From learning to bake at Neighborhood House to winning the Pillsbury Bakeoff
By Maria E Garcia
It was Cinco de Mayo, 1941. Obdulia “Tulie” Trejo had left the turmoil of her parents’ house with its eleven children and the harsh restrictions her parents imposed upon her. She was living at the time with her girlfriend Dolores and her mother. On that particular Cinco de Mayo, Tulie was seventeen years old and that is the day that she met Joe Trejo, a young man from Carlsbad, at the waterfront near the foot of Broadway.
Joe had a car and taught her to drive. The car was a 1941 maroon stick shift Chevy. The car took them to Mission Beach, which she refers to as “our playground.” They would also drive to Balboa Park. Another place they really loved was Oscar’s on Broadway. At this time her mom was working at the cannery and unable to supervise what Tulie was doing. This gave her a lot of freedom.
Most of their dating was during the day. Because of the war there was a curfew and they had to be home by dark.
Joe wanted to marry Tulie right away but with her eye on her high school diploma she said “no.” In order to date, Tulie and Joe would meet at the La Bamba nightclub. She had the assistance of a group of girls. Elisa and Lydia Archuleta, Ruth Puentes and Rosie Lucero would all meet as if they were going out together. They would then meet Joe in front of La Bamba.
Joe would wait inside having a beer with several of his friends until the girls showed up. The girls were either dropped off to see other guys or would date one of Joe’s friends. Joe jokingly says that if he had known that Tulie had so many brothers and sisters, he would have run away. Most of their dating was during the day. Because of the war there was a curfew and they had to be home by dark.
After the war broke out she told her friends “The next time Joe asks me to marry him, I am going to say yes.” The next time he asked her she did indeed say “yes” and they went off to Yuma and got married. That Friday she had informed her high school counselor that she would not be in school on Monday because she was “getting married this weekend.” The counselor told her she was making a big mistake and she should not get married. In those days married girls were not allowed to remain in school. Consequently, Tulie’s dream of a high school diploma would be lost. Seventy years later, at the age of 91, that loss still haunts her.
In those days married girls were not allowed to remain in school. Consequently, Tulie’s dream of a high school diploma would be lost.
Joe and Tulie would later have a priest marry them. She remembers it was 8:00 in the evening and the wedding was performed at Our Lady of Guadalupe. There was not a reception or any celebration, just a marriage recognized by the church. Tulie says that the only sibling who had a church wedding and a reception was her youngest sister because she was marrying the only son-in-law her mother approved of.
Joe’s military career took him to Texas and then to Fort Rosecrans. The next stop for him was the Pacific. They moved to Carlsbad where they operated a restaurant for two years. Joe’s family had deep roots in Carlsbad. His father had come from Mexico around 1912. He got a job working on the construction of the Santa Fe Depot, which was built for the 1915 Panama Exposition in Balboa Park.
An interesting coincidence is that Joe’s father rented a room from Tulie’s grandmother when he first came to San Diego. It was not until after they were married and her father-in-law was sharing a story about when he first came to San Diego that Tulie realized her father in law had rented a room from her grandmother. She adds that it was fate that Joe and her married.
Joe would later get a job at North Island. The distance between Carlsbad and North Island was too much for a daily commute and they would return to live in Logan Heights. At first they lived in a shed behind her parent’s home. They spent about three years living in the shed until a man from the census came to the door. He informed them that the shed was not a place to live. The census people or some other government agency helped them find a home somewhere in the Midway area. From there they moved to Chula Vista to the same house they live in today.
After her marriage,Tulie did not see her mother for three years. When they did re-establish their relationship, in order to visit with her mother she would go to Lowell School and ask her little brother Tati “Did papa go to work?” If the reply came back “yes” she would go to the house to see her mom. She remembered the first time she did this her mother was in the back hanging clothes on the clothesline. She was able to visit with her and give her a few dollars.
In the late 1940s she took her mother to Neighborhood House to learn to bake. Her mother learned to make a lemon pie. Mrs. Peña also took English as a Second Language and Citizenship classes at Neighborhood House. Her parent’s life continued to be in constant turmoil.
Tulie and Joe had five daughters. She worked diligently to assure her girls that she would always be 100% behind them. She did not want them to experience the same life she had. Her five daughters are all very successful and live within a few miles of Joe and Tulie. This is significant in that Tulie did not follow the example of her parents. Tulie and Joe provided a caring and loving home for their children.
Later in her adult years she would win the Pillsbury bakeoff as well as other contests. She won the Pillsbury bakeoff on three different occasions. She says she has always credited Neighborhood House for starting her on her successful baking career. She became an advisor for Pillsbury, which gave her the opportunity to travel to Florida, Texas and various California cities.
At different times she demonstrated her culinary skills at the Del Mar Fair and the Broadway Department Store. The Marston Department Store had been bought by the Broadway. Tulie did baking demonstrations for the Broadway. In addition to her work with Pillsbury, she taught adult cooking classes. She also won blue ribbons at the Del Mar Fair for her craft work.
Her name is found in a cookbook sponsored by the UCSD Cancer Guild. She served on the cookbook committee 1992 -1995. In addition to all this she won several trophies at the Chula Vista Fiesta de la Luna. All of these experiences started with a ten year old learning to bake and attending craft classes at Neighborhood House.
You can read the first part of Tulie’s story, How Neighborhood House helped to nurture an indomitable spirit here.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.