Bonita Paulson (born Daniel)
Everyone who ever met her would probably describe her as unforgettable. Her life had many stages, but through each one she was a unique character.
Born to Elzie Daniel and Sally Mae Jackson in Hanna, Oklahoma in 1932 her early years were straight out of "The Grapes of Wrath". Her family lost everything in the Dust Bowl and traveled to California with the wave of "Okies". I listened to all the stories while I helped in the kitchen growing up. How my proud grandparents didn't want to take charity and had to swallow their pride one Christmas so that the kids could have a little something. How she was sent to school too young, so she could be with her older sister and got kicked out for fighting with older kids who called them "Okies".
She was as tough as her three older brothers and one half-brother, no one pushed her around! She would even argue with her dad, which most people were afraid to do. Her older sister, Vi had been sick when she was a baby and had to learn to walk and talk all over again. When mom came along, they were on the same level and were pretty much treated as twins. This relationship stayed the same as they grew and mom was allowed to do anything Vi was, which made her grow up just a little quicker.
She never thought of herself as a beauty, but the boys noticed her early on. She started dating at twelve and broke several boys hearts. She was briefly engaged to a boy in the service, but said she got cold feet when she realized he would take her away from her family. The summer before she turned sixteen, her sister Vi's finance brought down his best friend from the Navy, hoping Vi could fix him up with her friend Esta Campbell. Vi wanted mom to come along on the date, but she did not want to be a fifth wheel. Vi did not want to go without her, so the date was cancelled. The friend thought she was a spoiled brat for not going along and they did not think much of each other. The next time he came down with Ray in the winter, Leonard and Bonita hit it off and talked all evening. When they went back to the base, he told Ray that he better not go back there or he was going to marry that girl. Well, he didn't stay away, they wrote and dated each time he had leave and by Christmas he proposed. This time she was not afraid of leaving her family, she wanted to be with him.
They married on January 8, 1949 in Selma, California. Ray and Vi also married in a double ceremony with them at the Justice of the Peace's office. Mom was just sixteen and dropped out of the 10th grade. You would never have guessed she went to school for such a short time, she was a voracious reader and could put many people with degrees to shame. I was always amazed at how she would answer the questions on the game shows she loved to watch and often said she should have tried out for one.
Mom and Dad, Aunt Vi and Uncle Ray lived in Navy housing for a few months but as things went back then, they were soon expecting. Dad's time was going to be up in November but mom would be too far along to travel, so he brought her back to Waco, Texas by train in the summer of 1949. She lived with his mom, Mamie Eaves Paulson and her sister Bertie Eaves Dean. Mamie tried to fill the role of mother during this time. Mom remembered walking to meet Mamie when she would get off work and stopping to get a hamburger. She craved pickles and hamburgers only cost five cents! Mamie told her stories about her married life with dad's father, Robert Lee Paulson. Her friends and church friends gave mom a baby shower. I never asked, but I don't thik mom ever went to church with Mamie and Bertie.
Dad came home shortly before I was born on December 3, 1949. Mom had turned seventeen exactly three weeks before. She often joked that it was a good thing that I didn't come earlier as they would not let you on the maternity floor at the hospital untless you were at least seventeen. Dad worked at the Goodyear plant and went to Electronics school on the GI Bill.
On July 17, 1951 their second child was born. Cynthia Gayle was a beautiful baby, but she was fretful and cried all the time. I had been a very peaceful baby, so they were perplexed that she would not be comforted. The doctor did not tell them, but he had thought she would not live a week when she was born. Turns out that dad had RH negative blood. They were just starting to learn about this back then. The doctor thought that since mom and dad were so young, that they should not be told. His opinion was that nothing could be done and that they would waste time and money on useless efforts to save her. Sissy, as we called her, lived thirteen months, probably in severe pain most of the time. Mom was pregnant again the last 8 months of Sissy's life. She died August 7, 1952 and Stephen Roy was born August 15, 1952, one week and one day later. Mom had delivered three children and lost one all before her twentith birthday.
I remember her as so beautiful when I was growing up. She was young and strong and full of fun. She would sit on the floor with me to play jacks and I loved the way she would count by threes or fives so quickly. She was also a wonderful cook, never afraid to tackle any kind of challenge in the kitchen. Dad had been a cook in the Navy and he always praised mom's cooking. I remember the two of them making homemade mayonnaise or spending a whole day making homemade yeast doughnuts. They would drive around to get fruit to make homemade jam or to find corn husks to make homemade tamales.We never had dinner without some kind of dessert, many times it was a cake or one of her wonderful homemade pies. I have never tasted better pie crust than she made, always tender and flaky.
She also helped dad with his many hobbies. Together they build furniture, even re-covered chairs. They liked to go fishing together, and used to whip up some kind of fish bait to take along. She was his favorite model when he dabbled in photography and would assist him in the developing and printing of the pictures. I think all of dad's friends envied him his beautiful and fun-loving wife, but the dark side is that he was also very jealous of her and always afraid that someone would come along and take her away. I didn't understand all of this until much later in fife, that insecurity would make people act this way.
I cherish the memories of how she would go to take a bath and fix herself up every afternoon before dad came home from work. He would come home to a wonderful dinner and a beautiful wife every night, how many men were so privileged? The years around 1956 to 1960 had their ups and downs. I remember dad being laid off from work several times, once was right at Christmas. As kids we didn't understand that times were hard, our needs were provided for, so life rolled on the same. We were living in a duplex house that we shared with my grandmother Mamie and her sister Bertie. I thought this was a fantastic arrangement as mom cooked for everyone while they worked and Stephen and I had an extended family to look out for us. I realize now that having three women in a house must have been very stressful.
When mom was expecting Danny in 1957, they had lost their health insurance and it was not a good time to be adding on the the family. Aunt Bertie especially was vocal about not thinking she could bear to hear another baby crying all night. Mom was determined that as soon as they could, they would move out to their own place. Daniel Glenn was born May 24, 1957, just before school let out for the year of my first grade. To keep him from crying, mom would pick him up as soon as he would start, and he soon got used to this We moved out to a house on Grim Avenue around the end of September. I remember Danny crying and scraching himself because he wanted to be picked up, It took a while to get him over this. In some ways, I think Danny would turn out to be close to mom for some of these reasons. He became her companion when I went to school and he would be a big help to her when our youngest brother Mike was born.
We didn't get to live long on Grim Street, the shop had another lay off at Christmas time again that year and by January we were back at Mamie's & Bertie's house. Mom made the best of the situation but said as soon as we could, we would be moving. Before the end of the school year, we moved out to a house on MacArthur Drive. I changed schools three times in the second grade! This was the house where mom knocked a copper head snake down on her arm while she was sweeping out the chimney. She jumped to pick Danny up and ran outside to find a neighbor. They came back and looked but never could find the snake. When Stephen and I walked home from school, Mom and Danny were on the couch with their feet tucked under them. Dad looked all over the house, but never did find any trace of the snake. Mom would have nightmares that it was under the bed. After a few months of this, they decided to move again.
We moved next to the house on North 12th Street. Looking back, it seemed huge. We had a big kitchen and pantry, a front and back hall and a screened in back porch. Micheal Wayne was born while we lived here on January 22, 1962. In the next year, mom and dad began to think of buying a house instead of renting. Maybe they felt the economy would be better now with John Kennedy as president. There was a more hopeful feeling in the country at that time, it seemed like we lived more comfortably. We moved out to Ethel Avenue in the summer of 1963. That was as event filled year that we lived in that house. Historically , everyone remembers that President Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963. I remember all the trips to the emergency room having three brothers. Steve fell off the back of a go-cart and got a concussion. Mike fell on a space heater and burned his leg and drank bleach on one occasion and film negative cleaner on another. To top the summer, Mike stepped in front of a boy swinging a bat in a backyard baseball game and ended up with a concussion. During all of this, mom didn't drive and had to depend on others to rush the boys to the hospital.
In the summer of 1964, dad learned that the machine shop he worked for was moving out to Valley Springs. This was a major adjustment, it would be a very long drive to work every day. Up til then, we had always lived close enough for dad to come home for lunch every day. When he left work at five pm he would drive home and have dinner waiting so all he had to do was wash up. He had to decide whether to move to Valley Springs or to take a chance and move to Houston where there were better opportunities. So we stored everything we could at Mamie & Bertie's house and loaded the car with what was necessary and drove to Houston on July 17, 1964. Dad found a job the same day and we moved to a furnished rental house on Firnat Street. This house was a real dump and we really weren't too thrilled about having anyone know where we lived.
About this time, mom was having bad problems with her teeth. I never really understood what all the problems were, she said the enamel was very weak, like chalk. She began having them pulled out a few at a time and being fitted with dentures. Life changed drastically while we lived there. Dad worked a second shift, so there was no more routine of having dinner ready at five pm. Mom could hardly eat with all the pain from her teeth, so we began to have a more unsettled life. We were happy to be able to rent the house right next door just as school was starting in 1965. It was a much nicer house, we stayed there until summer of 1967 and moved next to Lera Street.
While we lived there, dad's health began to decline. He had high blood pressure and was told to cut down on salt and take medication. He didn't want to change his habits and ended up in the hospital in February of 1969. He tried to do better for awhile, but slipped back into doing what he wanted. He had a heart attack at work July 26, 1971 but didn't realize what it was. He came home and felt bad, finally mom talked him into going to the hospital. They woke Stephen up to drive them and checked him in. He died around lunchtime July 27.
Mom was a widow at thirty nine. She did not know how to drive and had never even written a check. Stephen was working for Arco Refinery and I worked for a company called Zytron in downtown Houston. Danny was in middle school, Mike was about to start 4th grade. The neighborhood we lived in had been going downhill and mom and dad had been looking around at trailer homes before he died. Mom decided to buy one and make a fresh start. She got her first job with the trailer lot where she bought the trailer. They liked her take charge attitude in getting her trailer set up. Unfortunately, she made a lot of strange new friends in the couple of years she worked for a couple of different lots, seems that the people who sell trailers are about as colorful as the people who live in them. Mom hated the term "trailer trash" and I still think of her when I hear it.
She did the best she could at the time with what she had to work with. Dad did not leave her with any resources and she had to take charge not only of her life but also Danny and Mike's. Everyone praised her for her strength and courage and I think this made her think she had to live up to her reputation. Stephen use to tell her that she was the only person he knew who could "fall in a pile of shit and come up smelling like a rose." She learned to drive and take charge of her life, but she also began to date and party. She never had a high tolerance for alcohol and got into a lot of scrapes due to it. But she never missed work and always kept her personal life to herself.
During this time, Stephen married and made her a grandmother when Shawn was born September 29, 1972. I married in 1974 and was expecting a baby in March of 1977. Mom was so excited, she wanted a granddaughter this time! She would drive over to walk with me on weekends and was so afraid that I would go into labor and have the baby before she could get there. I had promised her that we would pick her up on the way to the hospital when it was time. I will never forget the early morning of March 28th when we drove up to the apartment where she lived at the time and picked her up. When Sam brought Rima into the nursery at the hospital, she thought he said it was a boy and started crying. He had to tell her it was a girl. They went out and bought cigars to hand out and a yellow dress that Rima wore later for a picture. Mom had wanted a granddaughter so much that she put a jinx on herself, for awhile all she got was granddaughters. First Connie on November 29, 1977, then Leila on June 5, 1978 and finally Heather on June 5, 1981. Her last grandchild was Stephen born December 7, 1985.
Mom loved all the grand kids and they have very special memories of her. She loved to play dominoes and Yahzte and taught them all to play honestly. She would not tolerate cheating or whining if they lost. She was always up for a shopping trip or to go to the movies. The hardest time was when Stephen was killed in an accident at Arco Refinery on November 9, 1980. For awhile she went into an ever-deepening depression and for the first time let the problem with drinking interfere with working. She had begun working for Gordon's Jeweler's in 1972 and had worked her way up to assistant manager. In the spring of 1983 she got help for the drinking problem and turned the page to a new era in her life.
She got a job with Beall's Department store in the billing department and worked until she recieived a settlement from Arco. She moved Mamie and Bertie in with her and took care of them until Mamie passed away in February of 1989. Aunt Bertie continued to live with her and she went back to work for Publisher's Clearance Warehouse. She worked there until they closed down and she then went on retirement.
Her health began to decline the last couple of years, she had a knee replacement and recovered well from it. But then her hip and back became so painful that she couldn't walk very far. Then she couldn't sit or sleep without discomfort. She thought she could have surgery to help with the problem and was told to quit smoking. We were all afraid that the surgery would only make her back worse, but she insisted on doing it. She said that life wasn't worth living anymore the way she felt, so she scheduled the surgery. She died in the recovery room following the surgery on January 27, 2004.
Even now it still comes as a shock to realize she is gone, mom was a force of nature and one of the most fearless people I ever met. She left this earth exactly as she would have wanted to , still in charge of her fate.