“Well, sir, there was an old woman up in her years whose only companion was a beautiful pear tree. It grew at the door to her cabin. But when the pears were ripe, the neighborhood boys came and taunted her and stole the fruit. They were driving her to the end of her wits.
One day a traveler stopped at the cabin and asked if he could spend the night. Aunt Misery, for that’s what the boys and the whole neighborhood called her, said to the man, “Come in.” The man went in and lay down to sleep. In the morning when he was ready to leave, he turned to the old woman and said, “Ask for whatever you want and your wish will be answered.”
She said, “I wish for only one thing.”
“Go ahead, ask for it.”
“I wish whoever climbed in my tree would have to stay up there until I gave him permission to come back down.”
“Your wish is granted.”
So the next time the pears were ripe, the boys came to steal as usual, but when they climbed to the top of the tree they got stuck. They pleaded with Aunt Misery to let them go. She wouldn’t. Then at last she freed them, but on one condition, that they never come bothering her again.
The days went by, and one evening another traveler stopped at the cabin. He seemed to be out of breath. When Aunt Misery saw him, she asked what he wanted. He said, “I’m Death, and I’ve come to get you.”
She answered, “All right! But before you take me, let me have some pears to bring along. Would you pick me a few?”
Death climbed up the tree to get the pears, but he couldn’t get back down. Aunt Misery wouldn’t let him go.
Years passed, and there were no deaths. Doctors, druggists, priests, undertakers, they all started to complain. They were losing business. Besides, there were old people who were tired of life and ready to leave for the other world.
When Aunt Misery learned of this, she made a trade with Death. In exchange for her freedom she’d let him come down. And that’s why, to this day, people are dying, and Aunt Misery is still alive.”
Latin American Folktales
Stories from Hispanic and Indian traditions
by John Bierhorst
Part of The Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library
Paperback, Published by Pantheon
Sep 09, 2003 | 400 Pages | 6-1/8 x 9-1/4
Puerto Rico, p. 84 – 85
© Illustrations by Fideli Sundqvist