The last blog was about the Aguirre Sugar Refinery, and my father’s work there. The story of his Aguirre experience would not be complete without including some of what I know about his relationship with Paula Rivera, the mother of my half-brother, Oscalito.
In the transcription of the tape recording that I made of Dad back in the late 1980’s, Dad talks about how after President Roosevelt’s Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 caused him to go from earning 92 cents a day to 40 cents an hour. This was a huge increase in income for him, yet the prices of clothing and other merchandise did not go up. Suddenly, he could afford to be a well dressed young man, sporting white linen shirts and pants, “My Man” two-toned shoes, and a jaunty hat.
He went home one Christmas season, and while visiting some acquaintances, met Paula, a slender, pretty woman. She already had three children—Bertito, Nano and Hilda—and according to Dad, she fell immediately in love with him and invited him to come back to see her that evening, pointing out her house to him. It wasn’t long before Dad was staying at Paula’s house every night, but when it came time to go back to work at Aguirre, he was gone. Some months later, someone told him that there was a woman asking for him at the gate. He wondered aloud, “Who can it be? Ah, it’s probably Comadre Luisa.” His co-worker laughed. “Comadre Luisa? And she’s like this? Ha ha!” Dad went to the gate, and it was Paula, and you could see her belly. She told Dad that she was carrying his baby and needed his support. After that they lived together off and on until Oscalito (born on September 21, 1939) was about two years old, first in La Playa de Ponce, and later in Aguirre. Her other children were living with Paula’s mother, so it was just the three of them. But the relationship was turbulent, fraught with jealousy and abuse. They never married, and Dad broke it off once and for all around 1941.
Oscalito was raised by his mother and a man that she later married. Dad never saw him again as a small child, but he would send support money now and then and received pictures of him in the mail. The story goes that when Oscalito was taken by his stepfather to be registered in school, he put down his own surname, González, as Oscalito’s last name. From then on, he was Oscar González. His mother had several more children after him, Margarita and Miguel, and reportedly another girl.
Olga, Ruben, and I always knew about our brother, Oscalito, and we were in awe of him. He was our superstar. I used to have his Trio de Oro album when I was a teenager and sang along with all of his songs. Olga and I used to flip through records in record stores in hopes that we’d find a Trio de Oro album. No luck. On one trip to Puerto Rico in the summer of 1991, Oscalito surprised us all by showing up at Dad’s house with his half-brother, Berto. Dad had tears in his eyes as he and Oscalito hugged, and Dad said, “¡Tanto tiempo!” It had been some five years since Dad had seen his son. I called cousin René and he came right over. I wanted Oscalito to sing something, and since he didn’t have his guitar with him, René went home and got one. Oscalito obliged us by singing several songs, with Berto playing maracas and harmonizing with Oscalito. During one song, Dad even joined in! I can’t remember when I had ever seen my dad so happy.
In 1993, I spent over two months taking care of my father, who was bedridden after suffering a small stroke. Not long afterwards, Oscalito arrived and stayed for a week, helping me care for Dad. He was the first of my siblings to come, and having him there for a whole week was such a blessing and a comfort to me. I am sure that Dad was touched by Oscalito’s presence and gentle care giving. Oscalito loved to cook, and he made an octopus salad for Dad that put the shine back in Dad’s eyes. He was also very sweet to my kids, and took us to the beach and to the Vigía monument in an effort to give us a break from Dad’s house.
When Dad died on April 23, 1995, Olga, Ruben and I went to Puerto Rico for the funeral. Oscalito had said that he didn’t think that he would be able to go because he had already missed a lot of work that year due to a heart attack. But he was able to go after all and I was delighted when he showed up at the funeral home. I’ll never forget when I beckoned to Oscalito to come to where Ruben, Olga and I were standing in front of the casket, and I said to Ruben, “Look who’s here!” Well, they just looked at each other and you could almost hear them think, “Yeah, so what, who is he?” So I said, “Don’t you know each other? Oscalito, this is Ruben. Ruben, this is Oscalito.” A light went on in their eyes and they just hugged and hugged. I turned around and explained to the people who were sitting in the chapel, “They are brothers, but they haven’t seen each other in 40 years.” People were wiping tears from their eyes. It was such a touching scene!
Oscalito stayed with us in Dad’s house for four nights before returning to New York. It was the first time that the four of us had been together under one roof. He cooked fabulous meals for us every night, and we got to know him better. He was a huge blessing to us, and when he left, we really missed him and his cooking. He asked for and received two things: Dad’s captain hat and a carved elephant that Dad had brought home from India.
The next time and last time that I saw Oscalito was in the summer of 2005, when I returned to Puerto Rico (after a 10 year absence) to attend the Rivera family reunion that was held in Ponce—that special reunion that celebrated Christmas in June and honored Auntie Marie and Uncle Isidro. Oscalito was supposed to make a surprise appearance at the reunion, but he didn’t show up. A few days later, the kids and I visited him in his home in Moca, and he again cooked a wonderful dinner for us. He explained that he had not made it to the reunion because he had been taken to the hospital that night after suffering a small stroke. Although I never saw him again after that time, we talked on the phone every now and then. On November 22, 2014, while I was visiting cousins Milagros and Waleska in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, I received a text from my niece Arlene González, with the sad news that Oscalito had passed away after a long period of declining health.
Well, I started out writing about Dad and Paula, and I ended up writing about their love-child, Oscalito. I think Oscalito probably had a rough time as a child, but he did something with the God-given talents that he had and we were all proud of him. May he rest in peace.