My maternal grandfather, José Guillermo Martínez, is another family mystery. My mother told me several stories about him, but I’m not sure if any of them were true. Although they may be based truth, my mother embellished them beyond recognition. My cousin and I compared stories when I was in Mexico and all the stories seem to be plausible to a certain extent.
My mother truly loved her father and many things often reminded her of him. She would tell me about him on these occasions. I really believed all these stories for most of my life.
When I began playing chess religiously in high school, she told me that I reminded her of her father because he always loved to play chess. People would always go to visit him so they could play him at chess. One day, my mother asked me what was the highest chess ranking. I told her chess grandmaster. She then said, “That’s what my father was! A grandmaster!” I was truly proud of this fact! No wonder I suddenly developed this interest in chess. It was in my genes.
I started bragging about this little interesting tidbit about my grandfather to my chess friends. My friend Jim asked me what my grandfather’s name was, so I told him. A few days later, he gently broke the news to me. My grandfather was never a chess grandmaster, or even a master. Jim had looked up the names of all chess masters and grandmasters who had ever lived. If my grandfather was really a chess grandmaster, his name would have appeared on one of those lists. I was so embarrassed. I told my mother about this little discrepancy in her story and she brushed it off as if it were nothing. I told this story to my cousin in Mexico and she had heard that our grandfather did like to play chess, but didn’t know much else about his chess career.
My mother also told me that her father’s father had come to Mexico from Ireland during a potato famine. His surname was either McLean or McLin, but she really wasn’t sure. Well, he met a Mexican girl, and when she got pregnant, they killed him. That’s what my mother told me when I was a boy.
My cousin had never even heard this story. She had heard that he was possibly Jewish and possibly from Germany. He had studied electrical engineering and had many books on the subject in German. He also knew various languages. My cousin’s mother told her that they called my mother and her sisters, las judías, again suggesting that my grandfather was possibly Jewish. When my grandfather was on his deathbed, my mother flew to México from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, to be with him. I went, too, but I was still a baby in my mother’s arms. My mother was so concerned about his spiritual well-being in the afterlife that she told her father that she would go get him a priest to administer him his last rites. My grandfather indicated that he didn’t need a priest and said, “If he comes, I’ll talk to him. But I won’t confess.” My mother never told me that story.