I BORROWED MY GRANDMOTHER’S DRESS MARCH 11, 2013
When Aunt Mae passed away in April 1947, I was living there with her in that great, wonderful Spanish Mediterranean home on the hill above the State Hwy. in San Juan Capistrano. In back to the east were hundreds of acres of vacant land which had been used for cattle, or to plant oats for hay, or for me to horse around riding the horse, or learning to drive the old Hupmobile, or learning to shoot a rifle or a pistol. All this land was the original Mexican or Spanish land grants. The home was on a parcel of 39 acres with about 8 of those acres lying in the San Juan Creek, the home sat on top of the hill, and there were 15 acres of oranges on the side of hill going down to the highway — a beautiful setting.
Her Attorney Bob from Santa Ana, and I as Executrix, spent a little over a year settling that estate. It was almost unheard of. A lot of people in those days would keep the estate open for several years because then the Attorney and Executor can be paid more money. In order to close sooner, we had to start selling off property to dig up $100K in cash to satisfy the estate taxes the government wanted. The first parcel to sell was 19 acres in walnuts, adjoining the 39 acres to the north next to downtown. It went for $19K in the court auction. Then down the line, a local woman with cash to burn just had to have the home property. She paid $39K. I felt sad about selling this, but had to look at it in “true light of day.” There was a whole bunch of deferred maintenance, house was then almost 25 years old — tile roof, window casings just to name a couple of items. Then there was the upkeep to think about. It required a full time gardener to keep the place looking nice and in good condition. A cook/ housekeeper was definitely needed. I would not be able to afford the cost of living there. That was why I had to move, and I asked Bob what was I to do about finding a place. He said, “Well, go on over to Laguna Beach where you want to move to, find the place you want, then let me know.”
I found the home, he took a look, then had me meet him in Santa Ana at the Orange County Title Company where he introduced me to Chet, one of the head honchos, who handled escrows. Bob explained to him about the estate, and Chet started filling out escrow papers for a 30-day closing, then he came to the part about earnest money deposit for the $32K purchase price, and how much would it be. Bob said $32K, and then Chet asked what bank, then Bob says “Do you have a blank check? Chet asked “What bank?” Then Bob says, “What do you have there?” Chet: “Here’s a B of A, Santa Ana branch.” Bob takes the check, hands it to me, and tells me to fill it out for $32K and make payable to Orange Coast Title. I meekly told him that I do not have an account at that bank, but he just told me to go ahead and do as he said. I think Chet was getting a little apprehensive, but Bob assured him that all was okay — that on closing that check would be torn up. All this indeed did happen, and I did move into this beautiful home on Victoria Drive on cliffs above the ocean.
All of the above is a very long Prologue to lead into the main story about Grandmother’s dress. I never did know my Dad’s mother and father. Grandmother Guadalupe Avila Forster died in 1899, and Grandfather Marcos Antonio Forster in 1904.
During the 1930’s, the Bower’s Museum had been built, and it had to be filled with antiques and stuff. Mrs. Coulter was the Curator, and she descended on all the old families in San Juan Capistrano to wheedle their family possessions for the Museum. She hit all the Forster family, and those women of the family were pussycats. They donated, also put some things on loan. Aunt Mae (John Forster) gave up the Family Baptismal Robe, among other items; Aunt Ada (Frank Forster) contributed; my Mom (George Forster) threw in some silver candlesticks, linens, etc.; then Dad’s 2 sister’s Ysidora Forster Echenique, and Lucana Forster McFadden also gave and loaned stuff. In fact, I think it was Aunt Lukie who had donated our Grandmother’s long, black dress. Mrs. Coulter caught me at a later date, and one of the items I donated was an old, old wooden ship’s chest which came off my Great Grandfather’s (Don Juan Forster) sailing ship It was big and heavy, and I sure didn’t want to cart that around in my travels through life. (It might’ve slowed me down.)
It came to pass that there was going to be a very swanky Dinner-Dance Ball in Laguna Beach, and I guess they wanted to welcome me to the City so I was invited, and I was quite thrilled about it. The Laguna Beach Newspaper article announcing my move to their fair City, went on and on about the history of our family — and that’s how I came up with an answer as to what I would wear to this formal gala.
I drove off to the Bower’s Museum in Santa Ana to twist Mrs. Coulter’s arm, if I had to, but she was the pussy cat this time around, and agreed to let me borrow the dress for a few days. She dug it out, and then I wanted to try it on before leaving for home. Good idea since how would I know if it fit me? Mrs. Coulter helped me, and we had a great time. She had to button the teeny buttons — jillions of them from neck down to waist. There was a Chinese black silk shawl that was one of my display items. I didn’t borrow that because I had another one at home, and it was a better choice: a white background with colorful embroidered flowers. We finally got me into the dress, treating it with great respect because it was silk. It fit just perfectly, and goose bumps were in order.
On the day of the Gala, I had a date with my hairdresser to see if he could get my Spanish comb anchored in my hair to drape the shawl over the comb and down over my shoulders. There just wasn’t enough hair to have a nice big bun to hold the comb. Robert improvised and just did a little bun. The accompanying photo shows how I appeared at the festivities without a comb. I just hope the guests weren’t too knowledgeable about how those Spanish Señoritas used to wear all that garb in the olden days.
The party was a huge success. Everyone had fabulous time. We were wined and dined, and we danced into the wee small hours. It has always been a vivid memory. What a time!