Even with 106 years under her belt, Josefita Herrera still turns out the fluffiest, freshest tortillas in Durango. Occasionally, a batch of red chile or a fresh apple or cherry pie also come from her kitchen.
On Sunday afternoon, family and friends participated in a parade, with about 30 vehicles decked out in posters, flowers and balloons, to celebrate Josefita’s 106th birthday.
“Working the dough is good for my hands,” Josefita said, noting arthritis in her hand has slowed her some in the kitchen.
Tony Gallegos of Ignacio, who was raised by Josefita for several years, said he especially prizes Josefita’s bizcochitos.
When Gallegos’ mother was pregnant with him, she was in ill health and doctors were not sure if he or his mother would survive childbirth. Josefita was his mother’s best friend and helped her through the difficult pregnancy.
Gallegos lived with Josefita off and on for years after his birth, at a time when parents who were struggling to make ends meet would have other family members or good friends help raise some of the children.
“She’s my second mom. She’s an inspiration,” he said.
Carmella Olguin, a great-great-great niece (the family has lost track of how many “greats” should go in front of their relations with Josefita) is Josefita’s caregiver.
She credits Josefita’s cooking with keeping her in good spirits and active.
“She likes to feed everybody, the family, all the neighbors, and she loves her plants. She gardens and loves flowers,” Olguin said.
Carmella added sweet rice to the dishes Josefita often turns out.
“Everything’s made from scratch, just authentic, good cooking. I think it’s what really helps her,” she said.
Josefita was quite the quilter as well, until failing eyesight forced her to stop, Carmella said.
Carmella, who works full time at Walmart, says her big day with Josefita is Wednesdays, when she spends the full day with her great-great-great aunt, running errands, going on joyrides in the car and taking walks.
“She makes caregiving easy,” Carmella said.
To help build strength in her hands, Carmella said, Josefita will still wash her socks and smaller clothing items by hand so she can wring out the water and build her muscles in her hands.
Every day except Wednesday, Carmella calls Josefita.
“We talk for 40 minutes, until ‘Wheel of Fortune’ comes on, then she tells me she has to watch her program.”
The drive-by parade and outdoor birthday party was the idea of Rebecca Atencio, a cousin of Josefita’s, who noted it was popular for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea was adopted for Josefita, who sat in a folding chair under an awning umbrella, a glass of red wine in hand, to watch the procession.
Since Josefita turned 100, the family has celebrated her birthday at the Oxford Grange, and Carmella said Sunday’s birthday party kept the celebrity vibe going.
“People come from all over for Josefita’s birthday – Arizona, Utah, Chimayó, Denver – they come from all over. This was just like at the grange, minus the music,” she said.