May 28, 1956
By Ruben Salazar
In an age when there's much talk about the "Great Future," a sprightly El Paso centenarian staunchly praises the past.
But memories are not all of Dona Tirza. Wine, song and dance are still much in the life of this charmingly frank El Paso woman born in 1849.
Born on Ranch
If you're 80 or so years younger than Dona Tirza, and speak Spanish, you'd probably get this sort of greeting:
"Hello. I hope you're not rude like most young people of today. Is there no humility left in this world? You young people think life is just on big fiesta? Sit down. You're welcome here."
Dona Tirza, born in a ranch in Durango, came to the United States from Torreon in 1914. In 1919 she became a widow and went to live with her daughter, Mrs. Julia Gonzalez Rosas. Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Gonzalez, who is Don Tirza's granddaughter, and Efren Gonzalez, a grandson, now also live with Dona Tirza.
She is the mother of three daughters and four sons. She has outlived all of them except Mrs. Rosas and a son, Rosalio, of Bayard.
Reminded of Game
"I must have been 13 when the French invaded Mexico," Dona Tirza said. "They don't bother us in our small ranch near Lerdo, so I never saw them. But I remember the joy I got from being shown where a lot of the invaders fell from Mexican fire. Those Frenchmen went into Mexico like balls of fire, but left with their tails burning."
This reminded her of a game she used to play as a girl 90 years or so ago.
"It was called 'Let's See If I Can't Burn the Paper Tail'," she said. She got up to demonstrate. "A boy would tie a paper tail to his belt and dance around shaking his hips, "like this." She shook like an elderly Marilyn Monroe.
"Then I would follow him with a lighted candle singing a song," Dona Tirza said. She sang the song.. "Darn it!" she said after finishing, "I could never burn that tail. Once I got so mad I poked the candle in the boy's leg. Boy, was he mad. He said I ruined his best pants."
Mrs. Gonzalez thinks the art of dancing has deteriorated. "People don't dance any more," she said. "They just go crazy."
She was going to demonstrate the correct way to dance, but her daughter told her she shouldn't tire herself.
Asked what she attributed her long life to, she shot back, "Good stock, man! Good stock. My father lived to be 95. To live long you've got to eat simply, work hard and drink wine before breakfast. Later in the day you should drink something that rasps the throat like tequila or mescal. I get mad every time someone offers me beer. That insipid and putrid liquid is fit only for sissies and burros."
Her grandson, Efren, says Dona Tirza smokes about five packs of cigarettes a day. "Sometimes we worry about her," he said. "But then we say to ourselves, heck, she never gets sick. Why she sews all day and doesn't even use glasses. Never has."
Dona Tirza misses horseback riding.
"In the old days I used to ride every day," she said. "Recently a neighbor, who had horses, died before I could talk him into letting me ride one of his horses. He was skeptical about it, but I almost had talked him into it before he died."
"I'm glad he never consented," Dona Tirza's daughter said. "You would have fallen off."
"A lot you know about us old timers," said Dona Tirza. "We're not weaklings like moderns. I've got a granddaughter who's going to have a baby soon. You know what she does all day? She sits doing nothing.
"I used to work the hardest just before my children's births. I had to. I had to stock up on tortillas to last all during my confinement.
"People are getting ruder and lazier by the day," Dona Tirza added. "They are always talking about looking forward. People should sometimes look backward and learn a few things from us old timers.
"Maybe we didn't know too much about books then, but we tried to know our hearts. If modern people start learning that maybe they've still got a chance."