For Women in the Second Half of Life
Extraordinary, Ordinary Women
Becky Garcia Guitar
& Her Mother, Tomasita Alvarado Garcia
In Becky's Words
As for my connection to Donna Van Cleve, we attended junior high and high school together in Cotulla, Texas. We even cheered together our junior year of high school, which meant attending cheer camp during the summer. Little prepared was the CHS cheerleading squad of myself, Donna, Sandra Tetzlaff, and Lupe Rodriguez for the National Cheerleading Convention in Seguin, Texas, in 1971. None of us had ever attended dance or gymnastics classes. We were a small squad of four girls determined to make it happen for us, or at least meet some fellow cheerleaders from other districts. We performed some respectable routines with pride for our accomplishments. I think I always felt more confident than I should have been, probably due to my strong and clear foundations in other parts of my life. I have always found faith and security in what is important to me: my family and our origins, education, and health.
Parents & Early Life
My mother, Tomasita (Tommie) Alvarado, met my father, Reynaldo Garcia, while participating in a cousin's wedding in San Diego, Texas. They maintained a long-distance relationship while my father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. They married after the war and settled in Cotulla. My twin brother and I (Reynaldo, Jr. "Ronny" and Rebecca "Becky") were born into this middle-class family as the fourth and fifth children among seven.
My father owned a ranch and a grocery store, Red Store No. 1. My grandmother Juanita Canales Garcia and her son Armando had founded the first store in the late 1930s or early 1940s along with her other sons, Reynaldo (my father), Daniel, and Manuel. Having emigrated from northern Mexico, the Canales/Garcia family first lived on a ranch outside of Cotulla, but Grandmother Juanita wanted her children to be educated, so they moved into town.
In Texas in the 1920s when my father was young, Mexican immigrants did not always value education. Most of the children were destined to labor in the fields. However, my grandmother Juanita had taught grade school in Mexico and had a remarkably high regard for education that permeated throughout our family. My dad completed high school and attended business school in Laredo before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. The Navy first placed him in the kitchen like most other Mexican Americans, but when his superiors learned about his education, they promoted him to petty officer with his own desk and typewriter. Due to my parents' hard work, sacrifice, and efforts, all of their children completed college or technical school.
Food had always been an anchor in our family life. My family came together over the traditional meals my mother prepared for us three times a day, seven days a week, except for the occasional weekend barbecue at the Rancho Blanco. My mother and father lived next door to my grandmother Juanita, and my mother recalled going over to her house for cooking classes. Mom had worked as a nursing assistant in her hometown and with two other sisters, she had not had much previous cooking experience. Now she was cooking for a family that grew to nine: four sons, three daughters, and her husband and herself.
Grinding spices and garlic on the molcajete, rolling out flour tortillas, pressing corn tortillas, boiling a big pot of pinto beans, blending up homemade salsa, and cooking Spanish rice, fideo, and carne guisada were everyday tasks. My mother loved collecting recipes and baking desserts. We ate in shifts because we had a family business to cover 8 am - 8 pm Monday through Saturday and half a day on Sunday. My older brothers would eat first, and once they left for the store, the younger kids would eat. When I was younger, we might have had Saturday afternoon off, but we always had to work Saturday mornings-- that was the "busy day." My brothers also had to work at the ranch with the cattle, pigs, and horses. My mother employed caregivers and housekeeping help to manage the large family and business. My brothers and dad were Cotulla cowboys.
Five older cousins, nicknamed the "Mando girls," lived across the street from us. They were among the first generation of Mexican American children in Cotulla that could attend Amanda Burks Elementary School. They continued their education at Texas Woman's University and earned bachelors' degrees. If they could do it, I was sure I, too, could be successful. They were the best role models.
So I also attended Texas Woman's University (TWU) in Denton, Texas, after high school graduation in 1973. The college had a fashion merchandising degree, which I was interested in pursuing at the time. I had grown up making clothes for myself using Simplicity patterns, and I learned that I could sew just about anything I wanted-- cute jackets, blouses, curtains, etc. I had enjoyed my home economics class with Mrs. Mary Belle Nutt at CHS. If you showed me her hands today among others, I could still identify hers, slightly deformed from arthritis but nimble and expressive.
A professor and my science major older sister advised me to study food and nutrition for a clinical dietetics degree instead of fashion merchandising. It required four-years, an internship, and a registration exam. I dove into it with only my professor's urging. Darn that chemistry, but with my sister's help I passed the courses.
After I graduated from college, I worked as an outpatient dietitian in Dallas at major hospital centers helping patients with diabetes, heart disease, trauma, malnutrition, and many other conditions. During that time, my father found out that his cholesterol was high, so he and my mother came to my office for an individual consultation for his diet. My mother learned to modify her cooking to use lower saturated fat foods, which meant less shortening and lard, lower-fat milk, and leaner meats. My mother accepted the proposed changes enthusiastically and wholeheartedly. She added more fiber to my father's diet with whole wheat bread, multigrain cereals, oatmeal, vegetables, and fresh fruit for dessert and snacks. My father's cholesterol numbers improved.
I really loved helping others understand food and nutrition. Throughout my career, I worked in cardiac rehabilitation, renal care, and most recently as a registered dietitian working at a major food retailer in the Midwest. My work as a dietitian allowed me to interact with patients in and out of the hospitals, at health fairs, clinics, doctors' offices, traveling clinics, social media platforms, mobile health care units, classrooms, dialysis centers, schools, grocery stores, business meetings, support meetings-- almost anywhere! I talked about healthy eating, cooking, food labels, healthy shopping, recipe makeovers, budget shopping, food allergies, and celiac disease. I also ran cooking classes and did live cooking demonstrations to audiences small and large. For a few years I presented to an audience of 150 at a local hospital-- camera and all-- way before Food Network was popular. The program was called A la Heart Dining. I also started a program called Cooking with a Cardiologist that I held at my grocery store's demonstration kitchen and classroom. I teamed up with a cardiologist and he assisted in the food demonstrations. I developed heart-friendly recipes and shared food samples with the audience. In recent years I maintained a blog called Eat Right and Bright and posted on Facebook at Supermarket Dietitian on Demand. Recipes from the Cooking with the Cardiologist can be found on the blog. So, my experience being in front of that high school pep rally and stadium prepared me to speak in front of small or large groups for my entire career.
Family Life & Children
During those early years in Dallas, I met my husband Steve, and after one year we married and had twin girls. This derailed his plans to go to law school, so on to "Life Plan B". The twins were born prematurely at 28 weeks and stayed in neonatal ICU at Methodist Hospital for 7-8 weeks as Sara grew from 1.6 to 4.5 pounds and Michelle grew from 2.7 to 6 pounds. They had yet to learn to take a bottle, so they first received tube feedings before they graduated to syringe feedings by mouth. It was a frightening process, but gratifying to see their progress. My twin grandsons were also born early at 34 weeks, but our experiences from this time helped us support our daughter and son-in-law thirty years later.
While living in Dallas, my husband wanted to start a business with his brother who was living in Lincoln, Nebraska. We both thought the smaller city would have better schools for our twins, so two weeks after they were discharged from the hospital, we moved to Lincoln. We have lived here ever since. The first few years in Nebraska were a struggle with premature twins, adjusting to a new town, and no immediate access to family while my husband built a new business working 10-12 hour days, six days a week! My sister-in-law's mother Gerda was a nighttime nurse, and she came over every Saturday evening so my husband and I could have a date night on the town. Gerda's kind caregiving was clearly a salvation for us to be able to reenter the adult world for a few hours a week.
A few months after our move, I found a part-time position as a Clinical Dietitian at the local hospital in Lincoln. It was a perfect balance of career and family. I did not like checking hospital meal tray service, but found other aspects of the job fulfilling. But at the same time I struggled with things like wondering if my kids be okay in daycare. Working outside the home on part-time basis followed the mantra of 'We could have it all!' Right?
My 40-year career as a dietitian brought challenges, not only from patients that resisted changing their eating habits, but also from nutrition news that sensationalized nutrition to sell products and make money. I realize the nutrition world can be confusing to the average person. I was able to help many by prioritizing problems, cutting through the misinformation, and providing practical and useful information for everyday solutions. I loved and valued my job, which allowed me to be a health coach, caregiver, leader, and teacher.
I recently retired just about the time we received the pandemic stay-at-home recommendations. Besides my husband, my main companion is our little Yorkipoo, Java. We go on walks and chase each other inside the house and yard. We look forward to this holiday season and preparing and eating some of our traditional holiday foods like chili, tamales, sand tarts, empanadas, and pan de polvo.
I have been staying mostly at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic, except for visits to my daughters' homes in Virginia and Illinois. I recently returned from a two-week visit with Michelle's family, which includes my 7-year-old twin grandsons Louie and John. We painted mini pumpkins, acrylic painted a fall tree, and baked apple squares, empanadas, cocoa pancakes, and monster cookies. Michelle's twin sister Sara and her family live in Virginia. Sara has two daughters: Maya (6) and Cora (3) who are smart, funny, and healthy! They hold dance performances, build forts, paint, and collect treasures.
Renee was born seven years after my twin girls. She is a performer, equity actor, dancer, and choreographer that has not let the pandemic keep her from continuing her passion of dance and theater. Renee and her fiancee Rush live in St. Paul, Minnesota. They have performed outside of nursing homes, in theater parking lots, and at museums and parks. They have provided private and free zoom dance theater classes to many and are active in social justice. Over the years, Renee and Rush have performed in numerous theater productions - Grease, Camelot, Beauty and the Beast, Holiday Inn, Newsies, and most recently Mamma Mia at a dinner theater in Minneapolis. We travel there to attend as many shows as we can. It is so fun to know the performers, and it brings us so much pride.
Tomasita - My Mother
We were able to travel back to Cotulla most every year, but our most recent visit was in June 2018 for the funeral of my dear mother Tomasita. She had many friends and family and was devoted to Sacred Heart Catholic Church. She held prayer groups in her home and participated in fundraising events like the fall festival and weekly charitable donations. My mother worked as a bookkeeper for my dad's business until her late 80s when she could no longer drive the few blocks to the store. For years, we had been asking her to retire and travel, but she never wanted to leave the store for more than a few days. She embodied devotion and a disciplined work ethic to all of her passions. My mom was a very scheduled individual, and her days included regular, consistent meals, food shopping and cooking, beauty shop appointments, phone calls to friends and family, church, and naps. I certainly inherited the value she placed in scheduling. When she died, her estate included ranch land, cattle, a convenience store, a general store, rental properties, and a laundromat in Cotulla. Relatives described her as caring, neat, admirable, loving, and tender. I think they got it right!
I studied my paternal grandmother's genealogy and have traced our ancestors back 13 generations to the 1600s. I know the relatives that came to Mexico from Spain, and their stories are many. I am in the process of reading and writing about the challenging times when the Spaniards set up ranches in northern Mexico, invading tribal Native Indian territory under the direction of the church and Spanish rule. My ancestors were explorers, captains, generals, lawyers, landowners, teachers, ranchers, miners, and everything in-between. I am not sure about my second wind, but I think it will include more genealogy research, cooking, sewing, scrapbooking, family time, reading, travel when it's safe again, and recreation. I think I deserve it!
The Mando Girls, who I thought of as my role models, revealed that they had felt my mother was their role model! From my mother, aunts, and grandmothers, I feel like I learned so much about what is important in life. Make your own opportunity with education, hard effort, fun, and loyalty. Sometimes others can see your strengths before you do and can encourage you to go for it. Do not be afraid-- go for it! Life events are usually hard to complete at first, but they're so worth the effort. You must climb the hill before you can climb the mountain. One step in front of the other, keep moving forward. To be happy, you must choose it! Keep a journal of things you are grateful for, and you'll see you are blessed!
Becky Garcia Guittar
Extraordinary, Ordinary Women
Editor's Note: Although this article primarily profiles Becky and her mother, you can see four generations of strong women in her story and how each generation impacted the next as well as generations further down the line. I haven't seen Becky since we graduated from high school, but I've always admired her and her family and extended family. I'm thankful Facebook has enabled us to share and catch up with what is going on in our lives and to see each other's children and grands, but I've enjoyed learning so much more about her through her story. Thank you, Becky, for sharing it. You and the women in your family are an inspiration to us all.
Click images to enlarge.
Tomasita & Becky
CHS Cheerleaders, clockwise from top: Me (Becky), Lupe Rodriguez, Sandra Tetzlaff, & Donna Van Cleve, 1971
Francisco & Juanita Canales Garcia & family. My dad. Reynaldo is the little guy in the front. 1924.
From Brush Country Museum display in Cotulla, Texas.
My mother, Tomasita, holding my twin brother Reynaldo "Ronny" and me.
Reynaldo and Tomasita Garcia family. From L to R - brother Luis, sister Juanita (Chita), nephew Frankie Jr., & brother Frankie. Standing - Me (Becky), brother Ronny, & sister Ana. My father Reynaldo seated at the head of the table, our housekeeper, my mother Tomasita, Aunt Ernestina "Tia Neta", & brother Raymond. 1977.
Above & below: Becky doing one of her many nutritious cooking demonstrations; She was also the 'face' of healthy eating on billboards & posters around Lincoln as HyVee Supermarkets' dietitian.
Becky & husband Steve on first trip to Hawaii, 1986.
Becky's family today - L to R front row - John, Renee, Maya, & Cora. Back - Becky, Steve, Nick, Louie, Michelle, Sara & Steven.
Steve, Becky & Java today
Becky's youngest daughter Renee & her fiancee Rush are both professional dancers/actors.
Tomasita Alvarado Garcia
Tomasita & her daughters: back row - Ana Spain, Juanita Sanchez; & Becky sitting beside her.