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Interview with: Mrs. Felix H. (Angelina) Morales
Interviewed by: Tom Kreneck
Date: February 5, 1979
Archive Number: OH 246.1
AM: 00:01 …county contract.
TK: I believe we left off— I want you to restate that because it didn’t pick up on tape about how the other funeral homes would not conduct services for—
TK: Anyway, what happened there? Where would they have the funerals if they couldn’t—
AM: Most of them had garages where they keep their cars, and they would improvise a chapel there, and then they would lay out the bodies there, and the people would sit there.
TK: What funeral homes? Will you name names?
AM: At that time—let me think. Westheimer something else was one of them—Westheimer Funeral Home. Fogle-West was another one at that time. Those were about the only ones that would handle them. Most of the others wouldn’t handle them at all.
TK: They would not. Was Earthman here at that time?
AM: Earthman was here at the time.
TK: And they wouldn’t have any.
AM: Earthman would have them, but on that same basis, when we came to Houston in ’31. So then Mr. Landig put up this Mexican funeral home and set Crespo up there as the licensed embalmer and probably manager—I don’t know. Anyway, he would have—but it still was a stigma—the Mexican funeral home. And that was just a shotgun house. So we came in with a nicer home and everything, and we started getting a lot of the business.
TK: What about the churches? Did y’all have much contact with the churches?
AM: 01:39 We had a problem with the Catholic Church—Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. At that time the pastor was Father de Anda. He was a Spaniard. He controlled most of the Mexican people, really, and when he said, “You go to Crespo,” they went to Crespo. We had a run-in with him when we first came here. He said, “You better go back to San Antonio where you came from because you’re not going to get any of this business because Crespo is going to get it all.”
TK: Why was that?
AM: Because Crespo was a Spaniard just like he, and evidently, he had been associated with Crespo a year or two—I don’t know how long it had been going on—and he favored him. And he was that type of a person. It took him a long time to convince himself that the Moraleses were somebody. Then I used to go and help him with bazaars and was very active in church because I am a Catholic. And then he began liking us a little bit but not to the extent where he would— He would preach on his sermon, “When anybody gets real sick, you call me before you call another funeral home.”
TK: Goodnight. And Father de Anda, he—
AM: He was a little Jesus here. I mean, he controlled it. (laughs) We had to fight that. I mean, we didn’t only have to fight our competitors, we had to fight him.
TK: Was that the parish y’all joined when y’all came here?
AM: Yes, and that was our parish because we lived within eight blocks. As a matter of fact, after two or three run-ins with him, I changed my parish and started going to Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is another Mexican church in Magnolia. I say Mexican because predominantly, it’s Mexican people around there, and that would have been my next one. I could have gone, I guess, if I had known at the time, to the one on Sherman Street closer by, but I didn’t even know that church existed. I just wanted to get away from going over there. He was kind of hard to get along with. If anybody put a penny in the basket, he’d take it out and give it back to them. He didn’t want any pennies.
AM: He expected you to give more money. He was a businessman. He was not really a good— Some of the priests are very, very—how would you say it? They’re more part of the family, helping the family.
TK: Kind of humanitarian.
AM: Humanitarian. And there are some that are right on the business, and boy, you better have the money.
TK: Should have been a banker.
TK: Did you know Father Frank?
AM: 04:22 Father Frank—Anton Frank. Very well. At that time he was in control of all the Catholic burials. Any time that you had a funeral and it was a Catholic, you would have to go to him to get a permit to be buried in the Catholic cemetery. Oh, that was for quite a long time.
TK: The ‘30s and ’40s?
AM: Yeah, that was in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
TK: How was your relationship with him?
AM: Well, it was all right. Most of the funerals we got, sorry to say, were not Catholics unless it was a sincere friend like we have now, but most of them, when we went, we went there and we waited, and our attorneys got our permit because the people were entitled to a Catholic burial. They had died and been a churchgoing member, and they were—
TK: Was he very receptive to y’all?
AM: I would say he was more cool to us. He was not very receptive. We never had any run-ins or anything like that. We were just tolerated, we’ll say.
TK: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Well, that’s very— Okay. So we carried it up through the ‘30s and ‘40s. We got to the war.
AM: Yeah, the war. My husband, then, in the early ‘30s—about ’36—he became a licensed funeral embalmer after taking this course that I told you through the Rice Institute.
TK: When did you go through it?
AM: I went in ’40, and in ’42 I graduated from embalming school.
TK: Which one?
AM: 06:00 The Landig College of Mortuary Science.
TK: Here in Houston.
AM: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: Does it exist anymore?
AM: Yes, it still exists. Hold it just a minute. I became a professional embalmer in ’42. I was the salutatorian of our class.
TK: That’s fantastic.
AM: And here is my diploma in the 13th day of November, 1942, from the same college.
TK: That is marvelous.
AM: And here is his picture when he— His was the centennial class. Ours was the victory class. Here he is.
TK: Well, I’ll be. I’ll be. Now, you were the only woman in that class. No.
AM: No, there were three, but I was the first Mexican woman in Houston to obtain my diploma. This lady was from Laredo, and this one was from San Antonio, and she was from Horton.
TK: I’ll be. These also are Mexican-American, though, right?
AM: Uh-hunh (affirmative). But she’s from Horton, she’s from Laredo, and I’m from Houston. I was the first woman in Houston of Latin extraction. As a matter of fact, there was just one other Anglo. I forgot her name. I became the—
TK: Was there any sex discrimination then against women?
AM: 07:26 I don’t think they could afford sex discrimination at that time because I never noticed. I have never noticed any sex discrimination because I feel so much like I’ve worked along men so much that I have never felt that. As a matter of fact, I think I was pretty well established in the minds of all the people that I worked with as a woman who could handle it. And I never saw—I don’t know—the sex stuff. (chuckles) I just don’t look for it.
TK: It’s certainly not as acute as discrimination against Mexican people.
AM: Oh, yeah. That was felt. That was felt in many ways. However, like I tell you, my husband and I have not felt it for the simple reason that we established it with the idea of having a business and making some money and making ourselves known and go along with the public service as far as you can, and I’ve never, never noticed. As a matter of fact, I rather assume that we were accepted very, very well with the Anglo community because, like I tell you, I’ve always considered myself an Anglo anyway because I wasn’t born in Mexico. I have no ties. He doesn’t either. If you want to call me a Mexican, that’s fine. My father was, and I have nothing against that. I’m proud of whatever Mexican heritage I have. But I’m not a Mexican. I was born right here.
TK: No way.
AM: No way. If you sent me back to Mexico, I wouldn’t know what way to go. I don’t think I could even speak the language properly, even though I can speak Spanish.
TK: Sure. You are bilingual, aren’t you?
AM: Oh, yes. I’m bilingual.
TK: Where did you pick up Spanish?
AM: First of all, at home it was hardly ever spoken. I was 12 years old before I spoke English because back in those days we lived in San Antonio, and all the neighborhood was Spanish, so all the kids—you would play. You learned a little English in school but all of it in Spanish. And then my mama just said one day, “No more friendship with those Mexican kids because you’re not speaking English. You need to speak English because you live here, and then you’ll learn perfect Spanish as you go along. But English is your first language.”
TK: She spoke English, then.
AM: She spoke English to a certain extent. Not as well, but my mother only had a 4th grade education. But she had eight kids to raise, and she helped my father. I’d tell mama, “I can’t go to school today. I’ve got a terrible headache.” “Don’t go, honey. Stay in bed.” And she’d come up here with a bottle of castor oil. “Oh, mama, suddenly it’s gone.”
AM: “I can go to school with a headache.” She never tolerated anything like that.
TK: Skipping school or anything.
AM: No. It had to be a good reason. She had to know you were sick.
TK: Okay. So you got your degree in 1942?
TK: And Mr. Morales went to the service.
AM: 10:37 Well, he got his draft card, and they classified him one. I have it in there too. So he said, “They might call me just any time, so what are you going to do?” I said, “Well, I couldn’t run this funeral home by myself.” He says, “You have to, so you have to go to embalming school.” I said, “Embalming school! Oh, Lordy, I have to touch them bodies?” “You have to.”
TK: Up to that time you did not fool with the bodies?
AM: I helped him. I would do the office work and the cooking and the general flunky work, but no, I didn’t up to then. He said, “You have to make up your mind or else I’ll go to the service, and we’ll come back and have to start from scratch again.” It would be like putting back ten years of hard work. So I said, “All right. We’ll have to rake up the money.” At that time he had a nephew, Pancho Morales, and a brother, Max Morales. He said, “I’ll rake up the money, and I’ll pay for the course, and you go to embalming school.” And it was very hard to pay $600 for each one. At that time it was like $10,000.
AM: But he did rake up the money, and we went to embalming school, and we passed. We got our license. This was the end of our victory class. From here we had to be apprentice embalmers for a whole year—practice. We had to have, to our credit, 100 bodies that we had embalmed before we could take the state board embalming examinations in Austin to become professional, licensed. There is a licensing board that requires for anybody who touches a body to have a license to practice embalming. So then all of us went to the state board in Austin in November of ’42 and took this examination, and we passed.
TK: I see.
AM: It was very difficult.
TK: How long did you actually work with the actual day-to-day operations of the funeral home?
AM: 12:48 Until 1970.
TK: You were involved, actually—
AM: Actually, I did embalming, I used to drive an ambulance if it was necessary—all the work. I can quote you some things that happened that would make you laugh. But anyway, then I found that being in the front office and making contacts with people was better for my husband and for the business because I was able to communicate. I would be very involved with the Red Cross and Salvation Army—all the different organizations. I was very involved. As a matter of fact, they used to call me the mother of the Mexican community because your problem became mine. And since I am bilingual, I could communicate. People would come in and their boy was in the service, they hadn’t heard from him in several months, and of course, the mothers were frightened, so that’s where my contacts became so good with Albert Thomas, who was then our congressman for the 8th Congressional District. And I would write to him, and he would explore every possibility, and within maybe two weeks we’d have some responses to where the boy was that hadn’t written to his mother, some because they were lazy, some because they couldn’t, and some because they were missing. But we would have a definite answer. And then I became sort of a domestic court there for many years, from about 1940 until about 1970. Then the Social Security came in, the Alien Registration Act came in, the Motor Vehicle Registration came in. People would come with their little cards and they wouldn’t know English, so I’d fill out—
TK: To the funeral home?
AM: 14:36 To the funeral home, uh-hunh (affirmative). And we actually made a game there because all these people would then remember. I’d say, “Well, what do you owe me for doing this? You don’t owe me anything, but when you die, you be sure and come to me.”
AM: And they’d say, “How can I come to you if I’m dead?” I’d say, “Well, you have to figure that out.” (chuckles) But I thought I was being cute then.
AM: Anyway, that’s the way we made so many friends, so many beautiful friends. Even these people that didn’t know English, they would recommend our services, and then I’d say, “Look here. If your mother dies, I’m the only lady embalmer here in Houston, and no man has to touch her.” That was a good selling point.
TK: Yes, ma’am.
AM: So things like that; that you don’t have to kill a competitor with unkindness, but you have to tell them what you’ve got that they don’t have. And we became pretty well known. Mr. Crespo was in and out of business. He’d close up his funeral home, and then he’d start again, I think about two or three times. Now, this last time he’s probably been in business steadily maybe in the last 10 or 15 years like that.
TK: Was his the first Mexican owned funeral home?
AM: Yeah. It was not Mexican owned because it was owned by Mr. Landig.
TK: Oh, I see.
AM: We were the first Mexican owned.
TK: I see. When did he finally get one that was—
AM: His own? I suppose after we got into the business they thought that it would be a good point, and maybe he sold it to Crespo because later on he came on as Crespo Incorporated, so I don’t know what their means was of transferring the funeral home or selling it or buying it or what happened. But it was much after we were established.
TK: And this, speaking as a professional yet someone also who is of Mexican heritage, is there a difference or was there a difference, say, speaking of the ‘30s and ‘40s, about how a Mexican-American person would want a funeral than an Anglo?
AM: Oh, yes, definitely.
TK: Okay. What’s the difference?
AM: 16:52 First of all, the Mexican people believe in wakes, all night wakes. The body is prepared and laid out in the chapel. And they will stay with that body—up until a few years back, most of them—all night until the day of the funeral, whereas the Anglo doesn’t. They prepare the remains, and they say, “Well, the body will be laid out at 4:00 this afternoon, and the services will be at 5:00, and burial will follow the next day or that same day.” So the Anglo will go and register and be there for the service. The service will take maybe 30 minutes, and then they go on to the burial. And the Latin doesn’t. The Anglo may do that where they have relatives from out of town, but they postpone the actual placing of the remains in the main chapels until just before the service, and then they leave on their funeral. And the Latin won’t. The Latin will sometimes stay a day or two.
TK: Do you have any explanation for this?
AM: Yes. I think it’s more of a religious inclination, we’d say, that when Christ died that they stayed there with the remains until they took him down from the cross, and then the ladies were there anointing the body. I think that it has something, see, because if you will go back to Mexico, there’s still a lot of Indians, and all of that still have these burial rites and all of that, and it goes back to a religious view, I think. And a Catholic is more or less inclined to be that way, in the Catholic mind.
TK: I see.
AM: And then to a certain extent I might say, with a little bit of what we’d say grain of salt in my mouth, that it might be that there’s a little superstition too. We believe in the hereafter, and we believe that even though you die, the soul goes to Heaven. It hovers, we believe, in purgatory. And we believe that before you go to Heaven you have to serve a certain time to be cleansed to go to Heaven. And so maybe because of that too we believe that the soul is somewhere wandering around where the body remains, and we don’t want to leave it alone. I don’t know where it goes back to, but that seems to be a logical explanation to me, which could be all wrong.
TK: So oftentimes the entire family will be there for a long—
AM: 20:00 Until the body is taken to the burial place. Now, a lot of Latins are getting away from that.
TK: Has there been a change?
AM: There has been a change. I would say since maybe the late ‘60s there has been a gradual change. We noticed it even in our funeral home. But too it’s an area there where we congregate. I sometimes think it’s terrible, but I say the only time I get to see all of my friends is at a funeral. We get together, and we drink coffee, and we stay with our friends and the family and sort of try to take their mind away from their problem, their trouble.
TK: Not leaving them alone.
AM: And being with them until they decide to leave. When the family leaves, we all leave as a group. But I’ve noticed the change. And too I believe that a lot of this has come about because there’s so much intermarriage with the Anglo and the Mexican, you see. And so the Mexican girl or boy who marries an Anglo more or less adopts his or her viewpoints, and we’re becoming Anglo—how do you say that?
AM: Anglicized into a lot of this stuff. Don’t you believe that intermarriage and all that has—
TK: Oh, yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think there’s a kind of assimilation going on.
AM: Assimilation, yeah.
TK: Anglicization or whatever. I can’t say it either. (chuckles)
AM: Anyway, I believe that that has quite a bearing on the way things are changing.
TK: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Did you notice a difference between— How did World War II seem to affect where you were in the Mexican-American community in Houston?
AM: 21:51 I believe it was very frightening at first, and I believe that as a general rule the older people, the mothers, were very frightened like, I suppose, anyone else. They didn’t want to see their sons going over there. This wasn’t our war, see, and they couldn’t see it. If we were fighting something that was our war, but to send our sons over there, they couldn’t see it.
TK: Now, did Mr. Morales go to the service?
AM: Oh, yes. At that time, back when we started draft registration, there was a Mr. Presswood, and I worked at the draft board too, helping him to register. Felix had to register, be one of the registrants and my son, Joe, also. And so it was all accepted. As far as we were concerned, it was our duty to go. But we weren’t going until we were called. I didn’t believe in this volunteering stuff. I didn’t. Of course, my son did. As a matter of fact, he ran off to register, and we were very much against it, but they turned him down because he had some trouble with his ear.
TK: Oh, really?
AM: But he wanted to go. About six or seven boys decided that they wanted to go and be in the Air Force. They didn’t want to be in the—what do you call it?—infantry, and they were afraid if they would wait until the draft, that that’s where they would go. So they ran off to register for that purpose.
TK: But he didn’t go?
AM: No, he didn’t go until ’50. My husband didn’t go either. Then they came up with this third class where if you were married, you’d have a deferment on account of that. And then they came up with this other registration act. I forget the name of it at this time, but all embalmers or people that were in the funeral business were considered more or less necessary to the health of the community or city where you lived, so they had sort of a line there where they were exempt from going into the first 1-A class for that classification of being necessary—
TK: Necessary vocation.
AM: Vocation, uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: I see.
AM: 24:18 I forget the name of that act. But then he was deferred for a while there, and then—I don’t know—I suppose that his age, then, was past the limit. They had a limit at that time.
TK: When was Mr. Morales born?
AM: 1907. So in 1942 he was already, like, 30 some odd years.
TK: Sure. He was in his 30s.
AM: Uh-hunh (affirmative), uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: I see. But y’all continued to run the mortuary.
AM: That’s right, because that’s when I got my license and became a professional embalmer. And then he started dreaming about the radio station.
TK: I see.
AM: Once we were out of the humps of accumulating a little money, because we always watched our pennies pretty close, in about ’45 we had a little lump sum saved up, which I thought would be for our old age.
TK: Let me ask you this, and it may be too personal: When did y’all realize—about what time did y’all realize that you had made it as a funeral home?
AM: As a business? I think it was about ’43 or ’44 because that was the first vacation we were ever able to take, and we went to New Orleans and had a nice vacation for two weeks and came back, and then he came back with this bright idea that he wanted to own a radio station. Of course, he’d had it in his mind because when we were sweethearts back in 1927 or ’26 in San Antonio, we would go to Brackenridge Park and watch the waterfalls. They had some beautiful waterfalls there at that time. I worked for the Ormsby Chevolet Company. He would pick me up, and before we went home we’d always go around Brackenridge Park. It was somewhere to talk. You know how when you’re young, you always have so much to say. I still do. (laughs)
TK: All good, I might say.
AM: 26:16 We would go there, and we would each plan, say what we wanted to be, what we wanted to do. He came up one day, and he had a little program with a radio station in San Antonio—a Spanish program at about 11:00 at night. He said, “You know, one of these days I’m going to own a radio station.”
TK: Oh, he had a program?
AM: Uh-hunh (affirmative), at a station there in San Antonio, one of the big stations there. I forget. It’s a big station there. I can’t remember the name of it right now. It’s still in existence.
TK: So he had prior experience in the radio industry.
AM: Yes. He was an announcer. He would buy block time and sell it as a salesman. Then he would announce his program, and he played the guitar on it and sang.
TK: Uh-hunh (affirmative). How far back does his— He is quite noted as really a community singer. How long ago did he start?
AM: When I was a young lady, when we were sweethearts, he would have as friends Manuel Salazar, who played the guitar, and Ralph Rodriguez, who played the ukulele, and two others. I can’t think of their names. They all played instruments. And Manuel started giving lessons to my husband. And they would come to my house and serenade me with their music, so this was, like, in ’25. Before that I don’t think my husband had too much, but he always loved music, and he used to sing and play very, very well, but he has lost a lot of his hearing, and now his singing is not as good as it used to be. I’ll go along with that. But to me he has a voice all his own. When he sings when somebody else plays, it drowns him out or maybe he tries to sing louder and he can’t. But he has a very mellow voice, a soft voice, and you hear him singing alone, and he sings better when he sings alone than when he’s accompanied by anybody else.
TK: I see. At any rate—
AM: At that time he burst out with this. We were singing. We were watching the waterfalls, and he said, “Someday I’m going to own a radio station.” I said, “You are?” He was a boy with maybe $15 in his pocket.
TK: (laughs) To his name.
AM: And I know I had about $2. And I said, “Would that cost a lot of money?” And he said, “Well, money should never be an object in anything that you want to do in life. You have to plan for it, and you will acquire it if you have the ability to go on with what you want.” He says, “I’ll get the money somehow. That’s a side issue. The issue is where will I get it and when will it start?” And I thought, ‘Oh, he’s talking.’ We weren’t married yet. So that was the first time he mentioned it. However, afterwards, on two or three occasions I remember that he kept saying, “Someday I’m going to own a radio station.” I said, “Well, I guess you can hitch your wagon to a star and watch it go.” He said, “That’s it.” And that was about it. So later on, when we established in the funeral business, I thought, ‘Well, that’s all over with. That was boy talk.’
TK: Let me interrupt here.
AM: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: Before we get to the radio station, which is very important, how many employees did y’all have in the funeral business? What was the employee situation?
AM: 29:53 We’ll say back in 1942 we had Felix and I, of course, licensed embalmers. Then we had Alfonso Morales, who is his nephew, working for us, and then we had Max Morales work for us for a while. He would work sometime with us and sometime with Andrew in San Antonio. Then we had Pete Garcia working for us and his brother, Robert Garcia.
[end of 246.1_01] 30:20
TK: [beginning of 246.1_02] 00:08 Okay.
AM: Back in 1942 before we started really going for our radio station, there was Felix and myself as licensed embalmers, then Joe Morales, my son, went to embalming school, and he got his license, and by this time—’50—he got his or a little bit before that. Anyway, he was already working. So then we had Robert and Pete Garcia, who were also working, and Johnny Arechiga, and a boy by the name of Moreno. They were regular employees, so we had eight regular employees.
TK: I see.
AM: And then we had Alfonso Morales and Max Morales, who would float back and forth to San Antonio as my brother-in-law needed them and we needed them, and they would be extra if we had more of a load.
TK: What about in the ‘30s? Did y’all have people then?
AM: No. In the ‘30s it was my husband and myself because my son was born in ’28. Actually, he’s an adopted son, but we—
TK: Oh, he is an adopted son?
AM: Adopted son.
TK: May I ask about that? Was it a relative’s son, or—
AM: 01:14 Like I said, during the years we’ve established very, very good relationships with some of our friends, and Mrs. Martinez, who is actually Joe’s mother, and Mr. Martinez had eight children, and she worked and he worked, and we became very good friends. As a matter of fact, her parents were our neighbors while we were on 2701 Navigation, and that’s where I met the Martinezes. We became very good friends, and Joe and Juanita, his sister, would come over to visit the grandmother. But since I was young and I had no children, I would always call them over, and we played ball together. We’d do a lot of things. I was still about 20. So the kids got to liking us very well, and they would ask their mother if they could spend their vacations with us. So this came about when Joe was about four or five years old and his sister was about seven. And before you know it, they didn’t want to go back home. They wanted to stay with us. So I sent them to school, and I began sending them to school and washing their little clothes and getting them ready, and we had a very good relationship—everybody. So then, Joe has seven sisters, and they had a smaller home, and they didn’t have a room for him, so he was getting to the age where he didn’t want to go home anymore because he didn’t want to be with his sisters. And with us he had his own room, so he didn’t want to go back there. And he stayed with us since then and begged and begged and begged. We didn’t want to adopt him because there was a question of, he had his parents—
TK: Still alive.
AM: Uh-hunh (affirmative). But when he got ready to go to the Army, he said, “Mama”—and by then he began calling me Mama. He said, “If I’m going in the service, I can’t enlist as Joe Morales, and I can’t enlist as Joe Martinez, so what am I to do?” I said, “Well, you’re Joe Martinez.” He said, “But I want to be a Morales.” I said, “It would have to be a choice of your parents. We would never take your name away from you.” He was the eldest boy in the family. So they went back and forth, and Mary said, “My son wants to be a Morales, so if you want to adopt him, you can. He wants to. It’s his choice.” And they went along with it.
TK: Is that often done in the Latin community?
AM: Quite often.
TK: I noticed Mrs. Tijerina adopted her two children like that.
AM: 03:41 That’s right. They had a big family, and while they were making it, they weren’t overthrown with money. Nobody was at that time. But we didn’t have any dependents, and we could afford to take the two children and raise them as our own.
TK: Did the daughter come too?
AM: She came, but she was never adopted by us. She left. She got very— She was about 14, she started going too fast, and she was too boy crazy, and I was afraid that she would not mind me like I wanted her to be brought up, and I didn’t want her to get involved or married when she was 16 or 17, so I told her mama. I told her that I wanted her to graduate from high school, and then if she still wanted to marry this boy— She was a very pretty girl, so she had a lot of boys all the time. She finally went back home. And then she came back, and she’d go back and forth because it was this thing that I felt I couldn’t control her since I had to work so much and I couldn’t be watching her. But she finally went back home. She graduated from high school, and then she got married.
TK: I see. Okay. So that took care of the employees. Did your son help you in the funeral home?
AM: Oh, definitely. He knew the city very well, and while he was much younger, he would ride in the ambulance, and he lived to ride in the ambulance at that time.
TK: In the ‘40s?
AM: Yeah. We had an ambulance. Of course, we didn’t have the best equipment in the world. We were still trying to buy the property and get better equipment and still trying to save a little money.
TK: Which brings up an interesting topic. What was the ambulance situation like in Houston at that time?
AM: 05:37 To me it was very, we would say, uncontrolled because first, it was anybody would call you, you’d go. If you’d call me, I’d go, no matter what part of town you lived in, which you have to realize is not very practical. Then it was controlled by the police department—a dispatch. And he would call the ambulances that were nearer to the scene of the accident or whatever, and then he would dispatch them. So it was very bad in this way because we had a district where all the winos were. Everybody we picked up was a wino or somebody couldn’t pay the ambulance. So he would run around, and we’d have— Of course, gasoline was much cheaper. At one time it was, like, $0.15 a gallon. And we would charge $5.00 for an ambulance call, so it was a very thin margin there of operation, but you mostly operated because from a business angle it was good. If you picked up remains, you could claim it if the family wanted you, and you would make out by making service. So everybody more or less wanted that. That’s when the body snatching started too much, and I believe that’s when they started limiting it. There were too many problems. But we never made any money out of the ambulance business. It was a losing thing.
TK: How was the ambulance service for the Mexican-American community?
AM: I think it was very good because it was just handled then by Crespo and ourselves for a while, and then Crespo went out of business, and he sold out to a fellow by the name of Abeja (??) 07:23 and he ran the Crespo Funeral Home for ten years—I don’t know—quite a long time. And then Crespo bought him out again, and he came back into the business. So it was handled by the Crespo or the Varielle (??) 07:37 Funeral Home or ourselves. I don’t think they made any more money out of it, but it was a good thing because your ambulance was out in the public. It was being seen, and somebody would go, “That’s Morales or that’s Crespo,” so either Crespo would get some business or we would get it.
TK: Let me ask you this: Was it a fact where the dispatcher would call a Mexican-American owned ambulance to pick up a Mexican-American?
AM: Yeah, that’s right.
TK: Oh, it was like that.
AM: It worked that way, although it was not supposed to be that way. It was supposed to be divided in districts, like, the ambulance firms that wanted to furnish the ambulances, we would say, the Heights Funeral Home, the Earthman Funeral Home, Fogle-West Funeral Home, Morales, Crespo. So then they would assign a district for Crespo, assign a district for Morales, assign one for Fogle-West and one for Heights or whoever else was running ambulances.
TK: There never was a situation like, say, that existed with the black people where—
AM: They had their own.
TK: Oh. Would an Anglo ambulance pick up a Mexican-American?
AM: 08:48 I think in an accident they would. But they were not— Mostly at that time the Mexican community was in one section, and the colored—black—were in another, and the whites more or less. However, when we got our district, it was in the semi-business district, semi-industrial, so we picked up blacks, whites, or Mexicans. And I suppose that, to a certain amount, was the same thing. However, then they came in with the medical examiner, and it got to be a political thing. The dispatcher maybe had his reasons—we won’t go into that—for calling, and he would say Crespo in our district, say that we weren’t there to answer a call because if were weren’t there, the next guy would get it. But we weren’t being called, and we were being discriminated against for some reason or other. See, I think it was payoff somewhere.
AM: And even with the medical examiners we had one or two run-ins with them because people definitely wanted us, but the medical examiner would say that they had to call this particular person.
TK: What year was that?
AM: This was still in the ‘40s.
TK: I see.
AM: So it went on like that for a long time. They had all kinds of meetings and formed all kinds of organizations.
TK: Who were the culprits here, in your estimation? Can you name names?
AM: 10:21 I believe that a lot of it, since it was being controlled by the police department and the dispatcher, I believe that they were more because they had the opportunities to assign the ambulance, so who else? Then when someone died on the scene, the first ambulance driver that went there threw their sheet on, and that was their body unless the family had other reasons to call someone else.
TK: Almost like a wrecker service.
AM: That’s right.
TK: I hate it to look at it that crassly, but—
AM: That’s the way it was, uh-hunh (affirmative). That began about the ‘40s, and then we definitely wanted to get out of the ambulance business because we had been established, and we didn’t really need it. So when they started again assigning, we told them we didn’t want an assignment.
TK: What year was that?
AM: This was still in the late ‘40s.
TK: So you essentially went out of the ambulance business in the ‘40s?
AM: No. It would be the ‘50s. It would be the ‘50s, uh-hunh (affirmative).
AM: So then, about the late ‘60s or the early ‘70s the city took it over, and I think they’ve had more headaches than what the individual has had. The ambulance business, to us, was never a paying business, and it’s not. People were just not paying their ambulance. Very few people would pay for their ambulance. And then it got expensive. When we went to charging $15, they thought that was outrageous. Now they charge you $40 or $50, so you see. But even at $15 we weren’t making money because one person out of ten would pay their ambulance, and then after, you’d have to bill them two or three times. So now with the way it is, it’s—
TK: Let me ask you this, and this also may be too personal, but say in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, what was an average cost of a funeral in the ‘30s, ‘40s?
AM: 12:34 Like I tell you, we bid for the county contract with $10.
TK: In the ‘30s.
AM: In the ‘30s. That was in ’35 or ’36.
TK: But say somebody came—
AM: But an average funeral, the grave space would be about $175 for the lower income. When you sold anybody a $375-$400 funeral, you were making a little money.
TK: They had a nice funeral.
AM: And they had a nice funeral. You could put out a very good service for $375 to $400.
TK: In the ‘30s.
AM: In the ‘30s and up to the early ‘40s.
TK: I see. What about in the ‘40s?
AM: In the ‘40s I think then we went up. When we made a $750 funeral, we were in class. That was it. But of course, that included, like I tell you, the Forest Park at that time, which was one of the biggest in the Garden of Gethsemane, would charge $37.50 or $36.00 for a grave and even lower, depending, but that was the average. Then you had to have an outside box or a concrete box or what they call a vault. Of course, that would cost more. And you take a funeral for $750, and that did not include a vault, but it would include an outside box or a concrete box. Wilbert Vault Company used to sell those concrete boxes. I think it’s still in business. At that time you could get a vault for I think it was around $20 or something like that. I know when I was working still at the funeral home in ’70, the vaults had gone up to $75—concrete vault. Now you take a steel vault, and they run into hundreds of dollars. But the average funeral at that time for any funeral home to make a little money would be $750. That was back in the early ‘40s.
TK: And then by the ‘50s, what—
AM: Oh, yeah. By the ‘50s, $900-$1,200 wasn’t anything out of the way. Of course, I’m talking about our class of people in our section. I’m not talking about—what’s the biggest one now? George Lewis or—
TK: Oh, over on River Oaks. No. I’m talking about what you would service the Mexican-American community for. That’s what I’m concerned with.
AM: 15:07 That was it. Felix and I, we turned over our business to my son in 1950 when he came back from the service, and we left, and he managed that, and we started with our radio station. But up until that time, when Felix and I made a $450 funeral, we were in class, and that’s how we were able to save money to buy our radio station and properties and things—well, not enough. We had to go in debt, but we were able to amass a certain amount of money that to me was a fortune. I wanted to retire on that. I didn’t want to go into more businesses. A woman is a little bit more, we would say, conservative about her husband’s earnings, and we felt like, “Well, we worked this hard from the ‘30s until the ‘50s, and why should we take our money and gamble it away on something that we don’t even know if we’ll get it?” being that at that time anyone who owned a radio station had to be somebody because there had to be a lot of money, and no one here—nobody in the Mexican community wanted it. But Felix said, “There has to be a voice. There is no Mexican newspaper”. Only one little old newspaper was called El Tecolote, and that was something else. A man published this weekly thing, and all he would publish about was the drunks and the people that got into trouble, and all of the bad things about the Mexican people. (laughs) There was really nothing in there that was very educational or, I would say, uplifting. And Felix said, “The Mexican people have no exposure. They have no voice. And we have to have a voice for the Mexican people and let it be known that there are Mexican people here that are worth looking up to. And the businesses here need exposure, and how else? They can’t go into these Anglo owned and operated radio stations. They can’t afford it.” Anybody there that made any money at all just couldn’t afford it. When he decided to go in this, I said, “Well, how are we going to afford it?” “Well, we’re going to sell cheaper so that everybody can advertise.” And we would sell spots then, like, 30-second spots for $3. We had our first rate card, and of course, as the inflationary thing came up, we started raising our prices. But at that time anybody could advertise. Anybody could afford to advertise $3 to get exposed. They’d spend $6, and they could have two spots on the radio. And at that time everybody was listening to Spanish radio because it was the only one, see. So we would get, “Oh, you can put on the spot on KLVL, and in no time at all, you can get—“
TK: Everybody hears it. I’m running out of tape here.
AM: Oh, I have one. You want one?
TK: Oh, here’s—
AM: 18:16 …about 5,000 people here at that time, in the ‘30s, because you would take an average at that time, and a funeral would be one funeral for every 1,000 people or 500 people at that time. So if we averaged ten funerals a month, that was 5,000 people.
TK: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
AM: So that’s more or less how we gathered our averages. However, we were very close to Mr. Presswood, who at that time was a registrar here in Harris County, and he would send out these little slips—I think we had some—of how many deaths occurred and from more or less what diseases and between what ages and the stillborn children that were born and all of that. So from there each undertaker or funeral director would know how many funerals he made, how many I made, how many the next guy made. We would know just what line we were in as to funerals. And of course, we were always at the bottom because we weren’t making that many funerals when we first came in. But after we got known in about the late ‘30s and ‘50s, we were—
TK: Did y’all ever pick anybody up in Shrimp Alley?
AM: Shrimp Alley! That’s a part of that a la Gran.
TK: Oh, it was part of a la Gran?
AM: Oh, yeah. Shrimp Alley, Base Alley, all of those. I can’t think of all of them, but anyway, that was— Maple Street. Those were the streets right around there. Shrimp Alley was one of the biggest. Nitz Alley.
AM: Uh-hunh (affirmative). All of those. Oh, yeah. We picked up a lot of them around there. That was where now the Clayton Homes are.
TK: Yes, ma’am.
AM: All around there. Oh, I tell you, those were the days. We really had a lot of people. We had a lady that lived there. She just died not long ago. She could have probably given you a lot of history. Inez Riaga (??) 20:16. She had a little lounge right there off of Canal Street on Colby Alley. But she was here when we came, and she was always around and very involved in the community, and she could really have given you a lot of things before, like even the Cortez family that I was telling you about, they could have given you because they were here when we came. And when I came, I was a young lady yet, and I became involved with the community and organized the LULACs, I organized the Sociedad Mutualista and La Union Fraternal Society. I was always a leader there, so all of these ladies were very, very sweet to me. They helped me out quite a bit, and we’d organize a club, and in no time we’d have 90 or 100 members. So we were very, very involved with that situation there, the Shrimp Alley and the Colby Alley and all those streets here. And these ladies were there, they lived there, they knew what was going on.
TK: Uh-hunh (affirmative). Well—
[end of 246.1_02] 21:29