The Songbirds (a Fourth Grade Adventure)

“Time for SongBirds.” Miss Kelly said.

“Oh no!” Joe looked up at her bright red hair and freckled face. He quickly lowered his eyes hoping she would take no notice of him. He hated singing. The last time she called on him to sing he croaked like a frog. The class laughed, but Miss Kelly was mad. Her freckled face became almost as red as her hair.

So Joe kept his eyes down and looked at the top of his desk. He did not even want to play with Mary Lee’s hair. It was very long and always hung over the back of her seat and on to his desk. When Miss Kelly was not looking he would tie knots in Mary Lee’s hair or put he would put little pieces paper in her hair.   It was fun to watch Mary Lee go home with her hair looking like a trash heap.

“But not today. I’m not doing anything to make Miss Kelly notice me now.”

“Who wants to be first?” Miss Kelly asked. She waited for someone to raise their hand.

“I will.”   Gail said.   She shyly stood up then moved to the front of the class. Her hair was cut short for a girl, but Joe liked her any way.

“She’d make a nice girl friend,” he thought. “Wait a minute. I can’t even have a bicycle. How am I going to have a girl friend?” He let out a sigh. “I guess I’ll settle for just walking her to school and back.” Sometimes he even carried her books for her.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound . . .” She sang her song softly and sweetly and then sat down.

“That’s cheating.” Joe thought. “She learned that in her church. They don’t sing songs like that in my church.”

Miss Kelly walked to wall chart and next to Gail’s name she colored in a little blue song bird. She now had seven.

“Joseph, would you like to try sing a song this time?” Miss Kelly asked him. He felt a nervous knot grow in his stomach.

“What do you think?” The voice inside him answered.

“O.K.” He said, wisely. The voice inside him said a lot of bad things, but he seldom said them out loud.

“That voice inside me is going to get me in a lot trouble some day.” He got up and nervously walked to the front of the class. “I don’t want Gail to know I’m scared.”

Joe coughed and cleared his throat. A couple of students giggled. They must have thought he was going to be silly again. He tried to be serious this time. He looked at Miss Kelly. She gave him an encouraging smile, so he began.

“Buy a Ford. Buy a Ford. Buy a Ford today. If you can’t afford a Ford, buy a Chevrolet. Hey!”

Joe sat down quickly. Miss Kelly had a funny look on her face, but at least she did not get mad.

“Very nice, Joseph. Where did you hear that song?”

“My Cousin George.” He said meekly.

“I bet your cousin George teaches you a lot of things, doesn’t he?”

Joe just shook his head up and down. Miss Kelly walked to the wall chart and colored in a blue song bird next to his name. Joe was not sure what to think.

“Well, at least I didn’t get yelled at.” His inner voice told him.

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The Lady in the Bed


    “Who’s that?” I asked.

The year was 1950. I was barely three years old, but I still remember. My memory is a bit fuzzy about exactly where we were. We were probably at the Maryknoll hospital in Monrovia, California. By “we” I mean, my brother and two sisters. My Aunt Nellie was driving, Aunt Emily and my grandma shared the front seat.

The drive from Oxnard to Monrovia seemed to take forever. I had to sit still. That was a real challenge in the best of circumstances. But as a toddler I tended to get carsick a lot. I could not see anything except for the back of the front seat, maybe some clouds if I looked to the side. The winding road didn’t help, but my hands had a simple, practical solution. They didn’t feed me, or give me anything to drink. I tried standing up so I can see out, that did not last long.

Finally we were there. In my little eyes I saw a huge complex of buildings. We walked away to a special building. My grandma and the aunties went inside. The four of us waited outside in the shade. In a short time one of my aunties appeared through a screened window.

“Carlitos, will you lift up Baby Joe?” My brother didn’t say anything. He was about twelve years old at the time. He lifted me up and I stood on his shoulders. I could barely see over the window sill. I pulled myself higher for a better look.

“Hurry up!” My brother urged, his voice was straining. I am sure that my shoes were cutting into his shoulders. My focus adjusted from the mesh of the dusty screen to the bed beyond.

There she was. She was smiling back at me, her smiling and tears colliding. She was propped up by a pillow, in a large room of empty beds. The table next to her had a small oscillating fan that whispered quietly as it blew the air around.

“How are you doing, Jody?” Her voice was comfort. She stretched her arms out toward me.

“O.K.” I answered. My name is Joe, I thought.

My brother lowered me when he could hold me up any longer. I ran off to play and my brother and two sisters looked through the window and took their turns talking.

My grandma and my aunts were inside the room. They were sitting and having conversations but they did keep their distance.

A while later Boy found me and said “Come and say good-bye.” He dragged me back to the building and lifted me up to the window one more time.

“Good-bye Jody.” She said to me. “Take care. You be a good boy now.”

“Good-bye.” I answered to the lady with a warm smile and tears streaming from her eyes.

“Good-bye, Lady in the Bed.”




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Frank and Henry by Carlos Najera


Back in 1953 my brothers Frank and Henry Olivas were at a local beer joint here in Oxnard. They met a woman there who was visiting from out of town. She drove a brand-new Cadillac convertible.

The rest of the story is not so nice. They went out for a ride, the three of them. They were on Pleasant Valley Rd. and she failed to stop when they got to Highway 101.

A truck ran into them. The lady was thrown from the car and died instantly, my two brothers as well. They were literally smashed to pieces. They were both in their 30s when the Great One took them away. That left my brother Roberto, sister Natalia, and me.

Thoughts like it doesn’t seem fair popped into my head and mixed with my other sorrows. We are not promised fairness. We are promised a seat at the table when we reach the other side.

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21



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The Rose Garden


Groundbreaking for the Rose Garden took place in 1931. It took six years of planning and planting before it was officially dedicated. The San Jose municipal Rose Garden is 5 and a half acres in size. Thousands of visitors walk through here each year. There are over 4,000 rose plants with 189 varieties planted. The blooms start in April and last all the way into November.

family 1


Here we are, in front of the redwood trees planted there. We first moved to San Jose in 1956. I remember being eight years old. I was going to start the new school year as a fourth grader. By the size of me, this must have been our first year there.

Actually, our home was in Santa Clara. They used to be two separate cities but with the growing populations they grew into each other. Our house was a short drive away.

That’s me on the left, short hair, short pants. My sister Teresa sitting next to my dad. My mother was next to my brother Carlitos.

family 2



This picture must’ve been taken on the same day. It is the same place. I can see now by the way I was standing next to my brother how damaged we were. We are not standing close together. My oldest sister is not even in the picture. We were just four individuals who happened to be standing. Thinking about this in my old age, as much as we wanted to be a family, there was always that distance that you see here.


The trees in the background on the left, are probably the same trees. I believe they should have been even bigger after all these years that have gone by.


I took these pictures in mid-April. I had to walk through the garden alone. Milady loves flowers but, you know allergies.

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I took more pictures of the roses than these. But I think I might be boring you with rose pictures. Just one more.


One of the volunteer gardeners told me that this fountain has been there from the beginning. I do not remember that fountain. I think my parents knew what would have happened if I got near it.




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Don Adolfo


October 29, 1864 – December 10, 1958)

    Don Adolfo Camarillo was a successful rancher, farmer, horse breeder, business man, philanthropist. I wrote about his famous white horses a while ago. He was among the first in the Valley to cultivate lima beans.  A town grew up around his ranch. It eventually became a city, and was named after him of course.   He invested heavily in his home county, Ventura County. He helped established the Peoples Lumber Company. I worked there for a while myself. He was also an investor in the Bank of A. Levy. It was an influential bank of the area for many years.

   Throughout his lifetime he invested, or donated funds for education and other community projects.  The Oxnard Union High School District was of particular interest. He also donated land for other schools in his area. He donated land to establish a high school in his town. He donated land to the state for widening the freeway that went south to the Los Angeles basin. He was a member of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

   In 1950 Pope Pius XII named him a Knight of St. Gregory the Great. He was a good man and lived a life well lived.



      Here is a picture of my brother Roberto. He was born in 1898 and in 1917 he married a young lady named Eloise Orette in Calexico, California. He was way too young to get married by our modern standards, however we can’t always control our heart strings. The truth is, it was not uncommon for couples to marry at an even younger age.

   It wasn’t long before they returned back to Oxnard. He started working for People’s Lumber Company. That’s him in the picture standing by one of the company trucks.

    Roberto’s bride is of interest here. She was the niece of Don Adolfo.















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Day One



Is this how it begins? My story?  Seven pounds, thirteen ounces, two feet, ten toes, on Thanksgiving Day in 1947?

On that day I became the second son and fourth child of Carlos and Christina Nájera when my soul was sucked out of that vast eternal ether and given a place in their family.  Given name is Jaime, which is why I have always have had a special affection for my cousin of the same name. It is still a mystery why or how I became Joseph Edward.

Or Here?
dad   With my father? That tall dark handsome man on the left.  We see him here in the town of Oxnard, California around 1930 with his mother and the rest of his family. My grandmother is a stranger to me, having died long before my time began.

That is my Aunt Nellie next to her. Her real name was Natalia, and that is my father’s three brothers smiling. The man on the right is John Olivas.  John is my father’s stepfather.  I will write more about him later. For now, John married my grandmother Maria Concepcíon Nájera de Madrid.

My Aunt Nellie has her own story. Eventually she married Rosario Ledesma, my mother’ cousin. So my Aunt Nellie became my cousin, my cousin by marriage, or my cousin, her husband, became my uncle by marriage. I was told to stop asking about that, although I am pretty sure there were no taboos broken here.

Or Here,

with my grandfather Manuel María  Nájera of Tacubaya, Mexico City? Civil engineer, postmaster, photographer, Diplomat for the government of Mexico, refugee.
Manuel Najera                                                   Manuel María Nájera 1861 to 1919

Does it start back here with my mother’s parents, Doña Margarita and Odilón Ledesma?  Here they are in Mexico City holding my oldest aunt and uncle (Manuela and Faustino).


More questions than answers. What does the older generation pass on to the next? These questions take on biblical proportions and bring me no simple solutions.


To be continued . . .



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A Tale of Two Bucks

IMG_20190128_0001 (2).jpg

Here is a close up of a dollar bill. I downloaded this photo off the Internet. You will notice that it has the word Hawaii printed on. It is there for a reason.

Here is a close-up of a dollar bill that I have. I have two from World War II. The back of this dollar bill looks like it was stamped in March 1943. It is hard to read but it looks like, right above the one, it says, SS MORMACWREN.

to Carlos (2)

This was a ship that was used as a troop transport during World War II. It is very similar to the photograph I found below. When I looked up SS MORMACWREN, they showed me this picture. The ship had a different name.   I found out that ships were not married to their names. By that I mean many ships had several names through their lifespan.

I found that dollar bill among my father’s papers. He passed away over 20 years ago but I’m still discovering things of his. His brother served in the Pacific and since he mailed my dad the Hawaiian dollar bill and the other one with the stamp of the SS MORMACWREN, I am just guessing that he served on that ship.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, among the many things the military had to worry about was our United States currency. What if the attack on Pearl Harbor was in preparation of an invasion? Japan would then have access to the banks that were there and all the paper money could be theirs. An order was issued. All the paper money in the islands were recalled. Individuals and businesses had a limit to the amount of paper money they could have in their possession.

Paper money was then printed with the word Hawaii on one side. If the Japanese did get control of the island or took possession of our currency, the ones that were printed with Hawaii would be worthless. Currency that did not have Hawaii printed on the back could not be used in Hawaii.

I found out that these dollars are still acceptable as currency, however after so many years they have become collectible. If you have any, lookup their value on the old inter-web before you think about spending one.

I have faint memories of my uncle Frank Olivas. I remember being happy to see him when he dropped by for a visit. I was four years old when he died in a car crash. He was with his brother at the time of the accident. They were both killed. My other uncle was named was Henry. He also went by his Spanish name Enrique. I wish I had better memories of them. I did not see them often.  We were living in the Imperial Valley at the time and they were in Oxnard over 200 miles away.


henry                                      frank

Henry Olivas with my brother Carlos, 1938                                                  Frank Olivas






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