by Juana Garcia
A typical Friday night in our Bronx apartment on Elliot Place, papi is in the kitchen preparing the usual meal, sanguiche con morir soñado, and the smell of vanilla extract floats through our home—I savor the orange milky liquid gold flowing smoothly across my palate to my eager belly.
Papi's singing competed with the blasting music playing his favorite Fernando Villalona song, Compañera. Su alma, una compilación de instrumentos, sings the songs with the joy and sorrow of a person who's lived many lives. A man with a wealth of knowledge in the musical arts, possessing a collection of over 20,000 songs on iTunes. A jazz historian. An encyclopedia of musical genres, composers, and timelines. I always wondered why papi never explored his artistic interests.
Ción papi, Dios te Bendiga. “Mi hija siéntate aquí, vamos a escuchar esta canción de las mejores voces femeninas, Mercedes Sosa.” That was the conversation starter, the songs that narrate his unspoken emotions. It has taken more than forty years to understand his intimacy with music. I loathed having to sit and comprehend lyrics that, as a kid, had no meaning. I appreciate the music sessions as they are his love language.
“¿Oye esto, viene un Señor arañado en la cara y todo el cuerpo - Pregunta el amigo- y que te paso? Vengo de enterrar a la suegra en el cementerio. ¿Pero y todos esos arañazos? Que no me dejaba.”
He’s famous for his dad's jokes because they’re both comical and cheesy, leaving me horrified to look my teachers in the eye when my father translated un cuento rojo into English. Watching my dad interact with my classmate’s parents, college friends, and boss was amusing. Dios de la Vida! With each dad joke, I felt mortified. Despite that, he is well respected and often unforgettable. “How is your old man?" people ask, "still telling those jokes?”
Mi querido viejo, e un buen tipo mi viejo. He will stitch, resuscitate, chase the bad guy, and deliver food to anyone in need. The dealers on the corner of Elliot Place and Watson Avenue made way for my brother and me to walk to our building. They looked out for us despite their dealings because they respected papi. Once, a man pushed his girlfriend from a window; she fell onto the fire escape above our apartment and died. My dad and a few men from the block apprehended the guy and handed him over swollen faced to the cops.
Papi was not the typical Dominican spouse I grew up hearing wives protest about—the machista that sits and stands by waiting to be served. The synergy between my parents' relationship was admirable. Mami and papi cleaned the house from top to bottom in unison every week. My mother never had to cook, clean, or tend to us kids on her own. When my brother and I were old enough, we became a solid team, all four of us. Nat King Cole played in the background as we completed our chores. Before we knew it, the house was sparkling and fragrant with Mistolin.
Cion papi let's have a drink.
“Dios te bendiga mi hija, que quieres tomar, Merlot o Chardonnay? Ven siéntate aquí y oye esta canción…”
“Me gustaba en las siestas escaparme de casa
Y robando cerezas chapalear por los charcos
Y aplastando los sapos con un palo en suelo
Con la cara bien sucia y revuelto mi pelo
An adventure-filled youth, that’s all I hear when he astounds me with his childhood stories. He explored rivers, climbed trees, and made toys from rocks and dirt. He recalled an incident when everyone in town got sick because of his innocent curiosity. In Santo Domingo, there is a tree called Javilla. As a kid, he used the large, pumpkin-shaped seed capsule of the Javilla tree as wheels for a DIY car. The capsules explode when ripe, splitting into dolphin-shaped segments and launching seeds. Papi used to sand the pieces to make medallions for necklaces. One day, he decided he would eat the seed. He loved the taste so much that he shared it with his friends and the people of the town. Shortly after, everyone who ate the seed had diarrhea— many ended up in the hospital—causing such a commotion that the locals reported it to the news. When the reporters asked what happened, they said, “un chamaquito de por ahi nos dio semilla de la Javilla.”
His father wasn’t very forgiving when neighbors blamed him for any pranks gone wrong.
Instead of recognizing his creativity and innovation, the elders punished him for it. When you ask him, he will tell you, “I had an amazing childhood, despite the beatings." Over time, my father and grandfather, an accomplished singer and guitarist in his campo, formed a bond based on their mutual love for music.
Muchacho travieso decía mi abuelo
Mi padre era rudo y no perdonaba
Papi wears these memories on his sleeve. In the songs of his heart, he finds the emotions of a childhood filled with hardships and adventures—inspired by the spirit of the lyrics and the energetic movement of never-ending songs. I’m grateful for my father's love of music, which introduced us to the world of the arts and exposed us to the beauty and depth of human creativity. My home will always be music because it allows me to express anger, sadness, joy, and hopefulness. When I look at him, I see a reflection of me—inspired to pursue my love for the art of writing and challenged to express it to the world. When I do this, I will know that I have fulfilled my dreams, an extension of papi.
As I sip my morir soñando, I am transported back to our cozy apartment in the Bronx, where papi is singing along.
y seguía corriendo detrás de mariposas
golpeaba en mi bolsillo junto a la gomerita
Juana Garcia was born in Harlem, NY. Currently, she is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing at the Southern University of New Hampshire. She enjoys reading novels and spending time outdoors with her husband and two children. "Sanguiche Con MorirSoñando" is her first published piece.