“The story I’m about to share with you now it is based on a real story”, said my favorite uncle as I sat on the cold tiled floor of his recently waxed terrace. The floor was smooth and cold and during my summer visits to my uncle’s and aunt’s home, I loved to sit on the clean and shinny floor of their porches or terrace. I would sit over some colorful cushions, or a long rug or I would laid down over the plain white and black, cookies and cream look alike floors and crossed my hands under my head, with my left leg crossed over my right one, and I would stare straight at my uncle.
I’d say, “Please uncle tell me more stories, I love hearing the strange and fun stories you always tell.” He would sit down by my side with a thoughtful frown and say, “Pay attention India to this stories. One day will be able to tell them to your children, or nephews, and your grandchildren too.” I was happy that he was ready to start one of his amazing stories, some where about pirates, other about lost small planes landing on his patio, other about huge storms that flooded towns and submerged a big Cathedral under an over flooded lake, other about 3 little pigs that built housed like he did, but not as stronger, and about sirens, fisherman, and sharks.
This time he was telling me the little red riding hood story, a little country girl. (she was the same age as I was then) This little girl got in trouble for not listening to her granny and almost got eaten by a wolf. But thanks to him that was in the deep forest cutting trees and gathering wood, the little girl and his grandmother were safe, and the bad wolf became a delicious meal and a nice pair of boots. I knew the real little red ridding hood story and smiled ear to ear paying very close attention to my dear uncle and how to manage to make each old story funnier and new.
My dear uncle was an old busy man who rarely had time for chit chat. But somehow he made a point of talking to me about anything that come to his mind, as if he was a teacher or philosopher, and a great story teller. So whenever it was time for my uncle and ant to have their rest or siesta, most likely in the afternoon I would offer to comb and braid my aunts silvery blond locks as Uncle Plato began telling us some of the same stories we’ve hear over and over again but each time they were new facts and new and embellished details he’d forgot to mention before.
Some afternoons he reminisced about Hurricane St. Patricio and how it flooded and vanished whole towns, some cities were barely visible even months after the hurricane was gone, to other lands, and the waters had stopped flooding the streets, towns, and small villas. His large town had being almost destroyed by Saint Patricio, much like what Hurricane Maria did to some towns in Puerto Rico last month, on September 19, 2017.
Going back to his recollections of the incidents on that other category 5 hurricane reminded me of my relatives recent accounts of the hurricane Maria. For example, this town, named Guajataka, was so overflown that its lake swallowed half of the town during the non stopping rains. It is said that the town’s first church and buildings surrounding it are to this day hidden inside the lake. And when there’s low tides, or during the very dry summer days if you go closer to the lake Guajataka you can see from the distance a cross and the roof of that church peering through, right at the center of the lake.
To this day, people still gather on the shore of that lake, to pray for their loved ones and the relatives they lost and throw flowers into the fresh waters. I’ve seen others tossing coins in. I also prayed few time for all the lives lost in that storm even though very few were possibly related to me. Each time I get to visit my late uncles home I see that little girl with short brown hair and worn sneakers running and jumping around my dearest uncles home. Other times she is pensive reclining on a chair or on the floor listening to whimsical or historical stories and legends or sharing some of her inventions or the ones she’d recently learned in school. We both know how Uncle Plato would re-tell the same stories and how we could never guess how the new ending would be.
And every time he had a very good story to tell. Just like other amazing stories I heard from my older sister I was 4 years old and moved with my divorced mother and sibling into a 4 bedroom wood bungalow near my great aunt and uncles. We had a small tv at home, only one radio, not running water, and not many toys either. My aunts sort of adopted me. They taught me many things, lady like things, that I were going to need one day when I became a woman, just like them. My uncles and my cousins also took me under their wings and taught me things a hard working Spanish girl should know. They taught me to pick coffee beans from its own tree and laid them under the sun to dry up to later on be sold, among many other fruits and vegetables at the Weekend Fresh Market.
But during the time my uncle was resting in his old brown hammock that was tied up to his terrace beams with strong farming ropes, the same one he used to tie his cows with, he would lower his strong loud voice to almost a whisper as if he was talking to himself and began his stories. “You see that mango tree by your aunt Lucy’s house over there on that hill?” “Yes I play hide and seek there with my friends there after school.” “Once, many years ago, even when your Aunt’s home wasn’t built yet, right over there, a helicopter passing by, looking for some bad people, got fire, and it exploded in the air falling down over that tree.” “Wow uncle. But how that happened?” “No one really knows. But big pieces of it feel all over the streets, the tree, and over a neighbor’s roof top.” “That’s and amazing story. Can’t wait to tell my friends.”
“That’s not all”, said my uncle smiling this time. He rarely smiled. But he continued with his story ignoring my questioning little eyes, opened wide as cow eyes. “They said that the Pilot was such a Christian man, and did so many good things for the people he knew, that he prayed for his own life with so much faith that he came out of it unharmed.”Did he grow wings uncle P?” “Not quite. People ran to his rescue and found him hanging from a tree branch with his parachute wrapped around his arms and shoulders, but he was barely hurt by the accident. In a way he grew wings.” “Yes, he did for sure.”
“This means that the pilot was really a man of God. Because he believed even when things were going so terrible for him. You see, he almost died on his helicopter accident but he was not angry at God. He believed God intended to save him and prayed for that. And God in return protected him from the fire and his fatal fall. The pilot, whom no one ever knew his true name, was saved.” “Great story. That’s why I always pray when I’m scared, specially at night. I’m afraid of the dark.” My uncle touched my hair and messed my bangs a little smiling again. He looked happy then. “You will never need to be afraid because I’m here to protect you, and God is up there also watching after you. Just like you grandma and my mother are. They are your guardian angels. Pray to them. And always pray to God, because he listens to his children, specially to such a pretty and sweet girl like you.”
Uncle P. is my guardian angel now, and last night as I closed my eyes to sleep, he told me, “Remember my stories, India? Well it is time to share them. Is your time to pass them along to your children and grandchildren, and other people’s children and grandchildren too. They’ll need this stories as you needed them when you were a kid. This will help them to know that not everything is bad. That their is still hope in this world.” “Thank you Uncle, I needed to hear your words once again. I will SHARE these stories and many more from now on.” I really miss talking to you, and listening to your great stories, my dear Uncle P.