San Antonio

MAMA ON MY MIND

On Christmas Day, thoughts of family come to mind more readily than anything else. Gift buying and giving, cooking and celebrating—none of it matters as much as the people who surround you. Even if they don’t surround you physically any longer. My mother’s been gone 37 years, but I’ll never forget my memories. And ever since my daughter Heidi created a collage of photos of Mom and me, I can turn my head ever so slightly from my computer and see my gorgeous, loving Mother.

My mama, as she would refer to herself in the Southern way, was a “pistol.” My dad called her “Pistol-packin’ mama”– the phrase is from an old country song. He was right: those were qualities an Army officer’s wife had to learn as she stood up for herself and her children (she raised three of us). As the seventh of eight children, Mama had practiced being her own person early in life.

Mama with Baby "Viki"

She didn’t go to college, but she knew a great deal about life and how to treat people with love and consideration. She let her heart dictate and then she went for it—whatever she chose to do—with enthusiasm and energy. Besides being the best wife and mother she could manage, her primary talent was sewing.   She tried her hand and/or Singer at almost everything stitchable: slipcovers and drapes, specialized window coverings, men’s shirts and ties, children’s clothing and almost any fashionable garment for women. When I was younger I had a Madame Alexander doll, about six inches tall, and she made tiny outfits for it.

I was remembering the last Christmas we (my kids and husband, my sister and brother and my dad) spent together: San Antonio, Texas, in 1972, and I searched for some old letters. Mom used her typing skills all her life to write letters to her large family. Since most of this extended family, which started out with eight siblings, lived in the East, she could send one letter and it would be passed on. I discovered the letter she wrote her relatives after my little family had gone home to Los Angeles. She had talked to quite a few of them around New Year’s before sending a letter.

She typed, as part of a two-page letter, “It was sure great that you all thought enough of me to call me long distance…I still get excited when talking long distance. Dad has trained me: no longer than three minutes.” (My parents never could reconcile that a phone could be a good expense and three minutes was too short.)

My mother was struggling with the beginnings of kidney disease, but none of us realized she’d succumb to it two years later. I’d forgotten that during our stay, my husband had flu, my eight-month-old son was teething, and I eventually got the flu a few days before we left. Somehow we all managed, thanks to Mom’s help and enthusiasm.

Mom had a few comments about Christmas Day, which was “exciting for all. Heidi was opening so many presents, including her own…Heidi is a darling little girl but a bit of a brat for attention and, of course, has gotten too much from her mother. She is very smart and so cute but tries to have her own way too much. Very much like Viki was as a child of three. Hansi, now eight months, is just a beautiful boy with big blue eyes and the best nature even though he was sick nearly the whole time. To make a long story short, the week passed quickly, and it seemed it was always time to eat again. Hard for me to manage nine mouths to feed after only cooking for two for over a year.”

My mother never complained to us, and she didn’t tell me she got sick after we left and was in bed for several days. Later in her letter, she typed, “Well, all is over and it’s a sad time ahead until I get used to being alone again. I miss them all so much but don’t believe I can take them all home at one time again. I still wonder how Mama Jake (her mother) could stand all the noise and confusion of all of us home and our friends too. She had the patience of Job.”

Mama Jake wasn’t the only one who had the patience of Job! A toast to you, my dear Mama!

 

 

 

MORE GHOST STORIES

I love stories about the supernatural, even the minor happenings most of us experience at one time or another. I still have a Monarch butterfly (now under glass) that impaled itself on my car’s windshield in front of a restaurant. The butterfly is a symbol for change: the following year I met a fellow at that restaurant who inspired me to embark on a different creative writing path.

In a recent blog I mentioned the ghost story books written by my friends, Rob and Anne. After they published a book on the ghostly encounters aboard the Queen Mary ship, they researched stories from Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California. Rob had been involved as an archeologist on many digs on the island and had been collecting stories since the 1970s. Residents of the island offered up stories of hauntings at old Indian burial grounds, at the famed Casino, at Western author Zane Grey’s home, which is now a hotel (Grey himself is reputed to be haunting it), and at various homes, businesses and hotels all over the island.

Built in 1890, the distinctive Holly Hill House in Catalina spooked a construction crew working on the old home. They would hear footsteps and doors opening and closing, and after double locking a door at night would find it open in the morning. Deciding to discover the culprit, the workmen devised a plan to put fresh varnish on the floor where they’d heard the most activity. The next morning they found tiny barefoot footprints in the varnish, but the prints started in the middle of the floor and disappeared before reaching the end of the varnished area.


Painting of the Alamo

A book on the famous Alamo in Texas, their next project, had an added interest since Anne was born in San Antonio. It was also a challenge since the couple had only heard one ghost story concerning the old mission massacre. A trip to San Antonio proved fruitful with many stories coming from various hotels that surround the old Alamo.

Rob said there were many inexplicable tales of things that looked real like, “people appearing and disappearing in period clothing. People have also said they’ve seen re-enactments of the battle of the Alamo while sitting in a hotel opposite the site.”

A retired Alamo Park Ranger admitted that he’d seen an Alamo defender being repeatedly stabbed and shot by Mexican soldiers in the area of Long Barracks. “They [the rangers] don’t believe in ghosts but say, ‘I don’t know what else it could have been,’” Rob told me.

Anne ventured a theory that ghosts exist because of “unfinished business that needs resolution. A spirit doesn’t die but leaves behind a psychic imprint from traumatic events that happened there. Perhaps they didn’t make peace and are trapped in a limbo state.”


Present day Alamo historical site

The imprint of events on an area is not always tragic, Anne added. They’ve found happy stories of ghosts that linger around ballrooms and even bars. The couple both have a positive feeling about ghosts. “They’re more guardian angels than demons,” Rob declared.

To read more about these ghost hunters, look up Rob and Anne Wlodarski on the Internet.

Upcoming on Kindle:

Melaynie’s Masquerade

16th century historical fiction – Disguised as a cabin

boy, Melaynie Morgan ships off with Francis Drake

to the Caribbean in search of Spanish treasure

 

Mama Liked Army Men

A Tale of Two Fathers

The perils of military life

 

An Army Brat in Libya

Tripoli in the 1950s

Personal history

 

Weird Dates & Strange Mates

Non-fiction with names changed to

Protect the innocent or not…

 

 

 

 

A FAREWELL CHRISTMAS – ‘72

The early ‘70s were carefree times for me. The Giraud family was living in a brand new spacious home in the northwest edge of Los Angeles. My husband had a good job as a civil engineer with Los Angeles County, and I was absorbed in raising two very young children.

Heidi at 3 in her Christmas hand-knit outfit and go-go boots

My parents had retired from the hectic Army life, settled in San Antonio, Texas, and invited us to have a family Christmas together.  We all gathered: my younger sister, who had joined the Mormon Church and was getting ready to go on a Mormon mission in Switzerland, and my brother, who was attending the University of Virginia.

It was my little family’s first visit to see my folks’ new home in San Antonio. After all the years traveling the world, thanks to the Army, and living in temporary homes, Mom and Dad had settled down to a retirement of sorts. Dad was working for USAA (United Services Automobile Agency) handling investments. My mother taught exercise classes until her physical challenges forced her to stop.

They had built their dream home on 1/8 acre filled with oak trees in a lovely and expensive area, thanks to my dad’s thrifty ways and his investments. It was a new experience for them living in warm Texas climate where my mother could enjoy the yearlong sun on a large deck surrounded by the three wings of their one-story rambling home. My father had acquired expensive tastes over the years and had saved his money to buy the best furniture he could afford and insisted on peg-wood floors in the living room and separate dining room.

My mother’s sewing talents were put to work creating the difficult and time-consuming Empire shades for the many narrow contemporary windows that faced the street. She ended up making all the drapes and window treatments in the house and was proud of her achievements. It would be her last major sewing project.

From Mom’s letters, I discovered that Texas was rife with bugs of all kinds. People who could afford it had pest service every few months to rid their homes of roaches and huge water bugs, for instance. In the summer, the cicadas that lived in the oaks on the property made their shrill sounds. Scorpions, which could give a nasty sting, were rampant. The home’s builder informed me gleefully that while a concrete pad for a new home was curing, the moisture attracted hundreds of scorpions.

I was fascinated with Texas history and when we were there, we drove by the historic Alamo and got a look at the famous River Walk that wound through downtown San Antonio, close to the Alamo. We visited Ft. Sam Houston, named after a Texas hero, saw live deer, rabbits, and ducks, and checked out the miniature train and sky ride in Brackenridge Park.

My sister Joan Tupper and Heidi petting a deer at Ft. Sam Houston

My dad, who could be difficult if things didn’t go his way, was on his best behavior. The only rough spots during our Christmas visit were my son’s teething woes, which Mom solved with a finger dipped in bourbon (an old Southern remedy), and a bout of flu for me during our last few days there. I think the flu strain that year was named after me: the Victoria flu!

We took a slightly different southern route on our way home to L.A. and ended up stuck overnight in a snowstorm in the appropriately named Alpine, Texas. Seeing snow is always a treat to Southern Californians who don’t have to put up with it every winter. It was the area where the famous movie “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Jimmy Dean had been filmed.

I have fond and sentimental memories of that Christmas that even the flu hadn’t squelched. I remember Mom had used her magical creative talents to sew a shirt and a dress in a loud red print for my husband and my daughter. Looking back, I am delighted that Mom had an opportunity to be a grandmother for a few years before she passed. My sister, who later had five children, didn’t have the wonderful privilege of sharing her children with Mom as a doting grandmother.

As my mother-in-law said when Mom died in 1974, “A mother always dies too young.”

MY LAST CHRISTMAS WITH MY MOTHER – 1972

Dad & Mom - a Texas family Christmas. Dad's holding the microphone for his narration of the event.

When I recently wrote about my memories of my mother, it brought to mind another poignant event—the last Christmas I ever spent with her. It was a happy celebration and the final time my immediate family would be alive and together on this earthly plane.

My husband and I, with kids in tow, drove from Los Angeles to San Antonio, Texas, to spend about a week with my parents and two siblings, Joan Tupper, 23, and Darby, 19. I was 29, my daughter Heidi was 3 and son Hansi was only 8 months old.

Dad holding Hansi and Heidi

We owned a typical large American car of that era with bench seats. Since the back seat was quite roomy, I came up with a plan to use Hansi’s crib mattress for the long drive. We used baby harnesses attached to seat belts, so the kids would be able to sleep, eat, and also have some freedom of motion. I have no idea how safe this method was, but no one was injured during the drive there and back. That’s my disclaimer and I’m sticking to it! I think it took us three days of driving and we stopped for two nights in a motel.

My mother was already suffering from the kidney disease that would kill her two years later, but at that time it was manageable. She was on a somewhat restricted diet and had to keep her legs elevated several times during the day. As the staunch and courageous Army wife she’d been most of her life, she did little complaining and maintained her sense of humor. I’m sure all of us thought she’d live for many more years, and if we had any misgivings, we kept them to ourselves. I was too young to worry about death. My mother was only 51; I took her longevity for granted. I even failed to save the many letters she’d sent me.

Luckily, we took many photos and made a cassette tape of our Christmas morning gift opening, so I can still hear and marvel at Mom’s very Southern Virginia accent. My Dad, the retired Army officer, had to run the show, of course, and he was the narrator on the tape. He’d always had me and my siblings gather for breakfast on Christmas morning before we were allowed to open presents. The Williams present opening was a very civilized procedure as each of us opened one present at a time, made appropriate grateful remarks and let everyone see the new gift.

This time, Heidi was the only glitch in the controlled process. At three, she was still new to Christmas, and represented the infectious joy of gift giving.  Since she was allowed to open many of the presents, even when they weren’t for her, she must have thought they were all hers!

Baby Hansi lay on his stomach looking around at everything. He enjoyed the noises and colorful paper and would occasionally be interested in one of his gifts.

To be continued…

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