I wrote this in 2007 on Facebook. I'll share an improved version here:
The other day I was doing yard work at home - the usual trimming and mowing the house needed.
When I took a little break my mother offered me "pan con frijoles" - French bread and black refried beans. Pan con frijoles is as simple of a meal as you get in my native Guatemala, where I was born and spent the first 11 or so years of my life.
Beans are an important (cheap) part of our diet, not to mention delicious with a little sour cream. Refry them and pair them up with fried plantains and some scrambled eggs and you have the best breakfast on Earth.
But my mom's offering that day reminded me of a person I had not thought about in a long while.
His name was Cirilo. He was old like the mountains. A life of manual labor had taken a toll on him. His dark skin was wrinkly, his walk slow and his upper back arched downwards. He wasn't taller than 5'5. For decades he had worked for my family, coming to our house when we needed little things mended. A cement patch job here. A paint job there. Throughout my childhood I saw him, always working. It took him forever to finish anything.
Every time he came to our house, somehow on cue, around the halfway point of his working day my grandmother would come out and offer him pan con frijoles with a little cup of coffee. He politely would thank my grandmother, then sit and eat silently - a little rest in a working man's life. It was a timed honored tradition. My grandmother always offered Cirilo something. It was the polite thing to do.
For my brothers and I, Cirilo was mythical creature and not in a good way. Our wicked, child minds liked to poke fun at him, behind his back, of course. We'd say he was strong like a superhero and that he came to our house because he was courting grandma. But in reality, he was an old working man, whose body was the only means he could make a living.
A few years after I moved to the United States, Cirilo died. His liver gave out after years of drinking.
The only thing that remains of him in our family is a picture. I'm in the foreground smiling or something. He's in the background, working.