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How to Live Life How You Want it with Virginia Lawrence, 94

How to Live Life How You Want it with Virginia Lawrence, 94

How to Live Life How You Want it with Virginia Lawrence, 94

Lives at The Continental, Austin, TX

Loving Matriarch | Southern Belle | Fashion Icon | World Traveler

Q: Where were you born?
A: I was… born in St. Angelo, TX. It’s a small ranch town in West Texas near Sweetwater. I spent all my summers on ranches and farms; my mother sent me off because I had a sick brother. I got to ride horses and work with steers, goats and sheep. They were really fun summers. I graduated from high school and went to San Antonio Junior College — this was before it became a four-year college — then went on to the University of Austin.

Q: How did you meet your husband?
A: I came home from school for Easter and my friends and I went to a dance. That’s where I first saw Jack. He finally asked me to dance and when I stood up he said, “I like short brunettes,” and I said, “Too bad.” Because I had a big bouffant hairstyle — this was 1940 — and even though I didn’t have heels on, I was still tall. He was a wonderful dancer and so was I — I taught dance and drama and was real outgoing — and then he said, “I like quiet women,” and I thought, maybe when this dance is over we won’t see each other again. Then while we were dancing I saw this big cowboy bearing down on us, and I gave Jack a little shove to let him know, and he said, “When I lead a woman, I LEAD.” So, that was our start.

He said he was the banker in town, and my mother and I went into the bank where he worked and asked for Mr. Lawrence — he told me he was the head of the bank, but he was just a bookkeeper. But he came downstairs and my mother thought he was good looking and he was a banker. He called and asked me to go out to dinner and after a while we got married and we were married 50 years. His name was Jack George Lawrence.

Q: Who was the most influential person in your life?
A: My grandmother. My mother was 15 when she got married, my father came home from WWI in 1920 and saw my mother and they got married at Christmas. And I was born 10 months later. My mother is part Native American Indian; my father was blond, so I am too. When my mother had my little brother, she had to have a C-section and this doctor had never done that. My brother was so tiny they didn’t think he was alive. My mother picked him up and he was all right, but she spent the first year in Dallas with him, he had all kinds of operations and problems, he was sick all his life, but he lived to be 37 with three children. So my grandmother took me over.

Q: What did you learn from her?
A: She was a pill. She smoked menthol cigarettes. She thought that helped her asthma – of course it didn’t. And she had a younger daughter, my aunt, who was a flapper. She didn’t wear underwear, wore her hose up to her knees, painted her knees and made me flapper dolls. She went off to NYC to Juilliard and I have some of her art still.

My father was American Indian and he looked like the Indian on a nickel, but I found out that my grandmother also had Indian in her background. When white men moved to Texas there were not many white women yet; my grandmother was known as Lulu and she called me Little Dove.

One big lesson I learned from her was to be happy! On my walker I have a sticker and it’s my life completely. It says, “Do whatever makes you happy.” And that’s the way I have been all my life. That’s my personality. And I want my children to be happy — I got that from my grandmother. If you smile you will have less wrinkles, and I tell you, I keep my makeup going. I put on mascara and eye shadow and lipstick — bright pinks and oranges — and I wear bright colors. I still dress the way I dressed 30 years ago; my second husband called me a gypsy. He wanted me to wear solid colors but I wouldn’t. I always dress as if I were going out. And others in my group do, too. Fifty percent of us are over 90 years old.

Q: Did you have children?
A: Yes, we had three children, and all are still alive; I lost a granddaughter at 13, and another committed suicide, but my kids all made it. Eight grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, and one of my great grandchildren has two babies, so I have two GREAT-GREAT grandchildren.

Q: Tell us about your trip to Saudi Arabia.
A: It was the most different trip I ever went on — I was detained because I didn’t have the proper papers. The man who asked me to go and be a hostess for him said it would all be OK — this was Bahrain, an island country, in Persia, where the Shah had his own country — I really loved that. But they told me I could only stay 72 hours, and I didn’t want to leave. We flew on a gorgeous plane called the Golden Phoenix, and all the men kept sending me champagne, but when we got to Greece, my luggage was opened and all over the place.

Anyway, I walked on the King’s Walkway by mistake — I didn’t know I was not allowed to — and I was met with an Uzi! I kept saying I was just going to the mall. Then, a man stepped out, he was real nice looking with lots of medals on his lapels, and spoke impeccable English. And he asked, “What are you doing walking on the King’s Walkway?” He asked where I was from, and he loved Texas, and he loved John Wayne. He gave me a pass so I could walk on the walkway. There were only men, everywhere, and all you could see of the women were all in black, and they would not talk to me. But that was an adventure.

Q: Tell me about your second husband.
A: I met my second husband in Austin, he looked like my first husband, the same size, only bolder and he carried a big briefcase. I went up to him and said, “I’m Virginia and I’m new in Austin.” He didn’t say anything; I thought he was deaf! Franklin Van de Baur. He was not from the U.S. When he asked me if I wanted to go out, my kids said, “Go, he’s not young enough to cause any problems.” And it was OK, he was Swiss, and from Amsterdam. He took me all over Europe and Africa; we travelled quite a bit. We were married for nine years, but I never took his name. I really enjoyed the time I was with him … I still hear from his oldest son and his daughter.

Q: Have there been any difficult times that you recall?
A: Well, I grew up in the Depression, but I didn’t know it. I wore dresses made out of feedsack for chickens, but we always had food. It was difficult; our car went up on blocks because my dad couldn’t afford to drive it. I had to take my brother and sister on dates with me. I don’t know how I even had dates! But I have had a nice life. I don’t remember the bad things so much. Losing somebody is hard. But I have overcome that and I not afraid of death. That’s a nice thing in my life. Each day I have a gift, I use that.

I did have a difficult time when we went to East Texas — we moved there to retire because Jack’s mother was still alive and living there — and I taught high school. Some of the kids were held back so they could play football, but I took their star player to the principal to tell him that he could not read. And the principal said, “What do you expect me to do with him?” And I said, “I don’t know, but I’m gonna flunk him.” Then the coaches came to see me and I had a little trouble. I just didn’t know how to treat them. I was about in my 60s and had never taught school; I graduated with a college degree, but never used it. I was there two days, and my new car got all scratched up. My husband wouldn’t let me go back there. We lived there 21 years, I liked the people, but I never went back to the school.

Q: Do you have any regrets?
A: I do, actually. I had a chance to go on stage, and I should have gone with this group of people in Chicago. I regret that I didn’t do it, because I made my children do it. My youngest daughter went on the road with a band for five years, at first it was a nice band, then it got to be real loud. Elvis was coming on so they went that way. Now she plays piano, she still plays with a band. She’s my baby and she’s 63, my oldest is 73. My son lives in Dallas he’s owns a company that furnishes supplies to the military. All the bases are closing down, but he’s near retirement.

Q: What’s the best part about getting older for you?
A: Not to have to do anything you don’t want to do. If I don’t want to go to dinner I don’t have to — and I stay at home and have a PB&J sandwich and drink milk.

Q: And what’s the worst thing?
A: You have no choice about when you go to rehab or the hospital, because they don’t let you leave. You just stay forever; I hate being in rehab. But I’m still here. Which is lovely. We always say, “Good morning! Isn’t this a wonderful day?” We don’t ask, “How are you?” If we’re here, we’re doing pretty well.

Q: And what do you like to do now, with your days?
A: I play piano twice a month [for the Continental], and I’m doing a show for Grandparents Day. I still do a lot of things, even though I use a walker. I have a pots and pans band. We’re going to be in this show — I have written two parodies, one is called “Are You Bloated Tonight?” You get it. I’m feeling better, but I just can’t teach my band to waltz. None of them marched with a band like I did, so it’s not easy to teach them.

Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: I paint, and play piano, I sing, I can’t dance, but I drum. We have skits we do for fun. We get jokes off the Internet. We are funny. And it is a lively group. When you come into the dining room, everyone is talking. We’re all friends and that’s the most important thing to me. We are interested in each other — if someone doesn’t show up we go check.

Q: What do you think about the world these days?
A: I’m not voting this year, I hate it. I don’t like anybody who’s running and that’s one of the things I don’t like in my life. I’ve been too smart to take anyone for granted. I look up my friends who said they would do things in politics and then you find out you can’t because you have to tow the line. I was glad my husband wasn’t in politics. He worked at the bank and he told me he was going to own it someday. But while we were engaged he gave me a list of 10 things he wanted his wife to be — he wanted me to be quiet, not say anything when we were out with company, like the other bankers’ wives. And I said, “Jack I can’t do that. Why did you want to marry me?” He said, “Because of your personality.” And I said, “This IS my personality!” I didn’t think I could be that kind of wife.

So we broke up for six months. But he got to where he did all sort of wonderful things for me in my shows in Dallas — I would do shows at the country clubs, and he would be my MC. Then he sent me a telegram on Christmas Day. My mother answered it and told him she couldn’t love him more if he were twins. He came back and found me at the movies with another guy and said, “You’re coming home with me.” The guy said “No, I’m taking you home,” but that was it, I left with Jack.

You make your own decisions, and I never forgot that I was a child of God. I didn’t do anything I thought God wouldn’t like. And the things I regret are when I lost my temper — didn’t happen often, but when it did I was sorry. My children don’t remember me ever getting mad. I’ve had a wonderful life. And I have really enjoyed my children. I’ve been in the Continental 12 years. I love it.

To read more stories like Virginia’s, visit www.TheseEyesHaveSeen.com, or check back for our weekly resident interviews in the Sunshine Stories Blog.

*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living