Category Archives: Familia

Birth Stories – Teresa Lynn 1959

Caption on the back of this photo: Flying on Air Cambodge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh – 4 weeks – March 16, 1959 / photo taken by my dad, Praxedis S. Zuniga using a Leica camera

Do you know the story about the day you were born?  I always thought I knew mine but the older I get the more I realize I don’t have the complete story…just bits and pieces of it that my mother has shared with me and that I’ve been able to piece together including photos my father took.  We probably always think we will have time to get the complete story too.  But I am realizing more and more that I need to capture these stories and many other stories soon and get them down on paper, as they say.

Recently, my mother and I went to lunch and she shared a little more with me about the weeks before and after I was born in Bangkok, Thailand in 1959.  Over lunch, she began with the usual story about how the nurses at the hospital in Bangkok were extremely curious about the woman who gave birth to a baby that weighed almost 9 pounds!  Obviously, this wasn’t normal for a Thai woman so they were naturally curious about what my American mother looked like!  Mom figured they were expecting to see an elephant! That part of the story always gave me a laugh.  This has also been the main story that I’ve always heard until this particular day.

Mom began her story by mentioning a place called The American Club in Bangkok, Thailand.  Over the years I’ve heard about this place and I’ve even seen notations about The American Club on the backs of numerous photos that my father took during this time.  Mom was always great about noting the date and location, who was in the photo and sometimes even a cute caption on dad’s photos.  My recollection was that The American Club was an extended stay hotel in Bangkok where they stayed on occasion.  But I found out that it was so much more. 

Mom and dad were living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the time where dad worked.  Dad, a civil engineer, was working on a government project called The Friendship Highway during the late 1950s.  The story I remember is the Cambodian government built an American compound to house all the Americans that came overseas to work on this project.  (My parents met and married in Cambodia in 1958 but that’s a story I’ll save for another time!)  Once my mother was pregnant with me, she planned to deliver in Bangkok so she had to travel by plane from Phnom Penh with her mother during her 8th month of pregnancy and checked into The American Club to await my arrival.  Dad remained in Cambodia until closer to my birth date.

When mom told me this part of the story, it gave me the opportunity to ask her about The American Club.  I mean, what exactly was this place?  I wanted to know more.  The story goes that a man named Silas owned the Club.  He apparently saved the King of Thailand from being assassinated.  To repay Silas, the King gave him a house that had belonged to the Queen of Thailand.  At some point in time, the Queen had the house in addition to cottages on the grounds where her ladies in waiting resided.  I don’t know if the house was still in use by the Queen when all of this happened.  But Silas took the house and converted it into a hotel where he lived full time.  The house/hotel became an extended stay type of place for Americans in transit due to work in Thailand during this time.  I’ve done some online searches to see if I can find out more about this story and The American Club but to date nothing has popped up.  I’m determined to find something though and will update this story when I do!

So, my mother and grandmother set up residence at The American Club awaiting my birth.  Mom said she had everything she needed at the hotel.  The meals were family style so everyone got to know one another although if a resident preferred to go to their room they could.  I joked with mom that it sounded kind of like a commune!  She laughed and said it was a very comfortable place to be during this time.

Eventually, my dad joined mom as my due date grew closer.  I was born February 17, 1959 and after I was released from the hospital, my first home was The American Club!  There are so many photos of me with my parents during this time with the caption, “The American Club.”  I began piecing this part of my birth story together in Bangkok together through these photos.  Finally, at four weeks old, mom and dad were finally able to take me back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  I couldn’t fly sooner because planes were not pressurized during this time period so newborns were not allowed to fly.

Then there’s the icing on mom’s story that day.  It happened a few years later while I was looking through some old black and white photos that I have from this time period.  There was one photo that captivated me.  It was a photo my dad took of my mother feeding me a bottle on a Royal Air Cambodge plane as we returned to Bangkok.  The date was March 16, 1959 when I was 4 weeks old.  I could never quite figure out what this photo was about even though mom wrote on the back, “flying on Air Cambodge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh.”  Maybe it was the angle of the photo – dad took it from overhead so he was obviously standing over us at the time.  But I needed my mother to put the story in context for it to finally made sense.  It’s such a sweet photo…

I have a few observations from this story and these photos…

  • I love that my dad was with my mom and me for a month after I was born in Bangkok.  I’m sure that wasn’t normal for a father to be around for this length of time in 1959! 
  • I also love that The American Club was such a great refuge for my mom and dad during this time.  They developed friendships with many of these people according to mom. 
  • I want to find out more about this place and the story of Silas and the King.  The story has to be out there! 
  • The photos of me as an infant make more sense now…mom and dad weren’t at their own home during this time…I always thought they were!  Instead, they were at The American Club. 
  • Finally…I can’t get over the fact that my mother was all of 21 years old through all of this! 

I’m so happy to have more details about the time surrounding my birth and it makes me more aware that my own children might want more details about their birth stories at some point.  So, I’ve already begun writing those for future blog posts.  I can’t wait to share them.

Life is Just a Box of Whitman’s Chocolates

Have you bought your heavily discounted Valentine’s candy yet?  It’s always so tempting to stock up right after a major holiday, isn’t it? 

The week after Christmas, I was at Walgreens picking up some cold meds when I walked down their Christmas aisle.  Of course, all of the seasonal items were half off or more.  A bargain hunters dream!  I glanced at everything as I walked down the aisle but didn’t really see anything I couldn’t live without until my eyes landed on a box of candy.  Not just any candy, mind you…but a Whitman’s Sampler box!

So, what’s so special about a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates?  I mean, I this girl loves Fannie Mae chocolate candies – I was seriously addicted to this candy when I lived in Chicago – and I won’t turn down Godiva chocolates either.  But I’ve always had a special place in my heart for a Whitman’s Sampler.  It was the first box of candy I ever received at the age of five… and it came from my father.  As a little girl, that’s something you never forget.

I was in kindergarten in Beltsville, Maryland.  The kindergarten classes were putting on a performance for the school and parents and I got picked to sing a solo!  The song was “All Night, All Day (Angels Watching Over Me),” and my class would also sing along during certain parts of the song.  I was so excited about getting to sing this song.  Once I got this solo, I would sing it at the top of my lungs at home and every other chance I got.  My teacher, Mrs. Flannagan, practiced with me in our classroom too.  I remember she had an old-fashioned upright piano in our classroom.  It reminded me of a player piano.  In fact, it might have been!  I loved that song and I was so ready to sing it on the day of our show.

The morning of our show, my dad told me he might not be able to make it to my performance.  He said he would try but he wasn’t sure it would be possible.  I was disappointed, of course.  It’s not easy for a five-year-old to understand that her father has to work and a kindergarten performance isn’t a priority.  I hoped he would be there but of course, as they say, “the show must go on.”  So, when it was time for my solo, I walked up to the front of the stage and hesitated for a few moments.  I looked across the auditorium to see if I could see my dad.  It was as if I was delaying the start of the song to make sure he had time to get there.  But of course, I had to start singing, so I did, never really knowing if he heard me or not.  But I sang like he did…

After our show, I found out that my dad wasn’t there.  Of course, I was terribly disappointed.  Once I got home and my dad arrived from work, he apologized for missing my singing debut.  I was still a little upset but then, he handed me a box of Whitman’s chocolates.  Needless to say, dad got a huge hug and was quickly forgiven.  A whole box of candy to a five-year-old was simply the best!  And while Whitman’s has a description of what type of chocolates you are getting on the inside of the box lid….as a five-year-old I chose a different way of identifying them.  I smashed each candy right in the middle to see if it was something that looked appealing to me!  Honestly, they were all pretty appealing to me!

So, after Christmas, I bought that box of candy and I’ve enjoyed sampling these wonderful chocolates since then.  Each bite is a memory.   My favorite flavor?  The orange cream dark chocolate, followed by the vanilla cream.  And naturally I get to enjoy them twice since this box has two layers!  But the best part?  Reliving the memory of why I love a box of Whitman’s candy so much and maybe even smashing a piece or two like I did when I was five. 

Conversations with Lucy

Lucy’s first photo as an Odom

Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen. – Orphan Pamuk

Have you ever just looked at your dog and knew she understood what you were saying to her?  Does she sit and listen to you talk to her as long as it takes for you to get whatever it is out of your system?  Does she jump up on you and paw at you when she sees you crying and try to comfort you?  Is she at your ankles the minute your feet hit the floor in the mornings?  My Lucy does all this and more…

About 12 years ago, I went to get my hair cut and my hair stylist Jan was trying to find homes for the puppies her dog had just had.  She said to me, “Teresa, you have to take one of these puppies!”  I wasn’t so sure if this was such a great idea.  I knew the kids wanted a dog and they were old enough to help with one, but I wasn’t so sure about my husband Eddie.  Jan had a polaroid photo of the puppies and gave it to me.  I took it reluctantly and placed it on the console of my car.  Then I left the salon and headed over to the high school to pick up my youngest, Emily.  She got in the car and immediately saw the photo and exclaimed, “Are we getting a dog??!!!”  I said I wasn’t sure and she started getting excited and began begging, “please, please, please!!!!” 

When we got home, we showed the photo to Eddie and he just looked at me and said “no,” but the idea of a puppy was growing on me.  Charlie and Anna Marie saw the photo and began getting excited about a puppy.  I slept on it and then the next day I contacted Jan and I said I would take the black and white female.  I didn’t run it by Eddie…I just went to the salon and got her!  We named her Lucy after the Sandra Bullock character in “While You Were Sleeping.”  My kids love that movie and for the longest time thought Sandra Bullock was my sister, their Aunt Kanista!

The kids were great…at first.  Homework and sports and choir and band activities eventually got in the way and before you knew it, I was the one taking care of Lucy.  Eddie refused because the kids were supposed to walk her and feed her but when they wouldn’t, it fell to me.  Before we knew it, she became MY dog.  When they would try to take her for a walk, she would run to me so “we” could go.  She would sleep on top of the couch cushion to be near me.  And she began her habit of staying at my ankles. 

Of course, as the kids left home, she only gotten closer to me.  She knows which garage door is mine and when she hears it open, she waits for me by the kitchen door.  She positions herself in the house so she can see where I am at all times.  No way can I get away from her unless she is sound asleep.  She loves making Starbucks runs with me and getting her puppuchino.  In turn, she knows when we are headed to the vet and shivers with anxiety when she realizes we aren’t going to Starbucks! 

And now with Eddie retired, we have our new routines…the three of us.  Lucy gets upset when Eddie is in the family room and I’m in the kitchen.  She wants me in there and she wants Eddie gone!  She pesters him until he gets up and heads to the basement which is hysterical to me.  We realized that one night and just laughed so hard about it.  But when I went back to work briefly this fall, Eddie took over walking her every morning and she loved that.  He kept the door to the basement open so she could join him if she got scared, especially during a thunderstorm.  She gets scrambled eggs and cheese in the mornings when Eddie cooks breakfast and she sulks when we eat cereal or something else.  She still gets cheese on those days.

Several years ago, I started posting photos of Lucy on social media with captions and using the hashtag “conversations with Lucy.”  I received so many comments from friends and family saying it sounded just like something Lucy would be saying to me.  These days, she knows when she sees me coming at her with my phone that this means a bit of photography torture for her.  She goes all Greta Garbo on me and wants to be left alone.  But I persist until she poses and lets me get the shot.  Believe me, she is amply rewarded for this minor inconvenience! 

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These days, she is slowing down a bit.  We know she was born sometime around Thanksgiving and she will be 12 years old this year.  Somedays she is like the little puppy we brought home, especially when we are chasing each other around the house.  I don’t know who gets worn out quicker, Lucy or me!  And last year she had a few health problems that worried me and made me think about what life would be like without her.  Her eyesight is getting a little iffy and Eddie says she can’t hear that well anymore.  But then I open a bag of chips and she’s right there ready to share!  

Lucy may have started out as our family pet but she became mine and has been mine for a long time.  I think back to that day I went to get my haircut and I really believe me saying yes to this puppy was because God knew I needed this comfort in my life for the things to come ahead.  Some may say that I rescued her but in reality, she rescued me that day. 

God gave us dogs because he knew we’d need guardian angels we could hug.

Remembering Thanksgiving 2019

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy.  They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

Today I was looking through photos from last year’s Thanksgiving celebration at my house.  We sure had a houseful of family over and I couldn’t have been more pleased.  I remember having the head count finalized (or so I thought) several days before Thanksgiving and every day Eddie would tell me two more people were coming.  I think he thought I was getting irritated but I was secretly delighted.  I love a full house during the holidays, especially Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving has always been that holiday for me that was most special.  I mean, what could be better than tons of food, pie, wine and family and friends hanging out all afternoon?  It’s a carryover from my mother and how she would prepare for Thanksgiving each year when I was growing up.  Back when we lived in Chicago, it would be our immediate family, my grandparents (mom’s parents) and then mom would invite several of her friends over so they would have family to be with.  The joke was that if mom heard of someone on the street corner that didn’t have a place to eat turkey, she would invite them over!  Once my parents moved to Alabama, this became the gathering place and then when Eddie and I built our house in Hoover, our home became the place we would celebrate.  It was the one time every year when my parents and my sisters with their husbands and kids were all together.  As our families grew and the kids grew up, it was more difficult to get everyone together here in Alabama and my sisters began having their own family celebrations in their home states.  Times change and we have to change with them…

Brother-in-law Terry (TO) with daughters Kate and TJ and grandson Cooper

When I think about our Zuniga-Odom Thanksgiving last year, I can see changes coming once again.  My brother-in-law, Terry has permanently moved to Orange Beach this year.  Just recently, his daughter Kate, along with hubby David and their son, Cooper have moved near Terry.  And even more recently, daughter TJ and hubby Matt are planning a move to Pensacola.  Taking the annual “cousin” picture is getting a little more difficult.  I know we will all get together for holidays in the future but it will take a little more planning!  

Having my sister, Kanista home for Thanksgiving last year felt like old times.

Thinking back to last year…it was just so perfect.  The weather was beautiful and we all enjoyed being outside. We spread out around four rooms in the house and the adult kids ended up around the table on the deck and had a great time.  I even tried out two new recipes on the family, which is something that I don’t typically tackle!  My cranberry sauce and corn souffle were well received, much to my pleasure! In addition to the Odom/Harkins/O’Reilly families being present, I was so happy to have my baby sister, Kanista and her husband Ken with us too.  That was the icing on the cake for me personally.  My favorite memory though is of my super sweet helper, great-nephew Samuel, who made it his mission to make sure every family member filled out a leaf for the Thankful Tree.  

Change is inevitable and I see it happening more and more in our family.  Holidays are changing too and I’m trying to be flexible!  Traditions will change too but the thing that gives me hope is when I hear my children talk about wanting to maintain certain traditions that they’ve been a part of or shift them slightly to make sure they continue.  This makes my heart happy. 

But for a few moments today, I want to remember Thanksgiving 2019 and all the family that gathered together and what a special day that was.  So thankful to have these wonderful memories…especially this year.

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Santa’s Snack Set

The Santa Snack Set I bought in 1994 for my three children

In 1994, I found the cutest little Santa Snack Set.  It was perfect.  The set included a mug and little plate for Santa so my kids could leave him cookies and milk on Christmas Eve.  It also contained a pencil that had “For Santa with Love” written on it along with a cute little note pad with an etching of Santa feeding one of his reindeer. 

At the time I bought the set, Charlie was 5, Anna Marie was 3 and Emily was seven months old.  In fact, it was Emily’s first Christmas that year.  I couldn’t wait for the kids to use the cup and plate that year.  We got home early that evening after Christmas Eve mass at Prince of Peace where Charlie was a shepherd along with many other little boys during the Children’s Christmas Eve Mass, or, as we always affectionately called it, “Screaming Baby Mass!”  Seriously though, it was always so sweet to see all the babies there and of course every 10 minutes or so, you’d see a dad carrying one of the screaming babies out to the lobby! 

After dinner that night, the kids got into their Christmas pjs.  One of our family traditions was (still is) wearing new Christmas pajamas.  Then, right before heading upstairs to go to sleep, Anna Marie and Charlie picked out the perfect rice Krispy squares with sprinkles and put them on the Santa plate and I poured a little bit of milk into the mug.  They were so excited about giving Santa something to eat and they both loved rice Krispy treats so that was their choice that night.  Then like children all over the world, they went to bed dreaming of what Santa would bring them that night.

The next morning, they awoke to wonderful surprises but what they weren’t expecting was a response from Santa!  They noticed some crumbs on the plate so they just knew Santa had eaten the rice Krispy squares they left and the milk was all gone too!  Then they saw a letter next to the plate.  Santa had written them a letter!  Mama had to read it to them and it said:

Dear Charlie, Anna Marie and Emily – Thank you for the rice krispie squares with sprinkles.  They were delicious!  Rudolph liked them too!  I hope you will make them for me again next year!  Charlie – enjoy your Sega with Sonic the Hedgehog.  Anna Marie – have fun playing with your new doll house, and Emily – have a ball with your bumble ball!  Merry Christmas, Love, Santa Claus

Santa’s first letter to my kids in 1994.

The kids were so excited that Santa wrote to them.  And this is how a tradition started.  The next year, the kids left Santa a snack and he wrote them a letter and addressed each of them individually in it.  Then in 1997, the kids decided to write their own letters to Santa.  They were so cute – of course for Emily I wrote what she wanted to say in a Christmas card for Santa.

Charlie’s card (the exact way he wrote it) – Dear Santa – I hope I down’t get a lump of coel.  I hopw it dusnt rain.  I hope you have a good chrismas.  Love, Charlie

Anna Marie’s card – Dear Santa, I know about giving but there is something that is special.  Jesus’ birthday.

Emily’s card (as dictated to me) – Dear Santa, I love Santa and you love me and my sister and brother.  Thank you for the presents Santa!  You can eat the cookies after when we go to sleep.  Love, Emily

From that year through 2004, I don’t know who was more excited about the letters… me and Eddie, or the kids!  Sometimes the kids would ask some pretty tough questions in their letters too.  In 1998, Charlie had been involved in a classroom project for kids at Gateway City.  It really impacted him and in his letter to Santa he said, “I have a question for you.  Why can’t you go to the gate way city and give them a good Christmas.”  Of course, I read that around 1 in the morning after Eddie and I finished putting gifts around the tree and making sure everything had batteries and was put together!  Those were the good ole days…  I was pretty exhausted when I read their letters and got ready to reply, but I had to work on a reply that would be meaningful to Charlie.  So, in Santa’s response “he” said, “Your question about the kids at Gateway City is interesting.  It is important to remember that giving someone a good Christmas doesn’t always mean giving presents.  Some gifts don’t come in packages – some gifts are acts of kindness.  Like the kind things you and your classmates did for the Gateway families.  I hope that what I give to children is the “spirit of giving” so they will want to share with the less fortunate.  That is the true spirit of Christmas.  I hope that answers your question, Charlie.”  These types of questions from the kids always made my heart swell.  It was through these letters that felt they were really understanding the meaning of Christmas.

The letters stopped after 2004.  Emily was 10 years old and of course, Anna Marie (13) and Charlie (15) would write their letters to keep the tradition going for Emily’s sake.  It was such a sweet thing for them to do.  And “Santa” would always respond to each of them.  It was actually an opportunity for their mother to interject a few things as though they were coming from Santa!  But Santa’s last letter was to all three of my children together where he ended it by saying, “You Odom kids be good this coming year.  This means helping more around the house, making good grades and always doing your best.  I know you won’t let me down!  Now…have a wonderful Christmas vacation!  And don’t forget that I’ll be watching! 

Love, Santa… 

What Not to Do with a Chainsaw

Eddie, the night of November 3rd, after returning from the emergency room after a chainsaw accident.

It was Tuesday, November 3rd and I left work at 3:30 p.m. to head to Hoover to vote.  I was on Highway 280, about to get on to I-459 when I got a text from my husband, Eddie.  It was 3:43 p.m.

Eddie:  Where are you?

Me:  About to get on I-459 to go vote

Eddie:  Ok, where is the First aid kit. 

Me: (thinking to myself) Uh-oh……

Eddie:  I cut myself with a chainsaw at the ankle

Me:  I don’t know if it’s in the hallway closet.  Good Lord…how bad is it?

Just a little side note here…the hallway closet is where I store my collection of Designs by Lolita wine glasses.  I mean, they are all over that closet and all I could see was Eddie opening up that closet door and riffling through for the first aid kit and breaking various glasses in the process!  I know that’s not exactly the thought a loving wife should have at a moment like that but I know my husband, and I know he can be a bull in a china shop!  Later he told me he opened that door, looked in and said to himself, “no way.”  You have to find the humor in situations like this and we both had a laugh talking about this later. 

Eddie:  I need to go to the medical center but I got to get it wrapped first.

Me:  Just grab a towel if you can.  Do I need to come home?  You can probably get to the medical center before I get there.  There’s a lot of traffic on 459 right now and I’m about to stop.

Me:  If Steve home?  Can he take you?  (Steve is our across the street neighbor.)

Eddie:  I can go.

Me:  OK, keep me posted please…and you are no longer allowed to use a chainsaw unless I am there.

Meanwhile, I was finally moving in traffic and was close to the John Hawkins Road exit thinking I could get to Eddie but he texted that he found a large bandage and got the bleeding under control.  He also said he could drive himself to the emergency center near our house.  So, I headed to the Finley Center to vote thinking I would be there for a bit.  You know…record turnout voting this year and I had already heard there were lines hours long in the morning.  Much to my surprise, I was in and out and in my car in exactly 11 minutes.  Eddie had made it to the emergency room by this time so now I was just waiting to hear from him. 

The scene of the accident and that’s the tree limb that got this whole adventure started.

When I got home, I immediately surveyed the scene of the accident.  Eddie had been trimming back large tree limbs between our house and our neighbors house.  The chainsaw was down the hill from where the tree limb was cut.  There was blood on a number of brown leaves on the ground.  There was a bit of trail to the basement and on the way up the stairs to the kitchen.  But bless him, I could see that he tried his best to clean up any blood that he trailed into the house so our puppy wouldn’t get into it.  I opened the garbage can to find he had thrown the pants he was wearing away.  I was able to see the enormous rip where the chainsaw hit.  That’s when I poured myself a rather large glass of wine, in a Lolita wine glass, and began the long wait to hear from Eddie.  At about 4:54 I was anxious so I texted him and we had this exchange:

Me:  How are things going?

Eddie:  Getting ready to sew it up.

Me.  How bad is it?

Eddie:  Good gash

Me:  How many stiches

Eddie:  Don’t know yet.  They are cleaning and numbing it right now. 

Me:  Well I saw where it happened.  Followed the trail of red. (insert OMG emoji here)

That’s when he sent me the photo of the gnarly gash inside his left ankle.  Don’t worry…I’m not going to show you the photo but trust me, it looked like something out of The Walking Dead show and I told him that.  It took 9 stiches to get it closed.  He then sent me the photo of the stiches. 

Eddie:  Going to be a cool scar.

Me:  You’re nuts.  Am I going to need to drive you to your CT Scan tomorrow?  (This was an already scheduled appointment unrelated to the chainsaw accident.)

Eddie:  Don’t think so.

Then, at 6 p.m. he sent the last photo.  In it, his leg was wrapped in a splint up to his knee.

Eddie:  I’m on crutches.  There is a slight fracture on my ankle.  I have to see an orthopedist.

Me:  Oh geez.  What the heck.

Eddie:  You may need to take me tomorrow.

Me:  Well, that leg is ready for Christmas.

Eddie:  Looks like I’m going to be binge watching Netflix.

Me:  Better than wielding a chain saw.

Thank goodness for pain meds and my ability to work from home that week.  I was needed to keep him from trying to do too much on his ankle.  He was told to stay put and keep it elevated but I know he was mad at himself for letting this happen and he also didn’t want to inconvenience me too much since things were rather hectic that week. 

Today is has been 10 days since his accident and he’s moving around a lot better.  Two days after the incident he went back to the medical center to see the orthopedist and he was told he did not have a fractured ankle after all.  That was great news!  He was given a boot to wear which was better than crutches.  Those things hurt!  And he did wear the boot this past Tuesday when we went out to dinner.  I told him it was the safest way to go because God forbid if someone bumped into him or stepped on his foot!  Stiches come out on Monday and I know Eddie will be eager to show off his scar.  Meanwhile, we are both so grateful this accident only required 9 stiches. 

The pants Eddie was wearing when the chainsaw hit his left ankle.

Letters About My Dad

Today is Veterans Day and naturally my thoughts are about my dad who served in the Army Air Corp.  He was 20 years old at the time he enlisted in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I wrote about his service and what little I know about it in a 2016 blog post called “Remembering A Veteran.”  In that post I referenced wanting to share a little about my dad through the letters of a few of his high school classmates. 

When dad died on June 1, 2001, my mother and I were going through some of his paperwork and keepsakes when I came across something interesting.  I found the program from his Carlsbad High School’s 50th reunion complete with addresses of his classmates listed.  It piqued my interest and I wondered what would happen if I wrote to his classmates and asked them to share a story about my father with me.

Right after dad passed, it was wonderful to have people I hardly knew share stories about my father with me.  Dad wasn’t able to communicate verbally for about a year and that was difficult.  We always think we have all the time in the world to ask our parents questions about their past – how they were raised, what their school experiences were like and what they loved most about their lives.  In my dad’s case, he shared a few things over the years but I wanted to know more.  I especially wanted to hear more about his experience playing football as one of the only Mexican’s on the high school team and later, how he learned to fly planes and eventually went into the Army Air Corp.  I began piecing stories together from what people were sharing with me and that’s when the letter to his classmates began to form in my mind.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I mailed the letters on September 3, 2001.  Dad was 79 when he died and it had been 61 years since he graduated from high school.  Some of his classmates had probably passed on too.  I checked the mailbox everyday and was getting a little discouraged when many were returned to me marked “not deliverable.”  But every now and then, I would get a response and my heart would jump with anticipation to read it. 

Each letter I received held a glimpse into my dad that I loved reading about and in many cases, there letters confirmed for me the man he had always been.  Four letters were from former football teammates.  Jack, who ironically lived in Huntsville, AL when he wrote, recalled the time he and dad were in a football scrimmage and he tackled dad.  Jack landed on his chin and split it open and he said “I carry a scar from it to this day!”  He said dad could fire the ball in a bullet pass hitting his target.  He also included a Xerox copy of the football team that I had never seen with dad on the third row.  Bob, who signed his letter Rear Admiral, USN Retired, said my father was a steady friend who was always ready to help with whatever was needed.  He added that he was an outstanding athlete but never one that sought the limelight, letting his actions speak for themselves.  This is so true of my father.

Dad is the third row on the left end – he is “unidentified” but his teammate wrote his name into the photo from the paper for me.

Another classmate named Bob had apparently been in touch with dad three years prior to his passing.  He said he always considered my dad a good friend and they played a lot of football together.  He added that he wasn’t very big but made up for it with speed and determination.  (Dad was about 120 lbs. at the time!)  The part that really struck me was when he said there were few Hispanics who went on to high school in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  “He was one of the exceptions which tells its own story,” according to Bob. 

A lady named Nadine wrote that she and dad had a good friendship although he was shy with girls.  They used to walk to classes together and she went on to talk about how much he was liked by peers and teachers, how good he was at football and what a great attitude he always had.  The cute part was when she said “If I make him sound almost too good, he played practical jokes, had a twinkle in his eyes and was lots of fun in a quiet, very likeable way.”  I loved how she described my dad…she added, “He wasn’t as handsome as some but better looking than most.  Did he become tall?  Did he keep his curly hair – it was thick and attractive.”  As she ended her letter, she mentioned they had a great high school class and many of the boys ended up on Bataan in the Death March as they were with the New Mexico National Guard.  I really teared up at this letter. 

I’m so glad I sent these letters.  Even now when I read them, they make me feel closer to my father.   

Amelia’s Story – The Day You Were Born

My first time holding my baby grand – Amelia!

My sweet baby grand…

You are 4 months old today (November 2, 2020) and I am having a hard time believing how fast time goes by.  It seems like just the other day your mama was calling me and your Pappy saying her water broke and she was heading to the hospital.  It was around 1 a.m. on Thursday, July 2, 2020.  Pappy and I were fast asleep so we could get up early and drive to Colorado, along with your Aunt Emily and Uncle Charlie, to see your mama before you made your arrival.  But you had other ideas!

Right after your mama and daddy got to the hospital, your daddy sent us the sweetest photo of your mama in her hospital gown wearing her mask.  This was at 3:14 a.m. and your daddy said “she’s ready!”  You may be wondering why your mama had to wear a mask…well Baby Grand… that’s because you were born during a worldwide pandemic my sweetheart, and so many precautions had to be taken to make sure you stayed safe and your parents stayed safe too.  I’m just so glad that your daddy got to be with your mama to see you born because there was concern that wouldn’t happen.

Pappy and I went back to sleep but it was hard to rest knowing you were on your way.  We got up early Thursday morning, packed the car and get on the road to Colorado as planned.  It was a 21-hour drive and we didn’t plan to stop anywhere to spend the night.  Your mama had already texted us at 6:17 a.m. saying that the doctor has started her on Pitocin to get her contractions in a better pattern.  At this point mama’s contractions were about 4 minutes apart and she got her epidural around 7 a.m.  Your daddy sent us a cute picture of them both with your mama giving us a thumbs up!  We got to facetime with your excited parents around 8:20, which was great.  Mama was feeling pretty good with that epidural and we figured you would be born pretty soon after that.

Around 11:30 your daddy texted and said they had a tiny scare because your heart rate dropped.  This was because things were progressing rather quickly with your mama’s labor.  But once mama started moving around some, that made you move a little and your heart rate jumped back up and everything was all right.  At this point, mama was dilated 9 centimeters and we figured you would be making your entrance into this world within the hour!  Your daddy sent us the sweetest selfie of themselves and your Tisa was crying in the car!

Then your daddy texted, “alright, I’m gunna go silent her for a minute, hopefully next update will be picture of Amelia!”  This was around 11:43 a.m.  We were all so excited and anxious on our drive.  Then at 12:30 your daddy texted and said things had slowed down a bit.  Your mama was at 9.5 cm and they were moving her around to get you moving again and hopefully encourage you to make your entrance.

At 2 p.m., mama was still trying to push you out!  I told your daddy that you were probably so comfy that you didn’t want to leave her!  So, when we thought you would arrive in a hurry, you decided you wanted to wait just a bit!  At 3:50 p.m. mama was pushing again and at 4:39 p.m. your daddy said mama was pushing pretty hard so she wouldn’t have to have a c-section because you were face up and not liking the contractions!

It seemed like forever from the time your daddy sent that last text.  We were all anxious to hear what was happening but we knew your daddy needed to stop texting so he could be with your mama and help her push.  At almost 6 p.m., we got the text we had been waiting for…you were here!  And then your daddy sent the most beautiful photo of you in your mama’s arms.  She was smiling to bright and you were hiding your face!  You were 7 pounds, 9 ounces and 20 inches long!  You were born at 4:44 p.m. on July 2, 2020.

Meanwhile, Tisa and Pappy were still on the road to Colorado.  We arrived around 4:30 a.m. that Friday morning – July 3.  After checking into our hotel and getting a few hours of sleep, we woke up to a bunch of beautiful photos of you all wrapped up in the hospital blanket with a little hat to keep you warm and some sweet photos of you with each of your parents.

Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t visit you in the hospital so we had to wait until Saturday, July 4th to meet you.  We went over to your mama and daddy’s apartment to wait for you.  We also needed to check on your big brother – Lucia – and make sure he had your baby hat and blanket so he could get to know you.  He sniffed your hat and then rested his head on it so we knew he was anxiously awaiting your arrival too!

When your daddy pulled into the parking lot, Pappy couldn’t wait and he went out to the car to help your parents bring everything and YOU inside.   I just remember standing at the door and as soon as you were brought into the apartment in your car seat, I wanted to hold you.  Your mama put the car seat down on the floor and I quickly pulled you out of that car seat to hug you!  And let me tell you, it was hard to let anyone else hold you!!!  But I needed to share because your Aunt Emily and Uncle Charlie wanted to get their hands on you and of course, your Pappy was ready to start spoiling you.

Happy tears were flowing that day, sweet Mela.  So many people told me that being a grandmother was such an amazing feeling.  Well, it’s all true!  I look at you and see your mama when she was a baby and, in my mind, I relive all those baby days with her.  I can’t wait to one day tell you stories about your mama when she was a little girl.  You’re going to love them!

Meanwhile, I want to you know that I’m so ready to begin making memories with you, my sweet Mela. And Pappy will be here to spoil you…I know you will love that.

Love you so much…Tisa



Around the World in 80 Years! – Mom Turns 80 – Part 2

Mom realizing she was having a surprise party last year on her 80th birthday!

This is Part 2 of Around the World in 80 Years – Mom Turns 80 – sharing the story of my mother’s surprise 80th birthday party last year.  

As with any event being planned, last minute details and unexpected situations pop up and you deal with them the best way you can!  In this case, someone told mom about the surprise party!!!  Here is what happened…

The week of the event, we had a lot going on including my youngest daughters birthday on May 31, her performance in The Little Mermaid in Tuscaloosa and a wedding in Auburn.  It was on our way back from my daughter’s show (June 1) that my mother dropped a bomb on me and my husband.  She told me that a cousin (elderly) had called her to wish her a happy birthday and said “your kids are planning a surprise party for you, but don’t tell them I told you!”  I’m thankful I was sitting in the front seat and mom couldn’t see my face!!!  I could see my husband’s face and he was just as panicked looking as I was right then!  That’s when I went into “spin mode,” aka LYING!!!

Mom was puzzled as to why our cousin would say this to her, of course.  I told mom that I had talked to our elderly cousin’s daughter the week before (this is true – I had texted with her when she told me her mother had mild dementia.) and she revealed her mother had mild dementia.  I went on to spin that I had run into our cousins a few weeks before and mentioned mom’s birthday was coming up.  I actually ran into my elderly cousin and two of her daughters the previous fall. Of course, the reason my cousin knew about the party is because she had received an invitation.  I told mom that maybe she got confused with her birthday and something else.  Mom then admitted she felt something was different when she spoke to her.

Once we dropped mom off, I went into damage control!  I texted my sisters and told them that mom may be “thinking” she was getting a party even after all my “spinning” and I needed their help.  My sister Laurie called her the next day to check in with her and mention she and her husband had out of town guests coming that weekend.  This was to throw mom off if she suspected my sisters were coming into town for a surprise party.  Then, I told mom we would go out to dinner for her birthday on Saturday to give her friend Jenine time to arrive from Colorado so she could join us.  I said it would be just family and she seemed happy about it.  I’m pretty sure mom didn’t think I had time to plan anything elaborate because I had spent the last 8 weeks helping her clean out her house!  So…my sisters and I all crossed our fingers and hoped for the best!

I spent the next few days creating photo collages to display around my house as well as putting finishing touches on the photo slideshow.  I found an old hardbound Atlas at a thrift store many years ago and it definitely came in handy for the theme!  The last party prop created was a hot air balloon.  I mean, I did the best that I could with a tri-fold, brown contact paper, burlap and some burlap bags stuffed with newspaper and some helium balloons.  This was to be the photo prop for the party.  (Oh…and it rained after everyone arrived at the party so we didn’t get to use the prop until Sunday!)

Meanwhile…the weekend of the party, family began arriving.  The last to arrive were my daughter, Anna Marie and my nephew, Adam, both from Colorado.  The plan was for me to pick up mom and Jenine at her house and bring them to my house.  I told mom that we needed to stop back by the house and pick up Charlie because he was driving in from Wetumpka, AL, so he would be riding with us.  I pretended to get a text from Charlie and respond but I was really letting everyone at the house know we were on our way!  Of course, when we pulled up there were cars everywhere!  Mom said something about all the cars and I told her our neighbor was having a party.  I said he let us know earlier that day because cars that were going to be all over the cul de sac.  She seemed to accept that.  I pulled up right in front of the house and suggested we go inside where it was cooler to wait for Charlie to arrive.

I walked into the house first and stepped out of the way.  Mom followed and turned toward the living room where everyone had gathered.   As they shouted all “SURPRISE!”  it took mom a minute before she realized what was happening.  The photos my daughters took say it all and I love that they captured this exact moment!  That’s when my sisters all came up to her for hugs.  Mom was clearly overwhelmed, especially when she saw everyone who had gathered to celebrate her milestone day!  Later we asked about whether she suspected we were throwing her a surprise party and she said she had no idea.  I think if she had, she would have said something to her friend Jenine…and Jenine would have called me!

To say we took a lot of photos would be an understatement.  As I said in Part 1 of this story, it had been four years since we had all been together and we weren’t going to let the chance get away from us.  And while the party was the perfect reason to bring us all together, I loved that my sisters , our husbands, and five of my mother’s eight grandchildren, were able to come back to my house on Sunday and spend the day together.  We had plenty of food left over from the party, thanks to Chef Wendy, and even more to catch up on with one another.

So today, on my mother’s 81st birthday, I will take her to lunch and spend the afternoon with her.  I know we will talk about the party and look at the photos together.  Then on Sunday, I’ll treat her to brunch and a show – Red Mountain Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady.

Happy 81st birthday, mom!  I’m glad we were able to surprise you last year!

Loving her birthday sash sent by cousin Lisa Ramirez for mom to enjoy!

Around the World in 80 Years! – Mom Turns 80 – Part 1

Barbara Anne Zuniga – on her 80th birthday

This is a two part post about my mother’s 80th birthday party last year on June 8, 2018.  Tomorrow she turns 81 and I’ve been reliving the party, photos and memories from the preparations to the actual event.  

My mother has never had a surprise party.  She turned 80 years old last June and I thought it was way past time.  So armed with a great theme – Around the World in 80 Years – I got started surprise party planning!

Months earlier, I’d been talking about how mom had a milestone birthday coming up with my youngest sister, Kanista, and she said wanted to be in Alabama for that.  She lives in North Carolina.  That got the ball rolling and we thought – what if we could get all of “the sisters” together, along with their husbands and kids??!!  I think the last time we were all together – me, my sisters and mom – was when my nephew Adam got married in 2015.  So this became a bit of a mission with that realization!  I contacted my sister Helena who lives in Texas and she was on board, as was my sister Laurie who lives in Illinois.  Helena and Laurie put the word out to their adult kids too.  My mother’s friend, Jenine, visits each year from Colorado so I contacted her to make sure she could make her arrangements for the party.  We set the party date for Saturday, June 8 to make it easier for everyone to travel.  Mom’s actual birthday is June 6.

As the guest list started to grow, I began looking for a cozy venue to host the party.  That was probably the biggest headache.  I couldn’t get the invitations ready until I had a place, right?  And I really didn’t want a restaurant for the party because it didn’t feel cozy enough.  I remember calling one place and the lady who answered got a little snarky with me and said “well, you know it’s wedding season…”  Which translated to, “good luck finding what you want, lady!”  That’s when I decided to just have the party at my house.  Done!  On to the invitation…

Mom’s party invitation – the photo is one I found at her house in a box. She was five years old in this picture.

I’d been working at my mother’s house for several weeks helping her clean out when I found a box of old photos.  Honestly, I don’t even know if mom knew they were there.  So I secretly put the box in my car so I could go through and copy them.  That’s where I found the photo I used for the invitation.  Such a sweet picture of mother when she was five years old.  It was perfect!  I debated on getting the invitations professionally printed and then decided to do them myself at home.  In the invitation, I also requested that people send cards with a special memory about mom to me to compile.  My plan was to have a box of memories on index cards that she could pull and read throughout her 80th year.

With the venue and invitations out of the way, I needed to find a caterer.  Again…wedding season…but then I remembered a friend who had started a food delivery business and had just opened a storefront.  I gave her a call and she put me in touch with her chef – Wendy Bowman.  So, this is probably a good time to talk about the theme I chose – Around the World in 80 Years.  This was a nod to mom’s travels over her lifetime.  Born in Oneonta, Alabama, she moved around a lot growing up and eventually ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio where her parents finally settled for two years so she could complete high school.  After that, they traveled to Cambodia for my grandfather’s work and that’s where she met my dad and eventually they got married.  Throw in living in Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Maryland, Chicago and finally Alabama, you can see why the theme fit so well.  When I explained this all to Chef Wendy, she created a wonderful menu incorporating all mom’s travels.  It was wonderful!

When it came to ordering a cake, I knew it had to be special and I knew it had to come from Louise’s Cakes & Supply in Hoover, AL.  Over the years, this little shop has created some beautiful cakes for my family.  The theme was firming up with maps, suitcases, globes and flags. so I asked about getting a suitcase cake made with decals all over it showing places where mom has lived.  I did find a few examples on Pinterest and we worked together to come up with the perfect design.

I mentioned all the places my mother has lived and I wanted to find a way to showcase those places.  That’s when the idea of a directional sign came up like the one they had on MASH – the tv show!  I found arrows in the Target bargain area for weddings and decided to spray paint them tan and brown and then write the locations in red.  My husband made the stand and then we used a nail gun to attach the arrows.  It was the perfect touch and we placed it in our foyer next to an old suitcase that collected all the cards and well-wishes for mom.  I also added string flags around the foyer, hallway, dining room, family room and kitchen that I had left over from a previous event.

My friend, Sherree, who is a whiz with plants and florals, created four distinct arrangements for the party.  The orchid was for my parent’s wedding photo and was used on the dining room table with the food.  There was also a bright floral arrangement for the living room where guests could share memories for mom.  The one I really loved was a desert scene with cactus next to a globe to represent the Southwest and New Mexico.  She really outdid herself!

The final pieces of the party plan?  I wanted music across the decades that meant something to my mother.  My sisters were wonderful working on this and sent so many suggestions from our time as children living in Puerto Rico.  I created a playlist on Pandora called “Mom’s 80th Bday” and we kept adding to it.  We had songs from Andy Williams, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others.  We also included music from musicals like South Pacific and The King & I.  But the most important song to include – Where or When – was my parents song.  When they were dating in Cambodia and would go out to a particular nightclub to enjoy the band, the band leader would see them walk in and immediately start playing that song for them.  It reminds me of a scene out of a Doris Day movie….  We ended up with several hundred songs on that playlist.  I still love listening to it.

Part Two of Around the World in 80 Years shares how I got my mother to the party after the surprise was almost revealed and her reaction to everything.