Papi, 102, gets birthday wish to tell his story

José Navarro Deras, born on January 3, 1910, has a memory that many young people would envy. He celebrated his 102nd birthday with his greatest wish coming true when his life story was published in El Diario/La Prensa.

With a cake, balloons, and surrounded by his friends, Navarro Deras celebrated his birthday at a senior center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he often spends time and is known affectionately as “Papi.”

Always smiling, this long-lived Salvadoran entertained those gathered around him with his stories from his native El Salvador. He described his experiences in great detail, specifying names and exact dates.

“One thing that I will always remember is the time when Maximiliano Hernández Martínez was president (of El Salvador) between 1931 and 1944. He got elected for 13 years because he was a good president. He was the first one to start the five year presidential term of office,”  Deras recalled. At that time, Deras said he had been an engine mechanic and a plumber working to make water safe to drink.

On May 14, 1993, when he was just 83 years old, he decided to move to New Jersey where his two daughters lived.

Dressed in a suit and never without his cane, Deras said he came to this country “to be lazy and lie about,” and let out a loud laugh. “I’ve worked a lot. Since I arrived I’ve devoted myself to spending time with my family all the time,” he added, cheerful and happy, from the living room of the house where he lives with the daughter of his second marriage.

Deras calls the senior center his “second home” where he plays bingo and dominos with his friends. “They also have exercise classes, but I no longer do that because my body isn’t up to it. I took those classes until I was 98,” he said.

He added that one of the happiest things in his life was his second wife Petrona Margarita, who died on January 6, 2010, the year he turned 100.

“We had 55 years of marriage and were engaged for four. It was a complete love story…we had one daughter,” he exclaimed with a thumbs up.

His first wife left him. “She took off with another man in 1945, leaving me with the children. Three of them died and I was left with two. My son died when he was 41, and my daughter from that marriage is 72 now.”

When asked if he has a girlfriend or would marry again, Navarro Deras said he only has friends. “I wouldn’t marry again because I can’t be a husband now. Since my doctor told me I’m not allowed to make love anymore, I can’t. But I would make a very good lover, there are many ways to make a woman happy,” he said with a chuckle.

José Navarro Deras shows a photo montage.

José Navarro Deras, who turned 102 years old last week, shows one of his photo montages.

After so many years, from having lived through the time of the telegram until the time of the i-Phone, the secret to keeping up such a lucid memory is discipline, according to Navarro Deras.

“I’m a methodical person in the sense that I’m disciplined and I teach myself,” he said in a more serious tone. “The answer is discipline and I am an example.” He added that the last time he remembered having traveled to Santana, El Salvador, was in 2006. “I haven’t let laziness get the better of me; I simply walk with a cane,” he pointed out.

Deras likes to write and to draw. He also makes photo collages. When he looks at them, he remembers the names of people, where he met them and what their professions were. For example, when looking at one star shaped montage with pictures inside, he named the Salvadoran consul and some of the female employees, and the position each employee held. He had another collection of US presidents, and yes, he was able to name them all.

Today,  Deras has two living daughters, six grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

When he turned 100 he wrote an autobiography, calling it “A good memory that I leave to my friends.” It begins with a mention of the hospital where he was born, and continues throughout his life in El Salvador until he traveled to New Jersey in 1993.

He wrote: “I was born in Rosales hospital in the capital, San Salvador. When I was 9 months old, my mother brought me to her parents because they wanted to take care of me.”

In the autobiography he writes that eight years later, his grandfather returned him to his parents, Emeterio Navarro and Nazaria Antonia Deras, with whom he lived in the town of Guazapa until he turned 15.

“My father was a farmer and he taught me how to farm. During those years, I worked on the construction of the American railway line. My father also passed away during that time and my mother once again brought me to San Salvador, to learn to be a carpenter.”

The life story details all the jobs that  Deras had until he retired, and later when he continued to work at home.

“On May 14, 1993, I came to the United States where my whole family lives. I’m very happy that I made it to 100.” he wrote.

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