Juanita grew up in Puerto Rico, the daughter of a large family in the mountains of Humacao. In the 1950’s there was an influx of Puerto Rican “immigrants” into the United States and the majority of them decided to call the Big Apple their new home. This, of course, made an influx of growth in the boroughs and the projects that housed them, but the United States was the ‘promised land’ to many outsiders. Juanita got accustomed to the ways of this new country, it was like a new world to her, but she never really learned to master the English language. She excelled in school though, and became a popular girl, she had decided by age sixteen that she wanted to be a teacher. During college she met the man who she would eventually marry. Juanita and her new young handsome husband – who was a musician and in a popular band at the time – ended up making their small home in Brooklyn. David, her husband had been in musical groups that played all over the boroughs and they had made a name for themselves, but after marriage and starting a family, he felt impelled to move her and the three small kids that eventually were born to Florida, to further pursue his career in the Hispanic markets.
As years passed, the children grew and formed their own lives, David was a touring musician who still at age sixty was crooning on cruise ships up and down the Caribbean and Atlantic. Juanita – now a retired school teacher was elated to find out that her daughter Marie, the first to marry, was expecting in July. They had just celebrated Thanksgiving together in a huge family get-together and this was the best news of all.
New Year’s Day, Juanita wasn’t feeling so well. David wasn’t home, he was on a cruise ship in Australia – his first tour in the land down under – Marie rushed home, took her to the doctor. It wasn’t good news. David Junior, the oldest son and Trey, the middle child, rushed home to meet them.
Their sister as in tears as she greeted them at the door.
“Marie, what’s wrong?”
“Trey, Mom’s going to die.” she said wiping her eyes.
For the next six months, the three kids were non-stop angels by her side, sharing doctor’s appointments, treatments and the like. David took a hiatus from singing to be home with his beloved Juanita Mariella Valdez. Friends and family from New York and Puerto Rico offered their prayers and support.
“Marie,” she whispered in a coarse voice in the hospital room, “… promise me that you will raise your child the way I raised you.”
“I will Mom, you know that.” she sniffed offering a soft smile.
During this trying time in their lives, David received a call from the White House to perform at a Hispanic concert on the Washington DC Mall for Independence Day, he had impressed a senator who was on one of the cruise ships so much that he spread the word. It was an opportunity he could not turn down and after a family meeting, the kids agreed that he should go.
When the morning of July 4th came, Marie felt the pang of childbirth. Her husband rushed her to the hospital and she didn’t hear her phone ringing, it was on vibrate and had fallen under the car seat. It was David Junior calling, Juanita was critical. He didn’t even know that Marie was just now being rushed into the same hospital.
“Mom? Mom, can you hear me?” he asked.
She looked up in painful eyes at her oldest son.
“My baby, Junior you’re always here for me. I love you Junior.”
“I love you too Mom, Trey is on his way. I can’t get a hold of Marie though.”
The nurse walked in.
“Mrs. Valdez, how are you feeling?”
“I have my baby here, I am fine.” she smiled, stroking David Junior’s face.
The nurse clicked on the TV remote.
“Maybe you might enjoy the concert on the mall, there’s one very handsome man singing right now.”
Junior and Juanita looked up at the TV to see her husband singing on stage in the audience of the President and other dignitaries. Trey rushed into the room and glanced up at the screen.
“Hey, it’s Pop!”
Upstairs, Marie was already in labor. Her husband was by her side.
Juanita smiled, then felt a pain… and lunged back on the pillow.
“Junior, watch over your sister. Trey, you too.” She uttered.
The look on her face changed from pain to a warm soothing smile.
“I see a light… it’s so… beautiful…”
“Mom!?” Junior burst into tears.
Trey rushed to the other side of the bed, as her husband sang a beautiful rendition of the same song he wrote and performed for their wedding, “Gracias Amor” (Thank You Love).
Upstairs, Marie was pushing and the doctor stood at the ready.
“The baby is almost here Marie, the head is just about at the opening and the baby should be seeing light.”
“The light… it’s warm…” Juanita smiled.
“Mom, please… stay, please Mom.” Trey broke into tears and fell on her chest.
Another nurse walked in, “David Valdez, Jr.?”
“Yes.” He said in tears turning to her.
“Your sister is upstairs in labor.”
“Push Baby, it’s almost here.” Her husband smiled. They chose not to know the sex of their first child.
The head came out, its eyes squinted from the light.
Juanita Mariella Valdez reached up toward the sky, drew her last breath, then her hand dropped on the bed next to Trey’s arm. She lay lifeless with a smile on her face.
Both boys were overcome in tears as her husband on the TV finished off his song and said in Spanish, “This song was written for and dedicated to my lovely wife, Juanita. I love you Honey.”
He got a standing ovation.
The baby was now in the arms of Marie lying on the delivery room.
The doctor smiled and turned to them, “Marie, Richard – it’s a healthy, beautiful baby girl. Have any ideas on a name?”
The couple both stared at the child and she opened her eyes.
“Yes,” Marie smiled, “… her name is Juanita Mariella.”
Rod was born and raised in Tampa, Florida and was attracted to words at an early age. He wrote his first book “The Boy Who Liked To Read” (about himself) with construction paper and pencil in the grade school on his own – wasn’t a class assignment. His teacher then decided to keep the masterpiece and show other students in class what they could do if they “applied” themselves. Rod got into writing prose and fiction, but only as a part time hobby, it wasn’t till his later adult years that he started to take it seriously, having written a middle grade fiction adventure titled “The Juniors” that was picked up by a publisher. He quickly decided that he wanted to do this for the rest of his life. Rod received the 2017 Jerry Spinelli Scholarship from the Highlights for Children Association and will be attending a mountain retreat/workshop through the scholarship. When he isn’t spending time with his wife, son and Father-in-law, he’s gigging in a local Classic Rock cover band.