I recently started a project that I am sure will be one of the most important projects I have taken on because of it’s importance to future generations of my family. I am not going to get paid to complete this project, in fact, I’ll be putting my own money into the project so that I can share it with my siblings, cousins, second cousins, and other family members. I have a few projects on the shelf and my wife regularly gets frustrated with me because I start something new before I have completed the previous project, but when something comes to my mind, it gets put on a priority list and I shift everything around accordingly. I’d like to say that my mind is a sort of triage for ideas. Unfortunately, none of them have paid off significantly. I don’t mind because this current project has nothing to do with payoff, rather, it has everything to do with investment. Investment in family. Investment in a belief system that my family is based upon and one that I don’t want my children to lose.
My project is the development of a book that is a collection of comments/quotes from aunts and uncles on my father’s side of the family. Yesterday I met with my Aunt Yolanda and Aunt Olga. We sat for about an hour and I listened to them talk about their childhood memories. They talked about my grandmother and their relationships with their siblings and neighbors. They talked about their father, a grandfather I never knew and although I never knew him, I recognized his positive characteristics in my father, aunts, and uncles. One of the best parts of this interview was hearing sentences that began with, “I remember…” One aunt would make a comment and spark a memory in the other. I’m sure that they could have gone on for hours. I wanted to share some of their memories.
“During Easter holidays, our dad used to take us down to Nueces River. Back then, Nueces River was very different. It was neat. I had good memories. Mother would make us Easter dresses. Mother would make our clothes out of flour sacks and our panties out of flour sacks to match. They were good fabrics. We didn’t know any different. Mom would always dress us up for Easter. We always had a basket. I don’t know how or who decorated them. We’d always make confetti eggs. Dad would always have a barbecue. Back then they didn’t have pits like they do now. They’d just make a hole in the ground with bricks and rocks and stuff like that. It was so much fun.”
“Our dad was a giver. He used to run down to the fruit stand and he would always buy the bushels of apples or whatever fruits they had. Everybody in the neighborhood got fruit including us. Everybody knew when Mr. Barrera came that they would get something. He would go fishing and he would bring the tubs full of fish. Our dad was a fisherman and he would literally bring tubs full of fish. Back then, there was not that much pollution and dad would go real early in the morning and if the fish weren’t biting he would come home right away but if they were, he’d be gone til about noon.”
“We’d sit outside. Dad had a lot of Adirondack chairs that he made. He’d make all kinds of outdoor furniture. We’d eat watermelon and just talk. But it was fun sitting outside and looking at all the cars that would come and go.”
“Aunt Cuca was the oldest one and we were all little. She’d get so mad at us because she had to go to work the next day. We’d all be laying down on the floor. We didn’t have beds. We’d throw a bunch of blankets and we’d all sleep together on the floor and we’d start to laughing. We all slept in the living room on the floor and Cuca slept on the couch. We’d start laughing and she’d tell us to shut up and the more she’d tell us, the more we’d laugh and she’d throw us all out. We’d have to sit outside until the laughter died down.”
“On Main Dr. they started having Vacation Bible School and we started going to Vacation Bible School. Travis Baptist church would rent a house on Main Dr. and at the end of VBS they had graduation time so they invited the parents so they could come and see what the children were doing. So, we invited mother and from there Travis Baptist Church bought another house on the other end of Main Dr. and they made it into a mission. Before we knew it our parents started going with us. All of us little kids used to go there. We were the church because there were so many of us. Then, people started putting up sheets and papers on their doors that had the Virgin and it would say, “This is a Catholic home, protestants not allowed.” These were our friends and we would go to their house anyway.”
“He [my father] took off to college. It was a real blessing that he got a scholarship. He went to school in Austin and then he got a job in San Angelo. I remember going to visit him. We went to go visit him in San Angelo. I’ll never forget because I was so hungry and we looked in his refrigerator. He didn’t have very much but he had an angel food cake and I took a bite of it. He came home and he said, “Uh Oh, Ya’ll better watch it.” And we said, “why?” and he said, “because there’s a rat in the refrigerator and it’s been eating some of the cake.” I said, “Oh no, I ate some of it” and he said, “Oh, you’re the rat.” We didn’t know that he was living off of very little. Sometimes he didn’t eat. Your dad wouldn’t tell us so we didn’t know. He would come during holidays to visit and mother would get so excited because her son came home. Mother had a lot to be proud of because Jess did things to improve himself and educate himself. How he did it, we don’t know? I’ve only heard tidbits but he struggled to make ends meet. He got jobs and eventually, he was in the Navy.”
“I remember walking and running along the river. I was real young. Somebody would go ahead of time to secure the spot and then we’d eat.”
“I remember sitting outside and counting all the cars that went by. I remember playing jacks in the front.”
“I remember playing Bingo in our kitchen. Everybody would come and Chavela’s mother-in-law would be there and I would say, “La Viejita iso Bingo!” You weren’t supposed to say that. It was disrespectful but how did I know? She didn’t read or write but she had pennies.”
“Tia Isidra, mom’s cousin, kind of disowned us when we became Christians because we were supposed to be Catholic. We didn’t go to catechism or anything like that. We didn’t know anything about the church other than we were Catholic. Felix was their last name. They didn’t like that we had become Christians.”
“I remember I had a good friend in Jr. High. Her name was Gloria Ramirez and she would invite and I would go spend the night at her house but she would never come spend the night at my house because we weren’t Catholic.”
“I remember as a little kid going to pick cotton. My mother would crack the whip on us. We’d have to pick so much by the end of the day. All along SPID was cotton fields. I was young.”
“I know when we moved to Main Dr. I started first grade at Oak Park and then we moved and then I was in second grade. I had such a hard time because I didn’t know enough English. I could understand but I didn’t have enough vocabulary to speak. I knew what was going on. I had to interpret for Eva. I think she was part of the Mondragons and she would go and we’d be walking and she’d cry and the teacher would take me to the back and ask me, “what’s wrong with her,” and I’d go and calm her down. We used to walk to Oak Park from where we lived. That was quite a distance to be walking as a first grader. We had to go around the park. Nowadays you wouldn’t do that because you don’t know who’s at the park. It’s not a safe place.”
“We were always down at Dona Petra’s and we would sit on the front porch and she would tell us scary stories. And then it was late and we didn’t want to come home because we were scared. It was only like four houses down. Dona Petra was your father’s godmother. My godmother lived on the next street and Aunt Olga’s godmother lived next door to Dona Petra.”
“Once upon a time we had a little store next door. It was our store. We had a little house next door to the empty lot and we used to sell donuts and sweets. Ramiro was working at some restaurant and he would bring home donuts. We’d eat them ourselves. I don’t know what else got sold.”
I’ll be interviewing several other aunts and uncles, including my father and eventually, those quotes will end up in a book full of pictures from “back then.” I look forward to listening my family relive those memories.