Jose J. Torres García

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Gertrude!

BAUTISMO BORICUA –

It was a cold Friday night when Julio went to meet his friends from work. Simón and Antonio waited inside their favorite bar in Ponce. Inside were pool tables. They had a couple of beers and chatted about their hard work week

“Simón, I’ve always dreamed of having a huge party in my house. A party that would last

two days, and lechón al carbon cooked in the backyard, live music, beer, family and friends. A Christmas party that no one will forget,” said Julio with smile on his face

“That sounds good, Julio. I know where we can buy the pig and I have all the equipment to cook it,” said Simón without hesitating.

“And I know some friends that will come to play music just for free beers,” said Antonio sealing the deal.

Julio returned home and discussed his idea with his wife, Alma. They finally agreed to have this party in honor of the baptism of his newborn son José Julian. The baptism was schedule for the 27th of December of 1984.  Weeks before the event Simón and Julio looked for many lechoneras to find the perfect pig. This pig was going to be the main attraction of the party.

The party started as soon as Julio and Simón picked up the eighty-five pound animal called Gertrude on the evening of the 26th of December. On their way to Julio’s house, Simón talked very excitedly about Gertrude’s preparation. When they arrived, Alma had the house clean and ready. LP records played Christmas music. Simón took Gertrude to the kitchen to quickly clean her insides while Julio prepared the seasoning.

The contents of this adobo seasoning were, peeled garlic, ground pepper, oregano leaves and salt. The ingredients were smashed together in a pilon. The smell of the puertorrican adobofilled every room of the house. Simón rubbed the seasoning inside all the cuts he made on Gertrude’s body.

Gertrude ready to cook!

The Godfathers of the Baptism, Noel and Sonia arrived from San Juan. The night was about to end and the scene was ready. Seasoned Gertrude was impaled on a stainless steel shaft and strapped with steel cables.

Jose Julian baptised

You can see a proud Julio with his firstborn, Julio Noel posing for the only picture of Gertrude before being roasted. “That night we drank three cases of beer,” remembers Julio proudly.

It was five the next morning when Simón arrived to start cooking Gertrude. A whole pig needs several hours of cooking. Alma made breakfast for everyone.

At 10:30 a.m., Julio and Alma arrived at the church for mass and the baptism of their son. Family and friends gathered that morning to witness this sacred sacrament. For Catholics, baptism is an admission ritual, and it was made to erase the original sin of Adam and Eve.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen,” said the priest while pouring holy water on Jose Julian’s forehead. And just like that the journey of Jose Julian as a Catholic began.

Back at the house, family and friends arrived every minute. Alma and her sisters prepared the arroz con gandules, potato salad and many other delights. The house was filled with the Christmas joy.

The pig was the main attraction of the house. The stage for this attraction was a bed of lit charcoal and two walls of zinc sheets that were held by 2 X 4’s. Everyone took pictures of themselves turning the shaft as Gertrude turned a golden toasty brown.

Julio stopped counting the guests when they reached sixty-five. He was afraid the beers wouldn’t last.

The starry night was even more perfect when Antonio David arrived with his musician friends. The sound of a parranda with a guitar, maracas, cuatro, güiro and a bongó surprised the guests.

Parranda!

The music topped the celebration.

Alma felt bad during the night. She was so busy that she forgot she was feeling sick. “I think I’m getting the flu,” said Alma to Sonia.

“What you need is some pitorro with honey to kill those germs,” replied Sonia pouring a shot of the illegal rum.

After three more shots, Alma’s head was clearer and she began to think of a reason why she was feeling so bad.

“It can’t be. I think I’m late,” said Alma quietly while heading toward Julio. She told Julio the big news and after some hugs Julio spoke to the guests.

“Soon we are going to have another child in the family. Alma and I decided that if the baby is a girl, this party will be repeated,” said Julio almost yelling while looking at his friends Simón and Antonio David.

Rosalma was born nine months later, and another baptism fiesta planned. Simón was in charge of the pig, and Antonio David was in charge of the live music and everyone was invited. It was Julio’s dream to have a huge, two-day party with live music, a pig roasting in the back yard and endless beers for everybody.

Julio wanted more than anything to create a story for his sons to tell their sons and a tradition that would always remind them of the importance of family and unity.

Unity!

5 Comments

  1. This story and photos remind me a lot about my childhood. It is very interesting how similar puerto rican families were back then specially when making big family reunions on holidays. Everything from “las parrandas” with the music, “el lechon” and family, all of that just spread a warm energy of carefree joy and happiness that only can be described by experiencing it. Puerto Rico is blessed with a beautiful culture.

  2. Amazing story. Your details made me feel like I was there. It’s nice to see that these traditions come from so far back and are still alive today. I have to give you credit you gave it a great Puerto Rican flavor when describing how they “adoba” the pig and of course our traditional christmas meal “arroz con gandules and pernil”. Hopefully in the future our generation will also keep up this wonderful tradition without hesitating.

  3. Really interesting how you portrayed a puertorican party and culture through this story. The portrayal of the reasons and aspects for making a party plus a vivid example of our culture, it really is an exquisite piece. What I mainly liked abot his piece was the “lechon al carbon” or how I’m used to call it “lechon asao”.

  4. I really liked the details of the story and how you told it. I really like the fact that you look to have family very unite and for me that is the best part of this story. For me family is first than anything in this world. I like to be with my family all the time that I can because they make me feel happy. I could see the happiness in that family party.

  5. Good stories, wow I am surprised that many puertorican traditions are still being celebrated like the parrandas and eating pig at christmas. Making parties to unite the entire family is really good, I hope that the tradition in the family is still being celebrated.

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