“Bueno” was my dad’s favorite saying. "Bueno" as he got up from the table after a meal. He’d push back the empty plate and stand up. My daughter, Lauren, said she could almost hear the scrape of the chair as he pushed it back. He never over- indulged. He only ate what you placed on the table or brought to him. He never took any food except water from his fridge even though it was his house. He would say “Bueno” after getting out of the car after a road trip, after coming back from my favorite !shing village, after visiting some friends, or as a signal when he was ready to leave, etc. It took us some time to notice that saying and even the grandkids and everyone in the family started saying “Bueno”.
Bueno in its basic translation means good. A very simple word that carried a lot of weight when it came to Papi. Papi is what we (the three youngest of our family) called our dad; the others called him Papá , which is a more formal way to address him. I also remember that God used the word “Good” after each of His creations and pretty much patted himself on His back. God didn’t need words such as amazing, grandiose, extraordinary or the most popular of our times, awesome. He simply said, “And it was good”. That’s all He needed. It seems Papi's “Bueno” had the same meaning for him.
My father was like a scholar, even though he didn’t finish fourth grade. I often compared him to a university professor. He had so much knowledge and courtesy. He never cut into any conversation unless you directly included him in it. He would never comment or give any suggestions until you asked for his opinion.
My father was not perfect. That is not what I’m trying to portray here. He was very imperfect. I just want to remember all the beauty he had inside and how he made all his kids feel. He made many mistakes, but the love and caring he had for us surpassed anything he said or did.
We are a total of nine children, altogether. Eight of us are Papi’s. The oldest one had been born before Mami and Papi were married, but she hardly ever was part of the family until she moved to New York because she lived with her paternal grandmother when she was a young girl. Papi loved her as well. He was the one who made it possible for her to move to the States. Her name is Fineta, which is an Italian name. Once Fineta moved to New York, she often visited us with her husband, who we adore because he, too, like Papi, is of a quiet nature; never draws attention to himself. After Fineta came Susana, Papi’s first born. Felipe came next. Elenita came soon after but she passed away by the time she was eight months old. Ines claims that’s why she became Mami’s favorite child. Mami grieved the death of Elenita for a long time, which is easy to understand. Ines was born soon after and then she became the apple of her eye. After her came Eduardo. Then Arturo, Ana, myself and the youngest, Ilonka.
Arturo says I was to be the baby and he was upset for some time after Ilonka was born. I thought that was so endearing.
Most of us have nicknames, as most Caribbeans and islanders do. Or they use the second name as the main one within the family. That is truly a Spanish tradition. I had to become used to being called Elsa only after starting fifth grade, once we moved to New Jersey. Ines is the only one who uses her given name. Nevertheless, Felipe calls her Mother Goose because she is always getting ahead of the pack and acts like a mother.
After Mami died, we made sure to visit Papi often. We always went back to him even when we were upset with him and he was always ready to receive us. It was glorious to go spend one or two weeks with him. It’s hard to explain the feel‐ ings I was having as I got out of the car with him waiting for us. He’d get up slowly because he was almost 100 years old. He’d embrace me saying, “Mi hija” (my child), with tears in his eyes. Mercedes, the housekeeper, told us he had been smoking non stop as he waited for us, his three youngest girls, (Ana, Ilonka and myself) on our last visit. It was close to 11 p.m. He had not wanted to go to bed. He was waiting outside under the carport. The three of us would eat and then he would finally go to bed. (He had eaten long before our arrival.) I usually prepared a shot of liquor that I brought for him while we ate.
He used to pick us up at the airport in his car with Alexander and after I started dating after my divorce from Keyser (my kids’ father), Papi would be accompanied by my boyfriend (José) who became my husband a couple of years later.
I would search for Papi and Jose in the throng of people down in the waiting area as I descended the stairs to customs and, incredibly enough, was able to !nd them. The waiting area was in an atrium that encompassed the check-in, rental car counters, gift shops, etc. The Caribbean breeze caressed our skin as soon as we passed through customs and baggage claim. We could feel the excitement as everyone hugged each other and talked very loud as most Dominicans do. I couldn't wait to see Papi. He was so happy to have us with him even if only for a week.
He gradually stopped going to pick us up. He was becoming very old and we had to accept the fact and be happy we were the lucky ones to have him with us for so long. I started picking up the rental car the same day we landed instead of the day after. He used to beg me to use his car but I hardly ever did because we often drove around the island without knowing when we’d be returning and didn’t want to leave him stranded. He didn’t want to accompany us unless it was for a day trip. We usually stayed the nights at a resort, but spent the days with him. We always stayed with him on the night of our arrival. The resorts are one to three hours away. He refused air conditioning in the house and the summers are brutal in the Dominican Republic. We had intended to have central air conditioning installed in the house, but Papi refused adamantly. The only room that had AC was in the back of the house and as such, it was hard deciding who would have the pleasure of sleeping there. My kids and I would be eaten alive by mosquitoes. We’d get inflammation that turned to welts because we couldn’t stop scratching. After two weeks there, it got better, but our visits weren’t that long. I finally started using Benadryl at night to prevent the reaction of the bites the next day.
He wanted us to stay the night and sometimes we did. I was once able to get him all the way checked in to our resort, with a resort band on his wrist. Within minutes, he decided he wanted to go home and we had to drive him back.
It was easier in the winter. The weather was cool, some‐ times even chilly and it would rain almost every day in Decem‐ ber. That was way more comfortable for everyone. Sleeping in until 9 a.m. The windows were left open all night making the slight breeze feel like a caress on our skin. The garden was at its best during those days; I took pictures of the roses in all their multitude of colors that seemed to be smiling, absorbing the sun after the rain. It seemed to me Papi was so blessed that even when there was drought, his garden was alive, yielding plenty of fruit.