No Deposit No Return by Jackie Villarreal Najera

Maria was my father’s first cousin. She lived with my great grandmother, “Ama Juanita.” Since my great grandmother did all the cooking, Maria never learned to cook. Besides not cooking, Maria just liked to go dancing. Her brothers had a band, called Los Seis Nacionales. They had recorded many records. Maria loved to go see them and go dancing. 

Maria had a boyfriend name Pablo. He was usually her partner when she danced. One day according to my dad, Pablo kidnapped Maria. Dad said to me, “Pablo stole her from her family in order to marry her.” He didn’t marry right her away though, Dad continued.  They lived together for about six weeks.

Then one day Pablo brought Maria back to her family. He said,  “She doesn’t know how to cook! Teach her!”   

So, Maria was returned to her family. Pablo said, “I will pick her up when she learns to cook.” Maria decided that she was not going to learn to cook. The family decided to try to teach her. She said,  “No way.” 

Since Maria had other guys who liked her, she forgot about Pablo. My Great grandmother told her,  “You’re flour from a different sack now, go back to Pablo.” Maria did go back to him. She never learned to cook.

 My dad over years would tease his cousin about being brought back home. She would laugh and tell dad “Stop it!” then she says, “Let’s go dancing!”

Every so often my dad would still tease her saying, “Maria why did he bring you back?”

Maria had children who knew how to cook. She remained married for twenty-to thirty years and then got a divorce.  

She later married a person who didn’t mind that she could not cook.

 

 

 

 

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Stephie and the Girl by Jackie Villarreal Najera

At one time Stephanie and Kiersten have lived in my home.  Stephanie was my funny girl. Stephanie loved movies and often imitated them. For example, she saw the Princess Bride and a character hits someone on the head to “jog the memory.”  Stephi decided to jog her younger sister’s memory by hitting her on the head.

Stephi then saw the movie Holes where boys dig holes to “become good little boys.”  Stephi started digging holes in my back yard.

“Stephi what you doing?” I asked her.

“I’m digging a hole to become a good little boy.”

“Sweetie you’re a girl” I told her.

“That’s okay.” She said. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Stephi loved our dog. One day Stephi was walking around with a pillowcase. The pillowcase was moving around.

“Stephi what is in the pillowcase?” I asked her.

“The dog.” She said.

“Put the dog down!” I told her.

“OK.”  She said as though she hadn’t done anything wrong. When I told my husband, he just laughed. The dog started barking at her every time he saw her for about week. She just picked up the dog and said she was sorry and the dog forgave her.

We often took Stephi with us to the county fair, restaurants and shopping. No matter where we went people would stop us and remark that they had never seen such a beautiful girl. They often get friends to come and see the most beautiful child. Stephi never reacted to all the attentions. She just wanted to go shopping and as she put it,

“Let’s get more stuff!”

Stephi no longer lives with us. She is now twenty-four and loves to take pictures. She knows cameras well, even my advanced camera that has a lot of features.

Kiersten lives in my home now. We call her “The Girl” because everybody in my home are older people.  She left for a while and then returned. Since my brother, her father lives in my home she wanted to live with her dad. My brother has been divorced for many years.

Kiersten was nothing like Stephanie. “The Girl” is stubborn and funny. Kiersten hated preschool. Every day she’d cry, “I don’t go to school!” Every day she would find something in my home and take it with her to school. It must have been her security object.

One day she comes home and tells me, “Miss Jovita is mean to me.” I told her I’d talk to her. I really just wanted to make her feel better. I thought it was funny so I told Miss Jovita about her complaint. I thought she also would laugh. She got angry and told me, “Kiersten wakes the other students from their naps.” She didn’t have a sense of humor.

Even as a baby Kiersten liked to throw food on the floor. I guess all babies do that, except my Kiersten liked to yell in a high pitch voice. She hated almost every food.

I also took Kiersten to different places. I once took her to Mc Donald’s and put her in the high chair. I told her to stay there and not to move. I said, “Stay seated or you’ll fall and land on your head.”  Of course, she stood up and landed on her head.

I gave a party at Chuck-E-Cheese and she got under the table and wouldn’t come out. I thought maybe she wanted a party at the museum like Stephanie’s or an animal party just like her sister. Kiersten didn’t want a party.

We finally gave her a party at my home and she seemed happy. Unfortunately, this when she turned twenty-one.

Kiersten now likes many different foods. When she and her dad went to China as her high school graduation present, she ate everything. She even ate scorpions on a stick. She said she loved them.

These days she loves Mexican menudo (tripe soup), and tries most foods. I guess as an adult she learned to appreciate different foods.

Today she goes to college and is an artist.

 

 

 

 

My Two Sisters by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My younger sisters, Janet, and sometimes Joanne were funny and sometimes rude as kids. Janet was great dancer. She danced at colleges and churches.  I would tell Janet that we never say yes when the people offer us cookies or other sweets. This rule was a thing I grew up with. Grandmother told that me

 “You never take anything offered to you, it would be like you haven’t eaten.”

“Why?” I asked grandmother. “It is considered very rude.”

“We always want people to know that we did eat.” Said grandmother. 

I tried to instill the rule that I learned as a child to Janet. She did not understand the rule. Every time she danced and they offered her cookies she would grab it. I decided to buy cookies and tell her,

“Don’t take cookies if they offer them.”  I told her that she could have the entire package of cookies that I purchased. The church offered her cookies and she took them again!

 I finally had to tell Dad about her bad behavior. She finally stopped grabbing cookies. 

One Saturday my aunt made pancakes for the family. We all ate two pancakes, maybe three. Janet wanted more than that. She kept asking for more pancakes. In our family, we never ask for more of anything. Usually, my aunt would ask “Do you want one more pancake?” That meant we already had at least one pancake. 

My aunt would stop asking after two pancakes. Janet, however, continued asking for more pancakes. My aunt at first thought it was rude but, just gave her more. She probably figured she was exceptionally hungry. Janet continued asking for more pancakes. Then Janet went to the bathroom then returned and wanted more pancakes. My aunt started making tons of pancakes for her. She ate them all. Her stomach looked like a basketball. 

One Sunday while driving around we saw some boots that were left in an empty garage. The door was opened. Janet yelled out,

“Look!  There is an invisible man!”

Everybody in the car just said, “Huh?”

We all started laughing. I don’t think Janet understood why we laughed. 

Today Janet lives in Hawaii. She doesn’t over eat any more. She now runs ten miles a day. She even runs in marathons. She ran the Boston Marathon twice. She has three grown kids that are very smart.

 My sister Joann was also sometimes funny. We once sent her to buy a deluxe pizza. She returned saying, “They said they didn’t have a duplex pizza.” 

We couldn’t stop laughing.

Once she made a mayonnaise sandwich with just salt and pepper. She said to me there was no meat. My father always made sure we had meat. She just liked mayonnaise.

 Joann is extremely smart. She never forgets names, dates, and years of things. 

Janet and Joann are very talented now that they are adults. They sure were funny as kids.

 

 Don’t Hurt Any Living Thing by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My Amabuelita, my grandmother, once caught my brother John throwing rocks at a cat on our roof. When Amabuelita caught him, she was mad. She said “Don’t ever hurt an animal. You know cats eat mice.” She continued by saying, “You don’t ever hurt any living thing.”

“I won’t do it again” responded my brother.

Now, I never believed my brother when we were young. Then one day, John made a sling shot. He decided to shoot at birds. He wasn’t very good at that. He did once actually hit a bird by accident. He didn’t want me to tell on him

 Every early afternoon there was an old woman named Luz. She was tall and skinny and hunch over. She would sit on our porch and smoke a cigarette. Sometimes My brothers would ask her to leave our porch. She just ignored my brothers. I used to wonder how she got into the porch without any care in the world?

 When my grandmother heard what my brothers were doing to Luz she got very angry. She told all the kids never to bother Luz. I asked my grandmother if she knew Luz? She said it didn’t matter but not to bother her anyway.

When I was a child, Luz continued to smoke in our porch on regular basis.

“Is Luz crazy?”  I asked grandmother.

“Why would you say that?” she answered.

“Well she looks like she’s crazy. She always opens our gate and walks right in. You don’t allow anyone else to come in except relatives.”

“I know but, don’t ever bother Luz anyway.”

I always expected Luz to open the gate and walk in. I never actually ever saw her open the gate. She would just be there.

Then one day she didn’t come. I had been trying to be nicer to her. I had started to like her. Grandmother had said to be nice to everyone. Everybody needs our respect.

Luz never came back. I did see her in another porch once.  No one ever saw her again. I think she probably died. I felt kind of sad that I was not kinder from the beginning.

 Today I don’t dislike anyone anymore. I remember Amabuelita saying,

“Don’t hurt any living thing.”

 

 

      

 

My Three Mothers by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I had what I considered three mothers. “Amabuelita” was my grandmother who was very strict. Whenever we cooked with the pots and pans we had to wash them even before we ate. If we used a glass for water we had to wash the glass immediately. Even though she was strict I knew she loved me and spoiled me.

My grandmother liked to crochet and knit. She often crocheted with her best friend Maria Pantoja. When I asked “Grandmother could you teach me?” Her response was always “No.” I would say “My cousins are learning how to knit.” Then she’d say, “Your cousins don’t even know how to keep the house clean not even the bathroom.” Now I knew that my aunt’s house was clean (her daughter) probably not to my grandmother’s standards.

After I kept begging to learn to crochet, she would say, “I will crochet anything you want. It’s bad for your eyes. Maria Pantoja agreed with grandmother about everything.

 My grandmother would visit my aunt once every few months. She once came very angry after her visit. My aunt had thrown away a wilted lettuce. She said “Why didn’t she give it away before it wilted? It is a sin do that.” She said.

My grandmother was very generous. Every Sunday and holidays before we ate supper, grandmother would fix a plate of food. Then she would send me to take a neighbor the plate. It wasn’t always the same neighbor. Grandmother seemed to know all our neighbors and who needed food.

 My Tia Vika was my aunt who was also very strict. I also knew she loved me. She was also very generous with people but especially with my mother. She was my mom’s older sister. When my mother was not feeling well my aunt would her bring tea in bed. My aunt was very partial to melba toast and felt it was a good thing for illness. I really didn’t know how that worked? 

 Once I was forced to take a class in sewing. I had been in the library reading as always. When suddenly the principal caught me, and told me to go to the only class that was left was sewing. I hated sewing. I was late to the sewing class and the teacher told me to buy a pattern and material. She said all of your classmates are already sewing so you can start at home. “Do you have a sewing machine at home?” “Yes.” I answered. “OK then start your project at home”

I had no idea how to start the project. The teacher did give me some sewing instructions on and how cut the pattern, then how to pin the pattern to the material, and then to start sewing. Quite honestly, to me it sounded like Chinese. I don’t speak Chinese.

 My aunt was like my grandmother. When I took the pattern out of the package my Tia Vica asked me, “What are you doing?”

“I have to make this pattern.”

She immediately started cutting the pattern and then she started sewing it, the entire time giving me directions on how to sew it.

 When she finished sewing my project she, said “You don’t have to learn to sew because it’s bad for your eyes. As long as I’m alive I will always sew whatever you want.” I always felt bad that both grandmother and my aunt worked eight to nine hours every day except weekends. They did so much for us.

 My mother was also very generous. I would send her fruit from California. She lived in Texas. Every time I’d sent her fruit she would give it away. I went home to Texas to visit my family. I am a Texan too. I discover that my mom had been giving the fruit away to neighbors.

 I asked, “Why not give the fruit to my brother or sister? They don’t need the fruit and my neighbors do.”  I felt like telling that it cost me a lot of money to send the fruit. I knew it was useless.

 When I was young my mom would sometimes sit next to me and twist my hair into a knot. It would take all day to unravel it. She would say she felt nervous.

When I would say that I felt, sick mom would panic.  First, she gave me castor oil, then she would bring me tea and orange juice. I felt I would blow up with so much liquid. Finally, my aunt told mother to rest.  She had been by my side all day even as I slept. My aunt said she would take care of me. Her idea of taking care of me was soup and melba toast.

 My mom couldn’t sleep and started her tea routine again. She couldn’t bear to see me sick.  I felt bad when my aunt told me my mother was getting sick from not sleeping. She said “Your mother loves you a lot.’ I knew that.

 Having three mothers who were strict in everyday life was sometime very hard.  Knowing they loved me was everything. All my mothers are gone now. I do miss all of them. I have to admit that I don’t how to sew or crochet or knit. I feel bad I never learned.  Sewing on the other hand is still terrible.

 I am glad I still don’t how to sew because  I still hate it!

 

 

          Camp and Skinny Dipping by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I have never been shy about going skinny dipping. I am not an exhibitionist though.

I once visited with a distant cousin name Aurora in Mexico. I was eleven years old then. She lived near a creek. It was so hot there. I did not have a swim suit with me so I got into the creek without anything on.  I was after all, only eleven.

What I did not realize is that a school was in session close to the creek. The kids got to the windows to peek at me. I waved and they waved back. After all what could I do?  They had already seen me.   

When I turned eighteen I went to camp. Most Summers I would go to a residential camp.  All that means is you live at camp two weeks at a time until summer is over. The camp was for girls only.  The boy’s camp was about two miles away. The boys camp was for boys six to ten. Our camp was for girls twelve to fourteen.

 One night my friends wanted to go skinny dipping. I remembered that the lake was very cold.  Snow was still melting into the lake but, my friends insisted on going. We went skinny dipping and later we just stayed naked outside the lake drying out. Just then we heard a noise. I asked my friends,

“What’s that noise?”

“It’s probably the boys.”

 “Maybe we should put some clothes on.”

“Why?”  We all agreed not to put our clothes back on until we were dried. We remained in our birthday suits until we were dry. It seemed like nothing bothered my friends. At residential camp, everyone is very friendly and we share everything.   I did draw the line at sharing Suzy’s toothbrush. I had forgotten my toothbrush at home base. My friend Suzy wanted me to share hers. I politely said “That’s OK. I’m fine.” She insisted saying, “You need to brush your teeth.” Suddenly another friend Louise came into the bathroom. I was never so glad to see her. Suzy forgot about wanting me to share her toothbrush.  

 My friends there were all cheerleaders at their high school. 90% of my friends were important people in their schools. Suzy once asked me, “What activities do you do at your school?”

“Not much.” I said.

“No, really what do you at school?”

“Well my class had a play and I fed them.”

“Wow that’s cool.”

I realized that my friends were very nice.

 

Once my older sister Gloria came to see me at camp during my weekend off. She decided to go for walk. I told her to not to go on the rocks, I was showing her. The creek is dry now but I warned her, “Those rocks are slippery.  She went anyway, and slipped and fell. She was hanging the ledge and started yelling “Help! Help me!”

I couldn’t stop laughing. I finally told her, “Just let go.”  She kept saying “No help me!” The more she asked for help, the more I laughed. 

Then I said. “Let go!” I kept telling her to “Just let go!” I knew that there was a large ledge below her. She couldn’t see  the ledge because she had panicked. I continued laughing because she looked funny. I couldn’t stop laughing.

She finally let go.  

“I warned you not to go there.”  She was so mad for my laughing at her. I still just kept laughing.   She kept saying “It’s not funny.”

Honestly it was very funny. She was older and she thought she knew more than me. To this day I still laugh when I think of her yelling “Help!”  

Now that I’m over sixty-five, I think back at my life at camp. I am still good at camping and at not getting on slippery rocks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a Part of Life by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I was born in a house my grandfather built. He built it with old lumber, my grandma said. He must have been a great carpenter because during many hurricanes the neighborhood houses fell but our house was fine. My grandfather was a native American. People know them as Indians. 

When I was four years old my mother was pregnant with my brother. My grand-father was eating a watermelon on the porch. My mother asked him to give her some watermelon.  He had said “No.”

I remember her asking him what could she give in trade?  

I guess in Indian culture you need to trade something more valuable than what you want. Probably not in all Native American cultures, but it certainly was my grandfather’s way.   My mother asked him what he considered valuable enough to get the watermelon? He answered like this “What do you treasure the most?”  

I remember her saying that it was her children. He then asked which one she loved the most? Mother did not hesitate and said “Gloria my eldest.” 

I was too young to really be jealous.

 Grandfather then said “Fine Gloria is now mine.”  Trade must have concluded because mother was then eating watermelon. The trade just meant that young Gloria would bring him coffee when he wanted it.  It was a silly trade but, that is how it was in my family.

 The next thing I remember of my grandfather, was him lying in a big box in our dining room. I think I touched him and he was cold. He had ice under him. I thought he must be cold. They tried to tell me that he was gone. I asked where had he gone to?

 My grandmother thought death was a just part of life. Then she said “He is dead.” Then I heard some music. I’m not sure if it was drums or not. Grandmother then insisted that the entire family would always go to all family and friend’s funerals. We went to all the funerals we were invited to.

 I really do hate funerals. I have gone to my dad’s and my younger brother’s and a close friend. I try to avoid all funerals. I do remember my grandmother telling me,

“It’s part of life.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   School Days by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I always had red hair. It was something I was born with, not something special. In the first-grade Mrs. Bailey would take me around to other classes and she’d say “Isn’t she cute with her red hair and her dress?”

Mother use to dress me in fancy dresses with a petticoat.  It was same in second and third and fourth grade. I was always embarrassed when teachers took me around showing me off. I was a very shy person.

In the fifth grade my teacher Mrs. Winebarger decided that I looked like a painting from an  art book she showed me. She decided that the entire class was to portray famous paintings. I was to be the main portrait. My instructions were not to move until the curtain closed.

 I did move and only my father noticed. He asked “Why did you move?” I really didn’t know. As always, I couldn’t do things right.

 The following year was the first time I had a man teacher. Mr. Colombo, on the first day of school said to me “You are not that cute”. I hated to tell him I never thought I was cute.  I was happy to have a man teacher for the first time.

 He ended up yelling me for not knowing estimation. He punished me for reading books during math class. I loved to read. He looked at me funny when other class mates would say I was cute. When he discovered that I was bad at estimating numbers. He said he would give me a failing grade if I did not learn estimation. I was reading books instead of studying Math. The teacher got angry.

 When I told my dad that I couldn’t estimate numbers he looked shocked. My dad was very good in math. Dad decided to take me shopping with him. He gave me directions, explaining how to estimate. He told me to estimate the cost of the groceries. I was off by three dollars. Dad was so proud of me.

 At school the following Monday, I was excited to show my new skill. Mr. Colombo was no longer doing estimation but now was doing pre-algebra. He did not know that I was pretty good at that. I thought that was fun.

 I knew that the teacher did not like me. He seemed to always be yelling at me. I had always loved school. He tried to make my life hard by giving me extra assignments that he didn’t give anyone else. My classmates were very sympathetic. If my dad had known about my treatment he would have changed my school.

 My dad was not a confrontational person, he was too polite. I think he might have beaten him up probably without talking to him. His attitude was “nobody hurts my child.” So, I never told my dad what was happening to me.

 Then one day someone stole a pencil bag from a student. Mr. Colombo said that there was someone that knows something about it. I certainly didn’t know. He said he would use a paddle board on everyone if someone didn’t confess. (The board was known as the Board of Education). Now I knew that getting paddled was never going to be an option. I had already formed my escape route. This time I would tell my dad that I really had a reason for running away from school.

 Running away from school would not have been the first time. In the first grade during recess I ran home. Dad had to explain to me that school would be not over until three o’clock.  It was only ten o’clock. He took me back and my class all laughed at me. From then on, my class took care of me. I ended up having a lot of best friends. They continued to be best friends throughout high school.

 

 

 

Parties by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My grandmother felt that getting a party every year was not good. She said we would not appreciate it. The exceptions were Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. 

My brother Joey, when he was a year-old, grandmother showed him his cake. He grabbed a piece of the cake with his tiny hands and ate it. I don’t remember my first birthday cake. I suppose we all had a cake at year old.

My sweet sixteen birthday party was at Cole Park. I was very excited because there were a lot of people there. I especially liked having the college students from the University of Corpus Christi. My birthday was in the summer so none of my friends from school came. The food was great but I really didn’t care. I received lots of presents. I didn’t care about that. I honestly did not need anything.

 My Dad always bought us lots of things. I thanked everybody for coming to my party, and we went home. I didn’t think anything was better than that great party. I was sitting by the window still thinking of the great party. Suddenly I heard a guitar playing. I looked out and the man said

  “I have come to serenade you on your birthday.”

 I was surprised and very happy. I didn’t think anything could top the party but, I was wrong.  I knew my father had paid the man to do this. Then he started to sing. He sang my favorite Spanish songs. That is how I knew my Dad had done this. Only he knew all the songs I loved. It was my perfect night.

 I didn’t get another party until I was twenty-three. I was already going with my boyfriend who is now my husband of forty-two years.

This birthday was very strange. My mom insisted that I get a new dress for the party. I took my boyfriend to help me select the dress. The party started without me. When I returned, there were a least sixty people at my party. My guests were eating and having a good time.

 A friend of my mother had a son who liked me. He wanted to take me for a ride. I told him I had a boyfriend and it was my birthday party. My mom insisted that I let him take me for a ride. I didn’t want to but, mom insisted. I tried to tell mom that it was weird. I was having a party. I went with the strange boy anyway.  

There were things he wanted to show me, I ended saying “I’ve seen it.” No matter what he showed me I’d say “I have seen it.” He finally brought me home. My guests didn’t even know I was gone!

 I got home just in time to cut the cake.                                    

It was one strange birthday!

 

 

Tall Tales Maybe by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My Tia Lala once told me that she had been a Can Can dancer. I did not know whether it was true or not. When I was a young teenager she was about 75 years old. She sang very well even at her age.

 She also said that my father use to give my mother a ride on his bicycle’s handlebars. She said that my parents were married young, and Dad still rode a bike. I did know that my parents were married young. I did not know my father rode a bike.

 Another aunt told me that one of my female relatives got in a gunfight with the Texas Rangers.I asked “Please repeat that.” I must have asked her at least ten times to repeat it. I was so shocked I forgot ask her the name of the relative.

Another story was from my dad. He said his grandfather told him that his great-grandfather came from Spain. He came to the State of Colorado. He said that everyone in the family were fishermen. They thought Colorado sounded Spanish to them. They discovered that the state did not have an ocean. Then they traveled to Texas and found the ocean. He thought some of his relatives went to Mexico and others to Texas to fish. 

I really don’t know whether my aunt LaLa was telling the truth. I don’t know if aunt Lala was really a Can Can dancer. I don’t know whether a female aunt got in a gunfight with the Texas Rangers. I do know that what my dad said, he believed. My father was never in the habit of lying to me. 

My grandmother told me that my grandfather was Cherokee. Grandmother never lied to me. I don’t know if that is true. I think Grandfather probably told her that.

I have tried to look up all this in the internet. In the meantime, they are tall tales for now.