M.E. Irizarry-Gelpí

Physics impostor. Mathematics interloper. Husband. Father.

In Memoriam: J. Melvin Irizarry Tomei

My grandfather, Jesús Melvin Irizarry Tomei, passed away on March 9 2021 due to complications after a fall. He lived in Puerto Rico all his life, in the town of Lajas. Due to work and the pandemic, I could not join my family for the funeral service.

In this post I would like to gather some memories and stories with my grandfather. I loved him deeply and greatly miss him.

One of the earliest memories of Papa Melvin is the time he took me to the doctor in San Germán. I was spending time with my grandparents in Lajas and must have gotten a stomach thing or a bad cold. We drove in his old Chevy pick-up, with the loud horn and the cool ornament on the hood. After the doctor's visit, he took me to the drugstore to get medicine and also bought me a toy with tiny fishes with magnets that you could fish with a tiny hook. It was such a great moment that I still remember that day vividly.

Papa Melvin was very crafty at home. He had a lot of tools and equipment for building and doing yard work. For one of my birthdays I got a "kid" version of a tool set, with a small hammer, a saw and a bunch of other tools. These were real tools, not toys! I was the first male grandchild and the third overall.

He also build a small play house for my cousins and me and my siblings. This play house had a porch, three windows, and a door. It was the real deal. We spent many days playing there.

Papa Melvin always had pets. The earliest I remember was a dog called Perlita, a goat called Popeye, a young cow, and a goose called Peyo. Overtime those animals passed away, but more geese came, along with ducks and other dogs. Once, Polo the boxer got loose and went to "play" with the goose. Polo was kinda biting the goose on the neck and everyone was freaking out. We all thought that Polo was going to kill the goose. It was a very intense and stressful situation. My brother was screaming in panic. Papa was very calmed and he looked me in the eye and said "Grab Polo!". I was a bit worried that Polo was going to bite me, but he did not. Papa picked up the goose and lovingly held it on his arms like a baby. The goose was unharmed.

Whenever there was road work or utility work, Papa Melvin would grab a chair and seat nearby to watch the workers. He was very curious and was always looking to learn new tricks. To this day, I always notice roadwork and if I can, I stop to watch too.

Papa Melvin had many sayings and jokes. For incredible things, we would say "Que barbaridad más barbara" which roughly translates to "what a barbarous barbarity", but barbarity here is more like awesome and not bad. He was always mindful about electricity and water spending, and whenever anyone would leave lights on he would say "Mira, el contador cuenta y el bolsillo tiembla!" which translates to "the meter is counting and my pocket is trembling". Whenever there was a loud noise that startled him, he would exclaim "Jesús Santa Barbara!".

Papa Melvin loved recliners and hammocks. Indeed, everyone at home did. So whenever the recliner or hammock was occupied he would come by and say "A soltar pulgas a otro lado!" which translates to "take your fleas somewhere else". I guess that one was kinda mean, but he never meant it as an insult.

I remember visiting relatives around town with him, including tia Rate and tio Amador.

Papa Melvin planted a sapling in the backyard, near the play house, many years ago. Today that sapling has become a full tree. Time passes!

Papa Melvin told many stories about his father, Santos. A particular one involves a late night outing of Santos and the farm hand, Toyo. They suspected that somebody was stealing stuff and they went out to investigate. Santos thought that the "thieves" were nearby so he asked Toyo to scream and pretend that he was getting hurt, I guess as some sort of deterrent. Toyo was not sure what to do exactly, so Santos, as the story goes, pulled out his shotgun and pointed it at Toyo, who let out enough screams to deter anyone who was listening. Poor Toyo!

My grandfather was usually wearing white undershirts (a habit that I have adopted) and shorts. He would talk about his "Nixon" pants, which was a pun, because Nixon sounds like "ni son", as in "ni son cortos, ni son largos", meaning neither short nor long.

Papa Melvin listened to the radio for a big chunk of the day. We both adopted a saying of one of the announcers "Con moderación!" (with moderation) and always said that before eating dessert.

One of the few times that he got upset with me, I remember he called me a "huevón". I remember feeling hurt by this, because he would never yell at anyone (maybe rarely to Mama Alice).

I once crashed his car inside the garage at his home. This happened soon after I got my licence. I put the car on Drive instead of Reverse. I am glad nobody got hurt! But I broke a pipe column and he never forgot about it.

Papa Melvin was always telling jokes and playing riddles. Near the end of the year, he would ask people if we were going to "the funeral". If you asked him who died, he would scream "Año viejo!" which translates to Father Time. One of his riddles, which probably is a bit offensive, was "What did the mute person say to the deaf person? That a blind person was staring at them..." It is bad, but I am guilty of laughing and groaning from that one. Indeed, Papa Melvin suffered from temporary blindness due to a work accident, and also suffered from hearing loss.

Papa Melvin was smart and wise. I think he finished high school. But he was incredible at real life problem solving. I went to college and graduate school and still could not outsmart him. Papa Melvin loved watching Discovery Channel and History Channel. He loved big machinery and was always impressed by the small things in life too.

Another of his sayings was "Mas lento que un suero de brea" which translates to "Slower than a tar serum". This one applied to helpers that were not that helpful.

We used to take occasional trips to the town junkyard. Such a mundane activity was always such an intriguing adventure with Papa Melvin.

In One Hundred Years of Solitude there is a scene at the beginning where one of the characters is remembering seeing ice from the first time. Papa Melvin took me to the ice factory a few times to get huge blocks of ice to cool drinks at the epiphany parties he used to do every year. When I was old enough, I appointed myself to the bar and help serve drinks to the guests.

When I was a college student, I started doing my chores for him. I took him to a few doctor appointments in Mayaguez. He would afterward take me out for lunch at a nearby restaurant. He always read the newspaper and once asked me to get him a weed wacker on sale at Sears. I did, and that weed wacker lasted for many years afterwards. He would tell me every time he used it and how good it was working.

Papa Melvin helped me and my siblings fix my old home in Peñuelas to put it in good shape for selling. He told me what to buy from the hardware store and what to do.

Papa Melvin taught my other siblings how to drive. I sadly do not remember if he did long lessons with me, but I am sure he did short informal practice drives with me around Lajas.

During one of my last trips, Papa Melvin was obsessed with some seeds that a relative had given him. He was planning and preparing to plant them in my father's lot. I was skeptical that it was going to work and that Papa was going to get any produce out of it. Why was I thinking this? Why was I doubting? You can imagine what happened. The next time I came to Puerto Rico, the garden had become a forest of gandules trees, full of pods ready to pick. Papa Melvin watched proudly how his grandchildren, and great grandchildren, picked pods for almost an hour. Literally, the fruits of his labor.

I know that Papa loved me greatly. I will always miss him a lot. Gracias mil!