On August 7, 1914 at six in the morning, a child’s wail announced the arrival of my mother, Josefina Rivera.
Her mother had given birth to seven children, one of which died, but families didn’t talk about life, and death back then.
Mom was five when her mother, in her early thirties, became ill. The great plague of influenza in 1918-1919 killed more people than WWI. Mom could not remember what her mother looked like. She had photos of her mother’s sister, aunt Maria, but only a vague memory of a woman with a long dress standing before her.
Her mother’s funeral was thrust to her subconscious, but she remembered a carriage, flat with large wheels, carrying a wooden coffin, and the noise of the wheels clacking on the road. Her father, Manuel, never remarried.
Afterward, they found a room provided by a church group to live in. It was empty and stark. Manuel and his six children, ranging from ages eleven to one-years-old, stayed until they found a place of their own. Food was another problem, as Mom remembered lying, hungry.
The teacher at school had a little girl, who was sick. She wanted Mom to keep her company, and so she went to their house and watched a pale young girl, ailing in her bed. Afterward, they gave Mom something to eat. She sat down, wide-eyed with a wonderful meal before her. Two of Mom’s sisters came to the house. Mom couldn’t eat in front of them.
“Can I share this with my sisters?”
The cook looked at her sibling’s vagrant eyes. “No.”
Mom didn’t eat anything until they left, and then managed only a little bit.
One day, Mom excitedly raised her hand to volunteer to pick up the hot chocolate provided for the school children. She went to the house, but the servant wasn’t finished. She walked to the window, which had a rail around it, and put her leg in the rail.
“Venga,” the woman called to Mom, telling her to “come” in Spanish.
She tried to move, but her leg stuck. They called someone to help. The man said, “The only way we can help her is to cut her leg.”
He was kidding, but her expression exhibited how petrified she was. He cut the rail and freed her after he saw how much it terrified her.
A small beginning in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, where life was meager at first, but which gave rise to a life that would last ninety-six years. Happy Mother’s Day Mom.