Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hawaiian Wedding Song - for Gramp

Today would have been my grandfather's 104th birthday. He died 13 days after his 100th birthday, in Santa Clara, California. More than any song, this one reminds me of Gramp. Here's the thumbnail of his story:

Diego Callejon was born in Estepona, Spain. It's a small town on the Costa del Sol, near Malaga. When he was seven years old, in 1911, he and his family loaded up onto a ship and traveled halfway around the world to their destination - Hawaii. The boat was no pleasure cruise. They traveled in steerage - aka with the cargo and cattle - and dozens of people got sick and died, including Gramp's sister, Mary, who died soon after they arrived in Hawaii.

Why Hawaii? Because Gramp's father, Antonio had some friends and relatives who had gone to Hawaii a couple of years earlier, that's where their new life and his parents' opportunity lay - as farmerworkers at a sugar cane plantation. Child labor laws being nonexistent, Gramp and his siblings went to school a little, and worked in the sugar cane fields a lot, especially after his dad got sick and the company wanted him to work off their debt. In 1917 the family moved again, this time to the San Francisco Bay Area. They were post-WWI migrant workers, handling apricots, asparagus, tomatoes, prunes and other wonders of the "Valley of Heart's Delight."

The rest, as they say, is history, at least in our family.

Those next 85ish years are truly the stuff of the American Dream - from "nothing" with a second grade eduction, to suitor and then husband of Mary Bronk, to business man (via the ranch on Capital Avenue in San Jose that I loved as a kid), to respected member of the community and the school board, to homeowner, and to father, grandfather and great-grandfather who showered all of us with (sometimes tough) love, and secretly pressed $20 bills into our hands, even after we were making plenty of money on our own. He was the real deal, self-made, and a gentleman. When people ask me who in my life I admire, I typically say "my grandpa."

It was a happy coincidence that today I spent two hours once again facilitating a community session for the Washington Area Women's Foundation - and this one was attended mostly by women who have recently come to the United States, just as my Grandpa's family did. Sure, the times are different, they are from Central America rather than Europe, and some of them are documented, some aren't...but at the core these women are no different from my ancestors. They left their home countries to try to forge better lives for their families, and they are struggling to "get ahead" here in the good old U. S. of A. Their courage, determination and faith carries them forward. Just like it did for Jimmy Callejon.

So, why the Hawaiian Wedding Song? Because this is a song I remember from my childhood and early adulthood that will always remind me of my grandparents. My grandfather adored my grandma, and when she died suddenly in 1997 he was heartbroken. I'd say he was heartbroken, in some ways, until the day he died. They loved to dance (especially he did), and I vividly remember them dancing to this song at every chance - including on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1975. On the day of the celebration of their union - their golden anniversary - this elegant picture was taken...Not long before they took to the floor to dance to the Hawaiian Wedding Song.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not being sappy, but Grandpa
Jimmy's story is wonderful to share and incredibly touching, most especially your words and thoughts. I remember both Jimmy & Mary as extremely thoughtful, kind, and elegant people, and a joy to be around! I agree with your Mom that you need to be involved with the Silvera Family History book she has in the works!
Take Care
Cuz Katie