Momma Matriarch

Carmelita Salazar worked as a cook for Clovis Municipal Schools and several restaurants. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Hands wrinkled with age, Carmelita Salazar deftly peels potatoes at her kitchen table. Beside the diminutive great great-grandmother, a small pile of shiny, white vegetables awaits washing.

Today, the 95-year-old will celebrate Thanksgiving surrounded by family. Her contribution to the feast of American and Mexican dishes will be homemade mashed potatoes.

“There will be turkey,” said Salazar’s daughter, Betty Lucero, “but there will also be red chili on the table.”

Lucero, 68, said her mother takes her cooking task seriously.

“She is very particular,” Lucero said. “She will only use her old peeler because she says it is better.”

With her white hair pulled neatly back in a bun, Salazar sat regally in the center of an immaculate kitchen in her Clovis home. Lucero said although her mother tires easily — the potatoes will be the only dish she cooks — she will supervise the meal.

“She has to watch us make the gravy,” Lucero said, “because it can’t come out of a package.”

Salazar moved to Clovis in 1944 from Santa Rosa and spent 12 years working in the school cafeterias in Clovis. She also spent years employed at several local Mexican restaurants throughout Clovis, including El Monterey and Guadalajara.

“She has always loved to cook,” Lucero said, “That is her thing, making traditional Mexican food.”
Lucero, once an owner of several beauty salons, now stays close to home to care for her mother.

“I live two houses down the street,” Lucero said, “and I have worn the sidewalk out.”

On a day when people everywhere are reflecting on their blessings, Lucero said she and her four siblings are simply thankful for their mother’s health.

More than a decade ago doctors informed the family Salazar might not survive much longer after suffering a stroke. Instead, family members said Salazar’s fighting spirit won out.

“Doctors gave her six months to live,” Lucero said as she looked lovingly at her aged mother, “but now she’s not even on any medication.”

Salazar is thankful for God and atole, a Mexican porridge that is a staple of her diet, she said.

“She (Salazar) dusts the house and does some cooking,” Lucero said, “and she does a lot of supervising.”

And when her daily chores are completed, Salazar said she enjoys reading the newspaper, singing and praying.

But today, Salazar, a mother to five, grandmother to 21, great-grandmother to 29 and great great-grandmother to 12, will be surrounded by a small group
of family members.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my family members that are coming (for Thanksgiving),” Carmelita Salazar said in Spanish.

Ben Salazar, 53, the youngest of the Salazar clan, said 10 family members are expected today at the family matron’s quaint adobe house.

“It will be a small gathering,” Ben Salazar said, “but she (Carmelita Salazar) will be taking lots of phone calls.”

Ben Salazar, who works in the movie industry, said he put his career on hold to move closer to his mother. He said his mom passed her strong work ethic, faith and love of family onto her children.

“I had no qualms about coming home to take care of momma,” Ben Salazar said. “She is an optimistic and amazing woman. She taught us every day is a day to be thankful.”