My siblings and I used to complain about my father’s job, when we were growing up. Farming
wasn’t glamorous. My mother would say, “if you don’t want your father’s life, then study, and
you can have a different life.”
We didn’t actually dislike my father’s job, and we knew that work’s value, but it was really hard
work, and there was no paycheck until the end of the season. Coffee harvest usually starts in
October, and runs through until May. A few months of hard labor, with little trickling in in the
meantime. The intermediaries took most of it, in the form of advances, and if you didn’t agree
to whatever price they had gotten another farmer to agree to, they could usually find a farmer
that would, maybe even one that would take less. Fortunately for us, my father also had some
cattle, so the lean times were mitigated by the sale of a head or two in those tighter months.
Like nearly everything in life that we complain about, the value of what we had become clear in
retrospect. Things in my family changed after my youngest brother, Estanislao, was born. The
youngest of nine, Estanislao was born with Osteogenesis Imperfect- also known as “bones like
glass.” That name says everything- he had his first bone fracture at 3 months old, and from then
on, it was nearly constant. Everything in our lives changed- all of our lives, from the youngest to
the oldest child, and certainly for my parents. My mother would sometimes be at the hospital
for a month at a time, or longer.
So my father sold the coffee plantation. There were other factors involved, of course, but my
little brother’s health was paramount, and that meant we needed to be closer to the hospital.
Our income dropped, with the sale of the plantation- we were left to rely on the income from
the tobacco, corn, avocados, assorted vegetables, and the sale of small livestock: pigs, goats,
chickens, and ducks. My mom also made natural medicines, and had a small cigar factory
running, when she could be home, which wasn’t something we could count on with my
When a family has a child with a disease like that, the changes can be difficult, but they also
brought some unity. The disease brought us together, and with the help of our grandmother,
with the help of God, and with the support and help of this big family (eight other brothers and
sisters looking out for the family and Estanislao) we pulled though.
As the years went by, most of us went to college. Now, though, with our childhoods behind us,
a number of us find ourselves looking back on the farming of our younger years differently. We
have options our father didn’t have, and many of us are choosing to return to a farming
lifestyle- at least part time.
My parents were able to visit this summer- the first time since the pandemic began, and you
would not believe how that visit transformed my home. My father is known for clearing out and
transforming every bed he touches, and my yard and garden reflect that. This year, I enjoyed it
all more than ever.
I have always liked putting in a garden, and taking care of my flowers, but this year, I had help. I
love having my hands in the dirt. I can’t quantify the happiness, the calm it brings to my day. I
keep sending my husband out for more flowers- a little more to fill the beds. When I spot a little
place that looks like it’s missing something, I fill it in.
I think farming, growing things, brings the best parts of us to life. The excitement keeps me
sending pictures to my siblings. I tell them that I can’t believe that it is me- the first black sheep
to leave home, leave the country in search of a better life- that has such a big Conuco
(vegetable garden) and loves to work in the dirt, and work hard, and fast, like our father. “We
make a good team.” I always say.
Now, all these years later, I have a little coffee company of my own. Hato Viejo is a small
company, but more than a source of income, it keeps me tied to my memories, to my
childhood, to my heritage. My parents loved seeing the Hato Viejo name all over town, but
more than that, they loved seeing the way I do business, and how hard I work at it. Their little
complainer found her passion, and even though she doesn’t need to, works harder and harder
to achieve her goals. Now they tell me “You need to slow down.”
I had to leave home to see what I really had, to know its value. Life really is about happiness,
and while material things are nice, they aren’t what brings happiness. Mostly, it’s the little
things, like having my hands in the dirt, occasionally with my father working beside me, that put
a smile on my face.
May God Bless you,