Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Families

Be cause of my mother being the 11th child of my grandfather, Miguel Lopez, she was the link joining the two families. The older kids had been full grown and out of the house when my grandfather was widowed, so they were not as closely acquainted with the children born to the second wife as the younger children were, such as my mother and my Aunt Josefa, who was the 12th child.
As I was growing up, I noticed that the older members of the family visited my mother often, as did the members of the second family. My mother and my aunt were the link tying the two families together for many years.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Abuelita Maria

In 1952, my father had an old Model T car, which he had fixed to have room for carrying his carpenter tools. he removed the trunk closing and added a wooden area he made to look like a pick up truck. My father, Jose Villarreal was a freelance carpenter, who could give you an accurate detailed list of the lumber needed to make whatever size building anyone wanted, mostly little houses used for homes by hispanic people in Weslaco. He could figured out exactly how many 2x4's. etc for whatever addition or construction was wanted. Usually my mother was the one who putted it down on paper, because he didn't know how to read or write, but he did know exactly how many pieces of each piece of lumber he needed. I could never figure out how he knew that, but he did.
As soon as I learned to write, it became my task to put down on paper his summary of lumber needed for all his work projects.
In 1952, because there had been very few jobs, my parents decided to go try to find work in Kenedy, where my mother's oldest sister, Maria, lived with her husband and two married children. Her husbands name was Nicolas Aguirre, and he was in charge of a farm and he had three houses for himself and his two married children, Ernesto, married to Catarina, and Aurora, married to Ortiz. Ernesto had five daughters, Olivia, Ofilia, Ofelia, Odilia, and the youngest Orselia, just a toddler then. Aurora had only two girls, Adelaida and Ana. Adelaida must have been in her early teens and Ana about 5 years old.
When we arrived in Kenedy, we stayed at the farm with Maria, who I always called "abuelita", or grandmother. It was a learning experience for me to be living in a farm. I saw my Abuelita and Catarina making corn dough for "tortillas" and "gorditas" They used two old methods---"el metate", which was an old stone utensil that looked like a slide, with a stone that looked like rolling pin, but was a square shape for grinding the corn into dough. They also had another kind of grinder, very similar to a coffee grinder.
My Abuelita was an expert in needlework. She made all the clothes everyone used, and always decorated all the children clothes with crocheted edges. She even used crocheted edges to decorate and finish the edges of panties, slips, nightgowns and even bed linens. All the women oin the household were expert quiltmakers and they had beautiful quilts, both pieced and appliqued. She even made her own towels and potholders, both crocheted and quilted.
Besides all the sewing and other needlework, my abuelita was an avid reader. She was the one who named me Odilia after the magic swan in Swanlake, the ballet. Having left school very young, she had made it a point to educate herself on her own.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Andy, a Cousin from Grandma's Side

My mother arrived in Weslaco in the late 30's. She first lived in the west side of Main Street, just north of the railroad tracks. One of the neighbors there was Santos Fuentes, the brother of my grandmother Josefa (Fuentes) Lopez. He was a widower with only one daughter, Anita Fuentes. When she graduated from high school, she took a job with her Aunt Juanita, who was in charge of cleanup at the only local hotel in Weslaco, one of the first buildings in Weslaco to be several stories high. Since the Rio Grande Valley was a tourist attraction, important people came to stay there in winter, such as Ty Cobb.
Although after I was born in 1944, my parents moved to the east part of the then small town, out near the city limits, they still continued to see Santos Fuentes and his daughter often. By then Anita had married, but was separated shortly after, or maybe before her baby son was born. The story was the man was married in Mexico and his family came and got him.
Anita's son,Andres Zamarron, grew up knowing us as part of his family. My mother was his babysitter sometimes.
Tia Anita, as I used to call her was very good with a camera, and took all our family pictures on important events of the family. She took pictures of my First Communion, my graduation from parochial school from the eight grade, my senior prom and finally my graduation from high school.
In 1963, she moved to Santa Barbara, California. her last gift to me was making her son Andy give me a small Kodak camera. She was a very nice person, always looking out for others. She wanted to be sure we continued taking pictures. She also kept contact by mail with my mother and even with me when I married and moved away fron Weslaco. Often she would send me huge boxes filled with stuff such as jackets, clothes and costume jewelry.
I still remember a red double breasted carcoat, with brown barrel like buttons. I still own a pair of tiny black and white shell earrings she once sent me. After I had my kids, she would send me toys and yarn for me to crochet stuff for them. With all the moving I did at that time I lost track of her.
After I learned to use the computer in 2000, I began looking for her and I thought I had found her in 2003, and I wrote her a letter to an address I found in Woodland, California. I got an answer from her son, Andy, telling me she had died 5 years before after a long illness. He had been her sole caretaker and had felt all alone without family relatives other than his wife and was very happy to have found me. We have stayed in contact by mail and phone since then, and we finally saw each other via webcam a couple of months ago, when he started using his new laptop computer. He also saw my youngest son the same way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

First Reunion I Remember

The recent reunion reminded me of the very first small reunion I remember, which happened about 1948 or 1949, when I was about four years old or five. My mother had been very sick with some seisures that seemed like epilepsy and some pneumonia due to her asthma attacks. When she was well enough to write, she wrote some telegrams and sent my father to the telegram office. She notified all her relatives to come and see her before she died.
Soon everyone started arriving. My uncles Donato, Fortunato and Maximo arrived with some of the members of their families from Rio Grande City. My uncle Fortunato even brought a calf or some animal to provide food for everyone. They quickly made changes in ou outside fire to accomodate roasting the animal.
My cousin Ernesto and his family arrived from Kenedy, Texas. That was the first time I met my cousins, Olivia, Ofilia, Ofelia, Odilia, but Orselia was not born yet.
My uncles, Nazario and Fabian arrived with their families too. They all stayed some days but realized my mom was okay and then left. There was a lot of storytelling and eatting and drinking among all those visiting. Thank goodness the weather was beautiful and there was plenty of shade under the trees and the huge arbor so that everyone camped out. It became a small family reunion. I guess it was when my mother started bickering with some of them that they all realized she was not going to die.
Later she pulled that same stunt on them and again they all came and we had a great time, but the third time she send them telegrams, they all decided to wait and just come for the funeral if needed.

My Mother's Garden

My mother had a beautiful garden when I was a child and it provided a wonderful playground for me. It was so big and had such a variety of plants, flowers and trees that it has stayed in my mind ever since and has served as inspiration for some of my needlework, especially my landscape quilt wall hangings.
Our house was sitting in one corner of two lots and my mother had hardened the ground in the middle area by sprinkling it daily so that there was no grass in that area, just hard ground. This gave us an area where we had clotheslines and in the very middle of that area, she usually made a fire to heat water for washing in a large tub. Sometimes she would actually boil the sheets and whites, while moving them around with an old broom handle like it was a magic cauldron. In winter, wood would be burned to make charcoals to heat up our house. Old metal barrels wre washed and half filled with sand or dirt and charcoals were placed on top of the sand or dirt. These barrels were then placed inside the living room and the bedroom. The fire outside was kept on going and hot charcoals were brought in to our barrels throughout our day. I imagine this was the reason to dry this area and keep the grass from growing there.
Oh, but around this hardened area, my mother had trees scattered around the perimeter of the two lots. She had flowering trees near the house and some near our fence. She had some beautiful orchid trees in three colors, white, pink and lilac. These were called"patas de vaca" (cow's feet) because of the hoof shaped leaves. She had mulberry trees with fruit. The mulberry trees were also in three colors, based on their fruit--white, pink and purple. On one side, she had lilac trees with beautiful flowers and pomegranate trees ladened with pomegranates. Towards the far back of the property she had left a mesquite and a guisache tree that had been there for many years. There was plenty of shade all around.
My father had built a little storage tool house, using the metal from large cans opened up and nailed together. It looked like a metal quilt house. Next to this tool houise they had a grape vine which had been trained and shaped into a "summer house' over a wooden frame and the vines would hang like walls around the frame. I used to play in this arbor and in the wooden two person swing hung from railroad ties, which were square about 6 inches thick a nd which were the framework of the arbor.
Among and around the trees, my mother had planted many flowers of many kinds and many colors. The whole garden looked like a work of art when everything was flowering. She even had some weird flowering plants which looked like a flowering carpet near the house. It was really a beautiful place for me to play and has always been an inspiration in my art work all my life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Grandmother's Earrings

Having no children to inherit her earrings, my Aunt Fita always said I would inherit the earrings she had inherited from her mother. She used to tease me that I would have to take them off her ears after she was dead. Since my ears were not pierced, she made it a point to insist I have them pierced when she got to her 60's. I was then in my 30's and kept evading the issue by saying that my only daughter had pierced ears and I would give them to her. My aunt insisted that I had to put them on myself and pass them on to my daughter only when I died. So at the age of 36, I finally pierced my ears and enjoyed the result so much that I actually ended up percing my ears four times so that I could wear multiple earrings. Because of a complication of one of the piercings, I can now wear only seven earrings at a time, but I like the number 7, so I left it like that.
In 1992, my aunt fell down and injured a hip and was in the hospital. I talked to her on the phone because I was living here in Fort Worth then, but I had visited her for a week the year before. I also talked to the doctor and he said it was not serious but it would be nice if I went to visit her again. I talked to her again and told her I was leaving in a few hours to go see her and her answer made me panic. She told me she had taken off the earrings and that Belen, her young caretaker would have them for me. I was very worried later as I was about to leave for the bus, I got another phone call from the hospital telling ,me that she had died. When I arrived at her apartment, in tears, later that day, Belen met me at the door and immediately handed me the earrings in a little baggy. She said that my aunt had insisted she give them to me as soon as I arrived.

Josefa Lopez

Josefa Lopez was born on July 17, 1908,the 12th child in my granfather's family with his first wife, and the last one of the surviving ones, since the 13th died at birth. Being the mother's namesake, she inherited her mother's gold earrings. The gold earrings were part of an elegant troussau, bought in the Mexican city of Mier, including a big trunk with rounded top which looked similar to a pirate's chest. (At least it looked like that to me when I was a child.)
My mother talks about seeing the contents of this trunk when she was grown up. According to her description, the dress was magnificent and the tiny shoes were exquisite, although falling apart with age when she saw them. In fact, my mother ended up inheriting that trunk, and upon her death, passed it on to me. When I was raising my children on my own and moving frequently, I sold the trunk to a cousin, feeling it would be better preserved by her. The money was also needed or I would have just given it to her.
When my grandmother died in childbirth, her gold earrings were taken off and put immediately in my aunt Josefa's ears, even though she was just a toddler. They remained in her ears until the day she died in 1992. She kept them on even when she bathed. They were a part of her all her life.
Josefa went to the same school with Petra in Roma, Texas. She too left school in the fifth grade and worked in the fields and in people's homes as a maid. When her father died she moved to Weslaco to live with Petra until she married in 1944, six months after I was born. There she worked for white people cleaning their homes accross the tracks. She usually walked all the way to their homes, although sometimes they would come to pick her up at home and sometimes brought her back.
While in her 30's she had to have cataracts removed from her eyes and later in her 60s again.
She married Manuel Gracia in 1944. I remember they looked kind of odd together, because she was about 4'11" and he must have been 6'5". She had two children, a boy, Ramon, who died at birth in 1945, and a girl, Idolina, who lived until six months old.
When I was growing up my aunt Josefa, or Fita, as we called her, became a very inportant part of my life. Her help and support shaped my life. She would carry in her tote bag things for me every day from work.
When she saw all the books, comic books, magazines and newspapers those white people threw away, she asked if she could have them and she would bring them to me each day. I grew up with all of these information at my disposal and it awakened in me a deep hunger for learning that still remains in me to this day.
She once worked for a lady that had a prekindergarten school and sometimes my aunt would ask her for some of the projects the children did so that I could do them too. One project I still remember was one using wallpaper to make dollhouse furniture. She brought me the materials and the instructions and I had so much fun making the paper furniture that i have done dollhouse furniture all my life, as it became a hobby as I grew up. When I finished the project, the lady stopped one day to see how well I had done it on my own and she was pleasantly surprised and continued to send me projects to do just as if I had been in her little class.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Crocheted Vests

I just finished a pink crocheted vest, copying an older one I had made in a cream ivory color many years ago. the old one was literally coming apart, because I had used a very old thread bought in a garage sale. the Pink one is made, using Aunt Lydias crocheting size 10 thread in a bright pink color, but finished the neckline in a lighter pink, because i ran out of the brighter color. It actually looks very nice with the two colors. I did do a change from the ivory vest by adding two inches of a leaf vine at the waist, because the ivory waist was empire style.
I have decided I want another vest, using red yarn, left over from my red tablecloth, and this time I have enough to make it into a dress length vest if I choose to do so when I get to the end.
I am so happy I can see so well now that I can use that kind of yarn again. Before i had my cataracts removed I couldn't see well enough to use that kind of thin yarn.

Petra (Lopez) Villarreal (my mother)

Petra Lopez was born on January 31, 1906, the 11th child to Miguel Lopez and Josefa Fuentes, in los Escobares, birth registered in Roma, Texas. She went to a single room schoolhouse but left with a fifth grade education to work in the fields, picking cotton and as a house maid with some afluent people in Roma, Texas.
In 1930, she married Jose Villarreal from los Garcias. She named her first son Romeo, as suggested by her oldest sister, Maria, who was then reading Romeo and Juliet. he died at 11 months of a possible allergy to peanuts, according to stories told by my mother later.
Six years, she had a daughter, who died three days after birth, due to a problem with her having been born with a hole in her throat. She was named Ninfa(nymth), since her sister was then reading A Midsummer's Night Dream.
Her third child was born six years later, on April 3, 1944, and named Odilia, after the magic swan in Swanlake. I am Odilia and I was the only child who survived. Both my parents are now dead and I am 65 years old and have three sons and one daughter, all in their thirties now.

Family History

I recently went to a family reunion that inspired me to write down family stories and maybe put them in a book. The younger members of the family need to know some of these things about the family and the older members are almost all gone. There is a richness of anecdotes and trivia worth knowing and passing on to posterity, because this is a huge family.
My granfather, who originally came from Spain, married at 19 with a 13 year old, and they had thirteen children before she died in childbirth. With the oldest daughter already married and small toddlers at home, he remarried a young 16 year old, with whom he then had 6 children. Having a "porcion" granted by the Spanish king, he provided well for all his children and 17 grew to adulthood and carried his heritage. Since his first marriage in 1865, his family has grown considerably and scattered to many areas. It is fascinating to see the growth of this huge family in the year 2009.