(Photo by simpleinsomnia)
“Can I go with you, Nino?” Dad asked when he was the tender age of five years old. It was the monsoon season in Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico at the time so it was pouring down a heavy rain. Rain that you could feel in your very gut.
“No,” Nino said. “It’s raining too hard.”
Dad called my Great Grandfather Ezekiel (the man I would later come to know as “Tata”), “Nino,” because he was godfather to his brother Corny, the eldest child in the family. Since Corny always called him nino, all of his younger brothers and sisters followed suit. Dad actually thought that nino meant grandfather and not godfather until I corrected him during the interview for this story. He was crushed…
Nino put on his jacket and his trusty hat. Even as a child, Dad knew that Nino was a rather short man with a slight build. Nino had to fight to open the door against the crazy weather as he went to buy pan dulce at 5 a.m. like he always did for the family. When he came back he was soaked to the bone along with the bag that he carried from the bakery. Somehow the bread didn’t get wet because Tata had magical powers!
Dad loved Nino and learned a lot from him. Nino attended mass every morning to get right with God at the beginning of each day. He always included Dad and spoiled him as much as he could despite never having much money.
Nino fought against poverty his entire life. He was fearless in business, willing to try anything and everything to make a buck, but this never translated into success for him. Nino was generous to a fault which is the reason, Dad theorizes, his businesses never turned a profit. Nino would literally give the shirt off of his back if he saw someone on the streets who needed one. I mean he would really come home shirtless to his family which included his daughter Emilia. There were times when his family was very much in danger of going hungry and he would still give to others infuriating his wife, Epifania, to no end.
There is a story from Preciado Family folklore where Nino was talking to some guy who owed him money. They were in their home in Mixtlan back then and this guy was giving him a sob story to explain why he couldn’t pay back the money that he owed him. Nino listened very patiently and with great sympathy for the man. He was buying it all and Epifania knew he was going to let him off the hook despite their family’s desperate need for income. So she took matters into her own hands, left the room for a minute, and came back with a gun.
“You are going to pay us,” she said. “Or you’re not going to leave this house…”
Miraculously, the man was able to pay right then and there. What can I say? Don’t mess with a mom trying to feed her kids…
There is a phrase that Epifania would say in Spanish when she was upset with Nino that Dad can’t quite remember perfectly. Basically, she would say that Nino was light to the world and darkness to his own family. Nino was no saint though.
“What do you know?” Nino would often retort harshly. “You’re a woman. No woman tells me what to do!”
Needless to say their marriage did not last. Dad doesn’t know if they ever officially divorced or not, but they definitely separated which is why Nino moved in with them in Magdalena and she didn’t. Also because no one in the family wanted to get shot…
When the family moved to America, Nino stayed behind with a few of his daughters to take care of the house and run the dwindling ice delivery business in his son-in-law’s place. Isn’t that just Nino’s luck! To take over a business just as it is becoming extinct. As if that wasn’t enough to kill his profits there was also the small problem of Nino being unable to drive.
“Tata never learned how to drive?” I asked Dad when I learned this.
“He invested a lot of money and time into it,” Dad answered. “But he could never quite get the hang of it. He drove a horse and buggy. He knew everything about horses, but he couldn’t figure out cars…”
Nino eventually had to give up on driving the ice delivery truck, most likely because he didn’t want to kill himself or anyone else on the road, and hire someone else to drive it for him. This cost him half his paycheck which just wasn’t enough to get by on. Eventually, Nino decided to give up on yet another business and come out to America to live with the rest of the family which was just fine with Dad. He loved Nino because he was a kind, generous, righteous man. Dad was going to get a lot more of his grandfather than he ever bargained for because eventually they would be sharing a room together, just the two of them. A sixty-year old man and a teen-ager in the same room! What could possibly go wrong?