While growing up in Madera, CA I always knew my grandparents on my dad's side were from the South, from Mississippi. Being at Grandma and Grandpa’s house meant we would always have delicious food! We had wonderfully golden fried foods, greens from Grandpa's huge gardens, ham and eggs and biscuits, roasted chicken smothered in cornbread dressing with cornbread gravy, and of course the huge family gatherings at their house in the country. All my cousins would be there, so many of them! My dad was the youngest of seven and each of his older brothers and sisters had children, most of them a bit older than my brother and I. The house was always noisy and filled with cousins and with the delicious smells from Grandma's kitchen... you could almost always smell something like bacon frying!!
My mother's parents lived in town. My mother had 3 much older half brothers so my cousins on that side were quite a bit older too. We didn't see them as often as my cousins on my dad's side of the family. Mom's brothers lived in other towns and didn't seem to visit all that often but we sometimes saw them while visiting our great aunts in Watsonville.
For the first five years of my life we lived in the same house with my mom's parents, my Nana and Papa. Nana's kitchen had a delicious smell with the warmth to it that slowly just wound itself around you.
One of my earliest memories in Nana's kitchen is of holding onto the edge of her kitchen table with my finger tips, stretching up as high as I could on my tippy-toes and looking across that table at a whole bunch of little round white things dusted with flour and sitting on a dish towel. I knew I couldn't touch but in a short time Nana would transform each of these little white round things into one of the most wonderful thing in the world… a handmade tortilla, fresh off the stove to be slathered in butter. NOTHING compares to that taste, or that smell… that feeling of being hugged in a huge warm blanket!
My Nana and Papa were not from the South, not from Mississippi. They spoke Spanish when they didn't want my brother or me to understand what they were saying… and Nana’s kitchen always smelled like warm tortillas, and beans, and enchiladas, and fat round tamales tied on the ends… and of those special spices that now instantly take me back every time I smell them!
Nana and Papa were Californios… a term I’ve learned over the past couple of decades. Nana and Papa were both descendants of the first families who arrived in California as early as 1769.
Nana's kitchen was always the best place in the house. After we moved away to another town my brother and I so looked forward to our visits with Nana and Papa! Every time we were there it was like being a very small child again. Not long ago some of my cousins from my dad’s side said they loved to see my Nana arriving at a family gathering because she always had a huge tray of her enchiladas to add to all that southern fried food…and Nana always took home an empty tray!
Sadly, in 1961 when I was just 13, my Nana died. I was heartbroken. Several days after her funeral service while my mother and I were going through some of Nana’s things we came across a little red address book. As I sat on the floor looking through the names of people my Nana knew, I wondered about her life, where she met them, and what their conversations might have been. I wished I had known more about Nana.
On one of the pages Nana had written something I think was just for me… not that she said so, but over the years I've just known that page was written for me.
Nana wrote the names of her siblings along with their birth and death dates. She wrote the names of her parents and their birth and death dates. She wrote the names of her grandparents… but she hadn't written all of their dates.
One of the names written in Nana’s little red book was Juana Bojorques.
From the instant I read that name my entire being was captured. I can’t explain the feeling at that moment, other than it was such a strong feeling of urgency. I knew I had to find this person. I had to know everything about this Juana Bojorques.
Why didn't Nana write down the birth and death info for her own grandmother?
This was a mystery I just had to solve!
Through the years since that February day in 1961… nearly 52 years now… I've been trying to solve the mystery of Juana Bojorques. During the past 20 or so years it’s been like living in my own mystery novel… each new character I find brings a whole new chapter to the novel… each with even more questions to add to the mystery!
Without Juana’s birth and death dates I've had to do some very interesting sleuthing along the way and I've become a pretty good detective, too. In my search for one great, great-grandmother I've found generations of California born ancestors, and well over one hundred living cousins!
… are you ready to meet some of my ancestors?
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