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.
Usually, on a Sunday, I prepare meals and “healthy” snacks for the week. I work part-time a few towns away, and during the tourist season in SW Florida, the commute at peak hours is a nightmare. On days that I have to work, I like to make sure I don’t have to fuss over what I’m going to eat. On days that I don’t work, I still don’t like planning and preparing elaborate meals. I’ve taken to making one pot and one-dish meals, such as soups, casseroles, pizza, or pasta. Keep it Simple is my motto.
This is the second week where I’ve not planned out my week partly because I have not been to work for three weeks because of COVID 19. It has been challenging to plan, mainly because the supermarket has been hit or miss with what is available. I make it up as I go along. I managed to find ground turkey at the end of last week and promptly prepared my version of “sloppy joes” on mini French rolls with a side of oven-fries and a cucumber salad.
In preparing my meal, I noticed that I was running low on “recaito.” Recaito is a homemade seasoning, basic to just about all my recipes. Some people call it sofrito, which means “gently fried” or sautéed. Growing up, I used to watch my grandmother and mother chop up all the vegetables each time for every meal. The onions, pepper garlic, and sometimes tomatoes are sautéed in a heavy pan before adding to the dish. Every day, for every meal…chop, chop! On rare occasions, I’ll take the time to do to chop up everything fresh, but in general, I thank goodness for blenders, food processors, and Magic bullets!
Recaito. consists of onion, garlic, peppers (I prefer cubanelle or Italian pepper), aji dulce -small sweet peppers (don’t confuse with the Scotch bonnets), add cilantro and culantro/coriander leaves (culantro has a more robust flavor, use sparingly.)
As you know, supermarkets have limited supplies, and since I didn’t feel like traveling to a specialty supermarket, I decided to make the Lazy -Lindi version of recaito. These are, after all, unprecedented times of basic survival. The newscasts continue to say that things will get worse or peak in the coming weeks. I don’t want to be without recaito in the middle of a pandemic. We all have our limits.
Usually, I make a big batch to share. See my attempt at a still-life of my ingredients and tools. You may recognize a Ninja blender, extra-large measuring cup, ice cube trays, pre-cut green peppers and onions, peeled garlic, a small bunch of cilantro, and small packaged culantro. The ice cube trays are for easy storage. After the ingredients are blended, I pour the mixture in Ice cube trays and then in a freezer bag or container. When I’m cooking, it’s easy to pop an ice cube or two into my soups, sauces, Spanish rice, or beans. If you are not feeling exotic, leave out the cilantro and culantro. It’s still a tasty and convenient way to have condiments on hand.
So with my magic ingredient past down from generations, I am ready to survive our COVID 19 Pandemic. Be safe.
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.
As I mentioned before, I’m one of those who will unapologetically break into song if it strikes my fancy. I love musicals, and I’m open to just about every genre of music, especially those that tell a story. Its no surprise that my music lists include everything from Yo-Yo Ma, Andrea Bocelli, Marley, Beatles, Monkees, Classical acoustic Spanish guitar, old school Latin like Salsa and Boleros, to Lord of the Dance, Jazz in general, folk-rock/pop John Denver, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, etc. You get the idea.
All in all, often when this Puerto Rican girl from Brooklyn needs some downtime or needs to get down, she goes Country. As a kid, our pastor loved the old Country Gospel songs like “What a friend we have in Jesus, or Turn Your Eyes, In the Garden.” We sang that hit parade at every service. In stressful times you’ll see me put on Alan Jackson’s “Precious Memories.”
Truth be told, mainstream Country just grew on me about 15 years ago with Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, take the Wheel.” Outside of church music, and folk music that “hillbilly twang, just crated on my nerves.” Now, you’ll find about 3 or 4 country stations in my car too. You may even agree, “She’s gone country!” For the most part, I like that they tell the stories of every working-class man and woman. Sometimes I’m hurt and disappointed by the artists of that genre, but that’s a post for another day.
When I saw the prompt for today, it reminded me of the song by Kenny Chesney, “I go back.” Here’s the first verse:
“Jack and Diane” painted a picture of my life and my dreams, Suddenly this crazy world made more sense to me Well I heard it today, and I couldn’t help but sing along ‘Cause every time I hear that song
I go back to a two-toned short bed Chevy Drivin’ my first love out to the levy Livin’ life with no sense of time And I go back to the feel of a fifty-yard line A blanket, a girl, some raspberry wine Wishin’ time would stop right in its tracks Every time I hear that song, I go back, I go back…”
I appreciate this prompt. As I listed the tunes and genres that I enjoy, it made me realize that there is much more to write about in the music of my life. Stay tuned. I may be back with more.
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.
As some may have noticed, for the past several months, I’ve had a hard time getting back into a regular rhythm of writing and posting at “Self Censored.” I can write about why and where my energy is going, but the bottom line is I’m trying to figure out where I want to go with this blog. This ambivalence makes it easy for so many other things to get in the way.
For example, while I’m on a roll and in the groove at the computer today, Eliza – my furry baby girl jumps on my lap because she wants to go out. I put her down, but she gets back up and desperately tries to get my attention by licking my face. Naturally, I stop and go out for a while as she examines all the spots she missed the last time we were out. Needless to say, when we get back, she needs a snack to reward her for doing her business outside, and while I’m at it, I decide to warm up the pumpkin muffin that is still waiting in the fridge.
Let’s get back to why I’m here today. I want to change things up a bit on my blog. I’m thinking about changing the layout, title, and domain name. I’ve been working on WordPress.com, but I’ve been recommended to try WordPress.org because it has more flexibility. As I’m mulling ideas about the nuts and bolts, I’ve also been thinking about my content. Is the “About” page still accurate? Are my goals the same? Is my motivation the same? Who I’m writing for? Maybe I don’t want to be censored anymore.
The idea for change came one day as I was at the library working on “collection maintenance” (re-shelving books, straightening up and making the place look presentable). That day I found a little book called “Why We Write. Twenty Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do.” By Meridith Maran. I tend to be a wee bit superstitious and thought to myself, “Hmmm, maybe this is the insight I need right now.” Truth be told, the book did turn out to be encouraging and stimulating. Of course, there was the usual advice from well know authors about perseverance and dealing with rejection, but it was the similarities to my thought process that inspired me.
Like myself, many of the authors included in the book found reading and writing as an emotional outlet early on. I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I had poems and prose entered in my school papers and yearbooks since middle school. At one point, I thought I would make journalism a career. A friend and I fantasied as kids about working on projects together. He’d be a famous photojournalist, and I’d be the writer. Ahhh youth….
In the book, I found some authors began writing to explain or to make sense of the changing world around them – first to themselves and then to connect with others with the same uneasiness in spirit. They described taking ordinary moments from one’s particular point of view, “freeze-dry” the moment to let the reader “add water,” connect with the notion and make it their own. As I read, I could hear that voice of affirmation and validation in my head.
It was from this book that I decided to write fantasy or magical realism instead of continuing with the short stories and snapshots of my memories. It was with this new project in mind that I started connecting with co-workers in the Nanowrimo model. But alas, here I am reaching the end of November but still quite far from finishing a novel or novelette or whatever. I do however have a better idea of what I want to write, how, and most importantly why. I’ve done some research to move my story and characters forward, and I count that as progress. I see my finished project as a female version of Santiago the Spanish Shepard looking for The Alchemist, meets King Arthur’s Merlin at The Shack with Mack. Wish me luck!
As for you, keep writing. I check in to the blogs I follow and get inspired. I enjoy getting updates, reading your stories, and delight in how creatively you let your voices be heard.
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
I’m late in posting for Father’s Day. This is always one of my go-to happy memories.
This is the original essay which was my tribute for Father’s Day a few years ago. I condensed it for an assignment last week. Please enjoy this version too.
“I love the summer rain!” I shouted in my head because there was no one around to hear my declaration and ‘cause no one really cared. “Why?” I asked myself; I knew the answer from the minute I felt the first heavy drops. It was because of him. And because of him, I stood there for a moment in the pouring rain. Just a moment, long enough for my jeans to get soaked and my tee shirt drenched and long enough to conjure up the video I wanted to play in my mind.
He must have been about the age I am now that day. Mid-fifties, receding gray hair, twinkling eyes, round face with half a crooked smile and a round belly to match. He wore shorts, his thin shirt unbuttoned halfway, and he’d already lost his shoes on the porch as he ran out to catch the rain. In all the excitement, he skipped and twirled tempting my girls to join him. Lovey had already shed her sandals and was waiting for the “go ahead.” I realized it was contagious as I liberated Annie from her orthopedics. Soon they were all laughing and skipping and twirling, wet through and through in the tropical rain. My mother and I just smiled from the sidelines, more concerned with what
the neighbors in the subdivision were thinking behind their blinds.
They called him “El Sapo” – “The Frog.” They say as a kid he would love to cool down by laying on the floor, with his legs in a diamond shape like a frog. He loved the water, he loved the rain, and he loved us. In the good times and the bad, of that, we could be sure.
I wished him here today. I wanted to be that little girl and dance in the rain and to have him hold me tight like he did the day Eddie died and he had no words to console me. How does one console a daughter whose young husband just died in the recovery room? We held each other the same way as we said our final good-byes to my mom on a warm summer morning. I wanted to hold him for the night that he died that I didn’t, but rather blew him a kiss from the door because I had the flu and didn’t want to share it with him.
As I think of him now, I know he wasn’t perfect, but I am grateful for all he was and all he left behind including that little bit of him in me.