Not long ago, Fina had a very vivid dream. In the dream she died, then found herself walking in a hay field, on a beautiful, sunny day. Looking up ahead, she saw a figure dressed in blue and standing on a perch, half-way up a mountain side. As she got closer, she saw a wide and deep ravine that divided her path from reaching the person in blue. And now she could see clearly a man, dark-skinned and handsome, tall and muscular, dressed in a flowing blue robe. Then, the chasm slowly began to close. Fina continued walking, and the path was smooth and unbroken. She approached the figure, who stood with open arms.
Fina was welcomed with a big hug, Puerto Rican style!
Fina would meet someone for the first time, and after a brief conversation, the question for Fina would inevitably come up: “And where are you from?” And, her standard reply was “well, I am from the Universe”.
Fina and I would be on our way home, from one of many heart doctor visits, and often would stop at our local Chick-fil-a. for a mid-afternoon meal. And, Fina would order the same menu item: The Breakfast Sampler. (And, nearly always, she ate everything on the plate… her only meal of the day.) Then, on the way out, if Pam was working that day, she would come over and give Fina a big hug. And, Pam would say, “I hope to see you back here real soon”. Fina’s standard reply: ” I shall return”.
After she died ( it was only just moments later), I looked into Fina’s face, and saw a beautiful serenity. And, although she had lost weight, in the weeks leading up to her death, nothing was missing. Just the opposite: peaceful contentment was added. A loving countenance. (When Fina was alive and healthy, love was present, from within.) But, this was different…a radiance, an aura. From exactly where, I did not know. The Master’s work, somehow. But, I was certain of this: the journey had begun, homeward-bound. For Fina, back to the Universe.
Boarding school: working part-time with early morning hours in bakery. Fina learned to smoke cigarettes, here.
Later, ice crème delivered to Fina’s room, nearly every night, by boarding house owner. Sometimes, Fina feigned sleeping, so she would not have eat ice crème, again.
In Yabucoa Plaza, recognizing a dirt-covered worker from father’s ranch, rushing over to give him a big hug and then asking him to send a message back home to father. Later, Fina’s friends were appalled that Fina would get herself dirty to embrace a filthy farm worker. For Fina, the workers and their children were extended family…she never gave it a second thought, embracing him.
Question from mother Santos, to Fina (the oldest girl) and her sisters: What would you want, to see me die 1st, or would you want to die before me? Her six sisters always answered: “We want to die first, Mama”! But Fina, the last to answer, always said “You die first. I want to live”!
Santos had gold coin collection, and later thought the coins were stolen by local priest. It was the same priest who refused to marry Fina in her church, because her husband to-be had been married twice before, violating church rules disallowing multiple marriages. Fina told him she was marrying Roberto anyway. The priest told Fina she would burn in Hell. Fina replied ” well, I’ll see you there”. Then, her priest angerly warned Fina to stop driving her Ford Mustang convertible much too fast around Yabucoa’s town square. That was not going to end…these were just practice runs for Fina. After moving to the Canal Zone, Fina, more than once, was chased by Panamanian authorities , when she failed to stop at a local police check point . Her high-powered Mustang, speeding away, was way too fast for the police to catch-up.
Visiting her grandmother Marcolina, who cared for a disabled uncle (Francisco), who lived in her house. Later, while attending the wake for her deceased grandfather Ingino, her grandmother celebrated grandly with a meal happily eaten w/o him there…thankfully, his ashes were not flushed-down the toilet. ( Fina witnessed this on one occasion, watching the event while the delighted widow Maria, flushed the remains.)
Hurricane Maria strikes Yabucoa, PR, Sept. 2018. Fina’s hometown.
During a raging storm, 1933, baby Fina and mother Santos take shelter in a cave unable to continue their journey home…Father Pedro, had no idea where they are…as fortune would have it, a neighbor passing by spots them, helps mother and baby up on his horse, and safely crosses a rain swollen creek, taking the stranded home.
Fina, with brother Pedro, hunting birds with sling shots, crawling on their bellies thru the underbrush. young Fina shoots and kills a blue bird. She realizes, with great sorrow, what she has done. She vows never again to kill a bird.
Then, much older, Fina is a bird-lover, feeding them on the deck feeder, watching for hours the coming and going of cardinals and brown thrashers.
She loved all kinds of animals (and plants), even once trying to save a box turtle, with broken shell, by applying medication to heal the deep wound. But, the turtle died…I found it one morning along the sanctuary fence line.
After her husband died, and sometime later, their white German Shepard was found dead in the back yard. Fina said the beautiful dog died of a broken heart, missing her master (Roberto). The white dog was buried in the “sanctuary” by daughter Liz and close family friend Manuel Mendez Jr.
“Renting” neighbor’s newly purchased horse for a midnight ride…but, galloping downhill, seeing a creek up ahead, the horse pulls up suddenly, pitching young Fina head over heels into the creek (nearly breaking her jaw on the rocks). The next day, her mother is horrified as she sees Fina’s swollen face. Her father takes her to a Yabucoa doctor, who chides Pedro for allowing his daughter’s recklessness.
Climbing the highest coconut trees, picking coffee beans off prickly coffee plants, selling mother’s chicken’s eggs (unknown to Santos), playing with spinning tops, and swimming au natural with bro P.
Fina, as a child attending public school w/brother Pedro ( in Yabucoa PR), was constantly defending her older brother who was picked-on for his “green eyes”. The green-eyed fairy monster. Someone in the classroom would inform Fina that Pedro was in another scuffle, and Fina would rush outside and enter the fray…her mother called Fina a “demonito” for her fierce, warrior-like fighting ability. (Her dad loved this sort-of-thing about his daughter…defending her brother’s “honor”. He called her “his Princess”. Fina felt she lived in a previous life as royalty.) As a child, Fina was fearless. Whether riding horses bare-back, climbing the highest coconut trees, trained by her father in use of the sabre to kill hogs and chickens for lunch to feed as many as 100 workers on the 600 acre ranch (at harvest time, tobacco and sugar cane), herding cattle to local Dept. of Agriculture de-lousing troughs. An expert marksman with the slingshot. But, often, her father excused Fina from everyday chores to read books in her hammock (making her sisters angry), and eventually Fina was sent off to attend boarding school in Yabucoa. Very athletic, Fina played on her boys high school baseball team: her position was the catcher, managing the defense.