I know we are well past Valentine’s Day weekend, but I have carried my grandmother Rosa’s love story in my back pocket since I began collecting stories to tell. I consider that I’m either late for this year or early for the next, but some love stories never get old, and this may be the year Rosa’s finally gets on the page.
The truth is that when Valentine’s Day comes around, what I remember about Rosa, causes me to speculate about love and the hype associated with happily ever after. What is it about a connection between two people that goes beyond the “I do” and society’s expectations? What keeps some people together for decades while others give up after the first round of conflict? I’ve put down some thoughts, actually lots of thoughts, which I will share over the coming days.
Each year, countless individuals put LOVE at the center of their vision boards or at the top of their list of New Year’s resolutions. No matter what age group or whether looking for a new or improved relationship, we find hearts filled with hopes and dreams of catching that elusive mythical butterfly of love.
In the same way that marketing and merchandizing stir up dreams of the proverbial romantic love, social media keeps pace with the trend. The newsfeeds are flooded with memes, poems, and words of wisdom involving love and relationships to address all expectations or interpretations of love.
After decades of trial and error, I’ll share some reflections based solely on my personal observations or experience.
I remember that before there was social media and its memes, I would take the personality quizzes in my teen magazines to find the characteristics to look for in my perfect match, my soulmate. Then, I would turn to the back pages to find my horoscope to see if a tall, dark, and handsome stranger would cross my path that month.
Thankfully, along with the fantasy, there are genuinely informative and helpful articles. Sometimes the headings tend to be sensationalized to intrigue the reader, but generally, one can find a helpful nugget or two. Some common themes that have crossed my desktop are: The Egomaniac Partner; How to Recognize a Toxic Person; What to do if your Love Language doesn’t Translate; Don’t be a Doormat; Self-love is the best love, and variations of these.These are not actual titles but if you are interested in these topics, use your search engine to find information and expert opinion.
The Grandmother Stories –
This finally brings me to my grandmother’s story. In 1893, Rosa was a young girl of fourteen when she married Carlos, who was four years older. He bought her a house on the edge of town, and together they had thirteen children, seven of which made it to adulthood as caring and loving individuals. My grandfather Carlos was a hardworking, honest man of his time. To his grandchildren, he was loving, and we remember him as an old bulldog with a bark worse than his bite. There was no question, though, that he was the law and the justice of his little personal fiefdom. I’m told that in his youth, his personality and good looks gave him certain liberties with the women in town. By the social standards of her time, my grandmother had to learn to accept it. She didn’t like it, but she was a woman that stood by her man, faithful no matter what.
I remember once, when her sister Lola was visiting for a few days, she teased my grandmother about this. Lola told us about a certain younger woman from down the street who, now in her seventies, still made sure she had bright red lipstick on when she walked by my grandparents’ house on her way to town. I was not accustomed to seeing my sweet grandmother with ruffled feathers, but that day, between gritted teeth, she said to her sister, “Oh hush! That old fool looks ridiculous wearing such vulgar lipstick at her age.” I had to laugh because I couldn’t believe that she apparently still had issues about an affair my grandfather had after all these years. What was that all about? Was that Love? Was she still insecure about her marriage after almost seventy years? Different times, different culture- maybe?
Several years later, a couple months after my grandfather died, a few of us went over to check-in and visit with Rosa. Truthfully, I don’t remember all the conversations that day. We were all bustling around cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep her spirits up. Still, I remember that she broke my heart when she quietly interrupted to tell us, “I don’t think I will make it to Valentine’s Day this year. I have celebrated Valentine’s Day with Carlos since before I was fourteen. I don’t think I can do it alone this year.”
Days later, I got a call that my grandmother was in ICU at the hospital where I worked. She was with a pulmonary embolism and not doing well. I went up to see her, kissed her forehead, and held her hand. Her eyes fluttered, and she was gone. It was Valentine’s Day. She was determined to spend it with Carlos for all eternity.
My paternal grandmother, Euphemia, has a different story. Whenever I think of Rosa, I naturally think of her. One day with a house full of people, she sought me out, and silently sat by my side while I watched my little girls feed and chase the chickens in her yard. After a bit, she whispered, “Does Eddie ever visit you?” Eddie, my husband, passed at a young age. A muted anguish in her tone alarmed me.
Based on family stories, I understand that Eufemia’s was an arranged marriage. She was well into her 20s – almost a spinster by the social norms of her culture. Perhaps, some say she was firmly encouraged by her parents to marry her cousin’s cousin, my grandfather, Saturno. He was ten years her senior. They had seven children.
In response to her question, I told her that I vividly dreamed of him a couple of times during the first year. She put her head down as her dark eyes glistened with tears and said, “Saturno, never visited me. I guess he never really loved me.”
They had been married fifty years at the time of his death at seventy-two. At the time of our conversation, she had survived him by about thirty years. Sadly, she waited for him to show his love – from beyond the grave. Was this Love? I can’t imagine what it would be like living all those years, wondering if your husband loved you. We never spoke of it again. She passed many years later at the age of one hundred and five. I always wonder if they met again in another life.
It is Better to Have Loved
I am a firm believer in the premise of the famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “’tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” It took me years to find a balance after my life and dreams were turned upside down by my first husband’s death. However, I have been fortunate to have experienced unconditional love and support from family and friends, some of whom have already passed. I have been widowed, divorced, betrayed by close friends and lovers – and still, I believe.
What do I believe about love? It is magical! You can’t package it, and you really can’t fake it. But it’s not the same for everyone. It’s that feeling of warm sunshine on your face, but it also warms your heart when you are with a loved one. It feels like tickles and giggles and laughter till your sides ache. It’s feeling safe in someone’s arms, like when a mother cradles a baby. It’s a child feeding or bathing an elderly parent. It’s a partner shoveling the driveway so that you can get to work. It’s a friend bringing you chicken soup when you are under the weather. It’s a pooch or a kitty following you around until it can cuddle and comfort you when you’ve had a hard day. I can go on. I think it’s wonderful, painful, risky, and scary but worth it. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.
So, I’ve been trying to get back to writing and posting regularly —kind of an unofficial New Year’s resolution. When my family headed back home, I started to reorganize the house as well as my approach to writing. It was right then that January 6th happened. All these months, while I’ve been home, I tried to stay out of politics, but I’ve become one of those folks on social media. You know, the one who tries to knock some sense into perfect strangers who are happy living in their irrational state of mind. It’s hard to ignore the rhetoric when you care about our country and have seen social injustice grow stronger and unchecked in the last 4 years. I try to keep it down, to limit my posts and tweets, but quite frankly, that doesn’t work very well for me.
I thought about starting a second blog dedicated to the events of our time but decided there are already many others doing a fantastic job with that topic. My blog would probably be little more than a rant. I don’t mind putting my thoughts about politics out there, but I don’t want to get caught up in that madness. I have many friends and extended family with very conservative views, and I find that I am always careful about what I write. Being cautious though, has no substantial value because it takes away the freedom to say what is honestly on my mind. Even with a self-censor, I’ve had to take social media vacations from some people that can not accept that I will never be a fan of DJT. The break usually starts with me saying, “Let’s shake on it, and peace be with you.” In my mind I add, “hopefully, we can regroup after the election.”
However, after President Biden and Vice President Harris’s Inauguration, I’ve decided to write at least one blog post in response to all the gloom and doom that I found on social media the day after. Just for the record, I thought the Inauguration was impressive considering all the limits well-defined by recent events. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of music, which highlighted the message of unity, diversity, and of course, the tradition of peaceful transition of power. I felt President Biden’s address to the nation was heartfelt and sincere.
Many other Americans, though, were devastated. I saw posts of people grieving, afraid of the unknown, questioning their faith, questioning our democracy. The broadcast of this time-honored tradition was put out there for the world to see. It was as if watching it was anathema; many could or would not hear the message of hope and healing transmitted for hours across the networks.
Sadly, the narrative playing in their heads was that DJT was pushed out of the White House by socialists and communists. They “stole the election.” What happened to the promises, the prophecies? In the other world of DJT, I read that the “Proud Boys” were mad because he gave up too soon. Reports are that they call him “weak,” “a total failure.” The truth is that after the call to arms, the threats, and violence, DJT rode off into the sunset apparently without looking back. He provoked their toxic patriotism, then just walked away, and left them holding the bag. He went back to his 128-room mansion, back to his golf course, back to his exclusive club where these “patriots” are not welcomed. He never conceded, never told his supporters that the lies about election fraud had been another of his smoke and mirror stunts to confuse his followers and stay in power. I read that instead, he appeased them by declaring that he would be back with a new party – The Patriot Party. In doing so, he sent a veiled threat to the GOP for not supporting his “Stop the Steal” agenda and confirmed to his followers that he was not done. As of today, it seems to have worked.
But really, before I get carried away, this post is not about DJT. Neither is it about the extreme radical conservative, white supremacist movement, for which he proudly takes full credit. Far be it for me to tell him that he is just a symptom of this movement, like a cold sore or herpes. This post is for people who may have gotten caught in the crossfire, if you will.
It’s for the people I grew up with, people who stood by my side after my kids’ dad died. It’s for people in my family who continue to carry the conservative, fundamentalist values that our parents taught us. It’s for those, like the widow at the Temple, who give generous offerings of what little they have because they believe. It’s for those people who have genuine and pure faith in the God of the Bible but are so confused by what they hear, which is often in contrast with what they see.
I am reminded of many Bible passages where Jesus is recorded to have given warnings to those who would lead his followers astray.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire… Therefore, by their fruits, you will know them.
Last Thursday, I started to see negative posts and comments on social media in response to my optimistic expressions about the inaugural activities. I don’t fool myself to think that we are creating heaven on earth or a eutopia. I didn’t expect everything was going to be Peachy Keene on the morning after. Nor did I imagine I would sing Kumbaya with my gun-toting, confederate flag bearing neighbors. However, I didn’t expect the genuine level of sorrow and despondency from some of my Christian contacts.
This is not Nirvana, but I am confident that it is an opportunity to continue working on the principles and the ideals that I believe were intended by the founders of this great nation. I consider that in the last four years, the country strayed from the fundamental principles of “we the people,” not to mention any semblance of honesty and decency.
I was not bothered by the social media responses but rather sad that people were so blindly disheartened by the election outcome. It seems unfortunate to me that honest, decent, hardworking people would be swept up in this “movement” of hate and destruction. I keep thinking of a passage in the Bible where Jesus calls out the religious leaders.
Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
This uprising in the name of God and traditional values not come as a surprise to us who were paying attention. We have seen such history repeat itself for generations. After all, wasn’t it Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem, that organized the plot to kill Jesus? Wasn’t it the council of the Sanhedrin that turned Jesus over to the Roman courts? Tradition gave these high priests lots of power and prosperity. They were charged with interpreting the ancient scriptures and keeping the law as they had done for centuries.
When they saw that Jesus had quite a following, outside of the Temple, they accused him of blasphemy because he taught the community that He came to fulfill the laws and the prophecies. He said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are My disciples if you love one another” [Gospel of John 13: 34,35].
Crowds followed Jesus for three years. The people received spiritual and physical healing. Yet, when Pontius Pilate offered to spare Jesus from death, the high priests incited the crowd to demand crucifixion for Jesus. Likewise, they called out instead for the release of Barabbas, an insurrectionist imprisoned by the Romans for his revolutionary activities. And so, it was, that despite everything that the people had heard and witnessed with their own eyes, in that moment of pandemonium, that multitude in Jerusalem turned against Jesus and His teachings. They forgot about the promises, about Jesus’ message of a loving God, and the beauty of the Spirit.
Let me pause a minute to review. “Picture it:” Jerusalem, AD 50-85, a group of powerful men in robes, afraid to lose their high paying jobs with benefits, plotted to kill a young Rabbi who was teaching the Children of Israel about God and the scriptures. According to the law, the Jews had to come to the High Priest to reach God.
Some of the charges as I understand them were:
He told a young man faithfully following The Commandments, that to inherit eternal life, he had to give ALL his money to the poor and follow Him. Not to the Temple or the High Priests, but to the poor.
A couple of times, the High Priests caught Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath! One of those times, Jesus healed a lame man and told him to pick up his bed and go on his way, he was healed. Imagine, he told the man to pick up his bed – on the Sabbath! It didn’t matter that the man had been afflicted for 38 years, and on this day, Jesus came to him with compassion. The Priests were the keepers of the Law.
Jesus stopped a legal stoning of a woman prosecuted for adultery. Then he dared to turn to her accusers and tell them “Let the one without sin throw the first stone!” One by one they left.
Jesus used a Samaritan as an example to teach them that our neighbor is anyone in need to whom we show love and kindness. He encouraged his followers to visit the sick, those in prison, and to care for the widows.
There are many more examples like this, but these are enough for now. You can always read more about this on your own.
In the centuries that followed The Crucifixion, wars raged to secure the places sacred to Christian values and traditions. Since then, Christians brought with them the mantra of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” as they forced Muslims and Jews to accept Christ as Savior or else. These nonbelievers lost their lands, material wealth, and sometimes their lives.
When we remember Jesus’ words to Pilate, that if his kingdom had been of this world, his followers would have already physically saved him from this fate. These wars and abuse were not in His plans. As a matter of fact, when Jesus was arrested, the story was that the Apostle Peter took up his sword and chopped off the ear of one of the guards. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Jesus had to complete his mission.
In the Sixties, we sang a folk song that said, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, by our love” – not by our sword – by our love. We also sang, “Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit…” I still find comfort in these melodies that continue to lift my spirit.
How simple it is to believe that all good comes from God or the Spirit of a Higher Power. And yet, in witnessing the past four years, it baffles me how people -Christians especially, can compare the 45th Administration to all that is good? Anything that appeared to be “good” quickly vanished in the light of the truth.
Examples that “came to light” just over the last week were:
Although DJT had used Warp-Speed to get vaccines out. The Administration misrepresented how much was actually in stock and how effectively the plan was rolled out.
No matter how many court cases were brought to overturn the election, NOTHING in the reports reached a level of credibility. Not even judges appointed by DJT for this very reason, were able to confirm widespread election fraud.
These last two examples shed light on DJT’s character and his narcissistic patterns of behavior. Let me start by clarifying that I am not a fan of Mike Pence, but if anything, he has been loyal to DJT. If Pence is the kind of Christian he has led us to believe he is, standing by DJT must have been quite a challenge. It almost reminds me of the Biblical account of King Saul and David. David, according to the story, knew he was to be king after Saul, but given the opportunity, he refused to take the life of God’s anointed. In contrast, however, the moment Pence publicly disagreed with DJT about certifying the election, he sent his goons after him at the Capitol where Pence was doing his job. DJT’s people chanted in the streets and up the steps of the Capitol about death to Pence and even put-up gallows with a noose. All because DJT put his loyalty in doubt before this crowd of radicalized militant extremists.
NOT ONCE DID TRUMP DISANNOUNCE THESE ACTIONS AGAINST HIS FAITHFUL VICE PRESIDENT. WHEN HE SAW WHAT WAS HAPPENING, NOT ONCE DID HE CALL TO STOP WHAT HE HAD UNLEASHED ON THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE HOUSE AND SENATE. Instead, watch it unfold on TV and dawdled, hemmed, and hawed in deciding if he should approve the National Guard deployment to the Capitol.
As I am writing, I can almost hear – “but this, but that.” I know I am only touching the surface with these observations. Maybe in the days to come, I’ll continue with more in-depth commentary of how I see things in the light of “non-fundamentalism.”
I’ll just leave you with one last verse for your consideration. Perhaps it will help someone measure by faith what they are witnessing with their eyes. It is a verse from a letter credited to Paul and Timothy to the congregation at Philippi.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
The first thing that came to mind when I saw the prompt was “curveball.” As I continued reading and I smiled when I saw the rest of MW’s line. “Life has thrown a big one at a lot of us these days: a curve.”
I was excited when I saw that the Discover page was going to offer daily prompts in April. When I first started blogging a few years ago, I found the DailyPosts and WP Blogging U very helpful. But alas, I fell off the blog wagon awhile back. This year I don’t have the energy for NaNoWriMo and/or the A to Z challenge. It has nothing to do with COVID 19. Life happens, and my creativity is “Meh.”
Truth be told, I’ve struggled with these prompts this time around. The prompts and alternate ideas are creative and engaging, but I spend all day churning ideas in my head that don’t get to my page.
For example, prompt # 2 Open, brought me to the Grand Canyon, but that trip came with ghosts of the past. I saved the essay for another day. Prompt # 6 Hands. brought me the question, “what is the sound of one hand, clapping?” It was one of those days that I started to do research to make sure the riddle was not about one hand slapping. That post didn’t even make the page. I was going to tie that prompt in with # 7:Below. A suggestion on that day was, Think about the last time you were emotional — angry, or elated, or sad, or nervous. What lay below, feeding that emotion? I was not ready to go there on day seven.
Here I am today, talking about The Curve, with a post I started in March.
If you’ve read my posts before, you may know that I’ve been working part-time at a public library. I really like the place. We are one of the smallest branches in our county’s system of 10 sites, including three larger regional libraries. Its hard work and we regularly deal with staff turnover, but we’ve also got a great team of volunteers that come in each day to help.
I have enjoyed everything about the job. In shelving books, I often find some treasured tome that I didn’t know existed. I enjoy people, and actually, my favorite part is dealing with the patrons, especially the regulars. What a great crowd. Most are old-timers and have been coming to that little branch for over twenty years. The full-time senior staffers know just about every person by name. They look forward to seeing them each winter when they come back. Upon returning to town for the winter, many patrons consider their first stops, the library, and Publix – in that order!
The staff often know, and most importantly, they genuinely care who is sick, who just got a promotion, took a trip, started a business, or wrote a book. Some of the elderly and the lonely stop in to read the newspapers or use the public computers. They also come in to connect – that irreplaceable human contact that we all need. Everyone gets a warm welcome and a free smile.
Sometimes the place feels as if it were an episode of the sitcom “CHEERS.” The tv show is about a neighborhood bar in Boston. We don’t serve drinks, but the atmosphere feels similar – friendly and accommodating.
“Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name, And they’re always glad you came; You want to be where you can see, Our troubles are all the same; You want to be where everybody knows your name.” (Intro theme from Cheers.)
On Wednesday mornings, one can’t help but smile as the children’s laughter, and singing spills out of the storytime space and into the great room where most of the action happens. There is such excitement when they come to check out the books they picked themselves or have found all the pictures of the scavenger hunt around the library. They bring the classics – princesses and dragons, dogs and cats and of course tv favorites. I’m hopeful that these experiences will remain stored in their little minds and hearts, as they have remained for me. I still believe libraries are a treasure cove of amazing things and a vital part of communities.
Last month, however, the libraries closed to the public. A few days after that, I made the decision to stay at home.
The library offered curbside service so that patrons could pick up books or materials that they had reserved before the emergency declaration. We have plenty of e-resources online, but because for some people, the web feels overwhelming, staff is available by phone to assist in navigating the resources.
Behind the scenes, due to the potential risk of contamination with COVID 19, the library staff was disinfecting equipment and preparing materials to be placed in quarantine. Because of the life span of the virus on paper or plastic, books, and DVDs can not be put back on the shelves directly. The library materials need to sit out in quarantine for days. As I said before, our site is small, and the only place considered available to quarantine books was in the great room in front of our circulation desk. Due to the health risk involved, and after consulting my medical provider, I made the decision to stay home.
As more information becomes available, new risk management protocols are in place to keep staff safe and patrons informed. I tip my hat to those who continue to work for the library patrons in different capacities. I pray for them and their families, for they are part of the remarkable army of unsung heroes we’ve come to recognize during these difficult times.
Currently, there is no opportunity for me to telecommute. It has been three weeks. I’m not sure where I go from here as there are so many unknowns. My life right now seems up in the air, but this is not my first rodeo, I will get back to living my true life soon enough.
As I searched the web for a photo to add to my post today, I found this quote on Google Images. I think it suits me perfectly. What do you think?
The street where I live is actually a Circle. They tell me it’s about one mile all the way around. My furry Baby Girl and I walk half the length a few times a day. Sometimes, out my front door and past the parking lot, I feel like I’m stepping into a magic forest.
The Embers is an apartment community in the middle of a large city. I’m told the project was built inside a protected conservation area. It’s generally quiet and tranquil except for the occasional ambulance in the distance or helicopters flying to the Trauma Center at a nearby hospital.
The street is lined with all kinds of native trees and plants. The street lamps seem to have been strategically placed, so that during the hours just before nightfall or daylight, shadows can play tricks on your eyes. The soft light from the moon and stars seems to make the street glow, and it’s easy to forget that I’m not really out in the woods.
On our street, the regular small woodland creatures like possum, armadillos, snakes, and squirrels forage for food and make their homes in the thick vegetation. The trees are filled with all kinds of birds, each one signing a unique melody with the woodpeckers keeping rhythm with their tap, tap, tap.
There is a large population of cats – blacks, and tuxedo, marmalade, and tigers in grey and black. It’s hard to tell if they are all feral or just out for the day. Baby Girl loves the kitties, but whenever we come near, they scamper away into the tall grass just beyond the road where she can’t reach them. Each time she catches a whiff of a kitty, she gets so excited and desperately wants them to play with her. I can see them watching her from within the bushes. Sometimes I wonder what they think of all her enthusiasm.
There are no sidewalks on our street, but boulders where placed near the ends of speed-bumps to keep drivers off the grass. Covered in moss and dirt, on days of dense fog, these boulders appear to be stunted creatures trying to climb out of the ground. I’ve wanted to photograph them, but these crafty creatures turn back to solid rock when they see me take out my phone!
My imagination ponders about the natural history of this place. Who were the first dwellers here, and how did they spend their day?
It’s great that this piece of land has been kept in some kind of land conservation trust. I’m especially glad that with all the social distancing regulation, I have a nice space to walk and let get inspired.
A joke prompt to start off the month on April Fool’s Day! I’m hoping we get a great response. Lord knows we need a laugh these days.
I wish I could think of something humorous, but I’m terribly not spontaneous that way. Some people have told me I’m funny as in amusing, but also as in weird. I am amazed at naturally quick-witted people. I can’t tell jokes. I forget punchlines or worse – I start off with the punchline, and as you can imagine, its downhill from there.
If I’m in a conversation and something strikes me, I can be funny with an off the cuff flip answer of sarcasm or cynicism, double meanings, or a pun. Sometimes, I’ll break into a song, jingle, or tv program theme. Maybe it’s the result of watching too many musicals in my lifetime. Doesn’t everyone burst into song if the moment is right?
Try as I might, I can’t think of a joke right now, not even a corny “dad joke,” not even with help from Google!
I went through a phase when I was obsessed with old radio and tv comedy shows. I had to do my own research to compare if the acts were really funny or just the nostalgia that made them classics. It continues to amaze me that these entertainers can be so hilarious without spewing obscene graphic language. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that there are situations when only a powerful four-letter word will do, but sometimes I watch these stand-ups – male or female, and it seems they have no talent or imagination, so they go in for the shock value.
I still enjoy listening to George Burns and Gracie Allen, Red Skelton, and of course, the incomparable “I Love Lucy.” One of my all-time favorite comedy routines, though, is Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” They began performing it in the 1930s, and about 55 years later, in the 1980s and 90s, our local radio station WCCM would play it every year on the Opening Day of the baseball season. I’ve loved it ever since.
Thanks for doing the Discover Prompts this month. I hope it will help me get back on the saddle.
I wrote this story sometime last year in response to a prompt about a map and the best trip we ever had. On occasion, I pull it out and tweak it a little. With protests occurring all over the world in support of the people of Puerto Rico, I decided to share it again.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams.
On a jet plane
One summer as soon as school was out, I found myself on an international flight sitting next to my little brother; with my mom and the twins across the aisle. We were headed from JFK to San Juan. It was the late 1960’s; it was the year my paternal grandfather died two days before my thirteenth birthday. His death was unexpected. I don’t remember him, and I don’t think he ever met the twins. My father didn’t join us on this trip; he had been there in the winter for the funeral. When my father returned, he and my mother started planning this trip for us to spend the summer on the Island.
I was in Puerto Rico as a toddler when our parents returned to start a business. Their venture didn’t work out, but my brother was born there, and as soon as they thought he was old enough to travel, we returned to the mainland to start over again. I’ve seen the photos, but I’ve no memory of being there.
I don’t know if it was my grandfather’s sudden death that created the urgency for my parents then. I expect that while he was there, my father noticed that the Island was rapidly changing, moving beyond his treasured memories. The facts were that every one my parents knew back home was getting older, and we were growing up without them. Things were shifting all over the world, and after so many years, it seemed like it was time to get us over there to meet the rest of the family.
I was apprehensive about this trip. I had a lot going on at thirteen. I had been thrust into a different world the summer before, and I was finally starting to get my bearings. I preferred to be ready for what was coming, but all I knew about Puerto Rico were the anecdotes of people and places that my parents remembered; history lessons tainted with nostalgia. Whenever we got together with my aunts, uncles, and older cousins, they would repeat the same stories of the “good old days.” The trip had always been one of those things that seemed more like a warning from my parents “we’ll gosomeday,” but now we were actually on our way. “Puerto Rico is a beautiful place!” they said. “You will love it; wait and see.”
In my American History class, all I learned was that Puerto Rico was an island that Spain gave to the United States when they lost the Spanish-American War. Since I grew up in the era before Google, I spent many afternoons at my local public library researching for the trip. The little information that was available to me was exciting but unsettling none the less. I found out the Island sat on one of the corners of the Bermuda Triangle, and there was huge radio satellite telescope somewhere in the mountains, actively trying to contact life on other planets! As a nerd, I didn’t think it was a coincidence, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
I knew from my parents that they were born American citizens. I learned that Puerto Rico became a United States territory in 1898, and the people were granted United States citizenship one month before we, entered World War I in 1917. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Compulsory Military Service Act two months later. Puerto Ricans have been serving in the military ever since, and there were several military bases opened on the Island. That explained why we were “Americans” even though Puerto Rico was not a state.
Who are we?
Adolescence is a time when we are all trying to figure out who we are and where we are going. Things were a bit complicated for me as I started the process of growing up. When relocated to this neighborhood, one of the first things my parents told us before we moved in was that we could only speak Spanish inside our apartment. Understandably that raised a lot of questions for me. At home, conversations flowed easily from one language to the other. I had never given it a second thought. Some of my new friends also spoke different languages at home. It was a blue-collar neighborhood of first and second-generation immigrants. Some kids even spoke two languages in addition to English. Joey spoke Lebanese and French; Barbara spoke Ukrainian and Polish, Anna spoke Italian. What was wrong with Spanish? Should I be ashamed to be able to speak Spanish?
Since I was the oldest, my parents explained that to get this apartment in a “better neighborhood,” my dad had lied and told the landlord that we were Italian. One of his friends from work, who was Italian, had a sister who was married to a Cuban who worked with real estate rentals. That was networking in the ’60s. I remembered going to the office and minding my siblings as we sat quietly waiting for the adults to finish meeting with the agent. As it turns out, all these grown-ups had decided that it was best to tell Mrs. Mary DeVito a little white lie until she got to know us better. Should I be ashamed to be Puerto Rican in this neighborhood?
We are a light-skinned bunch with “good” hair, and my mother had green eyes. We were able to pull it off – we “passed.” The Fair Housing Act was signed in 1968. In my Current Events class, we touched on the Civil Rights Movement that rocked the country at the time; we saw it on the news. One time driving back from my aunt’s house, we saw the multitude marching, but I didn’t make the connection to what was happening to us. When my parents thought it was safe to do so, they told Mrs. DeVito the truth. We went on to live there for many more years as Puerto Ricans (African/European/Taino.)
What a beach!
As our plane approached the Island, I began to feel excited. My siblings and I strained to catch a glimpse through the tiny windows. Maybe this trip wasn’t a bad idea, after all. The colors were the first thing that amazed me. From the sky, we could see the vibrant greens and soft browns of the mountains with ribbons of rivers running through them. We could see the crystal clear turquoise waters and sandy beaches like refined white sugar. There were no boardwalks and no amusement park rides. It was just palm trees, sand, and water. It was breathtaking. The pastel-colored houses and buildings in the cities looked festive from our birds-eye-view. I remembered when my aunt visited us a few years before; she was so disappointed to see the beaches in New York. “You call this a beach? You have to come and see what a real beach looks like.” She laughed. Now I understood what she was talking about. This was a paradise compared to Manhattan Beach, Brighten Beach, and Coney Island. I decided then; I was going to enjoy this adventure.
My mother’s youngest sister, Rosita, still lived at home with her parents. She took time off from work to show us around. Our first day-trip was to the beach, of course. I couldn’t get over how clear and warm the water was. The waves didn’t crash on shore; they gently rolled in and quietly rolled out. We didn’t need a beach umbrella; we had put our things between two palm trees and hung a hammock. To this day, Luquillo Beach is still my favorite, and my go-to mental place is a vision of effortlessly rocking in that hammock and listening to the rhythmic sounds of that beach. On our way home, my aunt took us to the thatch-covered eateries that lined the road by the beach. We each tried something different Rellenos-de-papas, (deep-fried meat-filled potato balls), alcapurias de jueyes (mashed green plantain ovals filled with crab meat), and meat-filled turnovers, to name a few. We were in heaven! Everything was delicious.
Spaceships in the mountains
Our next outing was to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States. My aunt said that many people believed spaceships regularly landed on the very top of this mountain. I told her about my research, and she promised to take us to Arecibo to see the Observatory in a few days. I was not worried anymore. If beings from another planet had chosen this place, they were OK by me. We spent the rest of the day exploring the trails and the waterfalls. Before we left, we swam in one of the pools that form along the river as it flows down to meet the sea. I had never been swimming in the river! The water was cold and cloudy after it rained. I was concerned now about what creepy crawling things might be swimming there with us. Fortunately, I couldn’t see any. On the way back, we bought tropical fruit from a stand on the side of the road. They were terrific; juicy and sweet, just as our parents had told us.
During that summer, we traveled around with other aunts and older cousins visiting many beautiful places. We crisscrossed the Island at least a couple of times. There are plenty of travel sites and tourist magazines that talk about the natural wonders of Puerto Rico, but my story is not about the tangible but about perception and self-discovery. It’s about a young girl confronting the unknown to find her truth.
Who are these people?
As we got to know family and friends across the Island, I began to see Puerto Rico different from the images I had formed in my head. We visited my paternal grandmother on her farm just outside of town. We were told that her small farm was a remnant of a large plantation that had been in her mother’s family since Spanish colonial times. From old photos, we recognized her thin figure wearing a black headscarf and dressed in mourning gray. She was waiting for us on her small porch as we drove up the long gravel road to her house. Her eyes, black as coal, glistened as she greeted us. Her skin wrinkled and tempered by the sun felt leathery on my cheek. She was a woman of little words, but she quickly went in to get something for us to eat. We had fresh bread and homemade white cheese from the two cows she kept for that very purpose. We had refreshing tropical drinks from her fruit trees, and of course, the smell of fresh coffee filled the air. As the grown-ups talked, we were encouraged to go outside and explore the farm, but I didn’t know where to start everything was so bright, warm, and impressive.
Nearby, we met our uncle’s children. These cousins were kids our age; boys and girls who laughed and played like our friends in Brooklyn. They used dried palm tree shafts like sleds to go down the grassy hills in the countryside. They confidently ran right by the cows, pigs, and horses as we followed staring and walking cautiously slow, afraid that any sound or fast movement might call the animal’s attention to us. Our cousins shook their heads and laughed at us. I thought it was all fun and exciting.
In Brooklyn, I didn’t know any Puerto Ricans outside of my family. The ones I saw depicted in movies or on television did not reflect my reality. No one in my family had been to jail or belonged to gangs or sold drugs on the street corners. We went to work or school and church. My family in New York was made up of all hard-working folks, trying to survive all the challenges that came their way in this new land. They were printers, handymen, electricians, seamstress, and clerks. I didn’t know of any Puerto Ricans who were doctors or lawyers. In school, we didn’t learn about the artists, poets, musicians, songwriters, and authors.
Here while visiting extended family, we learned that both of my grandfathers had brothers who had been the Mayor of their respective hometown. Our great-grandfather had been a well-known “troubadour” in the region. Other family members were respected members of the community educators, laborers, merchants, and artists, to name a few. It was a life I had seen on TV, but here the characters were real, and they were Puerto Rican!
For the love of art, music, and literature
I was glad my entire family took turns to take us to museums to show us the stories of our people. We saw folk dancers demonstrating the variety of cultural influences from Europe and Africa. We heard traditional music, played on instruments that originated on the Island. We got to listen to some of the Danzas, and ballads that were written by Spanish and Puerto Rican composers.
There was a Symphonic Orchestra! When I was assigned to my school’s strings orchestra the year before, I didn’t know which instrument to choose. I preempted a conversation with my mother by telling her that I didn’t want to play a squeaky violin. I loved the more profound, soulful sound of the cello but was afraid that for cultural reasons, she would think the cello was not an instrument for young ladies and would balk at the idea. To my surprise, she told me that there was a Spaniard that played the cello and lived in Puerto Rico. I was glad to hear it. I chose the cello. Although I never got to see Pablo Casals perform in person, it was great learning about him and knowing he was there in Puerto Rico. I was fascinated to hear about the Pablo Casals Festival established on the Island; maybe next time I visited, I would get to go.
Heart of the matter
I fell in love with Old San Juan and the “fort” that protected it, El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) where I could look out to open sea and get lost in all the wonder. I felt the strong winds that seemed to gather there, and it filled me with boundless enthusiasm for this adventure and the future. To this day, I can’t find quite find the words to describe what I felt.
Despite necessary modern upgrades, the city was still picturesque and quaint; something that one would see in Europe. It was old Spanish Colonial architecture painted in pastels with cobblestone streets. I imagined the aristocratic senoritas from Spain walking with parasols and chaperones to the Plaza on a Sunday afternoon.
I was amazed at all the cultural richness that I found in this tiny place. By the end of the day, I was absorbed entirely in all of it. I wanted to twirl on the lawn of El Morro and dance down the narrow streets of the Old City like a character in a Roger’s and Hammerstein musical. Picture Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music”; now transform the image to a brown-eyed girl singing Le lo lai, and Hector Lavoe’s “Que Cante Mi Gente” while strumming a guiro in her hands. Suddenly I understood why my parents loved to sing “En mi Viejo San Juan” whenever they had a chance. From this day forward, I would sing along with them.
A new me
When school started again, I was excited to share this marvelous adventure with my friends. My aunts had given me books and souvenirs that told our story, the story of my people. I brought these things to school on the first day. My friends were not interested, not even the pictures of cute Puerto Rican pop stars from la Discoteca Pepsi made them look. They were still in seventh and eighth grade, and the world didn’t matter much beyond the pretty boys in the next class.
It hurt my feelings at first, but no one could take away what I had learned that summer. I wrote about my experience in my English class and had a piece published in the school yearbook. I argued with my history teacher and told him whatever he was teaching had nothing to do with me. We talked after class, and he became one of my favorite teachers. It was in his class that I learned to paraphrase George Santayana’s philosophy that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. I Aced his class. That year in my Orchestra class, I played my cello as if I was playing a solo at the Pablo Casals Festival in San Juan.
The new me was glad we made that trip, and Puerto Rico continued in my dreams for a long time.
“…y asi le grito al villano. Yo seria borincano aunque naciera en la luna.” Juan Antonio Corretjer
In my life, the summer months bring anniversaries filled with memories of lessons learned, loved ones who have passed or chosen to move away. I celebrate the lessons learned by remembering a friend who taught me that you have to take a chance and savor the moment because you don’t know if or when the opportunity may come again. I celebrate my Mom, who will forever be a part of me. I send a virtual package of loving vibes to family far away in celebration of life.
This month, I’ve enjoyed getting into my fantasy fiction piece and taking a break. I’m totally appreciating the fact that it’s not an actual event or a true story. I feel it gives me a bit more license to explore other themes or enter other realms. The story that I’m working on had been floating in my head for years, and I wondered how I would bring it to life. As is true to much of my other writing, this story started with a snapshot of a memory. A seemingly insignificant incident has blossomed into a fantastic account of what could be if we were to believe in alternative truths. In our current society, we cringe at the words “alternative truths.” There is a dark side to an “alternative truth,” but I want to make this one fun, positive and thoughtful.
I have been encouraged to put extra energy into this project after a writer friend from work, reserved a small virtual cabin at CampNaNoWriMo 2019. Three of us share this cabin, which I believe, sits next to a beautiful, clear lake in the woods where there are no mosquitos or snakes, and the temperature is never above 75 degrees – even during a Florida summer. The virtual campground seems endless, and along with countless other campers, we each pick out a time and a place that best suits our creativity.
At registration, we were asked to identify our favorite camp activity. My first inclination was to respond that what I like most about cyber camping is sleeping in my own bed and not in a sleeping bag on the ground. I won’t have to worry that night critters are trying to get in my tent. I conceded, however, that I enjoy singing campy songs around the fire and walking on trails to take in all the sights and sounds of the forest. To get inspiration, I sit out on the imaginary porch with a glass of iced tea or climb into my hammock and start swinging to get into the rhythm of my story – all in my head, of course, just a warm-up.
I’ve written before that I like letting my imagination explore beyond the edge of reality. I’m looking forward to discovering where this story will take me. So far, it’s been fun, gathering unusual individuals who coincidently have some characteristics of people who have crossed my path or shared valuable lessons in different stages of my life. I’m working on telling the story in a way that has a message while still being amusing, sensational, and unpredictable.
Next installment coming soon.
Photos are my own; taken with my phone on recent walks. I find them a bit odd or surreal but inspirational for my story.
“Looking at life from a different perspective makes you realize that it’s not the deer that is crossing the road, rather it’s the road that is crossing the forest.” – Muhammad Ali (reddit)
For days Estrela Mann felt a heaviness in the air. Not as in the humidity of the tropics where she lived, but as a wave of negativity from the people around her. Each morning she would summon the light within her to fill her heart in order to illuminate the darkness around her. So it was that Stela, as her friends called her, made it through each day weary and exhausted but in good spirits.
One particular morning as the alarm rang out its cheerful tune, Stela prepared for the day ahead, resolved to make it a good one. She still had lots of errands and things to do to prepare for her trip. She allowed herself to feel good about the workshop this weekend and was looking forward to it.
Stela was eager to get going, but just before stepping outside, through the door’s glass panel, she caught sight of an unfamiliar car parked across the street with three angry faces glaring at her house. At first glance, Stella didn’t recognize them without the masks of pleasantry they always wore in public, but over the past few months, her awareness and intuition had sharpened. Stela knew exactly who they were, but what were they doing here and what did they want?
As she considered how to handle the situation, her phone rang. It was a video call from her friend Tom Aldi. This morning was getting more bizarre by the minute. What did he want this early in the day? She hadn’t spoken to him for months, but she smiled, it did make sense. They each had an uncanny sagacity of reaching out to the other in the most opportune moments. “Guess what?” he told her. “I’m almost at your back door. Open up and let’s put on a fresh pot of coffee. I’ve got great news!”
Forgetting the strangers outside for a moment, Stela went to the back of the house without hesitation. She would save her questions for later. Stela was glad to see him and was surprised at how relieved she felt to have him here right now. They had been friends since high school, and Stela often shared things with him that she felt foolish to tell others. She was sure he could help her sort out the signs to understand what was going on. Tom had a naturally keen ability for solving such puzzles.
Stela watched him casually walking out of the woods as if this morning’s visit was an everyday occurrence. She stepped out the door and was about to reach him when out of the ground in front of her, there arose a cloud of black smoke as when a small brush fire suddenly turns large and menacing. Stranger still was that someone appeared to be trapped in the smoke waving hands and screaming, “Get away, get away!” A hand making a fist shot up from out of the blackness as if to stop Stela from reaching Tom. The voice in the black cloud screamed obscenities at Stela. Amidst the confusion, Stela seemed to recognize the shrill voice. It sounded like Melana. As Stela approached the screams became louder, “Stay away! You ruined my life! No, not again! I forbid it!”
Was she dreaming? Was it Melana’s malicious nature from across the miles after all these years? This situation was all too much, too absurd! She told herself. She tried to look into the smoke. There was no flame; there was no one there! Just ear piercing sounds like a screaming Banshee. Frustrated and confused, Stela raised her hands and shouted back, “Stop it! I never ruined anything! Your own deceitfulness and manipulation achieved that! Now leave me alone, I have more important things to deal with!”
As Stela put out her hands toward the screaming smoke, rays of bright light shot out from her palms. Stela watched in astonishment as the smoke turned from black to gray to white, and finally, a thin fog evaporated into the fresh, quiet morning air. Through the light mist, Stela could see Tom getting closer as she stood there trembling in disbelief.
“Did you see that?” she asked Tom as they embraced when he reached her.
“The brush fire? Yeah, that was weird. There were no brush fire warnings. Good thing it fizzled quickly. Are you cold? Why are you trembling? Let’s go inside.”
Stela stared at him. Was that all he saw? “Did you hear the screeching?” She asked.
“Oh yeah, that old car parked across the street finally got going. If I were them, I would drive it over to the nearest auto repair shop.” She suddenly remembered the car out front, but when she looked, it was no longer there.
Was it the car that produced black smoke and the screeching? That reasoning would make some sense of this wild morning. Stela tried to relax as she half listened to Tom’s stories, but she remained restless. Either she was losing her mind, or something very strange was going on around her.
She thought of the Gandalf-look-alike she had met at the coffee shop a few months ago and again began to shiver as she remembered what he told her. Stela needed to get hold of him, but because she hadn’t taken him seriously, she didn’t even remember his name. Where did she put his business card? She had missed Tom, but now was trying to find a way to get him out of her house so that she could concentrate on finding “Gandalf.” Maybe he’ll sense my distress and find me again, like in the movies. She thought. “This is not a movie.” she scolded herself.
Tom noticed she had stopped listening, and she was trembling again. “Is everything alright? What’s going on? ” Stela wasn’t ready to share her ideas with Tom. When they were kids, she felt she could tell him anything but the events of the past few months were too much for her to try to explain, even to Tom. He had always been tolerant of her beliefs and ideas, but this went beyond anything she had experienced before.
“I’m not feeling well this morning. I was going to call in sick to work and lay down for a while.” She lied.
“Ok, if you don’t mind, I’ll wait in your TV room in case you need anything. I don’t want to leave you like this. “
Stela stared at him and started to argue, but he gently pushed her into her room and closed the door. She had to admit that the events of this morning left her shaken. She was sure she had not imagined them. Again she noticed that she was glad Tom happened to be around.
In her room, she noticed a shiny business card on her nightstand. Had it been there all along? Was it glowing? Ridiculous! Stela thought as she picked it up and sure enough, the card read, “Dr. Ailfred Cleary: Light Theory.”
She rolled her eyes as she read to herself, but picked up her phone to call.
(TRYING SOMETHING DIFFERENT. A FANTASY FLASH FICTION, PART OF A PROJECT I AM WORKING ON)
She was a gentle spirit who sang her prayers, but even the saintly have limits. She was an artist, a singer, a storyteller. She was a mother, a daughter, a wounded healer sought out by her neighbors for comfort and answers. She was my hero, my teacher, my friend.
She was crafts and science projects of carrot tops in shallow saucers or bird seeds in eggshells which later resembled a miniature forest on our windowsill. She was pastel colored chicks at Easter, picnics, and carousels at the park in summer. She was happy Christmas carols a shiny aluminum Christmas trees with bright blue ornaments.
I was her daughter – sometimes rude, sometimes impatient, but always in awe of the brave woman who could make a tall glass of sweet lemonade when life gave her a bowl of tart, wrinkled, old limes.