Smoked Rice

Pictured: My grandfather Jose with me and sister Mariel, late 1980s.

One of the most powerful life lessons I’ve learned came from the kitchen, and my grandfather quite accidentally taught it.

It must have been 1988 or 1989. I was in high school then, and came back home daily from school to an empty condo in Mexico City. My mom worked until the evening and I  had to cook for myself every day, even though I didn’t know how to.

On one occasion my grandfather, Jose, came over to wait for my dad. They were going to a doctor’s appointment. I was happy that he was there. He was a pleasing old man, gentle, warm, and always in a good mood.

In my eagerness to please him, I offered him some rice that I was about to cook. He said that he was hungry too and that he would eat with me. Being only about sixteen and having cooked rice only once or twice, I proceeded to attempt steaming it on the stove. I must have applied too much heat and not enough water, because after a few minutes the whole condo was filled with smoke. My rice was a smelly mess of hard-burned grains on the bottom  and  half-cooked grains on the top.

My main concern was my grandfather. Perhaps now he would be upset or make fun of me and laugh at my ineptitude. But instead he said, “It’s OK Mario, hurry up and clean it up. I won’t tell your father!”
In  just a few words he showed me his love and acceptance. He did not judge  me or criticize me. He was not concerned about his food. He was more concerned about me not getting in trouble. And that selflessness has stayed with me ever since. He passed away a decade ago at the age of 91, yet I always remember with love and admiration. With that kind of acceptance I was able to grow up with confidence. I could screw up and still be OK, after all.

11 thoughts on “Smoked Rice

  1. What a great grandpa you had, Mario! Everyone ought to be so blessed. Most everyone I know has had less-than-perfect perfects, but outstanding grandparents. I say, most people suck as parents, but they excel as grandparents. 🙂

    I can see why you'd cherish your grandfather. He embodied kindness, genuine cheerfulness and unconditional love. Every child needs to bask in such love for some time. They'll never forget the experience.


  2. I, was blessed to be raised by such supportive and loving parents, Mario. They were much like your grandfather.

    Others have not been so fortunate, but still have found this kind of love through Church, friends and elsewhere.

    One of the great things about the internet is finding friends you CHOOSE to hang out with, and developing great relationships that enhance your life.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse of you grandfather… wonderful person!

  3. What a nice story about your grandfather and you. I have 4 grandchildren and I can tell you that it is very easy to not only spoil them a bit extra, but to do silly thing with them and not tell their parents.

    Of course, i did that with my own kids too, and we never told their Mom, so maybe I have some practice. 🙂

  4. I try my best to be that way with my son. If he spills something, it is just koolaid or in most cases milk or water. It is not hurting anyone. In your case, burning rice is not hurting anyone.

    Your abuelo is an awesome example of a great generation. My grandfather is one that is kind, but not afraid to share his thoughts, and he always opens the door for women and children (southern hospitality.)

    It is good that even though your abuelo has passed away that you remember all of his kindess.

  5. Thanks David. I hadn't thought of it but it's true. If the environment is not positive at home it must be found elsewhere. I guess that's why they call them support; they are invaluable for so many people.

  6. Mario,

    Thanks for sharing that story and the implications of it. I agree that unconditional acceptance and love has a great impact on the development of self-esteem and attitude toward people. We learn tolerance and love by example — if we are so fortunate as you. I was also blessed with kind and loving parents and grandparents.

    Now I am a grandparent, and I try to treat my grandchildren that way. Your post is valuable in reminding us about what really matters. I think a parent of small children would be wise to NOT have carpets and furniture that seem so clean and new that they may seem more valuable than the child's self-esteem.

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