Orquids and Plantains

This is my attempt at translating the prior entry titled Orquideas y Plantanos or was it the other way around? See his picture below.

What a sweet couple, and I am not talking about plants but about Dona Manuel and Damita. I met Don Manuel around twenty odd years ago in Valle Escondido. I was 26 and he was around sixty. Jean and I had just moved from Fair View to an enormous house in the country and we needed help with the yard which also was enormous and surrounded on all three sides by tall Portuguese grass.

There was overabundance of nature in Valle Escondido which included little “reinitas", woodpeckers, and big conch frogs or sapo conchos. The reinitas are our state bird, which is so light that it can seemingly float on the tall grass leaves while hardly bending them. In addition to the reinitas that abundant nature included the sharp whistling red woodpeckers which worked all day on the tall lean “meaito” or African Tulip trees with their bright orange flowers as well as the huge conch frogs which always lingered too long on the road many becoming road bumps. My niece baptized Valle Escondido as Sapo Escondido as a result.

It was around 1979 when, Valle Escondido was developed as a subdivision and golf course by Mr.Robert Pulliam on a hacienda which had originally belonged to the Munoz McCormick family. Oh my, I am getting into deep waters here, talking about such important names and legendary stories that Don Manuel shared. I still remember those years as being mysterious since they connected me to a historic past which included don Manuel’s vivid stories through which I could almost hear the echo of their voices among the swaying grass.

Among the stories he recounted how he had been a steward of that huge plantation where he supervised the farm workers and reported to powerful owners. Doña Baby, was the only one left then and she was in her late 60’s or early 70's then and still well known and respected in the barrio. In fact he took me to her house in Mamey 2 (dos) for a visit. Her inquiring eyes as to who was this stranger Don Manuel brought up her hill. She herself being a character for another story. I promised to go back but unfortunately with the busyness of life and children, I barely got to just wave on my way to el Sector Laguna.

Don Manuel was more than just a gardener, he was a friend, he was family. So well loved, almost like a father. Early in the morning, at around six thirty, this gentle Jibarito would emerge out of the misty matorral or forest, completely dressed in bluish grey gabardine with a pava on his head, black rubber boots that reached his knees, a sack on his shoulder and a machete in his hand. Out he would come full of stories, lessons, and gifts.

He never carried his lunch or water. I soon learned that I had to provide such things. He was so patient with me because I wasn’t the best of cooks yet I enjoyed making enormous ham and Edam cheese sandwiches with fresh “pan de agua” or crisp Puerto Rican style French bread, or some simple rice with beans and corned beef with fried ripe plantains. Just simple things like that. Though he always enjoyed my meals there was no convincing him to sit at our table to enjoy a meal. That was the way he was.

To be continued...


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