My Grandfather was a gypsy. Well, not really, he was actually a welder, born in Mexico City, though he would spend his life denying it due to the bigotry and racism he encountered being from “across the border” and living in Los Angeles in the 40’s. He told everyone he was born in Spain, that he was European, and he married the girl who was first generation American, her family European immigrants, coming from Denmark and Germany. My Grandfather had an infectious laugh, a love of big band music and mariachis, and of the long and winding road. He would drive anywhere, all you had to say is “let’s go”, and he managed to make any holiday an excuse to pack up the van, or later the RV, and discover someplace new.
My Grandmother was more of a home and hearth type. She did not enjoy life on the road, though she always came along for the ride, often sitting in the farthest back space, complaining about the twists and turns, the heights on travels that took us up mountains and cliff sides, and often threatening that she just wanted to be let out to go back home. I often wonder now if she protested too much, if there was something in the bickering and exchange of heated words between them, while he persisted in the drive, that she enjoyed. Maybe I just want to believe that because it is so hard to fathom why she would not have loved every minute of it; I know I did.
My Grandfather let me ride shotgun when my Grandmother did not want the seat. He gave me the job of navigator, of opening the complicated folds of the map that was far too big for my small arms to outstretch completely. The job included being an eagle eye to all things interesting, to point out any roadside attractions as they may be deemed, and to point out the best places to stop for a meal, or a soft serve ice cream cone. I quickly learned that the smaller, unassuming diners were usually the best choice, and that a story can be crafted out of just about anything you set your mind on. We used to be the only ones still awake and talking, as we rolled through the desert in the middle of the night, building on stories one or the other would start, inspired from a lone, misshapen cactus, or a counter clerk with an unusual laugh who would ring up a full tank of gas and glass bottles of Coca Cola.
My Grandfather taught me the love of the road and of telling stories. In many ways he helped shape the writer in me, just s much as he helped shape my gypsy side. I know when my restlessness hits the first thing I long for is to just hit the road and go. Sometimes it is a weakness of mine, a lack of desire to stay in one place for too long, my commitment issues to anything and anyone beyond my children. At times, though, I think it is one of my finest strengths, as it has made me flexible, and capable to start over, and to know that starting over is always an option. It has saved my life before in more ways than I care to express today. I know that I see the world differently because of him, too. That I see possibilities and histories and tales to tell in everyone I come across, and I often burn to write them all down. I know that my gypsy soul and the writer that I am is more than part due to my Grandfather, and I wish sometimes that I could travel back in time and tell him how much he meant to me, and how much he has made me the woman that I am – a writer, a traveler, a gypsy, a survivor, and a lover of change, and of the road itself.
Graceland :: Charlie Sexton