About a month ago, I posted this photograph of my grandpa, Anastacio Taylor on a Facebook group I follow, Forgotten Southern Colorado. I was surprised at all the likes and comments that popped up. Some of the comments were about the car and the buildings in the background, but many were about memories of my grandfather and my aunts and uncles. The photo is still generating comments and distant cousins and old family friends have reached out. I am not sure why I am so surprised. Photographs are powerful catalysts. My grandfather died in 1984, and even though I was only fifteen years old, my memories of him are strong.
My grandfather spent the latter part of life in Antonito, Colorado. Antonito is a blink of a town close to the New Mexican border. I spent many, many weekends of my childhood there. Every couple of weeks, Dad would pack a squeaky styrofoam cooler with sodas and cantelope and head over the “pass” to see his dad. Sometimes we’d all go with him, but sometimes it would just be me. I could’ve been a poster child for daddy’s girl, so if my dad was going somewhere, so was I. It was always pretty much the same trip; we’d leave right after school on Friday. I’d read my library book in the back of the car and we’d stop on the top of Le Veta pass and drink water from the fountain and pull up to grandpa’s before dark set in. Grandpa would always be waiting on his chair on the front porch. As soon as the car turned the corner, he’d be out of his seat and into his one bedroom apartment, to call my aunts and uncles and say, “Felique aqui.” Grandpa didn’t really speak much English. He’d already be done and coming down the sidewalk before we were all out of the car. We all got hugs and kisses and he’d be heading off to Kelloff’s, a block or so away. Kevin and I would usually go with him, happy to be out of the car. He would generally give us each a dollar and insist on buying us candy. We always picked the penny candy, instead of a chocolate bar, because that’s how we were raised. By the time we got back to his place, the apartment would already be filling up with our cousins and aunts and uncles. Grandpa would start the cooking. I don’t know how we all fit into that apartment, sometimes there would be more than twenty people by the time the chili and fried potatoes where on the table. We’d crowd around the table and pile on the couches and chairs. Every surface was stuffed with photographs and rosaries and statues of saints and gifts and souvenirs from everyone’s travels. I always looked for the things we brought grandpa—a silver and abalone trout we got in Mexico, and ship made out of seashells we brought him from California, a blanket that I had helped mom pick out of the Sears Christmas catalog. I have that blanket now. Mom gave it to me when I got my first apartment. It is wrapped in plastic in the garage because I don’t want it covered in dog hair, but I have been thinking about it lately. Maybe I should get it and bring it in the house and use it when I’m up late at night writing my blog, or working on my novel.
A lot of those weekends in Antonito, I’d go off with one of my cousins to play and ride bikes, but sometimes I’d stay at Grandpa’s and go fishing with him and my dad on the Rio Grande. I remember Grandpa telling Kevin and me to watch out for rattlesnakes and watching him kill one with his cane at the river’s edge. Another time, he told my dad and me that he’d just be up the river a bit. It seemed like Dad and I walked for hours to catch up to him. I remember, my dad throwing me up on his shoulders when my legs got tired. When we finally caught up to Grandpa, he was fishing by boulders that had crawdads in the mud. I was terrified of them. I thought they were going to pinch me. Grandpa said they could be eaten and he scooped them up and held them out, so I could see that they weren’t really scary. I don’t remember if we ate the crawdads. If my mom had anything to do with it, we didn’t. She’d cook the fish, the venison, and the rabbit, but she drew the line at somethings. Just because my dad or grandpa or brother could catch it, didn’t mean we were eating it. Mom would also spend those weekends cleaning out Grandpa’s refrigerator. She’d tell him that he was going to poison himself. He’d even try to argue back with her in English. He never won though. We always left the house with his refrigerator gleaming and clear of mold. Grandpa would walk us down to the car and wave until we were around the corner.
As one of many, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I didn’t get a lot of alone time with my Grandpa, but he bought me my first watch. I remember going to K-mart with him. He was all dressed up in his bolo tie, and his church going hat, and his fancy cane, the one with the carvings and colors, and we went to the jewelry counter and I picked out a watch with a red leather strap. At one point my grandfather was sick and he came to stay at our house in Canon City for two months. I have always been an early morning person and so was he. We’d both be up by five. He’d usually sit on the couch with his rosary, or maybe out by the birdbath in the yard and I’d get the morning paper and sit at the dining room table with my yogurt and Ann Landers and the comic strips. We didn’t talk much, but we didn’t need to. We had our morning rituals, but enjoyed each other’s company. It was one of those mornings, that I saw my grandfather’s tattoo in it’s entirety. On his forearm, he had Jesus on the crucifix. My grandpa was a modest man and always had on long sleeved, button up shirts. I’d seen glimpses of the tattoo, if his sleeves were rolled up, and the tattoo fascinated me. One morning, he was rolling up his sleeve at the table, and I asked him if I could see the tattoo. He pushed up his sleeve to his elbow and held out his arm. I knew that faith meant a lot to my Grandpa and that tattoo symbolized his beliefs. It made an impression on me. Grandpa was the real reason I got my first tattoo. I chose an iris, also a symbol of hope and faith.
I am happy that the photograph of my grandpa generated so many memories for others. Those weekends in Antonito shaped my life. I learned about love and laughter and the power of stories around my grandpa’s crowded dining room table. It’s no secret that I’m adopted, but growing up it never mattered. My grandpa, my aunts and uncles, my cousins never treated me as anything but theirs. My family is my family. Everyday, I give thanks that I’m one of the Taylors.