I’m in my early 40’s, though I’d like to think I’m in my 30’s. I have two amazing sons and a wonderful husband. I am blessed beyond measure and I can honestly say there are even more reasons why I made that statement. I’m forever grateful to God for my upbringing and for the wonderful memories of growing up in an island. I was born in Puerto Rico surrounded by palm trees, beautiful beaches and the sounds of lively music everywhere. I’ve enjoyed sinking my feet in the hot sand while eating “pinchos” (beef shish kabob) and drinking coconut water straight out of the coconut, and the best part of that is that I didn’t have to wait to go on holiday/vacation to enjoy the spectacular sights.
My family enjoyed camping at the beach regularly. Camping is where I learned how to play racquetball and freesbies and where I sported my free sun-tans with pride. Camping introduced me to unruly freezy hair, chapped lips and nature toilets. While camping, I held hands with a boy for the first time and I’m pretty sure that same boy was my very first kiss. I remember my sisters and I would spend so much time in the water until we looked like prunes. When we’d had enough of the salty water, we’d play games, build sand castles or sing by the campfire. At night when it was time for bed, we could lick our arms and still taste the salty water on our skins. I love sleeping in the tent where we would unzip the top layer and stare at the stars all night while listening to the sounds of the ocean nearby.
Sometimes it saddens me that my boys will never know how much fun it is to live like that; to go hunting for hermit crabs and collect enough to trade with friends around the neighborhood, or the pride of exchanging our injury stories from jellyfish stings, to stepping on sea urchins, among others. fortunately for them, I have made sure they have stories of their own.
Now, I’ll have you know, the island has some unique foliage and gorgeous forests, so we don’t spend all our time at the beach. When we were little, my sisters and I together with our cousins and some friends, would play hide n go seek around the pineapple fields (not a good place to play -too prickly). We rode on our bikes, and played volleyball in the streets until dark. I’ll be honest, we spent more time outside the house than inside. We seldom watched TV, and video games were pretty much non-existent when I was a child (I think I just realized, I am old!).
As a child, I enjoyed going to Cayey, which is a town located closer to the center of the island. Although it was kind of a boring neighborhood (not a lot of kids to play with) the temperatures were a lot cooler. We would go there frequently to visit my abuela. She owned a chihuahua dog who adored her, but hated everyone else; we were terrified of that little beast! My Abuela would spend her afternoons watching novelas in two separate TVs while shelling and eating peanuts. I think besides going to mass every day around noon, watching novelas was her favorite thing to do. Meanwhile we visited our aunt next door; she was a hair stylist and every time we visited, we’d get haircuts. That was always fun. My dad has a younger sister and whenever she’d go out with her friends, we’d sneak in her room and play with her Donnie and Marie Osmond dolls. That was quite the adventure; one of us always had to be the scout watching out for abuela to make sure she wouldn’t tell on us and making sure everything was put back in order before my aunt returned from her outing.
I miss a lot of things about island life; specially the beach and how everything seems to be out in the open. I miss our walks to church, or the fresh loaf of bread my dad would buy every morning at the bakery. I miss the colmados (mini marts) that never ran out of Malta (malt beverage) or empanadillas de pizza (large pizza pockets). I miss playing games out in the street with my friends and running to the mountains or fields whenever there’d be a sighting of la virgen Maria (Virgin Mary). I miss hearing the bells from the catholic church ringing loudly twice a day for mass. I miss the most unhealthy and delicious food in the planet and how easily I could find the ingredients for sofrito (herb and seasonings paste used as a base for cooking Puertorican food) at the neighbor’s backyard. I miss Christmas in PR! The parrandas (caroling -island style), the festivities until the wee hours of the morning, the holiday food, the plays and more than anything, the Reyes Magos (the three kings/wise men).
When people grow old they seem so eager to leave memories of their childhood behind. I suppose if you’ve had a hard life, then forgetting would be a good thing. I don’t know though…I’ve learned so much from looking back at my life; mistakes and all. I wouldn’t want to forget. Instead, I feel is important I keep the memories nearby, just to remind myself of how blessed I truly am. Here’s the thing; traditions don’t have to be boring or antiquated and the past doesn’t have to be dull or sad. See, I believe that we choose how we want to remember the past and we chose what we want to learn from it as well. Do we want to dwell on the hurtful things that happened to us and refuse to move forward? Or do we celebrate the beautiful memories of a time gone by treasuring it because through it we’ve learned to process growth?
People live their lives with so much shame and hurt; with preconceived ideas that life is meant to be lived in obscurity and sorrow. If I had chosen to dwell on all the ugliness I’ve seen and lived through, I could have missed some amazing life lessons. It was never God’s intention for us to live defeated and unhappy. I’m not belittling the fact that bad things happen to good people, believe me, I know first hand the painful sting of that statement; however, when God finished his creation work; he said it was good and then moved forward to the next thing. Everything God does, he does in order to model how we ought to do things. Bad things happen all the time, but we have a choice to see the good that can come out of chaos; do we let the mire overtake us, or do we rise above it? Eden was a beautiful place, but even so, Adam and eve focused on the one tree they needed to ignore…and many centuries later, we are still dealing with the consequences.
I’ll be honest, not all memories of my time in Puerto Rico are beautiful. Sadly, there are painful memories that still try to surface from time to time. I made a decision though, many years ago, in fact, I can tell you I was 9 years old at the time. I decided that I was going to love the un-lovable (including myself) and live with the passion that God has intricately woven into my being and out that, I would live; truly live as the child of God he created me to be. I decided that if God really loved me, he would hold me when the things I hold dear would crumble, or when people I care for hurt me. I decided that God was not hateful and that he truly wanted the best for me. I decided I would work my way through the pineapple fields of life and every time I’ve fallen or scraped my knee, His loving hand has been there to hold me and wipe away my tears. See, God is not absent or ignorant of our sufferings.
Sometimes when I feel as though I’ve had all I can take of a given situation, he takes my hand and tells me, ” you’ve had enough cuts and bruises, let’s go catch fireflies by the beach now.” What a loving father! See tomorrow will come with its own challenges, that has nothing to do with island life or city life, finacial status or lifestyles. Is just the way it is in this beautiful mess we call life. And if you really see as God sees, you’ll see the beauty that lies beneath the mess.