Tag Archives: De La Garza

Through a Tiny Window

On November 22, 1963, I was just less than 3 weeks old.  At the time, my parents and I lived in an apartment above a garage owned by father’s oldest sister and her husband on the northern edge of downtown Dallas.  Through the small bathroom window, my mother caught a glimpse of President Kennedy’s motorcade, as it raced towards Parkland Hospital.  She had no idea at that moment what tragedy had just unfolded.

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That siren; that God-awful siren!  It came from down the hall, and I had no idea why.  I had just turned on the TV to watch my show, “As the World Turns.”  My older sister got me hooked on it while I was on “maternity leave.”  Actually, in those days, there was no such thing.  Women just had to quit work and hope they had a job later, if they wanted it.  That’s fine, I’d told myself.  At that moment, with my new baby boy, I didn’t care about going back to a desk to argue insurance claims.

I’d almost died having him.  I wasn’t supposed to have him.  The doctors told me I just couldn’t have a baby.  But, my husband and I didn’t listen.  We turned our hopes to a higher authority.  I was almost 31, when he was born; so old to be a new mother back then.  I cuddled him close, as he quietly nursed; a diaper over his head.

It had been so hot – since summer!  Advice to future mothers: don’t get pregnant until summer passes.  Just a thought.  I had to sleep sitting up; otherwise, I’d choke to death.  We had a floor fan blowing all night to keep me cool.  My husband wore pajamas to bed that summer; the fan would make the room so cold for him.

But, why were those sirens so loud?  So many of them.  I scooted towards the bathroom window and looked to my right.  Through the trees in the back yard and the neighbors’ back yards I saw a flash of red lights and black cars.  Just a blur; a long streak of red and black.  For a second, I thought I also saw a flash of pink.  But, I think now it was just my imagination.

I knew President and Mrs. Kennedy were in town.  It would have been nice to go downtown to see them, but I couldn’t with the baby.  And, my husband had to go to work.

I went back into the front room, and the show had already started.  “Nancy” (Helen Wagner) was speaking to her father.  I don’t remember what they were talking about.  Then, without warning – in one of those moments that sears into your mind – Walter Cronkite interrupted the show.

And, said President Kennedy had been shot.

But, he was just here!

In Dallas.

The motorcade – that flash of red and black.  That’s what it was.

But, it was just there!

I’d just seen it.

I rushed back to the bathroom window.  I could see more traffic on Harry Hines.  I went back into the front room.

Walter Cronkite looked as if he was about to cry.  How do you announced something like that to millions of people and not break down?

I suddenly became terrified.  I had to call my husband.  Still cradling the baby, I dialed the phone from the bedroom.

The assistant manager – the owner’s brother-in-law – answered.

“I just saw on the news,” I told him.  “President Kennedy’s been shot!”

He was silent for a second.  “Is this a joke?”

“No!”  Why would he even ask that?  We didn’t joke about those things back then.

“Cathy, turn on the radio!” he said.

I looked at my baby, still nursing, oblivious to the world around him.  Is this the world he would inherit?  Where the president of the United States gets shot in broad daylight?

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My husband came home early.  His boss had closed down the shop.  He was happy to see me and the baby.  But, he was as shocked as me – and angry.  “What’s wrong?”

“Some dumb son-of-a-bitch at work said he was glad Kennedy had been shot!”

Who would be happy about that?

That whole weekend – that entire, awful weekend – all we saw on TV was about Kennedy.  None of us could believe it.  My husband’s family gathered at his parents’ home to watch the funeral.  The black horse that wouldn’t cooperate; the long procession; the masses of people.  When John-John saluted his father, we all just about lost it.  This wasn’t really happening, was it?  I couldn’t say it out loud.  This couldn’t be happening – right?

Then, amidst the sadness and completely out of nowhere, one of my husband’s sisters-in-law asked, “Why are the flags only halfway up the poles?”

We all thought for a second or so and then, just looked at her.  Here she was, a hair dresser at an upscale salon, earning thousands of dollars every month when most people in those days only got by on a couple of hundred dollars, and she asks that.

My husband, sitting next to me, said, “Because they ran out of string.”

And, if I say we all felt guilty when we laughed, I’m not lying.  We literally burst out laughing.  Only my husband could say something like that and get away with it.  He then picked up a box of tissue and began offering some to everybody.

If I think about it now, it really hurts.  How could that happen?  Here!  Why did that happen?  That baby I held is now a half-century old, and the world is a much more violent place.

I close my eyes and think for a moment.

And can hear those sirens.

And see that flash of red and black.

And Nancy’s face.

And Walter Cronkite’s twisted mouth.

All from that tiny window.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

© 2013

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97 Years and a Lifetime of Stories

Francisca in 1923

Francisca in 1923

This is actually a re-post from last year.  Currently, I’m working with my father to compile our family history, which is more of a labor of love than anything.  But, I also want to isolate his mother’s life as a separate project.  I find it’s been rather difficult, since it requires me to be somewhat detached.  It’s easy to get so wrapped up in a love one’s story you lose focus.  You just have that natural connection that no one else can understand.

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of my paternal grandmother, Francisca Riojas De La Garza.  She died in February 2001 at the age of 97.  She was the last of my grandparents.  My mother’s mother had died in México City in 1940.  My paternal grandfather died in Dallas in 1969, and my other grandfather passed away in a suburban Dallas nursing home in 1983.  I vaguely remember my father’s father and I really didn’t get to know my maternal grandfather.  But, as in most families, I know a lot about all of them.  They each led interesting lives, equally filled with joy and tragedy.  A friend of mine once said, if she knew how much fun her grandkids would be, she would have had them first.  Grandparents hold a special place in the family unit.  Really good grandparents shepherd their loved ones through life with their own tales of growing up way back when.  They keep families together.  They are the center of the clan; the matriarch or patriarch who seems to know and see everything.  When they die, it’s still unexpected.  When Francisca passed away, my father’s large family appeared to disintegrate.  No one gathered for Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve.  No more birthday or wedding celebrations.  Everybody – especially us grandkids and great grandkids – went our separate ways; creating our own families and thereby, our own lives.  I guess that happens sometimes – even in the closest of families.

Francisca was small, barely 4’11,” but she had a strong personality accompanied by an even stronger voice.  Small women always seem to have the most indomitable of spirits.  I should know – one gave birth to me.  Francisca was born in Rosales, Coahuila, México in 1903, the 4th of 11 children; the oldest daughter.  Her father, José Manuel Riojas, was a captain in the Mexican military; a tall blond, blue-eyed man who actually worked as a bounty hunter under the direction of Venustiano Carranza, a leading figure in México’s bloody revolution that began in 1910.  Her mother Concepción died in 1918 of the “Spanish flu;” the pandemic that took millions of lives across the globe at the close of World War I.  Francisca cared for her mother as any loving daughter then or now would; feeding and bathing her, changing her clothes, praying for her, holding her hand tightly as Concepción took her last breath – without concern for her own health or fear of the unknown.  She then became a surrogate mother to her younger siblings.  In 1920, as the revolution came to a close, José Manuel moved his family to Eagle Pass, Texas, a town just north of the Rio Grande.

That’s where Francisca met her future husband, Epimenio De La Garza, a local carpenter ten years her senior.  They married shortly before Christmas 1924 in another small South Texas town.  Not in the Catholic Church, as Mexican tradition would have dictated, but in civil court.  The church wouldn’t allow them to wed – they were first cousins.  It was one of those classic long-held family secrets that no one really knew about and no one really cared to discuss; certainly not around the Christmas tree while the kids opened presents.

The De La Garza family had arrived in South Texas in the 1580’s.  Texas and the rest of what is now the American Southwest were all part of Nuevo España, or New Spain.  The De La Garzas came as explorers and ranchers, not conquerors.  They considered the indigenous peoples friends and confidants, not vermin.  They established large communities, including schools and churches.

Juan Ignacio de Castilla y Rioxa arrived in Veracruz, México in 1732 with an entourage of fellow military officials and clergymen.  His goal was simple – he planned to marry a young woman with whom he’d been corresponding.  The Castilla y Rioxa family was related to Spanish royalty, descendants of the “Kingdom of Castilla.”  One of their ancestors was Queen Isabella, the monarch who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyage 200 years earlier.  Some time towards the end of the 18th century, the name Rioxa became Riojas, and in the 1860’s a Riojas married a De La Garza.

But, my grandparents weren’t concerned about family – royalty or not.  They wanted to build a life together.  They had 11 children; 4 of them – 2 boys and 2 girls – died as infants.  It’s difficult to understand how life was like a century ago, when couples had so many children and accepted the deaths of some as a cold, hard fact of their world.  No one of my grandparents’ generation feared death the way people do now.  Back then, it was the norm; another cycle of life to be respected and honored.  It wasn’t so normal, however, for a person to live as long as Francisca did.

The best part of a long, healthy life is the ability to recount your history and share it with your loved ones.  Every elderly person has some story, though, that seems almost too fantastic to be true.  But, they’re the kind of real-life experiences that could have only happened way back when; in another time and another place.

When she was about 8 or 9, Francisca was visiting an uncle’s ranch and playing with her cousins beside a stream that ran behind the main house.  The girls suddenly noticed a group of government men – federales – off in the distance.  Francisca’s cousins dared her to shout “¡Viva Carranza!” at them.  Apparently not one to back down from a challenge, my grandmother climbed atop a mound of dirt and shouted just that: “¡Viva Carranza!”  It startled the men who turned in her direction.  But, they immediately saw that it was just a small girl; a brat, they probably thought.  After a moment, however, they turned a canon towards the girls – surely just intending to teach them a lesson – and fired a shot into the stream.  Water drenched Francisca who hadn’t yet retreated.  The blast caught the attention of others nearby and propelled Concepción out of the ranch house.  Seeing that it was her own daughter soaking wet, she charged forward and grabbed my grandmother by one of her braids.  As Concepción ushered all the girls back into the house, several local men arrived at the stream with their own weapons, and a brief skirmish erupted.

Like I said, small women have the grandest of egos and they always seem to cause all sorts of commotion.

The day after my grandmother died, my father sat in a chair in the den of her house; staring out the patio door at the expansive back yard.  His father had built that large red brick house in 1957.  It had always been there, as far as I was concerned.  I knew no other home swelling with such memories of happiness and good food.

“What’s wrong?” I asked my dad, just trying to make conversation amidst all the gloom.

“Oh, just thinking about all the times we’ve spent in this house,” he replied quietly.

But, I already knew that.  Whenever a loved one dies – even if they’re very old – we feel sad; mournful not just because of their death, but our loss.  We can be selfish with those we love the most.  But, we reserve that right.

That home is gone now.  I mean, the large red brick house is physically where it’s always been on Midway Road in North Dallas.  Yet, the home is gone.

The memories are still here though – with me and my father.  Francisca’s body is gone as well – but she’s still around.  It’s just a natural part of the life cycle my parents and I don’t fear.

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Happy 53rd Anniversary to My Parents

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Today, my parents mark their 53rd wedding anniversary.  It’s a completely different world now from when they got married.  In this day, when some people treat marriage like shoes – they change them at will – it’s nice to know there are others who take it seriously.  My folks have had their usual mix of good and bad times, as in any relationship.  But ultimately, they never gave up on one another.  They’re both almost 80 now, and I don’t know how much longer I’ll have them, so this simple gesture is for them.

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Celebrating Texas’ Tejano Heritage

In This March 7, 2012, photo from Austin, Texas, workers erect a monument to Tejano settlers, Spanish and Mexican explorers who trail-blazed what would become the Lone Star State.The massive granite and bronze memorial is set to be officially unveiled March 29 on the South lawn of the state Capitol. (AP Photo/Will Weissert)

This week Texas’ Tejano settlers – that is, the state’s original inhabitants, after the Indians – will finally be recognized.  State leaders will dedicate a granite and bronze memorial to the Spanish explorers who established vast communities long before the likes of Stephen F. Austin or Sam Houston were even born.  Since 2002, the Texas Tejano organization has endeavored to get the true story of our state’s history to include the Spanish settlers.  Spaniards had reached Texas by the 1580’s; the entire southwestern region of what is now the United States and all of México formed what was then called “Nuevo España,” or “New Spain.”  They built entire towns, complete with churches and functioning governments, and later began intermarrying with the region’s indigenous peoples.  They took a term that various native peoples used for friend – tejas, tayshas, texias and thecas are among the varied translations – and used it to create the state’s name.  None of it is something Texas schoolchildren have traditionally learned, but that’s changing.  One of my own paternal ancestors, Marcos Alonzo de la Garza – Falcon, was born in Spain around 1550 and arrived in South Texas some 30 years later; so the event this week in Austin has personal significance for me.  I’m definitely glad, though, that México lost Texas to the United States in 1836.  But, the Lone Star state’s expansive and diverse history can’t be denied.

 

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