By: Daniel Pichardo
As the family was shopping at a department store in Orlando, Florida, just a couple of days before New Year’s Eve 2013, everyone starts asking each other the same question: “Where’s Grandma?” Not a minute goes by when a little bulk of flawlessly combed silver hair, just barely floating atop the clothing stands, dashes from one side of the store to the other.
“That’s Abuela Anita”
Although her real name is Juana Reyes, those close to her affectionately know her as Anita. She is easily distinguished in public, always elegant but simple, fresh and well dressed wherever she goes.
Born on February 8, 1946 in Mao, Valverde, Dominican Republic, a small town in the Dominican countryside, she came from a family of limited resources. “Whatever we had we shared during those times, we were very family oriented” she explains. Early into her life, her family moved to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, where she lived and went to school until the age of 15.
“When I turned 15, I left Santo Domingo with my mother to go to New York and study English,” said Anita. She used to take an English class at night just to be able to speak and understand the language before she set out to do other tasks while living in New York. She spent seven months taking classes at night and working with her mother during the day.
Anita was able to obtain her high school diploma and completed two years of college. By 1966, she was working at IBM, the biggest name in computer science at that time, as a programmer in computer systems in New York City’s famed 5th Avenue. Yes, Anita is quite a modern grandma. Today she has an iPhone, a Facebook account, and uses WhatsApp. Although she might not use these as often as the current generation, she has always kept up to date with everything.
During her time in New York in the late 1960’s, her family became close friends with another family that was also originally from the Dominican Republic. “Their youngest son, Jaime Pichardo, lived in Puerto Rico but frequently visited New York to check on his family,” Anita recalled. “Ever since he saw me, he kept saying that he was going to marry me,” she added.
So they got married on February 17, 1968 and moved to Puerto Rico. Jaime had bought a house for them in Levittown, Toa Baja. Nine months and four days after the wedding, their first son was born on November 21, 1968; they named him Henry. Then they welcomed a second child, a girl whom they named Jocelyn,
“Jaime took a job with Southwire in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, so we moved to Villa Carolina with the two kids,” explained Anita. They spent two or three years in the house in the corner of Eloy Hernández Street, before moving to the house right beside it where she has lived in for the past 42 years.
As you drive nowadays through the somewhat busy Eloy Hernández St. the house stands out from the others with a creamy soft yellow color and a relatively brand new appearance. As you step inside, you are usually greeted by the aroma of great food in the making, even more so with the holidays right around the corner.
The next five children were born there, Yamille, José Jaime, David, Esther and Steve, bringing the count to a grand total of seven kids. The very last two are fraternal twins. “I knew that there was a possibility for me to have twins, but I also had a suspicion. It felt different that time,” Anita recalled. She had a dream while pregnant in which a friend gave her clothes for two newborns instead of one. Even with all the hints and clues, she still considers it a very pleasant surprise.
Seven kids might be a lot a lot but for Anita it was a bearable and easy-going process, because she dedicated herself completely to the children. She kept a schedule and managed to maintain order at all times. “When I needed it, I did have some hired help around the house,” she adds.
Life takes a bitter turn sometimes, and for Anita and the whole family that time was on December 22, 1993 when her husband Jaime passed away after battling colon cancer. Those were the hardest holidays in her family’s history. After her husband’s death, she continued the electrical supplies business that Jaime had built, along with some of her sons, and continues to do so nowadays. At the time of Jaime’s death, their oldest son, Henry, was going to welcome a boy into the family. Both Henry and Anita expressed that they would have liked for Jaime to meet his first grandchild but unfortunately life did not take that path.
Anita describes her happiest moments in life as those where she sees the whole family together and doing well in each of their lives. “Knowing that my family is doing fine makes me feel complete,” she says.
She feels satisfied that her children recognize her effort over the years. As her son Henry has said many times previously, “We are the people we are today thanks to her in some way or another, and we will always be grateful for that”. “I’m very happy with my life,” said Anita joyfully as she reflected on her past.