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.

                                                                                                

       Being Good at Something by Jackie Villarreal Najera

Albert Montez and my dad were close friends. Actually, Dad liked all the Montez boys. They were his favorite nephews. Albert and Dad liked to play the guitar and sing. I remember that Albert had a wonderful singing voice.  

My dad loved visiting his hometown in Texas. The minute Albert found out my dad was in town, Albert would go and find him. They would play the guitar for hours.

Dad had cousins that even recorded music.

 I was never musically inclined. Two of my siblings play the guitar. The rest of them can dance very well. One of my brothers danced so well that he even performed in the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. I cannot dance at all. 

Like I said, I couldn’t do anything. My dad decided to give me guitar lessons, I failed at that. My dad then decided to give me tennis lessons. I failed at that. I felt very bad that I was so inept. I decided to learn to play any instrument.

 In middle school the only instrument that was left was the flute. I started to learn to play the flute. My family left the house so they could not hear me play. I must have been very bad. Only my father stayed to encourage me. His face told me that he was very proud of me. I did learn to play the flute. I wasn’t very good at reading music.

 I asked my dad if I could work at the YWCA.  I thought it would be fun to work at Day Camp. Day Camp was only three hours a day but, I was working five hours a day.

The YWCA director asked if it was alright to paint some picnic tables. I said it seemed like fun. After I finished painting it was time to go home. I had not realized that my dad had been watching me. My dad was so angry that they had ask me to paint. I said I had volunteered to paint. He thought they were taking advantage of me. I said that they were not. That everything seemed like fun to me. When I told him I was invited to residential camp.

 He asked me, “Do you really like camping?”

“Yes Dad, I’m pretty good at it.”

“OK then go for it.”

 He was happy that I had found something I was good at. I learned songs that I taught my siblings. My dad couldn’t be happier that I was finally good at something.

I ended up teaching horseback riding, canoeing, and uphill backpacking where I took the kids overnight. I even learned to cook outdoors. I came home and taught my dad a recipe where you wrap carrots, hamburger and potatoes in foil and throw into the coals. It’s called, “campers delight.” He was so ecstatic that I had showed him something, that he used it whenever he barbequed.

I know my dad was so proud that I finally became good at something. I was happy that I made my dad proud at last.

One thing about my Dad is that he felt that if I became good at something I would become a happier adult.

I did become a happy adult!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      I hate Mayonnaise by Jackie Villarreal Najera

I hate mayonnaise. I have never tasted it but the smell makes me throw up. My brothers love it. They know I don’t allow it in my home.

 Sometimes my brothers will buy it and hide it in the refrigerator. The minute I open the fridge, I throw up. They have stopped buying mayonnaise because I always throw it away.

 My dad thought my aversion to mayonnaise was just psychological.  When I was in third grade, Dad would make my lunch. He would spread a tiny drop of mayo and a lot of mustard. Since I liked mustard, he decided it was a good way to mask the smell of mayonnaise.

At night, he would ask “Did you eat your sandwich?”

“No dad.” I responded.

“Why not?”

“It had mayonnaise.”

 My father tried one more time to put mayo in my sandwich. I told him that I had given away the sandwich. I did not want to tell him that sometimes I had thrown it away.

 My father finally stopped hiding the mayo with mustard. He knew I wasn’t eating my sandwich. I think my dad thought I’d die of hunger. He finally asked me to watch him make my sandwich.

He once tried to tease me with marshmallow cream that came in a jar. My father was very funny.

He would say, “Come and taste it.”

“No!”

 He would finally admit that it was not mayonnaise.

I thought I was the only one who hates mayo. It turns out that three of my siblings also hate mayonnaise. Three nephews and three nieces also can’t eat mayo.

 My sister use to think that I influenced her family to hate mayonnaise. 
I had to remind her that I hardly see some of her children. 
Hating mayo must be a family tradition.

Getting Lost by Jackie Villarreal Najera

 One Easter Sunday when I was about six years old we went to Cole park. Every year we would go and hunt for eggs carrying our Easter baskets. My father would make a big production hiding the eggs. I was not very interested in doing that because I could never find too many eggs.

In the park was a small creek that got my attention. I was looking for tadpoles. I was so enthralled that I didn’t even know my family had already gone home. My father always counted us as we got into the car.

I guess in those days I was always daydreaming and very quiet. They forgot me. When dad found me, he looked pale and frightened.  I did not know I was lost.

My father picked me up hugging and carrying me to the car. I was surprised because usually Dad just held my hand when we walked.

The following year we came back from Chicago on a train. We were at the depot. I was fascinated with my surroundings. I was looking at the flags that were everywhere. I had been holding my father’s hand. I let go of his hand as I looked at the flags and then reached out and took what I thought was my dad’s hand.

The man whose hand I had taken was not my fathers. The man looked surprised and just laughed.  My father was in panic mode looking for me. I still did not know I was lost. I was still looking around when Dad found me. He started to get angry when suddenly he stopped and picked me up and just sighed.

 My husband tells me that that holding someone else’s hand instead of your father’s hand is common. It happened to him too. He got yelled at by his parents when he got lost.  

I’m so glad I’m a girl. Dad never yelled at me when I got lost. He always said his girls were his love and joy. He always added I love my boys too.

I knew my dad meant it because any time I cried he would give me anything I wanted. I knew that sometimes I took advantage of my dad’s love for me. After I became teenager I decided never to did that again.

My dad has been gone for a long time now. My younger brothers now give me anything I want.  My husband gives me anything I want too. Sometimes when I cry they do not know what to do.

One of my younger brother who is also gone, could never see me cry. He would often go and buy me my favorite food and other things he thought I would like.

I still cry mostly because I miss both them a lot. I really don’t care if I get anything anymore.

Isn’t that the way life goes?