Bad Cooks   by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My family, back in the late 1950’s, had five women and one brother. There was my grandmother, an aunt, a cousin, an older sister a younger sister, and me. All these women in our home were all bad cooks, except for me.

My grandmother was good at making great cornbread and regular bread on top the stove. It seemed as though she was once a pioneer.

My aunt only baked buttermilk pies for Thanksgiving and baked apples during the year.

My oldest cousin cooked beans, sometimes rice.

My oldest sister always only cooked potatoes with beef with garlic and cumin and tomato sauce.

My younger sister who was only a year younger than me, didn’t cook all.

I couldn’t do much but I was a good cook. It was because my family cooked the same boring food on a three-day rotation. My grandmother and my aunt would ask me to cook more often. I never cooked the same food twice.

My oldest cousin who I still think of as my sister, after having been married for almost fifty years,  is still a boring cook.

Visiting her in Texas, I notice her cooking habits have not changed. Being a Texan means you are always nice about everything. I never criticized her cooking. I  just ate it.

My older sister has changed a bit, her cooking has gotten worse. She now puts chicken and beef in the oven and her food tastes like rubber. I just eat her cooking too. She is married to a Mexican and now also cooks beans daily. Sometimes I have to try real hard at eating her cooking without getting the food stuck to my teeth.

My younger sister never liked being in the kitchen. After she got married she would call for Chinese Take Out, and pizza. Sometimes she would put potatoes in the oven.  Her husband decided to do the cooking. He would make soups and cactus salad.

When my mother had a stroke, my sister took care of her. I noticed that her cooking was still so very bad.

I decided to buy mom food that she used to love. I couldn’t stand to have my mother subjected to my sister’s cooking.

My mother ended up having a caretaker that was a better cook. I was so glad I didn’t have to worry about the cooking any more.

After so many years my parents had three more boys and   three more girls. I did notice that all my brothers were much better cooks than my sisters.  I also noticed that my sisters-in-laws are also bad cooks.

Once one of my sisters-in-law lived in my home. She was a very bad cook. One winter day I got the flu and so she decided to cook spaghetti in my absence.

My husband ran in panic into my room and said she was putting the pasta in cold water. I told him maybe she knows something that I didn’t know. I was so sick I didn’t care what she was doing. Then my husband runs into my room again and tells me the pasta is all struck together. I told him just eat it.  

I think I was a much better cook because I was my grandmother’s favorite child. She wanted me to be better at cooking and also at other things. She taught me how to tell if something is sewed correctly, how to tell if something is good jewelry.  She wanted me to be able to identify quality furniture.

I felt like the character in the movie “Gigi.” She couldn’t do anything either.

Basically, all I really could do is cook. I was spoiled by my dad and my aunt and my grandmother. I was encouraged to do the best I could. No one ever put me down for being bad at everything else.

 

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The Liar by Jackie Villarreal Najera

   As a child and as a young teenager I lied a lot. Now I was taught never to lie. Grandmother told me that once you lie you have to continue to lie to cover the original lie.    I knew it was true. I couldn’t help myself from lying.  Most people believed everything I told them though. I was very bad a doing most things but lying was not one them.

   Once I told my sister that it was alright to step on the sheet rock on the attic instead of where the joist was. She fell through the ceiling. Only her feet were dangling into my parent’s room.

   I laughed so hard when I saw her trying lift herself up. My parents were not happy to get a hole in their room. My sister neversaid that I told her to do that.

   The next lie was silly.     A school friend told me that her grandfather worked with my grandfather and she said no one knew anything about my grandfather.

   “Is he Mexican?” she asked.

   “My grandfather is an Indian.” I said. “

   “Really?”  she asked.

   “Yes, and I can even speak Indian.” I said.

   Now Native Americans is what we used call “Indians” in those days. The lie started when she asked me to speak in “Indian.” I spoke some gobbledygook to her. She believed me!

   She spread the news throughout the whole school and then everybody wanted to hear me talk in “Indian.”

   I ended up saying my grandfather didn’t want me to speak “Indian” anymore. Now my grandfather had died when I was four years old.

   Not being good at anything was a problem, so I often lied.  I said was I good at some made up thing. Like I could heal people because I was “Indian.” I also said that I could dream about what would happen in the future.

   Now because I continued to lie, I think I was punished. I did start to have strange dreams. I did have some dreams about some future events. I got really scared. I told my grandmother about my dreams. I didn’t tell her that I had been lying a lot.

   She told me my “Indian” grandfather was also a dreamer of future events. She was happy to know I was like him. I told myself before I went to bed not to dream. Every night I told myself to don’t dream.

   I didn’t stop lying. I told some friends that I had been to all fifty states. They were so impressed they told my teacher. I think she knew I was lying.

   I had been to a lot states but not even close to fifty. Since my father’s parents lived in Illinois and we visited them every summer. That is when I said I been everywhere. I couldn’t stop lying.

 

 

                                  

My Grandmother [Amabuelita] by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My grandmother, who we called “Amabuelita” was a very strict person. We could not drink water without washing the glass immediately.

 Our house was spotless. Which is funny because my older siblings’ houses are also spotless. Now I try to keep my house clean but I have to admit it is not spotless according to her standards. I often think my “Amabuelita” would turn over her in grave to see my house.

 Even though my “Amabuelita” was strict, she always had a loving side. Now after my mother bathed us my “Amabuelita” would say “give me a wet kiss.” I always laughed when she kissed us.

 She also knew I loved peaches so she pretended that she could not eat the two peaches from her lunch. She would slice the two biggest peaches I had ever seen, and give the slices to me and my other siblings.  I actually knew that she had bought the peaches for us because it always coincided with her payday.

My “Amabuelita” had secrets she gave to my cousins who were about to get married. She took the brides into a bedroom and closed the door. The brides to be would always come out of the room saying, “Really is that what happens? I was always very curious as to what “Amabuelita” told them.   I wanted to get engaged just to find out what she said to them. She told me, “Do not to be in a hurry to get married. Graduate from high school and go to college if you want. You at least have to a do that.”

 She hardly ever made an exception to her strict rules about how she did things. One day one of my cousins eloped. He knew he had done something wrong and brought his wife to meet “Amabuelita”. I knew he was scared because I could see it in his face. “Amabuelita” asked his wife to stand up so she could see her. All “Amabuelita”  said was kneel down and she blessed both of them. My cousin had the biggest smile on his face as my “Amabuelita” said that his wife looked like a nice girl.

 “Amabuelita” could be unforgiving when she felt someone had broken an important rule. One of my oldest cousins married a second cousin. She disowned her. I felt sad for “Amabuelita” because she truly loved her granddaughter. She told us rules are meant for keeping order. I really didn’t know what that meant but like all things she said I accepted it as law.

   I told “Amabuelita” once that some school friend said that they didn’t have breakfast. I thought she would feel bad. Instead she lectures me on how the parents should show more responsibity. She said oatmeal which only cost less than a dollar for over a month’s worth and that beans cost less than a dollar. There is no excuse for that behavior.  I rationalized that “Maybe there out of a job grandma.” She responded, “You need to put your children first.”

   The reason I thought she would be sympathetic was that often she would send me to a particular neighbor with a plate of food even before we ate. Holidays were a particularly busy time for me being sent to deliver plates of food. I never knew how “Amabuelita” could tell who needed food. The people who got the plates of food always said, “Tell your grandma thank you and come back for your plate tomorrow.” I told “Amabuelita” what the neighbor had said.” You should have said “Not to hurry in returning the plate.” I know that she wanted me to be  polite to everyone. It’s a Texas tradition to be very  polite to everyone. There are no exceptions to this rule even if you dislike someone.

 “Amabuelita” was strict with us like having us hang laundry outside to make clothes whiter. We had a perfectly good clothes dryer. She often said the clothes dryer cost money to run. In my mind I always thought why did they buy it anyway if we never use it.

 “Amabuelita” would tell me, “Stop thinking so much about the dryer and finish hanging the clothes.” It spooked me. “Could she really read my mind?” She knew I hated being in the hot sun so she told me to hurry up.

 “Amabuelita” raised my dad and mom. They got married at the age of fourteen and fifteenth years old.  My father was her favorite son in law. My dad saw “Amabuelita” as his mother and loved her. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for him.

 When dad bought ice cream which we were not allowed to eat usually. She always made an exception for him. Nothing my dad did upset her. She would give us a very small serving. “Amabuelita” would say too many sweets are bad for teeth and gives you diabetes and makes kids go crazy too.

 “Amabuelita” knew a lot about nutrition. No matter what dad wanted to eat she would make it for him. My mom did not cook much, she hated being the kitchen. “Amabuelita” believed if you didn’t like cooking its o.k. Do something else.

 When she died in a car accident my father was devastated. He mourned her for two years. That is the time period we usually mourned in our home. You always miss that person but the mourning process ends in two years. After a few years if you dream about that person you let go.

I Know that my “Amabuelita” has been gone for a long time. I dreamt about her. I dreamt about my dad. I always wake up and I feel at peace.

    

Toys and Other Gadgets by Jackie Villarreal Najera

   I knew my dad was loving and funny but he had another part to his personality. He liked strange and fun toys and other gadgets.

 He used to go to a grocery store that no longer exists. It was called the Continental in Mt View, I remember when he bought French fries that you put in the toaster.

  I asked,  “Dad you put the fries in the toaster?” He remarked with such a glee in his voice and said, “Yea isn’t great?”

  I continued, “In the toaster?” I put them in the toaster and tasted them and they were really gross.

 The next toy daddy bought was a  bank. When you put a coin in the front slot a hand grabs the coin and quickly puts the coin in the bank. Daddy liked the bank so much he kept putting in coin after coin.

 Then daddy bought an ostridge that had small feather on top and was red.  Dad placed a glass of water near the ostridge and it would go up and down pretending to drink the water. Daddy was so amused at the sight of it. He just kept looking at it and laughing.

 Then daddy got a lamp that had a small child pretending he was peeing on the bottom of the lamp. It was really just a lamp with oil and it just appeared as though he was peeing. My dad thought it was so funny. I think the lamp was given to him by Doña Julia. I think every adult thought it was funny. I could not see the humor in it.

 Then daddy decided that a watch ring for me was something special. I thought it was a strange ring but I would never hurt my dad’s feeling. I accepted the ring and told him it was a great gift. I didn’t wear it much except when Dad wanted to show it off to friends.

 I probably don’t remember half the toys he bought every payday.

 I have to admit that my husband Joseph is just like my dad. He always buys toys too. Now I’m thankful that my father Joe and My husband Joseph liked each other and were close friends.

My Ancestry by Jackie Najera Villarreal.

My husband likes to write about his ancestry from New Mexico and other family things.  So, I thought I should write about my family. My family on my father’s side the Villarreal’s are all from Texas. They were also all commercial fishermen, except for my grandfather Jose who was a commercial shrimper. He has one sister. All his family lived by the sea and earned their living by the sea.

My great-great grandmother on my father’s side was named was Francisca Ramos. She was in Texas when Texas was a territory.

My great-grandmother Juanita Garcia was known to be the oldest person in Corpus Christi. She died when I was sixteen years old. She was still cooking when she was ninety. I remember when she made fish and rice. Dad would say to us, “be careful when you eat the fish at your great grandmother’s house. She can’t always see to remove all the bones.”

My other grandmother’s name is Cipriana Garcia. She has two sisters name Lupe and Lala. They were born in Corpus Christi, Texas. Their family are also Texans, however her family doesn’t have a long history in Texas. My grandmother Cipriana’s mother Juanita was born near the Texas border in Mexico. She was raised in Corpus Christi.  

My father once said that his great-grandmother died of a broken heart. He said that her youngest son who would visit with her every day had died. He had stopped coming to visit. She asked where he was?  Her daughters didn’t tell her he had died because of her age. They thought she would take it too hard and it would make her sick.  When she found out they had kept this from her, she stopped eating. She told them she would have liked have gone to the funeral. All the older people always say “death is a part of life.” My great grandmother stopped eating because of her grief and died of starvation. Since I loved my great grandmother very much it broke my heart to know what happen to her.

My other grandfather on my mother’s side is said to be an American Indian. His name was Frank Rodgers. He was born in the 1800’s.

In my home things that you didn’t want the kids to know were often whispered. I hung around to listen in on the whispered conversation. Of course, my mother was also born in Texas. Her mother, Cipriana, was born in Mexico near Texas and came to Texas as a baby. Her parents died early and her older brother Manuel raised her.

She does have another brother name Felipe and a sister name Clara. My grandmother’s name was Maximina. She was born in July in 1903. I don’t know much more about my family so I will be taking a DNA test soon to know much more about my family. I think I know more than a lot of people but I would like to know more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kissing Jackie by Jackie Villarreal Najera

When I was in the seventh grade a boy named Rudy was in my class. One day as I was going home he tackled me in the grass and kissed me. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. He suddenly ran away. The next day I thought I would yell at him and even slap him. He looked so embarrassed that I felt sorry for him. I noticed that he seemed to have a crush on me.
The next time I was kissed without permission was by an old San Jose University visiting professor. I was giving him a schedule of classes when all of sudden he said I was so cute and kisses me with a mouth full of green teeth. Again, I didn’t know what to do I just left and went to the bathroom and washed my mouth. I was so grossed out.
Another professor asked me to accompany his brother to a museum as favor to him. I didn’t want to go but he looked at me with sad eyes so I went. His brother seemed like a nice person. On the way home, he kisses me. I was in shock that this time I said, “No.”
I had many friends at San Jose State. I told some of them about all the kissing that I didn’t give permission for them to do it. I told them I was in shock that I didn’t know what to do.
Over my life time other boys have kissed me and I have slapped them. Which turned out to be a lot of fun. Hitting boys was a lot of fun because I was a bully growing up.
I have to admit that there were other boys which claimed they liked me but respected my space.
Isn’t that the way real human beings should act?

My brother Mark by Jackie Villarreal Najera

      My brother Mark is a lot younger than me. I don’t remember all of his mid- teen years but I do recall some weird incidents.

   Once when I was taking the grocery bags inside the house, Mark was only five and he was standing behind the door. He just stared at me. Chills came over me.  I felt like he was like one of the children in the movie “Children of the Damned.”

   The next thing I remember about Mark as he was growing up. I really never really paid too much attention to him unless it impacted my life.

   Now the next incident had to do with my other brother Jeff. Jeff made a bow and some arrows. I do remember hearing my father say to Jeff, “Don’t make a bow and arrows, you’re going to hit someone in the eye.”  Jeff took my father’s warning as just a suggestion. He kept shooting at Mark as he hid behind the sofa like the turkey shoot Gary Cooper did in the movie “Sargent York.” The arrows kept coming as he hid and every so often Mark would stick his head out. Then finally he was hit in his eye.  My dad took him to the hospital and to this day he has a scar in his pupil.

  Although Mark lives with me now and is very helpful and silly as an adult. He used to drive me crazy as teenager. He used to dance instead of walk. Every place he went he would dance. It was so embarrassing. Dad would say, “Leave him alone, he will get over it.” Just like he said, did get over it, about five years later.

   I guess dancing was better than when he was in Kinder when the teacher taught him rhyming. For a whole year he could not talk without rhyming every sentence. That drove me nuts.

   Dad would say, “he will get over it.” 

He did get over it.

   Mark does have a photogenetic memory. As little boy, I would read him a story and he wanted more stories. I finally sent him to bed and then I heard him repeat the entire three books that I had read to him. He didn’t miss a word. He is the same way now as an adult.

  Now that I think about it, He probably had to put up a lot from me.

  The haircut by Jackie Villarreal Nájera

    When I was fifteen years old I used to love cutting hair. I didn’t want to do it as a profession but just for fun.

   One summer day my sister Linda asked me to cut her hair and give her bangs. Now I was never very good at anything. I decided to try and cut her hair.

   Her hair was long and very straight. The first time I cut her bangs she said, “It’s too long.”

   I continued cutting until her bangs were sticking out because I had cut it too short. 

   I then started to laugh and I couldn’t stop laughing. She looked in the mirror and was horrified at the extra short bangs and started to yell at me.

   When I finally stopped laughing I told her, “Your hair will grow back.”

   The next person to ask me to cut their hair was my brother Joey. Now my brother had red hair. I thought I was doing a good job when all of sudden I noticed that he had a bald spot in the back of his hair near his neck. In trying to overcompensate for my mistake I only made it worse.

   I then started to laugh. My family has always known that the minute I start to laugh something is wrong. Joey is very much like my dad, all he said was, “Its o.k. it will grow back.”

   Linda had walked through the door as I was cutting his hair. She started to say,      

   “I would not let . . .” 

   And she stopped when I started to laugh and I couldn’t stop laughing and she knew I had screwed up.

   The next victim was my husband Joseph. The good thing about my husband is his hair only grows long in the back. I also cut his hair. I cut his hair a couple of times.

   He finally said, “I think I will go to a barber.” I didn’t laugh but I really wanted to. If I laugh at my husband he gets even by pretended to tickle me.

   There is no part of my body that does not tickle. He always pretends to tickle me and I laugh. He knows that always works.

  My brothers all know that I don’t have any skills at cutting hair. Sometimes when one of my brothers need a haircut I volunteer to cut their hair.

   Most of the time they say,

    “When pigs fly.”

I Can See the Dolls are Dancing by Jackie Villarreal Najera

   When I was young, Mother use to say to me that the milkman was my father. That was because he had red hair. I knew that my mother was just teasing me.    At that time, I was the only one in the family with red hair. That was until my other red headed siblings were born. 

   At first, they were not sure my other siblings really had red hair. I was born bald until I was almost four years old.  I only had red fuzz. My other three red head siblings were also born bald.  The other nine siblings had black hair and were born with some hair on their head at birth.

   When my younger sister Brenda was about sixteen years old  she once over heard something she misunderstood. My sister Linda and I were talking about adoptions. I had not realized that Brenda had been listening to us. We do have an adoptive child. It was not her. Now knowing that all four of us have red hair she thought she was adopted.

   She ran away from home thinking that she was adopted. She ended living with a Mexican family who really did not like her. They told her she couldn’t even speak Spanish. She sang songs in Spanish but she didn’t know what they were about. The people took off to Mexico during the night and left her behind. Which was probably a good thing because we don’t know anyone in Mexico.

   I felt angry at her for being stupid and also felt sad for her. I tried to tell her how her being adopted was crazy. I told her “If you are adopted so are Frank, Joey and me. So, think about it.” I said.

   “Oh, yeah.” She said.

   I told her, “If you have any questions just ask and don’t assume anything.”

   When Brenda was about eighteen years old I told her a story. I told  her my grandmother had once said to us, “Put your dolls away before going to bed or they will come alive at midnight.” Now I  remember that I told her that  Grandmother had said that before we go bed do not play with our dolls at night.

  One night she came to my bed at midnight scared out of her wits. She said “I saw my dolls dancing around.” 

   I said “Dolls don’t dance around. Besides you don’t play with dolls.”

   “I did see them dancing around!”

   “You were probably just dreaming because of the story I told you.” I said.  

  “Listen!” I told her. “Grandmother only told us that story so we would not play late at night. She wanted us to be rested for school.” To this day she believes that dolls dance at night. No matter what I say to her, she doesn’t believe me about how silly it is to think about the dancing dolls. I think next time I’ll tell about vampires and how they really exist.

   I can’t help it. I am really bad.

 

 

 

 

 

Poems to Jackie by Jackie Villarreal Najera

When I was in middle school a boy name Kiko sent me poems. My mother read them because she thought they were cute. She asked me why he had sent it to me. I told her I didn’t know. I continued to receive his poetry once a week. Mother continued reading the poems and he always ended with the words: “I love you.” I think my mom always thought my  sister Linda should be receiving the poems but not me. I didn’t care because I was too young for love anyway.

When I started high school, I received poetry from a guy name Edmund De Orca. I remember his name because it was a strange name. I received many poems from him. He didn’t say he loved me. He said he liked me and that I gave him inspiration so all his poetry was for me. Later he said that he actually loved me and that creeped me out. I didn’t want to hurt his feeling so I said nothing.

After I started San Jose State University there a young man who was teaching a section of a semester in poetry. He said everyone can write a poem. I disagreed with him. Since there were no seats except next to me, I touched his cheek to say to him: “You were wrong about writing poetry.”

 He turned bright red with embarrassment. I thought it was so cute that I asked the professor what was the name of his graduate student? He said his name was Joseph. I kept forgetting his name. One day we saw each other at a school club. He kept pulling my long hair. We started talking and we became friends. Then we dated and then after a few years we married. He then wrote some poetry that got published. I gave him a party to celebrate. I once asked him to write a poem for me. All he came with was: “Time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana.”

He wrote it in a paper heart which I keep in a special place. Once in a while I run into the silly rhyme. I keep it because he wrote it for me.

   I really do like poetry like Robert Frost. I never wanted to tell him my secret. Since I told him that I hated poetry. I guess it’s not a secret anymore.