Guest Authors

The Place We Went to Yesterday by Lisa Mauro Blog Tour

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I’d like to thank today’s host and 4Wills Publishing for organizing this amazing opportunity. I hope you all enjoy the tour!  Today I’d like to share another excerpt from my debut novel, The Place We Went to Yesterday.

I used to dig through Tia Paola’s photo albums when I was younger. I would take all of them out and lie on my stomach with my feet bent at the knees, swinging above me, and flip through the pages with ease—and only rarely had to ask for clarification about who someone might be. For the most part, they were all people I knew.

My favorite was a cracked, worn and faded photo with a wrinkled-faced woman in front of a palm tree. She had a scarf on her head, something I found strange as she was clearly in a tropical climate. I brought the photo to Tia and asked her about it. Her face softened and she said, “Esa es mi madre.”  Her mother. She never offered any further explanation or details about her, so I simply created my own.

Over the years, I had managed to compile the story, but like a sieve, so much of it fell through the cracks. Malda grew up in Puerto Rico in the 1960s, a place with sharp contrasts—teals against light beige sand, pastels against sky, and black beans against white rice. Her father was relatively non-existent and I always had the sense they all preferred it that way.

She and her sisters grew up in a small and flimsy home just outside the slums of Cataño. It barely withstood the winds of a relatively calm storm, but the heavy ones they experienced always meant for major repairs. Local homes were built on stilts to keep the floorboards above the rising tides. In pictures, I have seen my grandmother—stoic—standing against the peeling white paint on the outside of their wooden home.

My grandfather made random and generally unwelcomed appearances, and according to Tia Paola, he did at times provide some financial support. He wasn’t steadily employed and I had the sense that he had no real skill other than drinking. The girls spent most of their lives in poverty, but they didn’t feel neglected since this is what they were surrounded by. It was their ‘normal’.

My grandmother was both the matriarch and patriarch of the family. She used the little bit of money she received from my grandfather to provide for the extras—a pair of shoes or a new dress for one of the girls. Malda, being the oldest, generally received the new items, and they were passed on to her younger sisters as she grew out of them. This wasn’t the way it was in our home. Despite being the oldest child, I typically received things last.

My grandmother sold small arts and crafts at the port of San Juan. Although Cataño is only ten miles away, there was no direct route by foot and cars were uncommon given their cost. When the ferry—La Lancha de Cataño—was implemented in the 1950s, it opened up opportunities for those in town to travel across the bay.

My grandmother spent the nickel fare each way, her shoulders loaded with her wares, and made her way to her stall near the port before the girls were even awake. Unlike the mothers I saw in my neighborhood, my grandmother was the one gone from sunup to sundown. She was the primary provider for her family, and despite there hardly ever being enough resources to go around, she was determined to provide for them without handouts from well-intentioned neighbors who could barely afford the assistance they so frequently offered.

My grandmother was a strong woman and a great negotiator. Tourists came into port looking to buy inexpensive items from the ‘natives’. These were items of little cost or consequence to them. They bought dresses and baskets, and rugs and small metal trinkets from the various vendors. They would depart the ship with soft eyes and meander through the stalls for the short amount of time they were in port. To the chagrin of the operators, rarely did they sign up for any island tours.

The flood of money helped tremendously for all who invested in a business. My grandmother scrimped and saved to come up with the small amount she needed to start her own. Neighbors offered loans, but being too proud, and frankly, too smart to be indebted to them, she always declined. She felt it was charity; a way to bring her down inside a hole from which she would never climb out.

Women enveloped in linen departed the large ships, their hats or scarves flapping in the breeze. Their hair and full make up were betrayed by the environment, and they often dabbed at their faces in a vain attempt to maintain the work they spent so much time perfecting each day.

“Isn’t it darling?” an elegant woman, wrapped in a long sari, asked as she held up one of my grandmother’s small woven baskets. She said it to no one in particular, as her husband was off in another stall.

My grandmother, who really did not know much more English than the basics she needed to haggle, simply responded, “Twenty cents.”

The woman turned her head and looked down at my grandmother. “No, ten.”

“Twenty,” she insisted. This was the game she played. She didn’t intend to cut the price in half, but she knew the first person to give in during a negotiation was the one that lost. There are no true compromises in situations like this. Whether or not they realized it, this was a person literally taking food from the mouths of her children.

“Fifteen,” the woman responded, placing the basket back on the table, aware the gesture would make my grandmother accept. She would rather take what the tourists offered than have them walk away with nothing. Even one sale meant she had enough money to continue her business for another day; the thought of growing it, well that was another matter entirely.

Tia Paola enjoyed telling stories about growing up with Abuela. I never got tired of hearing them. It took me back to my roots and despite all the trauma I had experienced in my life, it reminded me that this wasn’t a cycle that had to be recreated.

                My grandfather, Tito, was a known gambler, drinker and womanizer. In those days, a woman didn’t just throw a man out of the house. He wasn’t particularly violent, at least not in the physical sense, but he did have an intimidating presence, and when he was drunk, a bitter mouth. Abuela was not welcoming when he showed up, but she would let him in.

                It was a better situation than many of her friends found themselves in. Many nights the crashing sound of furniture and pottery could be heard around their small shack-like home. Women often emerged from their houses early the next morning with bruised eyes and swollen lips. Tito hit my grandmother once, and according to Tia Paola, he never did it again. I had no details on Abuela‘s reaction, but I assumed it must have been equally violent for him to never have laid another hand on her.

As was the way, Malda was the madrecita of the house. Little mother. While Abuela worked the stall at the port, Malda was busy running the household. She swept the breeding sand and dirt from the floors with a broom that Tia Paola only described as ‘miserable’. She scrubbed the floors on her hands and knees, and made sure to have dinner prepared for the family when Abuela came into view across the flat landscape.

After the dishes were done, she often sat at the kitchen table with her sisters to help them with their schoolwork. Abuela had as much education as most of her neighbors. It wasn’t uncommon for women to have to stop attending school after only four or five years because they were needed to help family businesses. She wanted more for her children, and while they muddled through poverty with limited shoes and hand-me-down clothes, they were always fed.

For all of her lack of education, Abuela knew the key to breaking the cycle was to continue learning. Tia Paola told me that Abuela was always after them about their grades and that Malda—of all of them—resented it the most. At that time, none of them knew anything could be different. Abuela spoke to them of things which they viewed her as too ignorant to know anything about.

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Author Bio:
Lisa Mauro is a novelist, blogger and pharmaceutical consultant.  She is the Secretary of the Board of The Women Fiction Writers Association.  The Place We Went to Yesterday is her first novel, published by Heartless Press.  She lives in Boston, MA with her better half, Brian, and an obnoxiously cute kitten, Harper.

Author Links:

Twitter Handle: @sw33tvoodoo


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