This upcoming Memorial Day as I remember Florentino Mendez, my mind goes back to when I was a little girl sitting at my grandpa’s feet.
I sat Indian-style and watched him scatter newspapers on the floor, laying out the shoes in a neat row and placing an old wooden box beside them. Inside the box, he kept brushes, old socks, rags, and cans of black polish.
“Do you know what I’m getting ready to do, young lady?” Grandpa asked.
“You gonna spit and shine shoes,” I squealed.
With one hand in a shoe and the other in an old sock, Grandpa rubbed the wax back and forth, polishing the leather. I never tired of following his hands, moving like flashes of lightning.
He always rose before dawn and believed in the saying, “The early bird catches the worm.” He prided himself on discipline, stemming from his years in the military. On a weekly basis, he cleaned our shoes, the way he said he had learned in the Army.
He walked me to school and back, logging in about a mile and a half each way. Rain or shine, I counted on his presence waiting for me after class.
I loved him dearly. Always clean-shaven, he smelled like Mennen Skin Bracer and Vitalis. He was average in stature, had fair skin, gray hair, and quick eyes with a broad smile and a jolly laugh that made his belly jiggle.
Years later as an adult, I would never forget how an unsettling aura of death struck me when I first walked into the hospital room. I shuddered and gingerly approached the form buried under layers of covers. The head of his bed was raised, the profile barely recognizable to me.
A pale, thin face moved; eyes hardly opened. Those eyes, once sharp, were feeble and dull. Yellow paper skin hung loosely from bones. Large purple veins ran up and down his hands like a roadmap. Those hands, once strong and beefy, quick and nimble, felt cold, boney, and fragile. The same hands once steady in his military days, guided, and comforted me in my youth, were the same ones I tenderly held now.
I struggled to keep my composure. I knew he was weary. To see him lose his dignity pained me, lying there so helpless, a prisoner in his own body.
My 19-year-old grandpa, Florentino Mendez – 1916
Lost in my thoughts, my eyes roamed and paused on Grandpa’s wristwatch on the bedside table.
Time. I picked up the watch and held it. Tick-tock. Precious time. Tick-tock. Running out. As Grandpa dozed off, I sat at his bedside, praying for God to hush the raging of my heart.
Two months after his eighty-fourth birthday, my beloved grandpa sadly passed away.
Today, I remember Florentino Mendez: veteran, brother, husband, father, grandpa, uncle, and friend – he was a great man – I honor his life.
© M.A. Perez 2017, All Rights Reserved