" Wolfing down cheddar Smart popcorn while listening to the wildly popular lyricist and hip-hop artist Travis Scott in his living room, he turns to me and says, “Evan, what on Earth is that guy saying?” White smears of cheesy dust rest on his chin and drift carelessly down onto his favorite Phillies t-shirt. This is my grandfather: not the least bit concerned with contemporary pop culture but a soldier, father, college graduate, forgotten orphan, devoted husband, and mortal superhero.
His lounge chair at the center of his living room was manufactured for comfort and held the weight of a body withdrawn from the normalcy of chores, tool shed trips, and refrigerator browsing. Chairs are where he lived out his final days and where I learned about much of his long, fulfilling life. It was in this chair that my grandmother admonished him or waited out his protests when he had disputes with her reasoning. It was also there that my Aunt Livvy’s nursing expertise arrived full circle when his body no longer supported what his mind knew it should do. Where my brother held fast and unconditionally supported the man he still saw through the veil of what had taken him of late. Lastly, my mother - a 21st century rendition of Lawrence Gonzales - and one who, in his words, “likes to spend money and is a go-getter”, but also embodies compassion and supported him ceaselessly even from her apartment in Lower Manhattan. Today the physical story of my grandfather concludes but his spiritual legend, which I fully intend to share with my future family and others, will not be extinguished. Our family holds his legacy, without fail, no matter what.
Lawrence Gonzales was born on June 12, 1929 in Denver, Colorado. He enjoyed the United States Mint, his newspaper, fixing cars, crispy bacon, doing taxes (literally, he enjoyed it), and the beloved Fighting Phillies. Many of his later years were spent in Downingtown, Pennsylvania while his early life included homes in Colorado, California, West Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Kansas, California, Germany, South Korea, and the Yukon Territory - this is to give you an idea of the expanse that his journey covered. He married Maria del Pilar Ponce in Topeka, Kansas at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on August 22nd, 1953. They went on to have two daughters: Olivia and Kathleen. Although the number of moves were many - the “Original Four” as they called themselves - always felt at home where Lawrence determined they should settle. The Gonzales family would erect a home in Chester County where their remaining years were spent.
How monumental his task of raising a family can only be understood by first exploring from whence he came. Grandpa was born to a mother who knew very little of the task set before her. Trinidad, or “Trini”, as her friends, brother, and even my grandfather would call her, was an immigrant along with her brother from Mexico. She was only 17 when she had him and then developed cancer at a young age (or so my Grandpa thinks). She passed away at the age of 29 after birthing 6 children. His tone when he described Trini was markedly different from when he would speak of his time in the military, family, or career. Instead of a confident boast, mention of Trini was normally delivered with a disappointed and almost accusatory tone because of how she handled his upbringing. To give a small example, on occasions when my adolescent grandfather would reveal himself in drenched undergarments after a long night of rest, Trini would customarily send him out into the world without even a bath.
I remark on this odd maternal behavior not to muddy my great grandmother’s name but to focus on the events which shaped the man I’m so proud to call my grandfather. He saw Trini’s characteristics as more aligned with those of a big sister than a mother. And as such, I think it was her approach to parenting that ignited an early flame in my grandfather’s development. I so often revisit this particular interview when I think of the experiences that strengthened him. The neglect he encountered as a young boy forced the seedling of manhood to spring its discernible sprout earlier than expected.
The result? He moved through several homes settling finally in Downingtown; raised two loving daughters; earned a degree from Washburn University while holding a job, being a Dad, and recovering after a tornado swallowed his home; led an impressive career and retired with a golden parachute; enjoyed the continuation of his line with two handsome and undeniably cool grandsons; fashioned a stubborn sensibility that all of us learned from and enjoyed in earnest; and, he married a wonderful woman, one who lives within our minds and prayers, forever and ever.
“I had a grand old time…” were his words in one of the many sessions I spent with him at his home in Downingtown and at Exton Senior Living. And, I truly believe him. I believe that his 22-day voyage during the Korean War from San Francisco to South Korea in which the boat was tossed around for 3 days by gale force winds was a “grand old time.” I believe the clocks, jewelry, and perfume he sent to my grandma during his time abroad aroused in him, “a grand old time”. I believe the many breakfast pilgrimages to Shady Maple, Cracker Barrel, and Bob Evans with his beloved Pila tasted of “a grand old time.” Lastly, I believe the sauerkraut he layered with salt at the orphanage and longed to recreate in his later years symbolized “a grand old time.”
I believe - despite prejudice, poverty, failure, and inexperience - Lawrence Gonzales defied our definition of the odds.
I love my grandfather and I am so thankful that all of you could know and enjoy the man that he was. "
- Lawrence’s grandson, Evan Lawrence Byrd
Other family members:
Wife, Pilar Gonzales; daughters, Olivia Parker, Kathleen Gonzales-Byrd; Sons-in-laws, Michael Parker, Gregory Byrd; Grandsons, Evan Byrd and Elliot Byrd.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held 11:00AM Friday, January 17, 2020 at Saint Joseph Church 338 Manor Ave, Downingtown, PA 19335. A viewing will be held prior at the church from 9:15 AM – 10:30 AM with a eulogy beginning at 10:45 AM.
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