Chapter – Life’s Little Blessings
“Be as a tiny stone
tossed into a sapphire pond
causing hundreds of ripples
upon the reflecting water.
Touch others’ lives
and begin with me.”
Celestina (Sally) Higuera Munoz Cortez was my grandmother. She was a petite lady, 4’8”, with short salt and pepper hair who was born in Yuma in February 26, 1905. Grandma was one of the eldest daughters to Great-Grandma Lola and Great-Grandpa Ignacio Higuera. She had small hands, feet, and she probably wore a size four and a half shoe. When I think about her face, she was a pleasure looking lady with a strong chin. However, taking medication for her heart, and working hard all of her life, including her agonizing migraine headaches, did leave their mark on her face.
Ah, her personality. She was charismatic, charming, dramatic, imaginative, and sweet to all her grandchildren, especially to me, of course. Grandma birthed many children, three from the first husband, Charles, and six by her second husband, Johnny. All her children got along well during their childhood and continue to be close even after her death in 1984. The last reunion with all her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that I remember was in April 1981 during Easter Sunday weekend. Relatives from all over Arizona and California attended the reunion and drove in their camper trailers, mobile homes, and many traveled in a convoy. The Easter Sunday reunion took, place at Auntie Anita and Uncle Billy Montana’s home at Imperial Dam, where they have taken place for many years.
After we greeted each relative with a hug and kiss, we then visited a bit by catching up on news about each other. We then placed our dishes on the buffet table. We formed a line, served ourselves the traditional potluck meal of ham, potato salad, green beans with bacon, sweet potatoes, green salad, rolls, butter, and fruit punch. We sat and ate on long picnic tables in the Arizona Room that completed encircled Aunt Anita and Uncle Bill’s secluded spacious one-story white home. Green grass and flowers accented the outside of the home giving it a quaint southern style look. I made cheesecake, which was my favorite dessert, in an eleven by thirteen-inch Corning Ware dish. Uncle Johnny, built like a football linebacker, Grandma’s son, was the first to dig in and eat a large piece the cheesecake. With bits of cheesecake left on the corners of his mouth, he gave me his approval with a big grin. Like me, he loves to eat everything. I believe there were over seventy of us there that day. More than half of them were Grandma’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A large Easter egg hunt followed the potluck buffet. Golden eggs filled with surprises and other colorful dyed eggs in yellows, blues, and reds with all different designs were carefully hidden in the Oleander bushes, among the flowerbeds, grasses, rocks, and wooden debris by the oldest grandchildren. A verbal signal made by one of the adults suggested that it was time for the youngest children to seek and find as many eggs as they could within a few minutes. After the festive Easter hunt, it seemed as though everyone took hundreds of pictures. I have a family album showing a picture of how happy and complete Grandma Sally looked that day sitting on the white armchair that was covered with royal blue upholstery on the seat and back of the chair. All grandchildren, dressed in their best play attire, surrounded Grandma that day as if she were part of a regal court. Dressed in her long sleeve white blouse and white pants, she had a look of satisfaction on her seventy-six-year old wrinkled face, as if all the hard work she invested in her family was worth every bit of her effort.
As I think back to the past in the sixties, I remember fond moments of spending time with Grandma Sally and Grandpa Johnny. They lived in a tiny wooden house, which stood on a small grassy hill, on 5th Avenue. It was nicely decorated inside with handcrafted doilies, knick-knacks, handmade pillows, and dark inside, however friendly looking. This one-bedroom friendly home was where my Grandma baked her tasty marshmallow cakes with banana filling, lemon meringue pies, and she made the mouthwatering tortillas by hand. Grandma would say to my brothers and I, after she rubbed her dewy brow with the bottom of her white long-sleeved smocked blouse, “Don’t eat the first tortilla, it’s bad luck to eat the first one. You can eat the second or third, but not the first.” The buttered tortilla melted in our mouths as we ate them. One tortilla was never enough to satisfy our hunger, we had to have at least two tortillas with the black cherry soda that she split among the four of us, Grandma, George, Kent, and I. She would say, “We are splitting a soda so that we can all savor the flavor.” She poured the soda into small unbreakable metallic drinking glasses that were colored red, blue, and purple. Grandma wasn’t supposed to have soda, she was a diabetic, but she had some anyway. We didn’t approve of her having sweets; however, when she stole a piece of candy from us, her face would glow. She loved candy, just as her grandchildren did.
In Grandma’s little home, I loved to lie down on the chenille bedspread that was placed on the double bed located on her porch. The entire porch was screened with tiny rusted metal mesh. That’s the place where we would listen, watch, and smell the clean rainfall from the cloudy sky. We could see the rain as it watered Grandma’s garden of nasturtiums, daisies, and roses. Outside the front door of her house, many little pink fragrant flowers grew on vines. The flower’s named is St. Michael or San Miguel in Spanish. The fine vines with small tentacles weave themselves within the old wooden boards that held the porch together giving the front of the shack; in it’s own way, an unusual look of coziness. I once asked Grandmother, why there was a foot print mark high inside the porch wall, and I asked why it she never painted over it. She said, “That’s where my youngest son, Johnny Boy, with the help of a sibling, placed his soiled foot one day. The footprint never came off. He wanted to trick me into thinking he could climb the walls. I knew better. As long as that foot print stays there, I know my son is always with me although my baby boy doesn’t live here anymore.” Uncle Johnny married in his teens and had three children of his own, two girls and one son, all with blonde hair and bluish-green eyes.
I loved to watch Grandma Sally hang her and Grandpa’s Johnny’s clothes on the clothesline out back of her house. The large backyard was mainly dried dirt and a few cacti. I would have helped her out hanging clothes, but I was much too short at that time to do so. She would talk to me about strange events she saw and heard when she was a child, and I would listen carefully to every word she spoke. Some of the things she said were plain scary. She talked about the woman who drowned her children in the Yuma canal many years ago. Grandma said that the woman still walks the canal banks late at night calling out for her children. That scared me into being a good girl so that wouldn’t happen to me.
She spoke of seeing an image in an old wooden stove fire when she was little. She and other children were saying ring-a-round-the-rosy around the lit wooden stove, and all of a sudden, they saw an image in the fire. Of course, they ran off after being frightened to death. I told my Mom what Grandma had said that day. Mom said her mother was a little bit eccentric and not to pay any attention to what Grandma said. Mom didn’t want me to have nightmares, but I did have many growing up.
These strange stories never bothered me about my Grandma’s personality at all. She was the only family member, I remember that told me ghost stories. In fact, I think it was somewhat fun that she shared her tales with me. It was her way of bonding with me and letting me get to know really, who she was. She could tell me anything, and sometimes I would sit still at her Formica table with my eyes and mouth wide open and say, “Really, Grandma, did it really happen?” Of course, she would say, “Yes, it really happened that way.” Grandma had a gypsy nature side to her personality.
I once asked Grandma Sally what she loved the most in life. She said, “I really love it when your Grandpa Johnny comes home from working for the city at night and barbecues me a juicy steak on the grill outside my little home. That is when I am the happiest.” Now, that I am much older, I understand it’s the little things that mean so much to us in our lives.
Grandma Sally was a giving person. Every Christmas she made sure that every one of her grandchildren received a gift from her. First we received pajamas and as we got older, we received real toys. I remember receiving a small miniature doll with a black hair that resembled Barbie. She came with pink and black accessories. I’ll never forget how much I cherished that gift. In those days, receiving a toy was a big thing, especially a toy doll. When we had our first baby, Laura, Grandma left her a small golden cross necklace with a tiny diamond in the center of the cross. I will give Laura the cross on her wedding day since she is terrible about losing her jewelry.
When Grandma was growing up as a child, she wanted to learn how to read cards badly. She asked an old gold miner to show her how to read them. He said to her, “If you show me where you found that gold nugget in your hands, child, I’ll show you how to read cards.” She showed him the spot where she found the gold nugget, he became rich, and Grandma learned how to read cards. In 1974, before I was married, I begged Grandma Sally to read my cards while she was visiting our house on Pueblo Street one day. It took awhile before she would read my cards that day because she knew she would get one of those nasty migraine headaches afterwards like she always had in the past. Grandma predicted, “There is much more to your being than you let others know about you.” She also said, “You will leave a tall man with dark hair behind, and you will meet a tall blonde who will love you for who you are.” Silly I thought to myself, a blonde man. I don’t think so. Sure enough, a few months later, I met my husband-to-be who’s from Long Island, New York. Was her prediction all coincidence? I don’t know what to think. I just know my husband can read me like a book and other men could never figure me out. After the reading of my cards, sure enough she got one of those migraine headaches afterwards, poor Grandma. She didn’t read anyone’s cards after that incident.
I’ve inherited some of my Grandma’s talents besides resembling her looks. One time a while back, during a sunny day, my mother and stepfather said they were going to a picnic, I said, “You better bring your umbrellas, it’s going to pour.” This was the time before we could bring up the weather on CNN from our computers. Sure enough, it rained. My mother got upset with me to the point that she gave me a dirty look and wouldn’t look at me for the rest of the day. I told her, “The words about the rain storm just poured out of my mouth like a radio.” I didn’t know I was going to speak those words about the storm. I still think she thought I started the rain. She hasn’t yet to forgive me. That was over forty years ago. My Mother inherited this trait, knowing things in advance also, but she won’t say much. She keeps things, many things to herself. That’s the way she was raised, never says too much, always keep people guessing. This is where we differ, I’m open, she a secret. (end)