by family historian Norma (Garcia) Pettit
I am known as the family historian. It has been a passion of mine for decades, but my lifelong dream was to write a book. I combined my passion and my dream, recently publishing a novel based on the life of my maternal great-grandmother, Luisa Torres Torres.
Our Rivera family hailed from the mountains of Peñuelas and my mother’s side of the family was from the mountains of Adjuntas. If you have been to both towns, you know that they are very similar in the breathtakingly beautiful views of the mountains and from the mountaintops. The way of life of the Puerto Rican jíbaro was the same in both towns, so to get a feel of what life was like for our ancestors, I recommend reading Luisa. Please click on www.normagarciapettit.com to read my informative blog articles and to learn more about my book.
There are snippets of Rivera family stories recreated within the pages of Luisa. Auntie Marie Nicholson was only four years old when her mother died and shortly afterwards she was sent to live with another family. But she told me of the curtains that hung in the doorways of the bedrooms instead of doors. She remembered that she and her siblings were not allowed to go past the curtain in their parents’ bedroom doorway. You see this memory inserted into chapter one of Luisa where it says, “Chenta took care of straightening up her own bedroom. None of the children except the baby were allowed past the curtain that hung in the doorway.”
In chapter 20, Luisa’s stepmother, Chenta, is telling a story about trekking up mountain paths to her grandparents’ cabin as a child: “Mami would get mad at Papi about something, and she would gather up all of us kids and take us to her parents’ house. We would even take the goat with us!” This was a story that I had heard about my father’s mother, Ana Cruz García, who by all accounts was a little feisty. Auntie Helen said that she remembered doing this as a small child (she was three years old when her mother died). She said her mother would even take all of their animals with them.
So while Luisa is a story about my mother’s side of the family, it is also representative of how our Rivera ancestors probably lived. The book is full of Puerto Rican traditions, including food, idioms, and celebrations. It also has a liberal sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases, all of which are explained within the text and in a glossary at the back of the book. With careful research, I strove to recreate the day-to-day life in the mountains of Puerto Rico during the late 1800s. It was indisputably a hard life, but the indomitable spirit of our ancestors prevailed and contributed to the essence of who we are today.