Justino Jimenez celebrated his 77th birthday Tuesday and followed his usual routine. The Florida resident sat in his lawn chair at a local cemetery and read Bible verses to his wife, who died in 2015.
Talking about Ana Mercedes Jimenez her still makes Justino Jimenez smile.
“She was my one and only love,” he said.
Jimenez visits his wife’s gravesite at Serenity Meadows in the Tampa suburb of Riverview six days a week. One side of the black marble headstone shows an etched photo of Justino and Ana on their wedding date, Nov. 19, 1960.
“I told her we got married in November so I would only have to give her one gift,” Jimenez laughed, noting that Ana’s birthday was Nov. 4.
The other side of the gravestone shows an etched photo of the couple taken at the wedding of their son.
Jimenez is usually accompanied to the cemetery by his male Yorkshire terrier, Buttons. He sits, reads and reflects upon a love story that spanned more than half a century.
Justino and Ana Jimenez were married for 54 years. They had three children, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Both were born in Puerto Rico. Justino was born in Cerro Gordo, west of San Juan on the northern shore of the island. Ana was born in Paloma, located farther west. But the couple actually met in Buffalo, New York, in the late 1950s. Justino, then 18, was a friend of Ana’s brother. He was immediately attracted to the young woman working as an orderly at Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital.
“She was the type who didn’t argue. I was just the opposite,” Jimenez said. “But I saw her in my future.”
Convincing Ana’s father was the first hurdle. “In Puerto Rico, there is a tradition that you have to go to the girl’s father to ask for her hand in marriage,” Jimenez said. “I went to talk to her father and we wound up in a fistfight.”
That hurdle eventually was cleared. The second challenge was work-related.
“I was working at a Laundromat the week I was getting married and two of my co-workers said, ‘Hey dude, why don’t you ask for a raise?’” Jimenez said. “So I went to the boss and he took me to the back, in the locker room.
“He looked me straight in the eye and said ‘I think you’re gonna need more money but I recommend you go somewhere else.’”
“There was no honeymoon,” Jimenez said. “The following Monday I signed up for unemployment,” where he would receive $27 a week.
The couple moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Jimenez found work at Consolidated Edison.
While Jimenez never particularly liked Florida, he promised his wife that they would move there when he retired so she could be close to her sister, who lived in Riverview. And on the final day of 1998, he made good on his promise.
The couple lived together there until Ana passed away Jan. 17, 2015. She was 78.
Since then, Jimenez visits the cemetery and reads from a Bible “almost every day.”
“I talk to her like she’s with me,” he said. “I tell her how the day is going. I talk about the weather.”
When not talking about Ana, Jimenez talks about his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He’s also a big baseball fan and originally rooted for the Washington Senators, since the team carried the same name as the San Juan Senadores, who played in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico. When the American League franchise moved from Washington to Minnesota and became the Twins, Jimenez did not change his loyalty.
Not surprisingly, his favorite baseball player was Puerto Rico native and baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.
“I collect all of his cards, I have every one of them except his rookie card,” he said of Clemente, who died on New Year’s Eve in 1972 while flying from San Juan on a mercy mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua. “I have a statue of him batting.”
Sitting on his lawn chair at the cemetery, Jimenez is at peace. He misses Ana, but is happy she is buried in a shady spot.
“She always wanted to be buried underneath trees,” he said.
He also waits for the day when he will see her again.
“I had a dream the other night. I saw her and she looked like she did when our son was married,” Jimenez said. “She was at a convenience store and I told the clerk, ‘don’t say anything. I don’t want her to know she’s dead.’
“I put my hands around her waist and I looked up to the sky and said, ‘Thank you God for bringing her to me.’ And then she was gone.”
Justino Jimenez pauses to compose himself.
“I’m not afraid of dying,” he said. “Before she died, I was petrified that I would go first and leave her.”
Jimenez finishes speaking, shakes hands and says goodbye. Then he returns to his chair and picks up his Bible. It’s time to talk to Ana again.
“She was my everything,” he smiles.
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