Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

Mother’s Day
Sunday, May 9, 2015

I knew from a pretty early age not to take my Mom for granted. One of my best friends came from a broken family, and while I’m sure he loved his own mother, he could always count on two surrogate families, including my Mom, to be there for him. That was probably one of the best lessons I could have learned growing up. And yet, while I feel like I’m a pretty good Dad, I don’t think I could ever measure up to my Mom’s compassion toward others. The key, though, is to love your children unconditionally, and that’s something I learned from both of my parents.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I realize I had not really focussed on my Mom’s family history. I’m not necessarily talking about her paternal Chavez genealogy or her maternal Gallegos genealogy. I’m talking about her childhood in Grants, traveling to California each summer to visit family, and her upbringing in Albuquerque.

My Mom is Beatrice (Chavez) Gallegos. She was the middle child of five, born to Louis Chavez and Lola (Gallegos). She was born in Grants and named after her great-grandmother Beatriz Jaramillo. She had an older sister, Fran, who passed away after a battle with cancer, and has three brothers, Louis, Jr., Mike and Ralph.
Grandma Lola, my Mom (Bea) and Aunt Fran
The family moved to Albuquerque when Mom was in elementary school. They first lived on High Street, south of the street that is now Avenida Cesar Chavez. Her grandparents, Pablo Gallegos and Maria (Arellanes) lived nearby on the other side of Broadway. My Mom remembered her Grandpa Pablo carrying her on his shoulders from his house to her house. She also recalled how they had one phone line for a cluster of homes, and they would have to walk to where the phone was located to take a call.

I found a photo from about 1950 of my Mom’s Grandpa Pablo with other men preparing a pig for a matanza. My Mom is pretty sure that was at their property on High Street.

My Mom attended John Marshall School, which was across the street from her home. She was looking forward to attending Lincoln Junior High, where her cousins went to school and bragged about the dances and good times. But her parents moved the family to a new subdivision and a new home at 6804 5th Street N.W., which is the house where I grew up in the North Valley, in Los Ranchos.

As a child, my Mom looked forward to summer trips to Los Angeles to visit relatives. Her father, my Grandpa Louis, packed everyone in the car, which didn’t have air conditioning, and made the long drive to Los Angeles to see his own mother, Eliza, and his brother, Lalo. My Mom wasn’t very close to her Grandma Eliza, who was bitter about my Grandpa moving with my Grandma Lola back to New Mexico. But my Mom enjoyed the summer visits. One of my favorite photos is a black and white of my Mom as a young girl walking with her Dad.

When my Mom moved to the home on 5th Street, she shared a small room with her other Grandma, Maria, who was widowed by that time in the late 1950s and early 1960s. My Mom finished grade school at Los Ranchos, then went to Taft Junior High and later to Valley High School – the same schools I would attend a generation later. She graduated from Valley in 1965, which means she will celebrate her 50th reunion this year.  She remembers the day she was pulled out of school the day her mother gave birth to her youngest brother, Ralph.

After high school, my Mom was supposed to go to Eastern New Mexico University in Silver City. I only recently learned that her Aunt Perla had encouraged her to go there. But she ended up going to work for the phone company in Albuquerque, which is where she was working when she met my Dad, Gilbert Sr., on a blind date.

It didn’t take long before she and my Dad got married in 1968. After I was born in Albuquerque, we moved to San Jose, CA, for my Dad’s work. That’s where my brother, Jon, was born. We moved back to Albuquerque for short time before my Dad’s work took us to Cincinnati. My Dad moved to Cincinnati first, and my Mom took my brother and me a few months later. I recently found a pretty amazing letter from my Dad to my Mom during that time period. He was having a tough time being away from my Mom and us.

We moved back to Albuquerque by the time I started Kindergarten at Los Ranchos. And we were back at the house where my Mom spent much of her childhood. I have great memories of my parents bowling with our neighbors, the Baca’s, at Valley Bowl. Their team was called the BG’s – for Baca’s/Gallegos’. That’s about the same time my Mom started working as a teacher’s aide at Los Ranchos.

I remember my brother and I sitting on the edge of my Mom’s bed most afternoons, talking to her about our day. During baseball season, most evenings and every Saturday were spent at North Valley Little League. If my Dad wasn’t coaching, he was getting the fields ready or dealing with equipment issues, while my Mom was working in the concession stand or keeping score. It was a home away from home. As a parent now, I realize how much work that must have been for both of my parents, albeit a labor of love. But as a kid, that little league field was the only place I’d ever want to be. To me, that was family time.

My Mom would work for Albuquerque Public Schools for the rest of the time my brother and I were in school. I remember going to her office at a few different administration buildings to use her work computer for my school work. I think her last job at APS was at Albuquerque High School. She was able to pull some strings and open the gym for me to play basketball every Saturday. By that time, I was working as a reporter at the Albuquerque Tribune. Several of my colleagues, as well as a couple of competitors from the Journal and the Associated Press played in a county basketball league. And we practiced at the AHS gym.

Early during my career as a reporter, I was sent to Arizona to get the story behind a murderer who kidnapped and killed an Albuquerque teen-ager. It was a gruesome and troubling story. In any case, I had to take a bus back to Albuquerque from Flagstaff. I’m not sure I ever told my Mom this story, but during that long ride home, as I thought about the death of that young boy, my mind turned to the recent death of one of my Mom’s close friends, Connie Delgado. I decided to write about my Mom, her friendship with Connie, and how much I appreciated everything she ever did for me. I don’t think I finished the letter, and for some reason, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I didn’t want to give her a half-written letter, but it was difficult to go back and finish it. I regret not finishing it. I’ve gone back through my things since then, hoping to find it. But I never did.

Well, Mom, consider this as a heartfelt substitute for that letter I wrote on the bus some 20 years ago. We’ve had many more memories since then. And now those include great memories of you with your granddaughters, who I know appreciate and love you as much as I’ve always appreciated and love you.

I still think about how you would make me chicken, my favorite meal, before my many surgeries. And how Jon and I would come home from skiing and you had some hot caldito waiting for us. And you would get the grass and red clay stains out of my baseball pants, and sew my uniform after my Pete Rose slides. And how you would embarrass us from the stands during baseball games, but secretly, we appreciated knowing our biggest fan was always there to cheer us on. And how you never minded our friends letting themselves in the front door and heading straight to the refrigerator or pantry, knowing you would always have snacks for them. And for allowing me to make mistakes, as a child and as an adult, but still being my Mom, who is the most understanding and forgiving Mom anyone could have. And now I am especially appreciative of how you do all of the same things for your granddaughters, including taking them and their friends to the movies, lunches, Target, the orthodontist, Bahama Bucks, and going to more than your share of soccer practices, games and tournaments. You do all this, and still find time to watch your San Francisco Giants play on TV, make it to La Cueva baseball games, go with your friends to movies, and keep up with your plants and flowers.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Grandma "Tota"

I haven’t written much about Victoria (Trujillo) Gallegos, my great-grandmother on my father’s side, even though I have a pretty rich collection of historical photos, documents and stories about her and her mother. My Dad only had bad memories of his Dad’s mother, and I hesitated to portray a one-sided picture of her. But he wasn’t alone. When my Grandma Rise was alive, she had similar memories of her mother-in-law. All she said was she mean, she was a hard drinker and if you crossed her, she never forgot.
Victoria Trujillo circa 1900

My Dad tells the story of his Grandma Vicky giving gifts to his sister, but ignoring him when they were children. His Grandfather, Luis Gallegos, would take him aside and make sure he got some jerky or candy so he didn’t feel left out.

My Dad still refers to his Grandma Vicky as his “Grandma Tota,” or his other grandma. He was much closer with his Mom’s mother, Emilia DeTevis, who helped to take care of him when he was an infant and his father was in Europe serving during World War II.

He also tells how he would go fishing with his grandparents at Story Lake in Las Vegas. He loved to fish with his Grandpa Luis. He remembered his Grandma Vicky drinking straight whisky with beer chasers on the beach of the lake. “She was just mean,” my Dad would tell me.

Other cousins agreed that Grandma Vicky wasn’t warm and fuzzy. One cousin reminded me that it wasn’t uncommon to have older grandparents in that era with a mean streak. They lived tough lives.

My Grandma Rise said her mother-in-law didn’t approve of her, and took out her disapproval on my Dad.

Luis Gallegos and Victoria (Trujillo) Gallegos

Victoria (Trujillo) Gallegos and Luis Gallegos with granddaughter, Martha Gallegos
Victoria Trujillo, or Grandma Vicky, was born in 1892 in Anton Chico, the daughter of Juan Trujillo and Leonore Martinez. Victoria married Luis Gallegos in Las Vegas in 1910, and they had seven children: Clemente, Eloy, Carlos, Bennie, Arthur, Nancy and Grace. All five sons, including my Grandpa Carlos, served in the military – three in World War II and two in the Korean War. Eloy was killed in action in Italy during World War II, and is buried near his parents at St. Anthony Cemetery in Las Vegas.

My Dad didn’t realize that his Grandma Vicky was from Anton Chico. He said there was a family home out there, but didn’t know that’s where her roots were planted. My Dad used to have a bumper stick on his white Ford Pickup that read: “Where in the Hell is Anton Chico, U.S.A.?”

Perhaps Grandma Vicky inherited a toughness from her mother, Leonore, who had a reputation in Las Vegas and its surrounding villages for being an independent woman with an Old West sensibility.
Wedding portrait of Esteban Montoya and Gertudes Trujillo. Couple on far left is Alberto Trujillo and Leonore Martinez. one of the two girls in front is Victoria Trujillo
I found an oral history that describes an incident in which Leonore was walking in Las Vegas with a younger sister to get groceries. As they walked past a saloon, two drunk men, including a Frenchman, made a nasty remark. Leonore slammed him, knocking him down, and got on top of him and beat him up. The story was told by Leonore’s grandson, Max Montoya in a 1977 oral history published by Richard Gehling in the USGW Archives.

Maria Leonora Martinez was born about 1845 in Algodones, the daughter of Clemente Martinez and Maria Seferina Valensuela, of Las Tusas.

Both Juan and Leonore were married for the second time. Leonore had two children, Ceferino and Delfinia, from a previous marriage with Jesus Maria Martinez in 1864. After the death of her first husband, she married Juan Alberto Trujillo in 1878, who had children from his previous marriage.

Leonore and Juan had four more children together, including the youngest, Victoria. They moved their combined family into a three-room house on 9th Street near the Normal College, which is now Highlands University, according to the oral history by Max Montoya. The surrounding area was known as the Chihualita Barrrio, one of five Spanish-speaking districts of the “Old Town’ area of Las Vegas.

Leonore took the clothes that people would give to her and use it as barter for other goods in surrounding villages.

"Every summer she would make 2 or 3 trips to Anton Chico, to Dilia, and other villages and trade clothing for produce. People at the villages already new her, and when she would arrive they'd flock around the covered wagon to see what surprises she had,” according to the oral history by Max Montoya. “She would not set a price on anything. People would just choose what they wanted, like a dress or blouse or maybe a pants, tie or hat, and give her a chicken or corn or green chile or maybe fruit. She would accept anything that was edible. Many a time she would come home with a wagon loaded with green chile, melons, watermelons, peaches, apples, apricots, and plums.

"Then she would gather us kids to go around town selling until she would sell what she wanted. Like we would sell a bucket full of green chile for 25 cents or a bucket full of peaches for 50 cents. After we would get thru selling, she would gather all her grandchildren in the patio and cut some melons or some watermelon, and have a party."

Leonore died in August 1923. Her grandson, Max Montoya, remembered her death:

"My Granma Leonore died in August of 1923, when I was 14 years old.  She died in her bedroom, which stood on the north end of her house.  It was the coolest room in the summer and the warmest in the winter because it had a big pot-bellied stove.

"My granma's wake was also held in that room. The wake ended around 2 A.M. My Uncle Manuel was supposed to blow out all the candles, but instead he got me and my cousin Alfonso to do the job.  First we blew out the candles furthest from the door, and then hurriedly the others, and ran out the door and back to bed as fast as we could.  I slept with him at his house that nite.

"After Granma's death, there were so many heirs that my mother was willed the bedroom where granma died.  She sold it to Aunt Lucy for $50.  Aunt Lucy was living in the house next door at the time.  She moved to granma's house to take care of my granpa until his death in 1927."

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A boy and his dog

The story goes like this: An Albuquerque boy had gone missing while picking piñon in the mountains. Missing for eight days, someone finally spotted the boy’s dog sitting faithfully by his side. The boy lay face down in the snow, frozen to death.

The first time I heard the story, about three years ago, I was talking with a cousin from California who was giving me directions to the grave site for my great-great grandmother, Francisquita (Trujillo) Gallegos.

I was shocked and excited to finally learn more information about this particular ancestor, the mother of my great-grandfather, Luis Gallegos. I only knew of her history in the village of San Ignacio, just north of Las Vegas, which is why I had focused my search in San Miguel County. But my cousin told me she actually left San Miguel County at some point, made her way to California, and lived her final days in Albuquerque. She was buried in the old section at Sunset Memorial Cemetery in Albuquerque. As my cousin told me where to find her headstone, which he replaced several years ago with a modern headstone, he told me it was located near an odd, but large headstone in the shape of a dog; though the dog’s head was missing. He mentioned the story about the dog standing guard over the body of a missing boy who died in the Sandia Mountains.

Sure enough, I easily found Francisquita’s headstone, and I found it by located the headstone of the dog, which had the name “Fido” on it. The headstone also included details of the story about the dog and the boy on it: “Fido: For seven days and nights he guarded the frozen body of his little master in a mountain wilderness.” The insccription on the headstone is dated in the 1930s. A plaque is attached to the headstone with the name of the boy: Alfonso Sedillo, who died in 1929.

Not long after that, I was digging through archival records at the Main Library in Downtown Albuquerque, not far from the cemetery. The story about the boy and the dog had nothing to do with my family genealogy, other than I learned about it during the research of my family. But on a whim, I decided to pull the microfilm for the Albuquerque Journal to see if there was an obituary for the boy. I was a little surprised to find the banner headline on the front page of the Nov. 16, 1929 edition of the Journal: “Lost Boy Found Frozen To Death.”

It turns out the boy wasn’t in the Sandia Mountains; 16-year-old Alfonso Sedillo was picking piñon with two companions in the rugged mountains of San Miguel County in Northern New Mexico.

“With his faithful, hunger-emaciated dog standing beside him, the lifeless body of 16-year-old Alfonso Sedillo, of Albuquerque, was found face-down in the snow, twelve miles southwest of Rowe in the mountainous Upper Pecos region, and brought to Rowe late Friday.”

Judging the news coverage, the search and discovery of the boy must have been a big deal in 1929 New Mexico. A second front-page story in the Journal described the delivery of the news to the grief-stricken mother of Alfonso Sedillo, at her adobe home on Indian School Road. The story quotes the mother, Mrs. Eloisa Martinez, wearing a black shawl over her head, as saying: “It is God’s will.”

I couldn’t decide whether to write about this fascinating story. But I was convinced to do so when I read a column in today’s Journal by Joline Gutierrez Krueger about the New Mexico Tombstone Transcription Project. As usual, Joline, a former colleague from my days as a reporter with the Albuquerque Tribune, brought to life the efforts of New Mexicans who are dedicated to New Mexico’s past. As I read the column, my mind was spinning with the names of ancestors I have yet to locate.

Then, at the conclusion of the column, Joline mentioned some of the stories that have stuck with Cheryl Harris, founder of the project, who has painstakingly chronicled New Mexico cemeteries. One of the stories was about a boy and his dog, who died of hypothermia in the mountains.

I have to believe that’s the same story I came across. What are the odds I would hear about it twice in the past three years? In any case, I finally decided to write about it. We may not be connected through family history, but the fact that the boy and his dog are buried within feet of my great-great grandmother must mean something.