Thinking about the past.
My mother came from a very conservative religious Catholic family. In addition her family her family was well-connected and traditional living in the heart of the Puerto Rico countryside. Naranjito.
Naranjito is snuggled in between some pretty high cerros only an hour from San Juan today, but because of all the hills and curvy roads it was quite secluded then. Transportation at the time was mainly in a jeep or a school bus called guaguas. The windows were open and you would always arrive with your hair in disarray, sticky, and sweaty. Antiperspirants and air conditioning were unheard of. They didn’t exist. So people stayed put mostly or had to move to the city if they wanted to find any opportunities. Many moved away.
Life was much simpler then as well. Washing machines were not common so people didn’t have extensive wardrobes and most of your clothes were white and washed at the river by hired hands. I can still remember as a child seeing some women sitting on some boulders on the edge of the river, slapping some clothes on the rocks to loosen the dirt then rigorously dunk them in the water to rinse them, as bubbles floated down the river.
It was also a time when people themselves were the main entertainment. No television, mostly radio, books, and each other. People learned the words of songs they heard on the radio, Carlos Gardel, Rafael Hernandez, and lots of guitar music. If you had a voice you used it, and my mothers voice was legend in her house. It was a treat as well, for a family gathering to hear some one play a guitar and entertain the family with songs they could all sing along too. Others told intriguing stories, mostly folk tales or memorized poetry and recited it. In fact, it was encouraged in school. During my grandmother’s time, the Americans had taken over Puerto Rico, and she had to memorize poems in English, which she really didn’t understand. Years later I asked her if she knew English, and she instantly produced in broken English a poem about bees. “The bee flys…If the bee can fly… and that is all I can remember she said it so fast.
At that time names meant something, too. In fact, most names were given to you according to the day you were born and the name of the particular saint of the birth date. Therefore your name was given to you in honor of a relative or was directly related to the day you were born because each day on the calendar honored a particular saint. Every one was in the same boat. If you were lucky you got some pretty name, like Maria and Ana but many had more elaborate names, such as Cesarea, Guillermina, Gumersinda, Nicolasa, Juana Ines, Maria de los Angeles, or Eva de Lourdes. For the boys: Oscar, Francisco, Arturo, Octavio, Jose, Antonio, Elias, Manuel, Justo, Severo, Samuel, Juan Ciprian, just to name a few.
These names float on my family tree and can be traced to the calendar, the Catholic calendar. When you had ten children, five boys and five girls, you got assistance when naming your children. Once your child was old enough he or she found a good nickname to be their moniker in front of the world. This happened to an aunt with a particularly severe name, Cesarea became Sarita, Juana-Juanita, Guillermina-Gisela, and Georgina-Georgie, I rather liked how distinguished the original names were. I guess I romanticized their names but they didn’t. They just found a nickname that didn’t seem so heavy.
Nevertheless, I like the tradition. I love the history and significance. I loved the time. Wish I could fly through time and have walked among them and been able to see how they lived, kept their word, respected their neighbors, considered their employees as part of the family, felt the good earth, and were integrated in their community. I wish I could have been there and heard my mother singing in the kitchen and filling the valley below with her wonderful soprano voice.