The smell of roasted pig drifts through every corner of my grandparent’s house in Ciales’ Puerto Rico. The house sits at the top of a cliff near the town’s river, so the air is chilly and comfortable. Most of my family is present for the 2008 New Years’ Celebration being held in my grandparents’ house. In these kinds of celebrations there are always a number of thingspresent without fail, typical food like “arroz con gandules”, “lechón asao’”, “pasteles de masa”, “morcillas” or blood sausages, potato and macaroni salads, among others. Since my family is huge, there’s always a huge amount of people, and kids running around like crazy little animals. Can’t forget the many tables of dominoes, with some of my uncles and aunts playing, each with a can of beer bytheir side. There are unnecessary amounts of alcohol, as in, a lot. Coors Light and other beers set in ice under a table that holds bottles of Pitorro, Ron Cañita, Coquito, Bacardi, DonQ, wines… Alcohol is a pretty big thing in my family, I have come to realize. But to me, what makes every celebration complete, my great-grandfather Pilar Garcia playing his guitar and singing for the enjoyment of all.
When he plays the ‘cuatro’ at our family celebrations he usually sits down in a corner near a lot of people. He holds his guitar tightly and plays it, singing out tunes that come naturally to him from years of experience. They’re mostly slow songs, and I don’t think I could describe them with a specific genre. He always brings a very nice acoustic atmosphere to the celebrations. Sometimes Ithink he improvises them, which would be impressive since he uses some very good lyrics, telling stories about people, or describing sceneries from nature.
My great-grandfather Pilar is definitely an individual that represents a ‘hero’ figure in my life. He is currently 91 years old, and has been ill for most of the past year; though the days when he feels the best he still enjoys going aboutthe hills near his small country house digging the soils for some of the best “verduras” (root vegetables) in town. He is without a doubt a very strong man of heart, body and faith. Maybe drinking a shot or two of Palo Viejo every day helps him in some way too.
Everything that comes out of his mouth is fascinating. It is an honor hearing his stories of how he started working as a farmer andbuilder at a very young age, and how even though he worked arduous hours under the blazing sun for 5 to 10 cents a day, he still did it with honor, having in mind the great responsibility a job and family represented. That was most of his life, and the most fascinating thing about hearing him talk about it, is how he never complains about the way his life turned out. Imagine raising fifteen childrennear Ciales’ River, with great poverty and without much help from anyone at all. He is a proud “jíbaro”, distinctively wearing his hat made of hay everywhere he goes and staying true to his roots until this day.
I went to visit him at his small house not long ago with my mother, Mayra, and my sister, Tania, and had my grandmother, Abuela Jean, and a great-aunt, Tia Blanquin, join us, both ofwhich are his daughters, the eldest of fifteen siblings. It was a very emotional visit without a doubt, the moment we entered the house he laid in his bed sleeping with teary eyes. Yet when he woke up and noticed us there, he quickly welcomed us with a smile and blessed us as is costume in most Puertorican families. The door to the balcony was wide open, and the small house was chilly from the windthat slowly blew through it. The house itself is much like a small studio; a room with the bed facing the wall to the left, the kitchen on the wall to the right, the balcony door on the wall to the north, and the door to the bathroom to the right side of the front door. Tia Blanquin went to the kitchen sink and washed some dishes, while Abuela Jean cared for the old man.
That week he had...