Friday, December 16, 2011

Grandpa the Bartender

One of the fascinating things about chasing down archived records is to find out what my ancestors did for a living. Anyone who knew Grandpa Louie, knew that he was a proud ironworker. He loved being an ironworker. Two of his sons, my uncles Louie, Jr., and Mike, also worked as ironworkers. My Uncle Ralph also learned the trade. As far as I was concerned, it was a tradition in the Chavez family to work at the power plant near Farmington. When Grandpa Louie spent his late years living with my mom, then at a nursing home in Albuquerque, I remember, hanging alongside pictures and drawings from his great-grandchildren, was a large poster of ironworkers eating lunch on a girder, high up in the skyline.

I never gave any thought to the possibility that Grandpa Louie ever did anything else besides welding – other than his job selling newspapers at Chavez Ravine before Dodgers Stadium was built. My dad found my mom’s birth certificate and high school diploma yesterday, as he looked in the attic for Christmas tree ornaments. My mom passed them along to me because she figured – correctly – that I would want to scan them for my genealogy research. But I didn’t think I would discover anything new in my mom’s own birth certificate. I was wrong.

The birth certificate declared, among other things, that my Grandpa’s occupation in late 1947 was as a bartender. What? It just so happened that I was sipping a martini when I decided to examine the birth certificate. I called my mom, and she said, yes, of course. Grandpa was a bartender back then in a bar in Grants that was owned by a relative whose name she didn’t remember.  I don’t know why it was such a shock. I guess it was a shock that I didn’t know. I remember all of his great stories about working on landmark buildings in Downtown Albuquerque, including the original construction of The Pit. And of course, since I was a news reporter in the 90s, I loved hearing him tell me about selling newspapers in Los Angeles – back when most people actually read newspapers. You’d think, as a bartender, he would have had many more great stories to tell his grandchildren.

Maybe that bartending experience explains my grandpa’s tendency toward saving the good stuff for special occasions, (not sure when that would be – perhaps, his beloved Dodgers winning the World Series), and using the, well, not-so-good stuff for holiday get-togethers. I’ll never forget one holiday as we prepared for other family and friends to arrive at my grandparents’ home in Farmington. For as long as I can remember, my grandpa liked a little glass of whiskey, usually when he was alone or with just one or two of us. He kept his personal stash of liquor in a closet space behind the couch in the den. On that particular day, in what I’m now sure was a tradition of his, he pulled out an empty bottle of Crown Royal whiskey and filled it with some cheap brand of whiskey that he got from Smith’s. Then the imitation Crown Royal was put out for his guests to enjoy before sitting at the table for my grandma’s tamales, pasole and red chile. "They'll never know the difference," he said.

The smile on my Grandpa’s face was priceless. Just doing what any other thrifty bartender might do.

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