As I looked out the window of my dad’s two door, antique green, 1971 Camaro, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My abuelo’s (grandfather) old, wooden porch no longer looked dull and colorless with gray paint chipping off of it.
One word came to mind – RAINBOW!
The railings were yellow and blue, the stairs were alternating in colors – red, white, and green.
Back then, I was seven years old, and even though the porch didn’t depict an accurate rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple – it was nonetheless a rainbow to me.
The porch looked like a child had gotten into some paint, and had a field day with it. It had no boring adult paint rules. No colors matched, instead they swirled in and out of their neighboring colors. They melted together under the sun’s heat.
My grandfather’s run down, big house looked like a circus. Before today, he portrayed himself to be a stern, serious person, but the “rainbow porch” now made him the circus’ ringleader.
“Dad, isn’t it just so … Magical!”
As I approached the colorful porch I felt like I was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. But instead of following the yellow brick road, I had a rainbow porch leading me to a day of pure enjoyment with my cousins. We loved playing hide-n-seek in my grandfather’s house.
The house was located in the Back of The Yards neighborhood of Chicago, on 900 W. Garfield Blvd. It was a couple of blocks away from Visitation Church.
Here is some demographic history:
In the late 1800s, the neighborhood consisted of middle class Irish immigrants, many of whom were workers of the then famous Chicago stockyards. This remained for many decades, but as the stockyards slowly began to dwindle in size and strength, the neighborhood saw major changes.
In the 1950s-60s there was a shift. Large amounts of minority families- mainly African-American and Latino began flooding into the area. A small community of Puerto Ricans settled and took root in this area- including my parent’s families. They mainly settled along Garfield Blvd. Visitation church served as an anchor, for this small, but tight knit group.
Then in the 80’s there was yet again another shift, and the area became predominately African American.
My abuelo’s owned a row house (one house in a series of houses that are joined by common sidewalls). It was narrow, but exceptionally long. The first floor had one large room leading to the next large room – a caterpillar chain of rooms – living room, study, dining room, and kitchen.
The house had six bedrooms, four of which where located on the second floor. It also had a full sized basement and an attic dormer.
The attic dormer is where my abuela stayed when she was visiting from Puerto Rico. It by far was the nicest room in the house. She was the queen and that was her tower. It looked like a little cozy cottage, straight out of a fairy tale.
Getting back to the “rainbow” porch.
After recently reminiscing with my dad about the “rainbow” porch, we came to the conclusion that my grandfather had legitimate reasons for painting the porch with different paint colors.
He couldn’t afford to buy paint.
He and his friends were garbage collectors. He had a collection of used and practically empty paint buckets. Instead of having a porch with peeling paint, he painted it with what he had.
Growing up, his father- my great-grandfather – had a barbershop in Puerto Rico. Inside the barbershop the walls were splashed with different colors of paint.
Over the years, when I reminisce about my abuelo’s house the “rainbow porch” always comes to mind. It signified a moment of happiness in my life.
But today, I know that the rainbow porch was a mirage.
The outside of the house was colorful, vibrant, and happy but if the walls could talk they would tell a different story.
Even though I love and respect my grandfather, I now see things differently.
My abuelo was an alcoholic.
Like most addicts, I am sure his past hurts and issues were partly to blame.
Before I came into the picture, there was time in my abuelo’s life that he did more harm than good. He hurt the people he loved the most – his wife and children. Some of these hurts are still very much alive today, and some of it has been forgiven.
I know my father has forgiven him. And I thank my father for showing me what mercy and grace looks like. Though he had a tough upbringing, he tends to focus on the happy moments. He also gave me a childhood unlike the one he was given. I am blessed with many joyful and memorable moments to reflect on!
A few years after the porch incident, my abuelo won the lottery- $3.5 million. It is important to note here, that the money is gone.
This “Rags to Riches” story is for another time…
Writing about my grandfather wasn’t easy. I know I had to tread lightly, and speak the truth with love.
My grandfather’s porch may have looked like a rainbow, but his heart was dark, sad, and scary. He had a lot of unresolved issues, and no amount of vibrant and colorful paint could hide that.
“… The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”