Marielys Torres Rodríguez

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WITH JUST THAT LOOK –

I found this picture with its old smell in the house where my grandparents lived. When my mother led me to where it was and I saw it for the first time, many questions and feelings came up.  I never had the pleasure of meeting them. Who? My great-grandparents, Gregorio and Santiaga. You are asking, how I know their names? Well, that would be because of my mom, who also told me that they posed for this picture in 1955. I held the image in my hands and it made me so curious, I wanted to know more about them.

My mother said: “¿Tan vieja me veo que crees que los conocí desde que eran mas jovenes?” With that response, I realized that few of the living members of my family would know anything about them.

Mom remembered a few anecdotes about them. I was not surprised that she said they lived in a very small wooden house, which she remembers as being hot and damp. Santiaga was known as a kind, humble and helpful woman, but when she was angry she transformed.

“One time, a man stopped in front of her house and asked her if she had alcolado because he was sick. She thought it was for an injury. But when she gave it to him, he drank it. She was so angry, she broke the glass bottle of alcolado over his head,” Mom said.

I laughed and wanted to know more. But mom told me to call Aunt Elena, who is my great-grandparent’s oldest daughter. Thank God, I have Aunt Elena. I went to her home and she killed some of my curiosity, but not as much as I expected.

She began, “They were born in Coamo; Gregorio Rodriguez Ocasio in 1885 and Santiaga Gomez Perez in 1890. Those were difficult times here in Puerto Rico, years in which there were many educational and political changes,” Aunt Elena said.

“Oh, it really would have been gratifying to hear stories from them about their experiences and way of living!” I said.

“Santiaga was a housewife and Gregorio was a farmer, and he worked with sugarcane crops. He was paid only twenty-five cents per day, and he worked from 6:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m. They were both illiterate,” Aunt Elena said.

“But was that enough to eat and live well?” I asked.

“Well, look, their first home was in a field of Coamo, which is called Santa Catalina. The house was a hut, like the one used by the Indians, made of straw. Then they moved to the town. Things were better and they had a wooden house. They ate mostly vegetables and a bread called cassava that she knew how to make,” Aunt Elena said.

Despite what she said I asked to myself if they really could live well in those conditions or how they fed all of their seven children each day. Puerto Rico was very different those years. I couldn’t imagine what it was like when they both went to vote for the first time, which was in 1948 when Luis Muñoz Marín won the race for governor.  Or even when they brought their children to school for the first time.

There are other questions and thoughts in my mind that no one can answer. But what I do see by looking at their faces in the photographs, they seemed worn down by all the hard work but also satisfied because their progeny that had grown up with great values and the desire to become good citizens. Their daughter, my grandmother was an excellent mother, wife, grandma and friend. I love her. I had never seen a picture of my great-grandparents, until my mom showed me this one. I know that if I had known them I would have loved them to because of their humble way of teaching values to their family and their big hearts.

2 Comments

  1. I think I can imagine that distinguishing old picture smell you are talking about. The picture is worth a thousand words because, apart from being beautiful, it preserves history with its oldness and personages. It is surprising to hear how much can one country change in a hundred years!

  2. I loved your story!!! The alcolado anecdote was HILARIOUS!! It was really nice to read a little bit about those times. Now that I think about it, I’ve never heard about those times in Puerto Rico for a citizen. I’ve never asked my grandmother or my mom. I know my grandfather sued to work in pineapple fields… I will aks them for more stories about their past. I really enjoyed reading your story. It made me imagine those times.

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