“Ama Grande” by Jackie Villarreal Najera

My father’s mother was called “Ama Grande” which translate to Big Mama. Her real name was Cipriana. She was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. She moved to Summit, Illinois with my grandfather. He was a commercial shrimperwho left Corpus. He moved his family to Illinois because the shrimp he was catching started to be too small.  was a conservationist.

We used to visit with them 3 weeks a year in the summer time. Now my “Apá Grande,” or Big Daddy was very sweet and had a great smile.

My “Ama Grande,”  or grandmother on the other hand, hardly ever smiled. I didn’t know her well. I knew she did not know my name. Since I had really red hair she called me “the red hair little girl.”

When we visited my Dad’s mom we kids were not allowed to talk. We usually just sat on the couch with our legs crossed not saying anything unless Grandmother asked us a question.

We would respond as briefly as we could. It is considered bad manners to converse with an adult. Children should be seen and not heard was “Ama Grande’s” motto.

One day my cousin Lydia’s husband who worked for a Diary Company brought us coconut covered marshmallows. He stated that they were for us. My grandfather started to open the package when my grandmother walked through door.

“What are you doing?” She yelled and put the half opened package in refrigerator.

Now Dad had gone to visit his sister next door. He knew we would behave properly until he returned. When he finally did he asked us very quietly, almost at a whisper if we had eaten.  We shook our head and he said O.K. and said to his mother that we were going to visit his brother. He said to her, “We’ll see you later.” We all knew it was an excuse to take us to eat.

We told Dad about the marshmallows  Lydia’s husband had brought us, and that grandmother would not give us the treat.

He just said that was O.K. He would buy us ice cream instead. My “Apa Grande” and my father were very loving people.

Some of our cousins were also visiting. We all went outside and talked. They asked me how our visit with Grandmother was. I said it was fine.  They just laughed and then said that no one liked her. Now I was raised not to trash talk anyone, by my other grandmother. Then I finally remembered that when I was a child I got very sick. “Ama Grande” brought me some lemonade to make me feel better, so I knew she wasn’t bad.

My cousins told us because I didn’t know  that “Ama Grande” was hated by all her grandchildren. I was surprised and said that we didn’t know her that well. They said that we should ask the other cousins about our grandmother. But I knew different, because when I was young I got very sick that I couldn’t even open my eyes. My Ama Grande brought me some lemonade. She wanted me to feel    better . I didn’t tell my cousins the story because I had not remembered until after they left.

The week I was to get married my “Ama Grande” came to visit Dad. I wasn’t sure my dad had invited her to the wedding.

A couple days before my wedding, my mom decided to make tortillas and dinner for “Ama Grande.” Now my mom was not a good cook, but I was. So I cooked and mother made tortillas. Mother can make the best tortillas and she was fast.

“Ama Grande” watched Mom make the tortillas. Then she remarked “I didn’t know tortillas could be so fat.”

I could see my mother’s face and I thought she going to hit her.  Then she smiled and said, “People make different tortillas.” The tortillas were not fat but perfect.

Mother had learned how to make tortillas from her mother  Ama Abuita was a wonderful cook. She had taught me to cook.

Mother hated cooking and Grandmother would say, “If you don’t like to cook it is O.K.” Her mother said, “Just do something else.”

When “Ama Grande” came to my wedding she actually gave me some gifts. She wrote my real name.

I still cherish those gifts because she actually knew my name. I didn’t expect that.



The Favorite Child

I’ve written before about my Dad and that he and I were very close. I was not his favorite child and I knew that since I was young.  I was such a chicken and I was always getting lost every place I went. He always held my hand where ever we went. I never knew I was even lost though.

I got lost on a regular basis. When I got lost sometimes, Dad would find me next to an electric fan. I think he thought I was crazy.   He always told me that the girls were his favorite children. He never made me feel like I was not his favorite child, but I knew my younger sister Linda was his favorite. She was also my mom’s favorite child.

It’s funny but I was never jealous of   Linda. My parents always said that being jealous was a bad thing. My grandmother and my favorite aunt also said the same thing.    I was about four years old is when they stated to teach me to not to be jealous of anything.  They started with candy because I was very young. They ended saying that being jealous makes a lot of negative energy which is a bad omen.

I didn’t know what “omen” was but it sounded terrible! So I never wanted to be jealous just in case that was a really bad thing!

I knew that I was my grandmother’s favorite child. Even though I knew this she also didn’t want my other siblings to know this. She treated us kind of the same.    She was not like my dad who never wanted the other children to know who his favorite child was. I think that no matter how hard my parents tried, I always knew who that person was. I think our family feels that the other children don’t realize their feelings on who is the favorite child. I think they feel you might be jealous. I now know that they never realized that is not the case.

They never gave Linda something that they didn’t give me.

My grandmother did give me “under the table” things that she didn’t give the other children. She loved me because I reminded her of her family.

She told not to tell the other children. It’s funny but the other children knew that I was my grandmother’s favorite child.

I know the other siblings were not jealous of me. They were also taught that being jealous was bad omen.

I still don’t what that means!







I Like Cold Weather by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I was born when my mother was 20 years old and my dad was 21. They were so young that they loved playing baseball.  My older brother and sister were old enough to play ball with them.

I was not really old enough to participate in the game. I really didn’t understand the game, and I also hated being outdoors.

The Southeast part of Texas was humid and hot. Corpus Christi is by the bay and other than swimming to cool off, it can get hot! My Texas family doesn’t think Corpus Christi   is very hot.

I always wanted to live in a place that has a cold climate that also rains a lot. My older siblings thought I was crazy. I did go to Alaska on a cruise, that is only after I got married. I wanted to live there.

Most of my family live in Texas. Apparently, many generations of my family were Texans. I’ve always known this because each generation gets told the story of our arrival to Texas. Anyway, I hate hot weather.

My parents wanted the kids to be knowledgeable about a lot of things from going to museums, to zoos, and trying different foods.

Some places we visited were great with cool weather. I   hated the hot places we visited. My dad loved to travel and took us to about 30 states by the time I was ten years old.

Dad wanted to educate us. I loved the traveling, but the zoos in some of the states smelled really bad, and they were hot also. I guess you could say they were stinking hot.

I did learn a lot, and my father was happy when he asked me what I had learned from the museums. I lied and said I loved it and gave many answers. He liked my answers.

I still wanted to live in a cold climate. The moment I decided to go live in Alaska, that was when I remembered that Corpus has really cold weather for three to four months and we also have a rainy season too.

I got homesick for Corpus Christi. Isn’t it always that way?

Stupid Me by Jackie Villarreal Najera

 I have done some things that are really stupid. One day I wanted to eat some chocolate cereal.  I don’t usually like cereal but I felt lazy so I decided to eat simple food.  A lot times my husband will put the dog food in a baggie. I didn’t know that he does that.

 We had gone to Texas to visit my family.  For the trip we took the car which usually takes about two to three days. My brother Mark made a small special suit case with things for our dog. We even we even sleep with our dog.    Mark told my husband the case had everything our dog needed, our dog’s toys, and food for our trip.   My husband didn’t listen to him and put the dog food in a baggie. When we returned from Texas he placed the dog food with the cereal on top of the refrigerator.  That is where we place our cereal.

 I didn’t know this so I put the “cereal “ in a bowl. The cereal was not sweet. It really did look like chocolate cereal. I added milk and I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t sweet tasting. It turn out to be dog food! 

 I could have kept this information to myself but I have no filters so I told everyone. The whole family laughed. Mark related the dog story for a whole month.  It didn’t really bother me because I don’t get embarrassed easily. My husband always says that all my family doesn’t have any talking filters.  My husband now doesn’t have filters either. I think he has been around my family too much. I have the three brothers living in my home. None them have any filters.  My husband is really close to all of them. My husband started not having any filters also!

The next stupid thing I did was in a Japanese restaurant. I don’t like a lot of Japanese food but my husband does. We went to Camarillo, California and it was only four O’clock and all the restaurants were closed except this Japanese restaurant. I hadn’t had breakfast except for one boiled egg at seven that morning so I was very hungry.

I hate rice but I was even willing eat that. That was as how hungry I was. My husband and I were having a conversation when our food came without my noticing. When I finally saw the food and I asked for chopsticks.  I always eat with chopsticks in most restaurants.  For some unexplained reason my chopsticks flew in the air and most of our food landed on the floor. I started to laugh but the waiter came and politely said, “I was so bored I am glad to be doing something.”

   I responded without my laughing, “I‘m sorry for the mess.”

 We paid the bill and quickly got in our car and left. My husband knows me quite well. He knew that I was going to laugh uncontrollably. I was laughing so hard that it made him laugh too. I really had to say this: “Are we ever going to come back to this restaurant again?”

   I just kept laughing really knowing the answer.


Peaches by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I once saw a Chinese drama that was similar to a story or “cuento” my grandmother told me. Now I know that in the beginning there was land bridge between Asia and Alaska. I think the Asian people moved across to what now is North America. Since I am 50% Native American I thought the cuento was very strange.

In my grandmother’s cuento there a very good person who was going home to take of her mother. The good person was always in a good mood.  A bad person had lost her eyes.

I was never told how she lost her eye sight, at least I don’t remember. The bad person was always in bad mood.  She felt she deserved some eyes. She tricked the good person and told everyone that the good person had stolen her eyes. She took the eyes and left the good person blind.  The mother of the good girl   told her grow some peaches and ask for some eyes. The good daughter decided to grow some peaches.

The peaches grew and were so large the people were amazed at the size of the peaches. She took the peaches and started to sell them. However, she didn’t want money for the peaches. She started selling the peaches yelling “Some peaches for some eyes!”

Her peaches looked so delicious that the bad person wanted so buy them. The good daughter had refused to sell her peaches except for some eyes. The bad person wanted them so much that she gave her eyes for the giant peaches.

I don’t know where this strange story came from. My grandmother often told us stories that usually had some moral value to them except for this story. Normally my grandmother would use names when she told us stories. This reminds me of a Chinese drama I recently saw.

Thinking back, during the summer nights when she gave us watermelon and told us “Cuentos”, those were the best years of my life.

Feeling Bad about Upholstery by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I have written about my father being loving and funny. He was musically inclined and played the guitar and sang. I remember his other talents as being a great mathematician and an avid reader.

One day Dad sent for an upholstering book. The book didn’t have hardly any pictures. Dad read the manual and began upholstering our couch.

I had begun college and I had to walk home about 6 miles. When I arrived our couch was purple with white flowers. My aunt started working with my dad.

The following week our couch was bright orange. It stayed orange for about 6 months. I couldn’t remember what color our couch had been originally. When they finally changed the color of our couch it was an ugly green color.

I could not bring myself to criticize my Dad about all the ugly colors of our couch. Then I realized that he had been practicing and buying inexpensive materials. I never said anything to my dad but I felt so bad that I had bad thoughts.

I finally realized that having bad thoughts is just bad as saying them.

All the Lonely People

When I was in college at San Jose State I started meeting a lot of sad students.   The first person I met that was sad was a young student who never stop talking. I called him “the parrot.” He just kept talking, talking just like a parrot.

I told my father about this student that would not stop talking. He was giving me a headache, I did feel sorry for him though. I told him he could visit my home.  The next week he brought a case of apples from Watsonville, California.

I had no idea that he liked me. My father said a guy brought apples. I asked my father who had bought the apples? He said he seemed very shy. After daddy described the guy I said to my dad, “that’s the guy who won’t stop talking.”

The next sad person I met was from India. I gave him my address and told him we were a large family.   If he wanted to, he could visit us. It was Christmas time and I just felt sorry for him. I really didn’t think he would actually come but he did.

He came and ate with us. He continued to come to our house. He later he said he was in love with me.

My parents really liked him. He went every place with us even to flea market. He wanted to buy me a lot of things, but I declined them. I wasn’t sure what it meant in his culture to accept things he bought me.

I have always felt sorry for people who seem to need company. Even as a child I always looked out for people who just needed a fiend, even when other kids made fun of me because I was friends with kids that were not clean or just different, I didn’t care.

I think that I feel compassion toward others because my grandmother taught me never to discard people.  I still live that way.

The Miracle of the Fish and Battery

After we had been married for three years, we lived in Fresno, California. For about a year I didn’t work.  My husband Joseph took care of our finances. I began to feel useless so I told him I would care over our budget. We had more bills than money since I quit my job, so I thought.

At that time we only had a table and chairs and a bed. After I took over the budget I decided to pay everything. I didn’t realize that the bills that came were for the following month.

I spent all our money on bills that weren’t due yet. There wasn’t much I could do about having spent all our money. I didn’t even consider our food.

I knew my dad would lend us money but Joseph said he didn’t want to borrow money. As I was thinking about what we were going to do about food,    suddenly, there was knock at our door. A man said that his truck had broken down and it would be a while until was fixed.

He said. “I have a lot of fish that will spoil. Would you like some? It’s free. Not everyone likes fish.”  He said.  “Please take it off my hands. I hate to have the fish spoil.”

I said, “I love fish, thank you.” He gave us 25 pounds of fish. It was all kinds of fish.

We ate fish most of the month and we thanked God for the blessing. It was such a miracle of fish.

We also got some money back for my mistake. In overpaying. It was the following month we received our money back. We were blessed two months in a row.

The next blessing came a while later.  We were living in San Pablo, California. The Baptist Church that I attended was a great church. We had been absent for about two Sundays. The pastor came to visit us to ask if everything was alright. We said yes but we were waiting for our checks to buy a new battery. He said he thought it was something like that and he just happen to have an extra battery in his car. He gave us the battery. I   I still don’t know how he knew about our battery. I couldn’t understand how he knew we needed a battery.

This I consider the miracle of the battery.

Poor Frail Me

People have always seen me as helpless. I don’t know why that is the case. Now being taken care of  started  with my parents, that is a given when you have good parents. I have always lived with my parents, my grandmother, an aunt, a cousin, and four siblings. I remember writing about how Dad took extra care of me. I was a woose (sic),  afraid of the boogeyman. Later, my family did everything for me from sewing for me,  (a school project), to knitting for me. I was never allowed to do things be myself. At home I knew they loved me and just wanted to do things for me.

Now the trouble started when everyone else felt that I looked helpless. I am not a frail looking person. When people aren’t around I can actually do things by myself.  Strange people  were always trying help me cross the street or helping me up a small  embankment. I couldn’t go any place where people weren’t  trying to help me. I traveled to the Dominican Republic and Jamaica by myself. When I got there people started to help me. I couldn’t do anything without being attacked with many people invading my space. I couldn’t say no to all these people trying to help me. I thought it was rude to say “No, Thanks.”

Later on I went to Israel to excavate an ancient site called Hazor. There were about 130  different cultures who all spoke English. I did not now anyone there, also, I was one of the oldest people there.  I was in excellent health. I had started to dig and kept a low profile so I wouldn’t get people to try to help me.

Three weeks after I had been there without anyone trying to help me a strange thing happened. There were about six Spaniards  who didn’t know that I understood Spanish. As they began telling jokes, one the jokes made laugh. Right away they got very excited and asked if I understood what  they were saying. I just nodded to them. Later I told them that some people thought I spoke bad Spanish. I knew right at that moment that I should’ve kept a low profile. From that moment they began to hold my hand and helped me cross the large rocks that I had crossed by myself earlier. They held my hand  when we went  to breakfast on the excavate sight. Not only did the Spaniards help me  but a Korean man also helped me. I had wanted go to Jerusalem on the bus by myself. The Korean said he would go with me. I asked “Are also going to Jerusalem?” His response was “No, I’m escorting you.” I asked “Why?” He  said “I don’t want you to go by yourself.” He followed me and looked out for me. I really felt stupid that no one trusted me.

I am nearly 69 years old and of course  I am a senior. People still continue to try to help me. My younger brother Mark  has held my hand when I cross the street. I kept telling him that I don’t need any help. He feels that I don’t know how to cross the street alone. He brings me dinner to my room. When I tell I’ll go to the table to eat he says no. My other brother Jeff washes my clothes, he doesn’t feel I can do that. My brother Mano dries my clothes and folds them. He tells me “I will dry them.” I tried once to dry my clothes and got a lecture from my brothers.

Even when I travel far away from my siblings, there are always people that continue to stop what they are doing to help me. When my cousin’s husband died I just mentioned once that I didn’t eat meat. I really wasn’t  going to eat. I thought that I  would eat something later. As  excepted, they brought me a plate of vegetables and a large plate of fruit. I knew they bought the plate just for me.

I guess I’ll have to accept the fact that all my life people will continue to  help poor frail me.


My parent were married when they were very young. My mother was fourteen years old and my dad was fifteen years old. In those days my parents getting married  so young was not very unusual, but then it kind of was.

My grandmother finished raising my mom and dad.  My mom was so young that she did not have children right away. The way I hear how they ended up getting married was horrifying by today’s standards. My parents were caught holding hands. Apparently, holding hands was so bad before marriage that they forced them to get married. My family was very conservative when it involved relationships.

When my older cousin Dolores who lived in same household since my birth, starting dating, was not allowed to date without any chaperons, her dates always had to pay for us whenever she dated. By us, I mean My sisters Linda, Gloria and me, also my brothers John and Frank.  I always went with her where ever she went.

My courtship was the same. Whenever I went any place, my siblings went with us too. At first my now husband was confused because he had never heard of using a chaperon when dating. He had read about using chaperons when dating in the 1800’s. He had not really dated much.

Some girls liked him but he was too shy to ask them out. I did not know he was shy I just started talking to him and he responded back. Everyone  that that knew him said he was very shy. Shy I told them? He never stops talking, I told them. Everyone seemed surprised.

As everyone knows, I have always been a brat. When I first met my now husband he was teaching a section in poetry at San Jose State. He had mentioned in class that everyone can write a poem. I ardently disagreed with him. After the lecture he sat down  next to me since it was next to the only empty seat.  I touched his cheek letting him know he was wrong about everybody writing poetry, and he turned bright red with embarrassment. I knew I was being bad but I didn’t care. I started to like him but I had forgotten his name. I went   to his professor and asked his name. I couldn’t remember his name for the longest time. Then I saw him again at a club we were both members of. He pulled my long hair trying to get my attention. I started to stare at him and he smiled at me. Someone called his name  and I finally remembered.

When my older sister said she liked a boy, I would go and tell him! She would really be embarrassed. I felt great embarrassing my sister. I really did feel that he should know my sister liked him. Why prolong both their agony being apart. Actually I was just being a brat.

She thought got she was getting even with me 15 years later by telling my mother that I liked a “hippy” boy. Mother was shocked. I didn’t care what she told my mother.  I was still a brat.

I went to my dad and introduced him to my dad. My dad liked him.  I remember my dad asking my boyfriend what kind of music he liked. My husband said Bob Dylan was his favorite musician. My dad mentioned one of Bob Dylan songs and said he liked him also. My boy friend, Joe, seemed surprised at my dad’s knowledge of music. I told him my  Dad played the guitar and knew a lot of music. Dad did  prefer Spanish songs.

Although my sister wanted to get back at me for embarrassing her, she forgot I don’t embarrass that easily. She also forgot that I once told her that  I always went skinny dripping at camp all the time.

Being embarrassed, I don’t think so.