Solmarie Pérez Velázquez

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Merejo - San Sebastian, PR

 

MEREJO –

1. 1944

Hermenejildo “Merejo” Pérez woke up and ran to the bakery. It was yet another day he had to find money to live. He was an orphan, or at least that is what it seemed. But now, he was ten-years-old and could fend for himself, he thought as he handed the baker ten cents for a bag of peanuts. He also bought a newspaper to wrap the peanuts in. Then the tall, lanky boy sat outside the bakery and began wrapping peanuts inside the newspaper. He had to hurry if he wanted to catch the morning traffic. Once finished, he walked to the semáforo to set up.

“Peanuts for five cents. Great roasted peanuts for five cents!” he screamed hoping to sell at least a dollar’s worth. At half past noon he finally decided to leave. He had made seventy cents. Not too bad. At least he could eat a good lunch and hope some generous lady would offer him dinner later. He had to be sure to save fifteen cents for the next morning, for the next day’s struggle.

2. 1958

The heat of the sun was excruciating and Merejo just couldn’t wait to finish up the day’s work. He had to take off his shirt half past morning due to the heat even though he didn’t want to get too sun burned. But what choice did he have? He swung the broad silver machete and chopped the tall sugar cane. Nearby, his short bald friend, José, was sitting, trying to catch his breath. This was the second week José hadn’t been able to do much, and it worried Merejo. He suspected that something was wrong, but he knew José didn’t have money to go to the doctor. He barely had anything to eat.

“José, mijo, here take this money and after we finish today go to the doctor. I don’t want to be taking your dead body to your wife one of these days.” Merejo searched in his pocket and took out a dollar, his whole week’s savings.

“Oh no, Merejo, I could never take that money from you. I know you are saving up for your wedding with Cruz María. It would be a shame to give it up when you need it so much,” José answered trying hard not to snatch the dollar from Merejo. Everyone knew Merejo had a good heart and sometimes people took advantage of that, but he couldn’t do that to his best friend.

“Don’t worry José, your health is more important than my wedding. After all, Cruzma and I are not going to have a party, we are just going to church,” Merejo said. He was looking forward to the wedding. It was the first time he actually felt like he was doing something right. Marrying Cruzma was the only thing that could save him from a miserable life. It gave him something to look forward to.

Cruzmarie - San Sebastian, PR

Cruzma was as good as they came, a hardworking, religious girl, who was also very pretty. She had a pleasant face, framed by black curly hair, nice full lips, and a nose that was a little too big, but nothing he would mind. He felt blessed to be engaged to her.

A Puerto Rican Clark Gable

What he didn’t realize was that he was a good catch too. Anyone who saw him would say he looked like a Puerto Rican Clark Gable. His sleek black hair was always combed back. He was tall and thin and always clean and wearing pressed clothes. His face was handsomely cut, with a little black mustache and emerald eyes that sparkled and melted any woman’s heart in seconds. But most exciting, the women in town would say, was his dark caramel color, impossible to get rid of but thrilling to look at. Above all, Merejo was known for his great heart and a compassion for others.

Merejo insisted that José take the money and go to the doctor. Merejo also made José promise not to tell Cruzma about it. He knew she wanted to save up for a house and it would bother her if he were spending their savings.

3. 1981

“Merejo, do you owe Goyo some money?” was all he heard as he got out of his car. “Oh God, not again. It was the same thing, day after day,” he thought. Cruzma would be waiting for him with another argument about the SAME thing. Whatever made him think he could marry such a controlling woman?

“Merejo are you listening? I went to Goyo’s store and he told me you owned him money!” Crzuma was already heated up and he hadn’t been home for a minute yet. His sons were out of the house and pretty soon a neighbor would come to tell him to come and get them. At least his two daughters were at home helping Cruzma clean, cook, and make the house nice and tidy.

“I do not owe him anything. He’s lying.” The arguments were always about money and lately it was Goyo who was charging him for something he did not take.

“Well you better go tell him something. Every time I go, he claims you took some cigarettes and put it on our tab. I swear I am not going to pay any more of your debts.”

“Oh well, I guess I will go tomorrow,” he said. Yet again, he could not imagine why Goyo would tell lies knowing what trouble it would bring to his marriage. Everyone knew of their arguments and lately Merejo had just learned to ignore her and continue on as if she had never existed. Maybe it wasn’t the best way to confront things, but it was the only way he could think of.

4. 2002

It had been almost forty-six years since Merejo married Cruzma. Now he laid within white walls, behind the sliding curtain, tubes for different tasks running in and out of him, and the constant noise of a beeping machine. He had just undergone open heart surgery and even though the surgeon had guaranteed a ninety percent success rate, he knew that this time had arrived. He wanted to wake up, to call to his family waiting outside, but he was helpless.

He thought of his wife, who had patiently stayed next to him in the hospital after his stroke. He did love her after all, even in those moments when he believed his marriage to her had been some kind of punishment. His four sons, who were any man’s pride, great men they had all turned out to be. His three daughters were strong women, compassionate and loving. His youngest daughter, Solmarie, had made every effort to make his last moments extremely worthwhile. He knew she took every step of her life with him on her mind, and that filled his heart with joy.

He had done bad and good, but he hoped that God would overlook the bad and see that he had always had the greatest heart of all.

P. S. “It was Victor, (my third son) who took the cigarettes… but shhh….”

 

Merejo & Cruzma on their anniversary

Hermenejildo “Merojo” Pérez

April 15, 1934 – February 16, 2002

Reprinted with permission. pastiche, Volume I © Copyright, Estudio Casa Bohemia, Cabo Rojo, 2004. All rights reserved. 

1 Comment

  1. I liked reading this story. It shows how hard people living in Puerto Rico during those times had to work to sustain their families, and yet find in themselves time to help others. Also, it shows how strong of a person he was even in hard times. It’s a really great story.

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