Marie Gray and Rachel Gray-Castro

Recorded February 9, 2008 Archived February 9, 2008 30:20 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY003613


Marie tells her daughter Rachel about her parents and their strength and dedication serving their country and raising a family

Subject Log / Time Code

Mother joined the Women’s Army Corps
Father was part of Civil Conservation Corps before being drafted
Family moved to Texas, father started work as a shrimper
Sister’s battle with cancer
Parent’ sense of commitment was great inspiration and example


  • Marie Gray
  • Rachel Gray-Castro

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:00 Sure.

00:05 I'm Marie gray. I'm 60 years old. Today is February 9th 2008. We are in San Antonio, Texas and I'm the mother of the young woman here.

00:19 And my name is Rachel gray Castro. I'm 27 years old. Today is February 9th 2008. And where in San Antonio, Texas and I'm interviewing my mother.

00:30 Okay, go ahead. And well we talked that you said you want to talk about strength and your family so

00:42 Tell me about your mom and dad. That's why I wanted to do this since my mom was going to be here and couldn't because she's ill so I thought my tribute to her and my dad was to talk about what I think is the heritage of strength and actually rightness that they have given to me and to us from who they are and what they became from how they started in life. So it really is a tribute to them. And how did they start your mom and dad? Well, my mom was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's from a very poor family.

01:26 She was born in the 1920s 1925 her father and mother were because of religious differences were sort of ostracized or ostracized by the families the respective families. Her father was an Irish Catholic and her mother was a German Lutheran her father was an abusive alcoholic.

01:58 So she had a very difficult childhood. They were quite poor but her dad died when she was young and she was sent to live with an aunt and her sister was sent to live with another aunt and her brother was sent to live with us a third Aunt so they were broken up when they were quite young and again the homes to which they were sent were very difficult. It was a very hard childhood so that by the time she was 17. She was ready to leave that was during World War II have begun.

02:36 And so to leave town she forged her birth certificate and join the Army. She was a member of the women's Army Corps wac, which I know there are few that are left certainly from World War II and so that's how she came to live to Lee's Philadelphia and wish you stationed in Angel Island right away. No first. She went to Chattanooga, Tennessee and that's why she got her basic training. She has never been outside of Philadelphia and she went on this she sits rickety train scared to death 17 years old and went to this foreign place for her after basic training then they put her on another train, which they were cattle cars. Actually that had been cleaned out and benches put on and send to Angel Island, which is Anaya.

03:36 I'm in San Francisco Bay, which I know subsequently very few people are aware of that. It was a not top secret or anything but just was not advertised and even people who live in San Francisco are unaware of where it is and what it was used for. So anyway, she was sent to San Francisco Angel Island to be base. That's the first half of the story. And then how did your dad get to Angel Island? Will he was born in? I'm not sure if it was he lives in Granite City, Illinois. That's where you grew up again. Very poor. His dad was a steel worker.

04:19 His mom was a housewife of my mom some of his stories are really son say yeah, he was Croatian they made their own line and literally are a he he did have to put on clean socks and stomp the grapes in a barrel, so

04:41 When he at 17 this is part of his story at 17. He had an attack of appendicitis and for 5 days. No one could diagnose it and his mom finally took him to a brand new spanking Doctor Who diagnose said you've got a ruptured appendix. So he had suffered with a ruptured appendix. Which again is it an interesting story, which I will take a long time with but there was no penicillin at that time.

05:13 And what they did was operate on him and take all of his abdominal organs out and the doctor wash them off with sterile water. And that's how he saved my Dad's life and I remember Granddad saying his organs aren't in the same place cuz he always that he often talked about how he'd been rinsed off inside what the doctor told and go never let anybody operate cuz I'll never be able to figure out what's was. So anyway, he's still recovering from from the surgery. It took quite a while and he was drafted into the army because again, this was World War II that wasn't good. So he went out he was in in the Army and they sent him to Angel Island, which before I get into that I have to say because you are here Rachel that

06:13 Before he had his attack of appendicitis. He was a member of the CCC Court which did all that Building and park building and and Dam building prior to World War II during the Depression and what is that connection with you? Became the national Civilian Conservation Corps, which led to America Orange City year, which is what I did doesn't year of service and sit here and tell you I was always very happy to talk to him about City year cuz you know, he was reminded of CCC your grandfather my dad have to connection that is very unexpected, which was really neat. So anyway, he was shipped off to Angel Island.

06:58 And he was there probably about two years before my mom got there. She was in the first group of women who were stationed on Angel Island. He was on the sidelines when their group their whatever it's called in the Army their troops marched onto the island. She had very red hair and green eyes and he was standing there watching and he said that's the one I'm going to catch about her So eventually they did me ten after two years, they dated and ended up engaged and marrying and but I guess what I want to say about this, this is the strengthen the rightness both came from poverty, but what they both had to go through to get where they were the internal strengths of my mother especially was just determined

07:58 Her life was not going to be the same as her mom's and entrenched in poverty in Philadelphia in the way. She had grown up. That was one thing and the other thing was that she was determined that her family life her children. We're going to have a better family life than she had had and those two things I think gave her strength to get some through some some experiences that otherwise she may not have

08:34 And my dad it's it's having that physical problem with the surgery in with the ruptured. Appendix What it Took?

08:45 To become a soldier and both of them at the time this was the right thing to do right America was under attack or or was hurting with a depression with the war and they were just doing their Duty. So I really think of them as being part of the greatest Generation that and they're not special in intensive. There won't be any statues for them. There won't be any plaques or Scholarships in their name. They were just one of the very many who in the late thirties in the forties and then into the 50s who did their Duty who who found strength of character respect of person who hurts who just did what needed to be done for themselves and for their families so and

09:37 Going back to the Pastoria then after they got married. They had you yes. Okay, they they got married and they lived in San Francisco for about a year then both of them were discharged and they move back to my dad's Hometown, which was Granite City, Illinois big again. Big steel towns. Lots of pollution. Not the very best place to grow up. I got sick a lot had pneumonia a lot.

10:05 After being married 10 years actually, they were married 10 or 11 years and they got told because of me that they had do one of three things would happen. I would die if they had to put me on very expensive medicine on for the rest of my life where they had to move and how many of you were there at that time. There were six of us six children six children and one on the way and my mother's sister was married to a shrimper, Louisiana who had moved to Brownsville, Texas.

10:45 So my dad got laid off at that time was working as a Distributing sodas soda water.

10:58 And he got laid off and so my uncle

11:03 I invited him to come down and become a stripper which my dad had no idea what that meant and never done anything like that and they were kind of desperate so they packed up their belongings and children and one to come and move down to Brownsville, Texas, which we saw it was the end of the world. It was a very different culture the heat was humongous. The food was different people spoke a different language and we had no idea but again the strength in my mind.

11:44 That they showed the strength of character to do whatever was necessary for the well-being of their families. Didn't know what they were going to be getting into left family of my dad had a lot of family in Illinois and left there and their station wagon with all the kids and what belongings they had and came down to this very strange place and and it was we weren't there for a few months when the shrimping went bad my aunt and her husband moved back to Louisiana and left my mom and dad there by themselves. No relatives very few friends and yet they plowed ahead and put one foot in front of the other.

12:35 Took care of their family would do anything they needed to do to take care of of all of us and keep the family together.

12:45 Again, I just think it took such strength of character to just leave with almost nothing and go to almost nothing and just make a life and again that sense of rightness as parents. This was what they needed to do. This was the right thing to do to take care of their children and their family and they had quite a few rough spots in that my my dad Not only was he a stripper for several months. He was the cook and was seasick the whole time. I think he was on the the the boat not a ship a little bitty shrimp. Okay for about 6 months off and on and was seasick, and my mom was by herself racing tried to take care of the children in.

13:39 And I just know it was a very difficult time for them.

13:44 So but they plowed ahead and and when my aunt and uncle left by dad knew he couldn't by that time. He had quit the shrimping because her for a couple reasons one. He was into he missed the family so much he miss my mom and he missed the children and he knew the shrimping life was not for him.

14:07 So can we quit and my sister one of my sisters had broken her arm?

14:16 And that the day that they were at the end of the rope in terms of running out of money not knowing what to do. If I didn't turn agent came up and said, well, I know your policy has lapsed but it would have not run out and here's a check for your daughter's broken arm.

14:36 And my dad and mom were so impressed with that and that particular insurance agent was looking for more agents in the area. And that's what my dad said. Hey, I'll do that kind of roast raises him and says, yeah, I can do that and that's what he ended up doing. And again, they ended up with a few rough spots with that but ended up owning their own little insurance agency and having four more kids so that their ended up with 10 of us in

15:14 And that we stayed even at that time stayed very close and I think now are very close as a family because of my mom's determination to have a family and my dad's just Incredible strength of character to take care of us. I know before we move down to Brownsville.

15:37 Kia key at different times work three jobs. He would work his day job.

15:43 A weekday evening job and then had a different job on the weekend and I just find that amazing that he would do what ever he needed to do to keep us fed and clothed and housed and so

16:03 I just I just really.

16:05 I think they did a fabulous job and how did they pass this idea of strength on to you children?

16:14 The best example I can give of that for me.

16:20 Is the strength of character I found when my sister was ill.

16:30 And when she was diagnosed with cancer and needed someone to be with her.

16:39 She and I were not very close.

16:42 But it was obvious. She needed someone to help her through.

16:48 What we didn't know what was going to happen. I have a medical technician. I am a medical technologist by college degree. So I have a little bit of that knowledge of medicine and I at that time was kind of in a part-time job situation. So I had the time and I became her medical companion.

17:15 That's probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. And I've had three fabulous daughters. So I'm a mom and cut to walk with her through that Journey that took two and a half years.

17:35 Took every bit of strength that I've ever had. And I think during that time I was very aware and no not very where it was kind of like in the back of my mind that I could get through this that she could get through this but that together

17:55 We could get through this and through the chemotherapy and the radiation and the

18:03 Increasingly difficult

18:06 I told the illness but my mom and dad again with their even at their age they were much older at that point in time and they came regularly and how much they depended on on me and those of us who were in town to take care of Teresa to be there for her, but it was their strength of being even at that time that helped me on those days when I didn't think I could go with her to treatment one more time.

18:46 Knowing that they were going to be coming up that weekend. How can I not do that? And again it was the right thing to do, but I don't feel like I did anything special.

19:02 It was just what family does for family you're there for one another you just find the strength to do it because it's the right thing to do. And so that's when I say that's how I was a child of their quality. My mom and dad's qualities tell. Yeah, that's it.

19:33 And I know there's some there's a lot of strength needed now with Grandma.

19:38 Yeah, I'm because she's ill now and

19:43 I guess that's one of the gifts my sister who died and gave me is the realization that all of us Walk On The Edge that the difference between life and death is one breast.

20:01 And how important it is to Value the time the life that we have at this very moment.

20:11 Because we are on the edge and so the the importance of the time I now have with my mom.

20:21 That if I can spend time with her then that's what I'm going to do. She's going to come visit us then nothing else matters. If I have the opportunity to go down there. Nothing else really matters right now is is to spend time with her and it's also helped I think as a mom treasure ring my children.

20:46 That the time we have with him can was with you with your two sisters with my grandchildren is so very very valuable.

21:00 I know my mom and dad never expected to have a child die before them.

21:08 And so the reality that that can happen.

21:14 So how important is?

21:16 To treasure each of you and the moments that we have with you.

21:22 Because again, we just live on the edge and things happen accidents happen has happened. And so it's important to embrace you when I can and to Value when I guess I've been thinking about this in my honor never have anything big I have not discovered anything. I'm not an artist. I'm not not anyone really important.

21:58 But

21:59 Maybe makeup the everyday persons who are people who are this country and just the value of that Isom hose and into understand that there is a huge world out there.

22:21 But the value of my little world.

22:25 And who I am in that little world and who are the people that are important that in the world looks like Mother Teresa says, you know do small things with great love.

22:36 I think we do that maybe that's what it is. Yeah. Yeah, the things I do are small, but maybe they just if I can put out a little bit of positive energy into the cosmos my part in that way that maybe that will add two cuz I certainly don't have the answers to

23:03 The big problems of the world

23:06 But if I can love my children and my family

23:10 And have a kind word and a smile for the clerk at the store or the person on the street or I can recycle my soda can and my newspaper that just those little bitty efforts will add to the

23:33 Positive

23:35 If everybody did that maybe that would help and you did teaching on that to us girls. You know, when you consider me and Lisa both being teachers we touch so many lives and small waist everyday and Sharon with inheriting me Insurance Dean and taking care of people's most basic needs their help me.

24:01 I thought about that. I could not be prouder as a parent.

24:06 Because I and I guess at the end, I I look back and I think again that comes from my mom and dad that I hopefully have passed on to you that sense of service that that's what I see in you and your sisters to teachers there were not there were no teachers in my family but the impact oh my gosh is incredible that the two of you have on children on people learning. It's just amazing and

24:42 Your sister that again she is in a service industry. I look back at all my siblings every one of my nine and now eight siblings is in a service.

24:57 A service job service occupation a service vocation and I think that comes from that sense of giving that I grew up with and that hopefully has been passed on to you. So and I think with the way that we were raised being

25:22 Stable and haven't you noticed the most for knowing where our next meal is going to come from we were able to move and add that to the world. You know, we tried to improve other people's lives because we did have stabilized for the most part and I think I think that's true. I think we did talk. I think you grew up so much with that idea that yes, our family is so important and it's important to nourish and strengthen our family so that you can reach out the others that it's not something to hoard to ourselves in the sense of security and or knowledge and or love and or whatever that it is something that you give to others. And again, I think that the three of you certainly do that

26:20 In your occupations it is it is something that is to be given away to be nurtured and taken care of and then to be given away.

26:35 So you think you anything else you wanted to talk about? I don't know. I guess that that was just it I've always wanted to honor my my mom and dad and to connect them with you.

26:53 We can talk to Grandma at Grandpa's funeral about the Legacy that he has left with his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And you know, we are just passing it on as we can. Yeah how simple that they were both just really simple people who?

27:14 Held

27:16 Family brightness strength courage perseverance

27:24 But they did that and so did make the world a better place. I think so, I think so the sacrifices they made coming out of the the depression coming out of such poverty and doing what they did and passing it on to their children.

27:44 So I'm not sure what else I'm not sure. What else yeah. Yeah. What did you see? What do you see from from those grandparents that that you see in your life?

28:03 I think the stability that you know, even in a chaotic circumstance, they held such nobility and did keep their family together that that has led to my idea of service and being strong even when it's difficult and I think Lisa and I pass it on to our children so much art our students and then Sharon helping to create that for people and even creating our own families with with Sharon's children.

28:37 And all I just want another average value of that was a sense of commitment that came so strongly, you know here with my mom and dad their sense of commitment to their country at that time and and I just cut country that such a broad the a finesse kind kind of thing to the people of America. That was what what they were doing and then when they married their sense of commitment to one another commitment to their family that they certainly gave to me and my sense of commitment to my husband and my sense of commitment to our children and I think that you guys have that yes, it is very much a I sent a commitment to

29:36 You and your husband's and then to the world and in the little ways small ways that you really do have a commitment to other people. I mean do with your always your camp. Camp is a camp for the handicapped children your commitment to citicorp, which I do right back in your granddad your commitment to teaching that warms a mother's heart.