My great, great grandfather Luis on my biological mom’s side was a great man. He was born in 1810 in a small village in Puerto Rico. At 16 years old, he stood shirtless in a field. His beautiful brown skin and black hair seemed to gleam in the morning sun. He was plowing a field when he saw a group of young girls walking by. He stopped and wiped his brow when he caught one of the girl’s eyes. The age-old lightning bolt struck. It was love at first sight.
She had curly black hair, the cutest figure he’d ever seen and the most infectious voice and laugh he’d ever heard.
A month later, they married in the town’s Catholic Church with the whole village in attendance.
The couple had three sons and as they got older, they dirtied their hands together and worked the fields growing citrus and mangoes.
The sons eventually married, and the one that would become my great grandfather was the strongest and tallest. I swear.
Thing is, for the next 100 years, my great grandfather and his two brothers didn’t have any children. My great, great grandfather reached the age of 129 years and he had a revelation. Some say it came from God himself.
That day, Luis put down his hoe and he picked up a hammer. For the next three years, he built a huge tubular structure out of palm, mango, orange and lemon trees that he cut down from around his farm. He built large structures made almost entirely from palm branches. They resembled bird wings.
The townspeople walked by wondering what the hell happened to Luis. “He’s lost his mind,” they thought. My great, great grandmother stood by her man, but often wondered if this was the dementia that had taken her father at the young age of 35, which was old back then. But over 100, they both seemed strong, coherent and intelligent.
Some townspeople mocked him. “You’re a fool, old man! We’re hungry for mangoes!” Others stood by and yelled, “This is great, old man. What is it?”
“You’ll see,” he responded wielding his hammer over his head ready to plunge another nail into his grand idea. “You’ll see.”
Once in a while, my great grandfather and his brothers would help Luis. The thing eventually was finished.
It looked like a ship. There were benches across the back of the ship. There was no ceiling to the structure. Large wing-like sails stuck out from the sides of the ship. The thing was impressive. No one in Puerto Rico had ever seen anything like it.
Luis marched to the town’s square and stood on the church’s steps. A group gathered around him and Luis said, “I have an announcement! My work is done on a gift I want love to give to you. Please join me at my house at 7 p.m. I want to give you the experience of a life time.”
Excited murmurs and whispers swept over the crowd. At 6:45, groups of town folk walked toward Luis’s home. He invited them up a plank and onto the large wooden bird. “Please find a seat,” he called out.
When everyone was seated, he moved into the front of the bird and he pulled levers with his old arms. Wheels turned, and the faster he pulled and pushed the levers, the faster the wings of the wooden bird flapped.
My great grandfather sat beside him and pulled a lever the the wooden bird lurched forward. They moved over the old farm fields on creaky wagon wheels. The fields were empty of produce-producing trees from years of no farming.
The wooden bird left the ground and the crowd screamed with fear then with glee. That day, one hundred and twenty two people from my great, great grandfather’s town glided through the air looking down over their town from 150 feet in the air. The sun was setting in the west and they all smiled the biggest smiles they ever smiled.
The sound of a crack pierced the air. The back of the wooden bird lurched downward. Terrified screams broke out.
“Don’t worry! Everything is under control!” My great, great grandfather called out.
The wooden bird was over the ocean at that point. Everyone stared at their little village from the air with awe.
Despite Luis’s confidence, the bird broke into four pieces and fell from the sky plummeting toward the teal water below. My great grandfather leaped from the front of the wooden bird and formed his body into a perfect dive position. At 110 years old he plunged into the water, splashed through the surface and descended over 30 feet before he stopped his trajectory and swam to the surface.
At the surface, almost every single person who enjoyed the sunset from the large wooden bird floating in the water face down. My great grandfather swam frantically from person to person, checking for signs of life. He spotted his wife who was floating on a piece of floating palm tree. He swam as fast as he could to her. She was unconscious. He squeezed her nose and blew into her mouth. He laid his ear against her chest. He blew into her mouth again. Vomit burst from her throat and she coughed and choked back to life. She was 107 years old, but strong and agile. Maybe the years of infertility kept her young. Maybe it was their diet. Maybe it was the Puerto Rican climate.
No other survivors were found. My great grandfather and my great grandmother mourned the loss of their fellow townsfolk for a month. After the second month, my great grandmother started throwing up in the mornings. Her stomach developed a lump. And in nine months, my grandfather made his way through her birth canal and appeared before my great grandfather’s proud, shocked eyes and into his warm, wrinkled hands.
They say it was a miracle. Never before had an over 100 year old man and his over 100 year old wife had a baby, let alone got pregnant, let alone were having sex or had the strength to stand without help.
My grandfather was born to these old survivors of one of the first air flights in history.
The couple produced ten more children over the next fifteen years. The town grew to over 150 within fifty years. The stories of Luis and his flying bird were repeated at bars, at church, in living rooms ever since.
My grandfather grew up. After seeing an article in a newspaper about lucrative work in the U.S.A, he packed his bags, kissed my great grandparents on the cheeks, hugged them tight and he stepped on a boat to headed to New York City. He married an American woman with a Puerto Rican heritage and had a daughter.
She moved around the United States with her mother who remarried an active Marine general. They settled in North Carolina. Her mother and stepdad produced four boys and a girl. My birth mother longed for the love of her stepdad, but never got it.
She met a guy in her community, and while the guy’s girlfriend slept in a nearby bedroom, she had sex with him and became pregnant with me.
The guy’s mother rejected any news that the baby was her son’s.
I was born. My mother was 17 years old and couldn’t care for me. Her stepdad disowned her. Through tears and agonizing worry and despair, she signed paperwork for my adopted parents to take me as their own.
I first heard the story of my great great grandfather when I was 20 years old. I was meeting my birthmother for the first time in 18 years. I stayed at her house for three days.
She told me the story while holding newspaper clippings that were published after the miraculous flight piloted by my amazing great, great grandfather and the sole survivor, my 110 year old great grandfather.
This story is true. I have first person eye witness testimony. I swear.