By Dana Delgado
After years of living and eventually emerging successfully and safely from a life as a migrant working family, both Yamantina Ledezma, married for 39 years and her daughter Oralia “Cookie” Ledezma-Rodriguez welled up with tears as they told the story of their family’s patriarch, Jesus Ledezma.
As the family patriarch and eldest of nine children himself, the tall and strong but quite stout Ledezma who possessed a very quiet and peaceful nature made a promise to his family.
The man who earned the respect of everyone he met promised his family a house, a real house with their own furniture that they could proudly call home.
After all, for years the family had been forced to live out of their van and intermittently rent small furnished apartments as they sought work in various states as migrant workers. They couldn’t carry furniture, only the basics.
It was a hard lifestyle working the fields. If they were not in Wyoming, they were in Florida or Colorado. If it wasn’t onions, it was oranges or some other crop. What was always the same was the instability and the long hours for parents and children alike.
“I started at age 11,” recalled daughter Oralia Ledezma-Rodriguez, one of seven Ledezma children who now lives in Bertram. “We worked all day starting at sunrise during the summers and even in the afternoons during the school year. It was hard work and I still remember the pain. We could never participate in school activities or have a social life because we were always working.”
Rodriguez added that there was more to life as a migrant worker than long hours and lots of work.
“We listened to music, took breaks whenever we needed to, got to eat the freshest fruits and vegetables, and no one bossed us around,” she said. “I liked the freedom and also met many people some of whom I am still in contact with after all these years. Traveling, we got to see beautiful views throughout the states we passed by and lived in.”
Oralia further said that her parents emphasized the importance of school and never let her or her siblings ever miss a day of school. Besides, parents would be fined if their children missed school.
“Keeping up with school was hard,” she said, “but we had to help out.”
When a particular crop season was over, the family loaded up all their belongings and moved on. It wasn’t just the immediate family but also members of the extended family. Paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins also traveled with them.
“I remember us hiding our money in many places including a toolbox in the van in case there was danger,” Rodriguez added. “My Dad was a real cautious man. Only he did the driving because he thought it was too dangerous and he wanted to protect our family. He always made sure we had good or new tires and the van had a tune-up before we left. Fortunately, we never had any dangerous incidents on the road.”
Tiring of the migrant life and concerned for the health of his parents, Ledezma ended the lifestyle they had lived for so long. Jesus settled his family in Liberty Hill some 19 years ago at the insistence of one of his sisters who has since relocated. The growing Ledezma family took residence in a tiny mobile home on a couple of acres of land they had purchased and then cleared.
“It (the lot) was nothing, a mess,” said Rodriguez who now lives in Bertram. “We had to clear a lot of cedar, rocks and brush.”
Ledezma’s promise seemed within reach more than ever, but it would still take years. Jesus took a job at the Texas Quarry where he toiled for 15 years while earning the respect of his fellow employees as a dedicated worker and a responsible man. An injury, however, forced him into retirement.
Undeterred, Ledezma with help from family and friends began construction on a house, a real house. It took two years but the five-bedroom spacious home “built with love” was finally completed.
“It was perfect and Dad put a lot of effort,” said married daughter Oralia Ledezma-Rodriguez. “For years a set home was missing in our lives. We just wanted to be normal. That’s why our Dad wanted a house for us.”
Within a year, Jesus Ledezma became seriously ill from complications from diabetes. Two months ago as summer was unfolding, he passed away at age 63.
Ledezma’s wife and daughter sobbed as they spoke of their family’s champion as they stood in the living room of the stately crafted home with high ceilings and a yard filled with heartfelt touches and precious momentos – a limestone bench, a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, dangling chimes, a horseshoe gate handle, and lime-coated tree trunks among other items.
“Dad loved to dance and garden and he had goats and chickens as if he had his little farm or so he called it,” daughter Oralia recalled. “They (my parents) loved each other very much. We got to see his pain of leaving us as he knew he was getting closer to his death. His family was his world.”
Jesus Ledezma fulfilled his promise of a stable house his family could proudly call home, but also came to realize the pride he held for the successes of his children.
“Dad was proud of all his children,” said Ledezma’s daughter, Oralia who is studying to become a nurse. “He saw that we were all hardworking and responsible people. He always told us (kids) that nothing was going to be given to us for free. ‘You’re going to have to work for it,’ he would tell us.”
Oralia’s brother Francisco Ledezma, oldest of the seven children, is a supervisor for an air conditioning company in Fredericksburg, while sister Mariza Morales is a child caregiver for Goddard School and owner of R&M Drywall Company. Brother Jesus Ledezma Jr. is a supervisor for T&R Drywall Company. The younger members of the family include Orlando Ledezma, an employee for a cabinet company, Alex Ledezma who works for R&M Drywall Company and Esteban Ledezma, a student at Liberty Hill High School.
The family is still struggling with their father’s death, but some parting words from him have been comforting.
“It is still too recent to talk about it without hurting us,” Oralia along with her siblings added. “He always wanted to keep us close. But before he died, he asked us to move on and not dwell on his death. He wanted us to be happy. For us to enjoy life. Dad taught us life skills, hard work, responsibility, motivation to improve and to set goals in life. He also taught us to be good parents and most important, he taught us what family is about – unconditional love.”