The two most devout Catholic women I know are my mother, Fabiola and her mother, Maria Rebecca de los Dolores Barela. My grandmother, Rebeca, “Becky,” was born on August 23,1901, in Costilla, New Mexico. Although born a Barela, she was raised by her mother’s side, the Trujillo’s. As I was researching her side of the family this summer, I discovered in the 1910 and 1920 census records, that she was residing with Donaciano and Maria Dolores Serna Trujillo, her maternal grandparents. Within the last year, my mother found Grandma’s 8th grade diploma, showing her name as “Rebeca Trujillo.” Were we surprised? Yet, we understood that back then, people would assume last names without any legalities.
I have fond memories of the many times I stayed with my grandparents. My grandmother was a wonderful cook, and she also kept a clean and tidy house. During the 1930’s, in Costilla, she cooked for the nuns of the Sacred Heart Parish. The nuns, all from the east, were accustomed to gourmet cooking. So, my grandmother learned various cooking methods with wine and brandy, and she learned to make special sauces. I can still smell the various vegetable flavors as she made Irish stew. Her secret was browning the seasoned meat in red wine, and blending various herbs. Every holiday was a festive occasion at her house. Aunts and uncles, and their families gathered. The adults would be served first. Then, we grandchildren would eat at the “2nd shift,” after the adults. Grandma’s Easter ham was her specialty! Her special glaze made it so mouthwatering and flavorful! Oh my! Her turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas were a sight to behold! The little tricks she learned from the nuns, served her through her lifetime. Her cooked turkeys were golden and moist, and so picture perfect. The cranberry and orange relish she prepared, had a balance of sweetness and tartness. At least two weeks before Christmas, my father would hold a "matanza"(the butchering of a young hog). What a production this was! Every adult had a role; my maternal grandfather would kill the hog and pierce the heart to collect the blood in a pan. My role was to carefully take this pan to my grandmother, so she would make "morsillas" for lunch, to celebrate this event. At this time, I will not go into the other aspects of the "matanza", which can be difficult for some readers to visualize.
After processing the animal, my father would give the tenderloins to Grandma, so that she could make some “empanaditas” (mince meat filled turnovers.) I recall Grandma using her family's "molino" (a gift from her maternal grandmother) as she shredded the boiled pork. She would season it, and add the right amount of brandy for that unique taste. We grandchildren couldn’t wait for Christmas dinner at Grandma’s. She took so much pride, and used so much energy, to make everything taste right.
As a devout Catholic, she attended mass every Sunday, and twice a week. I remember as a school age boy, walking with her six blocks to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Pueblo, Colorado. She also prayed a lot at home. She prayed the rosary and novenas for those special intentions. Her faith was so important to her and her family, that prayer and religious traditions were seen at all family functions and holidays. My mother, her oldest daughter, is much the same as she was, raised in a humble family with strong religious beliefs.
This is a photo of my maternal grandparents, Rebeca Barela Santistevan and Juan Santistevan.