Elena was probably the most colorful of my daddy's sisters. Everyone in the family said she was the spitting image of Aunt Bec. Well, I never knew Aunt Bec and don't have a clue if she was or wasn't. And then I finally came along and everyone, including Elena said I looked just like Aunt Bec. Which must of meant I looked like Elena in her childhood and youth.
Aunt Elena had married a Jew, by the name of Dave Leon. Uncle Dave operated restaurants in the San Francisco bay area called "Hofbrau", which I was always told was German for house of beer. And as I grew older it always intrigued me that a Jew would own and operate restaurants that had German beer steins for decorations. His restaurants were featured as background shots in several hit TV series in the 1970's. But i digress for now.
Uncle Dave was a millionaire back when it really meant something to be one. So, though their home was in Oakland, CA, Aunt Elena traveled the world playing in bridge tournaments. When in Vegas she had stayed at the Hilton, which back then (Elvis era) was the most expensive and extravagant place in Vegas. $400.00 a night for a room! On one of her trips overseas to tour and to play, she sent me a Seiko watch from Hong Kong. Probably much cheaper there than here. Still it was a new and novel thing here, with it's self-winding movement.
Now what made Aunt Elena so special was, even with all of this, she was still a little country girl from a cotton farm at heart. While I was growing up, she'd book a flight from California about once a year, swing by Vegas and pick up her sister, Mitzie, and come to Livingston for a week or so. That's where Aunt R.A. and her husband Doc lived and they had a big house, with lots of yard on the outskirts of town.
The sisters arrival in Texas would create a spontaneous family reunion. Which would bring every free and surviving member of the family from Galveston, Cleveland and Silsbee to Livingston. And the fun would begin!! Aunt RA and the girls would cook like crazy and the whole family would keep a constant 42 tournament going around the dining room table. Aunt Elena would keep a flow of pies and cakes coming from a local restaurant. Awesome fun for a young girl. Cousins to hang with. Crochet in the yard. Walks down a shady country lane. Side visits out to Aunt Meryl's house or to cousin Ann's. It was like where ever Elena and Mitzie were the party was on!! Always non-alcoholic.
Now Elena was on of the girls that always had a soft spot for my daddy, as he had sent his service pay home when he was in WWII and while the girls were still younger, he'd take them to the picture show, pay their way in and then sit on the sidewalk himself, talking to passersby. Elena never forgot it. So, when I came along late in Daddy's life, she would try to spoil me rotten, to pay back what Daddy had done for her so long ago.
I remember one time in particular. I was about 8. Elena and Mitzie came on down to our house on Cooks Road. And Elena took me shopping all over Silsbee. Bought me outfit after outfit, but most memorable she bought me a powder blue silk pajama set, matching quilted silk robe and powder blue slippers with fake ostrich feathers across the toes!! I thought I was a fairy princess!!!
As soon as they got into Texas, the girls would start plotting how they'd get daddy's produce from his garden home to Vegas and California. Especially after daddy planted some seed from an especially sweet cantaloupe mama had bought and it reverted back to an old-timey mush melon. Mitzie would smuggle them into carry on luggage. While Elena would have them shipped by Greyhound bus.
My teen years came. Daddy was sick with cancer. I'll never know how many medical bills Aunt Elena paid for her working class brother. And she sent Mama bags and bags of clothes by Greyhound. She knew mama was frugal, but she also could of never let Clayon's family suffer.
The summer between my 8th grade year and my Freshman year, Elena talked my bedridden daddy into letting me to go out to California with her and my cousin Tommy. They had driven down that time in Tommy's Pinto. Daddy gave his blessing and off I went. I rode shotgun in the Pinto and Elena was stretched out sideways in the backseat with bonbons, magazines and crossword puzzle books. It took one whole day to get across Texas to El Paso. My first time to see that you can see lights miles away, as there were no pines to block the view. Spent the night in a hotel with a pool and I thought I had it made.
Then on our way again bright and early. Remember stopping at a dinner in the middle of the desert where there were many big rigs parked all around. Then in Phoenix Arizona, nothing would do but that we stop and shop some Indian turquoise. I picked out a ring that Elena bought for me. Next destination was Vegas and Aunt Mitzie and Uncle Joe's trailer. Now this was no ordinary trailer. Extremely nice trailer house for the day in an exclusive trailer house community outside Vegas. Cement patio and carport, awnings. Uncle Joe Rizzo dealt black jack at a local casino and Mitzie was a keno girl. They never gambled. But they made sure I was done up to look much older than my 15 years and whisked me into several casinos to play the slot machines and blackjack machines. While there we caught Roger Miller's lounge show. My first of anything like that. He was funny and entertaining enough. For those that don't know, he was probably most well known for "King of the Road."
Elvis was due in for a show and plans were made for us to come back to Vegas to take that in before I returned to Texas.
In Oakland I met my cousin Clara for the first time. We toured Berkley College, rode the Bart railway that ran under the bay to between Oakland and San Fransisco. Spent a day a fisherman's wharf. Did the crookedest street in the world. Road on the trolley cars. There we were with an old drunken sailor that insisted on talking to me. Seems everywhere we went, as soon as I opened my mouth, people wanted to talk to me. My Texas accent. We also went to stores and shopped and shopped. Especially for formals. Elana bought me enough formals to last through High School. And always we stopped in to eat at one of Uncle Dave's Hofbrau's. At my age I was especially smitten with the fresh baked French bread and the barrel rootbeer on tap. Usually ordering either beef or shrimp (prawns) at every meal on Friday as we dined with Uncle Dave he insisted that I try the halibut. Which turned out to be delicious. Only later on as I got older and understood more did I realize it was his religious heritage that caused Uncle Dave to insist that I eat the fish that Friday.
I had Clara's old room for my room during my stay. Plush and nice beyond anything I had ever known. My own TV. My own FM radio. And each night on his way home from work, Uncle Dave would stop in a special ice cream shop and bring to my room a hot fudge Sundae. I gained about 25 lbs on that little trip!
Then my cousin in Texas, Linda who was getting married, asked me to be a bridesmaid and I had to leave too soon to stay and see Elvis. Little did I know I'd never have another chance to see the King. Aunt Elena put me on board a 747 at San Francisco loaded down with souvenirs for all my friends back home. Take off had us almost immediately over the ocean, then a long arching left turn headed us to Texas. I road home next to a supposed oilman and his son. I have never in all my life seen anything that looked as lovely as all the green that popped up below us before we landed in Houston. I had been too busy to even know how homesick I had been.
Then I marry Pete. Expecting Bubba, I of course let her in on the good news that Daddy had a namesake coming. Elena sent me a check for $500.00 just to make sure I had everything the baby needed. Later, as a toddler, Elena and Bubba did cross paths a couple of times. How I wish they all could of been younger...or lived longer... so that you both could know what a special family you came from.