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My Grandfather Moises
Moises wore his first pair of shoes at eighteen. They were brown leather, hand-me-downs from his uncle. He lived with aunt and uncle in a worn-down shack by the ocean. The walls were rickety and threatened to fall down at any moment. The air was heavy and pungent. It smelled like fish and salt. The weather was mostly dismal, cloudy and cold.
Moises did not enjoy living with his aunt and uncle but he had little choice. Two of his sisters had already died of hunger. His uncle was unkind to him. When he was drunk he yelled at Moises. In the evening he yelled at Moises for not selling enough newspapers. In the morning he yelled at Moises for being too loud. But Moises was being fed and that was enough.
Moises turned the shoes over in his hands. The holes were numerous. The original finish was long gone. He resented his uncle for giving him the most beaten down shoes in his closet. He resented his father for not proving enough food for the family. He resented the fascist pig who forced his people into poverty. He resented the god who could allow such a man to rule.
“Thank you so much. You are too generous,” Moises said smiling up.
“The world was not kind to my father. He was the only boy in his family of seven. Two of his sisters died before adulthood. He was always hungry,” My father explains to me. “His father was a fisherman. Not a very good one. What profits he made were spent at the local bar.”
Moises nods his head in agreement. His beard is grey and patchy. He has deep lines carved in his forehead like only an old man can have. He doesn’t understand the words my dad is saying but he can feel the pain in the story. He agrees with the emotion.
We are sitting around the wooden table in our kitchen. On the table are the remnants of boiled codfish, potatoes and kale. I push back from the table to make room for my expanded stomach. My grandfather is mopping up the olive oil and vinegar on his plate with crusty bread. My dad is speaking slowly and thoughtfully. We are all in the lull after a big meal.
“Why didn’t his dad do another job then?” I ask.
“There was no other work at this time. No food either. Salazar sent the money to the war in Angola.”
I have heard the stories about Salazar, the dictator who ruled Portugal for most of the 20th Century. He was cast from the same mold as Franco, Musselini and Hitler. In fact, he sent food to the Germans during the Second World War.
“Because all the resources were diverted elsewhere poverty and hunger were widespread. The people were not educated well enough. Repression of knowledge is crucial to any dictatorship.” My father says this with the authority of the professor that he is, taking grandiose pauses frequently. He looks off during these silences, contemplating his next thought. That looks reveals the sadness that comes with the storytelling. My father lived through the dictatorship also. “Moises’ father was a mean man. He chastised Moises for his sickly thin stature. He humiliated him and forbade him from going to school. Moises secretly carried water for the local teacher in exchange for reading lessons. To this day he has no formal education past fourth grade.”
I ponder this while observing my grandfather. He has a knack for building things. He built me a truck made of wood with batteries and a remote to move it for my seventh birthday. In his small condo he installed a system where stepping on the rug near the front door would trigger the radio so it would seem like people were home to intruders. His mind is brilliant, his projects are never ending. His work ethic is astounding. A hobby of his is collecting cans. At just 5 cents each he collected enough to pay for a car! That’s somewhere in the area of 300,000 cans. With his mind I bet he could have become a world famous engineer. Something is wrong with the world when my grandfather worked a lousy salary as a janitor for 17 years and Paris Hilton reigned in 7 million last year.
Moises was sick and tired of his job as a bus driver. He was overworked trying to organize a union for his fellow drivers. The sun was pouring in through the windshield, coating his face in sweat. At four in the afternoon everyone was returning from work. The streets were a mess. The crescendo of horns was becoming intolerably loud. The bus smelled like urine and was unbearably hot on that August day; the last thing he needed was a taxi driver to slow him down.
“Hey! Son of a b----! You wanna move out of the middle of the f---ing road?” Moises hollered. His diction had changed since he moved to the big city. He was no longer the timid, underfed country boy. “Pull your car over if you want to chat a--hole.”
The taxi driver and Moises exchanged vulgarities and middle fingers before the imminent happened. Moises jerked open the door and jumped out the bus. The taxi driver did the same. They ceremoniously circled each other in the busy street edging closer and closer, all the while shouting at one another. Their faces were so close Moises could smell the alcohol on the taxi driver’s breath. The taxi driver was getting on his last nerve. It was time to act.
Moises grabbed hold the taxi driver’s tie and reared back his fist. In one quick motion he pulled back on the tie and swung forward with his fist. The only problem was that the taxi driver was wearing a clip-on tie that came off easily. Moises missed his face by a solid foot.
Now, when Moises tells this story his face lights up in a contagious chuckle. I am a step removed from the actual retelling because my father has to translate but I pay more attention to my grandfather’s expression then my dad’s translation. The most important part isn’t the exact words my father uses to translate, it’s the emotion the story evokes. In an evening I get a glimpse into the life of my grandfather, from an undernourished fisherman’s son to a proud grandfather.
My grandfather, Moises is suffering from pancreatic cancer. I would expect a man in his condition, at his age to be depressed and lethargic. The opposite could not be truer. When I return home from school he is in the backyard trimming the bushes or planting trees. He always greets me with a bear hug. When we watch Portugal play on the TV he jumps and shouts when Ronaldo scores. His energy and positivity is sensational. If everybody in the world could even approach his friendliness and passion for life the world would be a better place.