DNA Cousins Are Both Authors
If you have done your DNA test on Ancestry, you know that you have a list of matches that is broken down into close relatives, first cousins, 2nd-3rd cousins, 4th-6th cousins, etc. Those of us genealogy addicts that are on Facebook refer to the distant cousins as “DNA Cousins”. Back in July, I was contacted by one such DNA cousin, Marisol Colón Santoni. She told me about her friend, Donna Darling, who (like me) wrote a historical novel based in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. However, Donna’s book, The 3 Marias, is set around 1897-1900, while my book, Luisa, is set from 1867-1870. Marisol thought that it would be fun for the three of us to get together and talk about genealogy and our books.
Guessing Someone's Age
Ponce's Architecture in 1870
Quenepas - Tasty but Dangerous
Ponce is famous for its quenepas, a very tasty fruit extremely rich in phosphorus and iron. In fact, it is the city’s official fruit and Ponce hosts an annual quenepa festival in the town plaza. Of course, I had to include something about them in Sebastián. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 19.
The Barrio of the Freed Slaves
The setting for Sebastián is in Ponce, Puerto Rico from September 1870 to September 1871. Even though slavery in the United States had been abolished since December 6, 1865, Puerto Rico was still a colony of Spain at that time. Under Spanish rule, slavery on the island still existed, although it was nearing its end. Sebastián Torres, born and raised in the mountains of Adjuntas, had never even seen a slave until moving to Ponce and visiting the barrio of San Antón.
Do You Know What These Are?
These are ditas, or traditional Puerto Rican bowls. The larger, oblong bowls are made from the gourd-like fruit of a calabash tree called the higüero. The smaller ones are made from the dried out shell of a coconut. The Taíno Indians constructed different types of domestic items, such as bowls and cups, and this practice survived well into the twentieth century, especially in rural areas of the island.
Ponce’s Famous Ceiba Tree
In the center of this small park there was—surprise! – a ceiba tree of significant historic importance. It is
believed to have already been a large tree at the time of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493. In
the areas surrounding this tree, broken indigenous pottery, shells, stones and other evidence of the
presence of Taíno Indians have been found. In fact, the name ceiba comes from a Taíno word. Legend
says that underneath the massive tree's canopy, the Taínos celebrated their religious rites. It is also
believed that the first European settlement in the Ponce region was right in that very area, next to the
Río Portugués. Later, slaves purportedly danced under that tree when the harvest seasons ended.
Washing in the Creek
On our recent trip to Puerto Rico, we took our customary drive to Guavate for some lechón asado – roast pork. It was a harrowing drive because there were at least a dozen large mudslides along the way, results of Hurricane Fiona. We bought a few souvenirs and then had lunch at our favorite restaurant, Lechonera Los Pinos. I took a picture of their mural depicting women washing clothes in the creek.
The Mango Tree Incident
On our walk today we passed a mango tree that still had a couple of green mangos on it, despite the season having passed. I was reminded of a story that my father, Oscar, told me many years ago.He was a young child, living in Barrio Santo Domingo in the mountain town of Peñuelas. He must have been only about seven or eight years old because he was still in school, and I know that he only studied until the third grade.
So Much Flavor!
In the San Juan area, a nickel is called un vellón de cinco – a five cent coin, but in Ponce it is called una ficha. In some places un caldero is known as una olla, and what you call it could depend on the size of the pot or what it is used for. Ice cream can be called mantecado or helado, and we already talked about the controversy between empanadillas and pastelillos. For me, una funda is a pillowcase and una bolsa is a bag. But in some parts of the island, una funda is another word for a bag.
Pastelillos or Empanadillas?
Mal de Ojo (Evil Eye) and Other Superstitions
My introduction to this belief came with a conversation that I had with an elderly family member some fifty years ago. She was telling me about her little daughter that had died as a tot. She had been a beautiful child with abundant curly hair, but she got sick and died quite suddenly. When I asked about the cause of death, the woman firmly declared that her daughter had received the evil eye from a jealous neighbor woman.
Café con Leche
What Are the Odds of This Happening?
When a casual conversation leads to discovering a distant relative…
We rent out our Puerto Rico home as a short term vacation rental. Recently, a couple rented it for an entire month. The day before they left, the lady casually mentioned that they had visited Adjuntas because their daughter’s neighbor was from that town. That prompted me to tell her that my mother was born in Adjuntas and that I had written a book based on my great-grandmother’s family. I was curious as to what part of Adjuntas her daughter’s neighbor was from. She inquired and reported back to me that Joana’s family was from Juan González, the same as my ancestors!
If You Thought Ironing Is a Chore Now...
What Life Was Like
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that Puerto Ricans living in the late 1800s were for the most part poor and faced hard times, at least by today’s standards. Houses in the mountainous regions of the island were simple wooden structures usually built on piers and with corrugated metal roofs and no indoor plumbing. As described in chapter one of Luisa, the interior walls did not go all the way up to the rafters and curtains hung in the doorways of bedrooms instead of doors. Some homes had their kitchens outdoors in a lean-to, and stoves were wood burning or coal burning. If the kitchen was inside the house, the sink was generally suspended from the kitchen window. Water for consumption, cooking, doing dishes, and bathing had to be hauled in containers from creeks and springs.
Before beginning to write Luisa, Randy and I took a trip to Juan Gonzalez, Adjuntas, the barrio in which Luisa Torres and her family lived. The goal was to get as close to where my great-grandmother had lived as a young girl so as to get a feel for the environment in which she grew up.
The Airbnb lodging that we chose, Casa Jardín, was hosted by Gerri, who graciously permitted the use of the pictures below. It is nestled in a mountainside surrounded by lush vegetation and majestic views. The property has hiking trails, hammocks, outdoor seating, and other features that make it the perfect place for a relaxing stay. The morning mist over the mountains is magical, and the coolness of the evenings and early mornings was exactly as I would later describe it within the pages of Luisa.
Puerto Rican Idioms
One of my goals in writing Luisa was to enlighten readers about the uniqueness of Puerto Rican culture. One aspect of a culture is the language that is spoken. Idioms are an important element of any language and can reflect ways of thinking and behaving within a certain culture. When I was teaching English learners, I always included idioms in the curriculum because just knowing the literal meaning of words was not going to help the students achieve English language fluency. The children needed to know that “elbow grease” was not something that had to be washed off with soap and water, and “break a leg” was not wishing bodily harm to an actor.
You will find Puerto Rican idioms sprinkled throughout Luisa. One of the first ones that you will encounter is, “De una boda sale otra.” This means, “Out of one wedding comes another.” Certainly, many people today can say that they met their mate at a wedding, but back in the late nineteenth century this was even more commonplace, especially in the rural mountainous regions of Puerto Rico. Consider that with their lack of mobility and modern means of communication, their social interaction was limited to church and local gatherings for baptisms, weddings and funerals.