I know whom I am supposed to be researching: The large and unwieldy cast of characters living in San Antonio between 1910 and 1920 whose stories seductively slip their way into the pages of An Ostrich Plume Hat whether they forward the plot or not. Their ever-present ghosts float above my desk, my bathtub, my pillow at night, beckoning me to resurrect their lives on paper.
The last thing I need is the distraction of unrelated people haunting me. Blame it on the failure of native grasses to take root quickly on the Mission Reach. If the construction workers or stray dogs guard the entrance by Roosevelt Park, I am forced to cross Roosevelt to South Presa.
Who are they? I worry they are not resting in peace but lying lonely underground in unmarked paupers’ graves.
Did ungrateful descendants collect their inheritances and then decline to pick up the tabs for their headstones? Or were they never real people, just imaginary inhabitants of San Antonio invented to serve as samples for those shopping for monuments to loved ones? Or are they mistakes, large typos carved permanently in stone?
The latter two theories are more settling. Meier Bros. Monuments has been in business for a long time, since 1900. Surely the brothers have made a few spelling or date errors.
But the names kept nagging me. After all, Edna Viola Clift was someone’s “beloved grandmother.” I owe her just a few short clicks on ancestry.com or in census records. She did exist, dying in San Antonio in 1977. Another woman was a longstanding member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, still living just a couple of years ago. How did she end up carved in stone with only her birth date?
His stone proclaiming “Dios es Amor,” Severo O. Cervantez was born in Mexico in 1887. In 1910, he made his living in “cement work” and resided on Division Avenue with his wife Francisca and two-year-old son Geronimo, both native Texans.
Mattie was the one, however, who finally freed me to resume contact with the ghosts entitled to haunt me. The letters carved in granite read “Martha May Lazrine Miller.”
In 1918, the 5’6.5″-tall Lee applied for a passport so he could board a ferry-boat to take one of his sons to spring baths in Las Vacas, San Carlos, Mexico, to cure his rheumatism. Mattie and Lee now lie together in Del Rio’s Westlawn Cemetery with some other stone at their heads.
Thank you, ancestry.com, for giving me the answer I sought. A major typo.
Martha May’s maiden name was Miller, and she married Lee Lazrine.