Like all families, the Fresno, California, family of Higinio Lozano, seated, would go through many trials in the 1940s and beyond. The mother of the columnist stands second from the left.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 11 May 2013 in The Madera Tribune
"Peace be with you," the smiling stranger in blue said.
Part of my brain suppressed an urge to respond, "And with your spirit." Instead I smiled and I hope managed a suitable reply. As she spoke further I realized I'd encountered another reader of this column, which is always a delight for me.
Another such meeting this week introduced me to Rita, who not only relished my writings but also knew my grandfather Higinio Lozano. She did not escape me easily as I sought out what details she could offer.
Rita knew him when he owned a grocery store in the Chinatown section of Fresno, California, during the 1940s. He always dressed nicely and wore a bow tie, she said. He employed his own children and other young people, such as her older brother.
I knew of this venture, which I'm told flourished during World War II. It later failed because he didn't have the heart to deny people credit, even when they weren't timely with repayments. Most of his customers were farm laborers, and he understood their struggles.
During the war, Fresno had a shortage of housing, so the Lozano family lived in a small shed while a friend converted her garage for their use. The nuns of the Company of Mary offered to care for Higinio's teenaged daughter Josefina "Josie" until the family could settle in, and her younger sister Maria Concepcion "Connie", 13, eagerly tagged along.
Josie left after only a week or so, but Connie never wanted to leave and so stayed. She felt God had called her to such a life. She officially joined four years later on May 2, 1951, and professed her vows at 19, after obtaining a dispensation to do so at such a young age. She would spend 22 years as a missionary and educator in Japan.
My mother, too, sought to join the sisters, but a priest would not let her. He felt God had a different plan for her.
In 1970, Higinio's youngest daughter, 29-year-old Carmen, was diagnosed with leukemia, a virulent disease that progressively affects blood-forming organs. Her parents were told she had 30 to 90 days to live, yet she lived for a year and a half. Her final months were at the City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif., and Higinio and his wife were provided an apartment at special rates so they could remain nearby.
Carmen's condition left her vulnerable to tragedy. An infestation of insects, unnoticed until it was too late, ate at her throat from the inside. With her vocal cords no longer intact, her family struggled to even hear her whispers. In her last week, she could no longer sit up or even lift her head.
Once when her mother visited she found Carmen transfigured by joy. She told her daughter, "Mi hija, you look so beautiful! So radiant!" Carmen just looked at her mother and smiled. Within a week the end would come.
On March 23, 1972, she lay dying in the company of her mother and her two brothers, Francisco ("Frank") and Enrique ("Rico"). Rico sat at the foot of the bed while Frank held his sister's hand. She suddenly sat up with a smile and spoke clearly as she gazed intently at the ceiling.
"There she is. There she is," she said.
"Who? Who is it?" her mother asked. "Is it the Blessed Virgin Maria?"
"It's my home," she replied, and then added, "She's so beautiful."
Her mother asked again, "Who is it? Who do you see?" But her daughter lay down and peacefully surrendered her soul. She left behind a husband and an adopted 5-year-old daughter, Christina.
At her funeral, Higinio led the singing as he celebrated his daughter's birth into Heaven and praised God. Only a few year's later, he too struggled for life as his kidneys faltered. After receiving the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, he died on March 31, 1976, in Saint Agnes Hospital in Fresno.
Not many years beforehand, he wrote a poem in Spanish for a lodge brother: "Neither tears nor flowers are of much use in one's tomb, / the final mansion for a mortal's remains, / Nor a marble pedestal, which time consumes. / No one is born into this world who in the end does not succumb; / A humble prayer, the only consolation to gain…
"Stoke the flames of our faith and strengthen our hope beyond limit / That we may go to sing your glories with the Heavenly Hosts / praising the Father, Son and Holy Ghost! / So -- until later, brother -- in God's peace rest your spirit."