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.







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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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The Spider


I was doodling with my compass when I came up with this design. My wife saw it and said it reminded her of a spider. So, I went with that for a title. I like the design so far. I decided to build it.


My work table already had another design on it. I did not want to erase it. I might want to use it again.


I bought me a new board to plan the design full scale. I need to know how long each piece of steel needs to be. Although the design is based on a circle I need to draw a square, then find the center of the square.


X marks the spot. Now I can make a circle. I don’t have a compass that can make a circle with a 36 inch diameter.


I am going to make a circle the old fashion way, as old as the first man ever who thought about circles. I am tapping a nail in the center of the square.


I tied a slip knot around the nail.


I have a pencil tied to the other end.


I pull tightly on the thong and start drawing the circle.


I am going to fit my design into this circle. I still don’t know if the final outcome will resemble the drawing. It usually doesn’t happen that way.


I am drawing it in by hand.


From one end to the other measures 40 inches. The “rose” part will be 4 inches on both ends. That’s an extra 4 inches on each end for a total of 48 inches. I won’t know if that is the right length until I make it and bend it into the shape I want.

it is time to hammer each piece in the shape. I do not have an anvil. Instead I use a piece of real his heavy service most of my hammering needs.

It looks like the 48 inches length is going to work.


I am not sure of the length for the second piece. It looks good so far.

I am roughing out the third piece. Then the 4th.



As I’m adding more pieces I am comparing them with my drawing.


Now I have all the pieces together. It’s a little different than my original drawing.


You can see in the center I have used a piece of soapstone to keep them all centered.


it is time to complete each iron rose before final assembly.


I precut all the pieces that I’m going to need.

This is a rivet. These have been used for many centuries to bind pieces of steel together.


the center punch makes it dent in the steel. When I drill a hole the dent keeps the Drill bit from sliding around.


The rivet expands when it is hammered on, and holds the pieces tightly together.


No two pieces will ever be the same. There are too many variables. That is why trying to make a duplicate of one side is very difficult.




It took me about 12 weeks to get to the final project. The final project turned out a little different. Highlight the changes that I made. They seem more graceful to me.


The spider is currently on display at the Red Berry Coffee Bar on Main Street in Los Altos, California through February 2018.











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Graduation Day by Carlos Najera

It was here at last. June 1923. Graduation day at the Haydock Grammar School here in Oxnard. I went to school on that day wearing my best, that is to say, I wore what I wore every day, an old threadbare shirt and worn-out knee pants, no shoes. 


 In the afternoon the principal came to our classroom and he gave us the worst scolding that we had ever received. “. . . . I don’t know why you girls are even here! You’re just going to get married and have babies. And you! Young men, unless you have rich daddies you’re just going to work every day until you drop dead from exhaustion. Find work at the factory. Work for the railroad. Work on the farms. If you can’t do that, get out town because there is nothing else here you can do.”

 He made us line up at the front of the class then he passed out the diplomas.  “Here! Here! Here!” He said as he shoved them into our hands. “Now try not to mess up the rest of your lives!” Then he rushed out of the room.

Boy! I sure was glad I had a rich daddy! Oh! Wait a minute . . . .


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1956 by Joseph and Carlos Najera

Tuberculosis took nearly ten years away from us.  As a family we were falling apart and growing more distant.  TB is a terrible disease. We thought the doctors had it under control, but it came back, she had a relapse and she was back in the ward.

I would come home from work and find an empty house, the front door wide open.  They were all gone, Carlitos, Teresa, Xotchi, even Joe.  He was only seven, and nobody knew where he was.

I worked in the Imperial Valley. Two hundred miles away Christi lay in her hospital bed at the Maryknoll Hospital in Monrovia.


Xotchl, Teresa, and Joe were even farther away in Port Hueneme with their Godparents.


That’s Christi on the left, her sister Catherine in the middle, and sister Emily. Carlitos, the Boy, was in Oxnard being raised by the sisters and their mother.    Tuberculosis took nearly ten years away from the life of our family.  It also took her lung. The surgery was a success but it left her with only one lung. The remaining lung was infected also but medication kept it under control.

This wasn’t good. It wasn’t right. I wanted my family back. I wanted the six of us to be a family again and I knew it wasn’t going to happen here in the Imperial Valley.

Oxnard had not changed much. It still had little to offer. There was work at the Naval Base.  There was plenty of work in the fields. Truck driving was also a possibility. I was so miserable growing up there that I did not want to put my children through all the racism and prejudice that still lingered there.

I remembered the Bay Area. Stanford, San Jose State, San Francisco State, University of San Francisco, Berkeley, Hayward State, University of the Pacific, UC Davis, University of Santa Clara were all within driving distance. San Jose also had a city college right there in town.

Lockheed, General Electric, Westinghouse, IBM, and many other companies were established there.  I wanted to go up there and find out if the Bay Area was actually as good it sounded.  I could not leave the kids alone again, so once again I packed them up and took them back to Oxnard.  My wife’s sisters would take care of them while I went up North.

I was a machine designer. There was plenty of opportunities there for me and I finally found employment at Food Machinery Corporation. It later became known as FMC.  They were famous for making farm machinery like tractors.  One division made tanks for the military.  They also made complicated machinery for processing food.

When you go to a restaurant for breakfast and open those little containers that hold jelly for your toast, I was one of the original designers of that machine.  I also help design the machinery that the Post Office uses to process the mail.  One of my last projects was involved in purifying sewage water to make it drinkable again.

Things happened pretty fast after this.  Christi had an operation.  The doctors removed her sickly lung.  I went back to El Centro and sold our house.  I went back to Oxnard and gathered my wife and children.  She was still weak from the operation.  We were a family again.  Highway 101 North, and we were family again.






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The Graduate by Joseph and Carlos Najera

I made it. I graduated from Oxnard High, Class of 1927. It was a proud moment for my mama. She couldn’t stop crying.

I didn’t think it was such a big deal, but looking back, the teachers thought I was retarded because I didn’t know the language. Then, once they figured out that I wasn’t retarded, they still didn’t like me because of who I am. For the most part they didn’t teach me anything. They just wanted me to sit quietly and not be a bother.

It was the times, I know that. If you were Mexican, you didn’t need to learn. Your future was out there, working in the fields. It wasn’t right. I knew then and I know it now, so I studied. I learned, everything the school system had to offer. I read most of the books in the Oxnard Public Library and I kept on reading, even to this day. It wasn’t that great a fete, back then, in an age before television and affordable radios.

My mama saw how hard everyone worked, John, all his people, all the field workers in the county. She didn’t want that for me, and I was determined not to disappoint her.



By now my brother Roberto was working in Calexico. He worked for the lumber company and said there were opportunities there for me.  I shook the dust off my shoes and made my way down south.

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The Little Flower by Carlos Najera

Xochitl August 24, 1935 was the day our first born daughter came into this world. That’s her on the left Margaret Christina. That’s not what I called her. To me she was the beautiful little flower and I called her that, the Aztec way, Xochitl. We pronounced her name “So Chee.”

Sometimes this world isn’t fair to the young and innocent. When my wife Christi became ill with TB, Xochitl was the one who took over her mother’s duties and responsibilities around the house. She did the cooking and took care of her two brothers and sister.

She did that until my broken heart couldn’t take it anymore.

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