In May of 1986 Mom and I drove down to Firebaugh in Fresno County, CA to visit with Aunt Hilda at Genevieve's house. Firebaugh is kind of in the middle of the State…pretty much just out there ... just in the middle! To get to Firebaugh from either Hwy 99 or I-5 you had to drive about 22 miles across some mostly empty fields. From either the highway or the freeway, it was still about 22 miles to get to Firebaugh. Interesting things along the way from Hwy 99… lots of flat ground, some acres planted in trees, mostly empty ground. As we drove I wondered about my family… did they ever walk out across this land? Did they farm it? Did they raise sheep here? Did they live way out here, or did they all live in town… and since I’d never been to Firebaugh, I had no idea of what to expect of “down town” … but I had great directions from Genevieve, Mom’s cousin and we were excited to see her!
I was really ready for this day of learning about my family… about my ancestors! I had my portable tape recorder with me and I had a package of brand new batteries with me. I had a notebook and several pens.
I was ready!
Genevieve met us at her front door with huge hugs and “it’s been so long since I've seen you” for my mom. We were invited into her living room and then sat in the chairs she offered… and then Genevieve said she would run over to get Aunt Hilda and be right back. Um, OK. But we still wondered…who is this Aunt Hilda?? Mom had no idea, she said the name sounded familiar, but she couldn't remember anything.
So we waited…
In a very short time Genevieve returned with our famous Aunt Hilda… and we were immediately engulfed in her hugs! Aunt Hilda had the most interesting voice… and the best laugh I've heard in a very long time! She sat on the sofa with Genevieve in a chair to one side, my mother in another, and … well, forget the chair, I was sitting on the floor in front of Aunt Hilda using the coffee table for my writing table! I put the tape recorder down and asked both Aunt Hilda and Genevieve if they minded if I taped our conversations…they were fine with it… so here we go… time to find out about my family!
I didn't waste any time. I started with my biggest questions… who was Juana Bojorques? Who was her husband Bojorques? What was her maiden name, where was she born… and then Aunt Hilda laughed ...her oh, so distinctive laugh and told me to slow down… and she began to tell me about the family.
She told me about Juana’s daughter Kadena or Karena who married Escolastico Borboa and how they had seven sons. She told me about Juana’s other daughters… my great grandmother Florencia, and also about Clemencia, Mary, a son named Chico, and a daughter named Hoolita. She talked about the Castro family and Joaquin and Tia Ecca Castro and about a half brother Xpolito Castro. She spent almost two full hours telling me about all these families. I jotted down notes as fast as I could write. I had scribbles all over the pages with arrows going here and there to attach the family names like Bertolani and Bozo, and Chano and Felix who was Hilda’s father, and Gracie’s father and Bruno, and Filomena and June Montana and Rufufio Dobales and Blue Canyon, Leonard, Ramona, Frankie, Victoria… so many names and connections. I was trying to listen and trying to write as fast as I could!
I finally took a breath and so did Aunt Hilda… and I asked her a huge question… when did Juana die? … and where is she buried? Aunt Hilda answered… and just as she started to speak Genevieve leaned forward and said “Isn’t Aunt Hilda great? SHE KNOWS EVERYTHING!” … and yes, she said those last words just like in caps… loudly! We all laughed… and it was true, Aunt Hilda seemed to know everything and all about every person in all the families … and she loved to talk about the families, she loved to share what she knew.
Just before she had to leave Aunt Hilda told me about her nephew Richard Borboa who was doing the same thing I was doing. He was also trying to find this same Juana Bojorques and he'd had been working on it for quite some time. Wow! what a great lead!! Maybe Richard and I could share things??
Aunt Hilda told me where he lived in Madera and that he worked for the Fire Dept. She said he also had a sister named Patsy Borboa and she lived in Madera too.
Great!! I was really looking forward to meeting this Richard Borboa.
Maybe on the way home today?? Maybe!
Sadly our time had ended. Aunt Hilda had to get back home to her husband (Fat Flores) who was ill. She said she didn't like to leave him for a long time, but she was looking forward to talking with me again.
Me too! She gave me one of her huge hugs, a really long huge hug, and waved goodbye as she and Genevieve walked out the front door… and Aunt Hilda’s laugh was still in the air.
On the way back to Modesto after our visit with Aunt Hilda I tried to listen to the tape… hoping to hear some of the things I had missed and didn't write down. OH NO!!! The tape wouldn't play back! There was nothing on it!!! How could that be??? I put brand new batteries in the recorder, a brand new cassette right out of the wrapper… what happened?????
I was sick. Just sick. sigh
It was getting late in the afternoon as we left Firebaugh so we decided to stop at a hamburger place in Madera near the highway entrance. While I was there I thought I’d look through the phone book out at the pay phone booth. Yeah, remember, this is 1986… I didn't have a cell phone back then! While my mom and my husband sat inside I went out to try and balance that big ol’ metal cover on the phone book that was chained to the phone booth. Not easy, especially not easy while trying to read my notes at the same time. All of a sudden a gust of wind blasted past, yanking the book from my hands and slamming it shut, catching my long necklace with it, nearly face planting me into the phone book!
Where did THAT come from??? There was no wind that day.
VERY strange… and about to get stranger.
I looked for any Borboa families in Madera and there were none… well, none I could find. All those pages had been ripped out of the book! I went back inside and asked our waitress if I could borrow a phone book. She brought it right out and I took it back out to the phone booth with me. I was flabbergasted to find that EVERY number I called for EVERY person named Borboa was disconnected. Really? I decided to change tactics and called the County Fire Dept, the place where Aunt Hilda said Richard Borboa worked. Incredibly, that number was also disconnected!
Ya gotta be kidding, right?
I called the Operator who said I probably dialed a wrong number… and when she got the disconnected tone and message we were both stunned. She said no one had notified them of any changes so I asked her to dial the Borboa numbers… yep, all disconnected but not in her list!
Something was really going on here. Kinda weird.
After our lunch we drove down the frontage road and came across a County Sheriff Deputy parked at the side of the road. I got out and asked if he knew Richard Borboa who had worked for the County Fire Dept for about 30 years. This guy had worked for the county for about 20 years and said he’d never heard of Richard Borboa. Hmmmm. OK, we’ll just drive to the fire station.
It can’t be that hard to find this guy, can it?
As we pulled up to the fire station the first thing we see is a large sign in the front window saying they’re closed. Yeah. Closed. On a weekday. During business hours. Okaaaay. But wait a minute! I remembered I saw some guys out in back hanging hoses so we drove around to where they were. As I walked up to one nice looking guy and asked if “my cousin Richard Borboa” was working that day… the guy gave me such a strange look. For a moment I thought HE might be Richard. Nope, seems Richard doesn't work here… he’s working in Snelling today. Of course he is. OK, enough of all this. I ask if I can leave a note for Richard and will someone see that he gets it, they say yes and I write out my name and phone number and tell him I've just spent the afternoon with Aunt Hilda at Genevieve’s house… and would he please call me about finding Juana Bojorques? And we drove home. Arghhhh!
All the way home we talked about our visit with Genevieve. Our meeting Aunt Hilda and hearing all the wonderful stuff she had to say about the families in Firebaugh… and we talk about that darned tape recorder that didn't work. My notes were sketchy… I wrote down a bunch of names but not nearly everything I should have been writing. I was so involved in just listening to Aunt Hilda’s voice… that voice like a huge warm blanket wrapped all around you, but like a woolly blanket with just enough scratch in it to make you take notice.
I will never forget her voice, and of course her laugh!
Sadly, her time ended about 8 months later. Aunt Hilda died in January 1987.
Her husband had died just weeks after our visit with Aunt Hilda.
I never had the chance to listen to that wonderful voice again.
But wait! that didn't mean had to I stop following all the leads she gave me!
I still had to find Kadena and Hoolita!
PS By the time we got home Richard Borboa had called my house and over the next few years we shared our findings until his unexpected death.
And… when I put the cassette into a different tape player it played… and when I put it back into the recorder I had used that day, it played! Perfectly! Go figure.
Sooo. for safe keeping I made a copy of the tape and carefully labeled them “Hilda Speaks” and put them in two different places in my house… never to be found again.
I was right, I’d never hear that voice again.