Flora Gilman-Reigada as a young child with Mom
Flora was born on Staten Island and raised near the harbor. She grew up in an old Victorian home on Vanderbilt Avenue and an apartment on Westervelt Avenue and these memories are strong and included in what she writes today.
Her story later after her mother married her stepfather is one that leaves chills(you can read more of this on her site,) though she felt much love from her grandparents and mother. Once you read this interview, do check the link to her personal story on her web site. That she survived was God's gift not only to her, but to her readers and family.
She now lives in Florida, writes for the Florida Today and Star-Advocate newspapers as well as inspirational publications. Her book, The Face Behind the Veil, is based on her memories growing up on Staten Island. Flora has a rich childhood, and I know you are going to enjoy reading about her:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was often asked that question during my childhood, and I always knew what to say.
“I want to get married, have children and become a writer.”
I can thankfully say that all those dreams have come true.
Fondest Memory (then):
When I was growing up, many families didn’t own cars and people frequently walked to destinations within a mile or so of their homes. Walks I took with my mother to a shopping area or to my grandparent’s beautiful Victorian home on Staten Island, New York, are among my fondest memories. Our walks took us high atop a hill that offered a magnificent panorama of the New York Bay and the Manhattan skyline. Our laughter and the talks we shared during those happy times and along our own "secret path" through a patch of woods, still echo in my heart.
Proudest Moment (then):
My fifth grade teacher, Mr. DePalma, gave our class the weekly assignment of writing a short story on the subject of our choice, then reading it aloud to classmates. My first attempt was a mystery, into which I wove my classmates as characters. They listened wide-eyed as I read my story, then complimented me afterwards. Each week after, they would petition the teacher to let me read my stories. That is when I realized my writing ambitions were more than a dream. They were attainable and they were part of my destiny.
Biggest Challenge as a Child or Teen:
As a shy, overweight child, I always felt like an outsider. Even in my first-grade class, other children had friends, cliques and little “romances.” Few befriended the unpopular girl called “fatso.”
I remember wishing I could become invisible. That way the teacher wouldn’t call on me, and ask math questions I couldn’t answer. Classmates would snicker as I struggled and stammered.
Then one day, a new student joined my second grade class. Our teacher introduced the blond boy with the cherubic face.
“This is Michael. He moved here from California, near Disneyland.”
Back then, before people traveled much, Michael seemed to come from some magical, far away land. Everyone wanted to be his friend, so I could scarcely believe his instant affinity for me.
Daily, he would seek me out: sitting with me at lunch, playing with me in the schoolyard, and carrying my books to school.
Michael would also step between taunting classmates and me. Although gentle, he could speak with authority.
“Leave her alone! She’s my girlfriend and she’s pretty and smart.”
Pretty and smart—me?
My mother had said those words, but that’s what moms were supposed to say. Michael made me wonder if they might be true.
The rest of that school year, Michael and I enjoyed each other’s company. After class, we’d play at my home, where my mom served us cookies and milk.
She liked the little boy who made me smile and laugh.
When school closed for summer vacation, however, I lost track of Michael. He wasn’t in school when classes resumed that autumn.
“Where is he?” I asked several classmates.
“I think he moved back to California,” one answered, now treating me with respect.
This attitude extended to other classmates. But I started treating myself with respect, too—talking with and befriending other children. After school, we’d ride bikes and play hide and seek or stick ball. That year, lasting friendships were made. No longer did I feel like an outsider.
Even though I continued to struggle with math, I discovered I had other skills, such as reading and spelling. I wished Michael could have shared my joy, especially after I began losing weight. Although I never saw him again, I knew that even if I remained forever awkward and overweight, Michael would still have been my friend. With wisdom beyond his years, he seemed to understand my pain.
“He was like a little angel,” my sad mother said after he left.
Maybe she was right. Michael came to me just when I needed him and left when his job was done.
My First Job:
Throughout my pre-teen and teen years, I baby-sat for family members and neighbors.
I can still see all that penny candy displayed under the glass counter at our neighborhood grocery store. That was when each piece really cost a penny and it was all made in the good old USA. There was so much to choose from: red and black licorice, candy dots on a long piece of paper, Hershey bars, "lady fingers," those red, candy lips and so much more. A nickel or dime could buy me a small bag full of treats.
Favorite Outfit as a Child:
The Easter outfits my grandmother bought me each year rank high on the list: the wide brimmed hats with ribbons or flowers, the frilly dresses, delicate coats, white “baby doll” shoes and cute, little clutch purses. With a tummy full of jellybeans and chocolate rabbits from my Easter basket, I would don my Easter outfit and go to church.
Favorite Childhood Movie and/or TV Show:
Each Saturday morning our neighborhood theater, the Saint George, had a cartoon matinee for children. Because my grandfather was a projectionist, I got in for free. That saved my parents all of ten cents. Along with other neighborhood children, I spent many a happy Saturday laughing at the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and other cartoon characters. We all behaved under the watchful eyes of "fearsome" matrons.
Flora on St. Marks Place in 1967.
Flora says: This photo must have been taken
on a Sunday because the St. George parking lot behind me is empty. Note also, the complete absence of cars on the street and parked along
its curbs. That would be a rare sight today.
Favorite Childhood Book:
There were too many to name just one, but I especially enjoyed the Trixie Belden series, the Bobbsey Twins and the Nancy Drew Mysteries.
Favorite Childhood Activity/Pastime:
My friend Phyllis and I often played games of make-believe, creating tales about imaginary friends and places. Her back yard was like the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis' The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, from which children entered Narnia and other realms. Firing our imaginations, Phyllis' teenage sisters would sprinkle fairy dust in the yard. At night, it glistened in the dewy grass, like the very stars above.
My grandpa. I spent magical childhood years living with my mom, grandparents and aunt in the beautiful Victorian home my grandfather restored from ruin. When family members moved in during the 1940s, meals were cooked on a woodstove, which, along with fireplaces was used to heat the four-story house. Without a furnace, of course, there was no hot water. The only bathroom was in the cold basement and consisted of a primitive commode and sink. While my grandfather was in the process of installing an upstairs bathroom, the new bathtub remained unusable. If any of the women wanted to bathe, however, my dear grandpa would heat water on the woodstove, then one pot full at a time, carry it upstairs to fill the tub. Growing up, I was treated with this same kindness.
The home Flora grew up in as it is today
Flora as she is today
Anything else you would like to share with readers about your childhood which affected the writer you have become?
Today I am a correspondent for two newspapers: the Florida Today and the North Brevard Beacon. I am also the author of an inspirational thriller, The Face Behind the Veil, inspired by actual people, places and events in my family and childhood. Locations include two grand old theaters and a Victorian mansion.
Nostalgic web site showing my childhood: http://simemories.com
Editor Crystal here: DO check out this site if you enjoy photos from the past.Some of these photos are here, but there are many more. This page is full of memories and black and white photos from Flora's past in the 1950s, 1960s. Loved it!
Golden Brush Award
The coveted Golden Brush Award was granted to novelist Flora Reigada after she locked herself in her bathroom for seven years. When Flora had a book to write and no privacy in her home to write it, she grabbed her pad and pencil and escaped to the solitude of her bathroom. Locking herself in for an hour or so each day, she would write another page, paragraph or sentence of her book. She would then transcribe the handwritten material when her family's one computer became available. Thankfully, Flora's family has another bathroom down the hall.
(Flora’s "bathroom book" has since been published by Author House. )
Titled The Face Behind the Veil, the inspirational thriller travels back in time to old New York. In a haunted Victorian mansion and an old Gothic theater, the secrets of the mysterious birth veil are revealed.
Like curtains in a majestic, old movie theater, the curtains of this generational saga begin to part as Naomi is born with the mysterious birth veil over her face. To some this was a sign of a prophet. To others it was merely part of the amniotic sac. And what connection was there with the otherworldly visitor that the child would later meet?
Naomi's mother believed her daughter would understand great mysteries. Indeed--and she would do so against the backdrop of unfolding history. The Great Depression would bring poverty, hobos and even the Grim Reaper to her family's door. World War II would see love lost and love found.
For more information visit Flora's web site: http://florasbook.com