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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


The following is an abbreviated version of a story I wrote a few years ago. In 2014, it was the recipient of First Place in the personal essay contest for High Sierra Writers  in Reno, Nevada. 

“There’s a legend I want to tell you about,” my father said. “A spring called El Chorrito is at the top of La Pica. The water is so pure people come from all over to get buckets full of it, for its healing properties.” His voice shook as he continued, “When we go home, I want to take you there.”
La Pica is the torturous road that traverses one of the highest peaks in Puerto Rico. For over a century, it was the only way into the village of Maunabo where Dad grew up. The road is so narrow and full of potholes the size of stray dogs and switchbacks that drivers honk their horns around each turn to warn unseen vehicles coming from the opposite direction.
Maunabo is still considered unspoiled. Due to the tall surrounding mountains, it has remained removed from the rest of the island. Many still consider it a colonial city.
In 2006, my husband Brad and I traveled to Maunabo with my father. It was Dad’s first trip “home” in over two decades.
For me, the purpose of the trip was to do research  for the book I had recently started writing about Dad’s life, and to meet Nitza, a cousin I had been corresponding with for two years to learn more about the León family. Nitza was an amateur genealogist.
When my father, Brad and I met Nitza and her husband Felix at their home for dinner, Dad raised his glass of wine and toasted, “I have taken you people completely into my heart and soul!” I have never seen my father, usually taciturn, so animated. It was a long journey for him at age 83, yet during this trip, I witnessed a new vitality in him.
Just like in the old days, we traversed the old road La Pica, even though today there is a new highway into Maunabo (Puerto Rico Highway 53). Nitza braved La Pica just for me, so I could experience it again. “I’m too scared to go up there by myself, but as long as Cousin Alberto drives-I'd only do it for you!” Nitza laughed as she embraced me.
And the old road was exactly as I imagined. Bungalows painted peach, green, or ochre, reminiscent of a Diego Rivera mural, dot the road. San Juan has its fine homes and sophistication, but out here in the country, there are signs of a land plagued by economic woes. Many of the houses are in states of squalid decay and the roadside is littered with rusted cars whose only occupants are lizards darting in and out of the broken windows and wild vines and thickets growing over the hoods. The vegetation is so lush it’s like driving thorough a canopy of leaves.
As we drove, a memory bubbled to the surface from when I was a child of six or seven: Dad honking the horn around each hairpin turn, Mom gasping in fright, my two sisters and I crammed in the back seat, wide-eyed at how primitive and wild everything looked.
The purpose of the 2006 trip was research, but I got so much more on my first time back to Puerto Rico since I was that little girl in the back seat. My family used to go to Puerto Rico every year at Christmas, to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday on Christmas Eve and Three Kings Day on January 6th. What I remember most are the parties, the gathering of family, the camaraderie and love; my Tiá Lila making paella, and my Abuela (grandmother) Chepa pinching my cheek and crying, “Que linda!” 
Dad returned “home” after a long absence, and in many ways, so did I.
Writing prompt:
Have you traveled back to a home of the past, either physically or through photo albums or found objects? Write about your trip and a memory it triggers. Share your story and photo here.