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by Henry Kamen (NY, NY: Harper Perennial, December 2008) paperback 544 pp.

According to one review, “This is a fascinating study from an old hand and one that looks afresh at a crucial theme in Spanish history.” Author is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in London and an emeritus professor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research in Barcelona. He is the author of Empire: How Spain Became a Great Power, 1492-1763, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest living historians of Spain.

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It was a warm and clear summer afternoon in August of 1991. There sat my grandfather, with a smile, handsome and strong; and in front of him, a birthday cake, lit with “90” candles, as three generations sang happy birthday to him!!!!

Juan de los Reyes Santistevan, my maternal grandfather was born on August 11, 1901, in Costilla, a small agricultural community in northern New Mexico. He was the second generation of his family to be born in Costilla; which was established in the early 1850’s.

I remember him to be always happy and friendly; never did I see him sad or angry at anyone. His kind and playful disposition attracted his grandchildren to sit on his lap and play with him. For me, it was rather unusual to see a tall and strong man be so gentle with so many young grandchildren around him.

I was fortunate to have lived with him and my grandmother for three years during my college experience. As a young adult, I came to admire, and appreciate him ever more. His fluency of the Spanish language, and appropriate use of “dichos” (expressions or sayings), made him a treasure of forgotten traditions. I recall several times his advice to me, “Cuando andes en silla, maneja bien” (When you have something good going for you, stay with it.) When I was down and sad, as I was going through a divorce, many times to pick me up, he would tell my grandmother, “Rebeca, con los listones a Juan”, (Rebecca, lets put some colorful ribbons on John to cheer him up.) It was a New Mexican tradition that people would wear colorful ribbons at joyous events. As a devout Catholic, he would use several dichos. One that I remember, “Dios tarda pero no olivida” (God will answer your prayers sooner or later.)

Grandma Becky and Grandpa John at home in Avondale, CO.

There are many more memories, I have of “Grandpa John”. I will save them for a later time.

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The above picture is of Grandpa Jose Ignacio Valdez. As you can see, the picture is of the 1912 Costilla Base Ball Team, which he played on. He is the man on standing second from the left.

José Ignacio Valdez was born July 31, 1891 in Costilla, New Mexico, to Francisco Valdez and Cecilia Santistevan. He was the older of two children. Grandpa “Nacho” (Ignacio) died July 27, 1966 in Pueblo, Colorado. My dad, Fermin, and Grandpa were quite close. They jointly bought property in Avondale, Colorado, and raised crops. I remember Grandpa as a fair skin man with blue green eyes. He was of average build, strong, and always well dressed. During the warm weather days, he wore a straw hat with a black hat band; he also wore shirt-arm garters to keep his sleeves up. He resembled a “black jack” dealer many times. My dad would tell us that he loved to gamble. Perhaps it was from those experiences that he chose to dress in such a way.

My grandpa outlived my grandmother by five years. During that time, we kept him company, as well as his daughters and grandchildren, until he died. I remember Grandpa as a stern disciplinarian. During spring and summer days, my younger brother and I were almost forced to work out in the field, hoeing, cultivating and irrigating the crops. I recall when I was 11 to 14 years old and working out in the field during hot summer days. He would keep my brother and me out there until he was satisfied with our work. There were times, however, when my mother would rescue us from the heat. Mom tells me of some arguments she would have with my dad over this. I think Dad wanted to take her side, but he didn’t want to offend his dad. Once, I remember my brother, LeRoy, (while hoeing some plants), we “RAN” into our house when Grandpa went into his house. We told Mom that it was too hot, so she told us to get up into the attic and she would talk to him. I wasn’t there to hear her discussion with Grandpa, but she tells me that, at that moment, she put her foot down! She told Grandpa that we would help him, but not during the hot part of the day. Finally, we were saved. So, from that point on, we would wake up early, go do our work, and come into the house during the most intense heat of the day. We would also work in the evenings when it would be a lot cooler. Those were the days! I know we learned some “character-building” ideals, but what a way!

I have struggled to find much genealogical information on Grandpa Valdez’ side of the family. I know who his father and mother were, but I am having difficulty going beyond his father. On his mother’s side, I have been able to trace to his grandfather.

In spite of the harsh treatment Grandpa Nacho gave us, I have fond memories of him. I wish I could have learned of his family from him.

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