Things sure have changed since that interestingly weird afternoon in 1986 when my mom and I drove to Firebaugh. We had such fun visiting with Aunt Hilda Borboa Flores at Genevieve’s home.
It’s hard to believe twelve years have flown by!
In 1987 I opened a business and ten years later, in 1997 I closed my square dance and western wear manufacturing business. Both my children had married and I was about to become a Grandma! The thought of becoming a Grandma, a Nana, gave me the big push I needed to once again dig into the past! I wanted to leave a legacy for my grandchild and any siblings who might follow … and for any potential cousins too!
Now, in the Spring of 1998 I’m ready to find my Juana Bojorques… determined to learn all I can about her…and EVERYTHING I can about her family.
Hmm, so how do I start? Aunt Hilda is no longer with us so I can’t just ask her again, and sadly, her nephew Richard Borboa is gone,too. So now what? Well, I can write letters!
I begin to write letters.
I write lots of letters to lots of people, mostly the people living in Firebaugh with any of the names I knew from Aunt Hilda’s tales.
Did I mention I have access to the Internet now? With the help of my computer I’m able to find so many addresses throughout much of CA, mostly in the Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin Counties. These Borboa folks are everywhere! I find some Dobales families, and some Gonzales, Alviso, Castro, Manzo, and a bunch named Preciado and some Bojorques too! I send a gazillion letters, and then I wait. and wait and wait
[sound of crickets chirping here]
Typing, typing, typing… another envelope to seal and stamp, another letter to type… pretty much the same wording on all the letters. I tell the person who I am, that I think we’re cousins and we share some ancestors, and I list the names, and if any of the names sound familiar would they please either call me or write to me? And yes, naive as I am, I put my home phone and address and full name… the whole mess on the letter. Hey, how else will people think I’m serious??
As I’m typing out yet another letter my phone rings… my house phone that's sitting right next to my desk. Loud ring in a quiet house on a Sunday afternoon in early June… nearly bounced me right out of my skin!! A guy on the phone asks to speak with Sheila. I tell him I’m Sheila. He says he and his dad have been on vacation, just got back and while going through their mail they found my letter. His dad told him to call.
He says they’re from the Borboa family in Firebaugh. I am sooooo excited!
I want to ask so many questions… but he starts first. As he’s speaking I can hear his dad in the background. Son says “Dad wants to know where you live” I say Modesto. He says “Dad wants to know how you’re related to us, who are your parents?” I say… deep breath first… my mother is Dolores Ruiz. She was born in Madera and married a Harrell from there. My grandfather was Vincent Ruiz and he married Cipriana Gonzales… they called her Zippy. The son is repeating all I’m saying and when he gets to the part about Zippy Gonzales his dad just bellows out “WHO did you say she was?” and I repeat the name Zippy Gonzales, married to Vincent Ruiz. Wow, there’s a lot of commotion on the phone, lots of shuffling sounds and suddenly a different voice… an older voice but one VERY excited voice. He slowly asks me again about the person I just mentioned and I slowly tell him again “my grandmother was Zippy Gonzales who had married Vincent Ruiz who worked at Brammer Shoes in Madera and we used to live in Madera and now we live in Modesto”. There’s just silence… kind of too long of a silence. Then a super excited voice is almost yelling into the phone “Zippy Gonzales was my Godmother!! I haven’t seen your family since Zippy died in 1961!!" Wow. All I could say was WOW! I ask how the Borboas were related to any of the others I listed for Firebaugh families and he says his grandmother was a sister of Clemencia Preciado and he knows some of the Gonzales people too.
OK… all this yelling into the phone is really causing me some hearing loss, not to mention I can’t hold the phone very well and write and try to find the pages I have with bits and pieces of stuff Aunt Hilda had said many years ago. Finally I just ask… “Hey, are you guys gonna be home the rest of today and this evening?” and the son says yes, the dad says yes, ya wanna come for a BBQ?
I say yes. Oh, yeah… I say YES!!
It’s 4pm, Sunday afternoon. I’m in Modesto. I’m on the road in 20 minutes. I’m headed for Firebaugh. I use my cell phone and call my very pregnant daughter to let her know where I am going. Her almost panicky voice nearly shrieks as she asks “Your doing WHAT!!!?” and she continues “Mom, you’re driving to meet some guys you've never heard of and have dinner at their house in a town where you don’t know anybody?? Mom, are you CRAZY!!? Mom, what are you thinking???!!” I’m trying to explain to her that these are my cousins, they aren't just “some guys” they’re my cousins! And I know lots of people in Firebaugh!
…well, I know I’m related to them, I just haven’t met them yet.
Have you ever tried to calm down a very pregnant daughter who thinks her mother has totally lost it?? Ay yi yi!!! I promise her I’ll call if anything bad happens.
Ooops, not a good thing say, not even as a joke.
This is a little bit longer road trip than I thought it would be. It’s taken me almost 2 hours but thanks to the red tailed squirrel* I’m finally pulling up in front of the house. It’s 6pm, still daylight. I see a short, stubby-legged, kinda roundish, white haired guy watering his lawn. This is my first sight of Arturo Borboa, aka Arthur Owen Borboa, affectionately known as Tootie. I’m hauling my stuff out of the car and Tootie’s son Barry runs up and helps me.
We’re laughing and talking and questions are tumbling out of all three of us all at the same time!
Yep, this is a guy house. Toilet seat up. It’s a bit dark in the house. A bit smoky, and a bit messy. They've been on vacation so the laundry is all over the place.
We head to the back yard patio to learn more about us being cousins… and the next door neighbor pops through the side gate. He’s the sheriff, or some law enforcement guy and he’s been watching their house. Just making sure we’re the right people since he didn't recognize my car.
The first thing Tootie says to the guy is “Hey, this is our cousin, she’s researching our family, our ancestors, and ya know what? We’re NOT MEXICAN!” I’m laughing but I’m also a little bit stunned to hear Tootie say this. The other guy says “yeah, right, and I’m Irish” (obviously he isn't ) and Tootie tells him again that I’m researching all the family and I can prove he’s not Mexican.
The guy laughs again, shakes his head, and disappears through the gate into his yard.
Barry is lighting the BBQ and getting some steaks ready. Tootie is bringing out boxes of photos and telling me all about the family, the Borboa family. I’m having so much fun! We eat, we share stories, I share more details of my searching and the time just flies.
Suddenly Tootie asks me if I want to see the cemetery.
YES!! Of course I do!!! What a silly question!!
I look at my watch and see it’s nearly midnight.
What could be better than going to a cemetery at midnight?!!!
* Watch for the red tailed squirrel story later.