Carmelita was a beautiful and brilliant woman, with tremendous energy! She sparkled, she shone, she lit up a room. She was beautiful without make-up or any artfulness; and her beauty partly came from her WANTING to be the BEST at whatever she did. She felt better on a horse than on the ground. She was very proud of her heritage in Camarillo, and she wanted to leave a legacy of honor. Her thesis for her degree at Stanford was on using the history of the Camarillo ranch as a model of California history for 5th graders to begin to learn. She wanted to bring great ideas down into the real, everyday experience of her students and her children.
When she and dad took us to Europe for 6 months in 1965, my father, who had less energy, started to complain that we needed to sleep and rest sometime! Mom famously answered him “you can sleep when you get home!”. Every day she planned which museums we would see, which historical events in that town we needed to know about, what educational activities could not be missed. She made a game of learning a few words in the language of that country, and remembering a few important dates. I will never forget that they planned to arrive in Paris on “le catorze Juillet”-- the French Independence Day. My father went into a tailspin, as we arrived in a blizzard of traffic; which pulled us to a stand-still outside the city-- and millions of Frenchmen in cars, honking desperately. Suddenly the sky erupted with fireworks over Paris-- and it was just as if mom orchestrated the whole thing! Mom was the life of the party. She loved pinatas, bright colors and festive events. Dad always decorated the house to make every holiday fun. She would make a cake with bright frosting, and the house would fill with laughter and joyful activity!
Many of you here know that we went with 6 little girls in navy blue raincoats all over Europe, and there are thousands of slides in Dad’s library to show us off in front of monuments, statues and museums! Mom was such a dynamic force that many people we met stayed friends forever-- at Christmas we received cards from all over the world--- one from Madame Hennessy, whom we happened to meet at a small shop in her town, and who subsequently gave us a private guided tour of the cognac factory! Also, from a couple from Amsterdam with whom mom had struck up a conversation while getting tickets for the symphony there. One of her great escapades was going to Nigeria with dad, to be the godparents of Maudie and Bob’s youngest child Emily; she got Dengue fever, and Maudie had her hands full, nursing a new baby and trying to save mom’s life at the same time! She was a fearless leader, and a determined adventurer. When anyone asked her to go anywhere, she would say, “let me get my toothbrush, and I am ready!” She and dad accompanied Rosemary and Paul Bauer on a round-the world trip which started in Europe and went on the trans-Siberian railway to China. Dad said that SIberia was pretty grey, big, and endlessly monotonous, and he was so grateful for the wonderful friendship and conversation with Rosemary and Paul. Mom was too, but also busy planning what she was going to do in China!
She loved teaching kids with disabilities, because it helped her stay grounded and remembering the blessing, that her own six daughters were all healthy. Because of her own family, most of her life she was a substitute teacher, so that she could be with us when we needed her. Almost every morning a call would come, asking if she could come in that day. Her positive attitude was remembered by many teachers who only taught with her a few times; and at my church, several moms who picked up children at the same time at Good Shepherd school still ask about her every Sunday. One retired teacher remembered that I had been in the Peace Corps in Paraguay, because mom had told her all about me, and she brought me a slip of the Paraguayan rose, which mom had given her a slip from-- after dad got it going! It had been lost to me for 3 decades, and mom’s gift came back again!
Her dear friends usually stayed friends forever-- in the last 10 years, those friends really helped us so much! I will always be grateful to Rose Wisuri for staying with her at the hospital after the car accident until I could get there; and to John Hill for getting her through her last Camarillo fiesta parade.
She loved making funny Christmas cards-- her own expression of that FitzGerald humor and wit-- and one of my favorites is the one where she is standing in a wet-suit, holding a boogie-board, in 2001, saying “let’s roll!” when she was about 80 years old! When women see that photo in my office, it silences their complaints about aches and pains, and they become more determined to start exercising!
She deeply loved her own mother, and sister and brothers. They were never happier than when they were all together, and Gerald was cracking jokes and puns, and everyone was laughing! She missed her father, who was a gallant and honorable man, with a bit of Irish wit. From him, she learned that drive to excellence, with that competitive edge. She was always telling us when we did something right that we got 10 points. I worked very hard for those points, which unlike blue-chip stamps never seemed to actually be something you could cash in! My sister Mary told of going to Kennolyn camp, and how mom inspired her to swim more, by telling her that she would give Mary a penny for every lap she did. Mary met her a few weeks later with a piece of carefully tabulated earnings, and said “You owe me $7.12!”
She was a tiger mother, who wanted us to succeed, and she was proud that we all graduated from college. She was never a quitter, and she had that determination to never give up on us, even when we were difficult teenagers!
Mom and Dad were a very good team, and deeply loved each other. They had a renewal of the vows on their 40th anniversary, with a big party, and all the living members of the original wedding party came. It was very moving, and powerful, for them to show us their love; time and time again they would back each other up and help each other over hard times. Dad had serious problems with his heart, and a tendency to melancholia. Mom would work hard to make him laugh and want to get going again-- and she always would ask him at sundown to go play the piano. She would stop what she was doing, and go sit; to listen and enjoy it. There is a wonderful story of how my grandmother met him--- dad came to the house out in Santa Rosa valley for the first time, and was nervous. When he walked in, he saw the piano, and asked mom if he could play it. He sat down to play, and opened the sheet music, which was our grandmother’s. Nana came from the back of the house, singing. They sang together at the piano for many songs, and developed a deep love for each other from that moment on. Mom treasured Dad’s ability to make music! We had a tradition of singing show tunes, and Mexican favorites like "Las Mananitas" for birthdays, and other celebrations.
Mom was happy each time she was pregnant, and we were all very wanted children. But It was a vivid first lesson for me when I was about 12, that pregnancy could be a scourge for a woman. Mom took me with her after mass on Sundays every week to help a lady who was in her 9th pregnancy. Her 8 children were all around, but not knowing how to help her. She had terrible varicose veins, which were so severe; we would lift and wrap the ace wraps carefully around each of her legs. Mom had been a nurse’s aid during the war years, and she knew how to help mothers in need.
Carmelita firmly believed in being a good steward to the land; helping to keep it producing good fruit; and helping to manage irrigation, soil and good crop planning. She listened carefully to Uncle Gerald, as she had listened to her father-- both were very intelligent at farming. Because she had packed lemons in high school vacations, hoping to get financial help from her grandfather to go to college; she never wasted money; and she was famous for saving water-- she took the world’s shortest showers; and she had canning jars full of saved water in her pantry, in case of draught--- and once, when her house was full of young gentlemen students, she made them all go outside to pee-- until the lemon trees began to look anemic-- and the agricultural engineer had to tell her that there was TOO much nitrogen being added to the trees near the house!
In the later years she had a lot of vulnerability, and need for care-givers. No one makes it to 90 without some help and support! She was very grateful for Susana and Pat Reeder’s constant help. The whole family would like to thank her 3 great care-givers of the past few years-- Lisa, Delia and Alma-- for the love, tenderness, kindness and patience they always gave her. It is not easy to have that kind of patience, with feeding, bathing, and sometimes exhausting daily-life functions. Each of these dear women went above and beyond the call of duty to give mom the greatest possible help.
Mom’s mantra in the last several years was “Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!”. She always said it fervently, and in 3’s. It was a great model for living with the indignities of aging and loss, and greater dependence on the kindness of others. I cannot tell you, as a physician, how much I learned about REAL healthcare needs from my mother. Probably 100 physicians have been involved over the years, helping her to earn the title “The Phoenix”. She was a truly medically sophisticated and complex patient. I especially am grateful to Dr. Hoos and Dr. Bruns. Each time she had to be in the hospital, or undergo some medical crisis, it helped me to learn what it is to be an ADVOCATE for the patient. It does NOT mean criticizing and controlling. Being an advocate meant for me to be walking through the valley of the shadow of death WITH my mother, struggling to have more kindness and more patience, and with attention to the small details, and the concrete positive ways I could be helpful to the docs and nurses. I am a better physician because of her needs.
Story of the Marca_pasos:
In 1987 I was newly married and in my first year of practicing medicine in Santa Clara. I got a call at 2 am from my sister Alison, who was in hysterics, saying “here, speak to the doctor!” The doctor started telling me in Spanish that my mom had a serious heart condition and needed a Marca-Pasos-- a Pacemaker. I said to go ahead and put it in, and then asked to speak to my sister. I asked her where she was, because I was wondering why the doctor was testing my Spanish at such a time. She said “Ensenada!” So then, I understood, and asked to speak to the doctor again. He said he could fly mom up on a Lear Jet, if I would tell him which doc and which hospital to send her to. I thought for a moment: None of my sisters was living in Camarillo at that time-- so I asked if I could call him back, and got the number. I called my mother-in-law and asked for the name and number of her cardiologist in Mountain View, and God bless him, he answered the phone at 2 am, and said he would accept the transfer. The doctor in Mexico had to send a young resident to get his temporary pacemaker when they put her new one in-- we promised to pay for his ticket on a commercial flight back again. They flew mom up to San Jose, and brought her to El Camino Hospital in an ambulance, put her in the CCU, and sent the young doctor back to Mexico with the temporary pacemaker set-up. This is just one of the stories of how mom stretched medicine just a little further into the future, to get her needs met! Dad paid for the Lear Jet with an American Express card which he had gotten in the mail the day before the trip, and stuck in his wallet. He hadn’t paid the premium yet, but he paid it as soon as he drove home, and onward to Mountain View!
Both my parents firmly believed that Love is stronger than Death:
When Dad died, I said that I knew he was going to plant a garden for her in heaven, and that he would be looking forward to her arrival. I know that he is very happy to have her there with him, at last. I am sure there are jacarandas, bougainvilleas, Cecile Brunner roses, daisies and maidenhair ferns in that garden. And maybe Diablo is also waiting, to take her for a long ride on the beaches of heaven. Vaya Con Dios, mom; Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou forever; and Crom a Boo!