This interview was conducted by Jacob Chavez on March 2012 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2012 class.
Nora Roel Guzman was born in San Antonio, Texas on January 6, 1935. Her parents, Guadalupe Guzman and Jose Hinahosa Roel, had four children. Of the three daughters they had, Nora was the middle child. She grew up on the eastside, off of Montana St. until the family moved into her grandparents’, Eulalia and Raphael, home on Garfield St., what use to be the Victoria Courts. She had some schooling while young. She attended Burnett Elementary and graduated from Poe middle school, but only attended Fox Tech high school until she was 15 years old, when she had to drop out to work for the family. Nora’s life was that of many Mexican American women at the time. Helping with the family business and keeping up with the house work was a priority if they were to get through week to week. Whether she was making fresh tortillas or washing clothes in their huge cast iron kettle, Nora was staying productive. Not long after dropping out of high school, 15 year old Nora met her future husband, Louis Guzman, who is a cradle robbing ten years older. On April 29, 1951, one year and five dollars later (price for a marriage license) they were wed. They stayed in an apartment that charged six dollars a month until she got married, then the price went up to seven. Nora and Louie eventually had three children, two daughters and a son. She continued work, this time at a toy warehouse called B+W Toys, where she stayed until 1985. The factory, in turn, opened up a smaller toy store of which they had Nora in charge. In 1997, the company was facing bankruptcy and was forced to shut down. The owner of the store, even though going out of business, kept it open one final year so Nora could retire. Even, after retiring, she felt the need to keep busy. She worked for H-E-B warehouse part-time up until the year 2000.
These days she is more relaxed, spending more time participating recreational activities such as gambling trips to Coushatta, LA. Of course her great looks come from keeping healthy, working out regularly, and taking care of her ten grandchildren. Nora Roel Guzman has done more than anyone can ask of a grandmother. Her advice and direction has had a direct impact on my life to this day and I would not be the man I am if I had not had a woman figure of her magnitude in my life.
How were you born, were you born in a hospital?
No, I was born at home. Years ago, the midwife was the doctor way of having babies and I recuperated at home, with my mom, until I was able to get started a little bit on my own and we just traveled on from there.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up here in San Antonio, on Garfield Alley, which is now close to the Dome , Alamo Dome. It was a very nice neighborhood and we stayed there with my grandmother after we had a big episode with my dad. He became an alcoholic. First, we lived on Montana with my dad and mothers’ brothers and sisters, and then my mom wanted to move on because of the safety of the children, which was my sisters and myself, and my brother so we stayed at my grandmas which was on Garfield Alley and that’s where I grew up. Most of my life was there and I went to Burnett Elementary and I finished there and went on to Poe junior school.
What were your responsibilities at home?
My responsibilities were help with the children, and to go ahead and start making the flour tortillas for the ones that were coming home from work and whatever I needed to do to get ready for dinner in the evening, and, of course, taking care of the little ones. Also, years ago, we didn’t have the automatic washers or any thing like that. So my aunt and I, she my age, helped and it was a big kettle in the yard with nothing but wood under it and my grandmother would light it to keep that going to boil the clothes, to sanitize it before we started washing it and bluing it. Then we hung it up on the line out on the yard…we didn’t have these automatic washers and dryers.
What does bluing the clothes mean?
Bluing was a solution that, supposedly, made the clothes whiter. Like bleach now-a-days, but it was bluing at the time. You let it set for a while and you set out on line and it began to whiten and sanitize it, which was a very, very good idea; to do that. So that was part of my duties, my aunt and I, and, of then course we had to make sure the children were safe also in the home and we had duties in the house to do. When I became around the age of fourteen, I had to stop going to school to help my mother because of the children growing up and we needed more things at home.
While you were in school, what was it like?
I loved school. I started, like I said, at Burnett Elementary, from there I went to Poe junior school. I graduated from Poe and then I went on and I went to Fox Tech. I loved it, I was above every student, and I had wanted to graduate with the class before my class was gonna graduate. I had a lot of credits. Like I said, I was above every student and I could graduate with the juniors. I was very thankful for that and I said as soon as I graduate I want to join the navy to help support the family. Of course, that never materialized because I had to quit school about six months before I graduated; to help my mother.
What type of activities were you in at school?
In school, I did lots of the cosmetology and I did some cheerleading. I loved to do that. And with cosmetology we worked, we practiced, on the teachers themselves, so I like that very much.
While you were in school, was there any type of racial discrimination?
No, there was not! We were all united and there were several different kinds of nationalities and everybody got along well, you know. Just like brothers and sisters, we looked out for one another. It was very nice, and I enjoyed it so much and I regretted leaving my school.
So said you were supposed to quit because of some family situations?
Exactly. My mother didn’t make enough to do the whole work by her self. My dad wasn’t helping us at the time. My grandmother and grandfather did their part to give us a roof over our heads and also to feed us. So my mother went to work for this Alamo Laundry. When I was pulled out of school it hurt me a real lot, but I also realized that she needed the help and so I went to Alamo Laundry to work with her, on Alamo St. When I got there, of course I was scared because I was probably the youngest one there. But they did hire me and they started to teach me my duties that were going to be. I did not know what they put me to do, but, it was a big shocker. It was a big conveyor belt that is throwing out these big sheets to fold and, of course, I was tiny and my arms weren’t too big either. There was a lady there to kind of help me, to kind of show me what to do and I worked at it until I finally got it. I stayed there working, and still staying there over at my grandmas’. I continued working there and then they moved me on to another area where folding towels and pressing some shirts. I learned all of that. When I left there…I was….I left Alamo Laundry because my grandmother got ill and when she did that, I was pulled away from working because I needed to be there to help her with the children, which is my brother and my other two sisters. So I stayed home, and I did my, you know, helping her because I knew the situation she was in. So my grandfather worked every day and, of course, there were lunches to do, and my uncles, and the clothing for the children. My grandma was in bed at the time, but we took care of it, We managed on the best way we knew how and my grandma got better and my uncles had this friend of his that he had gotten out of the navy, we became very good friends. He was an orphan form his mom and he had three sisters and his dad, but he passed a lot of time at our house with my uncles. My grandma and my mom adored him. They always had tortillas, “make sure he gets his tortillas”, every day when he came by. Of course it bothered me cause he kept looking at me and I didn’t like that. But anyway, he wanted to be friends. He stayed there with my uncles most of the time but, of course, he worked. He worked for Alamo grocery. He was a very good employee and a hard working person. One day he asked me what my name was and I said “well you already know it because my grandmamma and my mom told you”. He says “yeah but I want you to tell me”. I said ok, and I told him it was Nora Roel, at the time, and he says “well where’s your dad”. I said my dad is back home on Montana St. and I told him the reason we parted with my dad was because of his problem and that hopefully he would get over it so we could be a family again. I began to know him a little bit better and one day, my grandma, they were having a big party at this place up the street, of course, she invited him. It was kind of a family thing. I asked her, well why did you invite him? Well he’s a poor thing and he’s nice and he doesn’t do much so I want y’all to be very nice to him. So we did. We got there and he was standing by himself and my grandma says well come and sit down with us and he says no, no I’m fine. And my mother told me to motion for him to come over and ask me to dance. I told her “Well I don’t want to dance with him, he doesn’t even know how”! Then she says well teach him. I said oh grandma; I said I don’t know, I say I don’t like him. She says, oh he’s fine. He a very, very nice person and he’s respectful and we’ve known him for a good while, so ahead and get up there. So she motion to, which his name is Luis, she motion to Luis to come to the table and my grandmother told me to get up and dance with him. We got up on the floor and he told me he was sorry he didn’t know how to dance but that he would try. So I gave him a few pointers and, unbeknowing, throughout the years, we even got prizes for dancing and competing with others for dancing. We got close and more and more time passed and all of a sudden there was an opening at the store where he worked,Alamo Grocery. He told my grandmother about it, and he told her to tell me to go apply for it. Well it didn’t happen, because she told my aunt to go apply for the job and she got it. Of course Luis was disappointed because he thought I would get it. Well it didn’t work out. So anyway, my aunt stayed working there with him and one day he came and wanted to speak to my mother and he said that he wanted my hand in marriage. My mother says well I don’t know; she’s kind of young yet. He says well I’ll take care of her, no problem.
How old were you?
At the time I was about fifteen, because were courted, you know, back and forth for a year. And of course he was on a motorcycle and my mother dreaded that, but he said that that would be no problem, he would take care of me and he wanted to give me an engagement ring. He got the permission from mother and my grandmother and my grandpa. So my grandmother told him that he would have to go and talk to my dad, which kind of blew things over because he was deathly afraid of my father. Well, he took his body guard, which is my uncle, my mom’s brother. They went over to see my dad and my dad told him that he didn’t want him there. Then he said, sir, give a chance, I need to speak to you about your daughter. And he told him I don’t need to talk to you about her or nobody else. So he says I’m here, sir, to ask her hand in marriage. That kinda blew things over real bad. So he says, she’s not going to marry nobody that I don’t know and also he used several different “words”, I’m not gonna repeat ’em, but they were very choice words. He said well I’m sorry sir but I would like your blessing in this marriage with your daughter. Then he says well if the mother ok’s it then it’s up to her, but I’m not going to. So Luis and my uncle left and went to my grandma’s and told ’em that he was very upset. My grandma says, well, you know, you got your blessing from her mother and grandpa right here so that’s fine. And my mother said it was ok to go ahead and do it. Time past, I was engaged for about a year, then we got married.
When did you get married?
In 1951 we got married. It was a wedding and it was a real nice turn out, and, of course, there was a lot of chicken mole’, beans and rice, potato salad, you know the normal for us for the weddings. It was a beautiful wedding, I wore my aunts veil, I had a lot of accessories and it was really, really nice. My uncle Frank was the best man, and his wife and I had some other friends that joined in, so we had a real good time. We always went out to this Aztec club and they already knew us there and when we got there they had a big ol’ table with a lot of balloons, a lot of food again, and we celebrated again. So we moved to a little apartment, I remover it very well it was a funeral home, and it was on Water St. It was very small and there was a lot of men there, a lot of cab drivers, and that’s where Luis used to stay. I didn’t like it because there were so many men and of course we had to share the bathroom and everything else so we didn’t last to long there. Then we put in an application at the Victoria Courts. One of my sister-in-laws’ best friends was in charge of the business office and she’s the one that got us into the Victoria Courts when it first opened. It was right there on Refugio and Victoria, between Garfield Alley, that’s where I grew up, and she got us the apartment and we went in and that is where our first baby was born. We stayed for a while. She started to walk and doing things and we decided it was too small. We moved on to another place. We moved on and school time came, we went to Porter St. and our first baby went to school here at Herff Elementary. She stayed there and after many years, after about six years later, my son was born. Of course, then, we needed more space. Both of them were going into Highland Park. We moved on into another home. It was a little bit bigger. Years later, about four years later, I got pregnant again with my baby daughter, Barbara. We had to find a bigger place. We started looking around and we found this one on Essex and we began to scrape pennies here and there. I couldn’t work at the time but whatever my husband got; he started working at night so we could have enough money to buy the home.
How much was the home?
The home wasn’t very much at the time. I don’t think it even hit $18,000. When he started working at night it put us on our feet and we were able to buy the home. It needed a lot of fixing, the kitchen didn’t even have floors, but he says we’ll fix it later. The back room, the wash room, no floor, but he wanted a bigger place for the children, and a beautiful back yard. He put up a swing and little things that the children needed. This is where we stayed and all our kids went to Highland Park Elementary, to Poe, and then to Brackenridge high school. They all graduated from there. They went on to college, my son went out of town to college and while he was gone the girls finished up school and my husband had a stroke. It made a big, big difference with him not working and bringing in the money but we managed through the help of friends and family, you know, to get going.
Throughout this time you were working different jobs, Explain what you did?
I was working at this warehouse. My husband, like I told you, had a night job, all of a sudden there was an opening at this warehouse where we worked on the weekends to make ends meat. Then they were closing, the owner of that place was having a bad streak and he couldn’t handle the pressure so he committed suicide. That’s putting me in a very bad spot because I thought they were gonna close the warehouse. Luckily I was fortunate enough that they offered me a job at a toy store to liquidate everything in the warehouses. When we moved on I told them I would work under one condition, that he would let my husband be with me because I was afraid of being alone handling cash. He went with me. They said it was no problem, let him be with you. We ran the store for 12 years. In between time we also did Easter baskets and valentine balloons and of course every time the grandchildren had time off from school, we didn’t let ’em be idle. We always took ’em to the store and helped them work with us. Whether it was stretching out ribbons for the baskets, to make Easter baskets, or walking up and down the streets on both sides with Easter baskets and blow up balloons for Valentine’s or mark toys for us or clean, sweep, whatever there was to do for us that needed to be done. Once a month, the first week of the month we had a yard sale, a garage sale outside, so there were “policemen” outside making sure everything was good, and the items wouldn’t fall off the table. We kept them pretty busy, we didn’t like them idle. We went on like that for 12 years.
What was the name of that store?
It was called Kid Stuff, on south Presa. We made a lot of friends there and a lot of children that grew up still look for us with their children and we have seen so many of them that want us to re-open the toy store. Of course we’re retired now and don’t perceive to do that any more but it was beautiful memories at the time. I didn’t want to stop working ’cause I was still, I thought, still young. The boss took me aside and told me, you worked too many years. He says why don’t you stop and retire and get some of your money back. I told him, I’m gonna be 62 in January; I don’t want to stop yet. Then he says well as soon as you turn 62 you’re gonna have your last Valentine and your last Easter and you’re gonna retire. Get your money back. SO we did it. It worked out to where we liquidated it, but it didn’t stop there because he had us do the flea marketing job to liquidate everything in the stores and everything in the warehouse. We liked that because we went out on the weekends, out there on Moursund Rd. We sold on Saturdays and Sundays and it kept us busy. Later on we finished that and he called us back to the warehouse because he had a big contract with H-E-B with the blow up balls. So we worked from 11 to 4 blowing up balls and marking toys for the stores until he liquidated everything in the warehouses. From then on he began to lower our time of work and I knew at the time that he was looking into closing the warehouse. Eventually he did. Of course we were very sad about it at the time but he said that it was the best for both of us, to enjoy life while we’re able to still do that and to get some of my money back through social security, which we did. He fixed it up for me and we enjoy life. We stay very busy with our grandkids and great-grand’s, we have two, a little boy and a little girl now. Our family is very united. We celebrate everybody’s birthday and one way or the other we see each other every month except March. Other than that we stay very close and we have special holidays like Easter, and we get together at Christmas, I said New Years, and thanksgiving, we always get together so it’s been a blessing in our lives to see our children grown.
Did you have an anniversary a few years back?
Yes, we had our 60th anniversary, and we’re trying to keep on going. And a few years back we celebrated our 50th which was renewing the vows, and our children and grandchildren participated in the march, and, of course, we got a standing ovation at the VFW. My husband is a member for life there for serving in the military. He was in the navy during the war so they took him in as a life member.
So you’ve done your time, now how do you spend your past-time?
My past time is goin to the gym in the mornings and we stay there about an hour an hour and a half and after that we go meet our friends at different taco places. We do a couple of tacos and coffee. Then we come home and do our chores and carry on with things that need to be done. We’re enjoying now.
You’ve also traveled to some different places?
Yes, we traveled. In fact we just got back from New Orleans and that’s really something to see. We spent a few days there and we went to see this very beautiful cathedral and it’s awesome. Not even words can express it or explain the way we felt when we were in there. As far as the eye can see, on the ceiling there’s just pictures of different things and the music is so mellow and it’s on all the time your in there, its just beautiful music. You get chills just listening to it. It was just beautiful. We had a beautiful trip and we enjoyed it. My daughter and my son-in-law are the ones that took us there. We went to California and Vegas, we also did some gambling there, I’m not gonna say how much, but we stayed there about 10 days. Went to California and visited my brother and my husbands other family that is in California and his sister, which is in a nursing home. We had a beautiful visit with all of them and enjoyed every bit of it. So we’ve been to different places and we enjoy traveling. It takes up a quite a bit of time. On our 60th anniversary our children gave us a cruise, which was something unexplainable. I can’t even begin to say how beautiful the room was that they got for us. It had a beautiful window, a big one. It had a beautiful door, a patio that was enclosed and it had two chairs and a table, a little deck, it was just beautiful. We enjoyed it. We stayed there for about 10 days and we even visited the islands.
Where was it?
In deep Mexico, in Cozumel and further down into the Caribbean. It was just beautiful. We had no trouble, the boat sailed beautiful and we turned back around and landed in Galveston. It was a very memorable trip.
Would you say you have led a pretty successful life?
Yes we have. I say we have and I’m proud of the things we’ve done. We’ve had hardships because of illnesses, but thank god that we have pulled through every one of them. Life has been good, you know, it’s just beautiful. We’ve enjoyed it so much and we’re not gonna stop now, we gotta keep going. It’s been fulfilling and we enjoy every time we get together with our grandchildren and discuss everybody, what they’re doing, and I check on them. They gotta stay straight. They know that, mo-mo is doing the talking.
Do you have good grandchildren?
Yes I do, ’cause mo-mo says (laughing). Yes, and we’ve enjoyed having them. We had more boys. We only had one granddaughter and she’s the queen of the tribe, and she knows it. We’re very proud of her. She’s 16 years old and made it for the varsity. We’re very proud and it’s been great. But our boys have always been wonderful to us and they look after grandma and grandpa. They’re very, very….They’re always wanting to know what we’re up to, know if we’re ok, and stuff like that so we appreciate that and we love being with them. Every chance we have we’re together. It’s been a fulfilling life for me and every minute of it. I wouldn’t change it, but we know life goes on and we do the best we can. I want to thank you for this interview and I appreciate it and thank you.
From conducting this interview I have learned much about the lifestyle of my grand mother. She was a small but strong woman who would do most anything to keep family ties in tact. One thing that was interesting to me was the fact that she was in the top of her class in school. She always did well and had ambitions of joining the navy to make money for her family. While following her dreams she was forced to quit school, right before graduation. This depressed her very much but she stood strong and knew her responsibilities, being the eldest, toward taking care of her grandparents, mother, and siblings. I noticed, while telling some of her stories, my grandma became emotional and her voice was sketchy, as if trying to hold back from crying. This was noticeable when talking about her father and school days. This soon faded. To my knowledge, she has rarely wept. Her story was very interesting. I had no idea that the life of a woman at the time was so demanding. Most of the time you here about men who provide for their families while the women maintain the homestead. My grandmother did both. This was a good way of learning history. Doing the project, I have gained some knowledge about learning the past. The stories that were told were from the life experiences of an older lady. During the duration of this project I had to conduct the interview three times. The questions I asked did not change but the responses did. There were so many stories for each of the questions that they changed from interview to interview. This was a very effective way of learning history, from the ones who experienced it first hand.
- January 6, 1935 – Nora Roel Guzman is born
- June 1947 – Graduated from Edgar Allen Poe middle school
- February 1948 – Family moves into grandma’s house
- December 1949 – Forced to drop out from Fox Tech high school
- April 29, 1951 – Married Louis Guzman
- 1952 – Moved into the very elegant Victoria Courts.
- February 29, 1952 – Leap Year ; First daughter, Irene, born
- 1958 – First son, Gregory, is born
- October 10, 1962 – Youngest child, Barbara, born
- 1968 – Bought first house for $9,000
- 1985 – Named manager of Kid Stuff Toys
- April 1997 – Retired from Kid Stuff
- April 29, 2001 – Renewed wedding vows (50 years!)
- San Antonio, Texas City where my grandmother was born.
- Alamo Dome Used to be a factory. Grandma lived in the neighborhood.
- Victoria Courts Grandparents moved to the Victoria Courts after first daughter was born.
- VFW Grandpa accepted in VFW for life.
- New Orleans Vacation to New Orleans.
- Cozumel Grandparents went on cruise to Cozumel in 2010.