|Rebecca Monroy Stephens|
May 5th, 1924-February 15th, 2013
It has been an eventful time in my life of late, and I would like to share the news of the passing of my dear mother Becky. I will share some words that were spoken at her memorial.
This is the eulogy delivered by my sister Sarah Green:
Eulogy for Mom
Our mother, Rebecca Monroy Stephens, was born, at home, on May 5, 1924 in downtown Los Angeles. She loved the fact that she was a true native Angeleno and would say that she was born in the “shadow of city hall.” Her parents, Herlinda Picos Monroy and Jose Maria Monroy had come here from Sonora, Mexico to start their married life. She was the second of five children and grew up close to her siblings. Her father left the family when my mom was very young and she never saw him again. Fortunately, my grandmother was a strong woman who worked hard and was able to keep her young family together. Though my mom was afraid of something happening to her mother because it would probably mean that she and her siblings would be separated, she had nothing to fear. My grandmother lived to the age of 90!
Though times were tough it was a gentler era in many ways. My mom grew up in a supportive neighborhood of Jews, Italians, and Mexicans. An Italian lady down the street taught her to knit. More than once an older Jewish woman saw their poverty and would cook an elaborate dinner only to deliver it to my mom’s family when her sons “unexpectedly” arrived to take her out to dinner. Such was the kindness of the day.
My mom spoke Spanish at home but learned English when she went to school. She and her siblings came home and taught their mother the new language. She received a solid education and proudly graduated from Belmont High in the early 40’s. She loved to read and did well in school. She was college material but times were different and that opportunity was not available to her. Even though she loved to read and she especially loved poetry, she said that if she had gone to college she would’ve been a science major.
After high school she worked for a short time at Hollywood Wholesale – an electrical company. She commuted from her home via the Red Cars – LA’s early public transportation system. She often bemoaned their demise saying that they worked perfectly. They were clean, on time, inexpensive, and efficient. When she was young, my mom had a pet duck and, believe it or not, this duck would walk with her to the corner where she caught the Red Car in the morning and it would be waiting for her in the afternoon when she returned. She loved that duck! Unfortunately, the duck disappeared around Easter one year and my mom sadly realized that someone was enjoying duck for their holiday meal. She didn’t blame them. Those were just the times.
My mother’s life changed dramatically when she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. Though my grandmother was dismayed at her decision, my mother realized it would afford her an opportunity to advance herself. She went to Georgia for basic training and loved being a “WAC.” To her, the uniform, the three meals a day, and the specialized instruction she received were all a dream come true. She loved the camaraderie and even maintained contact with some of these friends throughout her life. Though short in stature, she had fun being on a basketball team and was actually a pretty good shot.
Her affinity for science came in handy when she was trained as a medical stenographer, assigned to taking dictation in shorthand, during autopsies. Though none of us kids could imagine such an assignment she had the resolve to do this and do it well.
One of her other assignments was to write the letters home to wives, mothers, and sweethearts that were dictated to her by wounded soldiers recuperating in the hospital where she worked. Sometimes they would say, “you write it, you know what to say, you know what they want to hear.” I love the thought of her easing the heartache and pain of war times in this special, quiet way.
Now comes the good part! My mom was talked into attending a USO Dance while stationed in San Francisco. My father, Robert Stephens, nicknamed Steve in the Navy, attended as well. They were both shy but at one point he got her attention by nudging her foot under the table. Thus began a romance that included long distance letters and cross country trips, culminating in their marriage in his home state of Maine before a justice of the peace on November 10, 1949.
In 1966 my parents saw the neighborhood changing and knew it was time to move. Every weekend for months we drove all over the valley, Glendale, etc. looking for just the right place. My mother was never afraid to give her opinion so this process probably took a lot longer than my father anticipated. They finally settled in the Monterey Hills of South Pasadena. As was customary for my parents they began painting and weeding and sprucing up this new home. Though my mom knew this was a necessary move and a wise choice, she cried because she missed living across the street from her mother who was now a freeway drive away. But, the family reunions continued and the big yard and safe schools gave us a comfortable life in So. Pas. Before long my mom was asked to help supervise during the lunch hour at our elementary school, Monterey Hills, and so she became a “noon aide.” Later, our neighbors, the Swans, invited her to work for them at their family store – Swan Stationers. This is where her world opened up and many people remember her helping them at the store. It was the day where you could go and buy one pencil or one eraser or one report cover for 25 cents! With children at the elementary school, the jr. high, and the high school she became acquainted with many families. My mom quit this job in the mid seventies to have more time with her sister, Marti, as she was dying of cancer. Awhile later she was again “asked” to begin her next job. They needed more tellers at Bank of America, again right in So. Pasadena, and so she began yet another career. She loved counting money and she was proud of always balancing to the penny, even on busy Fridays! She eventually helped as a vault teller assisting local merchants with their business accounts and she also worked in new accounts – opening a bank account for my husband a few months before he and I met. She “retired” from this job when her grandson, Taylor, was born. She stayed home to care for him so my sister could return to work and the next year her day care center grew to include Sue’s twins, Camille and Nicole. Once again she was in her element! My dad marveled at how she acted like a young mother all over again – having plenty of energy for her young charges and so intuitively anticipating their needs.
Next came the season where our children’s activities pretty much dictated my parents’ social life. They faithfully attended piano recitals, baseball games, school plays, church programs, basketball games, track meets, and jazz concerts. The involved parents became the devoted grandparents.
About ten years ago my mother, who was never sick, became ill and spent nearly two months in the hospital. We almost lost her several times. I’m still amazed at how she battled back from that experience to live a whole decade more! In her later years dementia, memory loss, and aphasia limited her activities. She was so frustrated when we couldn’t understand her! She gradually settled into a more subdued routine but she never stopped enjoying the company of her family.
These are the words I spoke:
Rebecca Monroy Stephens
My dear sweet Mom. She was an earth mother before the term was invented. My mother wasn’t what you would call a deep thinker; she operated more from an intuitive level. Yet, she knew what she knew. If it promoted love, health or happiness, it was good. She knew, for example, that one should avoid too much sugar in your diet. She didn’t need to read double blind scientific research. She just knew. When we were growing up, candy and soda was not stocked at our house, or at least doled out in rare and small quantities. I used to envy other kids whose moms would let them indulge in all manners of sugary treats, but in retrospect, I am sure we are healthier for it. She just knew. Plus she always had some funny theories about why things were the way they were, based upon some Mexican folklore. I found it a little embarrassing when I was young, and absolutely endearing when I was older.
When I look back, I am amazed with the unconditional love that she showed for nearly everyone she knew. My friends were always welcomed and always fed, with some of her excellent cooking.
She loved babies. Oh how she loved babies. When Carmen came along, she was so happy, being her first grandchild. I recall her and my father arriving at our house, and I reached out to give her a hug, and she walked right by me and directly to Carmen. I had become dispensable at that point, I guess….
She was tough. She was a fighter. Her illness about 10 years ago would have done in most people, but she fought and survived. As my father would say, “She’s got that Indian blood in her”, referring to her native American roots in Mexico.
She came from such poor beginnings; she was naturally frugal, but not stingy. There is a very important difference. She gave of herself with such generosity. She was patient and kind.
A great cook, shared her love through food. Our kitchen was always stocked with plenty of food and her home made dishes. She would always make our favorite dish on our birthdays.
I emailed an old girlfriend from high school who I thought would like to know that Becky had passed, and she called me and regaled me for nearly ½ hour with memories about my mom, how they would laugh together and how they remained friends long after we had broken up!
It was hard watching her mind slowly slip away; almost agonizing at times. But somehow her essence remained, and if you kissed her on the cheek, she would return the kiss, and if you told her you loved her, she would say the same, as best she could.
She was our queen, in a way. Her caregivers, Nuria, Mildred and Rosa, were her handmaidens, and certainly have earned themselves a special place in heaven for the excellent, loving and gentle care they gave. We give you our heartfelt thanks.
My sisters who oversaw her care did a fantastic job, selflessly working together to see that our Mom had what was needed and that she was taken care of; shuttling her to doctor’s appointments, overseeing the caregivers, and just being present for her. I am sure our father would be proud. And I have to mention Sue’s husband Ray, (Ray-Ray) who has been a steady, kind and infinitely helpful presence this whole time. Thank you Ray, son-in-laws don’t come much better than you.
My daughter Carmen and son Myles with their Grandmother Becky.
More than anything, my Mother’s passing represents the end of an era. The house on Via del Rey was a place of many happy memories. Suddenly my mind is awash with so many memories of friends being fed, of barbeques in the back yard, of school projects getting done, thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters, birthdays, and more. We all knew this day would come, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. She died a proud Indian woman, in her own home, surrounded by loved ones. We should all be so lucky.
I wrote a silly poem for her 80th birthday a few years back, and I would like to share it with you now.
Long, long ago
In a galaxy far, far away
(Better known as the 1920’s in L.A.)
Was born a little girl, one of four
Nothing less, nothing more
Who knew what life had in store?
She went to school and confession
And survived the great depression
And then she wanted a little more
So she joined the Women’s Army Corps
And a little after World War II
She met a man who loved her true
And in the town of
Mrs. Stephens she became
Soon baby Shelley sat on her knee
Then along came Stephanie
1955 – make some room
Along I came at the height of
the post-war baby boom
And soon after my creation
We lived in a house above a gas station
While Dad pumped gas and changed the oil
In this house she would toil
Kids crawling all over the place
She kept us fed and a smile on our face
Soon more room we did want
So we moved to a street called Rosemont
The location just couldn’t be beat
Because our Nana lived across the street
With Nana in the kitchen her and Maria sat
Mixing the masa and chewing the fat
Around the holidays we were surrounded by cousins
While those three produced tamales by the dozen
Life was good, it was true,
But then along came Sarah and Sue
With all those daughters- inner city life can unnerve ya
So we made our escape out to suburbia
In a move out of harms way
We settled down on Via del Rey
At first this move brought lots of grief
Wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth
Dad hung in there like a good man
But sometimes he must have wondered:
Why did I marry this crazy Mexican?
But soon the tempest would all pass
And life was all right in old So. Pas
From that nest, the fledglings would flee
And so expanded our family tree.
One wedding, then another
(When I needed a best man, I couldn’t ask my brother!)
Grandchilden, both girls and boys
Seemed to be her greatest joy
Through this all she was a strong moral force
And with Dad kept this family on a pretty good course
She taught us things we know are true
From Shelley right on down to Sue
Like trust in guidance from above
And not to try to outsmart love
She’ll tell you what you need to know
Plus a little folk wisdom from
And now after 80 trips around the sun
You’re still here laughing and having fun
So it should be no surprise if now and then
We brag about our very own octogenarian
I’ve said enough, it’s time to rest
But I’ve just gotta say,
Mamacita, you’re the Best!