Free Food and The Cold Walk by Carlos Najera

Our old house was on C Street near Magnolia. I am not sure that it actually qualified as a house. A better word would be to call it a shack. It had a frame with 1 x 12 planks for the walls. Strips of wood covered the cracks or spaces that were in between the planks. It had no sheetrock or plaster.

Our house consisted of a kitchen and dining area, a bedroom for my parents, and another bedroom for the rest of us. My sisters slept in one bed, my brothers Frank and Henry slept together, and after my older brother Bobby left home, I had our bed all to myself.

Our outhouse was outside  in our backyard. Every once in a while John would dig a new hole and move it. We did have running water, but it too was outside and it was usually my job to fill a bucket and bring it in.

The city had electricity and many houses were wired for it, but for a long time we relied on kerosene to light our house. We rarely stayed up late. Kerosene was an expense and our family needed to be thrifty with every penny we had. Even now in my old age I go to bed when it is dark and wake up when it is light.

When we could afford it, mama would send me downtown to the feed and seed  warehouse, that was the store where farmers went for their supplies. Nowadays in our modern times we call them hardware stores.

It was still early if you went by the clock, but it was dark and gloomy outside. The late afternoon sun was hidden by a thick fog bank that covered the coast. I walked the few blocks to the downtown area. All I had to warm me was an old sweater that was mostly full of holes. It was Bobby’s when he was still at home. It has been a couple of years since he went off on his own, plenty of time for the moths to have a grand old time eating it up.

I was beginning to feel the chill of that November afternoon as I walked inside the store with my can. I gave the man the handful of coins my mama handed me and he filled up my can with the kerosene.

On my way back home I could smell pork chops that someone was cooking for dinner. I could tell by the wonderful smells what everyone was having that night. I also knew what my mama was cooking, frijole beans with verdulagas on the side.


Sometimes I have seen verdulagas in the markets especially in the local stores that served mainly the Mexican people. In our town it grows like a weed. John and I and the girls, went around the empty lots and picked bunches of it for dinner. Free food!

I remember stopping in front of one house on the way home. It was dark by now. The people left their curtains open. The inside of the house was bright with their electric lights. They had a nice fire glowing in their fireplace.  The father and his children were sitting in front of the fire. I stood outside looking in and shivering with the can of kerosene in my hand.  I stood there until the chill finally got to me and made it back home to the kitchen that was lit by a candle.

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The Serenade by Carlos Najera

One late afternoon Willie Vasquez, John’s brother in law, dropped by to visit us. He was one of the few people in town who owned an automobile, he had an Overland and he was very proud of it.


John, among his many other gifts, played the fiddle, my brother Robert played the guitar, and Willie sang. Willie must have been happy to sing because he always smiled when he sang his songs, even the sad ones. The three of them played a couple of tunes in our garden. Then Willie’s eyes lit up above his huge grin.

“Hey guys! Let’s go and serenade the Duartes.”

I wanted to go but John said no.  I had to go to school in the morning. Willie was a very kind and understanding man. He saw my desire and enthusiasm so he insisted that I go along.

“Maybe he will learn how to carry a tune by joining us.”

It was just getting dark when we left our house, we drove in Willie’s car to the Duarte farm north west of town.   Their house was dark when we arrived there. They were already in bed. That did not discourage Willie and the Trio. They started the serenade.

The Duartes got out of bed, lit their oil lamps, and opened the front door. They did not seem annoyed at us waking them up, instead they invited us in.

Mrs. Duarte made coffee and baked a cake, while the Trio played a few tunes.  “Turkey in the Straw” was very popular with them, they played it twice.

Mr. Duarte suggested that we all go and serenade his neighbor. Nobody said no, so he hitched up his buggy then we started out.    The same thing happened at his neighbor’s.    This continued on until  dawn when we arrived at the nearby town of Somis.   There the parade had become quite large and the trio now consisted of about ten men. That is not counting their wives and children.

The lady of the house insisted on serving breakfast to everyone. Their cow was milked and the fresh eggs were gathered.  That old fashion country breakfast was really something. The lady served along with the fresh eggs, hash browns, home cured ham, hot biscuits, homemade jelly and coffee.

When the breakfast was over the party broke up and everyone went home to do the chores and go to work.

As fun as it was, and despite being tired and sleepy from staying up all night, I still had to go to school.

Thank you Uncle Willie. I still cannot sing, but that is a night I will always remember.

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The Land of Calafia by Joseph Najera

 September 28, 1542, was the day Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo entered San Diego Bay. On that day they became the first Europeans to set foot on the California shores.

It was not until 1769 that the Spanish decided to settle there permanently. This is when we hear of Father Junipero Serra and his quest to establish a series of missions.

The plan was to establish their Spanish presence and to “civilize” the local people and convert them to Christianity. The series of missions, presidios and pueblos extended from San Diego to north of San Francisco, at Sonoma.

 Almost at the same time, Emperor Peter the Great ordered the exploration of the North Pacific. They over hunted their own country of fur bearing animals. Peter the Great looked to the Pacific Northwest as a new source.  

It was a conflict in the making.  The United States was not even a country, yet the people on the east coast were already taking an interest in the west coast. 

   Welcome to the whirlwind.


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Halloween by Carlos Najera

   The first Halloween Day that I experienced was very confusing to me. The people of the town gathered around the Plaza. Everyone there was having a fun time.

   Bobby took me there to see what was going on. The girls had to stay home. It just wasn’t proper for them to go out at night.

   Some farmers brought their wagons stacked with hay. People jumped on and then they started singing as the wagon went around town. I didn’t know any of the songs. I couldn’t sing anyways, but it really looked like fun.

   There were tubs filled with water with apples floating in there. I recognized some of my school mates sticking their face in the tubs trying to get a bite of the apple. I liked apples. I didn’t want to get wet, didn’t want to stick my face in a tub full of slobber.

   The cake walk looked like fun, but that cost money, so  . . .

   The next morning I woke up as usual and stepped outside to use the “Casita” when I noticed something strange. Across the street the neighbors had a large barn.    


   I saw a spring wagon on top of the roof of that barn. I kept wondering how it got there and why it was there.

   A few years later some guys from Santa Paula came by and stole all the outhouses. They stacked them up down town.


   “Silly rabbit, tricks are for . . .”

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The Story of Nena by Carlos Najera

I was five years old.  El Paso del Norte was by now a distant memory. The Imperial Valley was such a long way from here.

We now lived in Oxnard in a Mexican neighborhood. The people here were descendants of the Spanish, Sonoran colonizers and were called People of the Country. Many lived on the farms or in the original township of El Rio.

I say original because El Rio was there before Oxnard was established, a place by the river crossing of the Santa Clara River and the King’s Highway, El Camino Real. It was established by Simon Cohn in 1875. He called his place New Jerusalem. It consisted of a general store, corral, and eventually a post office. Over time the place was called El Rio because, well, that is where it was. Oxnard was established a short distance away and became the dominant city, but that is another story.

All my life I have awakened before sunrise and have gone out to inspect the world. One day I was walking down the street very early. Two boys lived in the next block. They were bigger than me and they enjoyed knocking me down and kicking me in the ribs. I did not enjoy that a bit.

As I said, I was walking down the street, very peaceful and minding my own business when I heard the boys from the next block running after me and yelling threats.

Since I knew what was going to happen next, I started running. I do not know how it happened but I found myself running through a strange neighborhood and those guys were catching up to me.

I heard a voice that said, “Hurry! Run this way!”  I did not see anyone except a dragonfly, and she was saying, “Hurry! Run this way!”  She was flying in front of me. She guided me through a door in a wall.

We went in but the boys could not find the door, so they did not enter. I could see and hear them but they could not see nor hear me. After we entered through the door we left the boys outside of the wall.

The dragonfly sat upon my hand. I took a closer look. I could see that it was not really a dragonfly. She was a tiny, graceful and delicate creature with a human shape. She was a fairy!

“This is the fairy garden, I live here sometimes.”  She said. “I like the rivers. I love the water. It reminds me of me homeland, the Green Isle.”

She spoke with a strange accent, but everyone around here had an accent.

She sat on my hand and guided me along a path. It was very beautiful here. There were many trees and flowers. We climbed a hill and I rested against a big rock near a river of clear water. It was then I noticed, “How is it that I climbed a hill when this valley is a flat plain?”

Other fairies were flying all around me. So many, all of a different color.

“Hi! Boy!” They said in their sweet gentle voices. I could see the smiles on their transparent faces.

“Hi! Carlitos! Hi! Little Charlie!” They knew my real name and my new American name.

I leaned over a brook to get a drink of water. It was clear and sweet and each time I took a drink it tasted like a different kind of sweetness.

The birds and the fairies sang throughout the day. Sometimes they sang together their gentle fairy songs.

“This place is not me home, but it will do until I find me destiny.”

“Destiny?” I asked.

“Destiny is the place where we are meant to be.”

“Do I have a Destiny?”

“Aye me laddie. It will take thine entire lifetime to seek and find Her.”

A tear fell from her eye. “She is elusive. Not everyone can nor will find theirs.”

Nena sat on my hand.  A tiny tear fell on my palm.

“That tear is me pledge to you. I have been with you since you came into the worl’. I was dancin’ on the big river when I heard your Mum cry out. I had to see. Such a wee child, and then they gave yee the name, the name of another lad I once knew many years ago. I have followed ever since and I promised me self to keep yee safe.”

I remembered the fighting in the street back in Ciudad Juarez. There was a flash of light that made me turn my head.

“Aye! Tha’ was me, and there were many another times.”

“I can hear yur voice and yee can hear mine. I will ne’er be far from yee. That is all yee need to know.

The magical music I heard was like a lullaby and soon I fell asleep. I do not know how long I slept but when I awoke I was lying on our front porch.

I am an old man telling you this, and I do not know when my time will come.  I have never really seen her since that day, but I know she has never been far away.



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The VCR by Carlos Najera

We had two railroads running through our County.

The Southern Pacific passed through our town coming from Los Angeles on its way to San Francisco and back. It had a whistle and a Bell and a cow catcher in front. Each one of these locomotive engines had its own distinct sound.

After a while I was able to tell them apart as easily as I could identify my friends and neighbors in town. I could tell which locomotive it was without even looking. I even knew who the engineer and the conductors were on each train.


The local railroad was called the Ventura County Railroad. They carried passengers to Port Hueneme and back. They also ran lines to the sugar the factory and to some of the other farms and orchards. There were many citrus orchards and they ran lines to the packing houses.


I was also able to tell the time by the sounds of the trains. Who needs a watch?





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The First Families by Carlos Najera

It wasn’t the same as before, living so close to the Pacific Ocean. It never got hot here. Even warm summer days were never as hot as Ciudad Juarez or the Imperial Valley. Those warm summer days led to completely comfortable cool summer evenings. I will pick another time to remember the Santa Ana winds or the bone chilling foggy nights.

During our first year so my mama tried to keep the same family routines we always had. We got up with the sun, and went to sleep with the dark. Between those two times was work. Sundays were the exception. They were a day for church, a day of rest.

Before sleep Mama would gather us on the porch, make us say our prayers for the night, and then she would tell us a story. Those were the days before everybody had electricity in their homes and using the  Kerosene lamps were expensive.

Sometimes she would talk about her Madrid family who lived on the banks of el Rio Grande. Sometimes she would tell us of her Lucero family from Doña Ana County and Mesilla, New Mexico. Both families, the Madrids and the Luceros descended from the original families that settled New Mexico in 1598.  I know I met some of them, my cousins, aunts and uncles, but I was too young. I wish I got to know them better.

first families

I drifted into sleep thinking about those people of long ago. Way back then, centuries past, they were already a part of my life.

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