"Be good, do good, live long in peace." --DJ 

My Incredible Tío Genaro
“Yo conozco el Buey Que Faja y La Víbora Que Pica.”
("I know the bull that charges and the snake that bites)
by Don Jibaro

Everyone has an uncle or member of the extended family that stands out from the rest. Whether it’s the “barrigón” bachelor uncle who drinks a lot of beer or the church going purist aunt who doesn’t shave her legs, we all have one. Well, I have one, too! And if you allow me say it, my uncle Genaro was very special. Read on…

The memories of my Uncle Genaro go back to 1956, when I was eight years old living in El Barrio La Cambija in the town of Bayamón. His name was Genaro Reyes Vázquez and he was blind, but he wasn’t always blind. Before suffering glaucoma, the eye disease that blinded him, my uncle was a picturesque man that knew everyone in town and everyone knew him. He never got married. Instead he traveled about the island of Puerto Rico by bus or “pisicorre pública” (sort of station wagon taxi that many people share in one trip). He loved to go to the town’s “plaza” and watch the old timers play dominó… while holding his chin with one hand, elbow with the other hand and muttering “Mmmm” occasionally. He seldom played, but he knew a lot of “tranques” (blocks).

During his short travels, Genaro would come to visit us at La Cambija. He’d have, of course, the usual little bag of “marrallo” candy (coconut nougat) for my youger sisters, Ñeca and Titi and of course, me. He’d exchange quips with my father (who was his younger brother), drink some coffee, have dinner with us and leave… walking to the “parada” (bus stop) where he’d catch the “público” for the next town to visit perhaps another one of his siblings; since they were thirteen in total… all from the Barrio Doña Elena in Comerío, in the central mountains of Puerto Rico!

Tío Genaro eventually became totally blind as the glaucoma spread throughout his eyes. There was, however, an indomitable quality about his spirit that would not let him yield to the detriments of being blind. He enrolled in the School For The Blind in Santurce and learned how to make wicker baskets, brushes and brooms. He learned how to count money and how to use his cane to “sense” his way as he walked around.

Blindness didn’t stop my Tío Genaro from further traveling. He couldn’t SEE where he was going anymore but he always KNEW where he was going… as long as there were “públicos”, of course. He asked for directions, counted steps, city blocks and had an incredible sense of logic that helped him “see” with his ears and his mind.

He liked me… I was his favorite nephew. He often used me as a guide when he wanted to go somewhere far or new that he wasn’t acquainted with. Seeing-eye dogs weren’t popular in our town. Actually, they were rare. So, I had to perform “guide” duty every once in a while. I didn’t like it at first, but Tío began to pay me for my services and buy me “alcapurrias” with “maví” and I was happy.

Years passed by and I grew older and eventually moved out of my father’s house. I did keep in touch and from time to time would ask about Tío Genaro… “Se fué a vivir con Sol…” --my dad would say. He had gone to live with my cousin Sol María in Barrio Caimito of Rio Piedras. Sol Maria was a Deaconess of Templo Cristiano, the local Christian church of the Sector Perez in the Heights of Caimito. She wasn’t a purist and she did shave her legs!

The folks of Caimito were very simple people and now that Genaro was old and blind, traveling as he had done before was definitely out of the question. He fit in with the folks of Caimito just fine. But something happened. Tío Genaro got converted. Not converted like most people often do, but really “born again.” He was a totally a new person… “Born Again of the Holy Ghost and Fire” --he’d say.

Tío Genaro had a “testimony”… that is, something important to share with the rest of the world. He wanted others to know how the Lord Jesus had brought him from “darkness” to “light”… spiritual light. His new mission was to share how deep was the peace that he had found, how great was the burden that had been removed from his existence. The joy of the Lord was overwhelming him.

Some evangelistic radio program host had heard of the powerful testimony that the “Blind Man From Caimito” had, and invited Tío Genaro to share his testimony on radio. Many heard it and soon he was being invited to other local churches to share his powerful testimony. He had a Purpose in Life and was now fulfilling it!

I had moved to Los Angeles, California back in 1976, and was now married with one daughter. My wife Irene and I had also become Christians and we had brought my father from Puerto Rico to live with us in order to take care of him. My dad had become blind with glaucoma but, unlike Tío Genaro, was not willing to embrace his handicap. Instead, he resigned himself to the sedentary life of a shut-in blind person.

"Being blind doesn't mean you're dead."

One summer at the end of the 20th century, (I always wanted to say that! Hee hee!) after we had found a suitable retirement home for my father, we decided to go to Puerto Rico for a short visit. We went by the “old” neighborhood, bought souvenirs and decided to pay Sol María a visit in Caimito. There I saw my Tío Genaro one last time. Of course, he was delighted to learn that my wife and I had accepted the Lord and were living fulfilled Christian lives.

He then asked me about my father, his brother Lino. I told him about Dad’s blindness and his unwillingness to “learn” from it. We both knew that Dad needed the spiritual peace that only Jesus could give him. I pulled out my mini tape recorder and asked Tío to record a message for my Dad in Los Angeles. He spoke with a deep, low voice like those politicians of old times… “Lino, you need Jesus. He’s the only way, the truth and the life, and your only hope for salvation.” Tío Genaro went on to utter some of the most profound and yet simple words to encourage my Dad to accept the Lord’s way in his life.

In a few weeks, when we got back to Los Angeles, I went to see Dad at the Home and took with me the little tape recorder. I played the message. My Dad heard it and I saw a tear coming out of his eye. Tío Genaro’s last sentence on the tape made my heart sink and I was surprised that I didn’t remember him recording it on the tape. “Lino, if we don’t see each other here on Earth, we’ll see each other in Heaven.” Tears also came out my eyes… I believe that at that moment my Dad had allowed the Lord Jesus into his heart. He was never the same after that.

Not too many years later I called Sol Maria from my home and asked her about Tio Genaro… She told me ha had died of a cerebral hemorrhage some time earlier. My heart sank again, but this time it was like a huge rock in a deep lake and I almost choked in tears. The shock lasted me a few moments and I couldn’t stop crying… He was gone! … and I hadn’t known!

I did slowly realize and accepted the fact that Tío Genaro had gone to a better place, a mansion over the hilltop, with streets that are paved with gold where there’s no sorrow and no crying. I was happy for him. I was also happy to know that I will see him someday… and he will also see me now that he is no longer blind. (sigh) He has also seen his brother Lino, my Dad, who had died in 1995.

Yes, I imagine them meeting in heaven:
"Hey Lino, welcome. I have a present for you."
"Hey Genaro, I have a present for you, too."

Then they both looked in their coat pockets, opened their arms, gave each other a salami and laughed.


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