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South Texas Living

The homecoming reminiscent of ‘The Waltons’

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
January 4, 2012 | 2,303 views | Post a comment

I have been watching reruns of “The Waltons” on TV. Except for an occasional movie on Hallmark or the programs on EWTN, there is hardly anything worth watching. And I don’t always sit down to watch TV. I do it as I’m cleaning or cooking. There’s an advantage to having a small house. If you position the TV in the right place you can watch it from just about anywhere.

Getting back to “The Waltons” -- I remember the pilot movie which they made from which the series evolved. They were different characters and the only one I remember is Patricia Neal, one of my favorite actresses, playing the part of the mother. The title of the movie was “The Homecoming.” It was about the father having been gone for a good while, and the family was hoping he would get home for Christmas, in spite of a big storm.

I don’t remember all the details, but it was a good movie. I’m leading up to Henry’s homecoming from Panama in January 1955 after spending 16 months there. I don’t remember the date, but it was toward the end of the month and it was a Saturday.

Letty and I had been staying with Mamá and Papá. Henry had called and said he would be home that day but didn’t give me a time. Either because he really didn’t know or didn’t want to tell me. I had gotten Letty and myself ready early in the afternoon. I had helped Mamá fix supper and we had eaten. It was getting late and still no sign of Henry.

My mind started playing tricks on me. I knew someone from his family was going to pick him up in San Antonio. I started wondering if that someone would take him to town first. I knew that Saturday nights Grandpa and Mila and Henry’s uncle Buddy and Ramona would come to town with their kids. The men would go inside Castro’s Place. The women and kids would go to a movie at the Arcadia. Then the women would sit in the car in front of la cantina while the kids ran around.

Henry’s mom would join them most of the time. So I wondered if Henry would go there first. I was young and foolish; of course he would come first to meet his baby girl, whom he would refer to in his letters as “my dolly.”

I was standing at the sink washing dishes when he and his brother, Reynaldo (“Cuate”) walked into the kitchen. Papá had been in the living room and had quietly let them in. I turned around just as Henry was about to put his hands over my eyes. I let out some kind of noise and then started crying. The waiting was over, and he had come home to us first!

Letty was asleep in Mamá and Papá’s bedroom, which was next to the kitchen. After a few moments of hugging and kissing and crying on my part, I led him to Letty. Every day I would show her pictures of Henry and encourage her to say “Daddy.” She took to him right away. He thought she was even more beautiful than in the pictures. I thought she was the most beautiful baby in the world.

Reynaldo waited around so he could take us to town. Then we gathered upstairs of Castro’s Place. It was the living quarters of Henry’s brother Rudy and his family. All the extended family came around to welcome Henry back. Grandpa Castro was there and I stayed away from him. I guess I have to explain that.

Henry and I went together for three years, being engaged several months before we got married. Henry took me out to the farm many many times and everyone was very nice to me, including Grandpa. Remember, Henry grew up on the farm with Grandpa and Mila and his uncles.

Then Henry stopped taking me out there. He didn’t say why and I never asked. I would still talk to Mila and Ramona when I saw them in town. Grandpa seemed to make it a point not to be anywhere near me. Papá told me that he even quit talking to him, whereas they had been friends before. We couldn’t figure it out. Looking back, I think maybe it was when we became engaged.

Maybe Grandpa thought I was okay as a girlfriend but not as Henry’s future wife. You know, some moms don’t think any boy is good enough for their “Mary,” and some men don’t think any girl is good enough for their “Johnny,” or vice versa.

Whatever the reason, when Henry went to tell Grandpa that we were getting married, he says Grandpa told him, “Pues sabes que ya no tienes casa aqu’.” (You no longer have a home here.)

Henry went to his uncle Carlos for advice. Carlos told him, “If you love her, marry her. Never mind what Papa says.” Henry was still hoping that Grandpa would show up for the ceremony. But Grandpa, as the saying goes, ruled with an iron hand. Nobody from the farm came.

So all the time that Henry was gone, I never visited at the farm. After Letty was born, Henry’s sister Bertha asked if she could take her to meet Grandpa. She didn’t say if he had asked for her. When Henry found out that I had let her go, he was upset. I made sure that Mila, Ramona, and Buddy saw her often.

Henry had made it a point that the baby, boy or girl, would be baptized Catholic. Buddy and Ramona were to be the padrinos. I am so glad I honored his wishes.

Well, the night that Henry came home, Grandpa invited him out to the farm. Henry says that he reminded him that if his wife was not welcome there, he could not and would not go. That’s when Grandpa gave in and told him we were all welcome.

Henry did not rush to take us. He took his time. When we did go, it was as if no bad feelings had ever existed. There was no apology, no mention of the reason he had behaved the way he had. And I was not vengeful. I held no grudge. I was just grateful that Henry and he were close again.

He lived to know eight of our ten kids and loved all of them. He had a special name for Loretta, la cuyumata (I never knew what it meant), and DeeDee was la chuparosa, a hummingbird. Grandpa and Mila wanted us to leave Louie with them. We rejected that idea. Later they wanted Marshall. Grandpa even gave him a cow.

We buried Grandpa on Dec. 22, 1965. He died as a result of a stroke at the age of 91 years and 27 days. And long before that, all was well between him and me.

As for “Cuate,” he never let me forget how I had cried. For years he called me la llorona, and he would cover his face with his hands and pretend to be sobbing.

I’ve never been ashamed of crying. That was a cry of joy.

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry.

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