting everything down. They would shut all but one of the 4 large doors that opened onto the sidewalk. Every night my grandfather would pull up a chair and lean it up against the door frame of the fourth door. He would smoke a cigar every night. Just one. Just his time to unwind after the day. I was the only one allowed to interrupt his little ritual.
On this particular night, I was hanging on his knee, happily chattering away, very likely spun out on the many sugary treats he could never refuse me. He leaned back, balancing the chair on two of its legs, the red plastic straining under his weight. The smell of sweet heavy smoke mingled with dust and baking concrete.
Power outages were fairly common there in those days. The rainy season brought almost nightly outages as power lines got blown down by the tropical gales. Power stations were also popular targets for the local guerilla groups. It was a beautifully clear night, so it must have been the latter.
Everything seems to stop for a few minutes when the power goes out, as if the earth's orbit has ground to a halt. And then it leaps back into action--- dogs barking in the distance, people shuffling for flashlights and candles.
I remember looking up in those moments, those seconds in between as the earth stood poised, and seeing a swath of white across the pitch black night.
I asked him what it was and he told me about the la Via Láctea, the Milky Way.
I remember feeling so insignificantly small and yet so loved and safe; sitting with my grandfather, looking at the stars, listening to the soft swish swish of the maids mopping by candle light...

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Over the past several days, I have been participating in a relational art project an acquaintance of mine is doing for art school. Each day she gives assignments; three questions or activities for participants to complete.
To date, I've had to name my worst, most embarrassing habit (dating musicians) and list my least favorite word/s to hear/say (hearing people say "irregardless", "supposibly", and "my bad" makes me cringe). I've researched the origin of my surname, and picked what song I'd like played at my funeral. We were also asked to write a memory of somebody we have lost. I chose a memory of my grandfather and wrote the little vignette above.


All Content Copyright Juliana Tobón, 2008. All Rights Reserved.



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