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In Loving Tribute to my MawMaw

I lived in The Valley until I was six. Not the Valley in California, The Valley in Texas as in the Rio Grande Valley. Until recently, and I’m quite embarrassed to admit this, I thought the valley girls originated in The Valley I grew up in. My aunt, who was four years older than me, used to always talk like a valley girl and talking like a valley girl was the thing to do in the early ’80s. “Gag me with a spoon,” is what my aunt would always say. Being only five and being told I lived in the Valley, I naturally assumed that this is where it started. Fast forward quite a few years, ok a lot of years, my husband informs me during a very casual conversation we were having about a show we were watching, that Valley Girls did not originate in Texas.  The look of shock on my face made him laugh. He said, “Have you honestly thought this your whole life?” To my defense, I haven’t actually even thought about valley girls since valley girls went out of style, but yes, that is exactly what I thought. Through my husbands’ laughter, he was able to give me a quick history lesson on The Origin of Valley Girls.

I was born in Harlingen, Texas in the seventies. My mom and dad were very young but seemed to be very in love. I base this solely on the yearbook cover my mom and dad were featured on holding hands on a bridge looking into sun gleaming water. My mom was the oldest of seven kids and was raised by a very strict father. My mother’s father was Hispanic and owned his own business in the import/export business. Actually, I’m not really sure what my grandpapa did for a living. I do remember going to his office, and it was just a giant warehouse. My grandpapa would take us across the border into Mexico, and he always knew the officers at the border by name. Going across the border in the late seventies and early eighties was much safer than it is now but still dangerous. However, I always felt safe with my grandpapa. He knew everyone and was always shooing away all the little kids trying to sell us Chicklets. I really wanted some of those Chicklets, but he would always say in his broken English, “Mija, don’t talk to them, just keep walking.”  In despair, I would listen to him and have to grab my little sister to keep her from getting yelled at too.

Besides a few memories of going to Mexico with him for his work, whatever his job was, or to visit his mother in Mexico and his multiple kisses on each cheek as he squeezed your cheeks really hard, I really didn’t know my grandpapa that well. My MawMaw, this is what I called my mom’s mom, and my grandpapa divorced when I was really young. They were married for a long time and had 7 children. They were known as the Lucy and Desi of south Texas. From what I hear, my grandpapa was very strict and controlling. Maybe even abusive. After the divorce,  he moved to Brownsville, it's not far from Harlingen,  but he did not come around that often. 

My mother’s mother, how I remember her, was always cracking jokes, dressing up really fancy just to go to H.E.B (the local grocery store) and always wore a fake yellow flower in her bright red hair. I was very close to my MawMaw.  Being the first grandchild and the child to very young parents, I spent a lot of time with MawMaw and I know I was her favorite (ok, this may have been just what I thought). To me, she was always funny and was always very kind to me.  Except when she would pull that skinny branch off the tree and use it as a switch.  I don't think she actually ever used it on us, but the thought of it was enough to make two little girls behave.

When my parents divorced, and my mom was trying to get her life in order being a young single mom, my younger sister and I lived with MawMaw, my 2 uncles and my aunt. My other two uncles were living on their own. As much as I hated it when my mom would leave on Sunday to make the long drive back to Houston, and I would literally chase her blue Camaro down the street, my MawMaw always helped me feel better. She would make us laugh by serving her “fancy” napkins at dinner. We didn’t have a lot of money and when we would run out of napkins my MawMaw would use her fancy napkins which were actually just toilet paper. My sister and I always thought that was so funny. 

We loved helping her make her homemade tortillas. Using the rolling pin and then throwing the fresh tortilla on a Comal, watching it bubble up and then putting a glob of butter on it so that when you rolled the tortilla up, the butter would drip out all over the plate and your face like liquid gold. I can still smell her kitchen. The smell of warm fresh tortillas, pinto beans with real laird and dish soap from the kitchen sink filled with dirty dishes soaking in hot water. Even the flying cockroaches that terrified us and would attack us as we opened cupboards couldn’t keep us away from her tortillas.

We loved it when the grumpy old man across the street would throw candy out in the street for all the kids to run and grab. We loved playing outside until the street lights came on and if we didn’t come in when the lights came on, we would hear MawMaw yell for us to come in. If we still didn’t listen, we would hear that branch break off the old front yard tree and then you never saw two little girls run so fast.  

She would take me, my sister and my aunt to H.E.B, but we had to sit in the brown panelled station wagon with the windows rolled down while she ran in the store all dressed up with her fake yellow flower in her red hair.  She always said she just had to get one thing and would be right back. That NEVER happened. It must have been her social hour because she was never right back, and it was never one thing. She always came back with a cart full of groceries. I swear this is who I get my Target problem from. Remember, this was back in the day when it was ok to leave your kids in the car even though it was southeast Texas where it never gets cold. If you looked around the parking lot, you would see kids in every other car.

We used to climb in Big Chris’s, my MawMaw’s boyfriend at the time, big white truck. All four of us in the front seat, there was no back seat, and drive to get snow cones at a little snow cone shack down the street. My sister and I loved going to get snow cones. My MawMaw would tell jokes, and Big Chris never said a word. I actually don’t remember him ever talking. I do remember my MawMaw basically being his servant. I guess he worked on a Ranch and every night he would come home, go straight to MawMaw’s bedroom, lie down, watch TV while MawMaw made and took his dinner to him. Even at my young age, I knew something about that was odd.

MawMaw was always protecting me. Even when I threw a fit every day when she would drag me back to the dentist to get an expander. Every day I would sit in that chair and either scream and kick or not open my mouth, but every day she took me back. Finally, one day the dentist had enough and literally slapped me across the face. MawMaw grabbed me out of that chair and stomped out of that office. My mom was back in town in record time (the drive from Houston to Harlingen is 8 hours), and the next day I had a new dentist and an expander in my mouth.

My uncles that lived with us weren’t around much-being teenagers. They were always out and about in their fast cars, sneaking cigarettes that I would hide for them so MawMaw wouldn’t find them. When they were around they seemed to always be in trouble for something, but for the most part, they were always nice to my sister and I. They had the same sense of humor as MawMaw and were always making us laugh. Being boys, my uncles loved to rough house with us. They would take my sister and I out in the front yard, grab us by our hands, spin us in a circle and as we were flying in the air giggling with joy, they would then literally just let go of us. My sister and I would fly in the air and then land flat on our faces on the hard, wet grass. My sister, being a lot smaller than me, would literally just bounce off the hard surface, jump up and run back to our uncles yelling, “More, more!”  I, on the other hand, wasn’t sure I enjoyed this game my uncles found to be so funny. 

My sister and I loved to run around the back yard with them too. In the backyard, in the corner by the chain link fence that met up with alley, was a large deep dirt hole. My sister and I never really knew why it was there, but we loved to play in it. The hole was so big, both my sister and I could fit in it. My uncles loved to tell us stories about how the hole was created. 

My grandpapa, their dad, was very into religion and aliens. I guess when my mom and her siblings were younger, he would take them outside and make them form a circle around a weird shape that was somehow burned into the grass. He would tell them that this is where the aliens had landed. Ok, I know, what the heck?? Talk about freaking your kids out. 

Supposedly, when I was born, Grandpapa was driving back from Brownsville and all of a sudden he was lifted out of his car and was told by God that he had something special waiting for him we got home. When he arrived home, I had been born. I was also the only child in his whole family that had blue eyes. All seven of his children had brown eyes, and he wanted one with blue eyes so bad. I’m not exactly sure how I got blue eyes. Both my parents have brown eyes, but my mom said she prayed every night for a little girl with blue eyes. Sometimes my mom would jokingly say that maybe I was the milk man’s child.  To my Grandpapa, it didn’t matter how I got the blue eyes, I was the special one.  

My uncles, now realizing that their dad may have been a little crazy, loved to create new stories based on their father’s wild stories just to freak my sister and me out. It worked. They told us that the hole in the backyard was created by aliens and if we play in that hole at night, the aliens would take us. At night, that backyard became our worst nightmare. My sister and I would sometimes look out our window at night that faced the backyard just to see if we could see any aliens. We never did, but you can bet your life that we never went in that hole at night.

The room would we look for aliens out of was my uncle's bedroom. Being only a small three bedroom house, my sister and I didn’t have a bedroom. When my uncles were out for the night, MawMaw would try and have us sleep in their room, but between the aliens in the backyard and the huge KISS poster on their door, my sister and I were not going anywhere near that room. The KISS poster, with their faces all made up like monsters and Gene Simmons tongue sticking out like he was going to grab me with that tongue, was enough to make me run past their room as fast as I could down the all wooden floor hallway. 

My aunt had her own bedroom at the end of the hall, and she scared me just being herself, so we weren’t going to be sleeping in her room either. And, Big Chris was always in my MawMaw’s room, so that left the pull-out couch in the living room. The living room was also the TV room the bumped up to the dining room and kitchen. That’s it, that was the whole house. The dining room is where the window air conditioner was, so this was the coldest room in the house. My sister and I used to love to stand right in front of the air conditioner unit and let it blow our hair. I also loved the way the air conditioner air smelled. The smell is hard to explain. It was as if I could smell the water condensing as the drops of cold water fell on my feet.

The pull out couch was an old black and white patched pattern couch, and when pulled out, it took up the whole living room. This is where my sister and I slept or tried to sleep. I liked sleeping there because that meant if I could stay awake without MawMaw knowing and hide under the blankets, I could watch Johnny Carson. I loved watching Johnny Carson, especially when he had the animals on and when he would wear the big genie hat. I never understood why he wore that hat, I just thought he looked funny in it.

Sometimes, when it got cold enough which wasn’t often, we got to turn on the fireplace in the living room. We would get so excited to use the fireplace. It wasn’t a real fireplace. The fire looked like a big rock that would glow and produce some heat, but my sister and I thought that big rock that glowed was so cool. We would play around it, dance and create little plays. Most the time, we would just sit on the black and white patch carpet, yes the carpet was black and white too, and just stare at the big glowing rock. We were entertained so easily as children.

I have so many beautiful memories of MawMaw. Even though I am very sad that she is gone, I know she is in a much better place now. I know that I can always see her in my dreams, and I know that I will see her again one day. Rest in peace, Norma Jean. 

I will love you forever!!

Hugs and kisses,

Norma Jean Hatfill
Cheering in Midland, TX
 On A Date
MawMaw and Grandpapa
 Norma Jean Hatfill Garcia and David Garcia in New York

 After her accident, but could still do things
 Mawmaw in the care home. Last time I saw her.
Four Generations! I photoshopped a little
makeup on her. She would have been horrified to have her picture taken with no makeup.


  1. awww, Jen, that is such a beautiful tribute to your Mawmaw!! She would love that!! Such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. Love you!!


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