Magdalena has been my student for several years and I have so enjoyed hearing her stories.  She recently moved to Riverside after the death of her beloved husband, Ralph.  I really enjoyed reading this story that she wrote to share on this blog…enjoy!!  Tammy Coia


Three events occurred that changed our lives.  First, shortly after Nana Panchita, (Francisca Grijalva) died, the extended family structure broke apart.  Aunts and Uncles were moving away.  We could always depend on our extended family to help us when Papa was unemployed.  Secondly, Papa was having difficulty finding steady employment.  It could have been that we were also undergoing the 1930’s ‘Great Depression’.  No jobs and no home.  Finally, our family ended up homeless.

Mama became desperate and hysterical and begged Papa to find us a place to live.  Since he could not find a home, he decided to make one for us.  Guess where?  In the “Yuma County Dump”!  We thought it was great!  My oldest sister, Ramona, Lupe and brother, Claudio and I were told to start collecting empty cans from the dump.  Dad went to the nearby woods and started collecting tall, straight, thin trees and hauling them to the place he selected for our new home. Yes!  There were trees in the desert, especially where Papa chose the site, by a large canal where trees grew.

Papa picked a small sand dune for our home and had to level and flatten it first.  He made a flat board with planks he found in the dump, tied them together and pulled the board with ropes.  Mama and Papa pulled the board with all of us on to to add weight.  That was fun and it was just the beginning.

Papa started the foundation; approximately one hundred and forty feet square, (10 ft. by 14 ft.).  It was the size of a small bedroom today.  He buried the poles made from the tree trunks and framed the walls.  He used smaller tree limbs to connect the poles by tying them with rope.  The limbs were tied on both sides of the poles to create slats to hold the cans to start the walls.

Next, Papa made a mud hole and filled it with water.  He told Lupe, Claudio and me to jump in and make mud.  We sloshed in the mud with delight and joy, slithering and sliding until our parents tired of hearing our laughter and screeching.  Papa added straw to the mud and instructed us to mix the straw and mud until it would hold together.  Our next chore was to jam the cans between the slats until all the walls were ready for the final step.  In the meantime, as we jammed them in the walls, the mud was setting to the right consistency.  Throwing the mud on and around the cans and on us was the final step to the walls and so enjoyable that we didn’t want to stop.  We were dismayed when we finished jamming the mud between the cans and had to let it dry.

However, the room was only for sleeping.  Mama divided the room by using a curtain to make two rooms; one smaller than the other.  The small one was for Mama, Papa and two babies.  the second was for a large bed for Ramona, Lupe and me.  A small cot was placed for Claudio.  Total family size was eight.  We did not need closets as our wardrobe was so limited, we didn’t even think of it.

Papa made a ‘ramada’, (now they are called patios), on the south side of the house.  The ramada was used for cooking and eating outdoors.  Papa sunk a well for our fresh water under the shady ramada.  It was fun living in our own house and we named it, ‘la casa de botes’, (the house of cans).

Later, Papa built another building; an enclosed dining area across from the first building.  This was made of wood planks and window screens to keep the flies out.  It was great to get up in the morning and walk to the patio, pump water to wash ourselves and walk to the breakfast room.  We loved our home.

We were isolated at the dump, but Claudio and I had fun exploring the canal, the trees and the dump.  We could hear the coyotes in the evening.  We watched the quail families in the mornings.   The Queshans, known as the ‘Yumas’ were our neighbors.  They are and were a tribe of the Yuma Nation.

Unfortunately, the County officials discovered our home close to the dump and ordered us out.  Papa and Mama were furious and with all the children helping, we tore the house and all buildings down.  We destroyed our beloved house and nobody else could love or live in it.  We left, but retained many memories from the ‘Casa de Botes’.  It was the only house we baptized.

graduation with tammy coiagraduation with tammy coia

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