Matilija Creek by Carlos Najera

   The name comes from the Chumash people. I do not know what it means but this creek put food on our table many times, especially when our cupboards were bare and the paychecks were far apart.

   It was never a secret place. It is located above the town, I guess over time it’s become a city, of Ojai. There are a lot of farms and orchards up there. I say up there because it is up the side of the mountains that surround Ventura County. Avocados grow well there.

   The farmers had stands by the highway and sold many varieties of avocados. They grow in different sizes. I was particularly fond of the avocados that were round and maybe a little smaller than a baseball.

   Matilija Creek is too small to be called a river or even a stream. It runs all year round draining the water from mountains above. It is also a wonderful home for the native trout.

   I did not like to fish but I went with the cousins on many occasions. I had to help put food on the table. John was getting old, or so he said, and he did not come along.

   “I’m too tired. I have been working all week.” He would say. I didn’t think he was that old but it’s true he worked hard so I’ll give him that one.

  One of John’s cousins was named Jose Luis. Everybody called him Joe Lou-ee. He had an old flatbed truck that he used for work and I would pile on the back with my cousins.

   We would leave about an hour before sun up. It was cold back there so we bundled up together sharing a blanket. Actually the truck was open in the cab as well. It had no doors so it also had no windows.  Jose Luis and his son were bundled up as well. Back then, those old cars and trucks did not have heaters. Windshield wipers was another option.

   Ojai was about 30 miles away on Highway 33. It was about daylight by the time we arrived at the creek. José Luis had the creel. It had a strap that he slung over his shoulder.

    That was all we needed. I had a folding knife in my pocket. It was still cold but the sun was high enough to give us light to see. We were at the creek but that was not where we were going to fish.

   José Luis led the way. My other two cousins and I got in line and followed. The trail was narrow. We walked for about 50 yards, then we began to jog. A half-hour later we found our spot.

   None of us had a fishing pole. We had to find a branch and make one. I found a long thin branch, about 4 feet long. I use my knife to trim away the small branches and I was ready to go.

   Joe Louis gave me a length of string and a small hook. He also handed me a worm to use for bait. This is why I never liked to fish. When I put the hook into the worm it started squirming in pain. I know it was just a worm but I would imagine how I would feel if somebody stuck a fishing hook into me like that, and I didn’t like it.

   Back home waiting for breakfast was John, my mom, my sisters, my two brothers. I knew they were depending on me so I tried not to think too much about that poor little worm.

   We all caught fish right away. Going to the spot was worth the run, and worth the run back. I gave the string and the hook back to Joe Louis. We did not like to waste anything.

   We all put our fish into the creel. There was nothing left to pack. Again, we started walking and after a while we were running back to the truck. Many people fished up there but they had to run quite a distance like we did to get to the good fishing spots.

   It was easier and quicker running downhill.  It was the same for the truck. I went inside with my share of the fish. There was plenty for everybody. I caught the fish, but my mama took care of the cooking. She was pretty good at cleaning the fish, by that I mean she was fast.

   She would coat the fish in cornmeal and fry them up. We did not have lard or cooking oil available all the time. What she did do was save the bacon drippings to cook with. I know that sounds nasty by today’s modern standards, but it’s what we had and it gave the fish a delicious bacon flavor.

   I did not like doing this very often. On the other hand, going out with my cousins was always an adventure and it was full of healthy exercise as well.  The Great Depression made everybody miserable but we found a way to put some food on the table.

   Thank you Lord for the great outdoors.

  

 

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USS West Point by Carlos Najera

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Milne Bay New Guinea: (Photo provided by Harry T Wildman)

This photo is dated December 10, 1942. It also says Milne Bay. In the background are the mountains of the Owen Stanley Range. They are off the coast of Papua.

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At this time, the Japanese were in possession of the other side of the peninsula and they bombed the US forces on a daily basis. The American P38’s were waiting for them on a daily basis.

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Here she is again, coming to rest New York City. Before she was USS West Point she was known as the SS United States.

Before World War II she was an ocean liner. Today we know them as cruise ships. When World War II broke out she sailed to the shipyard at Newport News. She was converted into a troopship. In fact she became our country’s largest.

The luxury liner was originally designed for over a thousand passengers but as a troopship she would carry over 8,000 troops at a time. The ballroom was set up to sleep 545 men. The bunks were stacked five high and left 16 inches between bunks.

By 1946 the West Point made 151 trips and transported over 500,000 passengers.

After all those nautical miles and dangerous waters she survived unscathed. In 1946 she was returned to the United States Lines and became a ocean liner once more.

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This is a list of passengers assigned to the USS West Point, sailing from San Francisco to destination unknown. You can see it stated January 11, 1944. The last name visible says Olivas, Frank. My brother. He was sent to somewhere in the Pacific. He wasn’t allowed to say where he was exactly. However we have  his letters that were mailed from the Solomon Islands.

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Here he is back in Oxnard, Ca. He survived the war and returned home safely. He fell in love, married, had a child. He was well on his way to living a good life until a car accident took him away in 1953.

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The Berryessa Adobe

 

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This simple home is located at 373 Jefferson St. near downtown Santa Clara. It is the oldest home in the city. It is also one of the last Adobe buildings to remain here in the Santa Clara Valley.

It was built in the 1840s by Juan Chrisostomo Galindo and has been home to many generations of families through the years.

The dimensions of the home are 38 x 18′. the Adobe walls were set on top of stone foundations and sealed  with plaster.

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Juan Bautista de Anza in 1775 led a group of settlers and soldiers from Mexico to establish a Presidio and two missions in what is now the San Francisco bay area. He chose Santa Clara as a location. He found plenty of water flat fertile land, and a large population of Native Americans.

Among the settlers were, Nicolas Galindo, Nicolás and his sister Ysabel Berryessa. Their descendants built this Adobe home.

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The city of Santa Clara restored this historic building. They used the traditional methods and research and used the original materials. This building is in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by more modern family homes. It is not difficult to find but there are no large signs once you arrive there.

There is a pleasant garden behind the house. At the time I was there it was closed to the public.

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In front of that tree I found this marker.  “City of Santa Clara heritage tree.” It is an olive tree and it must be quite old. It provides shade and is still producing olives.

I would like to return and visit here again. What historic places are near your home?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On a Mission by Carlos and Joseph Najera

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In the late 1700s the Spanish crown was aware of the vulnerability of the Northwest Pacific Coast. Russian hunters and explorers are settling in Alaska and moving down the coast in search of furs and places to establish settlements. The Pacific West Coast was unexplored and unsettled by the Europeans.

In an effort to establish her presence the Spanish crown ordered the establishment of a series of missions. The goal would be to spread Christianity, establish commerce, and settle the land.

Father Junipero Serra was chosen to undertake this task he began what would turn out to be a series of 21 missions in what is now California.  Mission San Carlos Borromeo was founded on June 3, 1775 by him. The original location was in Monterey, on the other side of the peninsula.

The missionaries there decided that the native people, the Costanoan, and the Esselen, would be more comfortable away from the soldiers Monterey and built their mission settlement in what became the town of Carmel.

Father Serra loved this mission. He would spend the rest of his life devoted to God’s work and the missions, and when his life ended he was buried there.

Through the years the mission system was shut down. The church properties were sold off or just abandoned.   After many years of neglect most of the missions were in ruins.

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It is our good fortune that people felt the need to preserve his wonderful structures. Very little was left of mission San Carlos de Borromeo. Through funding in dedicated workers the mission was again sparkles in the sun.

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Today it is now an active Roman Catholic Church. It has a parochial school, a museum. It offers many social events such as weddings.

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Here, Christina I are sitting in front of a cork tree. It is a variety of oak. Winemakers use the bark by shaping it into cylinders and sealing bottles of wine. We are outside the front of the church itself waiting for a wedding to begin.

Christie is feeling better now. We were now settled into our home in Santa Clara. The weather there is not nearly as extreme as the Imperial Valley. She seems to have all her strength and energy. She has lots of energy to go shopping, and all the other things that needs to be done around the house. Joe was still a boy and he keeps finding new ways of getting into mischief. Christie even has the energy to deal with him.

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Here is my boy Joe. Sitting at the same tree many years after Christie and I sat there that wedding day. The cork tree still alive but it doesn’t look healthy anymore. I am hoping it can be saved.

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A little to the right of the cork tree is this statue of Father Serra. The shadow of the tree is at the bottom of the picture.

The reason we are sitting there by that cork tree in 1963 is a happy one. One of our nieces was getting married. One of Christie’s brothers, Melecio, has one daughter and for this occasion we and many other family members have come to their town.

Melecio lives in Monterey. He works nearby as a teacher. They have arranged for the wedding to be at the Mission. It is a pretty place to visit and a wonderful place to hold a wedding.

We lived in the city of Santa Clara at the time. It was around 80 miles away from us. The Monterey Peninsula is a pretty place. It has a lot of history and, a lot of things to see. The Monterey Bay is part of the attraction so we go there often.

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This is Christie’s sister Manuela and her husband Max. This picture of them was taken at the same occasion. They are in another part of mission grounds. They were godparents Joe and the girls. Both of us appreciate the sacrifices they made.   For many years Max worked at the naval base in Port Hueneme and also at the naval base at Point Mugu.
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Here is the happy bride, Artemis Ledesma soon to be Mrs. William Warren.

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There is the happy couple next to both their mothers. There is so much promise on a wedding day. There is so much to look forward to, all of it seems good on your wedding day. Family members I haven’t seen in years showed up. I was happy to see them spend some time catching up. Some of those good folks I never saw again. That’s part of it too, good and the bad of it, looking forward to things that come.

Monterey and the surrounding areas and valleys had a powerful connection to us, Christie and I. It was those same feelings every time we came to Monterey, even if it was for a day. Being this close to the water always felt clean. The air was clean and the ocean breeze at times was cold but was always refreshing.

We love driving through the Seventeen Mile Drive, walking down Cannery Row. Fisherman’s Wharf held many attractions, many of which included fresh fish. Downtown Monterey preserved its old buildings and kept its charm. Many artists, writers, and other famous people made their homes around here.

Took us over 10 years after the wedding to finally decide to live here. Christie and I found a house in Pacific Grove. It was near the water and across the street from a golf course. When we first saw it we knew we wanted to live there. I wish I had pictures of that house.

 

 

 

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Dust of the Moon by Carlos Leonardo Najera de Madrid

My father spent his last days keeping a record of his life. He wrote about his beginnings and his struggles through each phase of his life.

He was born in 1908. Gas engines and automobiles were still a novelty. People walked or rode horses or mules. Most people never traveled more than a few miles from where they born.

His time saw the beginning of flight, radio waves, and telephones.

He witnessed the terrible World Wars, atomic bombs, the Cold War, the Moon landing.

These things and his personal struggles to survive his time, led him to bring pen to paper.

He left his writings to me. This was my inheritance. He gave his words to me. He told me to make them mine.

For the past six years. I have been editing his writings. I have shared them by posting them through WordPress.

I published them recently through Amazon Books. Now his first volume is available in book form as well as Kindle Book.  You may click the link at the top of the page.
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I am currently working on the next volume of writings, which will be available soon.

 

Other books by Joseph Nájera:

  • Nena the Fairy and the Iron Rose
  • The Last Smoke of Andrew Fitzpatrick
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The Big Sleep

I don’t remember the exact moment when I started getting headaches. My muscles started getting sore for no apparent reason. Again, for no apparent reason I was getting nauseous. I started getting fever. And then I don’t remember the rest.

It was much later that I learned that I succumbed to Encephalitis Lethargica. It is also known as Sleeping Sickness.

Like I said I don’t remember. The doctor said I was asleep and awake at the same time. It wasn’t exactly a coma but I was definitely out of it. I later read in newspaper article about a woman who was asleep like that for over 80 years, before she woke up. Many people never wake up. They cannot move their muscles. I am told that some of these people even though they could move were aware of everything that was happening around them.

My wife Christi told me that right after I woke up, two months later, I didn’t know who she was. I wasn’t able to recognize her. Then she told me I didn’t know who I was.

“Who are you?” I asked her.  “Where am I?”

When Christi told me that I was in the hospital in Oxnard, I said, “How did I get here? I am the Duke of Kent. I live in England.”  It took a while to get the cobwebs out of my head and remember who I was again.

England?

 

 

 

 

 

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Men to Match My . . . (Sam Walter Foss)

   One evening when it was story time, we were sitting outside in the twilight shadows.  All of us were there, my mom, John, Bobby, Natalia, and Virginia.  John spoke up.  Usually he let my mama do the storytelling, she had a lot of good ones.

   “Honey, tell us that story about the boy and the giant.”  John asked.  My mom looked confused for a moment and then she understood.

   “Once upon a time in a place across the ocean, there lived a giant who wanted to kill everybody in the next kingdom. He was so big that he did not fit in the bathtub. His hair was long and stringy because no one was tall enough to cut it. His beard reached below his knees and he was so big that birds made their nests in it. This giant was so smelly that people knew he was coming when he was still many miles away.”

   “He said to the good king, ‘I’ll fight your army all by myself! And then I will have your little babies for dinner.’  The King and everyone else were frightened.”

   In my imagination I could almost see that happening. What was the king going to do? What were the people going to do? I had to wait for the answer.

   “All the kings’ soldiers were too frightened to attack the giant. But there was this one little boy went before the king said “I will fight him. I will take a bath first and then he won’t be able to find me.”

   “The King looked down at him and thought about his plan. He was surprised that nobody had thought of this before.”

   “When his advisers told him how silly this plan was, he got mad at them. At least he came up with a plan. So he told the boy to go take a bath then fight the giant.”

  “When the fateful day arrived, the boy walked alone into the battlefield. The giant saw him and started laughing. He kept looking at the little boy and was laughing louder and louder. He laughed so loud that the sides of the mountain started tumbling down. A great big boulder landed on his head and killed him dead.”

   “And that is why we take a bath every Saturday night.”

 

   There was a lesson hidden deep inside my mother’s story. I am not sure what the lesson was because I never saw any giants here in California.

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