The Storyteller is a Love-Millionaire

The Texas Story Project.

In the small town of Hebbronville, 56 miles East of Laredo, Texas, the Storyteller was born on August 6, 1965, the youngest of six. He grew up here, then left to begin his college education at Laredo Junior College, where he met his wife. He then finished at the University of Texas at Austin, with a major in communications and a minor in psychology. He married and had eight children with his wife, Anna Marie, who is only three months older than he. His children, now ranging from 28 to 12 years old, grew each day alongside him.

These facts; however, are not the most important. What is most important are the stories he left behind for his family, friends, and strangers he met during his 53 years of life. On August 23, 2018, Jesus the Storyteller left this world to continue in the next. I collected a handful of stories from those he loved most—his family.

Celesté is the third oldest of eight children, and studied music while in college, a love cultivated by her father as she grew up. She tells me of her father’s love for collecting memories:

“The way we grew up, we have videos and videos and videos, and pictures. It’s ridiculous just how much he had documented from the very beginning. It definitely goes to show that this is just how he created everything he created. Pierce by piece, he preserved our story. This past week, we’ve had to search through everything so it’s definitely making me feel excited to document my entire life just like the way he’s doing, because so many people don’t get that opportunity. We have all our home videos, because we started out on the big, giant cameras. I wanted a video camera since I was little so I asked for one for Christmas. That made me one of the conspirers, recording all of the things going on in our house. He would make videos of our lives and he would present them to us as episodes. They’d be like thirty minutes long. So, we’d all get together and we’d get really excited because we just liked to watch ourselves. It is interesting to realize now that that was not common. It was a privilege to be able to reflect on your life like that.”

In 2006, Jesus came up with the concept of “My Story,” a business that collects memories to last a lifetime and longer. As his mother was passing in the early 2000s, he began to collect memories of her life and her family. He wanted to show his mother her life and how much he loved her. It made her happy, and he wanted to repeat the same for his father. This video truly combined Jesus’ passions in life: videography and family.

Rafael, the eldest, shared his father’s other passions.

“He always told us that he came from a family that wasn’t very big on emotion. They didn’t really ever say ‘I love you’ or they never really expressed how they loved each other, so he made it an emphasis in our family to make sure every day we knew that he loved us.”

Jesus made sure that his family knew that they were loved, especially his children as they grew up, no matter how embarrassing it was for them. Rafael reflected on the mornings they were dropped off at school, having to sometimes yell “Te quiero mucho!” in front of everyone, just in case any one of them forgot to say it as their Papi always wanted them to.

“Music was his medicine. He wanted people to hear music. Maybe it would change how they were feeling.”

Jesus’ love for music touched many and he believed that music could heal. When his niece, Daniella, fell sick, as Rafael shares, his father visited her unexpectedly and played his guitar for her, to give her joy and peace. His passion ran so deep that he would write and produce music of his very own, centered around his love for God. This passion was passed onto Celesté later on.

“I knew he was a big music guy, but I didn’t realize it was part of his way of impacting other people. All the people have told me how it was through his music or it was how he invited them to come and play with him, but I didn’t realize that he was the guy. I would always sell him short. I wish that we had written songs together. I wish that I didn’t just think that he had a different style that I didn’t like. Like, he has his own style, and I have my own style, I wish that we could have collaborated. We had years and year and years. I mean, he invited me to start singing at church in eighth grade, so up until 2017, until fall, we had been singing,” she stated.

Jesus was also a man who loved to learn new things for himself and for his family.

“He tried to cram all this information in and he did it…it was always cool to see. One week, he said ‘I’m going to learn about bacteria and microbiology,’…and well he’d read a book in about a week. When I’d come home to visit, he’d say ‘Rafa, look at this. I made this cool spreadsheet chart about these bacteria, and how it goes into this and then it goes into that and it turns into this.’ And it was all this stuff you’d learn in a science class. It was cool how much information he could retain, and then he’d apply it to his own life,” Rafael reminisced. “He always looked toward the future.”

Miguel, the third youngest and a senior in high school, tells me the story of how he landed his first job. He was rejected, at first. His father, however, encouraged him to email the manager and thank him for this “opportunity of rejection.” Miguel received a reply and request for a job interview. This meeting resulted in earning the job. Jesus did not give his children what they wanted; he taught them how to work for it and lifelong lessons on how to handle what life may hand them.

Anna Marie, his wife of 30 years, shared with me how they fell in love.

“I wrote a lot to him when he went to college. The first time I saw him, it was at a retreat. We were 17 years old, just out of high school. Before we started college, he went on the Young Adult Cursillo Movement. The first time I saw him was at that retreat, it was the closing of that retreat. It was a young men’s weekend. Afterwards, they opened the mic for anyone to share, and he went up to share. That was the first time I saw him. Afterwards, there was a Young Women’s Cursillo...afterwards, they had fellowship once a week to continue in your faith. I would go to find him, but I never saw him. He wouldn’t go. So I saw him in college, Laredo Junior College. We dated, then he asked me to be his girlfriend. We dated for about three to four months, it was a fall semester. Going into the spring semester, he broke up with me because he was going to UT. It was a good eight months, so I remember thinking that I am going to write him just as a friend.” These letters continued through the school year, until one holiday, Jesus came home, and asked Anna Marie to be his girlfriend once more. He left back to UT, and the letters continued throughout the rest of college. She would use Hallmark cards that had little pre-written messages and would add to them, and wait until his reply to send the next card. “It worked, I guess,” she stated. They grew from a couple to a family of ten. “’We are love millionaires,’ that was his saying,” Celesté recalls. And this could not have been more true for the life he led, and the stories he created with his family, friends, and strangers.

Amelia Tristan is a student at St. Mary's University who loves calculus, tennis, and her dog Milo, whom she lovingly calls her "baby." She wrote this story to give a man and his family the same gift of story-collecting he provided for countless others.

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