Homage to The River Boat Queen by Carlos and Joseph Najera

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In our modern times The Fiesta Queen had sailed out of Laughlin, Nevada. She provided tours along the Colorado River and she offered dinner cruises as well. She was a common sight on the river for several years up and down the river.

Since then she has moved her anchorage to the South Saskatchewan River under a new handle. She is now called the Prairie Lily and tours the river there during the summer months.

This river boat and others like her did it for fun, but there was a time when  the paddle wheelers were here for work. They were the perfect water craft for transporting men and equipment up and down our rivers.

Fort Yuma was first built on the California side of the Colorado River in 1849.  To supply the new fort, wagon and pack trains had to begin their journey at San Diego travel east.  They had to cross travel on the rugged mountain trails.  There were no roads East at that time.  Miles of rock, sand and boulders added to the difficulty of crossing over. Once in the Imperial Valley the supply trains had to cross nearly 80 miles of loose sand, then dunes and soft powdery dirt. There were springs, oasis and rivers along the way but they were still a challenge to get from one to another.  The bottom line was, transporting supplies from the Pacific coast to Fort Yuma at that time was slow and dangerous and at a cost of $500 to $800 per ton.

The idea of using a paddle wheeler to transport supplies was thought of almost immediately. There were many shallow waters and sand bars on the river, and they were constantly changing. The paddle wheelers drew only three feet of water, perfect for navigating the river. Their bottoms were flat. They really only needed just a few inches of water to get over shallows or sand bars.

bIn 1852 a contract awarded to Captain James Turnbull established the beginning of riverboat trade. Turnbull purchased a small steam tug, broke it down and shipped it, along with his first load of supplies, on the schooner Capacity from San Francisco to the mouth of the Colorado.

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It took two months to reassemble the tug, but in November, Turnbull’s 65-foot side-wheeler, renamed Uncle Sam, started upriver with 32 tons of freight and generated enough steam to appear devil like and scare off some Yuma Indians.     

      d Supplies were brought in by ship to the port of San Felipe located on the Sea of Cortez, Baja California. From there they were loaded on the paddle wheelers. It was about a hundred miles to Yuma at a fraction of the cost of transporting supplies by land.

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Local Native Americans were hired to deliver wood at designated places along the river for fuel.

fThis boat was named “Cocopah”, the name of the local people that lived there.

The construction of Laguna Dam in 1908, the year I was born, blocked the Colorado River 14 miles above Fort Yuma.  This meant the end of riverboat traffic.  They were no longer needed.  Progress brought the railroads and the railroads became king.

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                                             Say, “Good night.” To the riverboat queens.

 

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The Water by Joseph E. Najera

The 1952 polio epidemic was the worst outbreak our country has ever seen.  Nationwide, there were nearly 60,000 cases reported in that year.  Over 3,000 succumbed.  Over 20,000 individuals were disabled and limited in their ability to walk.

Polio is a virus that is spread by fecal matter in the water.  It was and still is, very contagious.

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One of the symptoms is muscle weakness, usually in the legs.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt went swimming on a family outing one day. Other people were in the water with him, but he was the one who got infected.  That disease, as terrible as it was, did not slow him down nor keep him from becoming one of our greatest Presidents.

December 1954, I was seven years old. As I mentioned before, my mom was in the hospital enduring a slow recovery from TB. We were living in El Centro near the Mexico/US border.  My father could not work the long hours that he did and be a parent so he took my two sisters and I to stay with our godparents. He left my brother to stay with our grandma in Oxnard.

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Uncle Max and Aunt Nellie lived in Port Hueneme, California.  That’s them shortly after I was born.  Oxnard was just a few miles away.

We lived a short distance away from the beach.  At night when the town was quiet and I was trying to fall asleep, I could hear the waves breaking.

“Polio is in the water.”  That is why we were never allowed to go swimming, in public or private swimming pools.  The memory of FDR and his condition was still a fresh memory.

“The water. The water.”  My seven year old mind was telling me.

Christmas in Oxnard in 1954. Many visitors and relatives often gathered at my grandmother’s house.

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The old house is still there. It looks different now. Back then it had wooden siding. Now it has stucco. There used to a hedge that actually hid the house from view. That’s the place. A lot of family memories there.

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There’s my brother Carlos in the striped sweater.  He came over from Oxnard because it was a special day. My sister Teresa was having her First Communion. Yes, that’s her on the right. My cousin Mina is next to her.  I still think of her as a big sister.  She’s trying to hold me still.  It was silly of them to dress me in white.  I was a natural born dirt magnet.  On the far left is my cousin Artemis. She lived next door to us.  My sister Chris was next to my brother. I have no idea who the boy in back is.

Behind us, where those trees are is the US naval base at Port Hueneme, Home of the Fighting SeeBees.

“The water. The water.”  My seven year old mind continued telling me. The great Pacific Ocean, a few blocks away, the wharfs, Bubbling Springs was a short distance away, a small smelly creek was a short walk from our house, I was surrounded by water.

“The water. The water.”  I heard the old ones say.

Back to Christmas in Oxnard in 1954.  My grandma’s house had a big kitchen, a big living room, and one and a half bedrooms.  There was not much room for the multitudes of relatives that were constantly there.  Gatherings such as this were a common experience during holiday seasons.  Sometimes there were even double this amount of relatives squeezed into that small house.

That is me, sitting on the floor with my Aunt Nellie.  There’s a story that I wrote about this particular occasion.  It is called, “The Old Ones.”  Look it up on my list of stories.

The Old Ones

Off we go, the youngest of us. That took at least six out of the house. Grown-ups need their space for cooking and catching up on the latest gossip.

The Vogue Theater was a few minutes walk from the house.  It is run down now, but it used to be a real nice movie house back then.  “White Christmas” was playing for the first time that year. Even now, once in Christmas or two, I will watch it on TV. Hollywood entertainment at its best.

My family and I take up most of a row. The lights go down. The curtain moves aside. The screen lights up, wide screen Vista Vision, the first movie to use this process, glorious Technicolor. I was in movie lover’s heaven.

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“Uh ho. I gotta go.” Everybody was grumbling as I stepped on their feet as I made my way out. It’s their fault after all, I was eight years old. They should of let me sit in the aisle seat.

Off I go. I took care of business and I was heading back.

“Water fountain.” I heard myself say.  I felt thirsty. I stepped up and took a huge drink. I felt the cold down trickle down to my stomach. Then it hit me.

“The water. The water.”  I heard the old ones say.  “You catch polio by drinking dirty water.”

“Oh no! What did I do? I’m going to catch polio!  I am going to get stuck in a bed with an iron lung! I just saw that on the news reel!”

I felt my stomach twitching and my knees started shaking.  I could not undo what I had done.  I felt my world getting smaller.  My mom was confined to a bed in a special ward for tuberculosis.  That was going to be my future as well.

“Dead boy walking!” Was what I heard as I took my death march back to my seat.  “When is it going to start? When am I going to start feeling bad?”

There was lots of music, singing and dancing.  There were lots of laughs but I remembered very little of it as I sat there waiting to be sick. For weeks after that I waited for the symptoms to start. They never came, but I wasted a lot of time being scared over that.

That next year Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first effective polio vaccine.  Because of that, the average number of cases dropped from around 45,000 a year to around 900 by 1962.

I remember our family participated in a nationwide campaign called “K.O. Polio.”  We drank a liquid dose several times.  After that we were safe, we were immune.

Thank you Lord, for Jonas Salk.

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October 28, 1914 – June 23, 1995

 

 

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Alice by Carlos Najera

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection often affecting the membranes of your nose and throat. Symptoms include a sore throat, fever, nosebleeds, swollen glands on the throat, and weakness. The telling symptom is a sheet of thick, gray material covering the back of the throat. This can often block the windpipe causing a gasping for breath. The infection can often be fatal especially in children, as many as 10 percent of people who get diphtheria die of it.

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It happened again, this time here in Oxnard, that worried look on my mama’s face. A new circle of women showed up to help my mom. Most of them were my stepdad’s people, John Olivas had a lot of relatives. His grandfather had twenty-three children and all of them had large families as well. That meant there were many aunts and uncles and cousins. Most of them lived nearby.

I believe my mom  missed the mysterious ways and presence of Doña Tula back in Mexicali. She was from the mountains and spoke her own language, but she always when anyone needed help. I thought is was strange that she was my size and I was just a boy.

The ladies that did show up had their own mysterious ways. They came and took over. It was just like in the movies, water was boiling. One lady brought in leaves from the lemon tree outside and made some tea. They rushed in and out of the girl’s bedroom.

The rest of the menfolk and children  stayed outside.  We were not allowed to be inside.  John got a campfire glowing in the backyard. He had a plow disc and put it over the fire. He used that to cook some meat for us. He and Roberto spread out blankets for everyone to sleep on.

As I struggled to fall asleep I could hear the ladies inside.  Al of them were busy, all night long.

We woke up in the early morning light to the sounds of wailing.

Alice went to sleep.

She was the one that took me by the hand

and showed me around my new school.

She taught me to say yes and no.

She taught me to say thank you.

She helped me understand

what the teachers expected of me

in school and even around town.

She was my friend and my playmate.

She taught me how to read,

my sister.

Alice number two

Alice, Maria Alejandrina Nájera (1902 to 1917)

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Queen of the Night by Carlos and Joseph Najera

How excited you are!

You have arrived at the age.

You are a young lady now.

It’s a magical age,

Where everything is possible,

And everything is beautiful,

Where everything is joy and happiness,

And tears are unknown,

Where pain and worries,

And sadness cannot enter.

Go now.

Stay on your path

Because you have stepped into

The kingdom

Beyond time,

Beyond thought,

And imagination.

Keep on that path.

Stay on the trail.

Arm yourself with the

Spirit, and plant your feet on

The other side of the horizon.

(Janet at 15)

 

Olga Hurtado is the name of my niece. She was adopted by my brother Roberto. I am not sure if that means if we are related or not. In either case her children and grandchildren accept me as their relative so I guess that is good enough.

Pop and family

That’s me sitting. Her daughter, my  niece Soccorro is to my left.  That’s Olga, standing next to my son Carlitos at my home in Mexicali.

I moved away from Cupertino and my children after Christi went to sleep. I did not want them to fuss over me. I wanted them to live their own lives. The cáncer that took my Christi from me did it in such a terrible, painful, and vicious way that I did not want to put them in the same situation with me when my time comes to leave this world.

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I have Roberto’s clan to take care of me, here in Mexicali. They all drop by my place every day to check in on me. I drop in on them on a regular basis. I pay Olga’s daughter Soccorro for doing the shopping and cleaning and other things like that.

On this day in 1989, the family took me to the quinceañera of my niece Janet. A quinceañera is a celebration of a young woman’s coming of age. She is no longer a girl and it is time for her to put away childish things.

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The day started with la Misa at their local church. Janet was dressed in white like a bride. She carried in her hand a huge bouquet of white flowers.

Her father escorted her to the altar of the church as he will again when she gets married. All their friends and family were there. The church was filled with people.

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After the church service we went to the reception. When we arrived at the hall the musicians were already playing music. There were photographers flashing their bright lights in everyone’s faces.

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The dancing began. It seemed like a real wedding. There was a lot of dancing and a long line waiting for a chance to take a turn with the Queen of the Night.

 

Mexicali, Baja California   December 30, 1989

(I thank Anna Villarreal for the use of her pictures)

 

 

 

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Sir Walter Raleigh in the Southern Sky

I stay up late and wake up early.

The evening settles across the sky.

It spreads out like a blanket,

As I sit here by my screen. 

I see the night fall, I see my father,

when I was small and

sheltered from the pain.

We were standing on our porch steps,

I was looking at his silhouette. 

What must be the thoughts he was thinking?

I couldn’t tell out there in the dark.

The desert crickets began their chirping.

They were some where I could not see.

The Milky Way never seemed brighter

As I stood there by his side. 

He lights his pipe

I can see it glowing.

It seems to help him think.

The heat of summer

 seems to linger

Though the sun has long since gone. 

The neighbors with their windows open.

I can hear their living sounds.

My brother sits inside reading.

The night time chores have all been done. 

Then my father starts to tell me

Where Orion rests tonight.

He moves across the southern skyways.

He fades away when the sun comes to rise.

Find him again tomorrow evening

and you’ll never be lost. 

What was in his head? What was he thinking?

As we shared that silent time.

Sir Walter Raleigh filled his pipe bowl

I can smell it even now.

 

Back inside he tucks me in,

my big brother deep in sleep.

He makes his way to his lonely bedroom

And says “Good night” to the empty side.

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San Jose, CA

3/20/2016

 

 

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Ancestry 101 by Joseph Nájera

There is an old country song called “I’m my Own Grandpa.” It is silly and funny and easy to find on YouTube.  Look it up some time when you feel like a little nonsense.

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This is a picture of my sister Teresa. This was probably taken around 1944.  That’s Richard Henry Olivas hanging on for dear life right behind her. They were born about the same time in Ventura County, California.  Richard was our first cousin.

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This is Richard’s father, Frank Olivas, my dad’s brother.

So, why is my last name Nájera and not Olivas?  My grandfather, Manuel Maria Nájera died in 1919. He left his wife, my grandmother, a widow.

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That’s my mom and dad on their wedding day. They are standing next to my grandmother. The year was 1936.

Her name was María Concepción Nájera de Madrid.  Manuel Francisco Nájera was the oldest child, born in 1893.  Roberto Eutimio Nájera (1898–1972) was next in line.  Natalia Nájera (1900–1985) followed.  Maria Alejandrina Alice Nájera (1902–1917), Maria Virginia Nájera (1904–1928) were two other sisters. My father Carlos was the youngest born in 1908.

I don’t know how or why my grandmother brought her family to Oxnard, CA. I do not know who to ask. It’s on my list. She met and married Juan Maria Olivas. As part of the marriage he adopted all of my grandmother’s kids. He even gave them his last name.  Two brothers followed, Frank and Henry Olivas.

School records show my father as Charlie Olivas. I think eventually he resented having his real name taken away from him, so he took it back by the time he finished high school.

Olivas family

 

 

 

Juan Maria Olivas (1887-1952)

Part 2

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That handsome man, posing with his daughter Isabel, is my uncle Rosario Ledesma.  Rosario is my mother’s cousin, from her grandparent’s generation, (2nd cousin). They were part of our family circle, they lived behind us in Cupertino and we saw them every day.

Rosario, Natalia (2)

Here is Rosario again. This time he is holding my sister Teresa. That lady on the right is my father’s sister, Natalia. She is holding our cousin Richard.

So, why is my dad’s sister standing with Rosario? He became a widower and eventually they got married.

Rosario was my third cousin, and became my real uncle. His daughter Isabel, my 4th cousin became my 1st cousin.

When I start thinking about this I hear that song rattling around in my head.

I’m my own grandpa.

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The Last City by Joseph E Najera

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I am back at the corner of Market Street and Santa Clara in downtown San Jose, my home town. My family moved here from Southern California in 1956.  We lived in Santa Clara a few miles away from this point.

I’ve seen the changes this corner has gone through the last century and into this new millennium.  This is the corner where the San Jose Light Tower was located.  I wrote a few words about this short while ago.

In the 1950s shopping patterns started to transform from shopping downtown to going to the neighborhood shopping centers.  Many of the stores that were here in the downtown do not exist anymore:    Hart’s, Hales, Roos. J.C. Penny’s was at the corner of Santa Clara and First, a short walk from here.  The Bank of America was at that corner also.  The building is still there though the bank has moved on.

This corner, in addition to the Light Tower, was the location of    Hart’s Department Store.  My mom would bring me there each August when it was time to shop for school clothes.  I suppose she bought other things there because we went there often.

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I found this photo on the Internet.  It looks to have been taken about this time I was remembering.  You may have heard about the nearby tourist attraction we have here in San Jose called the Winchester Mystery House.  That is another story to tell, however, the owner, the original owner, Mrs. Winchester bought her supplies here to add new rooms and wings to her famous house.  That was way before my time.

Hart’s Department Store has a story of its own.  I have heard about this story in bits and piece pieces over the years.  I didn’t think about it much until I chanced upon this movie poster that we see below.

Film Noir was popular in the years following World War II. Touch of Evil by Orson Wells is a good example.  This movie is another.  It tells the story of an ugly event that happened in San Jose in the year of 1933.

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Hart’s Department Store came into being in 1866 and over the years grew into a very successful business.  Alex J. Hart, Sr. was managing the business at the time.  His eldest son was Brooke. He was a young man at this time but already he was the chosen heir to take over the business.

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He was kidnapped and held for ransom in that November day of 1933. The family received phone calls asking for $40,000. By this time he was already dead.  His body was dumped near the salt pools by the Dumbarton Bridge.

Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes were soon arrested.  They confessed to the crime but justice was not served.

An angry mob gathered around the Court house. Some estimated up to 10,000 men, women, and children had gathered there.

The mob worked themselves into a frenzy and broke into the jail and dragged Thurmond and Holmes across the street and hung them from a tree in St James Park. A radio station was there and covered the event.

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This story was reported across the nation. There are many photos of the event on the internet. Some are quite disturbing. No one went to trial for taking part in the event, neither Thurmond nor Holmes, nor the men who held the rope.

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The City of San Jose thus  became the last city to hold a public lynching.

 

 

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