Welcome Home, Mom

My mother Loretta Barrett raised children, built a career in counseling high school students, traveled the world, and wrote her autobiography. Then she went back home to Galveston, Texas.

Loretta (Lola) Barrett was born in 1922 and died in November 2019. She told her life story in her autobiography Around the Gulf, Around the Globe. This little article tells the story of her trip from the San Francisco Bay area back to her favorite places — Village Mills and Galveston in her home state of Texas.

Shortly after Lola’s death, we held a memorial service for her at Lynnewood Methodist Church in Pleasanton, her adopted home in California. We lived in the Cloud House in the nearby town of Castro Valley, but I could not get comfortable with the name “Castro Valley.” Also, our bank, our doctors, our PO Box, and our church were all located in Pleasanton, so we traveled to Pleasanton several times each week. When people asked where we lived, I usually responded, “… in a small PO Box in Pleasanton.”

Retirement in Village Mills

After retiring, Lola and her husband George Barrett designed and built a little jewel box house on a small lake in the town of Village Mills, just north of Beaumont, Texas. The house has passive solar heating, a big screened porch, and a little pier extending out into the lake. This little jewel box was home for them for over 20 years. All four of their grandchildren visited often during the summers to enjoy time with grandparents, time away from parents, and a slower life in the country.

During retirement, George and Lola took up birding as a hobby and traveled the world to see exotic and rare birds. They visited each of seven continents, including Antarctica, and often ended up in obscure places like Nome, Alaska, and Churchill, Canada, on the Hudson Bay.

George and Lola planned thoroughly, even as far as buying five lots in the local Wildwood Cemetery. When George passed away suddenly in 1998, the cemetery had its very first resident from the Barrett family. Ever thrifty, George and Lola bought a headstone large enough to include her. Upon George’s death, Lola paid the headstone engraver to carve her name and birth date, as well as George’s name, birth, and death dates. Everything was ready for Lola to join him eventually. At that time, she expected to stay in Village Mills, but life often changes our plans. For health reasons she moved to California to live with us in May 2007.

Lola lived with us for 12 years. During her stay with us, Lola grew into the role of family matriarch. She wrote letters to family and cousins, called cousins, attended family reunions, and traveled across the southwest and Pacific coast to visit every cousin. Cousins often came to the San Francisco bay area to visit Lola, and us too. She attended every single family wedding, usually as the guest of honor. She also attended most graduations of her cousins.

Lola Gets a Family Reunion

Devon and I planned to carry her ashes back to Village Mills early in 2020, but Covid rearranged our travel plans, along with the plans of the entire nation. The delay gave us time to plan a family reunion Because our extended families live across the country, our family reunions last for a week or so, giving everyone lots of time to catch up with cousins. This family reunion started on Saturday, July 23, 2022, with Family Oscars night planned for Sunday night, July 24, and the ceremony for Lola scheduled for the next day, at Wildwood Cemetery.

As you might imagine, the Family Oscar presentation ran long and beverage consumption increased. When the Oscar presentation concluded around 9 PM the older generation headed to bedrooms to settle down for the evening. After putting the kids to bed, the younger generation headed out to a local establishment for the awards after-party, which lasted well past midnight.

From the west end of Galveston Island where we held the reunion, the travel time to Village Mills and the little Wildwood Cemetery north of Beaumont is three hours. I had scheduled the ceremony for 11:30 AM, and I could only hope that everyone would make the 8:30 departure time. In actuality, there was no problem and everyone found the little cemetery pretty much on time. Wildwood Cemetery is small, with only a narrow, one-lane gravel road looping through it. Of course, our group used both ends of the loop and met in the middle, so every car had to back out, one at a time, after the ceremony.

Summers along the Gulf Coast are hot and humid, and the sun is bright. The cemetery has a few trees but no awning or sun shade so the only seating was the few plastic lawn chairs that Raul brought. We had to work fast before people melted in the heat and the kids lost interest.

How do you scatter ashes on a hot, breezy day? We wanted each person to scatter a few ashes in a little trench we dug around the headstone. Human ashes can be light, sticky, and awkward on a breezy day. Lola loved Galveston, which gave us the idea to mix fine, white Galveston beach sand with her ashes. The Galveston beach sand worked really well to keep the ashes under control.

What spoon do you use to scatter ashes? We looked at kitchen spoons, beach sand scoops, serving ladles, and even big salad tongs. Nothing quite fit the somber mood of scattering human ashes. Finally, Devon found a pair of big, heavy, golden spoons that looked appropriate, not like kitchen cutlery. The spoons worked well with the clear, plastic beach bucket which we used to mix the sand and ashes.

To start the ceremony I spoke about the three pillars of Lola’s life: her faith, her family, and finances. She lived her faith through a deep, life-long connection to the Methodist church demonstrated by a lifetime of service, attendance, and giving. She supported and nurtured her extended family, attending every wedding and corresponding with every cousin through letters, telephone calls, and frequent visits to cousins in many states. Financially Lola believed in strength through long-term substantial savings, giving to the church, and supporting her family. She wanted every cousin to have an IRA account. To encourage them, she sent each cousin a check to open an IRA, with the promise of another check once they sent her a statement from their new IRA account.

Then I explained why the bucket was filled with sand from Galveston. Lola enjoyed parties and loved Galveston, where she had lived four separate times, and finally built a permanent home there, a beach house on stilts.

Quickly we began to scatter the sand and ashes into the trench in front of Lola and George’s headstone. Each person passed the spoon to the next person after taking a turn. Even the younger children took a turn scattering ashes. After everyone had scattered a spoonful of ashes and sand into the little trench, we encouraged them to drive to Mama Jacks, the local BBQ house in Kountze, for a group lunch hosted by Lola.

We stayed a few minutes to clean up and scatter the remaining ashes and sand into the trench. Cousin Danny stopped us. Usually Danny is pretty taciturn, so we paid attention when he spoke.

“Don’t dump all the ashes into that trench. You may need some ashes later. Save them,” he said.

“Hmmm, ” I responded. “I don’t know what we will do with leftover ashes, but OK. We will save them.” So we left with the job not quite done. A small box of ashes remained in the car.

At Mama Jacks BBQ Restaurant, we gathered for BBQ in a group dining room. My high-school friend Ben Mayberry has developed quite a talent as a speaker for memorials. He has a sharp wit, good comedic timing, and likes to poke fun gently. He played bridge with Lola, George, and me. We often found some mischief together in high school. He had considerable material for his talk about Lola.

When we got back to our beach houses on the west end of Galveston Island, we all gathered at one house for the after-party. Lola’s four grandchildren each told their own stories about Lola. Pretty soon, everyone joined in, adding more stories of Lola.

Cousin Lauren joined us, lamenting that she could not attend the graveside service because her four-year-old son Van had been sick. Lauren’s mother Joanne had described the graveside ceremony, and Lauren felt that she had missed a profound opportunity to say goodbye to her Aunt Lola.

“You know that Aunt Lola thought of Galveston as her heart home, which is why we mixed Galveston sand with her ashes for the graveside ceremony, ” I told Lauren.

“Danny told us to save a few ashes, which we did. Would you be willing to scatter some of her ashes right here in the gulf just off Galveston Island? We could have a small beachside ceremony this evening around sunset.”

Lauren is capable and poised, but this offer caused her to hesitate for a minute. Eventually, she agreed and we planned one more ceremony to bring Aunt Lola home to Galveston. She recited the poem Sea Fever, by John Masefield:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

by John Masefield

Lola made her final trip home to Village Mills to be with her husband and daughter Grace. She made her final trip home to Galveston, to the sand, and to the sea she loved. Three generations of her family and cousins witnessed her life and felt her positive impact on their lives. She brought happiness and joy to everyone she met. She changed lives. Her race is done. May each of us finish our own race as well as she did.

Lola Barrett, still going at age 95.

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