When I think of what it means to be endlessly hardworking, my grandmother, Rosalina Garza Gregson, springs to mind. My grandmother's life reminds me of the important role government must play in clearing a path for hardworking people who are determined to improve their lives.
Grandmother Rose is a woman who just kept going, kept reaching to better her life and those of her five children. In turn, the lessons she taught my father and his brothers and sister have helped them build better lives for themselves and their families. Her gift to her family was the virtue of being hardworking.
Born in Nava, Mexico, in 1921, Grandmother lost her mother when she was 12. Her family was so poor there were times when they waited hungry until the chickens laid eggs. Her father, a goat herder, took her out of school and put her to work both running the household and caring for her baby sister, who was then 4 years old. She also was sent to work in the homes of middle class families. She often toiled hungry, waiting for whatever food the families she worked for would offer her. More than filling her stomach, these families filled her head with dreams of a better life.
Grandmother married my Grandfather Ignacio, a son to one of the families that employed her. Grandmother was always restless. She knew Mexico could not offer the kind of opportunities she witnessed in America, especially for a woman. By 1953, she had made arrangements for the paperwork she would need to immigrate to the United States with her husband and three children, ages six to nine.
The family sold all of their belongings but what would fit in the back of a pickup truck. At the border crossing into Eagle Pass, Texas, border officials almost crushed her dreams by refusing entry to her son Oscar because of his severe learning disability. But Grandmother dug in, insisting that her son be allowed entry. She prevailed, securing her family’s passage. They arrived in San Antonio and settled into a small rental house near San Pedro Springs Park. Owning a home was part of her dream – as soon as she could, Grandmother bought a house for her growing family on Blanco Road.
Soon Grandmother was working in a small ready-to-wear women’s boutique in downtown San Antonio. She was a quick study and moved on to bigger stores and commanded larger commissions, eventually managing the men’s department of a J.C. Penney store. She pinched and saved and always worked a second job after hours. She also invested. Every morning, she scoured the newspapers for good real estate deals and bought houses that she then rented.
Her work ethic lives on in her children. As a boy, my dad would throw newspapers that his younger brother Oscar had tied, and my Aunt Gloria and Uncle Ignacio worked at a drugstore. Their earnings helped support the family, which Grandmother headed after her first marriage ended.
The drive to move ahead through work abided – when I was growing up, my father worked in civil service at Lackland AFB and managed a side business repairing air conditioning and heating systems after hours, which he still does even in retirement today. His sister and one of his brothers have their own businesses.
With little formal education, my grandmother reached within herself to find what she needed to improve her life and those of her kids. I take great pride in tracing my family tree through her mighty branches, which eventually led to me, the first in my family to graduate from college. It takes many ingredients to live a successful life: big dreams, good preparation, support. But when we look at the most inspiring examples - like my grandmother - hard work is the necessary ingredient.
Today, Grandmother is 85 years old and lives with Alzheimer’s disease. Her dementia took hold at a time in her life when she should have been able to rest after a lifetime of effort and responsibility. But instead of bitterness at the difficult turn her life has taken in its sunset, she told her daughter, my Aunt Gloria, that no, she didn’t feel cheated.
You see, she said, hers has been a good life.