"If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities" --Maya Angelou, Poems

Friday, May 29, 2015


“So ... why do you want to write about me?” my 80 year old father asked me ten years ago when I began to interview him.  
Why indeed. My father’s humble response shows what kind of man he is.
His story will become a novel, Luck is Just the Beginning, due to be published by Floricanto Press  in the fall. It was inspired by the true story of his remarkable luck. My father won the lottery after a premonition. But what’s more remarkable is what happened after.
What I’d like to do is to give you the story behind the novel, tell you about the real people you’ll read about and the history of Puerto Rico and its rich culture. And help you to do the same if you want. Through writing prompts and suggestions, you can tell your own story, or interview a friend, mentor, parent or grandparent.
Ramón León was born in Puerto Rico in 1925. My grandmother lost her first eight babies shortly after birth. My father was the 15th child. No one in his family except his sister (the only girl of the 15!) completed high school. They were poor and hardworking and owned a clothing and textile store in the village of Maunabo on the southeast corner of the island. My grandmother, Abuela Chepa, sewed for villagers on special occasions, items such as a shirt or skirt selected from a dog eared Sears-Roebuck catalog.

My father did alterations, too, but at nineteen-years-old he had a dream to become a dentist. The island had few dentists and no dental school at that time. His only chance to attend dental school in the mainland U.S. was to apply for a scholarship, but only five were awarded on the island annually, a tremendous long shot.
What followed was an even wilder long shot.
Ramón León had a vision: a series of numbers came to him. He and his friend, Guillermo, were talking of playing the lottery (Guillermo did, my dad was saving as much as he could for college), and a number came to my dad, all of a sudden. It’s not that far-fetched. Abuela Chepa, who had earned the esteemed title of Doña Chepa, was a curandera, one who healed with herbs and the laying on of hands, a bruja or witch whom villagers sought for advice, cures for their ailments, even to tell their futures.  
“Hey, Guillermo, I think I just thought of the number to play in the lottery!” Dad shouted to his friend. 
I can imagine the look of Guillermo’s face when he believed Dad would finally play. 
And then the lottery salesman had the number Dad saw in his head.  So, for the first time in his life, my father was so sure that it was fate that he bought not only a single ticket, which sold for twenty cents, but the entire sheet of thirty tickets for $6.00. It was all the money he had saved since he was a boy of seven, selling pastries for a penny a piece to the macheteros, the men who wielded their machetes in the sugar cane fields. It was an enormous amount of money at the time in 1944, when most people made a dollar a day working in the cane or coffee fields.
And he won the jackpot: $18,000.
My sisters and I grew up hearing this story, so to me, it’s part of my history (I’ll write more on premonitions later), and it’s inspirational what he accomplished with the money.
He went to Michigan, barely knowing English, and completed college and dental school. After a long career, when he finally retired, many of his patients cried.
It took me nearly ten years and a dozen rewrites to complete my novel, inspired by the story of my father’s life. Luck is Just the Beginning will be in my hands by as soon as the fall. A beautiful tale. A dream come true for me, too.