By Carolyn Barbre
She bore one son and one daughter, but the woman who was one of 14 siblings, only seven of whom made it to adulthood, spent almost four decades working in the maternity department of Lindsay Hospital.
Teresa Serna cared for newborns and their mothers as an obstetrics technician/nurses aide, and was still on the job when those babies came in to have babes of their own. In honor of Mother's Day on Sunday, May 9, we share her story.
A report in the July 27, 1966 Lindsay Gazette said Teresa Serna was among a group of 16 nurses aids that had graduated from an on-the-job training program, a pilot program.
"Mrs. Beulah Davis, secretary of the hospital board of directors, complemented the students for the successful completion of this technical course." Serna also had perfect attendance for the four-month intensive training program which had the students' time divided into three hours of classroom and five hours of on-the-job training during an eight-hour shift. The story noted that nurses aids "are now doing many of the things once reserved for the registered nurse, who now assumes more of a supervisory role."
Teresa would work at the hospital more than 36 years, most of it in the maternity department.
In March she shared some of her history as the guest speaker at the Myers Businesswomen's Luncheon.
Hostess and founder of the luncheon, Gloria Scott, gave Serna's family's early history as follows:
In the late 1800s when a handsome young French Soldier, Federico Fevinger, sailed across the ocean to Mexico, to fight in the French/Mexican war, he had no idea that he would fall in love with a Mexican senorita named Josfa, marry and have eight children.
Federico and Josfa's oldest son, Federico II, would meet and marry Simona Luna and begin a long journey to become part of Lindsay's history.
Federico II left his wife and two children in Mexico and found work on a railroad in Kansas. After a few years Simona and the children joined him. A third child was born in Kansas.
Federico wasn't crazy about the prairie life or working on the railroad so the packed up and moved to Fresno where he leased land and farmed. In 1921 the Fevinger family arrived in Lindsay where they purchased land and began farming. Federico eventually became a farm labor contractor.
Through the years the Fevinger family provided jobs and boarded many of the transient Mexican farm laborers. Mr. Fevinger was greatly respected and trusted by the other farmers and packing house owners in this area.
Teresa was born in Lindsay in 1929.<$>
Scott added that she has known Teresa more than 40 years and introduced her as "a gentle and caring person."
Teresa picked up the story. "My parents' first home was on Tulare Road and our first living space was a tent. My father always believed you needed to buy land where you lived." She said later a wood floor and wood stove were installed and later still a house was built on that land. To earn a living, the family traveled back and forth to Fresno picking grapes and other crops. They also picked oranges and olives in Lindsay.
Teresa recalled hearing her mother getting up between 2 and 3 a.m. and making tortillas for the lunches. In a 1982 interview in the Gazette<$>, Teresa told reporter Connie Kinsel that "We took in boarders so she had many people to feed. Her rolling pin is only about as big around as a dime, worn down by time and the making of many, many tortillas. It is a time I like to remember my mother by. It stands for her unselfish love, patience and care for people."
Teresa remembers Dr. Annie Bond delivering one of her brothers. And when her sister, Annie, was a breach birth, a new doctor, Doc Jason McClure came into the tent house and said he could deliver the baby if he was paid $25. Well, it seems her dad was a walking bank. "There was money in every pocket of Dad's overalls," she said, and recalled watching him pull out enough to pay the doctor.
Teresa remembers when the house on Tulare Road burned down. Her older sister wanted to fix lunch and thought the fire had gone out from the morning tortilla making. "She got kindling and kerosene - two days later she died."
Teresa recalled that her dad was a real good friend with the Japanese back in 1937 when all the talk was about war. "They said to sell the property and go back to Mexico," she said, but her brothers didn't want to go although they were draft age.
They were now living in a little house in back of where the previous home stood, "more of a shack." So her dad and a brother went looking for a place to live. "They found most places in Lindsay were closed to Mexicans." When they found a suitable home on Fresno Street the owner said at the last minute that the house was already sold, Teresa said.
But they persisted. They found another house, also on Fresno Street. Teresa said they went north to pick fruit and came back and paid for the house. Now neighbors got up a petition to get them out of the neighborhood. Apparently such things were legal. But an attorney pointed out that the family had two boys in the service of their country. "They have as much right to live here as you do," Teresa said the attorney told the petitioners, after which they backed down.
She attended the two-story school on the west side of Lindsay. "We would pick fruit and I would be late and had to go to the Opportunity Room<$> in the basement." She said the kids from Tonyville who were bussed to school also got a lot of time in the Opportunity Room. "There was a lot of discrimination. As kids, we didn't understand being called these names," she said.
In the 1982 interview Teresa told Kinsel, "I was never aware of being poor until I went to high school. I grew up in a family where love was felt, where there was food to eat, work to do and clothes to wear. In high school it seemed like the world expected something more of me and that I wasn't where I should be."
But again she persisted and was the only one of her brothers and sisters who graduated high school. It was 1949. Of the 70 graduates in her class, just seven were Hispanic. After high school she took a job as a domestic because she "never liked working in the fields." Apparently those were the generally accepted options for Americans of Mexican descent.
She met and married her husband, a farm laborer, and knew that she wanted a better life for her children, Arthur and Alicia, so decided to apply for the nurses aid position at Lindsay Hospital. "I thought I would just work there 10 or 15 years, until the kids got on their own. I stayed until it closed in 2000." Teresa said she chose not to get licensed, preferring to do more hands-on patient care. "I was able to treat mothers like I would like my family to be treated."
She said the payoff is today people recognize her and say she was there when they had their baby a decade or two or three or so ago. "It's a good feeling, my reward. I must have done a good job."
Teresa says today Lindsay is a very nice community. Both of her children have stayed here and she gets to spend ample time with her grandchildren.
"At this time of my life I feel like someone who has climbed a high mountain. You need God for courage and strength and trust, but most of all you need love," she concluded to a round of applause.