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Miserain Rodriguez Soto (Photo: Sara Manzano-Díaz)
Miserain Rodriguez Soto (Photo: Sara Manzano-Díaz)

More Than a Thousand Words: 'Window into Pop's World'

Pop’s eyes, hands, and face tell stories that began in 1920 – over 97 years ago.

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My father-in-law, Miserain Rodriguez Soto, was born in Aquadilla, Puerto Rico as one of ten children on a tropical farm with lush green plants and a variety of animals. In the heat, Pop helped his father till and sow the land, and helped his mother tend to the chickens, pigs, goats and cows. He drank goat milk, ate the freshly picked eggs and played with the piglets, unknowing that they were not pets. With no electricity, gas lanterns lit the house at night.

In the 1940’s, during the mass Puerto Rican migration, a 22-hour harrowing airplane flight brought Pop to New York City to find employment and begin a new life. The brown and grey tall buildings of the concrete jungle were so different from the farm he left behind. Pop survived the cold winters dreaming of someday returning back.

One day, his eyes fell upon a beautiful, charismatic young woman walking by his tenement window in the Bronx. Pop met and married her. My mother-in-law, Maria Cancel and Pop lived in New York for many years. They raised Nelson and Cookie and later adopted Noel. Pop and Mom were proud graduates of Bible school on 125th Street in Harlem. They had the biggest hearts, and always took care of other family members, friends and strangers who were in need because they felt it was the right thing to do.

Pop’s hands made him the best “salad man” at Phil Gluckstein’s mid-town Manhattan restaurant. Thereafter, he was an elevator man, union foreman and later, a doorman at a luxury building on 89th street near Riverside Drive. His face continued to mature as he worked to provide for his family.

Later in life, they moved back to Puerto Rico where Pop had a little “finca,” (a small piece of land). At dawn every morning he would tend to his crops, growing plantains, mangos and vegetables. There was something special about having his hands in the soil and growing food for life.

In 2014, Pop (94 years old) and Mom (89 years old) came to live with my husband Nelson and I in Philadelphia. In prior visits, Pop and Mom planted red and pink rose bushes in my backyard. Roses were her favorite. From the window of their room they would see the beautiful buds bloom around Mother’s Day until her birthday month of October. They spoke for hours, laughed, read the Spanish paper and the Bible, watched TV and sang hymns. They loved watching the squirrels, rabbits and birds. They were married for 67 years until her passing in 2016.

"Window into Pop’s World" explores Pop’s latest transition in life: widowhood. He endures it with grace and dignity. He still loves watching the squirrels, rabbits and birds out the window. And he continues to read the Bible, always while standing, because, “You should stand when talking to God.” I hope the images stir up unexpected feelings or thoughts about your father and his journey. By being personal, I hope the images are universal.

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