An older Fina…

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.)

Movie scenes

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.

Young Josefina

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.

“A man without honor…”

Sixteenth century Spanish author Cervantes, from Don Quixote:  ” A man without honor is worse than dead.”

As a small child, Josefina (“Fina”) never knew fear.  Whether riding horses bare-back (at night, especially), climbing the highest coconut trees, crawling through the rough vegetation on the ranch in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico (hunting with her brother and using a sling-shot), Fina developed her warrior skills.  Her father Pedro trained her to wield the sabre (and machete for cutting sugar cane) to kill the hogs needed to feed one hundred ranch workers for lunch.  On a six hundred acre ranch, sugar cane and tobacco were the primary cash corps, and many hands were needed at harvest time.

Fina, 10 yrs. old (or so), became the protector of her older brother Peje (Pedro), who frequently was being picked-on, especially on the school’s playground.  He needed Fina’s help to stop the bullying, especially from bigger boys.  (Fina said he had green eyes, like the monster raven bird.) And, one brutish boy in particular, never seemed to learn the hard lessons of Fina’s fury: if he hit upon Peje,  Fina always, and quickly, arrived to  beat-off el Bestia,  with flying fists and kicks. This proved to be a frequent occurrence.

Her mother Santos called Fina ” el demonio”, a demonic force of nature. Yet her father encouraged his daughter’s unbridled energy, especially when rescuing young Pedro from school beatings.  He called Fina his Princess, and told her many times she was never, ever meant to suffer (nor was her brother intended to suffer).  Fina said (later in her life) that she was descended from royalty, and a higher duty to serve others….but, she met an untimely death, centuries earlier.

But one day, the older boy acted, and exacted his pay-back.  Fina was walking home from school, and was ambushed by el Bestia, who grabbed her from behind, held Fina in a bear-hug, and threw her into a nearby large and prickly thistle bush.  Fina was trapped, and could not extract herself, until a man passing by, happened to see her and carefully removed Fina (torn-up clothes and all) from the thistle,  Fina, at that moment, vowed her revenge with a  planned counter-attack.

The inspiration for the plan became clear when Fina discovered a dead rat along the path taken home from school.  She scooped up the rat and buried it in a secret location, known only to her and Peje.  They only had to catch sight of el Bestia  walking along the path,  frighten him with a show of strength (enough frenzied friends, so he would start running scared), and then chase him down ( near-by where the  rat was buried). Then Peje could dig-up the rat, and Fina would finish the deed.

And, that is what really happened.  As luck would have it,  Fina sometimes would ride her horse to school, with brother Pedro seated behind her. On the way home, they spotted el Bestia, up ahead,  walking in front of them. He was harassing the group of Fina’s friends, and did not notice her horse fast approaching.  Then, turning around, he saw the horse and it startled him. He started to run, but did not get far, when he stumbled and fell.  Very quickly,  furious Fina was off her horse, and with three others, pinned him on the ground, while Pedro rode off to get the rat, nearby.  Returning to the scene, he handed it  over to Fina, who proceeded to stuff the dead rodent into the bully’s mouth.

Later, the boy and his father visited Fina’s father and told him of the incident. Her father was incredulous (with Fina standing by his side). He dismissed the story.  But, admitting even if true,  said his daughter was an obedient child, and was “growing” into more adult-like behavior.

The story does not end there.  Many years later, Fina was walking down the street, in San Juan,  during her  lunch hour from work.  A car,  coming up the street, slowed, and then rapidly accelerated.  Driving his car toward her,  was the Brute (now a man).  He had spotted Fina. She then saw him, and turned away. With that, he drove the car off the street, onto the sidewalk, and nearly missed running her down.  Fina got up from the ground (after recovering quickly), and raged ” you SOB ,  get back here! I beat you up before, I’ll do it again today!”

Fina never saw the man again…