Mi Tía

It was one of our family gatherings.   “Visiting” is not quite the right word since we spent so much of our time there anyways. It was probably a funeral, since that is what usually brought the family together. I was too young to remember. We had just arrived in Oxnard.

The drive from El Centro took five to six hours, and we were still shaking the stiffness out of our joints and limbs. The first thing I felt when I stepped out of the car was the coolness. The air felt clean as it tingled all over my body. El Centro is in the desert, where the air is hot and dry. In Oxnard, the mild coastal air was not refreshing, it felt cold.

“Oye ‘Yo’. Ven aqui.” A large and cheerful lady called to me. I had become accustomed to being called “Yo” by my Spanish speaking relatives, which was most of them.

My mother and father were saying their hellos to a throng of relatives. My grandmother’s living room was filled mostly with people I did not know, but they seemed happy to see me. I was happy to please them by my presence.

I walked to that large and cheerful lady sheepishly as she opened her arms and beckoned me to sit on her expansive lap.

“?No me conoces?”   (Don’t you remember me?) She asked, with a bright sparkle in her eyes. She seemed so old yet her hair was cut short and shiny black. She laughed again and planted a strong juicy kiss on my cheek. I smiled up at her and wiped it off the way Gary Cooper would have done. The roomful of relatives laughed at that. They must have seen the movie too.

“Jody, this is your your tía Prajedes.” My mother came up to introduce me.

“Oh.” I said, still sitting in my tía’s lap.

“Hi.” I said up to her. I had no idea who she was, but she sure seemed happy to see me.

“?No hablas espanol?” She asked me with a warm smile. She smelled funny like the food that she must have been cooking. I just looked back up at her. I did not know that she was asking me a question.

“No, Tia.” My mother told her regretfully.   “El nunca hablaba espanol. Siempre andaba con ingles.” And they both shared laughter. I could tell my Mama was embarrassed.

“Why don’t you speak Spanish?” A distant cousin named “Junie”, asked accusingly. I looked up at him, admiring his Air Force uniform. Junie’s real name was Bonnifacio Govea, Junior. He grew up next to my grandmother’s house, but I was not even born yet when that was happening.

“I don’t know.”   I answered him, feeling safe in my new found lap. It was my customary response to most of the questions I was ever asked. I always knew the answer though, even back then, but it has always been too painful to share with others.

“How did you learn?” I asked him. I was curious at age eight. I wanted to know, but my question to him sounded rude.

Junie just shook his head and walked away from me, and he started talking to some other relatives he had not seen for a long old time.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked, not realizing I would never speak to him again.

I was bored. There were no cousins to play with as I wandered the house from relative to relative. Their names I will long remember. There was Uncle Toribio, although my father called him ‘Uncle Fudd’. He made everybody laugh as he acted out the stories he would tell. He married his cousin. I guess she still would have been my aunt anyways. There was Uncle Ralph, I liked him. He was tall and dark and bald. He looked just like my Uncle Rosario, but they were just cousins to each other. Uncle Ralph drove a big truck. I thought it would be fun to drive all over the state hauling produce like he did. My two tias, Katherine and Emily were always there. They still lived at home and took care of my grandmother. Maybe it was still the other way around. Cousin Mary lived next door. She was always nice to me, even after I grew up. There were more there. Uncle Faustino, he took care of the family when my grandfather died. (A horse spooked and tipped over the wagon he was driving, but that was many years before I was born.)   The grown-ups seemed all so old and they were deeply involved in their grown-up conversations. I could not find a knee to rest on.

“Entonces se fue . . ∙ blah blah blah.” The conversation went. I lost interest. I could not understand what they were saying. Then they burst into riotous laughter and I did not know why.

I walked into the back room and drifted into sleep among the sounds of unknown words, the sounds of relatives whom I loved dearly and some I still miss. I fell asleep to familial words I did not understand but loved to hear. It was a world I was not a part of. I wanted my sisters, I wanted my brother, but they were grown-ups now and sitting with the adults. I wanted Cousin George, someone to play with, but his family was not there.

What I had was the lonely feeling of not being part of the family. I knew even then it wasn’t true for real, but the feeling was there as I lay on my tia’s bed and watched the streaks of light sneak in through the Venetian blinds. I listened to the sounds of their language and watched the shadows of the tree outside dance against the wall. I stared at the huge picture of the Virgin Mary’s loving face looking down upon me.

“She must know.” I thought. “How I feel.”

I always spoke English. I knew a few Spanish words, the phrases my mother and father used most often: eat, go away, come here, take a bath, go to bed.

I only heard my brother and sisters speak English, never Spanish. And still it was my mother tongue, my mother’s tongue. The house was always filled with music of Mexico, with the sounds of my parents conversing in their Spanish language. Calling on me, correcting me, teaching me. All in the Spanish language.   I was comfortable there.

It was all to clear to me. I was born here, north of the border. Citizen. American. Just barely, but enough. Mexico was within sight of where I was born, in El Centro, California. The Imperial Valley.  It was all clear to me. I went to English speaking schools. I had no need to know anything else. I talked to my mother in English. She understood. She answered back in Spanish. I understood. It was the same with my father, except when he got mad at me. But I still understood.

I have not seen my tía Prajedes, nor Junie, since that time, back in 1958, and I will never forget the way Junie shook his head in disappointment, and walked away.

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Dust of the Moon


“My name is Carlos Leonardo Nájera de Madrid.” This is how my father begins his life story. I am not sure when he started writing. It might’ve been in the 1960s or 70s. But I remember seeing him many nights typing away. A lot of what he wrote were memories that he had. His memories of his life go back to a very early age.

His earliest memories involved the Mexican Revolution, traveling across the desert to the Imperial Valley, and eventually finding his home in Oxnard, California. Some of his memories were not pleasant, some were painful, and others were quite humorous.

As he wrote through the years he was a witness to the transition of the nineteenth century way of life to the developments that we now have in our modern times. These things were important to him. He learned his trade as a blacksmith, shoeing horses, making plows and other farm equipment. He learned how to design the machinery and continue to train himself to become an engineer.

He left his writings to me, that was my inheritance. I was the youngest in my family and he would tell his stories many times over. I knew them by heart, and even though I have heard his stories countless times, I listened to him as if it was the first time. It took me about ten years to edit over 400 pages that he wrote. He had written much more than what is in this book and perhaps someday I will edit those pages.

This collection of his stories I titled Dust of the Moon. It starts with his earliest memories and continues through his childhood years, and ends with his graduation from high school in 1928. At that time most people stopped going to school around 6th grade. He was one of the few Mexicans to finish high school. Fewer still sought to continue their education.

pop writing

Don Carlos at age 85 working on his journal


Thank you for reading this far. Joseph Edward Nájera.




Posted in Ancestry, autobiography, California History, Colorado River, Family History, halloween, heart breaks, Mexicali, Oxnard, paper boys | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment



All my father’s life, that is to say, ever if since I was born, my father would joke about a little fairy that followed him around. Through the years he had a porcelain figure of Walt Disney’s Tinkerbell on his drawing table. He didn’t call her that. He had his own name for her, Nena. He was an engineer, a machine designer, and did most of his work on his drawing table.

When he retired he found a place in our house for Tinkerbell. She was on the shelf, sometimes hidden from view but she was always there. When my mom passed away he decided to retire in Mexico. He took a few things with him, but one thing he took was Nena. My father lived alone except for his lifelong companion.

My father left me a few names of his ancestors. His mother’s last name was Madrid Lucero. My great-grandparents and beyond remained a mystery. It was the same on my mother’s side.

I started to speculate about how my last names, (Najera Ledesma) came to be here in the New World. I had nothing to go on. The records at the Church of the Latter Day Saints helped a little bit. Ancestry.com wasn’t around then.

I started thinking about my father’s companion. She’s from Europe. How did she get here? It must’ve happened at the beginning. She came to the New World with Columbus. I started thinking about an unknown ancestor. My father taught me how to work with iron and steel. I started putting other pieces of my past into my speculations.

I started writing a story about Nena. Who was she? Where did she come from? The moment I asked the questions I knew the answers. In the island of Tir Nan Og, is a small meadow surrounded by trees. A crystal clear stream runs through it, fed by glacial waters. In that meadow lives the Green Isle Fairies. The wondrous thing about this meadow on this land is that every day is the first day of Creation. Every time the sun breaks over the horizon is the first day. Nena and all the other fairies that lived there wake up there once again one day old.

This is how my story starts. Nena wakes up one morning and is sent on her Destiny Quest. The fairy Queen does not tell her what the quest is. The only thing Nena knows this that she must enter the human world and find it.

The rest of the story connects with my mystery ancestor. They find each other on the final voyage of Christopher Columbus.

I invite you to make a list of ten, maybe, ten people who changed the world. The world was different at the end of his lifespan. How many other people have done that? I understand the controversies concerning him. He was a great man of the sea. He was a great navigator. When he returned to the New World the second, third, and fourth time, he knew exactly where he was.

We can create a long list of terrible consequences of his landing in the New World. And all of those would be true. The story I created is not about Columbus. It was about Nena, a boy, and her destiny.

I have studied the life of Columbus, sailing, the politics of the time. I have spent a lot of time in Corpus Christi, Texas, the home of the replicas that Spain built for the 1992 celebration of his first voyage. I spent a lot of time visiting those ships and using them as the setting for the story.

In my research found a list of men who sailed with Columbus. One of the names was Ledesma. I found a connection. I was frozen, perhaps awestruck. I knew then that I had to finish writing the story. I invite you to read the story. It is not a fairy tale even though one of the main characters is a fairy. It is not a children’s story even though one of the main characters is a boy. I thank you for reading this far.

Here is a link where you can find the story at Amazon Books. It is also available as a Kindle book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MS89IDW

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When the Boss was King


Born in the U.S.A. is the seventh studio album by American rock singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen. It was released by Columbia Records on June 4, 1984. The album’s music was written by Springsteen and recorded with his E Street Band and producers Chuck Plotkin and Jon Landau at The Power Station and The Hit Factory in New York City.

Born in the U.S.A. was met with positive reviews and massive commercial success. It produced seven top-10 hit singles and was promoted with a worldwide concert tour by Springsteen. Born in the U.S.A. became his most commercially successful album and one of the highest-selling records ever, having sold 30 million copies by 2012. It has also been cited by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. The album received a nomination for Album of the Year at the 1985 Grammy Awards.

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

I was hearing this album almost constantly. Both AM and FM radios were playing different cuts throughout the day. I would see the videos on MTV throughout their broadcast day. The song Born in the USA was so prevalent at the time that I heard it in my sleep. It became an ear worm.

It really was and still remains a good album, but I had to break away from the sound in my head. I put these words together during one of my late night walks. With time, and new worries and things to take up space in my mind that song eventually faded away. I still like it, but now to get over that constant ringing in my ears.


Top Ten

I got the rhythm in my head,

his latest hit to make the charts,

and the sounds of the

strings and the drums beating it out.

I have the rhythm and the rhyme locked into my head.

I’m stepping to the beat of the meter and the voice.

I want to hear more,

replay once again.

I want to hear the words, replay once again,

the sound and rhythm.

I want to hear it rattle inside my brains.


Now, his voice steals inside me

the silent power of silent metronomes.

Go away!

I want my voice back!

I need the friendly sounds and

inner voices of William and William

and William Butler, and dear Edgar.

Return unto me what is mine.

Return unto me my voice,

my own voice.


San Pablo, California 1984




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The Night Terrors

I can’t remember when it started, my deep plunges into the depths of depression. I think it involved from the time I graduated from high school through my first few years of college. I had a very difficult time falling asleep. I have had tinnitus from a very early age, and that ringing in my ears was a constant companion.

Most nights I kept the radio on. I got bored with the music on the top 40 radio stations. However, even back then, before talk radio became a thing, there were mostly men on the radio didn’t play music but talked. Sometimes it was interesting. Sometimes it did the trick and put me to sleep. Other times, many nights nothing helped. My bedroom and a sliding door that led to the backyard. It was a perfect way for me to leave the house and walk. I would sometimes walk for hours when I should have been sleeping. Eventually the weariness would overcome me and bring me the relief of sleep.

That ringing in my ears has been with me all that time, even to this day. I’m in my 70s and in right now I’m thinking about that sound in my ears it has become louder.

I lived at home throughout my college years. My freshman year I thought I would be a math major. I liked the logic of algebra and geometry. However, I took my first math class and I had no idea the professor was saying. I tried reading the textbook and it was totally incomprehensible. I didn’t understand a thing, and I finished the first college-level math class with the D-.

Maybe that was the beginning of it. I was 17 years old and I had no plan B. I didn’t know what I wanted. What gave me a little bit of comfort present many of my classmates said the same thing. I like being outside. I thought I could be a forest ranger and work for the National Parks system. That wasn’t going to happen. San Jose State didn’t have a program for that.

While I was figuring out what I could do, but I could take up as a major, that I would study Spanish. My parents spoke Spanish almost all the time, so I heard it and understood it. I just could not make it come out of my mouth. There is a term for that in the study of language acquisition. It always bothered me so I thought I’d take up classes and maybe my parents’ language that was in my head would be able to come out of my mouth.

This was the mid-60s. The time when people were taking it to the streets. Cesar Chavez, antiwar protests, civil rights demonstrations, the Chicano movement, even the 6 o’clock news stirred my generation.

I was proud to be what I was and the Chicano movement hit me at the perfect time. I wanted to speak Spanish. I wanted to talk to my grandmother and my aunts and uncles. Eventually I had taken enough Spanish classes to have it as a minor. I kept taking more classes and then it became my major. Even now in my shyness I still have difficulties speaking in either language.




This night time passing,

This darkened dome that reigns upon us all

in our hour of fear,

This nightly milling of the stars,

Showers down upon us its blessed meteors of darkness,

moistens the sighted eye

and brings rest to the lidded redness.


This ghostly passing,

this darkened dimmed Iris

breathes welcome,

breathes welcome to the great and silent shadows.


This nocturnal passing that shields us from the sun,

Bids is welcome, safe harbour,

Safe entry into the hollows of wondrous dreams.


This is the time of darkness.

It is the time to drift into the heart of God,

to touch briefly into the meaning,

into the timeless,

until the dawning unravels in a splash of brilliant rays,

until the dawning conquers.


This is the time to settle among the night sounds,

to utter the most ancient prayer:


One more, one more.

This time.

This is the time,

Let there be

one more day.

Let the morning

bring surprise.

Let the sun glow upon us

one more,

one more time.





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Star Watch

In the Imperial Valley, my father, and I suppose many other people, stepped outside to enjoy the cooler evening air of a hot summer night. I was just a toddler but I remember. He would stand or sit on the front porch. I guess I followed him around like a puppy. He would light his pipe or roll a cigarette and count the stars until he was too drowsy to stay awake.
I wondered as I looked up at him, (and to) him, what was he thinking? He had lots of things to worry about. My mama was in the hospital with TB, fighting for her life. Sometimes he would come home from work and find the door wide open and nobody home, including myself.
Our family was falling apart and it must have been too much for him. Eventually he took us to our godparents. My two sisters and I went to Port Hueneme, CA to stay with my aunt and uncle. My brother went to stay with our grandmother in Oxnard, CA. My father stayed behind and worked. He spent everything he earned on paying the hospital bills.
Maybe he was hoping that the Great One Who Created Us All was in the skies place listening to his prayers.


Sir Walter Raleigh in the Southern Sky

I stay up late and wake up early
The evening settles across the sky
It spreads out like a blanket,
As I sit here by my screen.

I see the night fall, I see my father
when I was small and
sheltered from the pain.
We were standing on our porch steps,
I was looking at his silhouette.

What must be the thoughts he was thinking?
I couldn’t tell out there in the dark.
The desert crickets began their chirping.
They were some where I could not see.
The Milky Way never seemed brighter
As I stood there by his side.

He lights his pipe
I can see it glowing.
It seems to help him think.
The heat of summer
seems to linger
Though the sun has long since gone.

The neighbors with their windows open.
I can hear their living sounds.
My brother sits inside reading
The night time chores have all been done.

Then my father starts to tell me
Where Orion rests tonight.
He moves across the southern skyways.
He fades away when the sun comes to rise.
Find him again tomorrow evening
and you’ll never be lost.

What was in his head? What was he thinking?
As we shared that silent time.
Sir Walter Raleigh filled his pipe bowl
I can smell it even now.

Back inside he tucks me in,
my big brother deep in sleep.
He makes his way to his lonely bedroom
And says “Good night” to the empty side.

San Jose, CA

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I was a poor student in high school. By that I mean my grades were not all that good. I tried and I studied. I was not very good at note taking, and I hated reading. My father was always disappointed when I showed him my report cards. My teachers must’ve been kind to me when they gave me C’s.

Something strange and wonderful happened in my junior year of high school. I had a teacher who actually cared about his students. His name was Mr. Bonfilio. He was my biology teacher. The class required of us to read the textbook. That seems like an obvious thing but the book was thick and heavy, the type was small, and I had to do all that reading by the next day.

In addition to that we had to take notes from things that he wrote on the chalkboard. “Mr. B” came up to me one day after noticing how terribly I did the note taking.

“Do you need glasses?” He asked me. “You seem to be a bright young man but your grades are not reflecting that.”

I had that sensation that I jumped, out of an airplane without a parachute. I felt myself rushing to the ground. In an instant the truth of it came to me. Both my parents, my two sisters, my brother, all wore glasses and I was the only one who didn’t.

Right away he sent me to the nurse’s office. In those days each school actually had a full-time nurse. She wasted no time in setting up the eye chart. I couldn’t even see the eye chart. She wrote a note to my parents making it sound official, to get my eyes checked right away.

At the doctor’s office my mom chose a really unattractive pair for me. I hated them. I felt that I looked like a doofus. The ones I really wanted were too expensive she said. I didn’t want to look like a doofus so I only wore them when I was in class. I was really happy when they finally broke. I was then able to get a better looking pair.

The results were amazing. I was able to see the board. For the first time I saw what my teachers and friends really looked like. More importantly, my grades improved.

Then something else happened, I started to like reading. I loved the smell of new books. I liked Jack London so I tried reading everything he wrote. Many of his stories were over my head, by that I mean I didn’t understand them. I was still a boy. I knew Jack London lived in the Bay Area.

John Steinbeck wrote about the dust bowl, Monterey Peninsula, Salinas Valley. I thought it was amazing how he could make characters come alive in my mind. I tried reading everything he wrote.

I started reading the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. President Kennedy enjoyed reading them and made them popular. I read all of them. The books flooded in and piled on top of my desk. I couldn’t wait to turn the next page. I read the Three Musketeers and I didn’t want the story to end so I read more books by Dumas. I loved the stories by James Fennimore Cooper. I would read late into the night and fall asleep reading. I would even dream that I was reading. I was asleep but I dreamt that I was still reading, pages scrolled down before my eyes.

I knew then that I wanted to be a writer myself. That was such a terribly difficult threshold to cross. Somehow and I haven’t quite figured it out yet, how my self-esteem was destroyed. It did not help me at all when my feelings of depression went into a tailspin. That thought, that desire to write stayed within me and continues to this hour.


Wednesday Evening

The night sounds,

a single engine aloft,

the glow from the street lamps

dances through the undulating leaves.

A small circle brightens my pages.

I am in the shadows of my bedroom

and reading about Madame Bovary.

A night sound, and

I awaken from my trance

and examine on the ledges

other leaves that are me.

Henry Adams is there, still learning.

Bless me Ultima is a tale I wish I had written.

El Cid with sword in hand leads his people

in waging righteous war.

Balzac’s candle waxes and wanes,

while Azuela is trapped in his memories.

Pío breathes in solitude.

The Leatherstocking crosses the plain

while California burns.

Friday lends a hand

as D’Artagnan sips champagne.

Homer holds a place of honor,

next to Hoyle.

D.H. continues his human quest,

as Mr. London walks through Wolf House, head bowed.

The Third Reich haunts our collective guilt,

As the Admiral’s ships seek but never find.

Thornton Wilder will never grow old.


Thursday Morning

Tonight, as the cold seeps through the window,

as the sound of trucks from the highway fade away,

as the patter of the raindrops land softly on my window

like the ticking of my clock,

and as the smell of night ladens my eyelids,

I’ll awaken from my comfort and feel the winter disappear.

And I’ll curse myself for resting so peacefully

in the warmth of my words.



good night Madame Bovary,

I am looking for a home as well,

although mine is elsewhere,

yours is next to Dr. No.



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