Friday, October 4, 2019

Francis Valencia Ortiz

My grandfather is the subject of a piece of flash fiction that I wrote and which now appears in the October edition of Rendez-Vous Magazine. My mother also makes a guest appearance.

Our family called my grandfather Gee-Gee (hard Gs). We tended to adopt pet names for extended family members.

As it says in the story, Frank spent his life in a war with the willows. His ranch located a few miles from up into the cold mountains Santa Fe.

He bought Rancho Pancho in the 1930s when he had a steady job in spite of the depression and the landowner was desperate to sell.

Since he was my grandfather, I only knew him later in his life. He lived to 96, fighting with the willows into his nineties. In his seventies he had more vigor than me or my visiting college friends.

Frank Ortiz showing off an oversized pine-cone. The piñones inside were the size of a thumb. Unfortunately, they didn't taste good.
Frank Ortiz and my sister, Claire at the ranch.
Frank was very influential in my youth. His energy, positive spirit, and hard work inspired me.

I wrote this cowboy poem about him a time back which first appeared in Rope and Wire. It's in my cranky cowboy voice which possesses me from time to time.

The Nod

I know this might just start a fight but I never liked John Wayne.
It wasn't war or politics, if you'll just let me explain:
Now movie stars always are larger than life and taller than time,
With a dimpled smile in Panavision, they trip the light sublime.
They cast shadows out of sunset that stand grander than any man.
But you don't measure a real cowboy by the life he's larger than
Or how he towers above the Alamo like Widmark with his knife.
You see a cowboy, a true cowboy, is the exact same size as life.

Life fits him well, it's a riding glove he's mostly broken in.
Its favors and tangled pains are a tongue he's always spoken in.
And taller than time? Well, sir, the minute-hand lost its fingers
While roping calves. It oughta know, a minute's too long to linger.
He's not so phony as to hawk colog-ne or ever stoop to rave
Undying zeal for some lame smell: he's more "during grizzle" than after-shave.
He's a side of beef left on the grill well after the cookout's done.
A walking wrinkle, all-caked with clay, and baked by too mean a sun.

In Hollywood what they call "Rodeo" is one long bastardly boutique.
A drive you can't rightly drive, a place where oily leather squeaks.
In LA-LA land you can measure a man by the kind of truck he keeps
Out there a broncobuster is an SOB who broke into their Jeeps.
And when they cruise down Sunset their pickups are anything but Chevies.
(I hear they send their stuntmen in when the kissing gets too heavy.)
It’s all those Hollywood lies that have set their souls off-balance.
They all get told "You're beautiful, babe." (Well, maybe not Jack Palance.)

Which brings me to my grandfather (I'm sorry for the delay).
More a rancher than a wrangler, with less cattle than he had hay.
His sunbaked days meant yanking stumps and ditches to be dredged.
He paid his dues, he lost his teeth from a wild recoiling sledge.
He told me, "We're only visiting here as we toil this rocky land.
We're all just migrant workers, and never more than hired hands.
When laborers do their chores, they don't look for people to applaud."
And when I'd done a good day's work, he gave me a gentlemanly nod.

Death will tarry for the stubborn but still eventually it arrives.
When I last saw my grandfather he had just turned ninety-five.
We spoke of football and then he asked as he took me in his eyes
"Will I see you again?" I wished right then, I had a Hollywood lie.
I voiced some words at his service that really weren't inspired
Then I helped carry out the casket of the man I most admired.
So now I tell my tales before the crowds and bow when they applaud
And yet I'd trade their praise for just one more gentlemanly nod.

Here is a photo of my mother at 16 in a classic Latina dress. (In the story she is referred to as "Sister.")

Finally, here is a photo of my mother, later in life. She died in 2014.


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