In just a little over a week, I will be traveling to Puerto Rico with my parents and my sister, something that hasn’t happened in approximately forty years. As a minister and a teacher’s aide, my parents did not make the kind of money that allowed for vacations that required airline travel. As a matter of fact, my parents had not returned to Puerto Rico since they moved here as kids. There just wasn’t the money to do so. We didn’t think we were missing anything, after all we were still vacationing in Ocean Grove on the Jersey shore. It was a beach right?!
Ha! Little did we know what we were missing.
The four of us traveled to Puerto Rico in 1971, it was a strategic move on our parents’ part because it was the last year we would qualify for the half-fare tickets that kids got in those days.
I remember waking up in my great-grandmother’s house, in Peñuelas, trying not to stretch too much because dislodging the mosquito netting was deadly for me. Yes, I’m exaggerating a bit, but mosquitos do love me. A love that is not returned.
All I could smell was the aroma of fresh baked bread from the bakery next door. I definitely took advantage of our proximity to the bakery. A personal sized pan de manteca, slathered with jelly, and washed down with a tall glass of milk. Could life get any better?
When we traveled to Naguabo, Humacao, and Carolina, where my father’s family lived, I met cousins I never even knew existed. For the most part, my paternal grandfather’s family never left the island. They never felt the need to move to the mainland. So that was probably going to be my only chance to meet them. My sister and I, “Las Americanitas”, provided them with comic relief. Great impression we left, huh.
While I have been to Puerto Rico several times with my daughters, we never visited family while we were there. We just wanted to lay on a beach, relax, and get a little sightseeing done. This time I’m excited to be visiting with family, after all if I went by myself I would just be “Samuel’s daughter” or “la hija de Luisa”, and while I will be both those people, I’m eager to hear the tales that will be told over dinner.
So much family history has been lost already because it wasn’t written down. The only great-grandparents, I got to meet, died within six months of each other in the mid-1980s. Aged 101 and 97 at the time of their deaths, they earned their rest. Between 1989 and 2003, I lost all four of my grandparents, people I loved very much and spent a lot of time with. The few aunts and uncles my parents still have, are well into their 80s and 90s. And with my parents in their mid-70s it is almost a challenge to get the family tree complete and start writing the memories that remain. I only wish I had written down the stories that were shared at family gatherings years ago.
Every family needs an archivist, unfortunately we don’t think about it until it’s too late and the storytellers are gone.