EN MI VIEJO SAN JAUN

Sundays was the day of the week that mommy would take to visit family. There weren’t many family members that she did visit but my grandparents on my father’s side was one of those family members. Thinking about it now I never saw my biological father and his father at the same time. Mommy still kept those lines of communication and visits open after she left my father. I don’t have details how that divorce happened but once my father left I never saw him again. There was one time when I was a teenager but that is another story.

When Sunday came around mommy would wake up early on Sunday and have the house swept, mopped and clean by 12 in the afternoon. Through all this preparation my brother and I were already showered and dressed sitting on the sofa watching some T.V waiting for her to get herself ready. When she was good and pretty we took the bus. My grandparents also lived in Park Slope. We at the time lived on 23rd street and my grandparents lived on Union St between 5th & 6th avenue. That was like a mile and a half away.

My grandparents were quiet people. I can’t really remember a lot of stuff that they said to me. I was very young. I can’t recall any conversations or words of advice from any of them. Visually I do remember them in detail.

My grandmother was a tiny woman almost the same size as my mother which would place them under 5 feet. She was blanquita with brown eyes. Her voice was always soft. I never heard abuelita scream. Every time we went you would find her in the kitchen in her bata. She had long salt and pepper hair that she always kept in a bun. Abuelita was very matronly. She never wore make up nor had her nails painted. Her nails weren’t even long. She was very plain. She took pride in being a senora de casa. I remember Abuelita had soft hands and I know this because she always would hug me and right after touch my face. Right after that she would always offer us something to snack on. I also can recall the way she smelled. She never wore perfume. No. Abuelita smelled like comfort. Her scent was a mixture of Abuelo’s cigars, fresh ground coffee and Ivory soap.

My grandfather on the other hand was the opposite. He was a bit darker, el color caramelo to be exact and also a lot taller. As old as he was he had a full head of black hair and it was always perfectly done. He would comb it with his grasa. Back then the men used hair grease. Till this day when I smell hair grease I get visuals of my grandfather. I can’t say I can recall a time that my grandfather was not well dressed either. He always had a button down shirt on. When it wasn’t long sleeve it was a guayabera and always a white one. It was perfectly ironed and creased with the smell of starch. His pants always a dark color as well. His clothes were always immaculate and well put together. Just for the record Abuelo always had on shoes. I’ve never seen that man wear sneakers or even loafers. he was a straight forward old school man in all that he did.

When we entered our grandparent’s house I went straight and kissed my grandmother first. She always had open arms for me. She would hug me and then I would run off to see my grandfather.  They lived in what you call a railroad apartment. It’s all just one straight line and usually consisted of 5 rooms that included a kitchen and living room. On one side of the apartment you can see outside to the front of the building and the other end had you facing the backyard. The kitchen window always faced the backyard. It’s where you entered most of these apartments. The last room facing the front was their living room. They lived alone so they only had a one bedroom. I would always find him sitting in his chair looking immaculate and spiffy. I’d give him a kiss and he would smile at me. Then he would give me candy. He always had candy waiting for my brother and I. I’d sit in the living room with him eating my candies while he would be reading the newspaper smoking a cigar or he would be watching some western cowboy movie on T.V. Whatever it was he was doing I would be around him. I just enjoyed him. He had a deep voice and these piercing dark eyes that when he looked at you all that was needed was few words and you understood what he was saying. He was such a man of few words. I remember he had beautiful hands. They were so neat and taken care of.  There was this thing that look like a treasure chest. He had made it out of popsicle sticks. When he passed away my mother took it. The treasure chest was full of buttons. There were so many buttons in different sizes and colors. Some were very antique. Some were embellished with rhinestones. I remember sometimes I would just open it up and just play with buttons and be submerged in memories of my grandparents.

There were times that mommy couldn’t visit them and my grandfather would come over to our house. He usually came by himself. Every time he came to our house it was with a box of candy one for me and one for my brother. I can recall the times he didn’t he would give us change so we can go and get candy later.

Close by my grandparent house lived a woman named Maria. She was such a strong Puerto Rican woman. She was also a humble woman. She was a light skin, long hair Borinquena from the motherland. She became my godmother de agaua. I can remember her in my life till my early teens. She would become to me what I consider the epitome of una mujer Puertorriquena.  In her old age and I mean over 60 she would walk all the way from Union street to go and play dominoes with my mother. By herself, hair in a  ponytail, her sneakers and dress cause I never saw her in pants she would walk to see me and play dominoes with my mom. And she was a good player. She would sit at the table smoking cigarettes I think and drink coffee.

Those are the closest family members that my mother got along with from my father’s side. They became great friends to my mother. It is them I think of when people mention Puerto Rico. It is them that I recall class, humbleness and La Isla in its fullest.

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