By Danielle WIlson
Frances Reyes has understood the inherently difficult nature of life since childhood. Raised in the late 1920s, she and her family could only afford to buy beans and rice consistently at the neighborhood store. They depended on charity for the rest of their food.
“We had to walk 10 blocks to this place and we would go over there and get whatever they gave us,” said Reyes of how they managed to get flour, sugar, powdered milk and other essentials.
Years later, she encountered challenges similar to those she faced as a child, but the addition of a husband in the Army during World War II, a young child and, ultimately, the support of family changed everything.
Reyes was born March 9, 1925, in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother, Petra Correa, didn’t raise her and she never met her father. Reyes’ mother left her and sister Sally behind with their grandparents, coming to visit occasionally, but never taking the children away.
“Finally she left us and she made her own life,” Reyes said. “And she would come to see us, but my grandmother told her, ‘You don’t take these children.’”
Reyes’ grandfather was pretty up in years and paralyzed on his left side from a stroke, but he still worked while his wife took care of several grandchildren.
“People who were rich would pay him to take care of graves,” Reyes said.
Reyes walked every day to school, where she attended church twice daily.
She enjoyed friendships with some of the girls at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School, especially Lillian, with whom she recalls becoming very close. In Lillian, Reyes found a lifelong friend.
“She was an only child and a little bit better off,” Reyes said. “We couldn’t afford supplies, so I [initially] made friends with her because she had a store.”
English was Reyes’ second language; however, lots of her classmates spoke Spanish as their first language, making Our Lady of Perpetual Help a comfortable environment for learning English.
“I wasn’t the only one, and that made it easier,” she said.
In short, school made Reyes happy. Junior high school was in her plans, but the several-mile daily walk there forced her to drop out soon after enrolling. The distance was simply too far, she says. So at age 13, she stopped going and started babysitting for money.
“Several times I just couldn’t get there in time, and naturally, they didn’t like that. We couldn’t go to any other school and we couldn’t afford to get on the bus, so I had to quit,” Reyes said.
In her spare time, she liked to gather at the local theater and other hangouts to be with friends. One of those good times really stands out for her: The time she met Christopher Reyes, her husband for 61 years. He was in the Army and five years her senior.
“I was with my cousins. We were walking and [came upon] my husband and his friend, and he stopped and asked did I come here often,” she recalled. “He had a car, and that was special.”
The couple dated and soon eloped. They knew he’d get assigned overseas before long. They married in 1941, the same year President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Declaration of War against Japan.
“He had been in for three years, and he knew his time was coming,” Reyes said. “He married me because, number one, he didn’t know if he would make it back, and then, two, he knew that if he didn’t do it now, he probably wouldn’t do it.”
Soon after they were married, Christopher got sent to Wisconsin, then to Germany and France, where he participated in the D-Day invasion. And while her husband was off serving, Reyes developed a bond with in-laws she initially didn’t think would accept her.
“Right after we were married, we lived with an uncle and aunt who were very different people than my in-laws. I based my opinion on them,” wrote Reyes after her interview.
As Reyes raised her and Christopher’s first child under the roof of her in-laws, Christopher and Lucy Reyes, Lucy helped mold Reyes as a mother and attended to young Sylvia. Having a child only four years older than Sylvia made it convenient for Lucy to teach Reyes mothering skills. The two women formed a tight relationship, unlike the one Reyes had with her own mother.
“When we use[d] to go out, I would tell people that I was her daughter-in-law, but she would say, ‘No, that’s my daughter,’” Reyes recalled.
Reyes remembers the day the war was declared over, which meant Christopher was coming back home. Luckily, he came out unscathed, unlike his brother, George, who was killed.
“There was no celebration within the family, but a huge one in San Antonio,” Reyes said.
The Reyeses eventually had three children: Sylvia, Rita and George. And after serving for 6 years, Christopher went into the photo business with Reyes, who’d found the true meaning of family.
After three years of civilian photography, however, Christopher returned to the Army, eventually retiring with 30 years of military service.
“We had a good partnership,” said Reyes of her and Christopher’s relationship.
Mrs. Reyes was interviewed in San Antonio, Texas, on August 4, 2007, by Elvia O.Perez.