BY-WAYS - 12/2/43 - Mrs. Smithheisler goes to Las Cruces

Time marches on! Here we are - into the month that brings us Christmas. That old drier last Saturday more than half-baked me, and I felt out several things I wanted to say. One of them was a word of congratulation to the Fitzgeralds - our solid citizens of Conemaugh Township, and members of our beloved Conemaugh Church - on their Golden Wedding. They are to be congratulated on having taken such good care of each other, that they look far younger than the anniversary indicates. May they have very happy, useful years ahead - just as they have had in the past. Greetings to Miss Nettle, too. (That was a very nice write-up, Lou).

This week I would like to tell about two dear friends who are being lured away by the golden sun of the Golden West. One of them has gone already - to Las Cruces, New Mexico - for her young son's health. The other leaves in two weeks for California. (Was it you, Knox, who started the propaganda about California raining orange juice - when it does rain?) The lives of these friends are very interesting. And the progress of their lives is just as interesting. Two women, who, by the sheer strength of their character have surmounted almost insuperable obstacles. One of them is still moving forward. The other, I fear, is slipping back. I told you once that one of my very best friends - far beyond my deserving - is a Catholic. She has gone to New Mexico. Without her permission I cannot tell you of the prolonged tragedy of her life. But in the ten years I have known her she has suffered every mental torture, besides a great deal of physical illness. At another time I must tell you of her fascinating mother, who passed away two years ago, at the age of 85. Totally deaf at the last, with the restless, irrepressible spirit of youth encased in a frail little body, she was her only daughter's idol, and yet the greatest tax on her patience and ingenuity. In addition to all her other troubles, her younger son, Jackie, now fourteen, has been a victim of asthma - ever since babyhood. You would have to know Jackie (one of these days he'll rise up and say, "No more of this 'Jackie' stuff. I'm 'Jack'"). But - anyway - you have to know him, with a brave soldiery that is out of this world, to appreciate the mental anguish his mother has endured while watching him writhe and strain to get a gasp of air. That boy has undergone every test, every regime or treatment possible. Three or four years ago he took the allergy test, with its 75 needle pricks, without a wince or a murmur. He has gone through long nights of coughing and struggling for breath - only to come up smiling each morning. For several years his mother has thought about taking him to another climate. But their own home here, and the necessity for earning her own way in a strange land stood in the way. However, a terrible night last September in which Stella had to send for the rescue squad, settled the matter.

A feverish correspondence with various Chambers of Commerce followed; feverish on her part; cold, unresponsive - or rather unreceptive - on their part, for the housing situation is critical in most cities. But she put her business affairs in order, rented her house, furnished, to a reliable family, and turned her face westward. On a cold, rainy morning in mid-October that ended up with a precocious snowfall, she and her two boys set forth in a car, owned and driven by a spinster, knowing not where their home was to be. At a little farewell conclave of the old foursome, we old cronies fell to conjecturing; whether it would be Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona. She had received enough gas coupons to last her to Arizona. At the last minute, when she consulted her lawyer about some legal matter, he suggested Las Cruces, as he knew, on the advice of relatives, that the climate there is ideal. The spinster driver was a brand new roomer of Stella's, who I think formed a sentimental attachment for the family, together with that long-smothered urge for adventure. However, Miss B. did not find suitable work in Las Cruces, and went to Dallas, where she has friends. I would have cracked years ago under the mental and nervous strain that Stella has suffered. But "Character is Destiny;" and here she is; stronger, braver, sweeter than ever; in love with Las Cruces, its eternal sunshine, and its warm, affectionate, home-loving, deeply religious, Mexican people. There are many fine, cultured "northerners" there, too, most of whom have come, at some time or other for their health. But I can see that it's the warm-hearted Latins who appeal especially to Stella and her boys. They started looking for a house to themselves, with attractive grounds, such as they had always had here. But they were sent to a two-family house, met the sweet young mother of 23 and her beautiful twin babies - and looked no farther. I gather from Stella's letters that what they have done is take a lease on the privilege of being near those twins. A young High School boy, who is preparing himself to become a Jesuit priest, comes every day, to give Stella her Spanish lesson. "We have known David only a week," she writes "but already we love him dearly, and wait daily for his coming." To the boys' great delight, the schools are just now opening their doors (November 29th), as the children were needed in the cotton fields. Although Jackie caught a bad cold after their arrival, he had no asthma, so the climate is evidently just what he needs.

Another time I must tell you about Stella, and her endearing qualities, and about this other friend. But before I close I just want to mention our first Christmas card, which came yesterday. It came from the South Pacific - from Major Craig Seasholes, the one who was stranded on a rubber raft for six days. There was just one sentence - of a written message, "Ah, how I long for the sweet music of the 'cello!" What a world of longing and homesickness expressed in those few words! And here we take all those things for granted. In fact, when Richard Crooks is singing in the living room, and Virgil is practicing scales in the kitchen, I want to commit mayhem on the cello. Oh, this month of inventory let us take new inventory of our blessings - we who are safe and warm and blessed in the heart of this land of yours.

Yours for Victory and Peace,
Florence B. Taylor

Next - 12/9/43 - Suggestions, Anyone?

BY-WAYS Table of Contents