If you’ve been following along this week, then you’ve learned quite a bit about The Place We Went to Yesterday, and more about our main character – Ella Santia. What you might still be wondering is whether this poor young woman had any positive influences or experiences in her life. Not to worry, folks, this isn’t an overly depressing story. It’s actually one of hope. And the short answer is that yes, Ella has been fortunate to have the love and support of her Tia (Aunt) Paola.
In the story, Tia Paola is a fixture in Ella’s life. She is her rock and her closest living relative. Childless, Tia Paola has taken Ella on as her own as much as she can. After moving to the mainland from Puerto Rico, Paola received an education and became a caregiver. Despite struggling when she first arrived, she lives a fully independent life and is a mentor to Ella.
Paola is the family historian – keeping photos and mementos and passing stories down to Ella over hot bowls of sancocho. When she has anything extra, she spends it on Ella. Recognizing the struggles she’s faced and the unfairness that is prevalent in her life, it’s clear that Ella is her favorite of all her nieces and nephews.
I’ve been very fortunate to have my own inspiration from which to draw on for this character. Two people that have been invaluable to me during my own struggles were my Aunt Barbara and my maternal Grandmother, Tina.
Barbara is the only Aunt I have left on my mother’s side. She married into our family when I was young and I still remember her wedding being one of my all-time favorites. She is warm and welcoming, creative and talented and as evidenced in the photo above, fabulous. She’s the life of the party and speaking of parties, she throws the best ones!
When I was writing The Place We Went to Yesterday, much of the inspiration for Paola was drawn from my interactions with Barbara. There is a scene in the novel where Paola gives Ella a pair of earrings that had been her grandmother’s when she was alive and living in Puerto Rico. I can’t tell you the number of times Barbara has just cleaned our her closet or jewelry box and had stashes for me to pick through. I used to love dressing up in her clothes and costume jewelry as a little girl (and to this day love nothing more than visiting and digging through her cast offs for new ideas).
I don’t see her as much these days because of our crazy work and travel schedules, but she’s never far and I know I can always count on her.
Tina is perhaps one of the strongest women I know. When people tell me how strong I am, I think of her and my mother because those are the two best examples I have had in my life. Tina is the proverbial matriarch of the family. She’s the one whose house we all went to for holidays. She did all of the cooking and would shoo the rest of us out of the kitchen and from beneath her feet. She was my babysitter, my advocate, the reason I do so well on Wheel of Fortune and is still our family historian. Whenever anyone asks me what love is, I just need to look at my relationship with Tina, and I have my answer. It’s unwavering even when it’s not deserved.
I love these two ladies with all I’ve got and I wouldn’t be here now were it not for them.
Want to know more about Ella’s life? Tomorrow we’ll talk some more about her Puerto Rican roots and her own abuela.
In the meantime, e-books are still available for pre-order for $2,99!