September 16, 1999
Great-Auntie Tamalia ©
We were always close to my great-auntie Amalia. She raised my Mom from a very early age in the 1920’s. After my Dad died when I was eight, my great-auntie picked up where my Mom could not. See, Mom now had to work full-time to support my two brothers and I. We would not be staying home over the summer with Mom and Dad anymore. We would be staying with my great-auntie whenever Mom needed a sitter.
Let me tell you a little bit about my great-auntie Amalia. She was short, stout, brunette, and a hard working women. Over the 70 years of her life, all her uprightness had formed an impression of integrity on her small face. Of Spanish descent, she knew English and Spanish fluently, not like I who knows only English.
Great-auntie Amalia was a third generation Higuera born in Yuma, Arizona. She married young to an older man, Paul, who worked as a real genuine cowboy on a ranch at Texas Hill. I remember fondly, when my Great-Uncle Paul was ill and my great-auntie would loving make him his favorite split pea soup from scratch. She was the best cook in the world, and she knew what to substitute in a recipe dish if she didn’t have the right ingredients; such as putting, using dill pickles in an enchilada dish when you don’t have any olives. Of course, she made her own corn patties from masa flour.
One thing I remember well about my great-auntie, she was a religious woman who would pray to God at anytime or opportunity she had. She donated all her spare time to the Church after Uncle Paul died. In fact, when we were quite small, my brother George, and I knew she was the Godliest woman in Yuma. One day, one of the priests at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church confirmed our beliefs by sprinkling more holy water on her than anyone else in the church on a holy day. We also knew another reason why she was Godly. It was because she made all those empanadas for the church!
Later as an adult, my, husband, Rick and I volunteered to make the traditional Christmas tamales at my Moms at a family gathering. My job was to tie the many strings of twine on the cornhusks to keep the tamales from falling apart. My husband’s chore was to beat the masa until it floated on water, of course . . . per my great-auntie’s instructions.
Impossible, I exclaimed! How could anything stay afloat on water beside Jesus himself? Well, Rick kept on beating the masa for an hour or so with the food beater that afternoon. And . . . my great-auntie kept adding baking powder and lard to the masa until it did float! I kept thinking for days after; my great-auntie really did have connections with the Big Guy in the sky after all. We made twenty-two dozen tamales that day.
Another time, when I had a child of my own around Christmas 1980, our family gathered again to make the traditional Christmas tamales at my Mom’s home. Oh, how I can remember how angry my great-auntie got with me that day. She said I had planned to have my baby daughter, Laura, on purpose around Christmas so that I get out of making the tamales! Which of course, was not true. It took forever for Rick and I to get pregnant the first time.
Well, guess what? In another four years, I did it again, and our Ashley Louise was born on December 4, 1984. And . . . great-auntie Amalia scolded me by saying I tried to get out of making those tamales again.
That is why my first cousins and I titled my Great-Auntie Amalia, Great-Auntie Tamalia. She was the queen of making tamales in our family and since she has passed on, no one has dared to compete with her cooking or her style. Like they say, when God made my Great-Auntie Amalia, God certainly threw away the mold.