Living in a Small Town by Jackie Villarreal Nájera

 In 1977 I was working at the Rural Health Center in King City, CA as a class director for home health aides.

 My schedule would start at 9 a.m.  The reason I mention this is because of the incidents that happened that year. 

I always took a shower before going to work, then I would put on my robe and go outside to pick up the newspaper. One day as I went outside, I got locked out of the house. I went next door and called my husband to come open the door. He was teaching school at the time.  He had to tell the principal my situation. He mentioned that I was naked. I had told him that I only had my robe on.

Small towns are strange. By the time I got to work, everyone already knew that I was locked outside naked. There was nobody in town that didn’t know.

“You were naked outside your apartment.” Was followed by chuckles.

“No, I had a robe on.”

 “You were naked” They insisted.

 My reputation spread quickly. I would go to a restaurant and people would laugh. “That girl was naked.” They would say. I whispered to my husband that I didn’t even know those people.

King City was really a friendly place. In most restaurants if something was not a menu, you could get it anyways.  Some people still laughed when they saw me. I’d always knew it was about my nakedness.               

“Anything for that crazy naked girl.” They teased even after six months had gone by.

Then there was an incident which put my husband Joseph in a bad light. We were going to work, and as habit I would lean on the door of our Scout truck. When he stopped the truck, he went to the passenger’s side to open my door. I must have been daydreaming because when he opened the door that time I fell out. I landed on my buttocks not really hurting myself. This happened on Broadway, the main street in Old King City.

The rumors started again.  My husband was abusing me. No matter what I said, everyone in town was very sympathetic. “Poor me they would say, her husband abuses her.” Sometimes they added, probably because she was naked that time.

Knowing everything about our lives in a small town was sometimes irritating. There are times when it turns out all right.

Every year we went to the county fair. One year I registered in a raffle with only my first name. Next day, I received a notice to come pick up my prize. I went to tell them it was mistake.

The county fair people said, “You’re Jackie, right?”

“Well, yes” I responded.

“Here is your prize”.

When I told Joseph that I won a prize. He was pleased. I explained that I had only put my first name and forgot to put my last name.

 He said “That’s strange”.

Then is when we realized we really did live in a small town.

 

 

My Father-in law And Me by Jackie Villarreal Nájera

When I got married I wasn’t sure whether my father-in law would like me. He liked to tell stories. Many of them he tell over and over again.   I did  listened  to the repeated stories. He seemed to like that .Five  years into my marriage,  I  finally called him Pop. When he wasn’t telling stories, he liked working on jigsaw puzzles. Sometimes I would help him and worked on puzzles that were usually thousands of pieces. I was not very good at puzzles.

In my home, we were not allowed to play games or work on puzzles. We were only encouraged  to read books. My family way of life was excellent too.

As I  would sit with Pop I  tried to  find a puzzle piece. He always complemented me when I found one. He knew working on puzzles was not my forte.

Pop decided to move to a small town in California called Paso Robles. We were living in a town nearby named King City. We asked him to live with us but he said he would be too much trouble. We went to see him almost every weekend. When we didn’t show up he would come see us. We decided to give him a key to our home.

One day I was taking a shower when I heard the door open. I walked out just with a towel   wrapped around my body and there stood Pop. I was a bite nervous but he seemed all right with it. I ran back to get some clothes on.

Pop then decided to move to Mexicali, Mexico. He grew up there and he said he had some relatives there. Later I found out his brother had adopted his niece. He thought of her as a real niece. We often went to see Pop in Mexico and he still  continued to  worked on puzzles. When  we visited him I always ended up working on puzzles with Pop.

There are a few  reasons I decided Pop actually liked me. I once told him that I was going down the street and look at piñatas.  Since he was hard of hearing he did not hear what I said. When I returned, my husband told me that Pop was upset. I asked why?”. He said Pop thought I was mad at him.

Tell him I went to look at piñatas.” I said.

Pop became really comfortable with me through the years. When working on puzzles he wore only his long johns. Once, his daughter Theresa called and said she was visiting. Pop rushed to his room to change his clothes to put on his pants and shirt.

That’s when I discovered that Pop really liked me and felt comfortable around me.

 

 

[JN1]

Tortillas on the Clothes Line by Jackie Villarreal Nájera

In my home, there was Dolores, Gloria and myself that had to take turns cooking and making flour tortillas every day.  Dolores and Gloria were very good and fast at making tortillas. I was good at cooking. My sister Linda hated to be in the kitchen so her job was cleaning the house. Our house was never dirty but Linda did the sprucing up.

At first when it was my turn make tortillas they did not always come out perfectly round.  Sometimes Grandma, Ama Abuelita, said they looked like the state of Texas.  One day she came home and saw my tortillas not so round. She said “I am going to hang them up on the clothes line so every young man can see them. No one will want to marry a girl that can’t make round tortillas.”

“Grandma I’m going to marry a man who hates tortillas.” I answered.

“Good luck in finding one.” She said.

 I continued to practice but they were never perfectly round. I hated making tortillas. For one thing, the weather in Southeast Texas during the spring and summer was very hot. Being over a hot grill was not my favorite thing. Since grandmother and Tia Vica (Virginia) liked my cooking, I decided to concentrate on that.

I would try to beat everyone home from school and start dinner. Gloria protested one day and said. “It was your turn to make tortillas.”  I had already made dinner.

The system we had was if you cook, someone else had to make the tortillas. When it came my turn to make them, I made a deal with her. I told her that I would make the dough and she would roll the tortillas.  She was so fast at making them that I was amazed.  I felt I had tricked her too easily by offering to make the dough. This went on for a while because the adults preferred my cooking.

Then one day I was caught. I think it was the discipline of making them that was important to Ama Abuelita. In the old days, we were allowed one or two a meal. Two tortillas were glutinous and then we had to eat with a fork after that.

These days we have flour tortillas in packages. They are perfectly round.  I love it!

 

 

Cuentos my grandmother told us by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My grandmother whom we called “Ama Abuelita”, on hot summer nights she would tell stories known as “cuentos.”  There were a lot of hot summer nights in Corpus Christi, Texas, where we lived. The stories often had a moral to them.  I was a child and I did not always understand them.  I did not understand the difference between doing the right thing even though you don’t want to, and doing the right thing because they feel right in your heart.

During the day grandma was very strict, we had to keep the house and yard clean at times. If we had free time we had to read. At night, however, she relaxed. Ama Abuelita would cut watermelon and give us a slice as she told my brothers John and Frankie and Linda and myself her cuentos. We would sit in the dark on her porch swing and she would start her stories.

One of the cuentos I remember was a story that happened way before we were born. It was about an aunt that was grandmother’s step-daughter and another aunt that sneaked out of the house to go to a dance. Grandmother had forbidden them to go. She told them that it was dark and she was afraid for their safety.

While at the dance they met a handsome man.  All the young ladies wanted to dance with him. They suddenly noticed that his feet were not the same.  One was one a goat hoof and the another was a chicken foot.

“Things like that might happen when the handsome devil knows your heart. The two young ladies’ hearts were not pure for disobeying their mother.” Ama Abuelita said.

“So, you always have to listen to adults?” I asked?

She said “Only if you do it because you love them and want to do it with your heart.”

Another cuento she told us was a lesson on  genuine kindness. She said you can be good but if you don’t it with sincerity then it’s a waste of energy. She told us about a girl that was a loving daughter and another daughter that would do things just to get them done. The mother preferred the latter.

The loving daughter did not mine being a second choice to her sister.  One day the mother told the loving daughter to wash a black cloth until it was white, so she went to the stream and tried to wash the black cloth.

An elderly woman saw her and said, “There are some children in that old house. If you go and take care of them I will wash your cloth.”

The daughter said, “I will go but you do not have to wash it.  I will go and take care of them.”

She went to the old house and her heart was moved and immediately changed the children and fed them and also cleaned their house.

The old woman said, “You are a loving person and I saw your heart. Here is your cloth and it had been washed sparking clean and white.

When she returned home, she had a small diamond on her forehead. The mother wanted know who had given her the diamond? She had not noticed that she had a diamond on her forehead. She told her mother of this old woman who needed help with some children. They needed food and changing.

The next day mother sent her favorite daughter to the creek to wash a cloth. She imagined that the daughter would also receive a reward. When the old woman showed up and said that there was an old house where the children needed help. She went to old house and saw the dirty children crying and she changed them and gave them a bottle. She also cleaned the house.

The old woman showed up and said, “You indeed took care of the children but really did not want to do it.”

When that daughter got home she had a rooster’s crown on her forehead.

I asked grandmother. “Did they not do the same thing?”

She replied, “If you do a job and you really don’t want to do it but you do it any way, what is the point? You need to do a job with your whole heart and expect no reward for it. That is what you should strive for in life.”

I did not understand as a child the difference between the two girls. Now that I am older I think I understand a little bit more.

The cuentos that I heard are getting dimer in my memory with age. There were so many of them that I don’t remember, but think I remember only the ones I did not understand. My Ama Abuelita has been gone for many years now.

All that’s left of her are her words in her cuentos.

 

 

[JN1]

   Don’t Call Me Red by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My brother Frankie and I had bright red hair. At school, we were known as “Red.” I have been accused of having a bad temper because of my red hair. I never thought it was true.

Although I have another brother and sister who also have red hair. My brother Joey is now nearly bald. My sister Brenda is about twenty years’ younger than me.  She still has really bright red hair. These younger siblings did not understand the fighting that Frank and I did as children. Every time we were referred as “Red” we would get into fights. We hated to be called that name. 

Frank once beat up my entire 6th grade class for calling him “Red”. I beat up a girl for calling me “Red”. She was taller and double my size in weight. I knew I’d be in trouble for beating her up, so I confessed before my mom found out. To my surprise my mother took my side and went to the girl’s home to confront the mother.

The girl I beat up had scratches on her arms and bruises on her legs. That girl’s mother showed my mom all the damage I had done. My mother did not back away. She said. “Your daughter is very tall and my daughter is small.”

Then my mom asked me why I fought. I replied, “She called me Red!”

We left their home. Mom walked me home very quietly. I felt bad that my mom did not utter a word to me. I had told her the truth. I thought I would be punished.

She told my dad about my fight and daddy said “It is not good to fight”.

I said. “She started it dad!”

“Well alright then.” Was his reply. Frank and I continued to fight whenever people called us “Red”.

Brenda and Joey do not understand why we fought so much when they called us “Red”. It was hard to explain to them because they were never called that.  

It is strange that my dad’s family called me “Red”. I really felt like beating them up. I knew I could not do that but, I was so tempted!

When was in junior high some friends were arguing whether I really had naturally red hair. I just thought it was a discussion on my hair. While taking a shower after P. E. the girls peeked over the shower stall and said “I told you she was a real red head!”

I was naked or I would have beat them to an inch of their life. After that I waited to shower when no one was around. I have never been shy about my body. I often went skinny dripping at camp. It was the idea of the rudeness of those girls.

When I grew up, I started work to at a second job in a theatre. My brother was living in my home. I came and told him that a man came into the theater and called me “Red”. Frank was about 60 then and he said, “Did you beat him up?”

My brother and I became very close because we understood each other.  He is no longer with us. Someone said at his funeral that he really had red hair. I felt like I should have beat him for my brother’s sake.

 

 

The Evil Eye by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I am from the coastal city called Corpus Christi, Texas. In my city, lots of people believe in the evil eye. When I was a child I was never sure what it meant.

Back then, I had vey red hair. It was wavy and I had very white skin. I was referred to as the “ratita blanca” or the white mouse. This title was given to me by an old man that saw me playing outside. Later I learned he was a friend of my grandmother.

I had many instances with strangers stopping their cars and touching my hair. The strangers always said “I did not want to give you the evil eye”. So, I learned that there was a physical evil eye.

On Sundays after church we would go to the movies. One Sunday as we were walking back from the theatre I started feeling sick with a fever. Right away my Aunt Virginia said “I gave you the evil eye. I saw your hair shining in the sunlight and I should have touched your hair.” My aunt sounded frantic and then she took a raw egg and rubbed it all over my body. When the egg broke on my stomach, she panicked. Logical me, just thought it must have been a cracked egg. She buried the egg so that the evil eye would leave my body.

I discovered that there is another type of the evil eye. We were visiting some distant relatives in Rio Bravo, Mexico. It turned out to be a strange summer that year. While we were there my brother got a fever. My brother said he had seen an owl at the window by his bed. He thought that it was great to see an owl. An owl is considered a bad omen in my family. One of the elder woman took a special branch. I do not know what kind of branch it was, or what made it special. With the branch the elder rubbed my brother all over his body.

“Come out of his body.” The elder would say. My brother did not understand and kept getting up from his bed. They told him to stay still but my brother kept getting up. My mother finally held him down until the ritual was over.

There is another type of evil eye that was practiced in my family. It is related to things.  If visiting a friend and you say that object in their home is pretty. The friend will give you what you admired.

I did not know about this evil eye. My parents knew that I did not know this.  While visiting Doña Julia one day I said “What an interesting lamp.” My parent tried to signal me not to say anything, but it was too late. Doña Julia gave me that ugly lamp.

I had to take that monstrosity home.  I asked my parents why did she give it to me?  They explained that if she had not given you the lamp you would have given it the evil eye. They said the lamp probably would have broken. I explained that I was only trying to be polite. Everything else in that house was really strange I told them. They said never admire anything in any home.

I could not have given that ugly lamp the evil  eye, because it was the ugliest lamp ever. My parents said that does not matter.  “Next time, just admire their cooking and nothing more.”

I think there is a lot to learn about the evil eye.

People don’t stop their cars any more to admire my hair.  I am now 67. The only people that still brag about my hair are my relatives.  My hair is now light auburn. I doubt if I if anyone can call me the “Ratita Blanca” any more.

I think that’s a good thing.

 

[JN1]

Poppa by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I have a lot of memories of my Uncle Manuel. I remember that he had a dog name Poppa. He loved his dog more than he loved people. He took his dog everywhere he went.

 One day he moved in with a lady name Goya. She seemed like a nice person. She was plump, and her completion was very dark almost to the point of red. They lived in small house next to us. She was also a good cook and she would bring food sometimes to our house.

 She would visit with my grandmother every day. In those days, we had a gas heater that had a short open grill. One day while visiting us she got too near the heater and her dress got on fire. The ambulance came right away and she stayed in hospital for weeks. Eventually she died of bed sores.

I was really sad.

When Uncle heard that she had died he said “What I going to with her stuff?”

I felt even sadder that he didn’t care.

One day his dog was coming inside the house and grandma told my uncle to chain his dog. His dog had never been chained before and the dog hung himself on the fence. There no way to comfort my Uncle Manuel. I had never seemed him cry before. He cried for months.

 I never saw him cry for Goya. He did cry for his dog uncontrollably. My heart broke looking at my uncle. After Poppa died he seemed very depressed and one day he fell and broke his hip. He died shortly after.

 I often think that he died of a broken heart over his dog Poppa.

 

 

 

The War by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I used to have a reoccurring dream about my great uncle Manuel chasing me with his old cane. I would run as fast as I could but he kept getting closer and closer until he almost caught me. Then I would wake up.

Uncle   Manuel was my grandmother’s brother and he was part of our household.  I went to war with him when I was 8 years old. My uncle was about 80 years old.  I heard from my dad that my Uncle was a gambler. He spent a lot of time in card   rooms.  I always thought, “Wow wasn’t he too old to gamble?”

My uncle always wore a grey Stetson hat and walked with an old cane.  Even though he was old he was very spry. As part of my regular customary morning I would cool his coffee by putting the coffee into a cup then into saucer alternating the cup then saucer until the coffee was luke warm. I would do this whenever he wanted coffee. He didn’t have many teeth’s and hot coffee burned his gums. My grandmother insisted that I help cool his coffee. When I would cool his coffee, my uncle would laugh at me and say to hurry up always tapping his cane at me, almost hitting me.

Since I cooled his coffee everyday he continued the same routine every day laughing and tapping his cane.

One day I had enough! His constant tapping his cane and saying “Hurry up!”  Each time laughing at me almost hitting me with his cane. When my grandma saw, him do it she said, “He didn’t mean it.” Then she would tell him to stop. She’d tell me he was old but I knew he did it on purpose.

I decided it was time for war. I was going to even the score with him but, I didn’t know how. Then it finally occurred to me that he hated for me to eat green apricots.

In our side yard, we had an apricot tree. The apricots were green. My brother and I would eat them and because they were bitter, we would throw them away after one bite. When my Uncle caught, us eating green apricots and he would chase us and we would run and hide. I would yell at him “They’re not yours.”

My dad and my uncle were very close friends even though there was a 50-year difference in age.  Yelling at an adult I knew would definitely get me punished. I decided it was worth getting spanked.

My brothers and I continued the eating of green apricots. My uncle continued to chased us.

“You kids stop eating green apricots, you are going to get a stomach ache!” My grandma would say. Since my grandmother only spoke Spanish we responded in English and say “O.K. Grandma.”

We continued to eat the green apricots knowing it would make my uncle mad. We purposely eat them very slowly to make him even madder. Then he would chase us and we would hide under the house. Our old house was built on cement blocks so there was lots of room to hide. We hid until we saw him relax then we attacked again. We took dirt clots and threw them near him. Sometimes we even throw half eaten green apricots near him. We always waited until my uncle was relaxed in our porch swing we before we attacked. He never complained to grandmother. I think he thought he would catch us.  I still continued to cool my uncle’s coffee and he continued to mock me. I would show a fist at him and pretend I was throwing apricots at him and quietly go boom. He would quietly tap his cane and tried to hit me. We stared at each other and he would laugh. Then he would say “I want more coffee!”  but I knew he just wanted to irritate me. After I cooled his coffee he’d laugh. I would take his favorite   Stetson hat and pretend I was going to smash it. When I saw, him gasp I knew I had won the day. This war went on for more than a year. Neither of us ever gave up on the war

I really did love my uncle but he was a   rascal but I think I was worse. I should have had more respect for an adult. My family always said that I was such a quiet girl.  They really didn’t know me at all. After my uncle died I missed him terribly. I will never forget the fun we had fighting over the green fruit.