Here I am at age six with my sister, Jeanie. My new glasses made me look like a bookworm, which I was and still am. I remember flipping to the end of our Dick and Jane readers in first grade where there was a real story. By third grade I was reading Heidi and The Secret Garden. Now, I’m writing my own stories! Many of my everyday life experiences are in my stories.
I am the eldest child and was born in June. Eleven months later I had a sister. We like to tease each other that we’re the same age for eight days each year. We grew up in Rawlins, Wyoming where our dad drove semi-trucks and our mother was a stay-at-home mom, but we also had a village to help raise us. Our maternal Sandoval grandparents lived about a block away, as did two aunts, three uncles and all their families. On that side of my family we were blessed to have eighteen first cousins as our friends and playmates. We made mud cakes and salsa out of berries from our aunt’s tree, played jacks, ice skated, climbed the hills near our home, and entertained ourselves because we didn’t have television like today. When I was nine, our family grew when our brother Tim was born. What fun my sister and I had dressing him up and teaching him to sing. Then we had a baby sister, Beverly, and when I was fourteen we got a baby brother, Patrick.
We visited our Gonzales grandparents in Albuquerque, New Mexico or they visited us, until they moved to our town permanently. Of course that meant an aunt and her family followed, and our uncle was always nearby too. Our dad’s other brother lived in Laramie, Wyoming, about one hundred miles from our town. What fun we had visiting those cousins but we also got car sick because we weren’t used to traveling that far from home.
Memories of seeing our grandparents visiting each other, because my two grandmas were primas, (cousins), always reminds me how much família is part of who I am. In fact, I think we were related to half the Hispanic population of our town because we even knew our third and fourth cousins. It’s a wonder there were any Hispanics left in the county of Mora, New Mexico where both sides of my family came from. I think they all moved to our town. It’s true when I say I’m my own cousin!
My favorite memories involve family. In the spring time we visited my mother’s aunt who lived in a nearby town, Fort Steele, Wyoming where our mother was born and raised. This is the setting for The Wind Called My Name. Here we picked about six sacks full of the quelites (lamb’s quarters) that grew by the North Platte River in the spring. I also remember all my cousins and I gathered around our grandfather as he slaughtered a lamb. Then the women prepared burañates out of the intestines and menudo from the tripe. The men quartered the animal. I remember how our mother roasted the large lamb ribs in our oven until they were crispy. This ritual is called a matanza.
Every fall our relatives bought green chile, brought to our town from Colorado and New Mexico. Somehow the vendors knew just which families to contact! Now I have the vendors roast most of the chile I buy, but I always roast some of it because the aroma transports me back to my roots.
Music was always part of our lives. Our dad was a “dancing fool”, played the guitar, and the piano and accordion by ear. When I was four years old I played Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” on my cousins’ piano by ear too, with two hands. (That means playing an instrument comes naturally to a person without looking at written music.) I asked for a piano and guess what? My parents bought me a piano! It was an upright piano which our mother painted and repainted over the years. My siblings and I took piano lessons and our mother paid for them by cleaning our piano teacher’s house. In fifth grade I started playing the clarinet because I wanted to play like my hero on The Lawrence Welk Show—Peter Fountain. In junior high school and high school I played clarinet solos in competitions and was awarded many blue ribbons which adorned my letter sweater. I played in the band in college where we performed during the Sun Bowl halftime. I also played the piano and organ in church and even for weddings and family funerals, but now I’m happy just to sing in the church choir.
I met my future husband at the University of Wyoming where he was on the wrestling team. Then my sister met his younger brother there, and guess what? My sister and I married brothers on the same day. We had a double wedding.
Since I knew I only had one lifetime, I thought I should try writing children’s books. After all, I thought I knew children’s literature since I was a retired teacher/librarian in an elementary school. Little did I know how long the process is to write books for children, especially since I started learning to write late in life. However, the best thing I did my whole life long was to read! I concentrated on reading more children’s books when I took a children’s literature class in college and continued reading them when we had our own four children. Then when I became a teacher/librarian, I read even more children’s books and still do today!
My many stuffed children’s book characters look down on me as I type my stories in our computer room; and the cabinets are full of over three hundred books about my favorite subject to write about—my New Mexican gente.
I want you to know that everyone on this planet has stories to tell—you too! Take the time to learn to become good writers now so that you too can become young authors.