“Last night we were out drinking . . .” Socrates once said . . . Any time a story starts out with those few words, you know it’s not going to end well. That was Socrates Govea. He lived two houses down from us.
Nobody ever told me anything. Things just happened. I was ten years old now. I woke up to the sounds of footsteps shuffling around our little house. John Olivas was my stepdad. His family was there and they had already hitched the team of horses to the wagon.
“Where we going?” I asked, even though I knew I wasn’t going to get an answer. I already knew what they were going to say.
“You’ll find out when we get there.”
We all piled on the wagon and travelled the bouncy road out of town. We took Fifth Street toward the ocean and kept going until there was hardly any road left. The closer we got to the beach the sandier the road got.
I could hear the waves whooshing and splashing and we turned north toward Ventura. Eventually we arrived at our destination. It was the ranch house of the Gonzales family. John’s family, over the years had often married into their family.
They were one of the original families in the area, just like the Olivas. Their ranch was called el Rancho Santa Clara de la Colonia. Gonzales Road in Oxnard is named after them.
The ways of men were simple back then. I guess nothing has changed through the years. Eat, sleep, work, drink. Once there my mama and my sisters went in the house and the menfolk gathered together outside under the shade of a tall tree.
“Stay out of the men’s way. And don’t get into trouble.” My mama told me.
“I’ll be good.” I promised.
John and some of the others got out their violins and guitars and started singing.
Then John decided that all that singing made him thirsty.
“Let’s go to Chirula”. He said. No one else disagreed so they hitched the horses to the wagon and climbed aboard. I stood nearby I must have made some sad baby face because John gave me a wink and jerked his head. I jumped up and happily sat next to him.
The crossroads of El Rio were nearby, just inland along the banks of the river. This is the place that was started by Simon Cohn. I have told his story before, so I will be brief. (https://jedwardnajera.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/simon-cohns-general-goods-store-by-carlos-najera/) Simon Cohn started this store here. He named the place New Jerusalem, hoping it would be a safe place for other Jewish people to come and settle. That didn’t happen. Eventually it became the township of El Rio. The old ones remember when it was still called New Jerusalem. To their Spanish speaking tongues, New Jerusalem was hard to pronounce, so they called the place “Chirula”. That was as close as they could get.
“Chirula” was a crossroads between going North and South. It was on the King’s Highway, the road that went to San Francisco from Los Angeles. Simon Cohn’s general merchandise store sold everything people needed. He sold groceries, hardware, farm supplies, even seed. He had a restaurant there, a post office, a saloon with gaming tables. He had a corral out back where he sold horses and mules.
Simon had just finished rebuilding his corral. Everything was brand spanking new and built to last.
It took us about an hour to get there by wagon. My uncle Chuy drove the wagon into the corral and then all the men jumped out and went inside for a drink.
“Turn the wagon around and face it the other way. It will be too dark to see by the time we are ready to go back.” I have done that before. I knew what to do. I knew they were going to be there all night. Simon kept his place open as long as the men kept paying for the drinks. I think this was the beginnings of my feelings about getting plastered. I didn’t like it.
I took the reins and began do make a U-turn in the corral. Somewhere along the way the hub of the rear wheel got caught on the fence post of the gate. I did not notice at the time, I was too busy handling the horses. I kept leading them around when I heard this loud noise. I turned and saw that I was dragging the entire corral behind me.
Simon Cohn’s brand spanking new fencing was now a pile of lumber scattered all over the place. John came out with uncle Chuy. Even Simon Cohn himself rushed out to see what was going on, actually everybody in there rushed out to see what was going on.
I thought I was going to get the beating of my life. They must’ve gotten very happy during their happy hour because none of them seem to care about what I had done. They went back inside the saloon and then I heard a lot of laughing.
John Olivas was a good man and treated me right over the years, even when I messed up. I never got spanked by John. My mama took care of those things, which was usually telling me how disappointed in me she was and then breaking into tears.
I sat in the back of the wagon all the way home. I was waiting for that big moment when John was going to take off his belt. But instead all they did, John and his brothers was laugh their heads off.