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Remembering Francisco Montenegro Blanco

Oct. 4, 1894 – Dec. 28, 1979

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I never met Francisco Montenegro, but based on the accounts my mom has provided passionately over the years, he must have been a diligent, hardworking and kind man.
Francisco is the grandfather I never met. As a matter of fact, he died before any of my brothers– including me– were born.

Born at the end of the 19th century in Choluteca, Honduras, Francisco spent his life as a cargo signaler, directing his fellow workers where to place supplies on trains or boats. His work with trains is the main reason why my mom, Martha, often whispers “papi” in loving remembrance whenever she hears a train whistle in the distance. In his retirement, Francisco also worked as a carpenter.

Courtesy Martha Montenegro Cristales
Francisco Montenegro Blanco

My grandfather is a descendant of Nicaragua–from his father’s side– and was eventually nationalized in El Salvador, in the area of La Unión, where he lived the majority of his life and raised my mom and her sisters by himself.

My mom describes him as a kind man who barely expressed his love for others with his words. Instead, he demonstrated this affection with action, often giving a knowing expression or performing acts of kindness, such as gifting a toy to my young mom and aunts despite their poor income level or being diligent in his caregiving when they were sick.

He was also the ideal man– an individual who valued work. He was up and about every day at 4am– and pushing his schedule to 5am was his definition of slacking.

Always donning his sombrero and chewing his tobacco during most occasions– with the exception of church service, resting on his hammock or taking pictures– he would start the day with a trip to the La Unión’s market plaza. As he collected as much food as he financially could, my mom was tasked with prepping his coffee. Like most of us, Francisco would get grumpy if it wasn’t ready on time.

Upon returning, food and coffee would be prepared and served to him– he would never eat if it wasn’t given directly to him, even if it was an arms reach away. Breakfast was a mix and match of eggs, beans, tortillas, cheese, pan dulce and coffee.

Although preferring his food served to him, he was no slouch in the kitchen. Grandpa was a skilled hunter, often tracking down garrobos– translated to iguanas– and rabbits. He would often cook up pozole and add different ingredients, such as pig and chicharrones.

However, that trademark kindness Mom often touts about would manifest itself with his relationship with animals.

A young pig that dwelled their El Salvador household and was planned for dinner in the future grew up to adore Francisco. Mom compared the pig to a dog who would love chasing him around and would nestle by his feet. The pig would even snort at anyone who got too close to his beloved owner!

A similar bond formed with a chicken. As was typical, the chicken was introduced into the household as a little baby, planned for Christmas dinner later that year. Much like the pig, this chicken would leap with glee at the sight of my grandpa, who would return to the house from a long day at work. It would flap its wings and throttle full force toward him every time, according to my mom.

Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Pictured is a table display that was at my brother’s wedding in September, when it served as a memorial of loved ones that have passed on. Along with my sister-in-law’s family members and my other grandparents, Francisco Montenegro Blanco is seen at the far right.

The pig would merely snort to intimidate, but this chicken meant business. My mom tells me that this chicken was so jealous for attention, that it would chase down their dog, Juguete– translated to “Toy”– for even sharing the same space.

Francisco Montenegro Blanco

Unfortunately, the time for Christmas arrived. Even though the family grew to love the feisty fowl, dinner had to be served– there was no other source of food. My mom’s aunt, Mercedes Alvarez, nicknamed Tia Menche, did what Francisco didn’t have the heart to do: put down the chicken and serve it up for the family.

That evening, Francisco would not partake with the family, opting to be alone with his hunger in mourning of his trusty chicken.

My mother pursued her ambitions as a seamstress in El Salvador, going to a special academy to practice this profession. Often up at late hours of the night to meet her quota of about 25 dresses every day, Mom would be exhausted and doze off or do other errands.

Her dad, who was ever the observer and had zero experience making clothes, would help button up and put finishing touches on the dresses. My mom joked that he would leave parts of the clothes in a beige tint because of his tobacco.

Mom was seven-months pregnant with my brother Miguel when Francisco passed away. At that point, she immigrated to the United States to start her own life, something that her dad encouraged her to do.

It was a Friday, Dec. 28, just like today, when Francisco succumbed to his old age. Communication was not as immediate as it is today, so my mom didn’t discover about his passing until the day after via telegram. However, Martha had her premonitions about her dad’s condition before that message even came.

Mom was alone in the house when, suddenly, she saw a dark figure appear in her peripheral vision. It was a clear manifestation of Francisco, she said. Knowing that this figure would vanish as soon as she turned to face it, she quickly tried to turn her head to meet it directly before it did exactly what she predicted. She was unsuccessful. But as soon as she turned her head once more, there was the figure, looming beside her.

Both Francisco and Martha share their belief in superstitions and premonitions. After all, Mom said that Francisco was a big believer in dreams serving as a symbolic meaning of the real world. So, when my mom felt her dad’s presence, she knew something was wrong.

For hours, she talked to the figure resembling her father. Then, it was conversations with God. Finally, it was followed by silence. Then the cycle would repeat.

Of course, the message of his death arrived at the end of this personal odyssey. The confirmation of his passing was the end of a life that impacted my mom to a significant degree. It’s often that my mom details a story about Francisco, and it reminds me of the way she acts.

She’s always ready to clean up around the house and take care of the next task. It’s a blessing and a poison that she worries so much, but I know that she gets it from her father. This was a man who would fix any immediate defect in his house on the spot. She is her father’s daughter.

Now, Francisco rests in Cojutepeque, El Salvador, sharing the same burial space with Tia Menche, who died Dec. 27 in the 1980s.

I never met Francisco Montenegro Blanco, but I know he is in a better place, as he should be.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Remembering Francisco Montenegro Blanco”

  1. Silvia Aquino on December 28th, 2018 8:41 pm

    I love this. You should interview my mom. And also write something about it. I would love to hear her version.

  2. Signal Tribune on January 2nd, 2019 11:35 am

    That’s a great idea, Silvia! I’ll be in touch in the near future. – Denny

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Remembering Francisco Montenegro Blanco