This is a picture of the Old Ones in my family. There’s more of them, but these were the ones that were present on this special day. This picture was taken on a week day. I know that because my brother and my two sisters were not there. They must have been at school. I also know that because the local newspaper, The Oxnard Courier, wrote about this day in 1951.
As you can see, everyone is happy. The picture was taken at my grandma’s house. She lived on E Street in Oxnard.
You don’t see my grandmother in the picture. To the right of the photograph was the kitchen and that’s where my grandmother was. Whenever people gathered she started cooking.
That’s me sitting with my aunt Nellie. I was three at the time. My aunt’s real name was Manuela but everyone called her Nellie. I called her Mommy. For a long time I thought she was my mom. She was my mama’s sister. She was also my godmother which is why I was sitting there.
Soon after I was born my mother, my real mother, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She was in the hospital for such a long time that I only knew her as The Lady in the Bed. I was not allowed to visit her. On those occasions that my family did pay her a visit they would pick me up and show me to my mother through the closed window. She cried and smiled at the same time.
My father was also missing from this picture. Our home was in El Centro in the Imperial Valley. While my mom was in the hospital he was there working. My two sisters, my brother and I were in Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
Here is my uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, Eduardo Ledesma. He’s standing there with his wife, my Aunt Rita. Her real name is Hortencia but she is known as Rita. My uncle was in the Army during World War II. He was at the Battle of the Bulge and served with distinction. Aunt Rita is a special lady in her own way. Here in San Jose where we live, they named a school after her.
This man was Camilo Ledesma. He was my great-uncle. He used to call me ”Yo”. That used to confuse me. ”Yo” means me. He was calling me, me. He was not me, I was me. Eventually I figured out that he had trouble saying the J sound in English. Many of the other Old Ones called me José. That made sense to me, since that was my name, along with Joe, Joseph, Jodie, Baby Joe, Patches.
When my Uncle Camilo got older he used to spend many hours sitting in the family car out front. I asked my father why he did that, thinking to myself that, doesn’t he realize he’s not going anywhere? My father explained that he had arthritis and sitting in the warm car helped make his joints feel better.
The lady on the right was my cousin Mary. She was the daughter of Camilo. The man on the left was her husband. His name was Bonifacio but the Old Ones called him “Bony”. They lived in the house next door to my grandma. I liked going to their backyard. They had a Koi pond back there and I liked looking at the fish. The people who live there before were Japanese and when World War II broke out the whole family was taken away. Bonifacio was able to buy the house at a good price.
The tall man is another brother of my mom. His name was Melecio but people usually called him Melvin. He was in the Navy during World War II. The woman next to him smiling is his wife. Her name was Hortencia. Most people called her Babe. My uncle Melvin called her Mana. I found out many years later that he called her that because her people were from New Mexico. At this time they lived in Port Hueneme next door to my aunt Nellie where me and my two sisters lived.
Next to Bonifacio is my aunt Emily. She was another sister of my mother. She never married, she never left home. They stayed throughout the years taking care of my grandmother. My brother stayed with her and my grandmother and my mom’s other sister Catherine.
The man standing on the right is Aunt Babe‘s brother. His name was Reginaldo Vela. He is the reason for this gathering. He was born in Oxnard, graduated from Stanford University, and served in the Army Air Force during World War II. This was his day to shine.
The Old Ones had gathered there to celebrate his re-election to the Oxnard City Council. He was the first Hispanic ever elected to that position. It was a good day.