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Interview with: Vincent G. Mindiola
Date: July 15, 1981
Archive Number: OH 346
I: This is a July 15th, 1981 oral history interview with Mr. Vincent G. Mindiola of Houston, Texas. Mr. Mindiola, I think the first thing we need to do if it’s all right with you is if we could just start with how you came to Houston. Begin—how did you end up in Houston, Texas?
VM: Well, I was raised in Waco. I was born in Beaumont in Jefferson County in 1907, and my father was there in 1906 during the 00:37 (inaudible) times you know. He run the little tent—you know—put tents on each corner there and he’d sell these tamales and these ham hocks and rice and stuff, Louisiana dirty rice and all that stuff then. And he stayed there until he contracted that inflammatory rheumatism. Of course, they’ve got a lot of big names for it now, you know. But we moved there during the Spindletop oil boom. Spindletop come about 1902, I believe, and we moved to Marlin. We taking those bags 01:19 (unintelligible). In 90 days a doctor named Cook, Dr. Cook, in 90 days he brought him back two and we moved to Waco in McLennan County and there he stayed. He died in Waco. We bought us a little piece. They told him not to go back in that mosquito country back there, you know.
I: Where did he come from originally? Where did your parents—
VM: It was Saltillo. He was five years old. It was his grandfather brought him over here when they paid a nickel to cross the bridge. They paid a nickel in those days to come over here to the United States, and they crossed the bridge for five cents.
I: What year was that? Do you—?
VM: Oh, my gosh. I don’t know. He was just five years old and he died about—he was 90.
I: When he died, but you don’t know when he was born, what year offhand he was born?
VM: No, sir. I don’t. I really don’t, but my mother died and she—when I was seven and my aunt was the one that kept records in the Bible, you know. And I thought I was born in 19—in July and she said “Well, you and Paul are about three days difference in age.” That’s my cousin, and he was born in July. So, I think 4th of July and I celebrate it for 40 years until I wrote the St. Anthony in Beaumont that had my record, and I was born in April the 5th, 1907. So, I still get two birthday presents, one on the 5th and one—4th of July and one on the 5th of April. Idgie (?) and I have had three daughters, two sons. They have good jobs. They want me to move in with them but I’m happy here. Why would I want to move there?
I: 03:14 Let me ask you this, Mr. Mindiola. They—when they came in from Saltillo, where did they go to live? Did they go straight to east Texas?
VM: I really don’t know. I know that he wound up in—he talks a lot about Fort Clark. I heard him say Fort Clark. I don’t know where that’s at. It’s probably some kind of a soldier camp or something, and of course, my grandmother was with him then, and he told me that he had a rough time with it. He used to drive cattle through the—for a living through the country and at some times it’d take him three months to go to a destination. It—some of the cattle died, they couldn’t find water, and he would find maybe a little water in a track, in a cow track and they would get down and they’d drink it and they just—you know—because they were starving to death for water. Finally when they got to their destination, well, they were pretty well beat, you know. Half of the cattle was all dead and just there are a lot of things, you know. His grandpa was the one who raised him and always tell him his (s/l hell of a goddamn) story, you know. And he would go through these patches of—(s/l chicipictine), that wild pepper sometime and these would dry and you kind of get 04:46 (inaudible) with it (inaudible) ‘cause that pepper—you know—he said it would just burn him up ‘cause had pepper from the—‘cause those turkeys were so hot. Well, he said that for a joke, I believe. They couldn’t eat them. He said when them (s/l masters) died the boss couldn’t eat it. It was too hot and he’d say that just to get a laugh, I guess. But I remember that he was always (s/l chuckling). Had a big—
I: But he—he went to the east Texas oil fields to run a business then?
VM: Yeah, he went—well, I don’t know. That’s what Fort Clark is in east Texas?
I: No, Fort Clark I believe is out in west Texas. I believe that’s—but I mean, when he’s—
VM: No, my uncle was in Conroe and he was in Teague and Mahare (?). That was my uncle, my uncle John, and he worked with it. Of course, I remember then these little boys they—he used to cook with that oil and water, you know. They didn’t have any gas.
I: 05:45 But your dad ended up in—what’d you say, Marlin?
I: In Beaumont.
VM: Yeah, and end up in Marlin to get those treatments.
I: Oh, to get the—but he was in Beaumont there by the Spindletop—
VM: In Beaumont.
I: I see. And then you all moved to Waco?
VM: Waco, yeah, from Marlin we moved to Waco, and that’s where I was raised at, and I seen some things there. I want to write a book. They had in Marlin three of those negroes. They hung one of them in the courthouse, and they burned some of them down in the square and drug them up and down. They raped a white girl, and they want to kill her and they—oh, I don’t know. I just say I want to write a book someday—you know—when I get—when I have a little bit of time.
I: They—but you saw some—
VM: I saw all that, yeah. They’d drag them up and down main street and tarred and feathered one white fella there ‘cause he run kind of a milk dairy. He got on alcohol, and she would try to run the dairy by herself and then she delivers milk in a buggy and had a big—a young negro—you know—and finally she—well, she was a young woman. She was a woman from the streets that he picked up. This fella was a millionaire but he got in alcohol. A friend of mine, she stayed and worked for him and (s/l carried) and everything else, and she’d taken up with this negro, and she would wear a black veil over her face and drive. I remember they’d just—just stick to the—and she—they caught this negro with her and he had silk pajamas on and everything. Oh, man. They were gonna kill him but she stayed. Of course, after she stayed he got away. It was things like that that you remember. They just—
I: You were a young man at that time.
VM: Oh, gosh. I was raised there on the square there.
I: 07:51 How’d you end up in Houston? Well, how many brothers and sisters did you have?
VM: Well, I have four brothers and three sisters. There’s four of us, four boys and three girls and one of them was shot in a dance. He went to see if his wife was there, and there was an old fella that was selling bootleg whiskey there, and he charged me too much for it. Them old flat bottles like jug or fruit jar and stuff and then he was getting more for it, a bottle for me then he was for a half gallon fruit jar. We had an argument, and I think I pushed the old man, knocked him down. I went upstairs and about that time my brother got off and go to this dance and see if his family was there so he could take them home. And he had two sons. (s/l The younger) Mindiola and they shot him instead of shooting me, shot him through the mouth and broke his neck, and they put them all in jail but they never did do nothing to me. But he had a broken neck for about—oh, six months and then he died from that. But he was 32 and he—he says “I’ll die when I’m young.” He says “When I’m 38 years old I’ll die.” He always predicted that. I said “Don’t talk about that brother” and sure enough. And things like that—you know—just black sheep of the family. Sometimes my brother gets mad at me, Pancho, (?) the oldest one. Oh, when he comes out here he advises me this that and the other. His daughter’s getting married this coming (s/l May) and I’ve got a nice present. They’ve got a ceramic store downstairs and I don’t think—he can’t tell me—he sound like a broken record. “Your sister loved you. I wouldn’t put with you. I wouldn’t claim you” and he’s my brother, but yet he never has got close to God. Worked 25 years for Weingarten in their bakery department and he’s (s/l pleasing) that all mighty dollar. He hasn’t got a friend and he just works. He’s retired now. He goes around with his wife. His wife, she’s a wonderful woman, and she can put up with him. I told her, I said “Honey, you got—you have a straight ticket to heaven ‘cause you 10:15 (inaudible).” And she laughed and I said—she said “Well, that’s your brother.” I said “No. Well, he’s my brother” I says “but he’s got different.” And he picks up all these little baby buggies and paints them, takes them to the flea market, and he’s made a business. He’s made about three or four trips to Mexico, vacation, bought them a brand new station wagon. He done it as a hobby, you know. And I said “Well, what are you going to go?” “Oh, I’m going to give it to my kids” and they all work in banks and they got good jobs and one of them’s in—you know—a doctor now. He says—I says “Well, I’ll tell him” ‘cause he’s got a—especially got a couple of (s/l beers in him).
I: But he is—he’s your oldest brother and then you have—
VM: I had Johnny, my younger brother died and the other one was killed in this accident and—
I: Well, after you all—how did you end up in Houston? I mean—
VM: 11:21 Well, I come to Houston. My brother went and got me. He brought me to Houston because I was there in Waco and I wasn’t—my father got sick and I couldn’t find no job or wouldn’t look for no job or—anyhow, wasn’t nobody home. I’d work in these hamburger joints and make enough and get my sister Nell (?) is taking care of me. I would give her my paycheck. I had one pair of overalls that I’d use all the time, and I’d wash it sometimes every—so I could work and I said “Honey, I’ll never get married until—I never—I want you to finish your school and then I’ll get married.” And sure enough, she has never forgot it and she just—I don’t know. She just mothers me. She don’t tell me what to eat and bring me frozen stuff here and I call her. Of course, I get just a little pension check, about $300 a month and my attorney told me, (s/l after the numbers) he says “Well, you had a business for 40 some odd years. You give me $500 cash and I’ll investigate it for you and I’ll get you”—well, I’ve got—listen, I don’t need no money. I’ve got salvation, and I’ve got the good Lord. I don’t need no money. When I need something look like it just comes to me. And I know this—here downstairs like they’ve got a bible study on Sundays at two o’clock and on Monday nights they have deacons at night. I got used to singing with them and my place with it is—75-80% of my business was working people, Latin people, and I had to cook for four different people. I had a 38 foot steam table there on Alameda Plaza (?) and I had to cook for four different people. They had their soul brother. They had their pig feet and pig snouts in there, ribs in there, fat cornbread and stuff like that. And the Mexicans, they had to have their beans and their rice, and the regular customers they had to have their steak. Not no—like hamburger, it was steak, potatoes and gravy. You know, electricians and the people that put up this plastic. You had to feed them all they could eat.
I: And when you first came, you came here with your—your brother then brought you to Houston.
VM: Yeah, my brother brought me—
I: How old were you when you came?
VM: Well, it was in 19—oh, I’d say 1920—oh, ’20—it was in 1936 I believe. But when I first come here, I work at—for some Greeks there, bought my first suit of clothes from Ben Zelder (?). I was working at 1919 Congress at Chockters (?) at that 90 Café (?) for some Greeks cooking at night. I was just a youngster. They didn’t have no gas back then. We’d use that coal they get out of the ground, and sometimes that stove would be so cold, like I set on it sometimes ‘cause the wind was blowing. It would be so hot that I had a big old tub with a broom in there and I’d put that water, just cool it off and all the grease was falling off. We’d cook the steak and I had cooked 40 pies every night to control that stove and three dozen cupcakes and two layer cakes and 40 pies, different fruit pies, and I’d make all the (s/l pastries) and everything and the big Greek cook that come there—well, he was a Turk, and he’d come over there and the only thing he’d make was the roast and the gravy and the soups. He made three different kinds. Some days you’d get a soup. For a twenty-five cent meal you had to give them some soup or something and then dessert. But I made all that. All he had to do is make the gravy, the roast and then the soups. He’d cover there and “Bravo! Bravo!” He’d like everything ‘cause I had everything ready for him and—
I: 15:34 Did you know how to cook before you came to Houston?
VM: ‘Cause father raised me in the café and my brother Pancho, man, they even made the potatoes. I used to kill them old roosters. They used to bring them down there for fifteen, two for a quarter. I’d grab them old roosters and just (s/l cut their heads off).
I: So, you learned to cook from your father?
VM: Oh, yes.
I: What about the other boys? Did they cook too?
VM: They (s/l didn’t like that he closed up) and they—
I: They didn’t.
VM: Or my wife either. When I married her she’s—the old lady. She was Irish and she’s right in that picture. And she never did. She was—like I couldn’t even keep her at the cash register. She’d get nervous, break down. My daughter, she’s the one that helped me.
I: How long did you—how long did you work there at that place on Congress?
VM: On Congress? I worked there about two years.
I: Was that in the 20’s?
I: Twenty-eight. That was your first job here?
VM: Yeah, and that was—those were great ones that come in there and they wanted their eggs blindfold with Brookfield sausage.
I: 16:49 What does that mean?
VM: Blindfold, just they would be—had a little skin over the top of them, not too cooked and they blindfold—blindfold, and if you break them, they sent it back to you. And blindfold and they wanted hot biscuits. I had to make hot biscuits for them, and I really worked there but I loved it. I loved it. Right this minute I love to cook, and I’ve got plans to open a place right now that you don’t have to do anything but—these microwave ovens, you can make that stuff and put it in freezers. A man want a dozen tamales you put it in there and he want three dozen I mean—open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and I’ve got a friend of mine that I’ve been knowing for years. His name is Harlan. His mother, great grandmother run River Oaks—you know—and I know Harlan and he—I worked with him at the pawn shop and he was black. He’d been taking some musical education. He’s got—and he’d call at midnight and (s/l find him) down the street two or three blocks and he told me “Mindiola, you’ve got to help me” so I’d help him Fridays and Saturdays and he stayed there. He couldn’t trust no one. He’s got a range worth three or four thousand dollars and he couldn’t trust nobody so he had to stay there himself. One time he went to McDonald’s to get a hamburger. He wasn’t gone 18 minutes and some kids backed up on the—records they pick up—they broke the wall and stole $1,800 worth of guns. I mean, shotguns and pistols and diamond rings in 18 minutes.
I: Doesn’t take them long, does it?
VM: And he stayed there and finally I used to cook there when I was there. He bought me a stove, and he bought me a bathtub, and he moved all my furniture down there. My sister liked to die because there’d been four people killed, them night watchmans.
I: 18:56 What address is that? Where is that located?
VM: That’s on—Bishop’s Pawn Shop is this side of Hopper Road. I’ve got the address.
I: Oh, that’s all right. I know the area. Yes, sir. Okay, now after you got through cooking there, you worked there for two years, that other place on—and then where did you go?
VM: Well, from there I went to different—I opened a little place over on—it was a little hamburger joint on Produce Row on Commerce and there was a Greek named Steve there and he liked—‘cause he could get—and he had a German but he didn’t run it and they couldn’t have no children. So, he killed her sitting on the stool of a commode because he said he got an old girlfriend from Greece, and he was going to marry her and they asked him how come they—how come he killed her. “Well, that’s mine. I got papers on her. I can do it.” “Well, you can’t do it in this country.” Finally they sent him to the electric chair. They told him 20:00 (inaudible) now if you give me all your money, we’ll control your money. He says “You’ll get up there and they’ll slit you and put you in the chair and shave your head and everything else and at the last minute he’s gonna 20:16 (inaudible)” because they made him honorary member of a Greek club that you can’t go against your brother. All the Greeks got together and they take this Greek priest over there and they made the—I forget the name of the governor then. He was going to repeal it but he didn’t.
I: 20:35 And he got fried.
VM: Well, he didn’t have no complaints, you know. You’ve got to—20:41 (inaudible).
I: So, you worked on Produce Row there for a while?
VM: Yeah, he opened me a little place, opened a little place there that served about 40 people and I run that place, and he kept it a hamburger joint. He would fix it up nice. And the flood came down there in ’38 or ’37 and swept everything off. Man, it just—everything.
I: That was a big flood in those days.
VM: (talking at the same time) —meat floating and chickens and everything.
I: Did it hurt Produce Row pretty bad?
VM: Oh, man. It just wrecked the whole thing, just drowned it. There was a Jewish man. I can’t think of his name. He moved all his groceries, put them on the second floor.
I: Siegfried? Was the Siegfried? (?)
VM: No, Seigfried, no. He was in the produce business. This fella was a grocer, way out on the end close to the bayou. He put everything upstairs and they’d taken the whole building. Oh, man. He was sick. Anyhow, I had a lot of good there, a lot of experience.
I: So you stayed—how long did you stay in that little place? Until the flood?
VM: Until the flood and then they—then he moved over on Jefferson Drive and College (s/l Worth) I believe, put up a little hamburger joint and that’s where he killed his wife.
I: Where did you go after that though? Where did—?
VM: 22:00 Well, I went and put up another little joint there at Piedmont Steel Company on Baker and they—
I: What was the name of it?
VM: The name was swan, White Swan Café and I tell you, we sold it to George, the Greek that had a café in the farmer’s market before they tore it down, you know, down there on the bayou, and he gave me the colored apartment ‘cause he didn’t want—he didn’t like me, of course, so I’d buy stuff, what I needed from him, a sandwich or something. I couldn’t cook there, you know. Of course, he’d let me cook chili ‘cause they didn’t like his chili, so he let me cook a little chili and beans. My father gave me a recipe on chili, and I put it on the air the other night over at Bob Stevenson’s program that I made the best chili. I had a secret and no need for me to take it with me. I was—and boy, I had calls from all over the country, from Florida, from Beaumont, from all over the country. Don’t matter where they were from. They wanted that recipe and I said “Well, I don’t want to take it with me. I want to share it, give it to somebody.” And then I—
I: Were very many—did very many Mexican-American people come into that café at all?
VM: Well, mostly working people. They was working for two bits a day then in Morales Banana House. And Morales had—there were about five brothers, banana house next door.
VM: Morales Banana House, Morales, and he used to work—
I: I never heard of them.
VM: Yeah, right there on Produce Row between Marlin and Louisiana and Siegfried was out on the corner. His brother was in the banana business ‘cause he was on the other block with Lange (?) and all of them. He used to always have a big cigar. I see him in the paper the other day. He hasn’t changed too much. Of course, he’s aged but he still has that big cigar and he looked good, for age, you know. My gosh, time marches on.
I: Who were the Morales’?
VM: Well, they was Italians.
I: Oh, they were Italians.
VM: 24:12 I think they was Italians, Morales, and they worked for two bits a day and the loan company come down there when they’d get their paycheck. They would—boy, they’d harass them and he left, you know, and they borrowed ten dollars. One guy paid for eight months. He paid two dollars a week for eight months for ten dollars he borrowed and he still owed. He was paying ten dollars interest.
I: That was interest. What kind of—was working as a cook, did you make any money? Was there any money?
VM: I make a living. I had three kids, my wife and we was getting by. A dollar would go a long ways.
I: When you first moved to Houston, where did you all live? What part of town did you all—
VM: On—it’s just this side of Main Street between Main Street and Rice Boulevard. There’s a little side street there. I know the name of it as well as I know mine. My brother had rented there, and he was working for Mainstay Baking Company at night. Sometimes I’d go over and clean up ‘cause I—I wasn’t no baker, but I learned how to be a baker because of being a chef cook. I worked for the Adolphus Hotel and you got to be a baker, you got to be a butcher and you’ve got to be a cook, to be a chef cook, and I was a chef cook.
I: Oh, you worked for the Adolphus in Dallas?
VM: I worked for the Adolphus, Anheuser Busch, Adolphus Hotel, the Baker Hotel and I went to—that’s when I first got married with my girlfriend—you know—we when to Dallas (s/l when I was 17) I believe and we were supposed to go to the Velvet Theater, and we got married.
I: Where did you meet her?
VM: Yeah. We was raised together on South Third Street, on North Third Street, and her daddy sold tamales there on the corner by the courthouse. He’d have a little wagon there, and he had hot bricks, and he’d put on the menu that he’d sell them for 15 cents a dozen. He made some pretty good tamales. I always thought I’d make the tamales he made but he did his—the pepper, what they make chili powder of, and he’d fry it in hot grease. I get mine, I boil it and I chop it and it gives it a good flavor, but he’d fry it in hot grease and then he’d grind it up, and it’d give it a different flavor altogether, just like this chili that I make. I use kidney fat. It’s got a—it’s the purest fat. It won’t stay on your plate and it won’t stick to your dishes. It’s the purest. It’s that veal kidney, not beef kidney, and it gives your beef a certain flavor. And you don’t put it in the water and you just put that tallow in there. And when it’s done, you put salt and pepper in there of course, but when it’s done, then you put your chili powder and your garlic and your carnitas and all the spices in there and stir it about 15 minutes and cut it off. You put it in bricks and serve it whenever you want to. That—and you just stock it and you’ve got fresh chili there all the time, see? (tape ends 27:35) (new tape starts 00:04) —and it’s just—
I: When did you get to Center Street Café?
VM: Center Street Café? I moved there from Franklin and Penn. I moved from the Piedmont Steel Company in front of the old Sturgio, (?) Sturgio Hotel. It used to be Wells Fargo and he opened that nice, beautiful place and he couldn’t rent it. They would stay there. People tried to 00:30 (inaudible) you know. And I went in there to take me—I had a very good friend of mine. His name was Golden (?). He was president of Piedmont Steel, and he took a liking to me and he told me, he says “Go ahead.” They’re doing 00:49 (inaudible). And he told “Mindiola,” he says “Go down there. I’ll get you all the meat you want.” Well, I could get some from (inaudible) but you got that—you know—little black market stuff and the meat would come in and they’d stamp it, George or John or something like that and the cheap meat, well, he’d get rid of it first. He’d come in and ask and said “Well, we haven’t got the meat.” I said “Well, Mr. Golden said I can get what you want” and he sent me two or three cases of beef tenderloins, cutlets and stuff like that and he says “You sign for them.” He says “You don’t have to pay for them.” He said “You get all the steak you want.” Of course, he’s dead now, but he loved to get in there and he’s—oh, he’s so wonderful. He helped me because he’d taken a liking. I didn’t have a dime, and old Sturgio, he let me have it and he was very pleased about it. As a matter of fact, I used to get the SP, all those grocers at SP to eat with me. They didn’t have no meat because I couldn’t pay that big price. They were selling 25 cent lunches, and they’d stand up just like you were going to the theater there from the office and there were two or three hundred people working on each one of those floors, ladies and gents, and a lot of places wouldn’t go because that was in ’42 and the (s/l beard) come in at (s/l three two) and a lot of ladies during their lunch they go to these cafes and they try to—you know—guys would try to harass them or something. So, they brought their lunch and the first thing I done, they had a big plate glass. I put “No Beard” in great big red letters on the plate glass. Man, I just couldn’t have enough people over there, office people. They all come but no meat.
I: 02:45 Was this at Center Street?
VM: No, this was at Penn and Franklin, right catty corner from the post office. The FBI used to come in there and you should—
I: What’d you serve them? I mean, with no meat?
VM: A lot of vegetables. They was ordering a lot and man, it was just right down the alleys. Carrots and spinach and all kinds of vegetables, some squash and all kinds of broccoli and cauliflower and stuff like that and they would go for—I made them some rolls, fresh rolls, biscuits. They wouldn’t eat no bread and we was just right down the alley. They wouldn’t eat no dessert, and FBI would bring—there’s an old fella with the 03:28 (inaudible) and I wouldn’t allow them in my place. I mean, he was so filthy. Of course (inaudible) he belonged to the FBI. (inaudible) about ten guys come up there and—
I: He was an FBI man?
VM: He was some kind of—
I: Some undercover—
VM: —black men too would come in there, striped suit and a hammer sticking out of their belt and of course in those days they got a lot of information. But that was none of my business and my wife had never worked in her life. I couldn’t get nobody to—
I: Who did you have working with you?
VM: My wife. She never worked in a café. She lost from a 38 dress she wore an 8. She got sick and I had to put her in the hospital, and I had to close up until she got well because she just—her eyes got that big. She was running around there and everybody—a lot of people said “Honey, you don’t have to work for this gentleman so doggone hard.” He says “I will give you a job in the office.” She said “Well, that’s my husband. I got three kids.”
I: Where did you all live when you first got married?
VM: On Freeman, 1521 Freeman. This fella, I tell you, the fella that I had known that was my landlord when I was running a place on Center Street. He owned that place, and he sold it to me like rent. It was a duplex. I rented half of it, and I lived in the other half and that’s where I (inaudible).
I: 05:04 What part of town is that in?
VM: That was on the corner of Freeman and Brooks. Brooks and Freeman.
I: I’m not familiar with area.
VM: It’s right over there. You go through the underpass on North Main. You turn the first street to your right.
VM: That’s Freeman and Brooks is the next street, and I was living there in the duplex, near the duplex.
I: You must have had—did you have—you had Southern Pacific people come into your café?
VM: Oh, man. I mean to tell you they—I don’t know how they got so much time ‘cause some of them get an hour or even the big bosses would come down there and eat because I’d cook—I had time to cook and I’d cook plenty of bacon—I mean, meat and spices and didn’t have no bacon, but I’d use a little margarine and stuff like that. They couldn’t get no sugar. I had this—what do you call this? Some kind of water looking you put on—yeah, it’s some kind of sweetener, and finally a cab driver says “I can get you some sugar.” I said “Okay, get me a couple of sacks.” He goes “All right.” He says “Well, I don’t care what it is.” I’ve got to get my customers—charged me $104 a sack for it and he got it from Germany, a cab driver. He says “Well, it comes from Germany. You all give it to Germany and they just send it back.” They’d just send it to us. Clothes, blankets and stuff, wool blankets. They’d take a razor and make socks out of them, out of the—he told me all about it.
I: What year was that?
VM: That was during ’42, the war, during the war and second war, World War.
I: How long did you stay there? How long did you stay at Franklin—
VM: About four years and then I moved over to Center Street. I stayed there 20 years.
I: 07:04 Why’d you move to Center Street?
VM: Well, it was a better deal, better location. My landlord was—he said “I’ll give you free rent if you go in there for six months, and then when you get to going”—
I: Who’d you rent from?
VM: Sam Lopresti (?). He was a multimillionaire and man, I mean to tell you, he’d take 30 crates of eggs and build an 8-story building. That man was a genius. He’d buy all of this old lumber and he’d splice it. He wouldn’t even cut it, and he’d build and then put brick or tin around it and—you know—he would pass it through inspection. He had—and he had a friend of his that was in that banking business, one of the big 07:46 (inaudible) and when—
I: Was he an Italian fella or what?
VM: He was Italian, Lopresti, and when somebody was fixing to build something he’d go over there and he’d steal it, a big ranch in Cat Springs. I don’t know how many, 1200 acres he had from—he knew the people couldn’t make it, and he went over there and gave them peanuts for it. Oh, he had (s/l beer). He’d plan 08:14 (inaudible). I mean, he had a beautiful place, Cat Springs.
I: Cat Springs. I know where that is.
VM: And I used to go out there and hunt and he’d get to building with something that somebody’d fix and lose. He’d get it and he’d move it and he’d rent it and he’d fix it up. He was a carpenter and he’d get all this—
I: Had he been in Houston long?
VM: Oh, yes. Yes. He had a drug store here and he—one of his kin folks was from Kansas City, and he brought him down here. It was kin folks. One of the daughters just fell in love with one of those cousins and got married and he built them two condominiums, them motels and opened them a drug store and everything. Oh, he was a filthy millionaire. I mean—
I: How big was the place on Center?
VM: Oh, I could seat—let’s see, I could seat about 25 on the white side ‘cause we had a white side and a colored side and I had to sit about 15 on the colored side because I had a big bench there and I had some groceries out there—you know—and I had more whites sitting on the colored side than I would on—‘cause I’d have those—there were some brown skinned colored that—built nice and they’d come over there and drink beer and everything. I had a steam table and a lot of people come in there. Girls wouldn’t wait on them old fellas that come in there. “How come you don’t wait on them old fellas?” “Oh,” he says “They don’t tip.” I said “Well, my gosh,” I says, “they come in here to eat.” “Yeah,” he says, “well, I don’t—” and let the girl, one of them girls wait on them. They got picked up on 10:03 (inaudible) finally. They were raised down there at the—I had to hire her so—‘cause she’d wait on them. She’d do anything. Never (s/l lost a day). So, they’d go around there and get the money. Twenty-five cents for the big 10:18 (inaudible). It was a nickel then but the big (inaudible) he figured that I’d make 200 dollars a week and night and day and I’d open up at three o’clock in the morning, be there until midnight sometimes. I had my little bed there. I’d sleep there and—
I: 10:39 What were your hours there at that—
VM: No hours. In the first month I put $10,000 in the bank, the first month. I mean, the first year I put $10,000 in the bank the first year. I mean, this money just—truck drivers and all kind of—you name all them big trucks. One guy called Down Truck (?) called me. He said “When did you all move?” He says “Well,” he says, “we haven’t moved.” He says “You’ve got seven trucks down here on Center Street,” he says, “and I thought maybe you all had moved.” All the—
I: Did you just bring the customers with you or did you—
VM: No, they come down here—down here at the thing that would bring them there, like today. It’s the females that would bring them there—you know—and they would come in there and they’d give them—one girl come over there and I had a worker working on the white side and one would kind of end up—you know—and he had a big farm over here—(knocking at the door) Come in.
I: What was your menu at the Center Street Café?
VM: You name it. Boy, I had a (s/l pick) that I’d cook 500 pounds of meat in there and I had to cook tamales and chili and stuff like that.
I: Did you have Mexican food or was—
VM: Mexican food. Anything that you wanted. There’s steak if you want—
I: 12:01 Blue plate special?
VM: I had a walk-in cooler. I had a grocery store on one end, and I had a café in there and I had a back entrance, and I had a great big display case and the first month I was there I couldn’t sell no bacon because they wanted a dime’s worth of bacon, and I wanted to sell a half a slab or a slab. Finally I had—because these guys would come from the country. They would work in town, maybe four or five of them or ten of them would live in one little old vacant house, and they’d eat a half a loaf of bread of a slice of bread or a little—and they wouldn’t have no icebox, just cook it instead of buying bread. And they’d eat that because if they leave it there, they come back and it was gone, and they had to have a fight. Somebody had to move, see? So, they just—what they could eat they’d cook it there and they would provide for each other. They’d all sleep together in the room on a pallet or something so they could save money to take back to the country and they was all (s/l trade good men.) I give them credit and they would work for—the (s/l sales floor). I forget the name of it. It was down there and Derroek Steel (?). They worked for them and they worked for the can company and they worked for—oh, several buildings.
I: And you had working people come in there?
VM: Oh, let me tell you, we done business there.
I: So, you were in business there from when, 19—?
VM: Twenty years.
VM: Twenty years, yeah, from ’40—that’s where we take this picture.
I: That picture, that is a very interesting picture. You’re with—what group are you with there?
VM: Mexico Viejo. That’s one of the culture clubs that we had here.
I: Were you in that?
VM: Yes sir, yes sir. I was—
I: How’d you get—how’d you—
VM: 13:56 They—you know—they don’t ask you. They invite you. Say for instance like I belong to the Eagles 35 years and we had a rule. They’d give you burial insurance. They don’t now, but if you invited somebody they wouldn’t take their application. If I thought that you was as good as me or better, you could recommend them. I responsible for you, but they wouldn’t want nobody that they didn’t know. You got to recommend them. You were responsible for them. Now, if I take you over there right now you’d have to have a visitor’s and you couldn’t buy nothing. Not a thing. You couldn’t buy no mixed drink or—on Sundays or Election Day or something or anything as it goes on there.
I: This is with the Eagles?
VM: Eagles, 35 years.
I: What about—when did you join Mexico Viejo?
VM: Mexico Viejo? When it originated, you know.
I: In the early 20’s?
VM: Oh, yes. Yes. It was wonderful. First you had to dress and then—but they would ask you do you join. They would ask you—you had to be of their kind.
I: When you were—you worked there for—where did you work—okay, did you just close the Center Street Café after 20 years or—?
VM: Yes. The fellow there, he built apartment houses for colored, and he told me that he would make a place for me, so I stored all my stuff and I went to Felix. I told Felix “I’m going crazy. It’s two weeks since I’ve done anything.” He says “Well, I’ll put you to work.” He put me to work in the kitchen there with him. He says “I tell you,” he says “you go over on Baker Wood (?)” that place on Main Street and—
I: Oh, he had a place on Main?
VM: Oh, gosh. He had a beautiful place. It was no wider than this place here, kind of a shack, but he had booze and he had the business. I mean to tell you, he had the business. Right next to the Rice Hotel one block, National Shirt Shop there and he had a wonderful business. I offered him $10,000. He laughed at me.
I: He made better than—
VM: Oh, man. He made that place, by golly, I mean, in no time flat.
I: 16:23 With the downtown trade?
VM: Nothing but office business ‘cause no place to park there or nothing.
I: And you worked there for how long?
VM: Seventeen months until Dave found out that I wasn’t nothing, that I was retired and he called me. He runs the Monterrey Houses, Dave Garcer (?), and he got me to run one of his places over on Fluke Way (?) and Harem Clark (?). I run that for two years. Man, I mean, I couldn’t get the help—
I: Too much work?
VM: Well, it was hot in there and 25 pounds I lost the first month, and the Mexican neighbor that he had up in there, well, he could get him to work for nothing but he’s selling—that neighbor’s kind of clannish and they don’t like a Tex-Mex, and I couldn’t get him to do nothing. He said “Well, Dave sent me down here to wash dishes” and they wouldn’t do nothing but wash. They wouldn’t peel an orange. They wouldn’t sweep and I couldn’t get them to—and they had those paper caps. When I’d leave there they’re talking. When I come back, my cap is on the floor or mashed up or something. And—you know—you can tell that they—and one time, one guy got enough gumption to tell me, he says “You know,” he says—I said “Well, what do you guys got against me? I’ve tried to treat you all right” and I says “maybe I don’t harass you or nothing like that and you take me for”—I said “I’m just a good man. My father taught me always be nice to everybody, especially damn fools and dumb animals.” He said “Be extra nice and always be”—and they didn’t like me, so Dave says “Well, send them back” and he’ll send me five more. They was all kin folks. They was all brainwashed before they come there so I had the same damn thing, and I had to hire my own help, a fellow by the name of Bar. He was with Huntington Field. He was an aviation deal, a big man and he turned his place over to me but I couldn’t take care of it and cook and fix the dishes and see that they come out right. They sent them out there cold, and he got his wife to run the cash register. I said “That’s the main thing. You’re going to need that. If I’m back here trying to make two beans out of one” ‘cause everything come from the commissary already cooked. All you had to do was just warm it. Of course, the avocado and the lettuce, cheese, you had to grind that and chop your onions up and fry your tortillas. They had tortillas there they’d had for six months—you know—put the (s/l fresh ones in the back ones.) I threw everything out, and they opened at 11 o’clock and sometimes I’d be there at six o’clock in the morning frying everything fresh. And oh, we had to put a (s/l dining room) in there because people would get—you know, they know. People know food. You go in the café now, they can tell you whether you’ve got water in there or whether you’ve got butter or whether it’s synthetic potatoes or real potatoes. I never would make them in my café because that’s the first thing is “They have them synthetic potatoes.” My wife gave me—I don’t want—I’d leave them whole. I’d boil them. I’d make—just fix them different kinds, hash browns, au gratin with cheese or something like that.
I: 19:51 Did you—how long did you work for Felix?
VM: Seventeen months.
I: That’s before you went to work with Dave, right?
VM: Yeah, Dave come back and he says—of course, he used to sell me (s/l deer.) He didn’t have no places that he’s got—he had nine places and he was in partners with a couple of guys that had some money. He got a—last time I heard, he had 170 places and he offered me a good proposition to go around and inspect them so much. (s/l $150 an hour) three or four hours and moved around and inspect. I said no. I don’t need it. I need a little something to supplement my—you know—once in a while.
I: You must have been working for Felix about the time he died, didn’t you, or not?
VM: Oh, yes. Yes. He was—he sick. That’s his son from going—you know. He got in some kind of a racket. Of course, it’s off the record. I don’t know whether I should tell this but he come—everybody knew it and he bought him an apartment. They got him an apartment, and he had good clothes and everything, car and everything else. But he’d had some kind of a racket where somebody’d call him on the phone. He didn’t know who it was, pick up this envelope and deliver it to a certain place, and he’d pick up his money and there was just a tree or church or something like that. And they found him and—well, he didn’t know what was in it, at least he claimed that he didn’t or maybe he knew. And he—(21:24 tape stops and restarts)
I: There was an Edmonds that belonged to the—
VM: He was the only white—
I: Well, it’s right there. In that picture his name’s Edmonds and he was the only Anglo guy in that—
VM: Yeah, and this is this guy that washed windows. He was a good friend of mine and he sweeped in there and Edmonds is right there next to him.
I: How did you all—why did Edmonds get in—
VM: Well, he knew how to speak Spanish, and a lot of people knew him and he was a good man, and he’d done business with him, and he was some kind of attorney or something.
I: He’s the one on the far right with the—
VM: Here he is, right here, and Hart (?) knows him well. He said “Well, my God, look who you got in here.” He said “Well, I knew him. Well, he was here yesterday.” He said “I talked to him” and he told me that picture wasn’t made in ’42. It was made in ’44 or ’45 or something.
I: Was it made that late?
VM: I don’t know. I don’t know. I remember—I thought it was ’42. It was just when I had opened the place right there in ’42 and I wanted to tell Janie—
I: 22:27 Did you all have meetings at that—
VM: No, this just happened to be because they used to meet at different places at the courthouse and they made a special—I think one of the salesman from the Grand Prize Beer Company furnished the beer. He furnished the food and everything else. You see Grand Prize Beer. That’s the only thing you see on the table there was Grand Prize Beer, and he’d invite them over to my place and Felix liked them. He wasn’t bad. He called me Tiny Mindiola because I weighed 380 pounds.
I: Yeah, you lost a lot of weight, didn’t you?
VM: And Felix (inaudible) radio station. And I—well, I knew him when. I knew Felix and that’s saying a lot.
I: When did you first meet them? When you first came to Houston?
VM: When I first come—he had been here over 50 years. I was able to—Felix Morales. He’s a multimillionaire and I don’t know. I just—my brother says “I wish I had a penny for every dollar that you throwed away.” I said “Brother,” I says, “I don’t know. I don’t know how to tell you.” He says “No,” he says, “you threw your money away.” I said “Well, I’ll tell you what.” I said “My father always taught me. You never stayed around” and he taught me that you get out of life what you put into it and if you don’t, don’t expect nothing out of it. It’s more blessed to give than to receive. I’ve always been—he’s always taught me that. He was baptized Catholic. I said what—he said “Yeah, you’re supposed to share your blessings.” I believe in that. My kids (s/l need it). You hold your hand too tight, ain’t nothing going to get in it, and he gets mad at me when I get to talk to him like, especially I told you 24:14 (inaudible). Last time he was here his wife was here and they was kind of cleaning my—and he got to cutting loose and he hadn’t been drinking. He sounded like an old broken record, same old thing. “You should take care of yourself. You should save your money.” Now, when you need him, your friends go over there and talk to them and he says “Tell them you need them. You ain’t got nothing.” I said “I’ve got God and that’s all I need. I got salvation.” “Oh,” he says “that’s for fools.”
I: 24:48 Do all your kids live in Houston?
VM: Yes sir. One of them works for Fred Mark (?) for 25 years. She’s retired now. She’s in Lufkin. She’s got a big trailer out there. My son bought 44 acres and I give them all a good education.
I: Where’d they go to school at?
VM: On—I was so doggone busy wrapped up in my business that my wife taking care of all the books and everything and see that they got what they wanted. But they started—they went to Marshall and they went to—over there on north side, those schools over there. I don’t know the name of them.
I: Reagan or Jeff Davis.
VM: I don’t—yeah. Anyhow, they all got—and then they went to—my daughter went to—took a business course and everything and anyhow—
I: You said your wife was Irish? Was one of them—?
VM: Yeah, she’s Irish and I was talking to one of the black men in here the other day when they moved in. I said “Listen” he says “that paper lady that helps you around there and hangs your clothes and everything” he says “you better—you’re going to lose all your white friends fooling around with her” and I said “Well, she’s white.” He says “Yes, but she runs around with”—she delivers papers. She’s crippled and she’s kind of—and he says “She’s going with the guy she’s been keeping books for for the last several years and his skin is a different color from hers” and he says “You 26:22 (inaudible).” I said “Well, I don’t know what they say.” They talk about Jesus Christ and look what they’ve done for them. He said “Yeah,” he says “but they’ll talk and you’re gonna lose.” I said “Well, I’ll tell you what. I got three daughters and two sons, and I married a woman that’s got a different skin than I have.” I said “She’s Irish” and she ain’t talked to me since.
I: 26:48 Is your wife—did she pass away?
VM: Yeah, six or seven years.
I: Where was she from? She—
VM: She was from Waco. I was raised in Waco with her. I met her and she had been married before and I raised one of her—she was three years old and everybody says he looks more like me than the rest of them did. They’re all right. The one on this side is the smallest one, is the youngest one and that’s the one that this baby of mine, the one on this side.
I: You know, Mindiola almost sounds Italian.
VM: Yeah, Mando is Italian. Yeah, the head of the health department—(tape ends 27:29) (new tape starts 00:02) —one of these houses where I think it’s eight dollars a month I think. No windows or nothing but we lived there. My father died there.
I: When you cooked for Felix what kind of—and he just served Mexican food didn’t he?
VM: But I didn’t cook. I just served. We had a steam table in front, and they brought it all from the café, and we couldn’t get that help. Sometimes they’d bring cheese there. I’d park in front of the place, back into it, and the cheese would be uncovered. The tortillas would be uncovered. The trash—and I’d come in there and get mad, and they wouldn’t talk to me, and they’d get those beans and they’d mash them and they wouldn’t—I don’t know. They just didn’t care.
I: What did he think about that? (talking at the same time)
VM: That’s why he sent me over there. He said “They do as they please over there.” He said “And I want you to see that they”—when you tell them anything you can’t—it’s just like living with a woman. If she snores in your face, you’ve got to get along with her. So, I tried my best. I’ve always tried to get along with everybody. I don’t know. Who needs enemies?
I: You don’t need them.
VM: 01:18 Well, anyways, I don’t, and I had some people over there that kind of—like the other morning. There was about five of them down there. They stick together. They always 01:30 (inaudible) by the look on their face. They’re unhappy and everybody who’s unhappy, well, they don’t know God and I said “Good morning gentlemen.” I talk to them. He says “Oh, it was all right until now.” Stuff like that. You know, I talk to them. I try to show them 01:55 (inaudible). I always try to be (s/l clean) and courteous and the ladies, they’re jealous of me because all the ladies they’re “How do you get along? How’s your legs doing?” and they (s/l cry a lot) and I do favors for them and they find out (s/l I’m doing great) and they’re always concerned how I’m doing. They like to go to the store for me. They come up here sometimes two or three o’clock in the morning see how I’m doing and maybe have (s/l I heard from them) or something.
I: 02:32 Were you in any organizations Mr. Mindiola?
VM: Yes, I belong to the Eagles, I mean the (s/l fraternity order) the Eagles and I belonged to the Knights of the Columbus and they had a deal over here Sunday. My niece is getting married 02:47 (inaudible) sister and she’s getting married for the second time and I bought her—they’ve got a ceramic place over there, and I bought her a nice little present. What do you buy somebody that’s got everything?
I: Yeah, you don’t buy them—I know exactly—
VM: (talking at the same time) I bought them this vase. It’s a white elephant with a big snout on it and it’s white, and it denotes good luck in Spanish. It’s got little pink tints on it and a hole in the back of it where you can put a potted plant big as this one here, the one that’s sitting up there, and oh, I spent hours. I ain’t got nothing to do. An idle mind’s the devil’s workshop, and I just keep busy, and I’ve got a lot of imagination.
I: How long were you in Mexico Viejo? That’s a long time—
VM: In Mexico, no, I was born in—
I: No, I mean in Mexico Viejo, the—
VM: Oh, until I got into business that I went to work at 3 o’clock in the morning and I stayed until 10 o’clock at night Sundays and everything else. Then when we moved from Center Street out there on Alameda he says “We don’t see you no more.” I said “Well, my business keeps me busy” and I made big money out there ‘cause there’s no cafes or nothing.
I: Now, which café was this?
VM: 04:10 This was what they call Meyona’s Kitchen (?). It was 12152 Alameda.
I: This was after you worked for Dave?
VM: Yeah, after I closed my place over there on Center Street, and they built the apartments for the colored, and he made a place there for me, but he didn’t put no floor, no lights, nothing. He said “You fix it like you want to. Electricity, I don’t know where you want it or nothing” and I said “Well, my gosh, this is your building.” He said “Well,” he says, “you know where you want it.” I said “No.” I had all my stuff stored. I had about $10,000 worth of groceries. I had it stored in his place, and I sold it to him for $900. 04:53 (inaudible) What I want it for? If I hadn’t put it in storage they’d have done ate it up, so I just got rid of it, tired and—
I: Just worked here and there?
VM: Well, just to kind of keep busy.
I: So, you were retired when you worked for Felix?
VM: Oh, goodness, yes. Yes. I went over there and told Felix, I said “I’m going crazy.” He said “Well, don’t go crazy. I can use you.”
I: If Felix wouldn’t have died, would you still have been working for him you think?
VM: Oh, man, I mean to tell you, Janie would have put me to work ‘cause Janie’s a wonderful lady. Oh, she is, but she’s all business. No foolishness with her. Man, she’s all business. Now I hear she’s different. She kind of slowed down a little bit, and she’s a different person altogether. She’s always been pretty high-strung and a temper. She had an awful temper. One day, she come down and she said “You been taken care of?” I said “Yes” and she embarrassed me so I cried that night when I got home. She moved all the booths and the guys knew that they had the booths and they had trash behind it. She said “You sure you got that?” I said “Yes, I just mopped and sweeped and everything else” but she pulled the booths around and showed me all that stuff behind, crackers and tortillas behind that and embarrassed me.Well, I didn’t know. I was just learning too. If it was my place—and it hurt me so that I said “Well, the good Lord forgave. I can forgive.” So, I forgive her but a long time it just hurt me, and she never did know it, and I never did tell nobody but it hurt me. But she wasn’t like that all day. I mean, and she didn’t mince no words when she wanted to say something. She’s very frank. That’s what I like about her. She told it. She’d come out with it, didn’t care whose toes she stepped on or what (inaudible) she’d tell them off. That’s the way she is. So, I admire her for it and of course, I’d didn’t 07:12 (inaudible) after that. Forgive her but I won’t forget it but I have forgot it too.
I: 07:19 You—do you have grandkids?
VM: Yes, I have three grandkids and two great grandkids.
I: How are you children raising those grandkids?
VM: Oh, well, I don’t have too much time for them, but they come and visit me. Of course, they’re all pretty good sized now, you know. Like when they was little they used to come and visit me at my place of business and, well, I liked to have them around, and I like to see them go too when they get rowdy or something like that. I like to have—
I: Were they raised different than you were when you were a kid?
VM: Well, they have more their way. My father used to whip me. If you whip a kid like my dad used to whip me, they’d put them in the penitentiary. He’d get that razor strap, man, I’d have welts on me for three weeks. And the way he done it, he’d sit down and he’d talk to me and then he’d whip me for about ten minutes. He’d just sit down and 08:16 (inaudible) and he’d talk to me some more and he worked up a temper again ‘cause he got in the habit of—
I: You think that was the—you think that was—
VM: That was the best thing that ever happened to me because he put me—
I: He got you on the right track.
VM: I guess so. That’s his picture right there.
I: Are you still a member of the Catholic Church?
VM: I was born and raised in the Catholic Church. We were baptized, and I just got ordained. I got the picture right there, and you know Warren Bentley? (?)
I: Who’s that?
VM: Bishop (s/l McCarsky).
I: Oh, well—
VM: 08:52 I’ve got the picture right there.
I: What parish did you all go to when you—
VM: St. Charles—no, the one I was ordained is that cathedral, Bishop’s—St. Charles, Bishop St. Charles and I had this accident right after I joined it. On my birthday, the fifth, they give me my instruction. They helped me. In two weeks I got everything straight, and I’d taken my sacraments and everything else on that day on my birthday because I had been so long and I was 74 years old. I was 73 then and the bishop he—and then they would drink out of the chalice which was an honor—
I: What is that, is that for being a deacon or—?
VM: No, that’s for being my age and I didn’t have time to—I’d been a Catholic only and I never did—of course, I’m not as good a Catholic as I’d like to be, but I’ve got more time now, and I’ve got a little closer to establishing the good Lord, and I feel a whole lot better. Listen, I’m just as happy as if I had good sense.
I: 10:04 Did you teach your—you learned Spanish when you were a child, right?
VM: No, I was 18 years old before I learned it. I had to join the Mexico Viejo, and I had to join different culture clubs so I could learn it, and I wouldn’t venture to speak with anybody that had education because I talked this Tex-Mex and I still do.
I: But you spoke English when you were a kid?
VM: Oh, we did at home, all of us did. You know, we went to school, learned in school. Of course, it was a long time before they let us go to school. They wouldn’t let Mexicans go to school because they had lice, you know. Finally, they let us go and the first two weeks there, the first two or three days they broke out with lice at school, and it was about a year before we could go back again.
I: Was this in Beaumont?
VM: This was the Gene Sherwood School on South Third Street in Waco. Gene Sherwood School, but they didn’t allow Mexicans to go to school.
I: Oh, they didn’t? Were you all discriminated against pretty bad in Waco?
VM: Well, I didn’t pay no attention to it ‘cause I was a kid and it just didn’t bother me because as long as I had to be around my dad and eating chili and beans and all this crazy—I had the mumps one time and the doctor come up to me and the doctor, oh, he wasn’t—he didn’t weigh 90 pounds and he come over there and I had the mumps. He said “Well, give him lots of crackers and vitamins because”—“and can I have some chili beans?” and he called me chili beans until I was 30 years old. By God, every time he’d see me he’d call me chili beans. He wouldn’t call me by my name ‘cause I was crazy about chili beans.
I: 11:38 But you all—did you father ever talk about discrimination?
VM: No, ‘cause my father, he’d wait on everybody. He had as many black people that he’d feed that chili to and everything else and he’d—sometimes it got so that he couldn’t run the business by himself, pay the rent and everything else. He’d go into one of these near beer places, joints or something like that and open that—he used to like to drink his beer too, and he’d send me before with a little can, and I’d go bring a little can of beer for them to drink and the customers would 12:15 (inaudible) but he had a little place on the corner there where he made his chili and tamales. And boy, he’d make a living for us.
I: Was the place pretty rough in Beaumont when he was working there?
VM: I don’t remember that ‘cause I left there when I was just a pup.
I: Those oil towns were pretty rough.
VM: Oh, naturally. Sure, because there were different kinds of people—
I: Did he have his—did he have another café place to eat in Waco though when he—?
VM: Yeah, well, he had a tent and he’d set these tents out on the corners and he’d put—he had five tents. He graduated to five tents, and he’d cook this stuff in this tin can, in these tamale cans, these lard cans, and he’d send it and they had those benches in there and if it rained, well, they had a shed over there and he had somebody to serve it, and he had a guy that was working for him named Napoleon and his wife worked for—nobody knows this, by golly, but I’m going to tell you. His wife worked for us at the house. He helped my mother ‘cause my mother got sick. She worked so much. She was married. She was married to a barber, and he drank all the time, and they run him out of town and got a divorce and everything and my daddy married her and I got a picture of them. She worked so doggone hard that she got sick and got malarial fever when I was born, and I liked to die ‘cause I had to have goat’s milk and cow’s milk and they had to have 13:51 (inaudible) malaria and I couldn’t drink the milk, so I nursed this black woman until I was old enough to—she had a fresh baby, she had a newborn baby herself and I nursed this black woman. Maybe that’s how come I’m partial to them, but I always did like blacks because they used to preach down on the square. They arrested them for blockading the road two or three times, but that preacher would come back. Finally, they roped it off, and they let him after they had all that mob and race and all that. They were going to tar and feather him, but he had faith in the good Lord and finally they roped him off there when he’d preach them (s/l academies) you know. And man, that guy would preach, I mean to tell you, and sing and that’s why I like that spirituals thing. They have it down here every Monday at 7 o’clock. You ought to come down some time.
I: 14:51 I bet it sounds—
VM: But then the choir got going and they used to play the piano and about four or five (s/l difference) and the way they talk, the language, what they call—I call African English and they used plenty of words and it comes out and you got to hollering “Yeah, yeah” and come on and boy, they go wild. They can’t even get their—they start off and we kind of egg them on and oh man, everybody hollering “Hallelujah!” and you really enjoy it. I really do. I’m right in the middle of it and I think you’d enjoy it.
I: But you got exposed to black people when you were a child?
VM: Well, my business. Over 75-80% of my business always been black people, working people.
I: What about Mexican people? Did they—?
VM: Well, yeah. They’d come in. They’d come in there, but they was always working. They had big families. The only time they’d come in on Fridays and Saturdays and bring their family here to eat. The everyday business, the ones that would work, well, they’d come by there. They couldn’t afford to buy dinner, but they’d buy those tacos or tortillas. They’d call me, “I’m late” and I fix them tortillas with beans and stuff like that. They’d pick them up, and I’d give them three for a dollar, and they’d come by and pick them up and sometimes six or eight would ride. When the car breaks down, well, they couldn’t work. They’d live in different parts of town, and when they would come down there they’d be late, always be late. That’s one thing I say about the Latin American people. They like to sleep. Oh, I tell you, they like their sleep. They’ll wait until the last minute. I don’t know. I always get up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, have a little shower. I’d have my razor, man, and I’d get in there and I’d soak my legs ‘cause my legs would suffer with the—
VM: Yeah, and it relieved me and I’d shave there and sit there and I’d turn the water on a little bit. Take a good shower and sometimes my poodle would jump in there with me and I’d wash her off and I’d put lotion and powder on her and boy, she just frisky.
I: 17:14 Did you ever get involved in politics?
VM: Yes, I help Louis Welch. I got a card, I got a letter there that he gave me. A matter of fact, I just—I got one of them with me. I put it in the Bible there so I get it straightened out. I want you to read it. I want you to—(tape stops and restarts 17:33)
I: So, you worked for Louis Welch and his campaign?
VM: Oh, my gosh, and right in the backyard of the Hoffines over there and all night long after I closed my business, and I had to close my business because he put me out of business. Well, I won’t say that, but I won’t say the things—but I couldn’t get nobody to even come in there. I owed $6,000 that next year, by golly—
I: What happened?
VM: Well, politics, you know. So, I’ve gotta have the politics. You know what I said to myself? I was always—I would drink enough beer to float the Queen Mary ‘cause everybody’d buy me a beer. They’d come in there and say “Okay, one for the boss” and especially on paydays ‘cause I’d get—and I had an icebox full of beer and sometimes I’d help enjoy maybe a six-pack when I’d get through cooking or before I went cooking. Then when I get through cooking I’d go serve my steam table and then I’d eat and I’d have to wait for the—and they’d get off at five. They’d come in and I’d drink another six-pack. When I’d get home I’d drink another one, watch TV and go to sleep at 9-10 o’clock or 11 when I get there and then—but I’d get up on time. Nobody had to wake me up. My wife was a diabetic and I had—that morning I had to give her her insulin, but it never did phase me and the doctor told me, he said “You’re a pretty healthy man. You haven’t had no heart trouble, you haven’t had no high blood pressure, you haven’t got diabetes.” He says “You’ve got a pretty good old man” he says “but you’ve got a spot on your liver. It’s cirrhosis.” He says “Don’t drink nothing, not even a piece of cake that’s got alcohol in it because you’re gonna have to come back to the hospital if you drink one beer.” He scared me. He says “And instead of being over here at three weeks trying to get that beer out of him, drink your glass of arsenic and get out of your misery” he says. So—
I: You quit drinking.
VM: 19:47 Well, yeah. The older you get, the more you want to live, by God. So, I’ve had time to get closer to the Lord, and I feel like I’m living 19:58 (inaudible). Sometimes I need this and need that. Well, I just depend on him and here comes the check from the medical—Medicaid or Medicare. I mean, I haven’t got Medicaid. Seventy or 80 dollars and of course, when I get my check my sister takes it and cashes it and pays the doctors so much, and my kids gave me $500 and buying me all them shirts. I said “I don’t need that.” I said “I could use a little cash” so they give me cash, give me $500. They got together and they gave it to my sister. I said “Well, save some of it because”—all right. So, she paid it all in the doctor bills, and I wrote a check for $2 and I had to pay $18, that half because a minister come from Pasadena and I didn’t have no change. I made him a $2 check and I had to pay $18 for it. She said “Well, if I give it to you you’ll spend it.” It’s my fault ‘cause I thought—I said “Honey, there’s a lot of things that I want, but I just want the things that I need, and I want you to help me balance my budget ‘cause I’m always used to having everything.” I’ve had three station wagons brand new, Country Squires, and I had everything. I mean, money I had coming out of—growing where I want it but I didn’t have the rent. The very thing that I needed I didn’t have. I wasn’t happy. And now that I’ve got nothing I’m happy. Don’t need nothing, and I’m blessed and I say my prayers.
I: 21:42 When you were—Mr. Mindiola, in the 30’s or 20’s, were you involved in any kind of political activity?
VM: Well, I would—you know—for instance, a guy that was campaigning or something I’d feed him or something like that, but I couldn’t get invited because I had to take care of my business, and I’ve had kitchens that I can show you, ham and eggs, bacon and eggs 15 cents and I was on Produce Row and hamburgers 5 cents, plate lunch 25 cents and stuff like that. And, well, it just—it was cheap then in those days. I made it, but I’ve never really been sick until I had this accident.
I: Let me ask you this in conclusion, Mr. Mindiola. Do you have any regrets about your life?
VM: Oh, goodness. I’d do it all over again. I would.
I: Same thing.
VM: Same thing ‘cause I just take more time to do it then. I wish I had the time. I wouldn’t have to rush through it. I’d listen to religious stations and I cook when I want to. I make me a cup of coffee. Lay down, sleep. Sometimes I don’t get up until 3 o’clock in the morning. Sometimes I get up at 11 and stay up all night. And that’s when Johnny Carson and the good shows come on and you enjoy it. But now TV. I don’t watch TV. I don’t know it just—you got to sit there in front of that idiot box and you can’t move. I turn my radio on and I can work and go back and forth and listen to it and maybe I’ll stop (s/l when the president speaks) or something like that. I like to hear him.
I: 23:33 What was the best thing about Houston? Did you like living in Houston?
VM: I love Houston, always did like Houston because, I don’t know, everybody was so nice to me and I had made a lot of friends. Everywhere I make friends. You can catch like Abbie says, you can catch more flies with sugar than you can with vinegar and (s/l as far as remembering) this and that. She says that a sharp pencil is better than a long memory and those things, they help me a lot because I don’t forget them, and they help me a lot because I use them, and I’m learning every day. I learned to cook. I have a little 12 year old girl that taught me how to cook in school. She won a prize. She taught me how to chop onions, and I been chopping onions many a year, cut a great big onion and peel it, left the root ‘cause it won’t fall apart if you leave the root. Cut it in half into a big onion. You got a towel and a big knife and she chopped that thing, turned it around like that, and she had the minced onion that quick. I said “My God.” Of course, I had a slicer to slice onions, 25-35 onions. But she showed me how to cook something quick—you know—say if I just want to scramble a couple eggs. You don’t have to dirty your slicer. You just get your onion, you chop this with a big knife, just criss-cross and it just—I don’t know. A 12 year old girl and me been cooking for 45 years.
I: How far did you go to school? How far did you go in school?
VM: Third grade.
I: Third grade.
VM: Yeah, I don’t have book learning at all. I just picked it up. I got free college educations that I’ve had here and I told Leon, I says “Every people has got a story here. You don’t have to roam around the country.” I loved him ‘cause he’d take you in his truck, and he talks about a beer can and he sees this and that and he stays overnight, the hoot owls and the coyotes and I just loved it. It look like I’m sitting right by him, and I just loved that. I love his philosophy and I—
I: You learned more or less to read and write though just from picking it up here?
VM: Actually an experience for me. Reading and writing, well yes, I know—I never have arithmetic. I never did—and then when they got all these different kinds of arithmetic, then I just got to—but I can figure my way out, you know. It takes a little time.
I: 26:22 What bank did you use?
VM: Bank of Alameda and the First National Bank and Mr. Jordan at the Alameda Bank, my second daddy and he told me, him an Italian man, he says “This place”—I was working for the Monterrey House and there was a place there that I was telling you about that belong to Curly. Oh, he was very—I mean to tell you, he was a very—he had a complex. He’d go to everybody 26:52 (inaudible). He put a window on there so they could come in. He wouldn’t let them in his place and they showed him on TV when he charged a (s/l nigger) ten dollars for a ham sandwich when he come into his place. He was on TV, Curly. He’s some kind of a deputy now in 27:07 (inaudible) someplace, but he’s always been—once in a while—he said “I wish I could sell this place. I’d give it away. I could go pick up my 27:18 (inaudible).” And I went in there one time and it was closed up and about a half a dozen guys tried to open it and he closed it up so I said to myself, “Well, I’m going to try and have a talk with him.” Leroy Melser (?). He owns the Utah (?). He owns that whole building. He says “Mr. Mindiola, I’ve got your record and everything else.” He says “You know how to run places and I hate that. People come in there and steal their stuff.” He said “I can’t insure it because if it’s by itself I can’t get no insurance on it and if you go on and take it I’ll give you three months rent so you can get started.” This Italian fella “Look, Mindiola.” He says “When you open that place, before you turn the lights on, lean down and say a prayer before you even turn the lights on. You’ll make it” and I did and I mean to tell you, I had—
I: Where was this?
VM: At 12152 Alameda. Right on Melser’s—he owns the Utah (?) on one end
I: How long did you have that one?
VM: Twelve years and he—
I: Alameda, is that near—is that near—
VM: That’s two miles the other side of the Astrodome, this side of the ballroom, this side of the Bank of Alameda.
I: Sure, around there.
VM: And Mr. Jordan, he helped me. He said “Mindiola, you got a pretty good record” he says “and you want to borrow some money invest in that place and buy some fixings because they stole all the fryers and everything else.” And he says “You didn’t tell me my credit was no good” he says “Your credit is not strong enough.” He—they got their own words that they use. He says “But I’ll trust you.” He says “I will sign it off myself. You’re gonna need some insurance, and I would like the insurance in my name. We’ll get you started” and he did.
I: 29:23 How long did you have that one?
VM: Twelve years and that’s when Hoffines and he had—we just won by the skin of our teeth. We won that because right in his backyard and I liked who he was and I said “This is a free country” and I stayed in front of that 29:47 (inaudible) until midnight and he’d have a sign. I guess he’d send it to the penitentiary. Instead of putting up a sign, a big one, he put one of them 29:58 (inaudible) right in front of his face. His sign that he had there and if you knew that man, not the old man, the young guy. What’s his name? Not Roy Hoffines but—
VM: Fred, yeah, and we just won by the skin of our teeth, and he found out that I was—I lost $6,000 the first year. I had to close up. Bank got all the stuff. I let my brother-in-law have it. Well, not that brother, he runs the Don Quixote night club. He says “I can make a go and mother can use the kitchen and everything else.” And my sister from Dallas will come over here, so I went to the Northside Bank and borrowed $4,000 and put it in his name and he couldn’t pay two notes of it and I had to (inaudible) but I let him have that money. And so (tape ends 31:08) (new tape begins 00:03) I wish I had more time. I could tell you more.
I: Well, I tell you, you’ve told me quite a bit. Let me ask you this Mr. Mindiola. Is there anything bad about Houston that you don’t like?
VM: Not one thing. There’s a lot of bad places here that you can go to, but you can stay away from them. There’s places here that you don’t need to go. I’ve got places I wouldn’t want to be seen in there and I’ve got places—naturally I wouldn’t want my wife to go to one of those places and I want her to know I wouldn’t go to one of those places. But you have to go there one time to find out. There’s a place used to be over there on Congress. They called it the Black Bridge (unintelligible-Spanish) and they had beer joints there. Every morning there’s two or three dead. On Saturdays, on Saturday mornings you know. They’d get to fighting over their (s/l big time jobs) over there.
I: Was there a red light district in that area?
VM: 00:59 There’s red light districts all over Congress back in there and all of them back through there. The further you go, the cheaper it was. You’d get a discount back in there.
I: There’s a restaurant over there that I went to not too long ago called the Last Concert.
VM: Yeah, it’s supposed to have been a pretty good place when it first opened. I don’t know. It’s back in there. I went there but I didn’t like it because the characters that were in there and didn’t appeal to me. Like I want to be comfortable. I don’t want nobody put a knife in my back or start a fight or throw bottles or stuff. You open a new place it’s only human nature that I’d want to look it over and see. They spent a lot of money, put a brand view building and everything else. What’s the use to have a Cadillac if it ain’t got a motor?
I: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
VM: Now that’s what I admire about this lady. She never—she’d always look forward, ahead. She wouldn’t never look back. And energy, I wish I had half of her energy, and she gets around it like a mouse. One minute she’s here, she’s gone the next minute. I’d be back and on that day I was supposed to wait until twelve and didn’t get there until four. They had some trouble at one of their other places. They have several places, and I waited until four when she come, and she was glad to see me, and I was glad to see her. She looking good. I want to propose to her. I said “I’m a cook and I can run one of these places. You need me.” She said “No” and she still laugh. She is nice. She’s held her age good. I mean, she’s held her age good, and she’s a nice looking woman. She’s always has been a nice looking woman.
I: When did you move here? When did you move to this—?
VM: I moved here last September right after that accident. I had the accident on May the 22nd of last year and May the 22nd of this year would be a year. I had rented this place three months before that. I got some letters when I was at the pawn shop that they was gonna renew the application because I had made my application here two years ago.
I: This is basically a senior citizens home, isn’t it?
VM: Nothing but senior citizens.
I: Nothing but senior citizens. What is it, 6000 Telephone Road? Did you live—were you still where you always—
VM: No, I was at Lowry, 75 Lowry between Airline and Fulton. I lived there two years.
I: 03:53 Had you—have you moved around much in Houston?
VM: Oh, no.
I: Just that one place on—
VM: I was—when I was on Alameda I leased one of those mobile homes and I had a time getting used to it ‘cause I skinned my elbows and everything. It’s so compact, you know. Little tub, I’d wash one side and then put the other side to wash. Finally I got so that I could get in it. I was always so large and got so much water in that I’d slush it out but I learned how to 04:26 (inaudible). And I had a nice backyard (inaudible) and nice—
I: When did you move from the house on Freeman?
VM: Oh, my gosh. We moved there as soon as we bought a place out on—close to the lake. About 18 miles from the lake. My daughter just sold it for $60,000 and my son went to Lufkin. He’s in computers, business machines and computers. His name is Donald Mindiola, and he worked for the company before he went to the service, Monroe Business Machines and he’s with them. My daughter moved out. They bought 44 acres and planted 500 pecan trees from seedlings. He saved some of them and he’s building one of these log cabin houses out of lumber he’s cutting off of there in his spare time and he’s fixed it up. He likes that antique chairs. I mean, you see, he makes 05:30 (inaudible) but he likes that pioneer.
I: What about—what about your other children? Where are they?
VM: Well, the other one, she works for 7-Up right now for 18 years. Her name is Maureen Yolishman (?). Her husband just died here about a year ago and I asked her, I says “Honey,” I says, 05:51 (inaudible) burial. She says, “I don’t have to worry. Eighteen years ago me and my husband gave my life—gave our body to science and they just come and pick him up.” And I said “Well, my gosh. That’d save a little money.” So I said, well—
I: Are your children religious?
VM: Well, my wife, well, I told her about that. I said I’d like—no, you’re gonna make Catholics out of—I says “No. They will go to your church.”
I: What was your—
VM: 06:26 She was Baptist.
I: She was Baptist.
VM: No, he says they’re a bunch of hypocrites. They see what you’re wearing, what kind of car you’re driving and everything else and the first thing they do is pass the money back. I don’t have to—I can kneel down here and pray to my God right here at the corner of this table. I’m not praying with people ‘cause they nothing but a bunch of—I thought, well, let them grow up and get their own religion. I says “Suppose they don’t want to?” I said “Well, it’s up to them. They got to live their own life. I don’t want you to cram your religion down their throat and I’m not gonna.” Let them pick and they haven’t got any. She wouldn’t even let me baptize them. They’re pagans and I told my brother about it. I said “Brother,” I says “our kids are not baptized.” “Oh,” he says, “yeah,” he says “that’s how come your wife and daughters don’t like you ‘cause you said they was a bunch of bastards.” I said “I didn’t say that.” I said “You’ve got it mixed up.” You’re like the guy that went to the hospital and he wanted to get circumcised, and he told the man castrated ,and he said he was in trouble. And he says “Well,” he says, “what did you say?” I said “I said they was pagans.” And he still sticks to the other. He brings it up once in a while that I said that they were bastards. What you gonna do?
I: Did you—did they learn to speak Spanish?
VM: No. My wife never did learn. One incident happened—she’s the one that decided that. The kids was grown and they wanted to learn how to speak Spanish. So, one night I come home, she was feeling pretty good and I was feeling pretty—about one o’clock I came home and she met me at the door and she says “Oh, how you doing?” I said “Well, fine. You feel awful 08:16 (inaudible). I’ve been waiting for you.” and she opened me a can of beer and turned the TV on and says “Are you a poker winner?” I says “No, I’m a poker loser. How you know I’ve been gambling?” So, she never did learn how to speak Spanish. That was the end of—are you a poker winner? I said “No, I’m a poker loser. How you know I been gambling?” And that Mexican, that Spanish, she never did learn. She came there—they can’t even say good morning in Spanish. I think about that sometimes, bless her heart—
I: Why did you learn to speak Spanish? I mean, you said you were 18 when you—were you that—well, you were about how old when you came to Houston?
VM: Oh, I was about 20, 19, 20, 21.
I: Did you learn to speak Spanish here or in Waco?
VM: 09:10 I started here because I had—there’s a lot of Latin Americans here and when I was with my father I didn’t care whether the sun rise or nothing. When I lost him, I was lost for three years. But I had to make myself understood. Everything I said, then every time I opened my mouth I’d put my foot in because they’d laugh, but I never did give up. There’s a lot of people won’t—they won’t express their self because they’re afraid they might say something wrong, and they get laughed at. Well, I didn’t care. I wanted to learn. I had to learn because I had to mix with people and I loved—
I: Where did you first start mixing with the Mexican people here in Houston? What area?
VM: Well, you’ve got to if you work in a place of business or wash dishes or cook or something. All their help—you know—the cheapest help they can get and naturally they—you got to pick it up. And I learned the Tex-Mex and the working class people Spanish and just like I said, I wouldn’t venture to speak with—now that 10:14 (inaudible) wife she’s always speak good English. I mean, correct and she’s always—and Spanish too and fluently. She’s very well educated, but I had to pick it up.
I: And you picked it up here in Houston?
I: Why do you suppose they invited you to join Mexico Viejo?
VM: Well, Felix, he was—
I: Tiquerine? (?)
VM: Oh, he was crazy about—Janie can tell you. I called for Janie the other day. He said “We ain’t got a Janie working here.” He says “Who?” I said “Well,” I said, “she runs the place.” He said “Oh, you mean Ms. Tiquerine?” I said “Yes.” Well, I call for Felix sometime and I call him Felix. He said “Well, we don’t have a Felix with that number.” I said “No.” “Oh, Mr. Morales.” I said well, I been knowing them when and I forget myself and a lot of people don’t know her name. But I can say it because she knows me and she don’t mind me. I don’t think she does and I say Janie, but the people that work there, so many that work now I say Janie. They don’t know. They say “We ain’t got a Janie.”
I: But you were—
VM: And his wife, Felix’s wife Angie. I phone for Angie and I said “Well, I think is Angie there?” “Who is Angie?” That’s Felix’s wife. We went fishing together, deep sea fishing, and he charters the boat. And in fact, he was supposed to go the last two weeks but the weather’s been too bad. He charters the boat and he’s had the boat chartered. There’s a barber from Franklin, Texas that sold his place. I think it was about 15-17 years ago and he bought him a boat down there and Felix, he’s got it leased, Morales. And it carries, I believe, 30-40 people. And you know how many it carries? About six. All these old timers broken down. That’s all, and he carries about half a dozen guys.
I: 12:21 Who does he take out with him? You?
VM: Me, invite me. He says “I’d like you to come along Tiny because I can eat what you eat because I’m a diabetic too.” He thinks I’m a diabetic.
I: And you’re not a diabetic.
VM: And they use eggs and they use ham and all this stuff and he says “Well, if you can eat it, I can eat it.” I never have told him.
I: That you’re not a diabetic.
VM: But he likes his Scotch and I can’t drink it. Nothing like that now, but I used to. We used to go in that Parker Brothers J&B. It used to be a (s/l subchaser), 104 foot long and I went with Squatty Lines (?) and 18 Catholic priests and Squatty Lines (?) invited me. You know, he’s a big mason. He’s a very good friend of mine. You can just call him and say “Vincent” and I mean, he knows who you’re talking about ‘cause he’s a good friend of mine.
I: Where did you meet Squatty Lines? (?)
VM: Oh, in politics and I voted for him and people come in and put cards up and now you don’t dare put a card up in your place of business. You’ll lose a lot of people that are for or against or put a tag on your car, they’ll throw a rock the windows. People is just—I don’t know, just different. If you’re for somebody, well, you—I used to think it was a free country. (s/l Since I was young) I been saying, talk what I want to but you can’t. It’s just got the word that it used to be. Things have changed. People are eating—their eating habits have changed.
I: How do you mean?
VM: Well, they come in here, the ham and eggs, bacon and eggs breakfast. They’ll give me a cheese omelet or something like that. Give me a hot roll and some coffee, butter, and they’re gone. And 12 o’clock they come in here, and they eat a hamburger with some French fries and drink four cans of beer, and they’re ready to go back to work. And I got all that food cooked over there, rice and beans and vegetables.
I: 14:19 They don’t eat as much as—
VM: It’s not that they don’t eat. They’ve got to save some money for their beer. And then when they go back and put their hands in one of them machines they want to sue the company. And they’ve come over there and asked me “Mindiola, did you serve alcohol?” No, there’s so many people come in here because you got a lot—now I can—it’s like these senators I’ve got, that we’ve got here. They came, they got to be (s/l yes sir boys) or what they call them, Uncle Tom. They got to go along with the tide, or they’ll lose a vote or something. That’s how come we got so much of that corruption, and I’ve got time to listen to all of that and I form my own opinions.
I: Were you ever in Lulike? (?)
VM: Yes, I was a founder. I was with the charter member of the Lulike. (?) Yes.
I: What years was that? That’s in the 30’s, wasn’t it?
VM: Oh, with that jeweler, what’s his name? He was the one that was more active and Martinez, little fella. He wasn’t—oh, he wouldn’t weigh 90 pounds but he was very talkative and very outspoken and he was working for the railroad and he helped (s/l put it over on me once). And Felix belonged to it and—well, if Felix didn’t belong to it nobody would belong to it. If you said that Felix belonged to it, well, they’d all join it. And I don’t care if the devil belonged to it, as long as Felix belonged to it they didn’t care who belonged to it ‘cause he was the leader. And he was a very good leader. He’s the one that’s got these Latin American children at the—go to school because they couldn’t speak English and they fixed them where they could learn how to speak. Oh, he’s done a lot of good. Oh, man. They had him on TV the other night. There’s pictures from way back, and how this thing got started and they had the history of it and everything on TV. And he still never did change. He’s taking care of himself, and he always wore nice clothes and very gentlemanlike. I never seen him mad and oh, he was just a wonderful guy.
I: 16:42 But you helped start Lulike (?) here?
VM: Well, I was one of the charter members, you know.
I: How long did you stay in then?
VM: Well, I stayed in there until I got so busy in my business that I couldn’t even—
I: The business took you away from a lot.
VM: Oh, yes. Even church, I couldn’t even go to the church ‘cause Sundays was the only day and I’d sleep late and that’s the only day I could go to the farmer’s market and buy the produce that I needed, potatoes and a crate of lettuce and—
I: 17:07 Oh, you bought your stuff at farmer’s markets?
VM: Sunday. See, I brought it home, see, and I bought everything that I needed. My potatoes and yams and my bell peppers and all that stuff by the bushel, and I’d buy all my vegetables and greens and stuff like that and squash and stuff like that.
I: How could Felix stay so active in different things like that? He had to work hard, didn’t he?
VM: Yes, he worked—I tell you what, the way Felix made it. He worked with his mind. That man had the mind of a rabbi and he wouldn’t forget nothing. One time he told me, he says, “These boys over here, I try to help them.” He tried running a loan company one time. “Tiny, I want you to go over there and run that loan.” I said “No, I don’t like that office stuff.” I said “I’d rather be back there in the kitchen trying to make two beans”—“Well, you don’t have to work.” I said “I love that, cooking.” He says “Well,” he says, “I’ll tell you.” He says “I’m trying to run a little loan shop with them guys. I don’t know, they let money go out and I can’t get it back.” “Of course, some of them guys, they’re paying it back,” he says, “but once you do them a favor they never forget it.” I’ll never forget that’s what he told me. He said “They’ll never forget you when they need you again.” And I’ll always remember as long as I live and he told me “Mindiola,” he says, “you’re a good man. You got a good heart and you cook very good and everybody is crazy, they’re talking—I mean, the whole world knows about your cooking.” He says “But it’s something that you got to find out.” I says “Now you tell me that I’ve retired” and he says “No.” He says “That’s how come I got so many business. Make it good enough for people” he says, “but you can make a cake with one egg or make it with eight eggs. Somebody pats you on the back and tells you how good it is. You can’t put that in the cash register.” He says “You’ve got the—say, how much you make off of it? You got a pot of beans how much you make off of it? You put all that bacon and all that ham and all that stuff in there and of course, you do it all yourself. You cut the corners on—you make it good. It’s wonderful.” He said “But how much you make off of it?” He taught me a lot of things. I should have known him 40 years before because—
I: 19:39 Was his quality of his food pretty good?
VM: Oh, yes. He always had good food, see. But you can overdress. You can overeat and I just went there and if somebody would pat me on the shoulder I’d put ten eggs in so it’d be better the next time he come—you know—and you can overdo anything and that’s what I was doing. He told me I had a big heart.
I: Well, you did.
VM: Yeah, but the thing of it is, what did I put in the cash register? I couldn’t put that—a guy would come and shake my hand and pat me on the back and tell me how good I was, and I couldn’t put that in the cash register or deposit it in the bank. (20:16 tape stops and restarts)
I: But anyway.
VM: Well, I tell you. There’s a lot of things that happened that you’re real proud of and that you’re not so proud of and at the same time you have to live with it. And some people don’t understand. It’s the people that don’t understand. For instance, you talk to them about God. Well, they don’t understand it. It’s just like somebody you’re trying to tell them about a football game, and they don’t know the first quarter from the second quarter. It don’t interest him at all because he’s never had the experience and he never has had the—enough reading or understanding about it. But they don’t care nothing about it. This lady I tell you that’s helping me here, we started talking. I started reading Billy Graham to her, and she gets up and walked off and cussing. I mean, cussing like a sailor. What are you gonna do?
I: You can’t do anything.
VM: You can’t get mad. I feel sorry for her. And when they get too rowdy with me, you know what I do? I say “I’m going to say a little prayer for you.” “I don’t need no so-and-so to say a prayer for me.” I said “Well, I’m going to say a prayer for you anyway.” Well, they just don’t understand. The people that you have trouble with don’t have the—they don’t want to learn or they don’t care about nothing and they—it’s just like the story the preacher said this morning. He’s just telling about the people that they always watching about the—the rich people watching the poor people and they—so they wouldn’t get a hold of nothing and they didn’t get a hold of nothing their selves so they’re wasting all their time watching the others so they wouldn’t get any. The words they put it in, that was the meaning of it. That was the moral of the sermon that he was giving. The words he put it in, it was sensible and understandable, see? But I explain myself the best way I know ‘cause it’s just like I said. I never did have no—went to third grade and my book learning is scarce.
I: 22:38 You did all right for yourself though.
VM: Well, I tried to. I tried to improve my speech and intelligence and—
I: When you were—did you—what would you say—what political party do you like better? Are you a Republican, Democrat—?
VM: Well, I’m on the Democratic side, but I tell you. What gets me, they got so many different Democrats. They got a ham and egg Democrat and they got an angel food Democrat and they got—you know—I’m trying to say it so that I can—but it’s—when they split up like that, together we stand. But when they start separating like that, well—
I: Who was your favorite president of all time?
VM: My favorite president of all time was Carter and he was a good, honest Christian man. He wouldn’t know a crook when he seen one and when he left there he was scratching the bottom of the barrel because he trusted—he wouldn’t know a crook when he’d seen one. They wouldn’t do Nixon like that. No sir. They even pardoned him, and he wasn’t even convicted for nothing, but Ford figured that he owed him a certain loyalty. And he wasn’t even charged or convicted on anything, and he pardoned him before because he owed him a certain amount of loyalty and he jumped the gun because he made him—and it just money. Money, everything is money. Everything is money. You get it boiled down and think the whole thing is money. Our senators are corrupted with this communism and everything else. It’s money. Everything got a price and don’t tell me ‘cause I know. My mother had a price or I wouldn’t be here. So, you can take it from there and money is the—it’s not the root of all evil but the lust for money is the root of all evil ‘cause we need money to run our churches. You don’t have to bring a cow or a bushel of corn or something like that. Of course, we over do it, like I say when I was baking the cake. Swimming pools and all these tennis courts and all. You’ve got to have something for the young generation to get their 25:01 (inaudible). I believe in—of course, everything is changing. It’s like I say, even their eating habits, but if you don’t—if you stay in the wagon horse and wagon days, well, I mean to tell you you’re just—you’re not gonna get that young generation. You’ve got to keep them interested.
I: Were you active in the Catholic Church when you came to Houston?
VM: 25:25 I never had the time. I just got (inaudible) and the bishop down there from me because he knew my story and I’ve been dealing for a long time. And for the Knights of Columbus, I used to cook for them, barbecue for them, make four or 500 pounds of potato salad and barbecue two or 3,000 chickens and we’d have these big roosters, red roosters. Oh, I bet a sold a half million dollars worth of tickets, and I won a deluxe Dodge one time from them in 1949, a deluxe Dodge. I guess it was deluxe. Everything is deluxe if you buy anything from them, and one of the members offered me $1500 for it, and they were selling for $2500 then. He said “Well, I want to give it to my boy.” I said “Well, I think—let me talk to my wife.” My wife, I mean she’s—she could scream. Boy, and she got mad at me. She wouldn’t talk to me. “You going to give him?” I said “Well, you won.” I said “Well, I won it” because there’s no gentlemen come in there dressed up in gray with a gray hat with a band around here and I never seen—because we didn’t have that class of people that would come in and sit down there. Adam Clay, he’s dead now, come in there and pick up the books. He said “This Saturday we’re gonna have the raffle.” And I had $18 worth of books and some of them was (s/l used). I said “Well, go ahead.” “Well, you didn’t sell them. You can send them back.” I said “No one will buy them.” I said “Okay, I’ll get one more.” So she got one more and she’s fine. I said “Might as well (s/l sell them all).” He (s/l sent that invitation) because I never won nothing in my life. So, he come and take them and this good old fella, he was drinking (s/l Coke). He said “Mrs. Mindiola?” He said “You’re gonna win that car this time.” She says “I hope you’re right” and we fixed him up and we turned around and he was gone. We never had seen him 27:31 (inaudible). This young man—you know God comes to you in different kinds of ways, and he was dressed up so nice in a red and white shirt and a gray tie with a gray hat with a little band around it and never seen him before and never had seen him since. He said “Mrs. Mindiola,” he says, “you’re gonna win” and she did. Twelve o’clock at night I whooped and hollered 27:58 (inaudible) and everybody’s lights start in the neighborhood turning on. They thought I was beating my wife. I never done anything like that, and I find out that she had run and started hollering. And I called back and confirmed it, and sure enough. I was gonna give it to my boy and my boy didn’t want it so we gonna share it because she was raised—her mother and father was married when they was old when started having children and she had been hungry four or five days. I mean, boy, I mean, she’s—she (s/l hang onto a bit of money) otherwise I’d have been—
I: So, she really—your wife really helped you out.
VM: Oh, she take care of the money I—I was back there in the kitchen making two beans out of one ‘cause it was a good combination, good teamwork, and she’d take care of the money and the girls go and take some food. She’d get the money and bring it to her as soon as they came. She’d get another cup of coffee, something like that, well, she’d get the—and the girls would bring her the money. They wouldn’t have to wait to collect. They’d get up and walk out. And she’s taking care of that money. But on the other hand, she told me, she says “No. We’re going to put this down and put an ad in the paper and everybody’s gonna share in this car. He’ll take it and wreck it someplace. He’s just 16 years old.” And she says “We’re gonna put it”—and we got $2,000 and add a thousand dollars. We bought that place over on North Houston. I think it’s $4,000 altogether and we sold it. My daughter sold it here last year for $60,000 and she wanted to give it. I said “No, that’s for you. I don’t want it. If I need it, I’ll call you.” And I haven’t needed it and I hope I never will. The good Lord always provides.
I: Well, Mr. Mindiola, it’s getting kind of warm in here and I really appreciate it. It was an excellent, excellent interview.
VM: Listen, I really enjoyed talking to you ‘cause I’m gonna talk to myself. Well, I invite ladies to come here and eat. I cook a big pot of rice and I said “All I want you to do is listen. That’s all and that’d make me happy.” I said “If you’re a good listener I can use you. I’ll feed you every time you come, just come and knock on my door if you want to listen to me.” (tape ends 30:19)