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Friday, January 20, 2012
12:37 pm est
While I live in a bustling borough just west of Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, I am, first and foremost, a
born and bred New Yorker. I was raised in lower Westchester County and spent many, many weekend afternoons visiting my aunts
and cousins in Mount Kisco, New York, a scant twenty-minute ride from Dobbs Ferry up the Saw Mill River Parkway. My mother
was born in the neighboring village of Bedford, and two of my cousins lived in the adjoining town of Katonah. I have myriad
and various fond memories of those familiar visits, which sometimes included horseback riding at the stables in Mount Kisco,
feeding the ducks in Memorial Park, and waving to the statue of the “unhappy” Indian in front of the old firehouse.
But these memories have long been buried deep in the recesses of my sub consciousness for any number of years until just recently,
when they were brought back to mind as I read Esmeralda Santiago’s first novel, America's Dream (© 1996, HarperColllins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY).
Bedford, Katonah, and Mount Kisco, as well as the Bronx—to my wondrous
surprise—form the backdrop for the second half of Santiago’s first venture into the world of fictional literature.
The first half is devoted to the life of América Gonzalez on Viegues, a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico,
where she works as a maid at the resort of La Casa del Francés. América is on the bright side of twenty-eight,
and lives with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Rosalinda, and her mother, Ester, who is in her mid forties. Both of the older
women have never married, although América consorts with Correa, the father of her child. Correa is married, with another
family, yet he comes and goes to and from América’s house as he pleases. In the opening chapters, we see América
struggling with the complexities of her life: her work as a maid, virtually unseen and unappreciated by the resort guests;
her alcoholic mother; the absconding of her daughter, who runs away with her own boyfriend; and the tribulations of being
with a man she both loves and detests.
In the second half of this intriguing novel,
América is living with and working as the housemaid/nanny in Bedford for the “Yanqui” family who stayed
at La Casa del Francés and for whom she babysat during their vacation. We have come to learn that América has
decided to leave Correa, to get out from under his control and brutally abusive behavior toward her. She dreams of being free
to live her own life, to choose her own paths, to be herself without being controlled or what to do. But Correa is a determined
and, as we come to find out, a deranged man who, as América knows, will stop at nothing to get her back. And this becomes
the meat in the savory asopao1.
Since I first read her amazing novel, Conquistadora,
Esmeralda Santiago has truly become my favorite author. Her writing style is fluid, lucid, and sparkles with honest, no-holds-barred
plotlines and characters. In América’s Dream, as well as in Conquistadora,Esmeralda’s
protagonist is a strong, but, in some respects, a flawed female. América is trapped in the throes of her heritage,
who followed in the footsteps of her mother, her grandmother, and enate generations before them, by “making a mistake”
of conceiving and bearing out of wedlock a daughter at the tender age of fourteen. América is trapped in the throes
of her relationship with Correa and is torn between staying on Viegues and continuing her seemingly uneventful, albeit dangerous
life with him or breaking the binding and brutal hold he has on her to follow her dream of, finally, living her own life,
on her own terms.
As Esmeralda follows América through this most difficult
time of her life, from a warm and sultry sumer in Puerto Rico to a cold and bitter winter in Westchester County, she sprinkles
the story with the authenticity of Puerto Rican culture: its words, colloquialisms, morés, customs, and often arcane,
but still viable, conventions. For example, men on the island treat theirwomen as chattel, as sub-servients whose
primary role in life is to please their men. It is this belief and custom followed by Correa that ignites América’s
passion for a different life away from him. But how Esmeralda constructs, molds, and eventually resolves her heroine’s
disparaging conflict is spot-on creative artistry.
Another reason why I like Esmeralda’s
writing so intensely is that she writes about what she knows. She is originally from Puerto Rico; so, of course, her novels
are set in and around that small country. She currently lives in Westchester Country; so, of course, when América comes
to the United States, she lives and works in the area with which Esmeralda is most familiar. Her descriptions of the schools,
stores, streets, and the Chinese restaurant where the staff speaks Spanish in the area, as well as some sections of the Bronx,
brought back, as I said, vivid memories. And, being as familiar with the area as I also am, I was able to vividly picture
each scene in the novel—almost as if I was really there—as it carried me onward to the definitive climatic resolution
To read a novel that (re)connects me to my own past, to places that
I know, or to a part of my life…to connect me, also, to my own thoughts and feelings—for América is a
woman one can readily relate to—and to find personal connections with the author of the book—especially one by
Esmeralda Santiango—is, indeed, a treat.
1Asopao is a heartwarming Puerto Rican dish that is a cross between soup, stew, and gumbo. It can be made with
chicken, seafood, beef, or vegetables, or any combination thereof. Here’s a link to Esmeralda’s favorite recipe,
which she and her family often serve during Navidas (Christmas): Puerto Rican Asopao.
Monday, January 16, 2012
The Wheels on the Bus
Okay. I am sure you know the tune. Please sing along with me:
2:53 pm est
The wheels on the bus go round and round
Round and round, round and round.
The wheels on the bus go round and round
through the town
The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish
Swish, swish, swish; swish, swish, swish.
The wipers on the us go swish, swish, swish
All through the
The horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep
Beep, bee,p beep; beep, beep, beep.
The horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep
All through the town.
When I was a little girl
in elementary school, I fell in love with my school bus driver, Sam Dawson. Every morning for almost six years, until I was old enough to
ride my bike to school, he would pick me up, along with the rest of the ten or so neighborhood kids, on Lefurgy Avenue, in
front of the side entrance of the local greenhouse/nursery. And each and every afternoon, he would drop us all off at the
same place. "Bye. Bye-bye," he'd wave to each of us as we scurried off to our individual homes. "Bye, Sam!"
all the rest of the kids would wave back. I was the only one who lingered and, before I got off the bus, would stand on my
tiny tippy-toes and kiss him on his stubbly cheek. "Good-bye, Sam," I would always say. "Thank you for a lovely
And a lovely ride it was, up the hill past the "Big Estate", through the Ardsley Country
Club Golf Course, around the bend past the Duck Pond, down the hill curving around the Municipal Park, through two small sub-divisions,
and then onto Broadway (Route 9)—the same Broadway that stretched into New York, becoming the Broadway with its great, white lights—picking up children along the way, until, finally, we'd
turn into the circular drive in front of the old, brick elementary school. Sam, of course, reversed the route in the
afternoon, dropping us off at our respective stops along the way.
I never tired
of sitting in the cracked, fake rubberized bench seat in the middle of the right side of that big, yellow, creaking bus. From
my vantage point, I could see the side of Sam’s face as he drove, and still be able to watch the changing scenery go
by outside the big windows. I vividly remember, even to this day, most of what were to me marvelous sights, which, from
time to time, Sam would point out to us as we justled along to and from school
Maria A. Hough, a school bus driver,
has driven the same route every day for nearly eleven years for the Pennridge School District in Bucks County, PA. And she
does, I've been told, the same thing every day that Sam did: To keep their attention away from each other, she points out
all the wondrous sites along the way to her charge of children as she drives them through the country side. Not only does
she point out the red barn, the fields where the development grew, the seasonal decorations on the local hardware store sidewalk,
the stone angel covered with fallen leaves and then covered again in winter with snow "in her hands", the speckled
grouse in the grass, and the silver spider's web "dressed in dew", but she has beautifully captured them in
colored photographs, and has set all of them into a book of delightfully witty and whimsical verse. Outside My School Bus Window (©2006, Maria A Hough, Wishing Well Press, Perkasie,
PA) is a self-published book, based upon Hough's actual route. It is a glossy 10" x 8" endeavor obviously intended
for a very young, school bus-riding audience, but I found it charmingly exquisite and appealing enough to be enjoyed
by all ages.
Maria, who is the daughter of a friend of my favorite tennis buddy—and a wife and mother
in her own right—has a fresh, honest talent for nailing precisely what children (of all ages) need to see and read and,
perhaps, hear, if someone takes the time to read the poem to them as they turn the 40 pages. Each one is replete with
a verse couplet and a very professional-looking picture that belies Hough's creatively artistic eye. Each photograph
is framed in--yes!--a simulated yellow bus window frame. It is almost as if we are actually looking out the window from our
seat on the bus.
The concept of this book is quite clever, vividly highlighting the
seasonal changes along Hough's twice-daily bus route. It is sure to capture the attention of any younger reader, even if s/he
is does not live or attend school in Bucks County. As a matter of fact, I recommend that this book be purchased and read to
children who live anywhere and are about to venture forth for the first time on a school bus. If nothing else, it will help
to allay any qualms they might have of going to school on their own for the first time. I could go on and on—like the
wheels of the bus in the song—but if I say anything more, it will ruin your own appreciation of this book and its
But I will tell you this: It almost makes me what to be a kid again.
Outside my School Bus Window is available directly from the author for the modest
price of $10.47, which includes shipping and handling. Orders can be mailed to:
Wishing Well Press
Perkasie, PA 18944
If you are ordering from a Pennsylvania address, please add $0.48 for the 6% Commonwealth
You may also contact Maria Hough via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of
Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World
Rainbow in the Sky
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her fifth novel.