My grandfather and I like to sit on the patio. When I lived back in Costa Rica, we did so every Sunday. He enjoys reading “La Nación,” a conservative Costa Rican newspaper, while I would take “Revista Dominical,” a weekly supplement about culture.
The silence was serene and every so often we would comment on the news of the week. “They’ve stolen a lot of money,” he would say routinely. I would agree, and the quiet, peaceful, satisfactory reading goes on.
The afternoon’s sun would fall and the wind from outside would progressively chill our faces. Around that time, my grandmother tends to join us outside. She hands my grandfather a sweater, and sits down beside us, contemplative. Looking toward the pool and the large looming wall behind it, where a great backyard used to be.
Fernando Cruz and Ana Rosa Lizano ran into some money troubles back in early years of this century. Those tumultuous times are forgotten now, gossip is no longer whispered in phone conversations between sketchy and irrelevant members of the non-nuclear family. Yet, the large looming wall continues to be a symbol of tougher times, of not getting too decadent with opulence. A remainder of an earlier epoch, of their old Miami apartment, of luxurious Mercedes Benz cars, of buying their own house in the affluent Escazú neighborhood.
But that is too recent when recounting my grandfather’s story. It begins in a small Costa Rican town called Grecia. His mother fathered a lot of children, many whom she abandoned. The fact that his own father didn’t recognize him didn’t help.
As a young boy, many nights were spent sleeping on strangers’ porches. He couldn’t get further than the second grade. He had to work to feed himself. He sold gum on the streets. Every once in a while, one of his uncles acknowledged him, when he was feeling up to it.
I’m convinced my grandfather’s positive attitude towards life was the key to his success. To this day, he looks back on his life with pride. He recalls anecdotes with a sense of nostalgia that I find surreal. “When I was about fifteen, I got a job washing car tires,” he said and continued, “In the old times, people got that service at gas stations. It was like something everybody did. I would throw buckets of water at the ties. I was pretty good! The richest people in the country would come to get their tires washed.”
Later on, my grandfather managed to get a truck driver gig. He did endless commutes around the country, transporting wood. We seldom talk about that time, probably because the sheer monotony of it doesn’t lend itself to much storytelling.
Afterwards, he became friends with the owners FACO, a profitable Costa Rican car agency. They gave him a job not because of his professional background, but because of his stupendous social skills with clients. My grandfather is a charm. He’s funny, he has a great personality, and he drinks. His health doesn’t allow him for more than one occasional whisky now, but before, social drinking was a nightly custom.
Eventually he became one of the company’s main executives. My heart breaks when I think about a boy, from Grecia, all white-skin, blond, and green-eyed. He barely looks Costa Rican. He’s sleeping on a porch. He’s working mundane jobs to survive. He can’t continue his education. At the blink of an eye, the shift of the cosmos, and he’s a car agency executive.
Suddenly, he has enough money to start his own car agency. He creates NASA from scratch, traveling around the world, making deals with Ford. He introduces their brand to Costa Rica. Trips to Tokyo are now customary. My grandmother still conserves a beautiful kimono from that time.
Somewhere along the way, my grandfather met my grandmother. She’s originally from Alajuela. Both of her parents were teachers, and she became an educator herself.
My grandfather arrived very late to his own wedding. Only two people in the world know the story behind it: the friend that drove him to the ceremony and himself. Whenever we arrive at that topic, he whispers to me, “One day, you’ll be the third,” and he continues, “It’s such an incredible story, truly unbelievable. It could be made into a movie.” He has me whining and begging in a second. “But I want to know now,” I say and continue, “You always say the same thing. When will you tell me the story?”
“Someday,” he says.
When I first inquired to my grandmother about it, she shrugged her shoulders. “I almost thought he had left me at the altar,” she said and continued, “He’s always been mischievous. I wouldn’t believe a word about some sort of incredible story.”
“But I do,” I said and continued, “He said it was movie-material.”
“He probably just took too much time getting ready,” she said and continued, “You know your grandfather, when he gets ready, he’s worse than a woman going to a party.”
I can attest to that from personal experience. We are always late to dinners and parties and other events because of his calm approach to time. “We’ll get there, don’t worry about it,” he says. He flashes me the gentlest smile.
My mother says he only shares that look with me. He used to share it with her, but stopped a few decades ago. They drifted apart, but that’s a story for another time.
My grandmother’s screams echo through their home. “Fernando! We should have left thirty minutes ago,” she says. He ignores her when she’s being too pushy.
I spared a glance at my mother, who lights a cigarette, “Oh, Dad, I can’t believe Mom hasn’t get used to him by now,” she says.
My mother says my grandfather used to be very intense. Very angry. He used to be known as Macho Tigre, which translates to blond tiger. I’ve never seen him live up to that nickname.
He doesn’t scream as he used to anymore. At least that’s what my aunt says. My grandmother disagrees. “Your grandfather still conserves that spark,” she says.
My mother says the last time she saw him truly angry was when they had to build the big looming wall. Bills were adding up. My grandfather had to sell his own company: reckless spending of money by someone who recently acquired it. That sort of lifestyle doesn’t last forever.
I think his face carries the remains of a life lived. Each wrinkle is a struggle, a trip, a work, a client, a car, a drink. Many of them are drinks. He gained a lot of money; he lost it. The apartment in Miami is gone, so is the large backyard. Their home property used to be twice its size. Now, the large looming wall bisects it.
My grandmother stares at that wall a lot. My grandfather sits in front of it with sort of easiness I cannot comprehend. It’s very much like his current approach to life.
“I’m happy now,” he says and continues, “I have a beautiful family. Your mother, your aunt, you. Your two little cousins. Your grandmother. I keep my home. You’re getting a great education. I cannot ask for any more.”
I’m humbled by such statements. My eyes get watery, but I don’t want him to notice. Suddenly, he stands up from his chair in the patio. He looks at both my grandmother and me. “Who’s up for a game night?” he asks and continues, “Let’s even bet money…I’m going to go get some quarters.”