Saturday, January 21, 2012

Story: Teodoro Torres

This morning I want to do something a little different.  I would like to tell you guys a bit of a story, a story about a man called Teodoro Torres, my Grandpa.

On April 22nd 1917 Teodoro is born in Puerto Rico.  His parents were Salome Torres and Monica Claudio.  Right away you kind of have to think of all the things this man was alive for.  For starters he was born the same year the US decided to join World War I.  There is a lot of things that happened after that but honestly I have no idea how they impacted him or even if they did.  Grandpa didn't live in the cities where people were talking about all those things, he was living in San Lorenzo where people mostly just did plantation.  A lot of Sugar Cane and a lot of Tobacco.

At a very early age my Grandfather didn't have much of a choice in life but to start working the fields as well.  They didn't have much money, they lived in straw houses with dirt floors, but that was just normal life back then.  He started working the sugar cane plantations since the age of 12 if I remember correctly.

If we fast forward to 1953 we get to see my dad be born, but lets go forward a bit more to 1978 when I was born and lets move another 5 years to 1983 when I was 5.  At this point my Grandpa had an actual cement home and my dad, mom, brother, sister and I lived  in a wooden home built on top of Grandpas.  As a kid there is nothing that I used to love more than hanging out with Grandpa.  I remember when I didn't have to go to school I would wake up at 6AM and go look out the window to see if he was already out back.  You see even when he was 66 and very much retired he still had a bit of a plantation out back.  He didn't have much land, just about 1/4 of an acre that the Government had given him when they got rid of all the Sugar plantation there and decided to give the land to the people that worked the fields.  But in that little bit of land he had all kinds of fruits and vegetables growing.  Every single morning he was out there extremely early just taking care of his crops.

I would run downstairs as soon as I saw him and start following him around.  He would always be telling me all these stories and I used to love listening to him.  I didn't follow most of the stories, he used words I couldn't understand and he jumped around a lot but I always tried to understand.

If there was anything I could get from his stories is what a truly amazing man this was.  He was always trying to help people out.  There were many times when people would just take advantage of him, but it never kept him from trying to help people.  He would give up his food if someone else needed it.  And the fact that even after he was retired he still took my half brother Angel as his son says a lot about him and my grandma.  I wish I had known Grandma better, but back then I was busy trying to avoid her because she always wanted to kiss and hug me.  She was certainly a good woman, but back then I simply found Grandpa to be more interesting I guess.  Grandma then passed away in 1987 if I remember correctly.  It was very sad, Grandpa loved Grandma a lot.  I don't recall the relationship between Grandpa and I changing after her passing, but I'm sure he was hurt.

October 28th 1989 my family decides to move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  So I had to leave Grandpa behind.  Before I left however I had him help me plant a Mango seed in his yard.  So I left hoping that my little Mango seed would turn into something.  I chose mango because it's the one thing he didn't seem to have, I always had to steal them from the lady next door when I wanted one.

At first, living in Milwaukee was difficult, I was very homesick and the winter wasn't helping.  I used to write letters to Grandpa, letters he would have someone else read to him and have them reply since he didn't know how to read or write.  Sadly the years passed and the letters stopped, I was a teen and I found other things more interesting.  In 1994 we visited Puerto Rico again but I didn't really get to spend that much time with Grandpa.  My mango tree was growing, but it was still rather small.

The years kept passing by and my relationship with Grandpa was basically seeing him at special family meetings when he'd come visit from Puerto Rico.  I always did miss talking to him and hearing his stories, but I simply never got any time to spend with him anymore.  When he'd come visit from Puerto Rico he'd always stay with our family in Chicago so I hardly got to see him.

Oddly enough I started thinking even more about him after 2007 during my first trip to Mexico.  It was a work related trip, we were going to do inventory at some of the plants we subcontract there.  One of these plants is located in a small town where you still see a lot of people living in straw homes with dirt floors.  I remembered how Grandpa would tell me about some of the jobs he had and how they would always notice when the owners or just the Americans would come by and how everyone would start working faster.  Two Generations later here I was being the "American".  Difference is when I would see these people working I didn't see machines, I saw a young Grandpa working his ass off trying to support his family.

One of the stories about Grandpa that I love is the first time he came to work in the US, when he got paid he went to the manager because he thought there was a mistake because he got paid a lot of money.  He was just working there, he had no idea how much he was making, he expected to make a little bit more than what he made in Puerto Rico not so much more.  I'm sure compared to now a days it was nothing but back then it was impressive apparently.

From 1994 it wasn't until 2011 that I got a chance to visit Puerto Rico again.  For the longest time I just could never afford it and after 2007 I was going to Mexico every year and that kind of satisfied my need for a vacation.  But in 2011 an opportunity came up to go to Puerto Rico and I took it.  I was going to go with my Brother Jose and his son Diego.  The trip was for mid August.

August 1st, 2011 my beautiful Mother Margarita Reyes passed away.  I have not written a story about her because honestly my heart and brain still can't accept the fact that she's gone.  Even writing this couple of sentences make me tear up.

We decided to still go to Puerto Rico in mid August, sadly instead of just a vacation our plans turned more into visiting some of her family to make sure they are doing ok.  We still got to stay at Grandpas and I still tried to take advantage of every moment I spent with him.  I sat there once again listening to him tell me stories.  However now he was 94 years old and it was more difficult to follow him because he was jumping all over time lines.  But just being there with him hearing him felt so good.

Then he surprised me, in one of the stories he told me about he mentioned how the mango tree I had planted had dried up while he was on vacation in Chicago.  That made me a bit sad but at the same time I was super surprised that he even remembered that tree! During our few days in Puerto Rico it was kinda rainy and then Hurricane Irene decided to come down for a visit also.  But I knew I couldn't leave without checking the spot where I had planted that Mango tree.  So I ventured into the back yard.  Grandpa still tried to keep this area clean but at 94 years old there was only so much he could do so the thing was literally a jungle now.  But I found the area where I planted that tree.  Indeed there was a tree there that had been cut, probably because it dried up but there were some new life growing on it.  But something didn't make sense,the branch on this tree was very small, if there is new life growing on it now that means it could not have been cut up 18 years ago when it was about this thick.  Then I looked at this much bigger tree that stands next to it.  It was a big Mango tree!  There was no Mango tree there when I had left.

I left Puerto Rico with many ideas.  Ideas of coming back more often and ideas of things that I should try doing to make life there easier for grandpa.  There were a lot of things that needed fixing in the house and there were a lot of things that could be used.  Sadly with all the holidays coming up, trying to get anything started was going to have to wait till after.

January 20th 2012 Teodoro Torres dies in a Hospital bed in Puerto Rico.  I am sad that I didn't get to do all the things I wanted to do for him.  But I thank God that he gave me the chance to go to Puerto Rico in August and spend some time with him.  I've always had this idea that ever since Grandma died, Grandpa has just kind of been waiting for the moment when he passes as well in order to be with her again.  When I went to Puerto Rico I noticed Grandpa still has pictures of her hanging around.  He never tried to make a new life with anyone.  I know that now they are together and that he's extremely happy.

I can't say that I'm crying for the loss because honestly when someone is past 90 years old you just have to start expecting it.  To not expect it is just foolish.  I'm sad, but I'm also happy for him.  He died in a hospital bed and he had his daughter Leony taking care of him and he had plenty of people here in the US and Puerto Rico asking about how he was doing.  That's so much better than so many people.  There are too many people who die alone forgotten in retirement homes.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Grandpa is the person I want to be like the most.  Never really wanted trouble with anyone and always tried to help people.  For that God blessed him with a long life.  But that life was starting to become a burden, having to hear of so many people younger than you passing away can not be easy, it's just not normal.

Javier Torres


  1. Very well written my friend... I enjoyed every line.

  2. Good post Javier. Those experiences and memories make life worth living.

  3. My great grandfather also his son my grandfather Pedro Torres worked a plantation hatillo or hato rey i cant remember but then ended up in barrio palma in a small humble wooden home. I know where u r. I am now doing geneology research and only wish I was more involved before they died.

    1. There is always so much you wish you would have done before they pass, but good thing is you can get a lot done now so that future generations aren't as lost as ours. :)

      I noticed on your blog you posted a name Jose Antonio Torres Vasquez, my great grandpa's name was Salome Torres Vasquez :)