Monday, June 04, 2007

The Scoop on Rolling Rivera

Like a lot of my stories, Rolling Rivera (scroll down) had its genesis in fact. The viciousness of drunks (nor the fact that they will sometimes sleep in strange places) is nothing new, but other parts of the story may need some explaining.

When I was finishing up the Fifth grade in the Bronx, my parents surprised us all (themselves included I think) by moving us to Puerto Rico. I didn't know Spanish, but I learned. The town we moved to was very small. The school had separate buildings - concrete floors, wooden walls, corrugated zinc roofs - for each grade. A lot of things happened but one of the things connected to the story below happened on the last few days of classes.

I assumed, as I finished the sixth grade, that everyone would be doing something with themselves for the summer. I didn't expect that several of the girls were going to be getting married. Straight out of the sixth grade. Of course, a couple of them had been entered into school late in order to go in with their younger siblings - a practice that doesn't happen anymore in Puerto Rico - so they were about fourteen years old. Past due, apparently.

One of the fifth grade girls was going to be getting married as well. That was even more shocking to me. Apparently, the man she was going to marry was in his forties or fifties, but he had a house and a farm - she pointed it out on the hilltop across from the school, and he had paid her father a certain amount, she didn't know how much. Her parents would sign the papers and so would she, then she'd be married. Kind of like signing a deed over - all fair, square, and legal. The idea was to put out a few children before hitting their twenties, I gathered.

As a twelve year old, I thought a lot of this was strange, but I knew that things like this were legal. Jerry Lee Lewis married a twleve or thirteen year old, didn't he? And I supposed as long as there was a commitment of marriage, it couldn't be all that bad. I mean, a man wouldn't pay good money just to treat a girl badly would he?

Interestingly, my across the road neighbors were a large family where the mother was so wrinkled, I thought for sure she was eighty. My grandmother helped her carry a bag of groceries only to find out she was twenty years younger than her. The woman -43 years old - was the mother of one of the best looking twelve year olds around at the time - Bianca. One day, after Bianca and I came home from school, my mother and the woman across the way were in conversation as we walked up to them. Bianca's mother started talking marriage. At the end of the semester. Me and Bianca. Since I hadn't yet heard the stories, I thought it was a joke. My mother hadn't heard the stories either, and she thought it was a joke. Bianca was horrified and I figured she just thought I was defective in some way. She protested loudly. Said she wanted to go to school.

We didn't marry. Her older brother, fifteen, got married a few months later. He also had shared the sixth grade with me - his mother had held him back so he could go with his sister. In the middle of the seventh grade, he hadn't gotten married yet, but money had passed and the engagement was definite. He took me to meet his betrothed. We rode bicycles. His plan, as marked out for him by his parents, was to marry at the end of the seventh grade, go to live with his wife's family (they had a concrete home while his parents lived in a wooden shack) and go to work for "La Tun" which was the Starkist tunafish packing plant.

I met him again years later. He had followed the plan, but the wife and he had not stayed together for more than a couple of years and a couple of babies. Haven't seen him since.


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