MY FATHER'S PAGE
PASTOR FELICIANO Sr (AKA PASTOR VILLA)
Did you know we have another brother named Raymond? - about George's age, maybe a year younger. I remember meeting him. Pop brought him around to Fox Street. Pop was showing him off, I guess, and comparing him to George. I remember George took a sip of wine from someone's glass that was laying around - maybe a teaspoon full. (For a short time, mom would buy wine by the gallon- Manashevits Muscatel. She was normally not a drinker.) Pop didn't want his son to be outdone so he offered little Ray a sip. Ray wined and refused. Pop was annoyed. George was maybe 4-6 yrs old. I understand we have other brothers and sisters we never met! I think Pop was like Johnny Appleseed, sewing seeds all around.
I remember a story Rachel told me years ago. Rae stopped to talk to some working women in pop's neighborhood (she liked to talk to perfect strangers). They were telling Rae about this old man that all the girls ran after and fought over when he came on the scene because he paid so well. Suddenly someone hollered, "there he is!" It was pop! I never asked Rae how SHE reacted, but I would have been MORTIFIED!
Another memory from Rae about dad: he would take the kids out for a walk, sometimes in a carriage; (the precurser of the baby stroler) , and go visit his girl friends. She said he would sometimes leave the carriage at the front steps in the care of her neighbors while he visited. Those must have been the times when mom would hit him over the head with a frying pan when he got home.
I also remember, on the rare occasions when he visited us at St. Agnes (boarding school). He would always ask us for 3 numbers each. What he would do was to bet those numbers. In fact, I understand he would make book in the numbers racket. That is, he would take and place bets. When we would go to visit him in the cigar factory where he worked, workers would come up and hand him a couple of dollars. He would give it all to us, but I think what he was doing was taking bets. I dont recall dad making any real money in the numbers racket. I think it was more like a hobby: like the modern day game pool at work where you put a dollar into a pot and choose a score for each team. Whoever gets closest to the final score of the game, wins the pot.
Rae told me about times when he would hide out at home, leaving through the fire escape when certain people came around. Supposedly, he would collect bets, but wouldn't always turn the money in so, occasionally, someone would win and he wouldn't have the payoff money. This is pure conjecture on my part. There could have been a different reason for this action. The old man was a colorful character.
I remember pop used to have his own way of calling us kids such as "oye cara susia" (hay, dirty face!), or when he was irritated, "oye, cara mielda" (hay, sh_t face!).
Yes, Popi was.... He did run the numbers.... I also gave him numbers to bet.... Yeah, he was a cheater.... Mom, just didn't play games.... I think I got that from her. I should have hung out with him more.
Although pop would go out the window when certain people came looking for him, it wasn't out of fear. He would leave instructions that, when anyone knocked, we were to ask who it was before we opened the door. If there was going to be trouble, pop would slip out the window and go two blocks to the Social Club where his friends hung out. They would come back and take care of business. I remember him punching and kicking, and even some bottle throwing. Pop was no pushover.
The Social Club he belonged to was named, "Perla Del Sur" (Pearl of the South). They had their own baseball team, they played cards and dominos and they held dances, among other things. Pop danced with all the women. Mom would sell "Pasteles", and beer was sold. I would help sell beer although I wasn't even supposed to be in the club at all.
Calle Del ORO (Street of Gold), was a restaurant he used to take the kids to, and was near the club. The kids would eat food while he would drink beer.
In those days, only rich people could afford a car. They cost $200! And a house! Forget it! It cost $2000. And $25 a week in those days would buy me lunch every day, provide carfare to and from work, help mom with food, buy clothes, and have plenty of money left over for entertainment. Of course, were talking 1930s here!
One interesting fact about pop that I remember was, when I was very small, he used to entertain me with his guitar. I would sit down and he would start playing the guitar and used to entrance me by beating out a rhythm with his fingers on the wooden part of the guitar and simultaneously string out a song. Then, when I started playing the congas years later, after pop had died, I heard a famous Puerto Rican, blind, guitar player, Jose Feliciano, doing the same thing that pop used to do, and he made it famous. I said, "Hey! My father used to do that before Jose Feliciano even thought of being born!" And I bragged to all the musicians.
Reading about our escape from St. Agnes, reminded me of something that used to happen from time to time at our apartment. Kids would run away from home and come stay with us. We all slept in the same bed, so an extra bundle in the bed would go unnoticed. At meal time, the kid would hide under the kitchen table. Mom would pass out plates of food to us and someone would pass a plate under the table. When she questioned the number of plates she passed out, we convinced her that she just miscounted. One time, cops came to our apartment and made an inventory of the kids. They picked up one at a time from the bed and ask mom if that was one of hers. Mom would say, yes..yes..yes.. oh, wait a minute, who's THAT?
I remember another time when mom and the kids went to a summer camp called Camp Helen Marvin. I was left behind. The camp wouldn't take me because my skin was too dark. They flat out told me they didn't allow blacks.
As it turned out they actually did me a favor! I was left behind with pop. Pop took me everywhere he went, and I got to know him in a way I never would have. He took me to the night club where he played. I was small enough to hide behind the bar, but when he was performing, I would come out and watch. I got to meet his singing group friends, and listened to them jam. He took me to baseball games. He was a Cardinals fan, I thought, so I played them up for his benefit. He said, "Cardinals? I don't root for them, I root for whoever I think is going to WIN!" (At the time, I guess, the Cardinals had a very good team!) That made more sense though. In New York, at the time, we had three teams to choose from; Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants, so why the Cardinals?
He even took me to the house where the Numbers Money was collected. The house was watched by the cops some times and, if you were stopped with betting slips etc., you were busted. They wouldn't stop a kid so, since I was there anyway, he pinned something (slips, money, whatever) to my collar and sent me in. I was maybe 5 years old. They had big machines that separates, wrapped and bagged money. It was awesome! Pop was awesome!
I remember another incident concerning the Numbers. I was standing with pop on the steps of the apartment building where we lived. A man came up to pop and asked for his money. Pop pulled a butcher knife and said, "You want your money? Come and get it!". The man walked away. Yup, he was colorful!
I remember a knife incident like that, but I didn't witness it personally. I would have been maybe 2 years old (if Carlos was 5). Pop ran up to the apartment and got a knife and ran back down to fight someone. My understanding was that, if his friends weren't around to stop him, he wouldn't have tried that. Pop was colorful but CRAZY he was NOT!
Nao (Naomi) says pop was 73 when he died in 1960. She could be right about that date, although there is evidence in some papers Pat found that indicates that he might have been born in 1891 which would have made him 69. At any rate, I think he might have died in 1959. The reason I say this is that I was drafted into the Army in the summer of '58. After basic and advanced infantry training, I arrived at my first regular assignment in late '58. Not long after that, I got a letter from mom saying that pop was very sick. I went to my CO (Commanding Officer) and asked for an emergency leave to go see him. I was stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC at the time, which was just a stones throw from New York City. Before granting me my leave, the CO asked the Red Cross to investigate pop's medical condition. This was the normal procedure in these types of situations. The Red Cross reported that pop had already been dead for several months. The CO offered to let me go anyway to visit his grave and what ever. I was heart broken almost to tears, and extremely angry, to say the least, that no one informed me of his medical condition until it was too late. I didnt blame mom. She probably didnt get the news much sooner than I did. Pops current wife was not a friendly person; not to us anyway. I told my CO that I wanted to see my FATHER, not a hole in the ground. So I didn't go. I wish I would have now.
When pop died, mom said that the Spanish radio station played pop's records round the clock. There also was a parade for him in Spanish Harlem, in New York City. He wasn't exactly an unknown. If he had gone to Mexico, or another Latin country, he probably would have been very famous.
[See also the random email notes below the "Links"]
Email FROM: Ponce NY(LUIS) To: MATU (NAOMI)
Your father played with "Los Diablos de la Plena" & with "Canario y su Grupo" (Manuel Jimenez) in the 1920s & 1930s. The song " Cuando las Mujeres Quieren a los Hombres" shows Canario as its composer. This does not mean that your father didn't write it.
Many composers at that time, such as Mateito Perez & Bumbun Oppenheimer were not aware of copywriting & protecting their work. Their songs were copywrited by the recording artist & the record company, thus Canario became the "author" of many compositions [that actually may have been authored by your father].
Email FROM: Ponce NY (LUIS) To: MATU (NAOMI)
I found a song by el Trio Boricua. The members of this group were Pastor Villa (your father), F. Ventura, & Yayito. The song is called " Al llegar a Machulito" (plena son). The composer & vocalist is Pastor Villa. It was recorded in NY City, May 31,1929. I'll mail you a copy along with a version of "Quando las Mujeres Quieren a los Hombres" by Canario y su Grupo.
Tiene mas registro que un cuatro. - refran Puertoriqueño
Email FROM: Ponce NY (LUIS) TO: MATU (NAOMI)
I finished the tape.... The cassette includes music from the following CDs: The Music of Puerto Rico 1929-1947 (Harlequin HQ CD 22) this CD includes the song "Al Llegar A Machuelito" with your father as vocalist. Las Plenas De Canario (Guayanes CDG 511) Canario Y Su Grupo (Ansonia 1232) this CD includes "Cuando Las Mujeres Quieren A Los Hombres"
Your father played with El Grupo Antilla. This was a trio that included Pastor Villa (your father), Fausto Delgado, & Yayito Maldonado. They recorded a song called "Pescao de Aguadilla" in 1930.
A good book for you to read is "My Music Is My Flag" -Puerto Rican Musicians & Their NY Communities 1917-1940 by Ruth Glasser. If you have trouble finding the book or CDs, They're available from the Descarga Music Catalogue. You can get in touch with them on Descarga Online: www.descarga.com.