treasured secret flavors
My mother, Consuelo, was born to Manuela “Nellie” Hughes and Salvador Murrieta in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. The rebellions in Mexico and the discrimination against Catholics resulted in our ancestors and many others to leave their homes and seek refuge in the United States as citizens. Mama’s parents met, married and had 3 children, Mama, Ernesto (Chacho) and Eva. Ernesto at 5 and Evita at 3 died of the effects of pneumonia. The couple divorced soon after the death of their two children.
Mama grew up with her mother, grandparents, and many aunts and uncles and cousins, in the country located at the Yerba Buena ranch in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Mama’s grandparents doted on her, as she was graced with great beauty and a sweet disposition. From an early age, she received much attention and love from all. Although quiet and shy at first blush, she masked an incredible fiery nature when provoked. She loved the life of ranching, farming, gardening, riding her horse, going to rodeos and dancing. Mama was blessed with many talents and grew into a gracious woman. She fell in love – one time only - unfortunately, the marriage to our father Richard Taylor III, was short lived and Connie Taylor returned home to Tucson, with her babies, my sister Gerri (1 year old) and Patsy “Güera” (2 years old) to live with her parents Jim and Nellie Kearney.
Mother and daughters shared their lives with their grandparents and extended family. Mama attended and graduated from Lamson Business College majoring in Accounting to complete her education. Her plan was to find an alternative work schedule so as to care for us too.
She was taught to cook by both our grandmothers; Nellie Kearney and Julia Taylor. The kitchen was her space, her place and her fortress against the weight of her emotional journey of divorce and dreams unrealized. Her life, although not lengthy, was filled to the brim with experiences and love. Memories are filled with her playing with us, playing the piano, working as a bookkeeper from home, shopping at the corner market and cooking and baking in the kitchen.
At our Saturday dinners, we ate outside at homemade picnic tables, covered in bright colored tablecloths, with platters of food illuminated by lights from kerosene lamps and supplemented with 2 or 3 exterior lights attached to the roof line. The adults sang, played guitars, and filled each other in on their latest ups and downs. A large round metal tub filled with blocks of ice held cold beer and sodas. Our grandfather, a foreman at the local Coca Cola Factory was permitted an allotment of soft drinks. I learned to love Dr. Pepper. Our great grand-mother Doña Esperanza spoke very little English but made herself understood. At an early age, we learned to speak English and Spanish fluently. Our grandfather born in Jellico, Tennessee did not speak Spanish and he believed he and his mother-in-law had a perfect relationship. They nodded and smiled at each other as everyone else translated.
Esperanza’s freshly made large and feather light tortillas on the comal were exceptional. My sister and I would take one from the stack of tortillas, wrapped in a flour sack, and lather it in butter and share. At times a wooden spoon headed our way with our great grandmother’s hand at the other end. Food was shared with the extended family, including my god mother Emily Parker Grey, and no one knew who or how many would show up. Mama sat her two daughters directly across the table from their great grandmother. It was clear, but unspoken, that we would behave and we did. Mama had a big heart, generous in time and attention, and cared for everyone. Everyone was welcomed with a hug, a kiss, and a beautiful smile. We were family and knew that we could depend on each other.
Mama was at her best as she cooked either in the kitchen or outside on the grill. Her actions were easy, flawless, and she moved as a conductor of a symphony- only her orchestra consisted of pots, pans, coupled with sprinkles and dashes of spices, smiles, tastings, and then more smiles. Her finale was scores of delectable dishes, artistically presented whether Mexican food, traditional American dishes, and at times Chinese food. The recipe for Chop Suey was courtesy of the corner market owners who let her charge groceries and wrote the amount due on a small brown paper bag kept under the counter until pay day.
Mama was 5 feet 2 inches tall, blessed with large green eyes and auburn color hair, smart, sharp, and quite witty, actually at times playful. My sister Gerri resembled Mama in many ways, same height, looks and personality. Mama was a beauty queen, a patriot who served her country in World War II, and a work from home mom before it was a common practice. Our mother modeled a set of values, responsibility, and measures of accountability for her daughters. We fell short at times and yet her love was unconditional. Her life ended at the age of 52. Her recipes, handwritten during her chemotherapy treatments, were left to her daughters as a part of her legacy. My mother’s presence, through her recipes, handwriting, loving letters, a sunset, or a favorite song, is still felt in so many ways.
Consuelo “Connie” Murrieta Feeler Taylor