Grandma Dixie, a.k.a. My Mom
I’ve talked a lot about my dad in the last couple of posts. Today I’d like to share some memories of my mom. None of you had the chance to meet your Grandma Dixie. She passed away when she was 40 and I was pregnant with Michelle. She knew I was pregnant, but we never really had the chance to even talk about it. She died in the hospital of cancer, quicker than we thought possible.
Dixie Lee Carr was born April 30, 1940 in Little Rock, Arkansas (her last name would later become Schultz when Grandma Ida’s second husband adopted her). My mom was a vivacious woman; very creative, outgoing, and even charismatic. Unfortunately, she was a bit oppressed by my dad – a very dominant personality. She really came alive when he wasn’t around, which is very sad, but true. I think they were happy in the beginning. I’ve seen pictures of them in the early days, both wearing big smiles. When I knew them, though, there was a lot of fighting. Mom seemed happiest when Dad wasn’t home. In fact, she tried to leave him several times with Grandma Ida’s help. I remember being whisked away in the middle of the day while Dad was at work, by Grandma. Usually we went to my great grandma’s house out in Palmdale – the desert. Dad always found us though. He promised mom that things would be different, and they were for a week or two, then the fighting would start again. She finally succeeded in leaving him when I was in my senior year of high school. Dad finally agreed to a divorce, but he kept all six of us kids.
In all honesty, I kind of understood Dad taking custody of us. Mom was also somewhat emotionally delicate. Six kids was way too much for her. I remember her having several emotional breakdowns as I was growing up, and Grandma Ida would swoop in and rescue her. Grandma was a rescuer. I’ll explain more about that later. I remember we would go to Grandma’s house for a few days and she would basically take care of all of us. Well, this was all before Diana and David were born, so there was only four of us. I guess by the time my parents divorced, mom desperately needed a break. Six kids and an oppressive husband would wear anybody down.
So, Mom moved from Norco, Ca. (where we lived when they split up) to Huntington Beach, Ca. and Dad hauled us kids to Texas. He was raised in Texas and tried to live there a couple of times, but Mom hated it and we always ended up back in California. Which was also my preference, most of the time. I finished my senior year of high school in Needville, Tx. at Needville Sr. High while living with Aunt Lois and Uncle Lelon. I never quite understood this part: Dad sent me to Texas first, in the middle of my senior year of high school, to live with Aunt Lois and Uncle Lelon. He and the rest of my siblings remained in Norco until right around the time I graduated. Why I couldn’t have just stayed with them and graduated from Norco remains a mystery to me. I wouldn’t trade my time in Needville for anything though, in spite of the fact that I originally didn’t want to go.
Back to Mom. I think she came to Texas to visit once, after I graduated and was once again living with Dad. I was working as a grocery checker at Kroger in Rosenberg and we were living in a trailer somewhere between Needville and Rosenberg, I believe. We weren’t there long before we moved into a dilapidated farm house off Highway 36 in Rosenberg. It was on a beautiful piece of land, but the house was in terrible shape; slanted floors and no running water. We didn’t even have mattresses on our beds. We slept in sleeping bags on the metal frames. NOT comfortable! Anyway, before too long Dad and I got into it over someone I was friends with and he kicked me out. I high-tailed it back to California as quick as I could and moved in with Mom.
At the time, she was in an apartment in Huntington Beach, working at an electronics company in Irvine as the receptionist. I don’t remember working at all while we were in that apartment. In fact, I think we moved to our condo closer to the beach pretty quick after I moved back because most of my memories are in that condo. It was about a mile from the beach (maybe a little further), and several of my siblings rotated in and out of there while we were there. Thom was there the longest I think. He and I used to ride the bus to the beach every day then come home and hang out drinking Schlitz malt liquor and smoking a little weed (I was a wild child for awhile). I worked the night shift at a Carl’s Jr. down Beach Blvd. a little way from our place. Beach bum by day, fast food worker by night. My mom’s boyfriend also lived with us. His name was Richard Carrville, but everyone called him “Hap”. He was a goofy guy and I never figured out exactly what Mom saw in him, but he was good to her and they even ran a trucking company together for awhile – D&H Trucking.
Eventually, Mom got me a job at the electronics company she worked at – Delta Electronics – as their Document Control Clerk. It was actually a really interesting job. I worked a lot with the engineers, made blueprints, and kept track of all the schematics and blueprints that the engineers used. I enjoyed it. I met two of my best friends in the world there; Bob Scott and Tanja Devitt. Bob was an engineer and Tanja was a secretary. They were important parts of my life for many years. I’ve lost touch with both of them now. The last time I talked to Bob was when Josh and Matt were just little guys. Tanja I last spoke to shortly after we moved into the John Thomas house – some 30-years after we first met. She was my maid of honor at my first wedding to Jim VanKeirsbulck – another story for later.
Anyway, this is the beginning of the end of Mom’s story. She got very sick while we were both working at Delta Electronics. I remember having to drive home from work because she was too tired to do it. She ended up being diagnosed with lung cancer (she was a smoker and so was Hap). At first, it was Hap who took her to all of her doctor appointments and treatments, but eventually it interfered too much with his work (he was a trucker) and Grandma Ida came to help. I continued working at Delta, going to the beach as much as possible, and basically living in denial of the fact that my mother was dying. Strangely enough (or maybe not so strange) I feel like I got to know my mom better than I ever had growing up. There was a short period of time when the cancer went into remission and I’ll never forget it because some of my favorite memories with her were made in that short little window of time.
At the time, I was dating an adorable guy named Pete Capello. Pete was very outgoing and my mom loved him! He was Italian and a dancer (and that’s all I’m going to say about that). He and I used to go clubbing and one night Mom went with us. We had so much fun! I think Mom was kinda in her element; socializing and flirting. She looked very happy that night. We didn’t stay out too long for her sake, but it was plenty long enough to create a great memory. Another night, it was storming and we heard that the waves were really high down on the Huntington Beach Pier. Mom and I hopped in the car and drove down to check it out. We ended up taking a walk on the pier, in the rain, with the waves crashing over the side of the pier. It was awesome!! I will never forget it as long as I live! In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a real smart thing to do as storms have wiped the end of that pier out a few times. I don’t think we walked all the way to the end though, so we were fine.
Shortly thereafter, Mom went into the hospital for the last time. The last time I laid eyes on her; Grandma Ida, Uncle Sandy, Uncle Rick, and myself were standing around her hospital bed. She was completely incoherent under the effects of morphine. It was very sad. I went home and later that night, Grandma woke me up to tell me she was gone. Twenty days before my twentieth birthday, I lost my mom and Grandma lost her daughter. To this day, some 40-years later the memory still makes me cry. I wish I had known her better and I am thankful that I got to know her as well as I did.
My mom was creative and crafty. She sewed most of my clothes for me when I was younger. She could draw like nobody’s business. Thom inherited that talent from her. She had a green thumb and could grow anything. She was a wiz in the kitchen. She could make the most amazing meals out of seemingly nothing. She adored our brother, Mike, even though she used to throw her hairbrush at him when he was trying to talk to her while she was on the phone. I’m pretty sure Mike was her favorite. She called him “Mickey Mouse”. Her nickname for me was “Brandy”. No one else has ever called me that. She and my grandma spent countless hours at our kitchen table in Santa Ana, surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke and coffee steam. My mom always had poodles! From the time I was little and we lived in Garden Grove, I remember her having a poodle. I hate poodles, but she loved them. Her favorite flower was the red carnation. I had one in my bridal bouquet in her honor when Jim and I got married. The yellow rose was her and Dad’s flower, according to Dad. I remember thinking she was so beautiful when she would dress up for a (rare) night out with Dad. She loved to laugh, and she was a fighter. Her ancestors were Irish and she had that same spirit; feisty lovers of life. She gave cancer a run for its money, but it just wasn’t enough. Her grave stone in Westminster Memorial Park on Beach Blvd., says “Thy will be done”. I don’t know why it was His will to take Dixie Lee Miller from this world at the young age of 40, and leave six kids motherless, but it was.
I can still see her smile and I know she would be crazy about all of you! I so wish you could have met her! I can only hope that through these stories and the few pictures that I have, I can somehow keep her memory alive enough that you can feel like you know her just a little.
Until next time!
I love you bunches!