He is rather small, has a long gray beard, carries a wooden stick, rarely greets anyone and wears a grumpy face – a perfect description for a scary character that could be feared by children. However, like an onion that has to be peeled layer by layer to reach the core, beneath Gasparin’s exterior hides a friendly grandfather figure who collects thousands of stories and sayings.
Although he has never been a rock star or a television celebrity, Gasparin is one of the most well-known men in Nicoya due to his unique appearance, his work in the Municipality and for walking up and down the streets of the colonial city.
The indispensable question for this Nicoyan character is why they call him Gasparin.
“There was a soap opera that I don’t remember. They called a brother-in-law of mine Gasparin for being very little. And suddenly, Gasparin, Gasparin, and they called me that because of a little guy that appeared in the soap opera. Nobody here knows me by my name, just by Gasparin.”
From the Beginning
His Christian name is Justo Gomez Gomez and on April 3rd, he will turn 80 years old— although he has to ask his brother Willmer for help to remind the figure. He is from Nicoya and was part of a family of 15 children, of whom only three remain now.
“The wind only left three. I had to grow a beard so death would think I was ugly and let me be,” Gomez says while laughing.
Perhaps his memory fails in some passages of his life, but in others it might be more accurate than the time of Big Ben. So much so that a few minutes before 3 p.m.— the time agreed on for the interview— he was already sitting with his hat on outside the home of his nephew, next to Bobo’s Burger in downtown Nicoya. Although everyone thinks he lives there, he just stops by for his “little snack.”
“Our life was hard. It wasn’t ham. It wasn’t like these ones now who go up and down with a skateboard. We were never lazy,” says Gasparin, when he starts talking about his life.
He never married, but women were not lacking. Gasparin is the father of three children. One of them died of a stroke at 18. “That hurt me a lot. The little fellow was messed up in the head and his death was very hard.”
His eldest daughter, Ellen Sandino Gomez, in more than 40 years old and has already given him two granddaughters and two great-grandchildren. Gasparin’s youngest, Yandel Gomez, will attend second grade this year and is one of his darlings, even though his birth was surrounded by scandals and legal problems because his mother was a minor. However, he got out of that mess and assures that every fifteen days he pays his child support.
As a young man, he worked in the field, picking coffee, cutting cornfields and firewood and whatever fruit was in season. Also, in his twenties, he managed a canteen in Puntarenas that was called the Cueva del Coral (Coral Cave).
Coming and going, trying his luck at different jobs, one day he was offered the opportunity to do a job for four days in the Municipality of Nicoya, and he got lucky as four days turned into more than 30 years, during which time he worked cleaning pipes and drainage, as a street sweeper and a security guard before he retired.
“I was like an armadillo. I crawled under the pipes. I would get into the sewage and sometimes I had to go on my belly, dragging myself to clean all that. Once I caught a virus that almost killed me, but because of my size they always sought me out.”
In one of his many adventures, he was setting up a firecracker and it exploded at the wrong time, which caused him to lose his left eye, and that is why it is white now. “They finally gave me a cat’s eye,” Gasparin jokes.
For more than 15 years, Gomez has been enjoying his retirement, but he never spends time sitting at home, much less being lazy. In Nicoya, it is common for Gasparin to work as a traffic officer during funerals, directing traffic flow and parking. In addition, when it is a poor family, Gomez is the first to start up a collection to help those affected.
“Everyone listens to me. It’s because I use a horn, so I go ‘beep, beep’ and I order everyone. It’s that I have been doing this work for a while…,” says Gasparin, strictly speaking.
Without a doubt, one of his greatest daily battles is keeping Nicoya’s park clean and making sure no one jumps over or stands on the benches, to the extent that there isn’t a child in Nicoya who has not been scolded by Gasparin.
“When I was a municipal guard, there was not a single broken bench. It’s like I tell people, benches are for sitting, not like now when they ride these skateboards jumping and jumping.”
In addition, Gasparin says he still has the habit of a street sweeper, so it’s normal to run into him picking up trash and collecting containers since he is a pack rat. At his home, located along the river next to Mi Casa ceviche shop in downtown Nicoya, there is an endless amount of plastic garbage that he has been collected. The amusing thing is that the architecture of his humble home is similar to the hobbit from Lord of the Rings since it is appropriate to his size— to go through his door, you have to duck down.
He has been so famous that the Nicoyan musician Elman Orozco wrote a song in his honor. However, Gasparin does not find it quite so funny because the lyrics say that he stayed a child and looks like a nativity scene doll.
Meeting up with Gasparin in Nicoya can go two ways: getting scolded or listening to many adventures and stories that no one is sure if they are real but that, beyond any doubt, will entertain.