Life Story for
Vera Mancillas (Romero)
Vera Romero was born on August 30th, 1940 to Albert and Petra Romero. Vera had two brothers, Beto and Tommy and a step brother, Tito who came to be part of the family when Vera was 13. In speaking with Uncle Beto, I found out that Vera was a tomboy as a child. She was a good athlete and liked to play both baseball and volleyball. Vera loved spending time with her brothers. She was close with all three, but she and Tommy tussled constantly when they were kids. Vera was two years older than Tommy and there was always some sibling rivalry at play. That sibling rivalry would turn to mutual admiration years later as adults. Uncle Tommy passed suddenly in 1995 from a brain aneurysm and Vera took it very hard.
Beto also told me that even at a young age, Vera was a hard worker. She and her brothers had a red wagon and they used to patrol the streets and alleys for bottles and scrap metal that they could sell. On these expeditions, Vera was always the one pulling the loaded up wagon, while the boys freely patrolled for more items that could be recycled. Beto said Vera never cared, she was just glad to be included.
Vera’s father passed away when she was eight years old. After he was gone, one of her favorite things was when her uncle would come and pick her and her brothers up and go to family gatherings at the parks in Orange County. Her love of family gatherings never waned. She always took joy in seeing her family, especially her grand kids.
Beto also told me that young Vera was independent, curious and liked to explore. He shared a story with me about how Petra used to give the three kids money to go to the movies. Vera was around 11 years old. To get to the movies, they had to cross a field where the hobos hung out. On this particular Saturday, Beto spied a bottle of wine lying in the field that a hobo must have left behind. He tried a sip and found out for sure it was wine. Vera asked to try it and she took a couple of gulps. So did Tommy. They put the bottle down and headed for the movies, but Vera started feeling wobbly and sick. Beto got scared and decided they should go home. When they got back home, Beto told them that Vera was sick. Petra smelled the wine on Vera and then checked Tommy and smelled it on him too. When Petra got to Beto, he inhaled and Petra didn’t detect the smell. So Beto avoided getting the broom across his backside, but Tommy and Vera were not as fortunate.
With Vera’s father’s passing, Petra worked and Vera picked up some of the cooking duties for the family. Early on, it was a bumpy ride. There were many meals that included charred tortillas and under cooked beans. Even so, Vera stuck with it and I can attest that she turned out to be an amazing cook. She was never one to use measurements when cooking, but instead relied on the “oh about that much, or just a little” approach.
In high school, Vera got a job to help out with home expenses and to save for a car. Her first car was a Chevy Impala and she loved to go cruising in it with her girl friends. I think this explains Vera’s habit of, as Grandpa Julian used to put it, Vera “being in the streets”. Grandpa Julian died in November of 2016 and it was around that time that she stopped driving. The yellow scrapes of paint on the gold Toyota Avalon gave us hints that it was time for Grandma to stop driving. Up until then I would sometimes spy grandma in town, driving alone, sneaking a cigarette as she drove.
At the age of 22, Vera met Julian Mancillas at a dance. A year or so later the two were married. Two years later, they had their first child, little Julian or Julan as I know him. Two years after that came Annette and two years after that Marshall. Vera took great joy being a mother, but like every mother, there were moments where she needed some sanity. One of my favorite stories of my wife’s childhood is how Vera dropped the kids off at the library while she went to “pay bills”. The three kids would take full advantage of what the library had to offer… by playing hide and go seek and after they were asked to leave, then playing in the big fountain outside the library. I don’t know that Vera ever fessed up to why it took so long to “pay those bills.”
There was a stretch during Vera and Julian’s marriage that they separated for a period of years. It was during this time that Vera found out what she was made of. In facing the reality of getting a job and also caring for three kids on her own, Vera found an inner strength and resilience that even she didn’t know she had. Vera dug deep and became the backbone of her family. Even after she and Julian reconciled years later, Vera continued to be the backbone of the family.
Like Grandpa Julian, Grandma Vera ran an open door policy for both her kids and her grand kids. A hot meal, a roof overhead and a place to sleep was always to be found in her home.
I know Vera best as Grandma Vera. She proclaimed at Annette’s and my wedding reception that she couldn’t wait for “that baby to come along”. My son Kyle arrived a year later. She took great joy in her grand kids. She moved to Florida in 2003 after my daughter Mikaela was born. Grandpa followed, and then Marshall. In 2006 my family moved here to Texas and Grandma Vera and Grandpa Julian came as well and it is here that they lived out the rest of their days. They both missed their home state of California, but they weren’t going to move away from their grand kids. When their two oldest grand kids, Alyssa and Anthony each turned 18, each made their way to Texas as well, where they found a roof over their heads, a hot meal and a bed to sleep in Grandpa Julian and Grandma Vera’s home.
When Vera passed last week, Annette asked me to send out a group text to let out of state friends and family know. After doing so I received a text back that described Vera very well. It said “She was a beautiful woman and so kind to everyone that crossed her path.” In that single text, they really summed up Vera.
A great example of this was when Vera and the kids were living in an apartment and their neighbors across the hall got their power cut off for non-payment. When Vera found out, she ran an extension cord from her apartment across the hall to the neighbors so they could have electricity.
After Grandpa Julian passed away, Grandma Vera came to live with my family. During the past 16 months I got to know her on a different level. I found out that Grandma was made happy by a few simple pleasures: her meals, smoking her few cigarettes a day, and spending time everyday with her youngest great grandson “Tiny Coocho”.
When it came to meals, Grandma liked what she liked, until she didn’t. There were many times that Annette or I would be on the run and we would cook for Grandma, but not eat ourselves. Each time we called her to the table and told her that her meal was ready, she always said the same thing before she would dig in: “Are you gonna eat Mija/Mijo?” Even though she wasn’t doing the cooking anymore, she always wanted to make sure that the rest of us were eating.
It’s just who she was. She never wanted to be in the limelight. She reveled in watching her tribe instead. She never asked for anything. She never complained. Not even when she broke her hip and waited two days to go to the hospital. She never wanted it to be about her. It was always about her family.
Since Grandpa passed, Grandma took great joy in her great grandson “Tiny Coocho” as I call him. She was also always excited to go with Julan every Monday when he picked her up to go out to breakfast. After the massive stroke that left Grandma paralyzed, it seemed that her only mission was to make sure that everyone that was important to her knew that she loved them. Myself included. To the very end, it was never about Grandma. It was about her family.
Rest in Peace Grandma. Give Grandpa and Teeter a hug from us.
Vera was survived by her son Julian Mancillas (Brenda), daughter Annette Johnson (Craig) and son Marshall Mancillas (Joanna), seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren