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By Yolanda Urrabazo
Julia Rodriguez Aguillon first knew tragedy when she was 10 years old, when her father passed away due to cirrhosis of the liver. Later, as an adult, she’d feel a deeper sorrow when she had a stillborn baby and, much later, when a daughter and granddaughter died. But through it all, she held on to a strong belief in God.
"To me, the loss of a child is the most hard ... but God will never give you anything more than you can bear," Aguillon said. "So I had faith and we pulled through."
Aguillon was born the youngest of two brothers and three sisters on Feb. 17, 1917. She and her mother, Maria Rodriguez, often depended on her older siblings for help during the Depression. She was still a child attending Urban Elementary when her sisters married. The older siblings helped out with food and/or money for Aguillon's school shoes. Literacy and speaking English were reinforced by the adults around her. Aguillon recalls her mother guiding her hand when forming letters from the alphabet.
Maria never remarried. To make ends meet, she washed clothes for a banker in their neighborhood while Aguillon was in school. Aguillon also tried to bring in money after her father's death, which was also her way of keeping the memory of him alive. Eusebio Rodriguez had taught Aguillon how to make tortillas and pastries. She'd use his special recipe and was offered 10 cents for her flour tortillas from a neighbor until her mother told her the neighbor should be making their own tortillas and that Aguillon should stay focused on school. Aguillon eventually became the family's only graduate.
"I'm proud to say that I never failed a grade," Aguillon said.
Growing up in Laredo, Texas, was very positive, even after her father died.
"I had a very beautiful childhood," she said. "I have very good memories."
In 1937, she graduated from Laredo High School.
"I would have liked to go to college," said Aguillon, but she lacked the means.
Instead, she began work at Kress as a sales clerk the following year. Thanks to a shortage of men because of the war, she was promoted in 1942 to the post of receiving clerk, a post she kept for the next five years.
With that job, she got Saturday afternoons off. Her responsibilities included receiving merchandise and checking invoices. Altogether, she spent 12 years at Kress.
Aguillon wasn't only immersed in work, though. She also enjoyed activities such as photography, bicycling, eating out and watching movies, at home as well as across the border in Mexico. But when she and her friends visited Monterrey, Mexico, she encountered hostility.
"We knew they didn't like us," she said of the Mexicans. "They had a bad attitude about us [Mexican Americans]."
In 1942, she also joined the Civil Defense, teaching skills that would be necessary in the event of an enemy attack.
Aguillon represented Civil Defense in Laredo's annual George Washington Celebration Parade in February of 1943. Her involvement in local social events, friendships, and work kept her busy.
"I was the slow one in the family [to marry]," she said. "But I was with my mother and I was very happy."
She also sometimes visited San Antonio, 150 miles northeast of Laredo. Through her childhood friend, Socorro Garcia, she met Luciano Aguillon. Luciano had been discharged from the Army on Oct. 7, 1945, after serving in the Pacific with Company A of the 763D Tank Battalion.
When she met Luciano, he was working as a barber next door to Ms. Garcia's beauty salon. Their introduction led to their first date at the Majestic Theater.
Afterward, he visited her in Laredo and the two started dating.
They married on Sept. 2, 1951, and began their life together in San Antonio. "He used to tell me about the war," Aguillon said. "He was very emotional when he used to tell me."
Luciano kept a printed card of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, underneath his helmet. He considered the image a shield that would bring him home safely.
After being married for a year, Aguillon's first son was stillborn. She recalls being in labor for three days.
"I was dying. I was very ill," she said.
Due to their Catholic faith, the nuns at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio opposed any unnatural procedures, even if it meant saving her life, Aguillon said. Her obstetrician, Dr. Bernard Bloom, eventually decided on a Cesarean without charging the couple. But Aguillon’s critical condition cost Luciano all of his savings. They hired a nurse for each of the three shifts per day for one week of hospitalization. Dr. Bloom helped the couple adopt their first child, Luciano William, in 1954.
In the late 1950s, Luciano started working at Kelly Air Force Base, making $70 every two weeks. He had special expertise at mixing and matching colors.
The Aguillons adopted their second child, Laurie Ann, in 1960. Both children grew up speaking English because Aguillon felt it would better prepare them for school. William, who goes by Billy, obtained his GED and went on to college.
Laurie Ann graduated, married and became a mother. She was only 20 years old when she and her 1-year-old daughter, Pamela Ann, died in a car crash. The Aguillons’ "greatest tragedy" led them to attend church every day for a whole year. Aguillon says she cannot compare the death of a child to any other tragedy.
Luciano retired from Kelly that same year, after losing some of his hearing due to his job surroundings. After that, he occasionally cut hair on weekends. He died of pneumonia and heart disease in June of 2001.
"We had our joys and disappointments," but, "if they told me to marry him again, I sure would," Aguillon said.
Mrs. Aguillon was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on October 25, 2003, by Yolanda Urrabazo.