Francis M Castillo was my mother’s mother.
Frances M Castillo
By Carmen Schultz
My mother Frances Mary Lyon, was born May 14, 1908 to Josephine Agnes Krajenke and Guy Andrew Lyon in Detroit, Michigan. Mom had an older brother Frank Howard Lyon who was her senior by 4 years.
Her High school years went well and she majored in business administration. She was a very fast typist and her short hand was very good. In fact, most her personal notes were taken in short hand. When she died, Bud and I had a whole file drawer full of information that we had to decipher as it was in shorthand. She often mentioned that during one of her summer vacations, she hired in at Nabisco as a secretary. She worked there quite a while when her boss came in and asked her age. She was only sixteen and he couldn’t believe it as he said that he thought she was a full time secretary. When she left that job, her boss asked that as soon as she finished school that she’d come see him as she always had a job there. That pleased her so very much. She was also very good in sports and won a trophy in swimming and diving for her high school during her senior year. She graduated early and went right to work.
While at a dance with friends she met her first husband Noel Mitchell Francis Sr. who was a drummer for the band playing. Noel was born on the Passamaquoddy (Indian word meaning People of the Dawn) Indian Reservation near E. Port Maine in 1890. He died 3-25-65 and is now buried at St. Ann Mission Indian Cemetery. They had one son, my older brother Noel M. Francis Jr., who was born in Detroit, Mi on July 2, 1927. After some rocky times, Noel and My mother decided to divorce. Mom and Noel Jr. then went to live with my Grandmother and Grandfather Lyon. While mom and Grandpa worked, Grandma cared for Noel and his older cousin Howard. These two were raised as brothers.
When my brother Noel was about 5 or 6, my mother met Ralph Maria Castillo and they were soon married. Ralph was born March 8, 1901 in Caracas, Venezuela, South America. Both families were staunch Catholic, so there was a problem with mom and dad who were both divorced to remarry. Dad’s brother was the parish priest and his mother (who spoke only Spanish) cared for the parish house so you see what I mean.
I (Carmen Louisa Castillo) was their first and only girl — born in Detroit, Michigan on April 22, 1935. I was spoiled from the day I was born. I was named for a favorite cousin of my fathers who had died at an early age while having her first child. She too had blonde hair and brown eyes and a birthmark on her chin where I have mine, and as the years went by, I heard many stories of her from both my mother and my father. I believe they both wanted to keep her memory alive through me. My brother Bud came 22 months after me and from that day on I had no peace. He was very much the average brother and I didn’t help much by always wanting to follow wherever he went. I was quite a tomboy and the things he did were a lot more fun than the things I was suppose to do.
Mother and Dad lived many happy days together both in Fenton, Michigan and Brownsville, Texas both helping one another and loving one another in their companionship. My mother was wonderful at making you feel very special and very important. She was outgoing and made friends easily. She was willing to change her ways a bit to honor my father. My father on the other hand wasn’t interested in having friends nor for that matter anyone around him except his family. He was very jealous of my mother and quite insecure. His English was broken and they lived during the war, which meant if you spoke broken English you might a spy. My mom took dads feelings into consideration though and at every chance would encourage him and boaster his moral. She was always pulling someone in to show what Dad had accomplished usually in front of him. Mom was intelligent, and encouraged all of us to do the very best we could possibly do. In our household, the dictionary was always out and it was a daily occurrence for someone to go to it. You automatically knew not to ask her how to spell something, as she’d send you to the dictionary and quiz you on what the word meant. Mother was so very much fun to be around and brought excitement to our lives. She played the guitar and ukulele and there was always sing-a-longs in our home. All my friends loved her as though she were their own. In fact I would hear often how lucky I was and how they wish she was their mother. I knew they were right, I was very blessed and I wouldn’t have changed my mother nor my childhood for anything in the world.
I remember as mom and dad grew older, dad told me that he prayed that he would be taken first as he had no idea how he could possibly live without mom. My dad got his wish, dying of cancer 5 years before my mother on Sept. 30, 1973.
My mother lived long enough to help me get started in a new home right next to the family homestead. She helped me with my children, while I started a new job and encouraged me at every move. My kids, who had lived miles away from the grandparents most of their lives, received the wonderful chance of knowing their grandmother as the loving person she was. She gave me some of the property to build on next to their home and was a very instrumental in helping me with the many difficult decisions about how the house should be built.
Mom died after a bout with cancer and some time in the hospital. She came home and instead of going to the homestead, she lived with us in the new house next door. She could still look out the window and see all the same things she was used too seeing and wave at all the neighbors, yet she had us to help her. Bud and I were both able to be with mom quite a bit during her last days and Noel and Willie made several trips down to see mom before she died. I believe that she was very happy to be with her family and later to go to find dad. She died Dec. 16, 1978. They, Ralph and Frances Castillo are buried in Fenton, Michigan next to mom’s parents, Guy and Josephine Lyon. My brother Noel and his precious wife Willie and their children are all up in Fenton now, where I know they care for the families resting place.
This doesn’t begin to tell what a wonderful person my mother was and how she helped her children in so many ways. Thank You Mom!
Frances M Castillo
May 14, 1908 to Dec. 16, 1978
By Ralph G Castillo
Mom was born in that time the world was just starting to recognize females were also free thinkers. She was among the first to express her freedom with the FLAPPER era when she got dressed for school as soon as she left the house her shoes got undone so the sides would flap as they walked.
Mom would do things that other girls would cringe at, she could play a Ukulele and while at Runyon Lake she would catch small rattle snakes, place them inside the Ukulele and when she strummed a tune, the snake would poke its head up and stick out its tongue in tune with moms strumming. Some songs Mom played and sang to us were: “It Ain’t A-Goin-A-Rain No More”, “Down By The Old Mill Stream”, “KaKaKa Katey”, and many more that I’ve forgotten.
As a girl, some of moms parties would involve telling ghost stories and with everything pitched black she would pass around the dead persons body parts items like peeled grapes for the eyes, cooked spaghetti for the intestines, Jell-O for the brains and the list went on and on.
The girls would go canoeing in front of the Runyan lake cottages, making sure that no-one on land had on bathing suits, the girls would yell and scream as though they were having problems, loose the paddles and than tip the canoe over, swim under the canoe into the air pocket it made and waited until the men on shore wearing clothes would jump in to save the poor drowning girls, they would pop up before the men got too close to them, upright the canoe and paddle off leaving the Hero’s wet. (This was always done on the other side of the lake where they were not known) and kiddo’s this not recommended in today’s society Because You Could Get In Serious Trouble.
Mom told us about going to speak-easies but didn’t add much detail to those encounters.
Mom worked at Nabisco Biscuit Co. as a secretary and somehow would meet some of the famous silent screen actors (This story is fuzzy).
Mom’s Mother, Grandma Lyons, a Catholic, had a Catholic Priest by the name of Father Louis Castillo over and during the conversation it was decided the mom & dad (Fr. Louis’ Brother) might make a good match. They were introduced to each other and had two beautiful, smart children Carmen & Bud” Ralph Guy Andrew Castillo”. “And Now You Know” how they met, Carmen and I thank God for that meeting.
Mom was a story teller for the word go, she told us stories of her past, her only brother Frank, scary ghost stories, you name it she could tell it. Whenever we traveled she told us stories” remember guys this was before car radios with any hearing distance. She would make up games to make the time and miles go by faster. Of coarse we had the old Burma Shave Signs. For you youngsters, Burma Shave Signs were small red signs that were spread several miles along the highways, each sign had a word or two and you would have to read all of the signs, to get the meaning from all the signs.
In 1938, Mom and Dad traveled to Brownsville Texas with the hopes of going into Mexico to open up a tourist courts with cabins. At the border they would not let Dad get a visa since he was still a Venezuelan. That is when they met the Thomlinson family we rented from them for several years while in Brownsville. Mom and Dad opened a produce store on a corner of Elizabeth Street across from Sacred Heart Catholic Church where Dads brother Father Louis was the pastor. We lived in Brownsville for a couple years and returned to Fenton, Michigan after a freeze cost us to loose the produce store.
In Michigan, from 1940 to 1948, Mom stayed at home taking care of “two loving children”. Dad wanted to learn radio repair so Mom would read the lessons to him. (Remember Dad wasn’t fluent in the English language) Dad got his degree and worked on radios in his spare time while in Fenton. In 1947, Dad had an operation, the Doctor suggested he take a vacation — Brownsville here we come! It was this trip that Mom and Dad found and purchased the 2-1/2 acres on Lazy Acres Drive.
October 31, 1948 we packed up and moved to Brownsville. Mom drove a white Chevy Coup with Little Grandma Castillo, Big Grandma Lyon & Carmen with fruit jars in hand (dad would not make potty stop for 4 females) followed by a stake-bed truck with Dad driving, Father Louis shotgun, and me in the middle” Boy, what a trip! It seemed like years before we got to Brownsville”
Shortly after we arrived in Brownsville, Mom went to work for Model Laundry on Elizabeth street just blocks from the school Carmen & I attended. It was fun having her that close as we could walk to where she worked and eat lunch together. Mom was a great swimmer and a good diver she loved to do a jack-knife off the springboard at Dixon’s Motel where we would go when it got Brownsville hot.
When Dad wanted to learn watch repair, it was Mom to the rescue again. I think Mom could repair radio’s & watches as good as Dad, she just didn’t have the practice at it.
Mom and Dad would do everything together but they always considered each other’s feeling before doing anything. They purchase the same vehicles like “Little Blue Station Wagons”. They smoked Kool Cigarettes and when either of them lit a cigarette, they would light two — one cigarette for the other. When they quit smoking they had to do it together.
Mom was the main person for keeping this family in contact with each other. When she wrote a letter she would use carbon paper to make several copies of the same letter and always began it with a generic start like “Well Sweetie Pies” or “Well Kiddo’s”. Thank God for computers now we don’t have to handle with that messy carbon paper. She sure would have loved using the Internet Email system she could copy the whole family at the same time and not have to get her fingers black with carbon paper again.
After Dad died in Sept. 30 1973, Mom went to work for the F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Administration) at the Brownsville International Airport. She was the Chief’s secretary until she died Dec. 16, 1978. When she worked there she would fly around the country visiting Uncle Frank, Noel while on vacation.
And I’ll bet Mom & Dad have matching clouds to float around on when they take their trips now.
By Pamella (Castillo) Moore
These are journal entries that Pamella did for an English Literature class in October 1997.
When I was about to enter into the fifth grade of school, I decided to move sixty miles from home and live with my grandma Castillo for the school year. My grandmother and I were extremely close. I guess you could say that I was her favorite grandchild. That year was one of the best years of my childhood! Most of my better qualities are ones that I inherited from my Grandma Castillo. She was a perfectionist, therefore, I am one as well. She was definitely one for “proper etiquette.” I find this also being one of my traits. My grandmother cherished many things, i.e. letters, drawings, notes from loved ones. I do the same. Growing up as a child of numerous divorces, my grandmother was my solid foundation. I could always count on her for anything. My eyes are becoming teary just thinking about her. She taught me so much. She used to work for the F.A.A. and I was a hit with all the kids when I arranged my class field trip to the control tower at the airport. She would boast each time that she would introduce me to people. This helped me establish a sense of self-esteem and pride. For my birthday that year, she really impressed my friends with the birthday party that she arranged. We all sat out on the porch (at night) and she told a scary story. As she told the story, she would use props to enhance the full effect. She talked about someone’s eyeballs popping out of their head and then passed around two skinned grapes for everyone to feel. When she mentioned brain matter, she passed around a bowl of cold, cooked spaghetti and everyone had to put their hands into it. It was very dark and not being able to see the props added realism to the whole story. We attended Catholic mass every morning at 7 a.m. prior to her dropping me off at school. Going to mass each morning really started my day off right. She volunteered at the church every other Saturday afternoon and I would accompany her. While Grandma typed letters and scheduled appointments for the priest, I would visit with the priest or do menial tasks—although she always made me feel as though I was a great help to her. Each day after school, we would stop by the 7-Eleven and she would let me get a Coke slurpee. The 7-Eleven employee got into the habit of preparing my slurpee each day just before I arrived. My grandma allowed me to drive (for the first time) when I was living with her. I must have been about ten years old and she would stack phone books and a pillow on the driver’s seat and allow me to drive up the dirt road, which was rather secluded—I was thankful for that. I remember barely being able to see over the dashboard. Boy, did I think I was hot stuff! I loved to sit in the kitchen and watch her cook or bake. She was a fantastic cook! Although our maid cooked most meals and they were delicious, it could not compare to the meals my grandmother prepared. My favorites were chicken and dumplings, sauerkraut and dumplings, chipped beef on toast, sausage gravy on pancakes and salmon croquettes. She was the best as far as packing lunches too. I could swear my sandwiches must have tasted better than anyone else in my fifth grade class. I had the most flavorful sandwich, a piece of fruit, several Little Debbie Treats, potato chips and the best beverage you could think of. It’s odd how someone can look forward to lunch with such enthusiasm. My grandmother was the greatest and I was so blessed to have lived with her when I was in the fifth grade.
My Grandma Castillo was from Michigan and as a special treat, she took each of us grandkids on a trip to Michigan one year after the other. I was about ten years old when it became my turn to travel with my grandma. This was to be my first airplane flight. I was so excited! Prior to my trip, my grandma took me out shopping and bought me all new clothes for traveling. The night before we were scheduled to depart, she wrapped my hair in cloth strips—sort of the same concept as curlers. The next day my long hair was beautifully curled, thanks to grandma, and I wore my new pastel yellow dress with sheer long sleeves. I also wore matching knee high socks and white patent leather shoes. I had a matching white patent handbag to complete my ensemble. I was raring to go! My grandma made sure that I was allowed to tour the cockpit prior to departing. There were more buttons and knobs than I could ever have imagined. The stewardess (as they were called back then) pinned a pair of gold colored wings onto the lapel of my dress. The plane trip fascinated me. I remember viewing the cars from up high and thinking that they looked like race cars on a play racetrack set. As we flew over the city, everyone appeared to be smaller than my Skipper doll. During our 7-day trip, we went to Niagara Falls. I sure was fascinated with that outing. We wore raincoats and took a boat trip under the falls. We also got to climb the side of the falls with an escort and I remember being excited, yet scared at the same time. I picked up several souvenirs and a booklet on the many attempts to successfully walk across or go over the falls unharmed. People were trying everything from walking a tightrope to placing themselves into a metal barrel and actually going over the falls. Many people died attempting to do this. I couldn’t believe the risks people had taken in order to gain fame. We also traveled across the border into Canada. Although we were only in Canada for an hour or so, I thought this to be a minor detail that could be avoided when repeating my Canadian adventure. We also visited the graves of my great grandparents, located in Fenton, Michigan. The headstones were made of granite and marble and I remember how absolutely beautiful they were. Back at my cousin’s home, my godmother, Lynn Rashleigh (Frances), placed her wedding gown and veil on me so that she could get a picture of me in her wedding garb. I still have that photograph. I was sad to leave my cousins and travel back home, but I was so thankful to my grandmother for taking me. My first major trip proved to be a very memorable one!
Amber loves for me to tell her stories. Whenever she is visiting us for the weekend or the summer, she constantly wants me to tell her stories about my life. Although she’s heard most of my stories, she doesn’t mind listening to some of them again. She loves the story about my grandmother smacking my cousin Dee, right in the face. You see, my grandmother Castillo (my Grandfather was from Venezuela), always had a budget. She would stock her “powder room” with items as they went on sale. I remember the shelves always being fully stocked with anywhere from twenty bottles of shampoo, ten packs of tissue paper, eight cans of Comet cleanser, to fourteen rolls of Bounty paper towels and the list goes on and on. On Saturdays, my grandmother would go through all the circulars and write her shopping list according to which items were on sale at which supermarket. She would spend an entire morning driving clear across town to save ten cents on a head of lettuce. A lot of older people did this in those days. Boy, do I sound like I’m old or something? I mean, this was roughly twenty years ago. Dee was about twelve and I was thirteen. We were all standing around the dinning room table at the time and grandma was preparing her shopping list. Dee asked if we could buy some type of “extras” that were mere luxuries, and not necessities. When my grandmother responded with, “No,” Dee rebutted with, “Well my grandma Choody would buy them because she’s not on a budget!” This was certainly not the thing to say to my Grandma Castillo. She took both her hands and smacked Dee right upside the head several times. It was the funniest thing we’d ever seen. It reminded me of the way the Three Stooges would smack each other. After we got over the initial shock of my grandmother smacking her, we nearly busted open with laughter. That was one of the very few times we ever saw my grandmother display any type of anger. I can still picture it just as vivid today, as twenty years ago. Amber absolutely loves this story! She never gets tired of hearing about her aunt Dee getting smacked upside the head by our grandmother.
LaRee (Schultz) Lochbaum
Grandma Castillo was the most interesting woman I have ever known. We drove across country a few times to see her as kids, and I remember being so excited to finally reach that long row of palm trees that lined Owens road just before Grandma & Grandpa’s house. The excitement would build for all of us as we approached the house. There they would be sitting on the porch doing what they did best….enjoying each other’s company. Most of my memories revolve around times spent on that porch. Grandma & Grandpa had their patio chairs facing out with a table in the middle. The rest of us would sit on benches around the perimeter. We would all anxiously wait for Grandma to finish her drink so we could take our turn making her another salty dog (child protective services would have a fit these days). Way back when Grandma & Grandpa both smoked. I remember that one of them would light 2 cigarettes, and we would take turns having the honor of delivering the lit cigarette to the other. Some nights Grandma would pull out her ukulele & belt out a few songs with us…. including the infamous “It Ainta Gonna Rain No More” Her laugh was completely contagious. She’s been gone almost 30 years and I can still hear it.
Another memory I have about Grandma Castillo is that she & Grandpa would send us gifts every Christmas with a tape (reel to reel) As we prepared to open gifts dad would turn on the tape. It always began with a greeting from both. You could tell that grandma had prepared a cheat sheet with all of our names on it for grandpa as he said hello to each of us individually. Then Grandma would speak to us one on one & describe the wrapping on our gift. Dad would turn off the tape as we opened the present & would turn it back on once it was unwrapped. Grandma would then explain why she chose that particular gift & move on to the next grandkid. It was just like having them there with us Christmas morning. One of my favorite memories of Grandma Castillo is that she sent us a birthday card every year with a dollar in it. Her note always read “Have a short snort on me”. I love that woman & can’t wait to see her again in eternity. I hope she has her ukulele with her.
Lynn (Francis) Rashliegh
A “salty dog without salt”, donuts made with mashed potatoes, a ukulele and a song, Model Laundry, a beautiful rosary made by Grandpa, dangle earrings crafted by the same, a smile as wide as the Rio Grandee, a heart as big as the ocean, a love for family that surpassed all understanding….
How does one describe Frances Castillo? She was pure joy on earth. I loved her dearly, even though the miles separated us…She lived in Texas while I was in Michigan.
I remember when my Aunt Carmen was expecting her fourth child, and I was pretty upset with all of those brothers and “boy cousins” that kept crowding my life. Grandma and I decided that we needed to be prayer partners to petition the Lord for a little “girl cousin”. We were both so delighted when LaRee was born…not that we didn’t love the boys, too, but I was definitely outnumbered! Lucky for the two of us that the girls didn’t stop there, as Terry, Dianna, Shelly and Pamela joined “our side” later. We never caught up to the boys, but I’m sure we outshone them in beauty.
I’ll always remember our visits to Texas. What great fun we had “crabbing” in the gulf and pitching a tent on the beach, so Grandpa could stay out of the sun! Those crazy shopping sprees at the Market Place in Mexico will always be tucked in my “memory box”. I loved to watch Grandma & Grandpa dance when we went over to the Mexican night spots…what fun! One special visit was after my graduation from high school, when Grandpa & Grandma played host and hostess for an entire month to my friend Cathy and me. It was fantastic! On our way to Texas, Cathy and I flew “standby” while Grandma & Grandpa flew coach on the same flight. Cathy & I were praying that we wouldn’t get any seats on the same plane, so we could “spread our wings” and fly solo. Little did we know that Grandma & Grandpa were praying that we wouldn’t get “bumped” from their flight, and their prayers had a lot more weight than ours, as Cathy & I wound up in First Class sitting next to the Bishop of Corpus Christi…so much for living the “wild and crazy” life!
Another great memory was my wedding. I remember writing to Grandma to ask what color dress she was going to wear to my wedding, as we wanted to order her flowers to match. Her reply was, “I think I’d like a pink corsage, as I’m going to wear a white dress, and I don’t want anyone mistaking me for the bride! The last thing I want is a wad of rice thrown at me, thank you very much.” Grandma was always good for a laugh.
Of all the memories I have of Grandma Castillo, my most precious will always be her great love of family. Grandma loved people, and her own family topped the list. When Grandpa Castillo was diagnosed with cancer, Grandma did everything she could to keep him comfortable at home. With great love and admiration, my mother told me how she watched my grandmother carry my grandfather from the bedroom to a chair in the living room, so he could be with them when they visited…now that’s love! What a delightful woman she was, and I’m blessed to be able to call her Grandma Castillo! I thank God for blessing me with such wonderful memories of her.
Ralph & Frances Castillo
By Carmen Schultz
I was born April 22, 1935 at home in Detroit, Michigan to Frances Mary Lyon Castillo and Rafael (Ralph) Maria Castillo.
My paternal grandmother, Anna Toros Castillo, a tiny lady (about 4 ft. 4 in. very slender) and wore size 3 spike shoes. She was ¾’s Spanish (spoke only Spanish) and ¼ French and very religious, (Catholic). She had made a promise to God that if her first baby son (who had eaten a poisoned leaf and was seriously ill), was allowed to live, she would call all remainder children born to her Mary in honor of Jesus’ mother. The child lived and the two sons grandma Castillo later had carried the middle name Maria (which is Mary in Spanish). My father’s dad died just before my dad was born so; my dad was raised by a widowed mother and several aunts and uncles.
The doctor who came to the house to deliver me was drunk. My father ended up delivering me into this world himself. Dad, who had quite a temper, not only wouldn’t allow the drunken doctor near my mother but he forcefully threw said doctor out of our home. This is how my life began. My older brother Noel said that after I was born, my mother put me in a laundry basket and than went about finishing the ironing. My people all came from strong stock, and did not believe in pampering themselves.
My brother, Ralph Guy (middle name after my maternal grandfather) was also born at home. His birth date was Jan. 1, 1937. He is 22 months younger than myself and has never let me forget it. We have two older brothers (Noel Michael from my mothers first marriage and Louis Castillo from my fathers first marriage). My father came from Caracas, Venezuela in South America. His English was broken and though intelligent and a hard worker it was difficult for him to get a job so my parents struggled through the first years of their marriage.
This was also during the war when any one with an accent was considered suspect. Slogans like “the slip of the lip may sink a ship” were commonplace and spies were considered everywhere. Naturally if you had an accent-you might be a spy. Although dad was a naturalized citizen and very proud of his new country things were hard for him at this time.
While Bud and I were still babies, my family all moved to Brownsville, Texas where Spanish was spoken and dad thought he’d be better able to support his family. These early stories I have been told by either my mother or father as I was too young to remember them myself. Having no money during the depression, we lived in a tent until my dad got a job. My folks told stories of my dad going out early in the morning to milk pasture cows and us living on that, mixed with day old bread (that was our “cereal” and it was good! Dad also made up something he invented and Mom called Keriokas. This consisted of water, flour and a tiny bit of sugar mixed together. Day old bread was soaked in it and it was fried. I have made this for the grandchildren adding vanilla and they seem to enjoy it sprinkled with sugar. Dad worked the citrus groves until he got enough money to buy a grove of their own. From that they bought several. Mom and Dad sold fruit out of an old truck until they had enough money to rent a store with a little house in the back. They sold mostly fruit and staples (milk, bread, sugar, flour). My father also learned to make jewelry (pierced earrings and necklaces also rosaries). Since dad only had a third grade education and that was in South America, life was difficult for them but it also made us a very close-knit family. My dad worked the orange groves during the day and my mom took care of us and worked the fruit store. At night my dad worked late making jewelry. He than went out in the truck to sell it or mom would sell it in the store. The weather was nice although and we all had our good times. My mother played the guitar and the family loved to sit around together and sing songs or we’d (including my father) listen to her read to us. We’d often go out to the beach for picnics and swimming. My dad was afraid of the water if he couldn’t touch ground. When he was a young teen in South America, he drowned and was thought dead. Some of his young friends took hot needles and stuck them in the back of his neck to try to get him to catch his breath again and sure enough it worked. He carried those needle marks on the back of his neck through life—but he had one. There is much in this world you can enjoy that cost you nothing and brings you close to one another. Our family was good at finding those things.
A bad frost came one year and killed all the fruit trees in the valley. My parents had saved some money so they moved our family back to Michigan. By than dads English was better and he felt he could get a job in the factory until they had enough money to come back to Texas.
Mom and Dad took the little money they had and bought a small house in the town of Fenton, Michigan just a few miles away from Runyan Lake and my grandparents. The house was really very little and because it had not been well kept up, it was fairly inexpensive. The house still took all the money the folks had but they didn’t believe in owing money to anyone so paid cash for everything. The house consisted of one bedroom, a living room, kitchen and tiny bathroom (toilet and shower stall), set back on a corner lot that had until we bought it, been used for dumping trash. There was much work involved in making this place a home. My dad by than having learned a bit more English, got a laborer job in a factory. He was very skilled with his hands and learned precision tooling. During the day he worked in the factory, in the evenings he made jewelry and built onto the house. He added a wide hallway, two more large bedrooms, enlarged the bathroom and put in a tub. He build a breakfast nook off the kitchen, added a workshop and large garage. He did all this having never been trained as a carpenter. He wanted a home for his family and he was going to get one even if he had to do it all himself. They improved the large lot by making a circular drive way, with added evergreen trees along it and flower bushes (my favorite peonies) and plants (gladiolas and tulips) everywhere. We also had one of the best “Victory gardens” in town. Each family that could was encouraged to raise their own food to help in the war effort. There were so many shortages at that time because all the fuel used to have trucks bring food to the stores was now being used for the war. You could buy gas if you had the stamps to go along with it. Each family was allotted a certain amount of stamps for fuel, sugar, coffee, butter and things like that. Nylons were almost impossible to get because the material was used for parachutes. When your stamps were gone you could no longer buy these things even if you had the money. You would save your grease from bacon or pork etc in cans and turn it in. We made extra money by collecting coke bottles and turning them in. We all helped in the garden and, since there wasn’t insecticides, we kids were given a penny for every twenty bugs picked off the garden plants. We’d carry along a tin can with oil in it to throw the bugs in and later to be counted. I personally killed thousands of potato bugs by the time I was seven. This was big money to us (candy was three for a penny and candy bars were 5 cents). Comic books were a dime and you were something if you had any of them and I had several. With much work our home became considered one of the nicest homes in the little town of Fenton and our neighbors all respected this man with his broken English and his hard working family. A magazine came out and took pictures of our home showing what could be done with what everyone had considered a shack and dump area. Our house had been converted into a lovely place and we were all very proud of the work our family had done. My dad continued to work in the factory and sell his jewelry.
Mom read him an advertisement in the paper about learning to build and repair radios at home and he decided he wanted to learn this. Radios were mostly large pieces of furniture and all “modern” families had ONE. Since dad couldn’t read, he enrolled in a home study course that taught radio repair and my mother read everything to him. Dad learned this way and received his graduate certificate in record time. By now mother also had learned quite a bit about repairing radios as well. He was known as one of the best radio repairmen in his field, doing all work from his workshop at home or making service calls. People from Flint and Detroit would bring their radios to him or with the larger radios he’d make house calls. He did all this while still working at the factory.
It wasn’t all work though and we enjoyed one another very much. After we had dinner together (this was always a must in our household), the family would gather in the living room for mother to read a book to us, Black Beauty, Swiss Family Robinson, the classics. Reading was very important in our family, which is why I believe I love it so much to this day. We’d play baseball in the street out front with our friends, or hide and seek in the neighborhood. Most families sat out in their front yards in the evening so there were always adults watching over the children. There was no television, or air conditioning. Our windows were left open and there were no locks on our doors. The only thing we ever worried about getting in, were the mosquitoes or flies. On Sundays after church, we kids would lay down in front of our huge wooden radio—with the funny paper spread out on the floor. We’d listen to the commentator read the funnies to us. Just before bed, and only if we had finished our schoolwork, we could listen to the “Green Hornet”. Dad and mom were very serious about our grades and it was very important to them that each of their children graduated. Mom was the only one in her family to have graduated from high school and this was impressed on the children that education was extremely important.
These were wonderful days for us. As children we had the best of everything, summers with grandma at Runyan Lake, and being back in town during school season with all our class-mates. We were given a wonderful childhood.
When we moved up from the Valley, I was 6 and too old for kindergarten. My parents put me right in the first grade. I missed going to kindergarten, and was very upset because the kindergarten in Fenton had a small round colorfully tiled fish pond in the center of the class room with a two foot wall also tiled. The children could sit and watch huge (six to twelve inches long) beautiful sunfish swimming around. There was an area with chairs for the reading or being read to. I was enchanted by it and by the teacher who smiled at me each day as I walked pass it to my first grade class. After school she would let me come in to see the fish or to see the pictures that the class had painted. I liked first grade but when I got to second grade I had a difficult time. I was very, very shy, I stuttered and I was very unsure of myself. My teacher would insist that I get up to read in front of the class. This made my stuttering more pronounced and I became the laughing stock of the class. I stayed back that year watching all my friends move on to the third grade. I didn’t want to come back to school and my mother had a difficult time getting me to go. The first day back I left a recess and came home, which caused an uproar. Than something wonderful happened—we got a new second grade teacher.
She thought I was just the smartest thing in the world (or so I thought). She had me help the other children; allowed me to do special things for her and instead of reading to the whole class she said I could come in after school and read just to her. There would always be one or two children that had detention after class. I didn’t mind that because I was reading to “My” teacher, not the class. I was no longer afraid to get up in front of people to read, I was no longer stuttering and I wasn’t being laughed at. I was the helper and I did my job well. What a wonderful teacher that was, and how she under took to help a little shy girl by making her someone special. School after that was my favorite place—that is next to vacations at Runyan Lake and reading was my very favorite thing to do next to swimming or being with my friends at the lake.
Although we were very happy here in Fenton, the cold weather got to us and it was more expensive to live in the north so the folks saved up enough money to go back to Brownsville, Texas. We traveled there in a brand new stake truck the folks had just bought and our old Chevrolet. My brother Noel and his new bride, Willie and their new baby, Michael waved to us as we set off and it was exciting to be going somewhere new and wild but it was also sad because we were leaving so many wonderful memories and people that we dearly loved. My brother Noel and his family wanted to come down with us and my family wanted them too but they also knew we were going to really rough it which wouldn’t be good for the baby.
On our way down to Brownsville, there was a bad accident in which a man in a car behind our truck, rammed into the back of the truck and I don’t know if he was seriously hurt or killed but we had to stay in this town for a few days until everything got straightened out. Bud was about 12 and hit his head on the windshield pretty bad. Years and years later they found us down in Brownsville and paid Bud a sum of money to sign off, saying he wouldn’t sue because he had been injured in the accident. We continued our trip buying wood on the way (as wood was cheaper in the north) to build a new house. The folks had bought two and a half acres of land way out in the country the year before. There were cows and horses roaming on our property—nobody for miles and miles lived near us. There were many trees and much cactus to clear. We kids and parents alike did all the clearing of the land. My mother, dad, grandmother, brother Ralph and I first lived in the stake truck. My grandmother and folks slept in the bed of the truck and my brother and I slept under it. My grandmother cooked on a campfire and we all bathed in the lake. Dad first built the outhouse, which is an outdoor bathroom. I hated it and I would wait until I was at school before I would use the bathroom. We children started school right away but came home immediately after to help. My dad, with the entire family helping, built a small shed. Although I was 13, I helped my dad holding up the wood and could hammer a pretty straight nail. My brother Bud would be doing the same thing with my mother. I was afraid of heights so I would start up the ladder and my dad would come up right behind me so that his arms were holding me to the ladder. I could go up and come down this way. Once I was on the roof, I had no problem as long as I stayed close to the center of the flat roof. My brother Bud on the other hand was a dare devil and climbed like a monkey. He was not afraid of anything and drove me and my parents crazy watching that he’d not kill himself during some of his adventures. Whatever I did well, he did excellent, whether it was climbing a tree or riding a horse. We moved into the shed before we got the floor all in. It was funny because my grandmother insisted that her bed be put on a floor so there was flooring only in her area of the room until we got things under way. This was a lot better than the truck or the ground under the truck. The shed had two windows, was big enough for one double size bed for my parents, one twin size bed for my grandmother and two hammocks hung across the room for my brother and myself. There was also a stove and a refrigerator. We strung curtains on wires across the room, separating my parent’s bed, our hammocks and my grams bed. During the day we rolled and tied the hammocks up against the wall and pulled back the curtains. This gave us a full room with the beds used as chairs now. I learned the hard way to be sure to shake out the hammocks each night before we got in them. Scorpions liked to crawl in and if we didn’t shake them out boy would we get stung when we laid on top of them. I got a couple pretty painful stings before I learned that lesson. One of the funniest things that happened at that time is when mother forgot to shake out her dress before putting it on. A couple scorpions had gotten in the dress and boy did that dress come off fast once they started stinging her. A lot of excitement that day!! We ate outside when it was nice, sitting on the ground—adults sitting on folding chairs. My gram was so glad to now to have a stove to use. What a great cook she was. What a great person!! Bud and I would haul water every morning and every evening to wash ourselves, and our dishes. Later my dad fixed up a pump that brought the water to us from the lake. My parents would go to the gas station and fill up big bottles for our drinking water but that was precious and used sparingly. We started on the big house right away. My dad taught everyone to be very careful and look before we picked anything up as it was quite wild out on our land and he was afraid we’d got into trouble with either snakes or black widows. We became very good at knowing what a widows web felt like and protecting ourselves against other problems.
In the evening Bud and I had to do our home work and we could listen to the radio at that time but during the day after school, we had to work at helping my parents build the big house. It consisted of three large bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, pantry, living room, workshop and a dinning room. We had a built in bookcase (which I found out years later was because my dad had got mad and put his fist through the wall and my mother told him I was going to know what he had done) so he built a bookshelf to cover up the hole he had made. We also had a linen closet (with a hidden space underneath) a large shelved walk in pantry and windows everywhere. It took us almost a year to build the big house because it had to be done only by the family and only when we had enough money for more supplies. During all that time we lived in the shed and slept quite comfortably in our hammocks. Bud and I had to haul water from the lake for the cement when the pump went out. The floors of the house were hard wood floors and we had to sand them down very fine. This was also our job. It was time consuming and tedious. This job I hated. The house was built on large cement blocks every few feet with metal poles coming out of each so that two by four frames could be screwed on solid. This would keep the house up off the ground when there were floods. The house had a slant roof and by this time dad could afford to pay a helper to help him shingle so I didn’t have to go up on the roof. Last of all we built our front porch. The flooring of the porch was all cement and part of the binding on the porch before the cement was pored was mom and dad’s old bed springs from their old bed. We all laughed about this hidden secret the family knew about. We screened the porch and it was a favorite part of the house in the evening time. We could see the world go by and enjoy being together.
Bud and I would do our home-work in the big house even though it wasn’t completed yet. We would lie on the floor and have our books and paper all around us. I really loved this house because we had built it ourselves and I was proud of my parents, my brother and myself because of this big accomplishment. How many other families can say that they built their own home by themselves.
Grandma Lyon was getting older now and decided to move up to Flint, Michigan to be with my brother Noel and his wife Willie and, help them with their new family. Gram had gone through the hardest part of with us and was off to new adventures. We missed her terribly.
My mother who had been a secretary before she and my father married, decided to go back to work now that we children were in school. My dad was not in favor of this as he was of the old school believing a man bought home the bacon and the woman stayed at home and cared for the family. None the less, she went to work as secretary to twin brothers who owned the Model laundry, and worked there until she was in her late fifties. Later mom worked as secretary for the F. A. A. (Federal Aviation Air Control) in the control tower at the airport.
Dad first worked at the airport (again precision work) making parts to airplane engines. That company went under so he got a job at a blue jean company fixing their sewing machines and also sewing blue jeans. He always made sure that he got off work at five so that we could be a family and do family things. Dinner was very important because it was our time to discuss what happened during the day.
Because the folks were both working now we had a maid that took care of the house and did the washing, ironing and cooking. Our maid was always an illegal because my folks felt they needed to work more than anyone else. Our maid got paid $25 to $30 a week and lived in. This meant that we provided her and her family with home, food and clothes plus the $25 or $30 a week. This was very good money than. They could speak only Spanish, which was all right because we remembered how hard it had been for my dad when he couldn’t speak much English. At the same time Bud and I sure learned Spanish quickly this way. The first maid we had was very little and quite old. We called her “Tia”, which means aunt in Spanish. She and “her” little girl lived with us. Dad had converted the shed into the maid’s room by now so they had separate quarters from the family. We knew the little girl wasn’t really hers as Tia was about 65 and the little girl, Amparo was only 3 or 4. This happens in Mexico. When a woman finds a good job in the United States, a poorer family will give her their child to raise. This way the child gets well cared for. My parents eventually put Amparo through college.
These are some of the things I remember about my life at home with a loving, hard working family. I couldn’t have been cared for more and was until the day they died. The thing I remember most about my mom and dad was that they looked up to each other. My dad thought my mother was the most intelligent, loving person in the world and my mother felt my father could do anything and was eager to show everyone his accomplishments. By each of them feeling that way about the other, they accomplished much more than they otherwise would have. To their children they felt we could do anything we set our minds on and we felt that they respected us as individuals. We were taught that if we wanted to be president and worked toward that goal, we would accomplish it. That’s a good thing to give a child—security and a pride in ones self to accomplish their hearts desire. My parents did well, and I know they would be very proud of their children and their children’s children etc. I want my grandchildren and loved ones to know about Rafael Maria Castillo and Frances Mary Lyon Castillo because they were very special and I am very, very proud of them!