Manuel Quijada is my grandfather. He is also one of my favorite people. Although he only speaks very broken English and I, broken Spanish, we have never had much trouble communicating. We sit, we drink coffee, and we watch old westerns together. I make him breakfast when I visit and he always tells me what English words he’s learned since I last saw him. We have an easy relationship, he asks me about work and if I’ve had enough to eat. He tells me stories I’ve heard hundreds of times about the life he’s lived. But what concerns me the most are the stories he doesn’t tell me.
I have been told he was very different from the man I have grown up with, the man I was raised by. With this project I want to capture the man I know, the man that I understand, but also acknowledge that there was a person who I can barely fathom. There was a time when my grandfather was not the kind and gentle man who would make me laugh and pour me juice twice because he drank it the first time. Seeing the kindness and gentleness he has shown to me, to all of his grandchildren, it is a hard pill to swallow, being told he was not always this way.
Although, I can sometimes see flashes of his anger, I still can’t imagine the rage he would need to do some of the things I was told he had done. No, not the man who used to dance with me and who dances with my baby cousins now. Not the man who puts us all in fits of laughter with his silly antics. But just as I know he is kind, there are moments when he isn’t speaking, when the house is quiet and no one is there, I wonder if he remembers the things he’s done, where he’s retreated so far into himself he begins to have flashes of memories he’d rather forget. I think of his dementia, how he asks me what day it is over and over. How he forgets he just told me a story just fifteen minutes ago and begins to tell me again. How can this storyteller, this kind and easy entity be so different in his youth?