The Hats of my Grandfathers

I am not a hat man

I’m not a cap man

I’m not a beanie man

I’m not a doo-rag man

I’ve never liked the idea of shit resting on my head

In that way, I’m very different from my grandfathers

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Are YOU gonna fuck with this guy?

What I remember of my grandpa Paulo, was a kinda strict, skinny, smartass. I remember one time me and my uncle Pepito (my mom’s little brother) were just hanging out at my grandmas house when suddenly my grandpa (my dad’s dad) pulled up in a white pickup and this large, fuck-all doberman hopped the tailgate, hopped my grandma’s chainlink fence while me and Pete (read: Pepito) ran our asses inside. I was too young to remember seeing him at a job but I was told he worked at the animal shelter for a while (thus the appearance of Bubby the doberman). I do remember how my family interacted with him though, particularly my dad and uncles. They all respected my grandfather: my dad would do this thing where he would grab my grandpa’s hand and press it to his forehead. My mom said that it was a sign of respect, but my only interactions with him were when he would (jokingly) call me an “ugly kid” which, to my sensitive ears, pissed me off. But when I needed an extra 15 cents or so, grandpa Paulo was always there to say “que huerco tan féo!” before giving me more than enough change to get what I wanted.

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You fuckin with him too?!

My grandpa Pepe was an interesting man. When I was a kid (and my sis was a baby) we (me, Ana, my mom and Pepito) went to visit him. I must’ve been around 8, Pepito 9. It was the first time I’d been to “showbiz pizza”, which I would figure out later was the equivalent to “Chuck-E-Cheese”. It was a fun time, spent visiting multiple family members, seeing my sister riding a motorcycle with my grandpa, among other memories. I would make another trip out there around the age of 14 by myself and hangout a lot. He had a basement with a pool table and a big stereo system–many nights we’d be down there playing pool with various family members and friends, tejano music blaring. Unfortunately because of work and my grandpa’s legal troubles, the next time I saw my grandpa Pepe was when I was in about 23. My mom and I planned on surprising him at the Villarreal family reunion and to her credit, she didn’t tell anyone. So when I popped up behind a car I walked up to him and grabbed his hand. He looked at me confused until I said, “hey grandpa.” My mom said it was one of the only times she ever saw him cry. The sad part was that he didn’t recognize me because I’d gained so much weight, and had grown my hair really long. After that though, he grabbed me and called me “mijito (my little boy)” over and over. The next few hours consisted of him telling me stories of all the fucked up shit he used to do. We were in the middle of a family reunion and my grandpa, who hadn’t seen me in around 13 years, made me feel like a fucking rock star. I sat with him that day, that week, and just talked, drank, and smoked cigarettes with him.

From what my own father tells me, my grandpa Paulo (paternal grandfather) was a hardass. They (my grandma, dad, aunt’s and uncles) were migrant workers and were expected to be the first in the field and the last to leave. I won’t go into detail there. My maternal grandfather had his own stubbornness too: his daughter left the midwest, met a random curly-haired dude in South Texas, and so on…

Both of my grandfathers are gone now, my grandpa Pepe having passed away from lung cancer this past December and my grandpa Paulo more than a decade earlier. But I still picture them both as very similar people: Pepe as more of a “pachuco/gangster” kinda guy, and Paulo as a streetwise, tough-as-nails kind of bro. No matter what, they both commanded respect and got it. I’ve been thinking a lot about my lineage lately: about how much of who I am is influenced by those before me. About how all of those colorful characters can shape who you become as an adult. The stereotype is that with Mexican and Mexican-American families there’s a lot of machismo with the men, and perhaps there was a little bit of that in ours. But I really don’t think there was a lot of it, and if there was I must’ve been largely shielded from it. What I do know is that these two patriarchs had their own distinct style: they liked to look good, but in very different ways. It’s the kind of thing that you rarely see anymore and that I could only hope to imitate (and never pull off).

They were strong men in a very old school way, in a way that doesn’t really exist anymore. I see aspects of my personality in them: my tendency towards sarcasm is a distinctly Reynoso trait, while my propensity to use colorful language and appear constantly disgruntled is very Villarreal. What tied them together though was a love of cowboy hats. Hats that commanded respect. Hats that said, “when I take this off, it’s your ass!”

I will never be worthy of such hats.