Thirteen Senses: A Memoir

Thirteen Senses: A Memoir

by Victor Villasenor


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A daring memoir of love, magic, adventure, and miracles, Victor Villaseñor's Thirteen Senses continues the exhilarating family saga that began in the widely acclaimed bestseller Rain of Gold, delivering a stunning story of passion, family, and the forgotten mystical senses that stir within us all.

Thirteen Senses begins with the fiftieth wedding anniversary of the aging former bootlegger Salvador and his elegant wife, Lupe. When asked by a young priest to repeat the sacred ceremonial phrase "to honor and obey," Lupe surprises herself and says. "No, I will not say 'obey'. How dare you! You don't talk to me like this after fifty years of marriage and I now knowing what I know!" After the hilarious shock of Lupe's rejection of the ceremony, the Villaseñor family is forced to examine the love that Lupe and Salvador have shared for so many years — a universal, gut-honest love that will eventually energize and inspire the couple into old age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060935672
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/05/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 211,595
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Victor Villaseñor vive en California en el rancho donde fue criado. Es autor de numerosos obras editoriales y aclamadas obras, entre ellas Lluvia de oro, Jurado: La Gente vs. Juan Corona, y ¡Macho!.

Victor Villaseñor's bestselling, critically acclaimed works, as well as his inspiring lectures, have brought him the honor of many awards. Most recently he was selected as the founding chair of the John Steinbeck Foundation. He lives in Oceanside, California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Such a man and woman aren't measured from their heads to their feet, but from their heads to the sky, for these people are giants -- who know the Thirteen senses of Creation!

Was it love?

Had it ever really been love?

For fifty years they'd been husband and wife. For fifty years the Father Sun had come and gone. For fifty years the Mother Moon had risen and disappeared. For fifty years they'd loved, fought, and lived together, and now, here they were standing before the priest once again, ready to renew their wedding vows.

Juan Salvador Villaseñor, the nineteenth child of his family, was seventy-five years old. Maria Guadalupe Gomez, the eighth child of her family, was sixty-eight years old. Salvador now turned and took the hand of the woman standing beside him. Lupe turned and looked into Salvador's eyes.

The priest began his words, and Salvador and Lupe's children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren looked on with love, respect, and gusto. It was a small wedding this time with just family and a few friends, being done in the living room of the great house that Salvador and Lupe had designed and built nearly thirty-five years before.

Sunlight streamed in through the large windows behind Salvador and Lupe as the priest continued his words. People's eyes filled with tears. This was a magic moment, where everyone in the room just knew that God's blessing was with them.

The groom was dressed in his favorite dark maroon suit with a striped tie of silver and gold. Thebride was wearing a beautiful three-quarterlength white dress with intricate lace and interwoven ribbon of yellow gold. Salvador's hair was white and full and still curly. Lupe's hair was mostly gray, too, yet sprinkled with beautiful long strands of black.

The priest continued, and the small gathering of family and friends listened to every word. This time, different from last time, the priest was much younger than the couple getting married. "Juan Salvador Villaseñor," the young priest was now saying, "do you take Maria Guadalupe Gomez to be your wife? Do you promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love and honor all the days of your life?"

Lupe turned and stared at Salvador's lion mane of hair and the huge, long, white moustache on his upper lip. It moved like a fat worm as he spoke. "Yes, I do," he said.

Hearing this, she realized how different these words now felt compared to last time. When she'd heard these words fifty years before, she'd been so young and naïve that she'd taken his "Yes, I do" to mean so much more than she did this time. Last time, she'd thought these words meant that she would have someone with her through good times, bad times, sickness, health, and there would always be love and honor. What a fool she'd been! If the truth were known, sometimes she would've been better off without him.

Then, she realized that the young priest was speaking to her. "And you, Maria Guadalupe Gomez," said the young man of God, "do you take Juan Salvador Villaseñor to be your husband? Do you promise to be true to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love him and honor him all the days of your life?"

At first Lupe didn't answer. My God, this was exactly what she'd done for all these years. But had he? Had Salvador been true to her and honored her? Or, had he ever really even loved her?

Then she suddenly remembered how these words "in bad times" had almost stopped her last time. Even back then, when she'd been eighteen years old, she'd wondered if it was wise for any woman to agree to this statement.

"Say, 'yes, I do,'" said the young priest, leaning in close to Lupe.

Lupe almost laughed. This was exactly what the priest had done last time. Only then the priest had been old, and he'd looked so full of authority that she'd been intimidated. But she wasn't intimidated in the least this time, and so she just looked at this young priest and smiled.

Juan Salvador saw her smile, that little smile of hers that was so full of mischief. He grinned, squeezing her hand.

Feeling her hand being squeezed, Lupe turned and looked at this gray-haired, old man standing beside her, and she saw his grin. She grinned, too.

"Okay," she said, squeezing his hand in return. "Yes, I do."

Everyone in the room looked greatly relieved, except Salvador. He'd never had any doubt.

Then it was Lupe's turn to repeat the words of holy acceptance, but when she came to the passage, "To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part," tears came to her eyes. After fifty years of marriage, she could now see that these were the very words that had given her the power to endure all the hardships of the years.

Why, these words "until death do us part" were the very foundation of every marriage. And she could also see that yes, even back then, fifty years ago, she'd had the wisdom to see that these were the words that had given her beloved mother, Doña Guadalupe, the strength to rise up like a mighty star and bring her familia back from the dead, time and again during that awful Mexican Revolution!

She could now see so clearly that these words "until death do us part" were the words that gave each and every woman the power, the vision to accept the Grace of God and gain the absolute conviction of mind...

Thirteen Senses. Copyright © by Victor Villasenor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Part 1Wedding Vows August 18, 1979, Oceanside, California
Chapter 1Such a man and woman aren't measured from their heads to their feet, but from their heads to the sky, for these people are giants--who know the Thirteen Senses of Creation!3
Part 2Honeymoon August 18, 1929, Santa Ana, California
Chapter 2And so he, the nineteenth child, having come to his mother at fifty years of age, now found his second truelove, and ... they married23
Chapter 3And so she, the child who'd been conceived on the night that a meteorite struck the Earth, was now a married woman and she was in love!48
Part 3Moontalking End of August 1929, Carlsbad, California
Chapter 4And so they'd now entered into the Garden of Eden, God's first couple--a man and a woman who of their own freewill chose the way of the Almighty!71
Chapter 5The Devil saw their happiness, their joy of being in Holy Union with the Almighty, and so he smiled, creeping down from the Tree of Knowledge to intercept them85
Part 4Suntalking September 1929
Chapter 6And so their mothers had, indeed, taught them both about Love and God, but it was now Life, la Vida, that was to teach them the lessons of el Diablo!113
Chapter 7And so shedding their outer skins, they now came to know each other as only young lovers can who've stepped forward in the full commitment of matrimony145
Part 5La Vida Loca
Chapter 8And so the Gates of Heaven opened wide and a flash flood de Amor came pouring forth out over all the land--Bursting with Vitality!179
Chapter 9The Devil was tired, really exhausted, but still he was a long way from giving up. One way or another, he was determined to slip past that old She-Fox ... but then he heard the Singing of the Stones!201
Chapter 10Love was in the Air! Amor was Everywhere! The Wilds of Life, la Vida, were now leaping with the Fires of Hell and Heaven Here upon Mother Earth!238
Chapter 11Heaven was laughing con carcajadas! Love, love, Amor was now Creating a whole new Paraiso on Earth as it was in Heaven!269
Part 6Heaventalking
Chapter 12And so Humanity was now being called upon to Sing and Dance and Praise the Second Coming of the Lord!293
Chapter 13The Devil himself had now come Full Circle and he, too, was anxiously awaiting with Flowers in Hand for the Second Coming of the Lord!322
Part 7Earthtalking
Chapter 14God was Happy! Papito was Smiling! Singing "through" every Stone, Tree, Raindrop, Blade of Grass--He was So Moved!343
Chapter 15Lightning flashed across the land and Thunder roared through the canyons with the Holy Voice of Creation362
Chapter 16The Devil was Whirling, Swirling, Dancing--he was so Happy! He was still working the Earth, giving choice between Good and Evil, but Now each Night he, too, went to be with Papito Dios!389
Part 8Illumination
Chapter 17God was Whirling, Swirling, Dancing! His Children were finally Awaking to the Light and Loving each other as much as they Loved Him!415
Chapter 18And so Adam and Eva stepped forward, not blaming each other but united in Love, Respect, and a Natural Awe for One another--Reflections of the Creator437
Chapter 19Of their own Freewill Adam and Eva now chose to go out of the Garden, away from their familias, and into the Wilds of the World--for they had absolute Faith in God and in their Amor!445
Part 9Rebirthing
Chapter 20In the Wilds beyond the Garden, Adam and Eva now found themselves bringing the Light of God to friend and foe alike--Lucifer and Papito were Working as One once again!451
Chapter 21They'd met Death and they'd found Death to simply be another Holy Opening to the Creator's Corazon--Beat, Beat, Beating throughout the Universe!464
Chapter 22Adam and Eva now both Knew that it wasn't the Devil who'd ever tempted them--it was their own Mirror that Reflected their Doubts and Fears475
Chapter 23GOD and Lucifer were Dancing and Mary and Jesus were Clapping--all the Forces of the Heavens were at last working Together once more487
Chapter 24The Sixth Sun was now arising fast for an All New Day. People would no longer be able to tell where the Heavens ended and the Earth began492
Chapter 25All was back in Balance, All was back in Harmony and at Peace, generating Wisdom through our Thirteen Senses from Heaven to Earth--All One Song!497

Reading Group Guide


One of the most profound moments of insight in Thirteen Senses - a family memoir filled with many such moments - concerns the attempted suicide of an Anglo farmer who has lost his crop and with it all of his savings. Salvador Villaseñor can't believe that a man would kill himself just because he has lost everything. "Most of us live our whole life with having nothing!" observes Salvador. But his brother-in-law, Victoriano, explains: "Among the gringos, most of their lives they've always had something, so nothing is something that they know nothing about."

It is the end of the 1920s and Southern California is rapidly growing into a major agricultural and multicultural center. Among the many hardworking immigrants that have settled in the area are the newly married Salvador and Lupe and their families. The young couple is basking in the intoxicating happiness of young love, but they have many truths yet to discover: about marriage, commitment, responsibility, and about each other. Both husband and wife come from a legacy of heroic suffering, having escaped Mexico during the revolution, and both have endured the privation, racism, and hard luck that most immigrants encounter in their adopted homeland. But Salvador and Lupe share another legacy as well - the incredible strength and wisdom of their mothers, Margarita and Guadalupe. Margarita, especially, seems to possess the kind of enormous power that comes from having stared death in the eye, from having survived so much disaster that every day becomes a blessing. It is she who guides her son and "daughter-in-love" through the treacherous waters of marriage, helping them to understand thattogether they are stronger than they are apart, and teaching them how to tap the inner resources of their souls so they may see beyond the here and now.

With humor and compassion Victor Villaseñor, author of the bestselling Rain of Gold, follows his young parents as they make their way in a precarious world. Salvador's bootlegging career allows him the luxury of ready cash, but it is also a dangerous way of life, one that could land him in jail at any moment. There are relatives to deal with, from Domingo, Salvador's hotheaded brother, to Carlota, Lupe's somewhat obnoxious sister. And there is the Depression, which threatens the countryside with widespread poverty and crime and ultimately forces Salvador and Lupe to leave their families to flee for Mexico.

Throughout this life, money comes and goes, but the love for one's family and God never wavers. Whether they are stranded in the Arizona desert with little water and a broken-down truck or feasting on freshly killed goat at an impromptu family barbecue; whether they are screaming at each other with bloodthirsty wrath, or blissfully wrapped in each other's arms, Salvador and Lupe never question the value and richness of life. As Lupe explains, some people don't know "how to be poor of purse, but rich of Heart. . . All families see hard times. That's just part of la vida."

In a world where materialism and ambition can leave us feeling isolated, it is easy to spout platitudes about the power of love and the importance of family. But Lupe and Salvador's life together is a living testament to these truths. Their story is one of passion, heartache, hard work, disappointment, elation, anger, injustice, and forgiveness. It is a story that adds much to the greater story that is America's.

Questions for Discussion
  • Villaseñor opens the book as Lupe and Salvador's families gather to celebrate the couple's second wedding, 50 years after they first exchanged rings. How does this raucous, emotional ceremony set the stage for the story that follows? How do the wedding and the participants' behavior compare with your own family celebrations?

  • "Always remember that men are mineral," Lupe's mother advises her. "Women are vegetation. That's why the two will always have difficulties." Throughout the book, Villaseñor raises the issue of differences between the sexes. Do you agree with this theory? Are men and women's inherent differences so contradictory that, "it's a miracle that they ever come together at all"?

  • Lupe and Salvador have enormous regard for their own - and each other's - mothers. Margarita, especially, emerges as a powerful, mystical figure capable of miracles and possessing profound wisdom. How did you react to Villaseñor's portrayal of his grandmother? How does Lupe's own maternal power compare to that of her "mother-in-love"?

  • Margarita's religious practices are a fascinating combination of Roman Catholicism, mestizo beliefs, mysticism, and "New Age" philosophy. How does her spirituality compare with your own? Do you believe it is possible to adhere to pieces of a religion, without embracing the entire belief system?

  • What do you think of Margarita's conversations with God, Mary, Jesus, and the Devil? Does her easy relationship with them strike you as heretical?

  • What do you think about the book's mystical aspects? Do you believe that Margarita actually prevented Salvador from disaster and death - or was it luck? Was Domingo really visited by ten-thousand angels while in prison? Is it true, as Salvador claims, that "there is no way a person can talk in English about miracles and angels without sounding, well, kind of phony or holier than thou"? Do you need to have a basic understanding of Mexican/Indian culture to appreciate the miracles in this book?

  • What, if anything, did you learn about America's Great Depression, and its impact on Mexican immigrants, from reading this memoir? Do you think the impact of the Depression was less severe for immigrants because they were accustomed to poverty? Or was it harder, because they had given up so much to come to America, only to see their Promised Land crumble?

  • Villaseñor makes a number of wonderfully astute observations about the differences between Latino and Anglo cultures. For instance, Salvador can not imagine questioning the authority of the church or its priests even if what Lupe's German obstetrician claims is true: "Listen to the priests about those matters that have to do with God, but not about women and children. What can a priest possibly know? The poor men live a very limited life." Likewise, Margarita comments that American doctors "only knew how to heal the body like a mechanic fixing a car." In what other ways do Lupe, Salvador and their families find American ways shocking? Do you think these cultural differences exist today?

  • At the beginning of this memoir, Villaseñor asks this question about his parents' relationship: "Was it love? Had it ever really been love?" What do you think? How might Lupe and Salvador's conceptions of love have changed over the course of their marriage?

  • It's easy to forget that Villaseñor's book is a memoir, and not a novel. Why is this? How does knowing that the characters and events are real alter the way you feel about certain aspects of the story, such as Salvador's bootlegging and Archie's corruption? Is it easier to feel sympathy for fictional characters because their actions are not real?

  • Do you think Salvador was a good man? How would you have responded to your own daughter marrying such a person? Do you think Lupe should have left her husband after she found out the truth about how he earned a living?

  • How does your family history compare with this story of the Villaseñor family? What do family legends contribute to our sense of ourselves?

  • Villaseñor doesn't list the thirteen senses until the end of the book because, he writes, if he had, "people wouldn't have experienced the book." As you review the story of Lupe and Salvador's married life, can you identify the thirteen senses? How would your experience of the book been different if Villaseñor declined to list them at all? About the Author: Victor Villaseñor was born in the barrio of Carlsbad, California, 1940, then raised on his parents' ranch next door in Oceanside. His early education was marked with the combined frustrations of a language barrier, racial discrimination and his own profound dyslexia, and he dropped out of high school in his junior year. Urged by a relative, Victor's parents sent him to Mexico at the age of 19. While there, he discovered a wealth of Mexican art, literature and music that helped him recapture and understand the dignity and richness of his heritage. Excited by his Mexican experiences, Victor wanted to stay in Mexico and never return to the United States. But his parents convinced him that he must "not run away but return and make something" of himself.

    Returning to the U.S. a year later, Victor experienced the old frustration and rage. He describes himself as "a bombshell, ready to explode" as he witnessed again the disregard toward poor and uneducated people and especially toward the Mexicans. Although never an avid reader, he struggled to teach himself to read. A chance encounter with Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man changed Victor's life, awakening a desire to use literature to confront the problems associated with his cultural heritage.

    Over the next decade, Villaseñor wrote nine novels and 65 short stories, supporting himself by doing seasonal labor. After more than 265 rejections, his first novel, Macho!, was published in 1973. Villaseñor went on to write a nonfiction book, Jury: The People Versus Juan Corona, followed by his first screenplay, the critically acclaimed Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, the production of which was financed by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    After 12 years of detailed research, Villaseñor completed Rain of Gold, the story of his mother and father, which takes readers from war-torn Mexico during the Revolution to the present day. The novel's prelude, Wild Steps of Heaven was published in 1996. He is also the author of Walking Stars, the first of a series of books for young people.

    Villaseñor continues to share his message of world peace through his non-profit organization Snow Goose Global Thanksgiving. He is also in great demand as a public speaker, bringing a fresh perspective to a number of universal themes, including pride in heritage and family, the power of the written word, and dedication to education and personal achievement.

    Victor Villaseñor continues to live on the ranch where he was raised in Oceanside, CA.

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    Thirteen Senses 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I just finished reading this wonderful memoir by Victor Villasenor and I cannot express how profoundly this book has affected me. This is a must read for everyone...I feel like it has changed my life and my way of thinking. I have the utmost respect for this author and although I have not read his previous books, I am ordering Rain of Gold today in hopes that it will be as incredible as Thirteen Senses. His characters are complex, humorous, and totally inspirational. The female characters are strong and almost magical in their perception. This is a male author who obviously has the utmost respect for women. This is a book that is hard to put down...
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    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed the life of Salvador and Lupe and thier life journey. I enjoyed it beacause of the reality it spoke of. We should all be so lucky to retain so much family history.