Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer
When it starts feeling crisp outside with a cold snap in the air, I think of the cozy fires Dad will kindle in his woodburning stove. Then my stomach churns, thinking of the ollas of menudo he’ll brew.
When I think of his savory menudo — a stew of tripe, pork, hominy and red chile — my thoughts naturally turn to Grandpa Chico and his so perfectly timed last goodbye … a goodbye I almost missed.
Grandpa Chico always had the biggest bowl of menudo and it’s funny that the last time I saw him, he was planning, or rather cursing, about having to make menudo for his church group. But Grandpa Chico always cursed like a drunken sailor, so there was nothing spectacular about this time — or so I thought.
It seemed like a routine Sunday evening in April of 1997 as my daughter Laura and I loaded our suitcases into the car and hugged our family goodbye. I was anxious to get back to Hobbs so I could rest a little before beginning another hectic workweek at the newspaper. But just as I was about to take off, I heard a “Beep! Beep!”
I saw a Texas license plate and knew it was Grandpa Chico. He had become infamous for his surprise visits. Although he was not doing too good healthwise, he came to see my mom who was recovering from eye surgery. I let out a frustrating sigh as I thought about how we were going to get home late, not realizing how grateful I’d be later.
Grandpa Chico appeared tired and Dad told him and Grandma Chaya to stay the night, but he shook his head. His surprise visits were also known to be short. Grandpa Chico said he had a meeting the next day in Lubbock with his church group, the Guadalupanos, at Our Lady of Grace.
“They probably want me to make menudo for the church jamaica,” Grandpa Chico complained with a few curse words that begin with “ch” in Spanish.
A few days later, as I sat at my desk at the Hobbs Daily News-Sun, Dad called to tell me that Grandpa Chico had suffered a stroke and was unconscious. I started making plans to go see Grandpa Chico in the hospital, but instead, we ended up going to his funeral.
Later that week, as I sat at Grandpa Chico’s rosary, I watched as his fellow Guadalupanos presented Grandma Chaya with his silver Guadalupanos jacket.
“Santos was always willing to help us,” one of the men said. “Anytime we asked him to do something, he never complained.”
In hearing this, I laugh silently inside because I could hear Grandpa Chico as he had cursed earlier that week about having to go make menudo. He complained a lot. (Mom often says I take after him.) Yet he was always there to make his famous menudo.
So when the weather cools down, that means it’s menudo time and we start throwing hints at Dad to make our family’s famous brew. And then I think of Grandpa Chico’s so perfectly timed last goodbye.
At his funeral I replayed his last goodbye in my mind and started picking up little things I hadn’t picked up on earlier because, as I’m ashamed to admit, I was in a hurry. Thank God things happen on his time, not mine.
As they lowered Grandpa Chico’s coffin into the ground, I could feel his last hug, a tight abrazo, and I could hear his last words, “Bye mija!” Not his usual, “I’ll see you later!” or “Come see me!”
It was a simple, yet perfectly timed, “Bye mija!”