Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Gringo's First Christmas in Puerto Rico...

When I was in Puerto Rico working for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (93-97), I learned about and participated in a custom called "Parranda".  It's a great Cristmas custom for the strong of heart.  A group of people get together to sing and entertain selected friends by knocking on their doors and performing, then invite the "victims" to go along for the ride.  That is, after eating and drinking whatever the first house has to share.

Many people join in and go along.  The group tends to grow throughout the night and keeps going from house to house until the wee hours of the morning.  (I'm talking sunrise...)  As the members of the group keep drinking and the crowd grows, the party gets more and more raucous.  But it's all in fun.  Whoever the last person is on the list is supposed to make Asopao, a traditional chicken and rice soup that is supposed to sober everyone up for the drive home.  It's a great finish to the long night and I enjoyed it so much I participated three out of four years.

I took the time to write down my experiences and will share them over the next week or so.  I hope you enjoy them.  And to my friends and co-workers in Puerto Rico...  Feliz Navidad a todos.

Oh - and Chuck - this one's for you because you were with me!

A Gringo's First Christmas at MDC Guaynabo               

T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the house
everyone was tired, including the mouse.
I'd finished putting the toys all together,
sweating all over in the hot, humid weather.
The children were nestled and snug in their beds,
as visions of boogie boards danced in their heads.
And I layed on the bed in my pillow so deep,
settling down for a nice, long sleep.

When out on the street there arose such a clatter,
I jumped from the bed to see what was the matter.
I ran toward the window, tripped over the rug,
and landed on my face with a thud.
The moon shining down on that dark, dreary night
about halfway made up for the broken street light.
And I thought to myself as I rubbed my sore head
"Who's the idiot who put that rug by the bed?"

I looked out the window at the street below
and wondered what Christmas was like without snow.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but Sicci Rodriguez, drinking a beer.
He had his quatro tucked under his arm
and smiled at me with his usual charm.
"Feliz Navidad!  Merry Christmas!" he said.
And suddenly I wanted to get back in bed.
I knew that "Parranda" had come to my house
and everyone would probably be soused.

Eight or nine friends got out of two cars,
each looking as if they'd come from a bar.
There was Ruben Cuadrado, dressed to a T,
complaining he really needed to pee.
Laborde, Segarra, Santana and more,
and they were all headed straight for my door.
They entered the house, playing the güiro,
(Ruben was checking himself in the mirror)
dancing and laughing and smelling like rum,
well on their way to a full night of fun.

The polite thing to do was offer them food
but I knew that I had nothing good.
I went to the kitchen and looked in the cupboard,
feeling a bit like Old Mother Hubbard.
I got out some cheese and cut it in pieces,
and put it on a tray with some Reese's.
I pulled some bologna out of the 'fridge,
quickly cutting the green stuff off of the edge.
Some slices of bread I put 'round the edges
and garnished it all with tomato wedges.

I got out the last of my Bacardi,
and a jar of cañita I'd been saving for me.
A gallon of fruit punch to use as a mixer,
(I was hoping they were already plastered.)
I carried everything out to the table
and yelled "Come and get it, while you're all able!"
They kept right on singing as they moved toward the food
and Ruben said "Hey - this looks pretty good".

As the singing went on I began to have fun.
Then someone said "It's time to move on.
Get your clothes on and get ready to ride.
You're the only one sober and you have to drive."
I knew that I was supposed to go with them
and party all night in the oldest of custom.
So I said "What the hell" and took one for the road
thinking "Maybe I can get drunk while we go".

We went house to house, with the crowd growing larger.
(Driving my car was getting much harder.)
We sang and we laughed and we drank lots of rum,
But I realized I was having a lot of fun.
I was included in Puerto Rico tradition
And enjoyed it more than a good day of fishing.

At the last house we ate Asopao.
And I couldn't help thinking "This is great chow!".
The party was still going strong at the end,
even though a few people were sleeping by then.
The music had changed to the stereo
with occasional tunes from Sicci's quatro.

When daylight came it was time to go home.
We'd eaten the food and drank all the rum.
Poor Sally was left to clean up the mess
left over from thirty uninvited guests.
This Christmas tradition was sure lots of fun
I just hope next year we can start in my home.

                       G. Clark

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