Viva La, Y’all!

(It’s that time of year again, and if you didn’t read this before, here’s what all the Viva Las!!! are all about…)

It’s Fiesta again in Santa Barbara, and if you don’t know about our fair city’s yearly celebration, let me fill you in:  It’s a five-day-all-you-can-drink non-stop party with sombreros.  There’s a parade (filled with horses), lots of alcohol (mostly tequila and cervesa (beer), but hey, in a pinch even Baily’s Irish Cream will do) and so much Spanish-style dancing in colorful costumes you’ll think you wandered on to the set of “Zorro.”

Today’s Fiesta, also called “Old Spanish Days,” was originally started by the local Poole-Verhelle Dancers in 1922.  Dancing for personal enjoyment and community entertainment eventually evolved into big tourist business known as La Fiesta.  Here’s a photo of that original group:

Fiesta-1923

My grandfather is supposed to be somewhere in that photo.  But for the life of me, I don’t see him anywhere – maybe he was behind the camera taking the picture.  You can see him (and my grandmother) in this photo below, all dressed up in their finest.

Bobbie & nanie Fiesta

And going back one more generation – before Fiesta became commercialized and was simply a helluva great fandango – here’s my great-grandfather.

Great-grandfather fiesta

If you’re a certain type of local, however, Fiesta time in Santa Barbara is when you abandon the town to the tourists and take off to Hawaii.  My dad and uncle always took ten days off on the dates when Fiesta would fall.  They had their own business – an ironworks/welding shop – and they’d hurry like hell to finish up their jobs, sometimes working right up to the night before Fiesta Pequena at the Mission kicked off that year’s big party.  How they managed to get all of their work done in time for their getaway was always a Fiesta miracle, and involved long hours of work, much yelling, swearing, and both brothers threatening each other with martyrdom: “I’m not going on vacation!!!” “NO, I’m not going!!!” Although their parents’ generation had started Fiesta, the two brothers hated that time of the year in their hometown. Maybe this photo had something to do with it:

Dad Fiesta

That must have been the one and only time the brothers dressed up in costumes.  Too bad because they were awfully cute hombrecitos.

In spite of the dislike the two brothers had for Old Spanish Days craziness, the love for Fiesta still beats strongly in the younger generation.  My kids always stop their own lives to return like spawning salmon to their hometown, and the sweet sounds of mariachis, and cascarones crunching against people’s heads.  If you don’t know what a cascarone is, come to Santa Barbara this weekend and we’ll show you.

Not me, of course.

I’m getting the hell out of here before the tourists take over.

(If you enjoyed reading this post and you’d like to read more by Darlene Craviotto…) 

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(Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes iBooks Store)

Some Say the R-Word, I Say Rock Star

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girl  in  grunge interiorI had a cousin named Wayne who everybody called Waynie.

No one ever referred to him as anything other than my cousin, but it was obvious that Waynie wasn’t like the rest of us.  For one thing, he didn’t dress like everybody else. Nothing seemed to match; he wore very thick lensed glasses, high-waisted pants, heavy-soled shoes; his speech was a little slurred; and I remember he was in Mr. Alvino’s “special” class in high school.

“Special Education,” my mother had explained softly, with great solemnity

I also remember Waynie smiled a lot.

He just seemed so nice.  Friendly and easy-going.  Sweet is the only word I know to describe Waynie. And even though he was older than us by at least fifteen years Waynie seemed boy-like, more like us kids in elementary school than someone who was in their 20s and already out in the world.

No one ever gave us a diagnosis of why Waynie was different; we were just told that something happened to him when he was a baby, and it affected his brain, and he was never like the rest of us after that.

Waynie was just different.

He lived with our elderly Aunt Irene in her guest house in the backyard, and he held down a little job “making things” for a “handicapped organization.”  That’s how it was explained to us.  I can’t ever remember anyone ever using the “R-Word” when they talked about Waynie.

I didn’t hear the “R-Word” until I started going to school.  And then, I’d hear it being kicked around the playground with as much ease as a dodge ball making its rounds around the blacktop.  It was the “go-to” word whenever one of us made a mistake, didn’t measure up, or just did something that fell short of what everyone else was doing, or what everyone else wanted us to be doing.

It was the worst kind of insult.

That was years ago, of course, and the world has changed since then.  But maybe not so much on the blacktops and playgrounds of the world.  The R-Word is still thrown around; I catch it at times being tossed off by one kid to another. I don’t know these kids that are using it, so I keep quiet.  And maybe that’s wrong.  Maybe that’s why the R-Word still has some life in it.  Maybe next time I hear it I should say something, and risk being called the B-Word.

I don’t often think about Waynie but he popped into my mind the other night when we were visiting a loved one at an assisted living home. The facility is filled with people on walkers or in wheelchairs, along with those who have Alzheimer’s or dementia.  The campus is absolutely beautiful – looking more like a resort than anything else. The people who live here are able to afford the steep monthly bill for such beauty, and I guess you can say, in many ways, they’re lucky.  But still, there’s a sadness here for families who come to visit, and so, dinners are oftentimes just for the residents after families have made their obligatory weekend visit and then, gratefully fled back to their own lives and their own purposes in the world. The residents dine only with themselves: table after table filled with grey-haired and stooped-over remnants of their former selves.

When we visit here, it’s hard not to be sad.

Until I look around the room and see Kyle.

The wait staff here is made up of young people – most of them high school students or recent graduates.  My husband is a teacher, and some of these young workers were  students in his English classes.  Kyle was one of those students in a class that was filled with second-language-learners, at-risk kids, and six Special Ed teens, Kyle being one of the six.  These are the kids who aren’t the easiest to reach.  A population of students that most teachers would rather not see sitting at a desk in their classroom.

But these kids, including Kyle, did just fine.

It’s hard not to think that doing just fine comes with its own rewards, confidence being one of them.  That’s what Kyle brings to the dining room of this fancy assisted living facility,  with it’s padded high-back chairs, linen-covered tables, cozy fireplace, and piped-in soft melodies of the 50s. Kyle is front and center the grand master-of-ceremony of an evening to remember.

With a smile that lights up the room just because he’s in it.

Tall and proud, sporting a tiny Clark Gable moustache, he welcomes each resident as they enter and leads them majestically to their table.  At times, offering a lady his arm – like Fred Astaire to Ginger Rodgers.  It doesn’t matter who they are or how they look, whether with an aide, a walker, or shuffling alone by themselves, Kyle is there for them.  Helping them to their seat, adding an extra chair or taking one away, making sure the water glasses are filled, the menus are in place.  And all of this is done with such charm and care. With a hello and a how are you tonight?  And when they answer he listens.

Even if the answer is lost and rambling.

Kyle listens, and nods, and smiles the most amazing of smiles.  He makes a little joke, and maybe sometimes, on a good night, they even laugh.  He knows which ones are restless and which ones are cranky.  And he gives each and every one of them whatever they need.  Patience when their mind wanders, and respect when they’re frustrated and lashing out.  He is there for them in many ways  that families are afraid to be.  He accepts each one for who they are – right now – not for who they used to be.  Kyle is fine with each and every one of them for this moment in time, this moment only.  He’s truly amazing to watch as he works the room with his charm.

Kyle’s a Rock Star.

And that’s the only R-Word that fits.

The Sweetest Avocados Aren’t For Sale

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girl  in  grunge interior

I’m not a saint.

I’m a wife and a mom, and I hate to admit I’m anything less than Mother Teresa, but yeah, self-sacrificing, stoic, patient, and charitable are not me.  I’m also a writer and maybe that’s the problem.  At our best, writers are anti-social. That’s us sitting in the farthest corner of a room at any kind of gathering that has more than one person. At our worst, we’re just downright cranky as hell.  J.D. Salinger used to lock himself away from his family while he wrote in a bunker. Only someone who isn’t a writer is shocked to hear that.  I, on the other hand, understand completely and wonder if our backyard is big enough to accommodate one.

I love my family, but I also love putting words to paper, and sometimes those two worlds collide. While I do the mandatory labor – cooking, cleaning, and laundry, I do it at the barest minimum.  I’m content being the C- student, unless we’re having company over and then, like an undergrad illicitly buying a Moby Dick essay online, I pay someone to do the cleaning for me. And as for taking care of everyone’s needs:  I nurture when it’s needed, and I hope to God it’s not needed for long.

Unfortunately, a hip operation and rehab takes months.

That’s what my dear husband went through in December, and as we are approaching February, he’s still on the mend. He’s graduated from physical therapy in the home to three days a week every week at a physical rehab center. So in addition to all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, picking up of groceries (which is a real challenge for a recovering agoraphobic terrified of Albertsons), and doctor appointments, I now have to be a chauffeur to and from physical therapy.  The only writing that’s getting done  by me are To Do lists.

Yes, I know – My dear husband is the one who is going through all of the pain from the operation and the hard work involved in getting better. I’m just the wife and caregiver. But you know how marathoners talk about “hitting the wall” at mile 20.  I hit the wall yesterday.

We had rehab yesterday and also a doctor’s appointment. That meant one hour at one location waiting in the car, and another hour at another location waiting. That was after a morning of doing my version of grocery shopping:  Quickly running into Albertson’s (at daybreak when no one is there) to grab the first eight items I saw, and then, rushing to the checkout (to avoid a panic attack), and out to the car where I then drove to Walgreens to pick up paper towels, toilet paper, milk, and cereal, before going to a little butcher shop to buy meat for the week.  Small stores and short errands are the only way I can manage grocery shopping on my own, so yep, I was ready for a nap by 1 pm.

Which is exactly the hour when we had to drive to physical therapy.

I had just enough time to pack up my iPad, research books, and work-in-progress pages before driving to the mall (taking side streets since I still don’t drive freeways) and dropping off my husband at the physical therapy place at the mall.  I had every intention of attempting an hour of responsibility-free writing, with the hope that I wasn’t too tired to nod off mid-sentence. What I needed was a strong hot cup of tea for vitality, and with that in mind, I put the car in reverse, and drove off for the exit of the mall and the closest Coffee Bean & Tea.

That’s when I saw her.

What I noticed first was the mechanized wheelchair, and the fact that it was just sitting there in the middle of the road.  Then, I noticed the plastic bags filled with God-knows-what that had fallen off of her lap and onto the ground at her feet.  I couldn’t tell how old the woman was – only that she was bending over and trying to gather up her bags, and she wasn’t having much luck at all.  She’d grab one bag, and another bag would fall, and she’d start the process all over again.  All the time while just sitting there in the middle of the road right in front of the exit of the mall.  Cars were whizzing by her, and really, I ask you:  How could I not stop?

I didn’t want to stop.  I wanted that cup of tea.  I wanted to write!  I had planned on writing.  I’m a writer – I need to write.  If I don’t write, God help you if you have the misfortune of being around me.  I’m moody.  I sulk. I get angry.  I roar. The last thing in the world I wanted was to encounter a woman in her late 60s (being closer now I could tell this) who was juggling her personal belongings in shopping bags while sitting in a broken down wheelchair.  The exit was just in front of me.  All I had to do was do as the other cars were doing – drive around her.  It would have been so simple.  Just pass her by, and then, I could have my day back.

“Can I help you with something?”

I asked her, after rolling down the window in a momentary lapse of self-survival.

Any decent person might have answered me, “No, I’m fine.  Go do some writing, why don’t you? You look like you might be a writer – a damn fine one too!  Go put those words of yours on paper, not just for you, but for all of mankind.”

But no, this woman didn’t say that to me.  She had the audacity to say, “I think I do need some help.”

Well, now what?

The thing about offering help to someone is that you should have some idea how you can help.  Maybe I was expecting another car to stop, and another citizen to lead the way.  But as far as I could see, everyone else was content to just drive around us.  “Oh look, honey, there’s a woman who needs help in a wheelchair.  We should probably stop and help…Nope, there’s a lady doing that now.  Let’s just go on with our day.  Hey, let’s go get some coffee and write!”

I was in this scene all by myself.

Well, not really. The wheelchair lady was in it too.

But I was clearly the person who needed to start the ball rolling.  So, I did what I was certain I knew how to do best: I parked the car.  After that, I just ad-libbed, going moment by moment.

“So…uh….what’s the problem?

Now, the two of us stood (well, she was sitting) in the middle of the road at the exit of the mall, and I tried not to think that this was how people get run over: by offering to help.  When you don’t help, a Honda can’t hit you.  That’s just a fact.

And then I noticed all of her plastic bags.

They were crammed with empty tupperware.  Call me shallow, but I did not want to lose my life for Tupperware.  I needed to speed this encounter along.

“Where do you live?  Can I take you home?”

She looked at me.

“I don’t even know you…How can I trust you?”

Well, that makes two of us, lady.

This woman with hair that hasn’t been combed in weeks, wearing not a blush of make-up (God forbid), dressed in ancient peddle-pushers, a stained sweat shirt, and old Keds is asking me a question I should be asking her.  It’s a good question.  It’s the perfect question to be asking at the moment.  But why is it the woman who looks like a bag lady is the one asking it of the woman who looks like a soccer mom from the suburbs?

And how the hell do I prove to her she can trust me?

I pointed to my nine-year-old Camry with the 2008 Hillary bumper sticker.

“That’s my car,” I say proudly.  Meaning what exactly?!  That I voted so I’m trustworthy?!  “With the Hillary sticker!” I add, as if she hasn’t seen it and that my support for a woman candidate only proves my solidarity to sisterhood. So yes, Sister, trust away.

The bag lady looks at me like I’m crazy.

I actually feel a little crazy at the moment.

But clearly, this woman is desperate and decides to take a chance on me.

“I don’t live too far – You can follow me home,” she says and hands me an armful of Tupperware.

Putting her wheelchair in gear, she leads me over to my car – obviously, taking charge because I seem like an idiot. I open my trunk where I deposit her many plastic bags, and she gives me directions to her house, “It’s past the condominiums.”

O-Kay. What condominiums?

“Is there a street name?” I ask.

“Walnut,” she tells me and is about to leave.

“Address, maybe?”

“By the condominiums!”

I’m thinking I better take charge of the adult reins here because she’s about to disappear down Walnut street (a very long street, I might add), and I’ll never see her again, and end up with more Tupperware than I could ever use.

“How about I write down my cell phone number, and I give it to you, and that way if I get lost, you can call me?” I suggest.

This makes perfect sense to me.  But to this woman, not so much.  “Ho-kay,” she tells me with a little laugh, looking at me like I’m a bit desperate for her taste. She just needs to get her Tupperware home, not make a new friend.  Humoring me, she takes my cell number I’ve scribbled on a sheet from a notepad, and when I insist, she reluctantly gives me her address that I write down.

Obviously, this will be the only writing I do today.

Negotiations accomplished, I jump into the car, ready for this new adventure, and put the key in the ignition, turning the engine on.

That’s when there is a tap at my back window.

“Your trunk is still open,” she tells me.

And I can see in her eyes that my stupidity has now won her trust.

By the time I’m out of the car, and slamming down the trunk, the woman and her wheelchair are roaring down the road to the mall exit, and crossing the street against the light in the middle of the block.  By the time I get my car in gear and follow her route, I’ve lost sight of her and only praying that I haven’t hallucinated this entire event.

I find Walnut and go block by block looking for the numbers on the street signs, and of course in typical Santa Barbara suburban fashion there are no numbers.  I have almost reached the dead end of the street when my cell phone rings.

“I know. I’m lost,” I tell her without needing to hear her voice.

Of course, she expected this.  We’re old friends by now.

She’s standing on the sidewalk…well, sitting in her wheelchair on the sidewalk, so it’s not that big of a challenge to find her house.  She disappears down a little driveway and I follow tentatively behind her, parking the car.

While I unload the trunk of Tupperware, she heads into her house, and tells me to follow.

It’s an old house, and it probably hasn’t seen a paint brush since the last century.  The front of it is overgrown with bushes and shrubs – a wooden fence holding in the backyard has a couple of broken slats, and a huge tree trying to bust out over it.  There is a small hand-crafted plywood ramp leading up to the open front door, and I hesitate only slightly when I walk up it and enter.

It’s too late to turn back now.

Someone has to carry home the Tupperware.

The lady’s name is Loretta and she lives with her father, Charles.  He looks like he’ll never see 90 again, closer to 100 maybe. He’s in a wheelchair too, and he wears an old faded baseball cap.  He meets me in the oversized living room that looks more like a rumpus room – no carpet, no lights on, and just about everything they own sitting out in the open.  Dishes, pots and pans, half-finished little jobs still hanging around on top of a formica kitchen table, the couch, an armchair, and a kitchen counter with a box of wine as its centerpiece with a Dixie cup poised underneath the spout.

Always at the ready, I guess.

Charles just smiles at me but never talks.

Loretta does, non-stop.

Out of the motorized wheelchair, she hobbles around now,

“I don’t really need that wheelchair – It’s my father’s, not mine.  I hurt my ankle in the garden so it was easier to take the chair to the mall.  I don’t need it.  You like avocados?”

How can I say no?

“I do,” I tell her.

Charles keeps smiling.

Loretta grabs up one of her endless plastic bags that seem to be everywhere, and goes into an enclosed porch, talking non-stop as she gathers up the fruit.

“This is the good stuff, not from the store. Grown here, right off the tree. The best!”

This is the Goleta Valley, and all of this land used to have fruit trees on it.  But the track homes and condos around this old house have replaced the walnut, avocado, and orange trees that once grew here.

“These are for you,” Loretta says, as she hobbles over to me and holds out the plastic Ralph’s bag now filled with six avocados. “One or two of them are ready to eat. You can have them tonight.”

I thanked her as she thanked me.

And as I left that house and was heading back to my car, I could hear Loretta say  to Charles, in a voice loud enough for a man his age to hear her:  “She’s a nice lady!”

It took me a moment to realize she meant me.

I never got a chance to get myself that cup of tea yesterday.  It’s exhausting when you stop your life to help somebody.  So I went back to the car and took a nap.  And you know, of course, I didn’t do any writing at all the rest of the day.  But I made a point to cut open one of those avocados later that night, and slice it up really pretty on a plate.  We ate it for dinner and I thought of Loretta and Charles.

And she was right.

It was the sweetest avocado I’ve ever had.

Just In Time For The Season

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Longings of a Monterey Pine

Last year I wrote a story about a Monterey Pine that wanted to grow up to become a Christmas tree.  The response to that story was heartwarming for me as a writer.  Many of you encouraged me to make it into a book.

And that’s what happened.

With whimsical illustrations by Terrie Yeatts, a video, some sound effects, and a beautiful song by Alex Khaskin called, “Journey of a Lifetime,” our little story, “Longings of a Monterey Pine” is now an enhanced e-book on Apple’s iBooks. The additional media will bring an extra delight to the children in your life or the child within you, keeping you busy and warm on a cold winter’s eve.

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, I’d like to thank you for all of your comments and words of encouragement you’ve given me for the posts you’ve read here.  Because of you, the story of the Monterey Pine goes into the world now, and has a life of its own.

The Monterey Pine thanks you.

And I thank you too.

LOMP Cover

“Longings of a Monterey Pine” on Apple’s iBooks

Lost & Found in Monterey

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(This is the last post in the CALIFORNIO series.  You can read the four earlier posts by clicking on each title: Californio,  Facebook Friends & Cousins,  Searching for the Garcias,  and Following Felipe.)

I’ve come to Monterey to find a grave.

Two graves, to be precise – the graves belonging to my fifth great-grandparents.  Felipe Santiago Garcia and Maria Petra Lugo Garcia are both buried at Mission San Carlos cemetery at the Royal Presidio Chapel. They are two of only 119 people who are buried there, at a church that was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1770, on the shores of Monterey Bay.  It was supposed to be the cornerstone of Serra’s first California Mission,  but a year later Mission San Carlos was relocated to Carmel, a site where more indigenous tribes lived, making it easier for Serra to convert them to Christianity. The small church left behind in Monterey remained as a Royal Chapel for the soldiers guarding the new Spanish Presidio of Monterey.

San Carlos Cathedral Presidio

Felipe was one of those soldiers.

Monterey was where Felipe was first stationed as un soldado de cuera, and where Petra set up their first home as man and wife.  They would eventually travel to many other missions and presidios when Felipe would be re-assigned by his commanding officers to new posts.  Missions were being built up and down the coast of California, from San Diego  to San Francisco.  Felipe was sent wherever soldiers were needed, for whatever reason they were needed at that location.  But when he was finally ready to retire, Felipe came back to Monterey – the place he looked at as his one true home.

After a lifetime of service for his country, as a retired soldier, Felipe was given land.  He became a farmer.  He had his own home, and acres that belonged only to him and his family.  Several of his nine sons remained in Monterey to help him.  But  still, there was much work to be done. When his 6th son, Jose Antonio died, his 8th son, Inocente, petitioned the Governor so he could be released from the military to go home to his family in Monterey “…in order to take care of what little property they had.”  When Petra got ill and eventually died in 1817, it was only natural that she be buried at the Royal Presidio church that her husband had protected as a soldier, and where they had worshipped as a family.  And when it was Felipe’s time to pass on, as a retired soldier of that Presidio, there was no other final resting place (or greater honor) than burial at the small church he had helped to build, and guard.  It was Spain’s payback to him for dedicating his life to his country.  In 1822, Felipe Santiago Garcia died and was buried at the Royal Presidio Cathedral.

And now, in 2013, I can’t find him.

I can’t find Petra either.  I know this for a fact because I’ve travelled four hours, 241 miles (at $4.39 a gallon for gas), from Goleta to Monterey, and I not only can’t find the graves of the Garcias, but I don’t see a cemetery at all.  There isn’t one headstone in sight.  Not one.

We Spend The Day Searching. 

Arriving at the Presidio Chapel in the middle of noon mass, we find every office and the Heritage Center locked up and currently unavailable to the public until mass is over.  Not the best timing.  But after a quick search on our iPhone we discover the main Catholic cemetery is just a few blocks away, and head over there to find out some answers.

The people at the San Carlos Catholic Cemetery office very graciously search their computer records for Felipe and Petra Garcia’s names.  Although the cemetery certainly has its share of old (and fascinating) graves, there’s nothing as ancient as 1817 or 1822.  Felipe and Petra aren’t listed in the computer.

“They would have been buried up at the Presidio Chapel,” they inform us.

Gravestone Monterey

Murder in Monterey,  1855

They send us back to the Presidio Chapel, where now it’s lunchtime; offices and the Heritage Center are still locked up.  The only person who seems to be working is the janitor, and we follow him as he carries mop and pail into the vestibule of the church.  When we ask him about the Presidio cemetery and where the graves might be located, he tries to send us back over to the Catholic cemetery we just visited.

“They’re supposed to be here,” I tell the janitor.  “They told us at the Catholic cemetery to come back to the Chapel,” I explain, trying not to sound too exasperated.

“Well, they might be under the floor,” the janitor suggests, and leads us all the way to the back of the church where a large wooden information booth is tucked into a corner.  We help him push the booth out of the way, and magically an old square of marble with hard-to-read letters carved on it appears.  The janitor is right – there are people buried under the church floor.

“But those are Pachecos,” he informs us, just as I was getting optimistic.  “You can’t hardly read the names, but the Pachecos have people buried here.  Are you a Pacheco?”

Nope. Garcia.

He sends us back to the Heritage Center, and when I try the locked door again, I notice the operating hours are only for a couple of days a week because of cutbacks.  Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those days, and we’re scheduled to leave Monterey tomorrow.   Oh well, at least I tried. Giving up, I turn away and we start to head back to the car.   But then, I notice a woman exiting from the office.

“Excuse me!  Can I ask you something?”

She stops to listen.  And (poor woman) I proceed to tell her my long story about the search for the Garcias.  Maybe she thinks I’m crazy or just takes pity on me, but she offers me a glimmer of hope by saying, “If your Felipe was an early soldier in Monterey, then by all means, he would be buried here.” Even though the museum is officially closed, she asks me to come inside as she starts to look up information.

Her name is Fay and she is the kindest and most patient woman I’ve ever met.  I try to limit my questions but I have a lot.  

“You need to speak to our archivist,” she tells me.  And she hands me a card with Father Carl Faria’s name on it.  “He’ll have your answers,” she says with a smile.

A Priest With All The Answers

It’s a week before I can connect with Father Faria because he’s on a cruise.  But when I reach him and tell him I’m looking for Felipe Santiago Garcia’s grave, he hesitates.

“…Do you know a David Gonzalez from Florida?” he asks me.

I tell him no and ask him why.

“He was just this moment in my office looking for Felipe Santiago Garcia’s grave.”

Excuse me?

“Felipe was his fifth great-grandfather too.”

What are the odds?  Am I the only one who thinks this is little strange? Two cousins who don’t know each other on opposite ends of the country looking for the same ancestor at exactly the same moment?

“What did you tell him?” I ask the good Father.

He explains to me everything he just told my Gonzalez cousin:  Yes, it’s true that both Felipe and his wife, Petra, were buried at the Presidio Cathedral.  He gives me their burial numbers that were written in the church book that Father Serra first started.  It’s a record of all baptisms, marriages, and deaths, and Petra is #2225 in the book; Felipe is #2428.  Father Faria tells me that the book itself has recently been sent to the  Huntington Library for an exhibit commemorating Father Serra’s 300th birthday.

“You can go there and see where it’s written – the names of your fifth great-grandparents.”

But what about their graves?

“We’re not exactly sure where they are,” he admits, sheepishly.

They’re lost?

“They were buried here, at the Presidio Chapel, but we can only guess at the location.  Somewhere on the church grounds,” he explains. There’s a Catholic school that has been built on the land, a road that was expanded, and even part of a small strip mall, and all are on land owned by the Church.  “They could be anywhere in those areas,” he tells me. “They expanded the road just behind the church in 1940, and they found quite a lot of bones.  There were no markers so they were buried, all of them together, in a common grave at the Catholic cemetery,” he explains.

But why weren’t there any headstones on the original graves?

“The grave markers were all wooden – made from the bark of trees,” he tells me.  “By the time the Americans came, most had broken apart and crumpled, like dust into the ground.”

We come from the dirt, we go back to the dirt.  

I can’t help but think of my father, and our family saying.

Losing One Thing, Finding Another

I don’t know what I would have done had I found Felipe and Petra’s graves.  Would I have brought flowers to leave there?  Or knelt and said a quick “Hail Mary?” Maybe I just would’ve sat a moment in silence, reflecting on this amazing couple that traveled over 1400 miles, on horseback and mule, across desert, through scorching heat and relentless rainstorms, with no permanent shelter – risking their lives to the elements, bears and mountains lions, and sometimes, hostile indigenous tribes – the first of our bloodlines to come here to California.  It somehow seems wrong that when people die their graves just disappear, and there aren’t any words to acknowledge they were here, that they lived, they contributed; and their families, thousands of descendants (both sharing their name or not) are scattered around the country, from Florida to California.  And maybe a lot of those descendants know nothing about the people who came before them, who struggled and survived, and worked so hard to make a new land their home.

Even though I wasn’t able to find Felipe and Petra, I found something else there in Monterey. With every one of my footsteps following after them, I started to see Felipe and Petra in my imagination. What they looked like, how they sounded, and what dreams they must have had. They were newlyweds going into the unknown, and not sure they would even survive the journey. And as I saw them, I also started to see their son, Carlos, and their grandson, Hilarion, and what their lives might have been like as California grew and changed along with each generation of Garcias.  But mostly, it is Rosa, whose voice I can hear the strongest – a tiny old woman who used to sit at her kitchen table, counting out beans into five stacks – one stack for each one of her children.  The beans represented the money she had saved for them.  Money in five banks that once a week she would visit – taking along with her the young grandson who would translate because even in the 1920s Rosa still didn’t speak English.  She didn’t write and she didn’t read and on her own will she marked an “X” because she didn’t know how to write her name. But she managed to save and to give to the next generation – money, and more importantly, land.  Land to build their own homes where they would raise the next generation, and the one after that.

A family’s history is like a palimpsest – a parchment that is written on over and over again, with some of the earlier writing still visible, even after it’s been erased.  Although one generation’s story has been written, that next generation writes its own story, layered over the last, whether they are aware of it or not.  There are times when the generations intersect, in what they desire, or what they believe.  What one generation strives for, and perhaps never accomplishes might be passed along to the next generation, and perhaps in that particular layer, and in that unique time, dreams – the ones that may have started long ago – might now be realized.

There’s a story about the Garcia family that I’d like to write.  But I have to go inward now – into my imagination – to find that story.  It parallels the tale of early California which is rich, multi-cultural, and hasn’t been told in many books at all.  I know this because I’ve been looking for those books as I’ve been writing these Californio posts.  Although there are non-fiction and academic works, I want to delve deeper, and sometimes the only way to do that is through fiction.  Who were the Californios?  And how did they evolve from their identities as Espanioles, Mexicans, Anglos, and Indigenous tribes, into the people who would become known as Californios?  I can research these questions, and learn the knowledge, or I can experience it with my heart and soul.  I’d rather do the latter.

Toni Morrison once wrote, “Write the books you want to read.”  Californio is a book I really want to read.  But since it’s not written, I guess that means I have to try to write it.

When I take a screenplay assignment in Hollywood, I always do it with the proviso that I will only work on one project at a time.  Writing, for me, is like being pregnant, and my creative womb can only accommodate one pregnancy at a time.  So while I’m writing the book, this blog will have to be silent for awhile.  I’ll take breaks every now and then, and when I do I’ll post a little something here.  Maybe to share how Californio is going, or maybe just to change the topic completely. But I’ll always be reachable.  If any of you have questions about anything we’ve talked about here, you can always leave me a comment on the blog.  I’ll read it and write back to you.

But it might take me a little while.

I’m off to Californio.

ROSALOGO

Following Felipe

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 (This is the 4th post of the CALIFORNIO series.  You can read the 1st post HERE, the second post HERE, and the third post HERE.)

You don’t ever expect to find a relative’s name in a history book.

At least I didn’t.

But there was the name, in black & white text on the page in front of me:  “Felipe Santiago Garcia.” I stared at it, and gave myself a thousand reasons to doubt it.  Then, I looked closer and confirmed the facts.  The dates matched:  Felipe was born in 1748 in Sinaloa, Mexico, and married in 1773 to Maria Petra Alcantara Lugo.  Both husband and wife arrived in San Diego, in 1774.  They had a son named Carlos Maria who went on to have a son named Hilarion.  All three names were on the Garcia list I was searching for, and there they all were in the history book in front of me.

The three volumes of Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California: 1769 – 1850 ( by Marie Northrop) are considered the Bible when it comes to historical research on the beginnings of California. The books are out of print (except for Volume 3) and if you are persistent enough to look for them, and lucky enough to find them, two volumes will easily set you back $500.

My cousin Eileen was smart enough to track down the first two volumes in 1997 for a little over $40 to give to her father (my uncle) as a Christmas gift.  Now,  sixteen years later, with my uncle’s passing, my aunt had handed me both volumes along with my uncle’s files of genealogical research.  Having found Felipe’s name on the internet, I had called her and asked if Uncle Danny had ever written down any information about the family.

The file my aunt shared with me was brimming over with notes, scribblings in my uncle’s handwriting, and yes, there was Felipe on a roughly sketched out family tree, along with Carlos, Hilarion, and Rosa.  But the Marie Northrop books she also loaned me gave a legitimacy to those names.  The Garcias were true Californios, and historians had acknowledged that.

Felipe had been a soldado de cuera – a special type of Spanish soldier in California named after the “cuera” or the thick “leather vest” they wore for protection in combat from arrows, or spears.

Soldaldo de Curea2

These soldiers were sent to Alta California as early as 1769 to escort the Franciscans as they set up their missions, and the soldiers built the presidios.  In 1774, Father Serra and the Crown decided that no longer would soldados de cuera travel to the unsettled region as single men.  Families were to be sent with them, to help settle the land, and to ease the loneliness of the soldiers in Spain’s new territory.

The first land expedition that brought both soldiers and their families to California was led by Captain Rivera in 1774.  Felipe and his new wife were among the 51 people on that expedition. Petra was pregnant at the time, and on November 10th she went into labor while the expedition was on its way to Monterey.  A son, Juan Joseph, was born outside Oso Flaco and was baptized immediately when they reached the San Luis Obispo Mission because the baby wasn’t expected to live.  He lived, however, and his birth was recorded as the first European child to be born in California.  Petra and Felipe went on to have eighteen more children – Rosa Garcia’s grandfather (our family connection), was their second son, Carlos.

The soldados de cuera were moved from mission to mission.  Felipe, along with his family, went from the Presidio of Monterey to Mission San Antonio de Padua, San Gabriel Mission, Pueblo Los Angeles, and the Santa Barbara Presidio, until his retirement took him back to Monterey.  Most of the early soldados were given land as gratitude for their service to Spain, and I wonder if Felipe received land, and if so, what happened to it?  Was this the beginning of our family’s connection to owning land?

Seven of Petra and Felipe’s sons became soldiers; the eighth son resisted and was smuggled out of the country on a ship that was bound for Chile.  He chose exile from his family rather than hanging for refusing mandatory military service.  His brother, Inocente, (who would write about the experience in Garcia Hechos and Other Garcia Papers) helped his brother escape and the family never saw him again.

I’m hooked. And I want to know more.

In July, I ask my husband if he’d like to take a road trip up to Monterey to follow in some of the footsteps of Felipe and Petra.  Maybe see a mission or two where he was stationed, and some of those nineteen children were born.

“I’d like to visit their graves,” I tell him, knowing that both Felipe and Petra had died in Monterey.

“Let’s go!” he tells me, sensing an adventure and a much-needed summer vacation.

And so, we headed up north to San Luis Obispo, picking up our friend Marie who took us to our first stop,  Mission San Luis Obispo, the place were Felipe’s first son was baptized.

SLOMIssion

(There was a wedding going on and the Mariachi’s  helped to set the mood.)

Next, we travelled by car to another mission where Felipe was once stationed, driving across land that would have taken him a day’s ride to reach the mission.  We arrive there in less than an hour and a half.

San Antonio Mission in the distance

Mission San Antonio de Padua is one I’ve never heard of before.  An hour outside of Paso Robles, and set away from any major cities, it’s in a rural setting much like Felipe and Petra would have travelled through to get there.  It’s easy to imagine a column of women, soldiers, friars, and a few small children, all on the back of horses or mules, traveling in the San Antonio valley’s oppressive heat.  When we were at the mission, the temperature reading in our car at one time read 118 degrees.

Mission San Antonio

We’re expecting to see no one at the mission – it’s hidden away under the careful watch of the Santa Lucia mountains, surrounded by thousands of oak trees, and in the middle of military land – Fort Hunter Liggett.  But when our car pulls up we see hundreds of other cars parked around the mission, and it turns out we have arrived on Founder’s Day. It’s July 14th, exactly 242 years after Father Serra erected a cross and named the mission, San Antonio de Padua.

San Antonio Chapel

If ever I felt like Felipe was walking at my side, it was on that day as I moved across the mission grounds, poking my head into every nook and cranny I could find.  There was the church where Petra and Felipe had gone to Mass, the barracks where the soldiers were housed, and even the baptismal font where three of Petra and Felipe’s children had been baptized.

Baptismal Font

I could feel the Garcia family surrounding me.

And I wondered what would happen when I finally got to Monterey?

(NEXT WEEK:  The final post in the CALIFORNIO series: Lost & Found in Monterey)

ROSALOGO

Searching for the Garcias

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(This is the 3rd post of the CALIFORNIO series. You can read the 1st post HERE, and the 2nd post HERE.)

“We come from the dirt, we go back to the dirt.”

That was the phrase my father was fond of saying.  He used it often, and he did it to remind us of who we were, and what our family was all about.  No pretensions.  No highfaluting ways.  We were humble, hard-working people with common wants and needs, and no lofty sense of importance.  We were the peasants working the land.  As a matter of fact, this was my father’s favorite family photo and one that was the basis of his dust-to-dust philosophy:

DusttoDustOrig

The man behind the team of horses was my father’s grandfather, the son of an Italian immigrant, and a man who worked the land to feed his family.  My father always liked to point out that the land being toiled wasn’t ours; it was leased.  He also liked to point out how skinny the dog was, and that it was a sign of how poor we were.

What my dad forgot to mention was the grocery and grain store his grandfather co-owned with his cousin (supplied by those crops on that leased land) or the property his great-grandmother owned, acres of land high above Santa Barbara, on the Mesa.  These facts were missing from his dust-to-dust scenario. I learned the truth, however, in the yellowed papers of our family’s history that my uncle had handed off to me.

As I read those papers, I learned more about my father’s great-grandmother Rosa Garcia.

“When Rosa got married she had all this land,” that distant cousin had reminisced many years ago, and I was now finally reading about it.  “Every time they could get a dollar and a quarter together they would buy another acre. They had these cows and chickens and they used to plant their own vegetables, and Rosa used to go to town; she’d make cheese and butter, and bring eggs to trade for coffee, sugar, and flour. They raised their own pigs for lard and they raised their own beef.  And when they could spare a little, in between they would buy another acre.”

Rosa Garcia had owned land.

But she was a Garcia, and my dad had never mentioned the Garcias at all, or talked about the land his great-grandmother had worked so hard to own.  That family name always was missing in our conversation until Pam, the cousin-I-didn’t-even-know-I-had, friended me on Facebook.  Now, I was faced with an entire list of Garcia names that Pam had sent me, and here was this new-found cousin telling me I was related to all of them.

And what did I do with that list of Garcia names Pam sent me?

I ignored it. Forgot about it.  Put it out of my  mind completely.

Voices From The Past

Why do you want to go digging in the past? I could hear my father’s voice ringing out loudly inside my head.  These were people I never knew, names I’d never even heard of before.  Besides, I didn’t need to be reminded that we “came from the dirt, we go back to the dirt.”  I didn’t want to face more people behind ploughs with starving dogs, working dawn to dust.  Even Rosa had to scrimp and save, raising and growing their own food, to buy another acre for her family.  She had buried two husbands, but the one remaining constant in her life was the land she had worked so hard to own.  We were farmers, carpenters, and iron workers; okay, I got it.  Just plain working folks. The history books are never filled with our kind of people.  Those Garcia names would only mean something to the people who inhabited their world, their time, and that time was over.  The most I could hope for would be names on a headstone; there wouldn’t even be any photos of these people, or any real record of who they were, or how they had lived.  They were simply anonymous names who lived anonymous lives.

But I was wrong.

It took me almost a year before I went back to my private messages on Facebook and took a closer look at those Garcia names that came before Rosa.  And when I did what I learned surprised me and made me want to learn even more.

There were six names on the Garcia list that Pam had sent me.  The last name was Rosa’s and since I was 100% sure we were “parientes” (kin), I looked at the other five names on the list.  The first two had lived in Spain – in Alpera, Albacete, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain. Quite a mouthful. Google was kind enough to show me where in Spain that mouthful is located (150 km. from Valencia and the coast overlooking the Mediterranean).  But the other names – Hilarion, Carlos Maria, and Felipe Santiago – only connected us to a generation, and not to where they lived.  I wrote Pam and asked her, and she wrote back immediately.

California, she told me.

Names On A LIst

I didn’t have all of their birth dates, or the dates they died; I didn’t know who they married, or how many children they had, but each one of the three men had lived here in California. Hilarion, who was Rosa’s father, was baptized in Santa Barbara; Carlos Maria, Rosa’s grandfather, was baptized at the Mission in Carmel and died at the Mission San Gabirel, and Felipe Santiago Garcia, Rosa’s great-grandfather, was buried at San Carlos Mission in Monterey.  They were three men with roots here in California.  But who were they, and how would I ever learn anything about them?

When in doubt, turn to Google.

I wasn’t expecting to find any of their names listed there on the Internet, but I started with the first name, Felipe Santiago Garcia, since he seemed to be the first of the Garcias to be connected to California.  I typed out his name and a rush of data suddenly appeared, 3 million and 30 results, to be precise.

I didn’t know where to start.

I clicked from one site to the next, skipping through the entries like a kid in a candy store.  I got lost momentarily by another man named Felipe Garcia, but who turned out to be a Romero, and not my grandfather five times removed. But I corrected that misstep and found my way back to Felipe Santiago, our Felipe, as I read and re-read a night long series of websites, genealogical listings, and yes, even California history.   I compared dates and locations, and the information pointed to one name, one man called Felipe Santiago Garcia, who had a past and a history, and a rich connection to California. Felipe was a soldier – un soldado de cuera – a special soldier of Spain that was sent from Nueva España (Mexico) to Alta California in 1774.

The Garcias were the first Europeans to settle in California – the first of the California Spanish.

(NEXT WEEK: Following Felipe – the beginnings of an untold story.)

ROSALOGO