Texas

JFK ASSASSINATION — 50 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK

On November 22, Americans will commemorate  the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. I’ve been  remembering my own experience of that overwhelming event recently because of all the television movies and documentaries about the  background and the occasion.  I was in my last year of college at William and Mary in Virginia when the President died. Some of my classmates attended the funeral since it was only about 150 miles north to Washington, D.C.

 

Eternal Flame & gravestones President John F. Kennedy & wife Jacqueline.

Eternal Flame & gravestones President John F. Kennedy & wife Jacqueline. Photo taken by Hans Giraud.

As a diary keeper, it was vitally important for me to write down my thoughts about that  heart-breaking time. I have to chuckle a bit at my serious tone, as if I were documenting this tragic event for history, which indeed I have since my blog does have readers all over the world. I have kept most of my diaries through countless moves (27 at last count)  and here is my contribution to the reactions on campus in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s hard to believe that it was 50 years ago!

22 November. At 1:50 p.m. today the greatest political as well as human tragedy I have known in my 20 years occurred when President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, by an assassin’s bullet. This was such a momentous and horrible tragedy that I must set it down.

It affects me as a human and as an American. One can hardly believe it happened—in fact I can still scarcely take it in, nor for that matter can anyone else on this campus or in these United States or, I doubt, in the world.

The tragedy occurred in Dallas (central time) at 12:30. Twenty minutes later the news came over the radio as I was calmly addressing a letter to Steve [my love interest at the time]. When the radio said a perhaps fatal wound, I couldn’t help hoping that he might live. But little chance with a gunshot wound through the right temple. It was utterly unbelievable.

I went to work this afternoon [I had a part-time job in the Law Library] but could only bear it for a half hour. At this time it wasn’t sure that he would die but then he did while I was there.

Horror & disbelief were the first reactions. About my first words were, “Oh, My God.” On my way to work I had passed Sandy’s room and told her. Her first words, “Oh, My God.” Peter Lawford’s comment: “Oh, My God,” and perhaps countless others said the same.

No one could do anything. No one could think of studying. What could one do? Little groups of students, stricken faces, people saying hi extremely somberly. It was as if the world had fallen on our shoulders and we didn’t know quite what to do with it—rail against it, scream, cry, be disgusted. What the hell was this world coming to when some lunatic shoots the President? What did this damn lunatic expect to accomplish? Kennedy was cut off in the prime of life—he was only 46. Younger even than any other President before him—and two young children.

All we could do was sit around and listen to the radio and discuss the ironies of it all. What would it do to the country, to the whole world? Condolences poured in; important men from everywhere spoke their two words about their grief. The WORLD was shocked—everyone feels a loss. The UN had a minute’s silence; Broadway closed all theaters; parties were canceled.

Coming back to the dorm from the Law Library, it was as if someone had slapped me in the face again. It wasn’t like Towney’s death [a friend who had died earlier that year]—it was more abstract, but I started crying a little. A great hero had died. It was a man I had seen in the Senate chamber during my high school junior year then later during one of my working summers, both in Constitution Hall and on the lawn of the White House. Thus he meant a great deal personally to me. I liked him as a President, despite all the criticism everyone else handed me about him. He stood up for what he believed and now he is a martyr.

Now we have President Lyndon Johnson, ironic throwback to Lincoln’s assassination. (I suppose I was referring to the fact that Lincoln’s Vice President was Andrew Johnson. History does seem to repeat itself!)

Johnson being sworn in as President, Jackie Kennedy by his side.

I wonder what my father thinks and my family. It is interesting to hear various views on his death. The consensus of opinion is much the same however—shock, grief, tragedy for the world, etc.

Dallas, Texas, thou will go down in ignominious history [I must have remembered my Shakespeare – I was an English major, after all].

Years later, I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in the Book Depository in Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal bullet. My son drove me down the street where the event took place and the area still carries the emotional vibes of what happened there.

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!

 

 

 

FRIED PICKLES AND COWBOY HATS

For the past couple of years my immediate family has gotten together with my expanded family to celebrate Thanksgiving. We’ve become quite the “modern family” of ex-husbands, ex-wives, stepchildren, uncles, aunts, and various family connections that don’t even have a proper connotation, like my brother’s mother-in-law. I’ve always believed we’re all related in this world anyway, so why not get together and celebrate, the more the merrier?

Last year we banded together in Northern California with a slightly different cast of characters; this year it was Dallas, Texas, where my son Hans and his fiancée Jennifer live. Since they are getting married sometime next year, we all wanted to meet Jennifer’s expanded family. There were 15 of us for a feast the day after Thanksgiving at a wonderful Dallas hotel. No awkward pauses or long silences: Southerners (or shall I say Texans) are hospitable, have great senses of humor, and don’t hesitate to hug one and all.

On Thanksgiving Day, my son gave a few of us a driving tour of Fort Worth, a true Texas town with historical cowboy attractions, like the stockyards and Western themed restaurants and souvenir shops, mixed with a modern art museum and a Western museum. We drove around the downtown area looking for a place to eat, not too difficult a search since younger members of the family are always equipped with the most modern cell phones. While headed toward an IHop, we spotted a restaurant with a distinct Texas flavor.

 

Thanksgiving Texas Style

The Ol’ South Pancake House was adjacent to a freeway overpass and a rail line, and dated back to 1962. Nothing fancy, this was a reasonably priced place for just plain folks, especially those who were fans of the nearby Texas Christian University. There were groups of families eating as well as a few tables of male friends. At least a dozen of the men of all ages wore cowboy hats, including a grandfather next to us with his family. He’d come in with the aid of a walker, proudly sporting his chapeau.

The menu was far from gourmet: sandwiches, burgers and fries were popular, typical soft drinks and ice tea; a special Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings was priced at $12.99. I enjoyed the Texas touches—most of the sandwiches could be served on Texas toast (thick slices with butter on both sides and broiled) and an order of this toast as a side dish was offered. The atmosphere took me back to the 1960s.

The South is known for its fried food: I’ve heard about fried butter, fried Snickers, and just about anything else that might be fried. My mother, who grew up in Virginia, had a knack with fried chicken in the days chicken pieces were dumped in a paper bag full of flour, shaken up and then placed in a large frying pan greased with Crisco.

I had never heard of fried pickles, but my daughter had and she ordered it. I had to have a few small slices. It was rather strange but tasty. “Well, I’ll be damned…” as an old Southern saying goes, or as I remember, “I swannee, but that’s good.”

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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