December 2, 2012, my grandmother Helen L. Meyer would have been 113 had she lived. How much I miss my energetic grandmother even after 11 years after she died (May 26 2001), I could never manage to tell you. My grandmother was my “day-to-day” mother, owing to my birth mother’s ill-health and related problems. She was a lady of great strength and unfailing love for her husband, her daughter, her sisters, and for me, even if she appeared inflexible and tyrannical to some.
“Helen” taught me 90% of what I know and think I understand about values such as loyalty and honor and life in general. Her teaching connected me to the past—the Ancient Greek and Roman Past, the history of our ancestral homelands in southern England, various parts of France and far western Austria, the Colonial Past of Louisiana and the South, the Confederate States of America, “the Old South”, modern (20th Century) U.S. Politics and World Wars I and I.
She died in her bedroom in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas, in a “modern cathedral style” house which she designed—complete with 16 foot high modern stain-glass windows imported from Czechoslovakia—(before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia), a copper-ore (green veined stone) central fireplace and a modern wrought iron fence with Masonic and “Occult” symbols affixed, 21 years after her husband of more than 50 years had died in that same room (February 18, 1980). To my horror, my mother sold that house and allowed it to be torn down almost immediately after my grandmother died. I would have kept it as a shrine and monument to my grandparents’ memory but my mother felt otherwise—she once expressed “envy” for Patricia Hearst’s “courage” in joining the Symbionese Liberation Army and rejecting her own conservative parents’ past and beliefs—and of course my mother had all the family’s Dallas lawyers and bankers to help her enforce her wishes.
My favorite picture of my grandparents was of them walking hand in hand in front of the old Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the “Yellow Brick Brewery” as it was sometimes called. She was wearing a flowing white dress with a tiara on her always short “boyish bob” hair and my grandfather was in tux and tails beside her—they were in their early 50s, I guess….long before Lincoln Center was built, on one of their “Opera Jaunts” or vacations up north.
A Mexican artist friend of mine (Fernando Marrufo) once wrote a book of which he gave me an autographed copy back at Chichén Itzá once called “Del Baúl de mi Abuela” (“from my grandmother’s treasure chest”).
My grandmother didn’t exactly have a treasure chest but her extraordinary life was exemplified by the content inventory of her bedside dresser table when she died: In one stack, bound by a wide velvet blue band tied in a bow (1) a 1910 copy of the King James Bible, (2) her 1912 confirmation copy of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, (3) her 1908 Latin Grammar, (4) 1904 Caesar’s Gallic War, and (5) 1911 History of the England from her high school days in Louisiana, all bound in beautiful tooled and gold-embossed leather that is hard to imagine being used in any school anywhere today, (6) a box with her 1917 solid gold, engraved, medal of “Hypatia of Alexandria” indicating her status as Valedictorian of her all-girls school in New Orleans, (7) a very old and cracked black leather holster with an antique 7 shot 38 caliber revolver with the words: ”Address Sam’l Colt New York US America” engraved on the top of the barrel. The gun was oiled, loaded and could have been pulled off the top of the bound stack of books easily. I think it had belonged to both her father (a Louisiana Judge) and grandfather (a Confederate Veteran of the Battle of Gettysburg).
There were several other old books, including a thick two volume 1950s treatise on Physical and Organic chemistry, a copy of the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, two copies of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind“, one of Francis Parkinson Keye’s “Dinner at Antoines” (the only direct reference to New Orleans History in this “treasure chest”) and an abridged one-volume version of Arnold Toynbee’s Study of History, as well as some paperback copies of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s odd philosophical mixture of science and religion.
But then there was one other notable historical item: (and think what you will because it a strange item for a loving old grandmother to possess, in the minds of some people I guess). This was a much worn copy of a book on politics and cultural ideology from the 1920s which she used to quote often to me during my five years of elementary school at J.S. Armstrong in Highland Park, and many times thereafter. It was a 1933 English translation of a book originally written in German called “My Struggle”.