As Mother’s Day approaches I can’t help but think of my mom and grandmother, Abuela who are no longer with us. I miss them both so much. They brought back memories of when we moved to Puerto Rico from New York in 1973. It was quite the culture shock for a 15 year old!
I remember the days prior to our move to Puerto Rico. It was 1973, the long truck full of our belongings sat in our driveway. Elton John was singing Crocodile Rock on the radio.
As I looked out my bedroom window for one of the last times, I wondered if this was going to be a good move. I was scared, but we had traveled to Puerto Rico so many times since I was a little girl. I loved each visit we made there. I kept telling myself that it was going to be alright.
I had already said goodbye to my friends from school and the neighborhood. As I continued sorting and packing I felt excitement and nervousness all at the same time. I didn’t know how to speak Spanish but I kept pushing that out of my mind.
The day finally arrived and it was time to leave for the airport. As we got in the car I took everything in. The front steps that we would all sit out on in the hot summers eating Popsicles, the rock wall we all worked on together, the dogwood we would lay under and make snow angels, as the snow fell on our faces in the winter. All those memories flooded back to me.
As the car drove us away, I remember looking back at the only house I could remember since I was 5. We drove past the Green and the Grove where my brother, sister and I used to play for hours at a time. Down the long hill until I no longer could see our house anymore. I turned around and sat quietly looking forward. Now it was real, we were on our way to our new home.
Hours later we landed in Puerto Rico. It was hot and all of our family was waiting for us behind a gate! Everyone was so happy! If I recall correctly my uncle drove us home. I remember feeling a little car sick as he was taking those hair pin curves on our way to Naranjito, the small town we would be moving to. He was driving so fast that I was holding on for dear life.
My Abuela was so funny, even though I barely understood a word she said to me! I could tell she was happy to have us all there with her. My uncles and aunts were always so wonderful to us. We had so many cousins and I couldn’t wait to get to know them even better.
We moved into Abuela’s house until our house was built. My dad was going to be starting on that soon. Although there was a language barrier I began to understand some Spanish. I was terrified of speaking it in fear of making mistakes and being laughed at.
My Abuelo loved to play dominoes and I had fun playing too. One of my uncles used to call me “tramposa”, which means cheater, among other words de cariño of course! I can’t imagine why! I will always remember him playing with a cigarette in one hand and a shot glass on the table. We always had so much fun! There was always laughter, I miss them so much.
I didn’t know Spanish, how was I going to learn it? We had gotten by with the family since most everyone spoke English. I knew once we started school it was going to be a different story.
Our first day of school came too soon. I was scared and sick to my stomach. I didn’t know what to expect. I was too shy to speak Spanish.
I walked into my math class, and sat down. I think we must have been in the basement, it had a dirt floor. I remember the teacher speaking but it was like when the Charlie Brown cartoon adults speak, “wamp, wamp, wamp” but in Spanish! They could have had the volume completely off, I could barely understand anything. Then all of a sudden a few chickens ran through the classroom! I remember thinking, “oh crap where am I?!”
I don’t know where to start. I loved Abuela so much. I was always in awe of her abilities to grab a live chicken from the back yard and have it plucked, cooked and served within an hour! I loved those lunches! She was such a strong woman. She suffered quietly; you would have never known the pains that she had lived through in her lifetime. Despite all of that she was always laughing. Her eyes twinkled when she talked! I see her eyes when I look at my uncle.
I used to sit and listen to her stories for hours. She would tell pretend stories of her trips to Europe. When I moved away to college she used to write letters as if she was writing from abroad! Because of those stories I knew that I had to visit those places. Years later when I walked around Barcelona, I thought of my sweet Abuela who hadn’t been blessed with that opportunity. Her stories of “Espaaaña” and “Barthelona” were so wonderful.
Even though she had a kitchen at times she would still cook out back in that big black caldero. She was always busy doing something. You could always find her washing clothes, hanging them on the line, cleaning, feeding the chickens or cooking, cooking and cooking! The house was always spotless.
She enjoyed going through her family picture albums. We would sit on the side of her bed as I listened to her talk about those times and the people in the photos.
When we used to visit on vacation she still lived in the old house. I remember hearing the rain when it hit the tin roof. To this day I love that sound. The coquis would be singing as dusk fell, “coqui, coqui, coqui”. The moon would be shining through those swaying palm trees. It was truly perfection!
During those days my hair was quite wild, it was somewhere between an afro and Diana Ross! Remember we are still in the 1970’s! So at night when we were outside I could feel something swooping by my head! Later I soon found out they were the resident bats from the attic! I could just imagine one of those babies stuck in my hair, squealing to get out of that nest!
Her house had wooden shutters that covered the windows when it rained. There were no screens on the windows. What for? We had mosquito nets on our beds, and believe me they weren’t only to keep out mosquitoes!
Living in upstate NY I had never seen a cockroach, but these apparently weren’t the ordinary cockroaches. They flew and were over 2 inches long! They were so big you could fit a collar around their necks and take them for a walk!
She taught me how to use the old Singer sewing machine. I do confess getting my finger caught in that needle a few times! I still have that machine sitting here in my home. All of her belongings are still in the drawers as she left them.
I miss my Abuela so much. I wish I had been there during the end. I couldn’t talk to her because my mom was dying and the thought of seeing or hearing that pain would have been dreadful to me. I wanted to spare my Querida Abuelita any pain. Losing a child is tough; knowing that your child is suffering is tougher. I knew that the families were there to take care of her. That gave me comfort.
Now they are all together in Heaven. I picture my uncle and grandfather playing dominoes, my mom holding my baby Alexandra in her lap, while sitting and laughing with my aunts, and my Abuela? Well I am sure she isn’t sitting still in Heaven either!