|"First appearances never tell the whole story.
'Tis the same with family history."
- Randall Davis
Ana Maria Cavazos (1908-1997)
By Randall S. Davis
Ana Maria Cavazos was born on June 9, 1908, in Reynosa, Mexico to Jesus Cavazos and Juana Castro.1 She was the next to the youngest of eleven children. The family lived in Reynosa until turmoil caused by the Mexican Revolution forced them to flee to the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas around 1913. They first settled in Hidalgo County, Texas, and moved from one farm to another depending upon the availability of work.2 Because Ana's father was in his 60s by the time they arrived, her brothers, particularly Amando, took much of the responsibility of raising the family.
As a young girl, visits to her relatives not only provided a vital link between generations, but also a rewarding experience. Ana recollects visits to her grandmother, Francisca Gonzalez, on her mother's side:
My grandmother lived alone in La Barranca, Mexico. My brother Francisco and I used to go to her house and help her with her chores. Francisco would cut firewood, and I would water her garden. She appreciated it so much because we were her only grandchildren who came to visit her regularly. We loved each other so much. I realized the importance of respecting my grandmother and the moral lessons she taught us.3
When Ana was about twenty years old, she moved with her mother to Skidmore, Texas, to live with her older sister, Porfiria. It was there that she met her future husband, Abel Saldańa Contreras.
Abel and Ana met at the local Mexican Presbyterian Church. Their friendship began to build over the following year through visits Abel made to Ana at her sister's house, and culminated in a letter Abel mailed to Ana. In the letter, Abel expressed his affection for Ana and asked her if she would be his girlfriend. Ana relates her feelings at the time:
. . . he didn't impress me a lot because he was so young. He wrote me another letter saying that he wanted to marry me. I wrote him back and told him that I was of age to be married, but he wasn't old enough. However, he insisted that he was ready. Well, I told him that I would have to talk to my mom. I also informed him that if we were to be married, he would have to allow my mom to live with us if she needed to in the future. He also had to agree to be married in the Presbyterian Church. After he readily consented to these terms, we then became boyfriend and girlfriend.4
After a courtship that lasted one year, Abel and Ana were married on January 18, 1931, in Beeville, Texas.5 Because Abel and Ana were very poor, Francisco Contreras, father of Abel, gave Ana money so she could buy the wedding dress, and Abel's sister Otilia loaned her a necklace to wear for the wedding. Yet, Abel and Ana did not ask for other financial assistance; they were very humble people, but Abel's family wanted to help them. The wedding ring Abel gave Ana was given to him by another person. Ana did not care that it was not a brand new one because, she says, "It was him that I loved, not the ring."6
They were the parents of eleven children: Ruth, Loida, Juana, Juanita, Francisco, Lea, Abel, Esther, Asael, Jos™e, and Gamaliel. In choosing names for their children, Ana remarked:
I named some of my children after people in the Bible who were good examples of righteousness. I saw that Ruth and Lea were just women that led good lives. I named Juanita after my mother Juana and my mother-in-law, Carolina. I choose the name Ezekiel, but Ruth and Loida liked the name JosuČ, so we named one of our boys JosuČ Ezekiel. For our youngest, I choose Eliezer and the girls picked Gamaliel, so we called him Gamaliel Eliezer. I asked my husband for names, but he didn't come up with any.7
Two of their children, the first girl named Juana and the boy named Francisco, died in their infancy. After lying sick for thirteen days with pneumonia, Juana died in April of 1936. Ana comments:
When Juana was little, I used to sing this song to her:
Their son Francisco died on December 23, 1938, six days after he was born. They are both buried in the Combes Cemetery, near their grandmother, Juana Castro.9
Religious worship has always been an important part of Ana's life. Although her parents were members of the Catholic Church, they were not actively involved; however, once when she was about three years old, she recollects hearing one of her sisters coming home and talking about God and Jesus Christ---an event that stayed with her for years.10 When Ana was nine years old, an evangelical minister came to the area and began to teach the people that Jesus was coming soon. Prayers and songs were offered. It was at this gathering that Ana heard one of her favorite songs for the first time: "How Great Thou Art."
When Ana was eleven, one of her cousins, Beatrice Hinojosa, lived next door and invited her to a Bible service in her home. Touched by the messages of Christ given at the service, Ana continued to attend the meetings. It was at that time that Ana gained a firm faith in Jesus Christ. She continues:
It made me feel so good to attend church. Because I loved to learn from the scriptures, I bought myself a Bible. I couldn't stop reading it because I wanted to know the doctrine. My favorite stories are the Prodigal Son, the Birth of Jesus, and the Resurrection of the Savior. I like them all.11
Ana was eleven years old when she accepted Jesus as her Savior. However, it was not until she was twenty-six that she made a firm commitment to serve God. She was baptized soon afterwards in 1935. According to Ana, she "wanted to be baptized by immersion to follow the Savior's example."12 She was also receptive to other religious faiths who came to the house to preach the Word of God.
One of her hobbies was growing flowers. The house, in and out, was filled with them. Gama once commented when he was four years old that their home smelled like a funeral home---a place one would not generally associate with home---and Ana was very surprised, but he was referring to the pleasant aroma that permeated throughout the house.13 Ana died on May 23, 1997, in Fresno, California.
(FHC refers to the number of the microfilm on which the particular record is found with the Family History Centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
1. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, July 31, 1988. Also, the 1920 Texas soundex of Hidalgo, Texas (FHC 1830444) and the 1920 Texas census, supervisor's district 15, enumeration district 95, sheet 1, line 70 (FHC 1821811) indicates she was 10 years old in 1920.
2. First, they lived on Jackson farm when Ana was 4 years old and Ramires farm (6 years old) near San Juan, Texas. Then, they moved to Nursery, Texas, near Victoria when she was eight. After that, they returned to Hidalgo County to work on Bruster farm (9) near San Juan, Ramirez farm (10), Garza farm (11), and back then to Ramirez farm (12).
3. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, September 1, 1983.
4. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, July 31, 1988.
5. Wedding Certificate from Beeville County Courthouse; copy in the possession of Randall Davis.
6. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, July 31, 1988, December 29, 1988.
7. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, August 28, 1983.
8. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, August 28, 1983; photograph of headstone taken by Juanita Contreras Davis in Combes Cemetery taken around 1988. Letter obtained from Combes Cemetery-Restlawn Memorial Park and Mausoleum (2 Mi E, La Feria, TX 78559, 210-797-2322 or Rt. 2, Box 70B) in response to an inquiry about the cemetery plot of Juana and Francisco. According to the letter, Juana was born on August 31, 1935, and buried on October 12, 1958---this last part obviously is an error on the part of the recorder, perhaps mistakenly writing the burial date of her uncle Francisco which was the following entry in the letter. For this reason and other inaccuracies, there remains some doubt about how reliable this information is. Juana is buried in Section 3, Lot J-8, Space 1. The headstone says "Nina" and then lists the dates. Francisco is buried in Section 3, Lot G-12, Space 4. The headstone reads, "Recuerdo de Sus Padres."
9. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, August 28, 1983.
10. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, December 29, 1988.
11. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, September 1, 1983.
12. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, September 1, 1983.
13. Interview with Lea Contreras, July 22, 1996.