From Left to Right: Nino (Great Grandpa Ezekiel) with Tino, Rose, and Toby Preciado.
“This is my grandson,” Nino said to el jefe of the celery field that he was working in that summer. “I was wondering if he could work with us?”
“Pues, are you going to take responsibility for him?” el jefe said covering his own butt as any shrewd businessman would.
“Of course,” Nino said.
Cutting celery sounds easy to the uninitiated (like myself), but for my dad at the spry young age of 16 years old it was nearly impossible to keep up with his 66 year old grandfather. In fact, Dad was the slowest one in field. He had no idea why he wasn’t keeping up despite his best efforts. Nino had showed him how to do everything. He showed him which stalks to cut and discard. He showed him how to stack the celery in bundles for the others to load onto the trucks, but Dad just couldn’t keep up with the relentless line of celery cutters that was always 5 to 10 paces ahead of him. Every once in a while, Nino kindly fell back in the line to help his grandson catch-up even though he must have been exhausted himself. He even inspired a few of his kinder co-workers to do the same, but for the entire week Dad could never stay with the line for very long.
Determined to do a good job for the old man, Dad climbed into the army style truck with Nino for his second week of cutting celery. When they got to the field, Dad looked at the celery and could swear that it looked different to him somehow. Now he felt like he could see clearly what he was supposed to prune and what he was supposed to salvage. He grabbed his knife and began cutting and stacking as best as he could. Before he knew it, he was beginning to keep pace with the others. No one needed to help him catch up anymore or babysit him. After a while he even began to pass people up. As the summer progressed he became so fast that his co-workers were beginning to grow suspicious of his work. Nino looked at him and his tiny chest swelled-up with uncontrollable pride for his grandson.
They were all living in the house on West Cedar Street (where Grandpa Next Door still resides), when Nino finally came to America. Eventually, Nino and Dad ended up sharing the bedroom which faced the old lemon tree in the backyard. He was not Nino’s first roommate, but the third. Nino had successfully managed to scare away both Tío Corny and Tío Navi with his…quirks. There was a high price to pay if you wanted to bunk with the old man and apparently Dad’s two brothers would rather sleep in the living room than pay it.
“Where you going, Nino?” Dad asked at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. which was when his grandfather always got up.
“To find you a new grandma…” was Nino’s pat answer as he broke out in his manic, breathy laugh.
If Nino was up at 5 a.m. you were up at 5 a.m. since he felt you were going to be late for school if he didn’t wake you up before the sun. Even if he didn’t purposefully wake you up, his eye-rubbing ritual was loud enough to wake someone who was cryogenically frozen. Nino had huge bags under his eyes that he would rub every morning and they created a noise through the room as if he were trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath themselves were stored. Then he burnt the candle at the other end with the insomnia that he developed from years of Magdalena heat keeping him awake late into the night. At 11 or 12 at night he would just start talking to you if you were rooming with him, even if you were sound asleep. And then, of course, he would end his day just as he had begun it…by repeating his eye-rubbing ritual.
When he did sleep it wasn’t for very long. Everyone suspected that Nino suffered from diabetes, but instead of having a doctor prescribe a treatment for him he created his own. At 2 a.m., he would get up and balance his blood sugar with a piece of fruit. This wouldn’t have been so bad if he still had teeth. The noise of Nino gumming a piece of apple was enough to wake a bear out of hibernation. It was even worse if he selected an orange as his late night snack because then slurping was involved. And we haven’t even covered the man’s farting, yet.
“The noise that came out of this little man when he farted,” Dad said. “You would look at him and wonder how it was possible.”
Nino would rip one and say, “Vuelan pedazos de calzones,” suggesting that his flatulence was strong enough to cause pieces of his underwear to take flight!
How could Dad stand all of this? Who knows? Maybe it was because he was such a heavy sleeper. Maybe it was because Dad has been partially deaf in one ear for most of his life (wow I’ve got to tell that story next!) and so the noises weren’t as loud for him as they were for his brothers. It also could have been because he loved Nino because he was a kind, generous, righteous man who always had time for his grandson. It could have been because his grandfather believed in him even when he was struggling at the job that he had vouched for him to get. It appeared that Dad wasn’t the only one who could put up with the cacophony of Nino’s bodily functions because one day, making good on his promise, he showed up at the house remarried.
“Te dije!” Nino said holding the hand of a woman no one in the family had meet before. “This is your new grandma!”