We all have them. In fact, some of us have more than others. Family stories. Historical ones, inspirational ones, and, of course, humiliating ones. Though I am certain that many of you hear your share of these at any family gathering, it is the storytellers (or cuentistas) among us who carry these tales forward. Though, as I came to find out about my mother’s tales, they are not always based in fact, but are sometimes closer to fiction; but I had to inherit the skill from somewhere, verdad?
I started telling stories when I was five. In the sixties, family vacations were road trips. Every summer my parents would load the five of us kids into our VW van and head down to Florida to visit our grandparents. We would stop at the South of the Border stores, purchase pounds of colorful plastic souvenirs, eat massive amounts of heavy comfort food, and stay at motels with tiki-themed pools. On one particular occasion we had been on the road for several days and had run out of things to talk about. My brothers and sisters surrounded me with arms crossed and sulky looks on their faces as we putted along highway 95. Seeing the possibilities for an audience, I announced, “Once, I had a pony.”
I looked over and saw that my brother John was smirking at me and suddenly realized that he would know I was lying since he was indeed six years older. I quickly added, pointing to John authoritatively, “I once had a pony, and then you were born.” Silence. Then uproarious laughter. Needless to say I will never live this down and though I am 44 it is still brought up at family gatherings, but that afternoon, when things calmed down in the car my mother gave me a lecture about not making up stories, and how I should always tell the truth.
My mother's insistence on the truth made sense to me as I never thought she had much of a flair for telling stories. There were certainly more talented cuentistas in the Davila family, but she had a few she would tell me from time to time, always with a seriousness that implied she was imparting a deep, dark family truth for my own good. There was a room in her great aunt Ana's house, right next to the one we used to stay in when we went down to Puerto Rico for a visit. Ana would never let anyone in there; when she needed to get something out of it she would open the door just wide enough to slip through and close it behind her so I wasn’t able to follow. I couldn't imagine what was behind that slatted wooden door. Treasures? Scaly green monsters with glowing yellow eyes? I asked my mother about it one night as we tried to sleep to the whir of the air conditioner and the whine of mosquitoes above our heads.