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.


               Laundry being a big chunk of everyone’s domestic chores even nowadays, it is mentioned several times in Luisa. The first time is in the very first chapter, when Luisa goes down to the creek to wash their “good” clothes that they plan to wear for the wedding the next day. She takes three of her younger siblings with her so that they can bathe while she works.

She kicked off her sandals and gathered up her skirt from back to front between her slender legs, tucking the hem into her waistband. Wading into the creek, she perched herself on the flat rock to get to work.

                Remember this, about how she gathered up her skirt to keep it from getting wet. Keep that image in your mind as you read the following excerpt from Chapter 13.

Luisa was at the creek washing clothes with Pilar’s help one morning in May. Juanito and Vicenta waded in the water near them, playing and getting clean at the same time.

                At one point, Juanito announces that someone is approaching from the other hillside.

                Luisa spun around and saw Manuel de Jesús beginning to cross over the makeshift bridge that spanned the creek a short distance behind where she was sitting.

                “Buenos días,” he called in greeting.

                Luisa stood up off the rock that she had been sitting on and greeted him in return. She noticed his big grin at the same time she heard Pilar’s voice, low and urgent behind her. “Luisa! Your skirt!”

                With a gasp, Luisa quickly untucked her hem from her waist and let it tumble down into the water, covering up her previously exposed legs. She could feel the blush creeping up her face from her neck to the top of her head.

                Later, Luisa is telling the family about the invitation that Manuel de Jesús had come to extend to the Torres family, and Juanito says, “He saw Luisa’s legs,” in a sing-song voice. This gets Luisa scolded by her father, which is a perfect segue into another topic: propriety and expectations of decorum in 19th century Puerto Rico.

                A few days later, Luisa and Pilar are talking to their older sister, Petra.

“Did you hear what happened when Manuel de Jesús came to invite us?” asked Pilar.

                “No, what?” answered Petra.

                Luisa rolled her eyes.

                “Pilar and I were down here, doing laundry at the creek,” she began. “I had my skirt hem up between my legs and tucked into the front of my waistline, like always, so that I would not get my skirt wet. Well, when Manuel de Jesús surprised us with his visit, I stood up to greet him and he could see my legs.”

                “I told her, ‘Luisa! Your skirt!’ And she lowered it right away, but not fast enough,” giggled Pilar.

                Petra’s mouth was hanging open, and Luisa gave her a woeful look. Petra closed her mouth but sputtered in an attempt to hide a snicker. In a matter of seconds, all three girls were giggling, and then laughing so hard that tears ran down their cheeks.

                “I—was—so—embarrassed!” gasped Luisa, in between spurts of laughter.

                “Yes,” said Pilar, “and then at noon Juanito blurted out what had happened and Papá got angry.”

                Luisa and Petra both sobered. “He did?” asked Petra. “What did he say?”

               “I told him that it was not intentional, but he said he does not want me talking to any man unless he or Chenta is around.”

                Petra just said, “Oh,” but Pilar quipped, “Luisa, you will never get married if you can only talk to a man when Papá is sitting there next to you!”

                The three burst out in squeals of laughter again.

                Honestly, I am smiling even as I write this because I think it is such a delightful chapter.