Flashback Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, this island that we love, surrounded by beautiful beaches and coasts and filled with an abundant flora and fauna. Where the sun hits every day and summer is never-ending. Nowadays, we have everything, from Walgreens to Home Depot, and from Chili’s to lemonade stands in every corner. We are accustomed to having most of our needs resolved by a snap of our fingers. This month, November 19th to be exact, we celebrate the discovery of our beloved Puerto Rico and to commemorate this day I thought it would be amazing to travel a couple of years back to a Puerto Rico much different from now.

Born in 1933, my grandma María Rodriguez, was raised in a little town named Rosario Peñon in San Germán, Puerto Rico. I asked her if she could tell me some of the things she remembered as a child and as she was growing up.

She told me water was picked personally in the rivers and carried by foot all the way to their home. “It wasn’t easy for my family, we had to pick water from the rivers and we used it to clean ourselves. For heating the water and cooking, we used firewood which we had to collect ourselves too.” Can you imagine picking up the water ourselves from the rivers and carry it all the way to your house each day? And if you had a big family, think of all the buckets you had to fill! “To wash the little bit of clothes we had we had to go to the river to clean it as well and let it dry on top of stones, we only had what we needed and that was enough”. Having gone through difficult times makes her appreciate everything she has today. She loves collecting clothing items and giving them to people in need. “People these days have so many clothes, especially little kids and since they keep growing there’s always plenty of clothes that later on go to waste, that’s why I collect them and give them to children and families who need them”.

 “We also didn’t have any electricity so we used candles at night.  As I was growing up, I lived up in the hills. Our kind of toys was nature and everything that surrounded us: branches, mud, stones, and our imagination”. Well, it's certainly not even close to what kids use to play in the 21st century!

Interesting Fact: Did you know that the country that wastes more electric energy (megawatts per kilometer) in the world is Puerto Rico?

Education wasn’t at its peak. “I had the chance to study as far as to second grade, not because I didn’t want to but because the rules back then weren’t as strict as now. Back then, school was not an obligation and you only went if you could. Kids of 7 or 13 year olds could be on the same grade and that didn’t matter because there was not an established age to start going to school. Many kids went barefooted and the school was a small building made of wood just about to fall in top of our heads. In my case, the teacher got sick and he just stopped giving class”.

“When I was 19 years old I got married to my husband, may he rest in peace. We lived in some kind of ranch where my husband worked collecting coffee beans and other agricultural errands. Sometimes, I went with him and helped him. We lived in a small house of wood on the hill with no water or electricity. I conceived 8 kids but, unfortunately, my first born died at birth due to the fact that I had him at home with not much medical help. From the other seven, only the last three were born in a hospital, including your father. After a couple years we moved to another house made out of wood, too, where we lived for seven years before moving where I live today. This house was made from scratch by my husband, he bought the materials little by little from the small amount of money that he could save. So many things happened in this house, from broken bones to almost drowning in the river to one of my daughters burning her skin with hot water. Those kind of things that only a doctor could handle we had to go to the hospitals, which was an adventure for the kids since we had to walk for miles to get to the nearest hospital, and they enjoyed a change of venue once in a while. Everything was free, the medicines, the doctor and nurses help, and anything you needed for your recovery.”

Can you imagine! Having 7 kids and most of them born at your home! Not only that, taking care of each and every one of them, including their needs and health.

“As for food, we bought what we could in the local markets with the little money my husband made and of course nothing is better than a fresh avocado or delicious orange from the tree itself. We ate everything that was available, we ate healthy and homemade food."  Well, that is something not all of us can do, especially with BK’s and McDonald’s in every corner!

These are some of the details she remembers well, but we can definitely see that Puerto Rico has changed a lot  over the years. And it is certainly nice to hear the stories of our grandma's and grandad's because they are the living history books that can help us discover how Puerto Rico was and how it became what it is today.