Year Written Unknown
Pamela Carvajal Drapala
My uncle’s name is Andrew Vivian, Andy for short. He was of French decent, from New Mexico. He stood about six feet, and everyone would say he was as definitely as skinny as a string bean. He had dark eyes, dark straight hair, and a moustache that embellished his thin wrinkled face.
He worked many years with the Southern Pacific Railroad as Car Inspector, and had another job as a cook at the Yuma State Restaurant.
A modern convenience for him was the radio, however, he preferred to read western paperback books written by Zane Grey and other western writers. After he finished my daily household chores, he pulled up a chair at the dining room table, drank black coffee, puffed on a filtered cigarette, and read one of his favorite western novels. He read many westerns in his lifetime, maybe hundreds.
He met his wife to be Ernestina Higuera, many years ago when I came in on a train to a little town in Arizona called Yuma. He married a proper Spanish girl. His wife, Aunt Ernie, had very good taste. She wore the most expensive clothes in town, the finest jewelry, and always took good care of her health. She dressed in “Liz Claiborne” style clothing. Aunt Ernie was an attractive, black-haired woman with soft porcelain skin. Although she is eighty years old today, she still has beautiful porcelain skin, and her dress is impeccable.
They married in the Roman Catholic Church, Aunt Ernie and Uncle Andy tried to have a child of our own for a long while but we could not have children. Later we adopted a cute baby girl, and named her Elizabeth Ann Vivian. She would be our only child, and we would love her with all our hearts and souls. Our baby daughter came into our lives in April of 1950. Aunt Ernie and Uncle Andy adopted the baby, since they felt this might be our only chance to have a baby of our own. Life would be very interesting for them raising our daughter, Elizabeth.
The Higuera Family considered Uncle Andy an old man when he became married to Aunt Ernie. He must have been ancient when he became a father for the first time in my life. Now, he never thought he that was old, until the Monsignor from our church remarked that his wife was just too young looking for a man of his age. Hmmm, he never did understand where that comment came from other than he did marry beautiful looking woman. Do you suppose it was his debonair French personality? Maybe his great cooking charmed Aunt Ernie.
Life raising Elizabeth was quite exciting as she always kept Uncle Andy on our toes the entire time he was alive. She was a rambunctious little girl with dark long braids, and trying to keep up with her was not easy job. It was especially difficult whenever Aunt Ernie and Uncle Andy asked her to practice her piano at lesson time or do the dishes. To listen to Elizabeth’s piano music was astonishing. Aunt Ernie’s favorite piano piece was Jealously. Aunt Ernie would ask Elizabeth to play it repeatedly. I fondly remember Elizabeth playing the piano and me making up words to many pieces of music Elizabeth practiced. My favorite song was “Look Out Behind the Old Oak Tree” which I wrote when I was in third grade, I believe. Ironically, later I found out that my maiden name, Carvajal, means where the oak tree grows. We would practice for a few hours once they convinced Elizabeth to practice, however, I could not carry a tune.
They never meant to spoil the baby girl, Elizabeth. However, there is some truth to spoiling a child when you only have one. When parents have only one child, the parent’s energy, time, and money seemed to be concentrated on that one child. I remember one Saturday, Elizabeth begging Uncle Andy me to go to The Emporium Store at Downtown Yuma and buy her a girdle. Every female in town owned a girdle in the sixties. Can you imagine that, skinny man asking then buying a girdle in the women underwear department at The Emporium Store? Elizabeth must have been too embarrassed to buy her own being fifteen years old. I guess she was a teenager who wanted to look trim in her clothes. It was the time of the skinny English Model, Twiggy in the 1960s.
They wanted Elizabeth to be happy. So, Uncle Andy went to the store and purchased the girdle in her size only to come home and say that the girdle was not even large enough to fit me, then twelve. I do not know how Elizabeth maneuvered to get the girdle on, but she did. After it was on, Elizabeth complained that she couldn’t breathe. Uncle went back to the Emporium that day and returned the purchase. We all had a good laugh, and my Uncle learned something about women’s underwear although h didn’t need to know all the details being a man and all.
When he worked for the Southern Pacific railroad at night, once in a long while, a railroad car or two would derail. Southern Pacific would let their employees bring home any of the items that could not be return to owner because of damaged boxes and crates. One time a railroad car derailed around midnight outside of Yuma. Cans and cans of chocolate diet drinks scattered all over at the railroad, and he thought that bringing home the drinks would be a good thing. However, chubby Elizabeth and I, drank so many drinks, one after another, we gained weight instead of losing it. The cans of chocolate were suppose to last at least three months, however the cans were gone from their cozy kitchen in a couple of weeks.
They we moved to Seventh Avenue, Uncle Andy, Aunt Ernie, Elizabeth, Mimi, their pet French Poodle and they lived all by ourselves, no longer living with his mother-in-law, Lola, and her daughter, Amalia, as they had previous done. Uncle Andy started cooking again. Oh, how he loved to cook for his wife, Ernie. Sant’s Drug Store, on Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street, employed my Ernie, for several decades even after his death. Ernie sold Elizabeth Arden and Revlon Cosmetics. I believe she retired from that store in when she reached eighty.
Anyway, he did all the cooking when we lived in that mint green two-bedroom home with fine French Provincial Furniture on Seventh Avenue. He ensured that Aunt Ernie had a fine meal to come home to after a hard day of standing on her feet selling cosmetics at Sant’s Drug Store. He learned how to prepare delicious meals during the war, such as salad with vinegar and oil, pot roast, real creamy mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans with bacon pieces, rolls with butter, chocolate cake, and black coffee. Ernie loved coming home to a good hot meal, and he enjoyed taking care of my wife when she came home, then it was off to work at night at the Southern Pacific Railroad inspecting railroad cars.
He loved to drive Elizabeth, and me everywhere like shopping, the movies, and church. One time when the lettuce was ripe in an open field in the valley on Avenue B, Uncle got out of his old rusted red Chevy truck. He began removing several of the leafy green lettuce heads from the fields for our supper later that night. However, he couldn’t understand why his daughter and his niece ducked their heads down low in the truck when he made that stop to pick the lettuce. The salad sure was tasty that night with dressing.
Days, months, years, then decades passed by so quickly. All my memories to me are like yesterday. Uncle Andy lived a wonderful life in Yuma raising a family and had many adventures with his wife, his daughter and other relatives, like me. When it was he time to move on from this world to the next in the early nineteen seventies, he was very ill, very old, and very tired.
When he was dying in the hospital at YRMC, the nurses would only allow his next of kin to visit him at his hospital bed, his wife and Elizabeth. I came to visit me in my hospital bed; however, I was not able to see me before Uncle Andy ‘s death and, I was very upset. This might sound very strange to some; however, many things in our universe are unexplainable. Being unconscious and all, I think Uncle Andy could sense that I wanted to see him one last time. The only way he could see me was in my dreams before he died. In one of my dreams, Uncle Andy spoke to me in the early morning on the day he died and told me that me that all his pain was gone. He was no longer suffering from the gangrene poisoning. I was indeed happy see him, and I was happy to have closure. That was his gift to me. I spent a lot of time with the Vivian Family during my childhood and my teen years. They were like my second family.
Today my Great-Auntie Ernie was buried. She was 96 years old and lead a long and happy life. This gallery is dedicated to her from me. "Auntie watch over all your loved ones."
New item - Below is a story I wrote a while ago. I'd like to share it with you today.
Christmas Party with Great-Aunt Ernestina
December 26, 2005
Pamela Carvajal Drapala
It was simply crazy the week before Christmas for me at work, school, and at home. “So much to do, in such a short time.” Presents to buy then wrap; cards to address then mail; cookies to bake, and lastly, a seven-foot Christmas tree to decorate in my usual Wizard OZ theme. How was it possible for this Holy season to be here already? It seemed as though Thanksgiving was here just a week ago.
At the beginning of the Christmas season 2005, I found myself deeply depressed thinking about all the people that I hadn’t heard from all year which included many friends, relatives, and those very distance friends from long ago. I felt all alone even though, I was happily married to the perfect husband and had two beautiful and loving daughters.
To my surprise, during the last week of Christmas, I received many Christmas letters and cards from all over the USA. And also received a telephone call from the Glaze Family from Nebraska whom I hadn’t heard from in two decades. I received news from those whom I thought I had lost contact with throughout the years, including news from old friends and distance relatives.
A few days before Christmas, I visited my Great-Aunt Ernestina who was now 94-years-old and now lived at a senior rest home in the Yuma Valley below the hospital. It was never our intention to move our Aunt to the rest home. But, it got to the point where she could no longer could be properly cared for by family who did not have experience in the medical field. Auntie had broken her hip that year, needed constant 24-hour care, and oxygen to assist her breathing.
According to her doctor, her body had simply worn out, but mentally she was fully aware of all her surroundings, and very checked in with everything that was happening to her daily.
When I arrived at the rest home, she said to me, “Where have you been?” “Why haven’t you visited me?” “I missed you”. “Promise you will see me more often.” Just knowing that she remembered my visits to see her this year, meant so much to me. I told her that I’d been busy with work, school, home, and painting. Of course I couldn’t help but feel guilty, but hadn’t I had done everything possible to ensure that I visited her today? I would do my best to continue to keep in touch even if it meant coming home late a few days a month.
For many years, I remember so clearly that Auntie was an energetic woman whose life was filled with activities, such as working with ceramics, reading, traveling, and visiting her large extended family often. She once worked long hours at the town’s main drug store, Sant’s Drugs, selling cosmetics, and was seen by many men as a very beautiful woman in her younger days. Now, I saw her breathing from an oxygen tank, in a wheel chair, a slight woman with salt and pepper hair who always seem so tall and strong to me. She was now in her last stage of her life. All the years of her life had finally caught up with her.
What amazed me was that she was the same person mentally as she was in the 1960s. She was so sharp in answering my questions. At one point, she tricked me when answering a simple question I asked her. She laughed at me when she answered my question and later enjoyed sharing what she had said to me with her baby sister, Irene. Every memory of Aunt Ernie was intact, and she hadn’t forgotten that she was one of my favorite aunts, and she wasn’t going to let me forget that fact.
When I entered her room at the home, unbelievably, this tiny woman was trying to get into her wheel chair all by herself. I couldn’t help lift her from her bed, so I called a nurse. Auntie said that I came right in time. She had planned to get into the wheel chair by herself. I told the nurse what she had said, and she told Auntie not to try to do that, that she would only injure herself.
After she settled down, I gave her my Christmas presents to her, cookies in a small Tupperware container and a large stuffed gingerbread doll that sang “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” when you pressed the doll’s palm down. Amazingly, the doll could sing all the verses of the song, but Auntie could barely hear the doll sing though because of her severe hearing loss.
A few minutes later, I saw my other Grand Aunt, Aunt Irene who was now in her 80's who arrived with her caretaker and the caretaker’s daughter. Auntie Irene was so happy to be there to see Aunt Ernestina, her older sister and anxiously waited for the Christmas party to begin.
We all talked a bit and began walking through the corridors of the home to the party held in the large main cafeteria. On the way, Elizabeth, my older sister came to join us. When we were walking through the halls, I saw many people who had similar illnesses as my aunt and they too needed to be wheeled into the main cafeteria for their annual Christmas party.
I wondered how the elders celebrated Christmas prior to being placed in the rest home. Surely, they listened to the same Christmas tunes as Jiggle Bell Rock, Silent Night, and Frosty the Snowman, and their parties were probably decorated very similarly with the traditional colors of green, red, and white decorations with the traditional red table cloths. Some of the folks of must have made traditional tamales like my aunts did and cooked turkeys, hams, and baked cookies for their children and grandchildren at some point of their lives.
The elders began sitting in a circle around their assigned tables and waited patiently for the Christmas festivies to begin. I noticed that foods that we were all familiar with all sat on the large table in the back of the room . . . mini barbequed hot dogs, chicken wings, chocolate chip cookies, various cheeses, and small vegetables with ranch dip. I was somewhat disappointed that eggnog was served instead of the traditional red punch.
The elders now spent their Christmas here at the home instead of being in their cozy homes with their loved ones. Would this be me one day . . . spending my Christmas with others in a home I thought? I mentioned it to my half- sister, Elizabeth, and we agreed that we would share a room together when it was time, and then laughed at the idea.
Everyone sang a variety of Christmas songs with the amateur DJ and his partner. Our table sang the loudest and my Aunt Irene said to me, “Better be careful, Pammie, or soon they will be having you singing all the songs up there.” That didn’t stop me from singing along with the entertainers. Memories from the past flooded my mind . . . especially the memory about my first Christmas pageant at my elementary school, O. C. Johnson School 48 years ago. I could vision all of us in my mind, miniature adults all dressed in our best outfits singing out hearts out to the music, “Jingle Bells” and our first grade teacher, Mrs. McIntyre standing proudly as she observed each of us. The short ones in stature, Shirley and I stood in the front roll and all the tall ones, David, Robin, and Edward stood in the back roll.
Later, a very genuine looking Santa Claus entered the spacious dining room. His delightful personality touched all that were attending the party, especially the elderly. He delivered presents to each residence and their faces lit up just as they did when they were children.
About that time, Aunt Irene pointed to the red and green sphered shaped decorations hanging from the ceiling. Had she not pointed them out to me, I would have missed their beauty. I wondered how could I have missed them, and what else could I be miss seeing in my life?
For a moment, I forgot where I was, and began reminiscing again about my first Christmas in Yuma. I remembered that the event was held outdoors at Downtown Yuma in the late nineteen fifties. Children like me stood in a very long line forever waiting to tell Santa what we wanted for Christmas. Magical moments as those never seem to leave one’s mind no matter how old one gets.
An older man who was disabled sat near us where we were sitting at the party, and he was sitting all alone. If I had been more aware of the situation, I would have moved him closer to our table. But, the distance from our table didn’t keep him from clearly hearing what we were talking about because when I mentioned that the television entertainer, Burl Ives, once sang one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Holly Jolly Christmas,” the elder behind us said excitingly, “I like Burl Ives, I like Burl Ives!”
Later, he said, “I know you . . . I know you!” and pointed directly to Aunt Irene. She mentioned something about how he used to patronize the local Sant Drug Store many years before.
After a while, all the Christmas presents had been given out by Santa. He left the home as quickly and he had arrived. In a few minutes, we heard a loud motor sound the from outside, and we all looked out the window only to see our Santa riding his Harley Motorcycle at an incredible speed . . . probably to another Christmas Party near by.
At the end of the party, I ran outside to my car quickly and brought in the other gifts for my Great-Aunt Irene, her caretaker, and daughter. Aunt Irene, couldn’t decide to open her present of perfumes there at the home or wait for Christmas morning. We said our good-byes and gave our kisses, and I promised that I would make an effort to visit more often. As I drove away in my white 1999 Quest Van, I realized that the purpose of me attending the party was to visit and cheer-up my Great-Aunt Ernestina, but she had really cheered me up when I needed it the most. (end)