Mary Lou Foster Monday, March 22, 1976
WALI ALI: Maybe a good way to start would be if you were to tell me something of the history of the house. When did the house come into the family?
MARY LOU: It was built in 1906 by my great aunt and uncle; the family, I think, was living on Clayton—no they were living on Ashbury Street and as I've been told the house had already been commissioned—the original construction of it before the earthquake, and whether the actual construction was started before the earthquake, I'm not sure.
WALI ALI: So then it was built by Jacob and Harriet Lewis.
MARY LOU: Yes, in fact I have the original plans of the house which are something fascinating.
WALI ALI: So this wasn't the original dwelling?
MARY LOU: No, I think when Samuel and Elliott were born the family lived on Ashbury, or they could have lived on Harrison St, I'm not sure, but I know that Harriet Lewis's parents did live on Harrison for awhile. It was a very exclusive neighborhood way way back before the turn of the century.
WALI ALI: Yeah, it's interesting the way the scene—
MARY LOU: The scene has changed—
WALI ALI: I know Samuel said that he had been born in the Mission district.
MARY LOU: Then that would have been the Harrison St. house.
WALI ALI: Because he said something about—they were trying to explain his Brooklyn accent and in later years they discovered a number of teachers—
MARY LOU: Yeah, south-of-Market—
WALI ALI: A number of teachers had grown up in Brooklyn—so that explains it—
MARY LOU: Yeah but not only that, that’s what they called the south-of-Market accent because Samuel's uncle, my grandfather, was out here years ago and my middle daughter's god-father was over at the house and he said three words, and my grandfather said, "Look, he's a south-of-Market boy," which he was, and it was very distinctive.
WALI ALI: To change my mind, maybe we ought to go into the family history a little bit first—I know there have been some things that were not quite accurate.
MARY LOU: In the book, In The Garden, there is a misconception; they have Samuel's mother, Harriet Lewis, ne Rothschild whose maiden name was Rosenthal—her mother was a Rothschild—so that's where the Rothschild scene came in—
WALI ALI: The Rothschild came in—she was a Rosenthal and her mother was a Rothschild.
MARY LOU: Yeah.
WALI ALI: So let's go down the family tree a little bit.
MARY LOU: My great, great grandfather—I think it was my great great grandfather whose surname was Krause came here in 1850 around the Horn—there had been a pogrom in Germany in 1848 or 1846 and he had left Germany and gone to the East coast N.Y.C. and then decided to come to California, and this is very snobby—are you ready?—around the Horn. They also had class elements at that time when you came around the Horn, or you came across country—
WALI ALI: The Horn being around?—
MARY LOU: South America.
WALI ALI: Oh, I see.
MARY LOU: By ship—so he came here in 1850.
WALI ALI: To San Francisco?
MARY LOU: To San Francisco. And he married—now I'm confused—his wife was Lenore Krause—Lenore Rothschild Krause—
WALI ALI: How is Krause spelled?
MARY LOU: K r a u s e, I think.
WALI ALI: We'll send you the tape after we get it transcribed for names and stuff—
MARY LOU: And then they got a divorce though—they had two children—they had Harriet and—now wait a minute—they were my grandfather's grandparents, that's right, and this is where the confusion lies—there were three children. There was Harriet, Harry, and one other son whose name I can't think of—it was Albert, but I'm not sure, and he died as a young man. Then my grandfather was Harry and he had two children, well three but one died at an early age, and then Harriet Rosenthal Lewis had the two sons.
WALI ALI: So Harriet—I'm just trying to get straight now—so Harry Lewis was—
MARY LOU: No Harry Rosenthal—
WALI ALI: Harry Rosenthal—
MARY LOU: Was my maternal grandfather—
WALI ALI: I see—
MARY LOU: And was the brother to Harriet Rosenthal Lewis—
WALI ALI: I see, and it was her mother—
MARY LOU: Her mother was a Rothschild, and her mother was also a divorced woman which was totally unheard of at that time and she then married a man who was with the Dewoolf, Hoppers opera company and his surname I do not know. They kind of punched over those things at that time.
WALI ALI: Oh yes, in other words—this was her second marriage.
MARY LOU: Yes, Rosenthal was the first—was the father—and was the first marriage and then their mother got a divorce and married someone who was with the De Woolf Hoppers opera company.
WALI ALI: I see, so—
MARY LOU: And the Krause's were their grandparents.
WALI ALI: And not knowing much about the Rothschild family, was there any family tradition about—was there money, let's say, that she and—
MARY LOU: Oh there was an awful lot of money at that time besides Mr. Krause having married a woman of the Rothschild family—he invented the copper rivet without which there wouldn't have been a Levi Strauss Co.
MARY LOU: That's how the connection of the family came in with Levi Strauss.
WALI ALI: It was Mr. Krause, you say—we've been in touch with the man from the Levi-Strauss museum who contests that whole story—it is very interesting, because it appeared in several—this is the first confirmation I've heard of—the story—the only other person who mentioned it was Gavin Arthur who was interviewed after Murshid's death—and we got into the newspaper account that has been quoted in a number of places—well the Levi-Strauss museum got wind of it and we were in touch with a man who said that it was a man named Jacob Davis who invented the copper rivet, and that—of course we didn't know who the person from the—
MARY LOU: It was Krause, but I'll have to check it out to find out what his first name was—mother might know because she remembers, they were her great grandparents and she remembers them—
WALI ALI: So Krause was the one who was married to Harriet—not Harriet Rosenthal but Harriet Rothschild—was it Harriet Rothschild?
MARY LOU: No, Lenore.
WALI ALI: Lenore Rothschild, and then she married Krause and then—
MARY LOU: They had children, and they were the grandparents of Harriet and Harry etc.
WALI ALI: Yeah, so—
MARY LOU: The copper rivet had been invented, as my grand-father told me, the copper rivet had been invented by his grandfather. And evidently they were extremely wealthy, even by those times—by our times they were extremely wealthy—where the dollar is now. And then Mr. Krause went to Europe for a while and left his business in someone else's hands, the family lost some money, but they were anything but impoverished. The money came on down—Murshid's father was a good businessman. But nobody else—and that was the last of the good businessmen in the family—my grandfather was anything but a businessman, in fact he was known as a boomer in his time, he went into railroad engineering, which was practically unheard of for anyone from even a middle class family at that time—
WALI ALI: See, I have to get straight because when you said your grandfather—
MARY LOU: My grandfather was Murshid's uncle—
WALI ALI: Yeah, so that is—I haven't gotten it all clear in my mind—
MARY LOU: It's difficult at times.
WALI ALI: I have difficulty with my own family tree, but I want to get it accurate because if it is worth taking up at all it is worth taking up properly. So were there any connections that were continued with the Rothschild family?
MARY LOU: Not really that I am aware of at all, there were none. And I don't know if my mother would be aware of any or not.
WALI ALI: And so any monies that came down through the family weren't necessarily from the Rothschilds?,
MARY LOU: No, there wouldn’t have been—well, there were the diamonds—the diamonds came from the Rothschild family because they were Aunt Harriet's grandmother's diamonds. I don't know if my mother—but I do know that my grandmother—that was one of the things she asked about—is what happened to Harriet's diamonds, and if I had them and evidently the best that we can surmise is that Samuel's brother gave them away to someone, or various people—ladies, of course—or hocked them, I really don't know, but evidently the diamonds were fabulous because my grandmother described them, she said they were just unbelievable. And during the fire, the earthquake and fire, my Uncle Jacob went down to them—they were in the vault of the Levi-Strauss Co. building on Valencia St., and he went through the fire to the vault to get the diamonds out—that's what kind of diamonds they were! Jewelry of course, in fact I have a picture upstairs of Lenore Krause with some of the diamonds on. We could all retire.
WALI ALI: At some point we would like to look through your pictures and make some copies of them.
MARY LOU: Most of the pictures I sent to mother, but I do have this one picture upstairs, in fact I have two pictures of Lenore Krause and one of her husband.
WALI ALI: Okay, so then I am getting it straight now; let's talk about the family tree from the standpoint of Elliott and Samuel Lewis. Were they the only children of Jacob and Harriet?
MARY LOU: Yes. And they had a cousin who was a painter, Tobey Rosenthal—and a lot of his picture are over at the De Young museum. Have you ever seen the picture of the old Cardinal being painted by the monk and the monk is trying to draw a picture of a very vigorous alert elderly man, and here the old Cardinal is slumped over in his-seat, half asleep. That was one of Tobey Rosenthal's.
WALI ALI: So then your connection with the family—you were on which side of the family? Like where does Mildred come in? Is that your mother?
MARY LOU: That's my mother, and her father's sister was the mother of Samuel and Elliott Lewis.
WALI ALI: Her father's sister was the mother of Elliott and Samuel—that was Harriet?
MARY LOU: Yeah, so she—they were first cousins—and they were my first cousins once removed under the law.
WALI ALI: Okay, now that's straight. Now I wonder if you—did you know Jacob and Harriet at all?
MARY LOU: The first time I came to San Francisco I was 13—I was born in '33 so that would be '46. The war wasn't over yet—and it was during Easter vacation, was the war over in '45 or '46? Anyway, I came up here during Easter. I was living with my grandparents down south in the Los Angeles area, and I came up in '46 for Easter vacation. And I had, to my knowledge, never met Aunt Harriet or Uncle Jacob before. I had encountered Samuel and Elliott at various times but never Uncle Jake or Aunt Harriet, so I came up here—and my grandparents played a dirty trick on me—they didn't tell me what the family circumstances were, and it came as a shock! My great aunt and uncle had not spoken to each other for over twenty-five years! at that time, and you want to talk about a house divided: This was a very divided house! I can remember that as though it were yesterday, when I came here. Anyway, when I came up here as I said, in '46 I guess.
WALI ALI: And how old were you?
MARY LOU: I was 13. And I was living with my grandparents in the L.A. area. My aunt was a very tiny lady—very, very tiny.
WALI ALI: Under five feet?
MARY LOU: I think she must have been. I don't know—
WALI ALI: Samuel was only 5' 2".
MARY LOU: I imagine 4' 8" probably, and she had no excess fat on her at all. And Uncle Jake was portly; you couldn’t call him fat, but he was a man of middle years or over middle years, and hefty. My aunt was a brilliant woman, she was a very brilliant woman—she composed music, could have been a concert pianist if young ladies had been permitted to go on the stage at that time. Evidently when her parents became divorced her grandparents took over the upraising of the children—they were just determined that there wasn't going to be another scandal in the family. But she was a walking almanac of California and particularly San Francisco. It was really amazing to talk to her and to listen to her. And she had just had an operation for cataracts so she sometimes even had two and even three pairs of glasses on at the same time. And of course in the '40's cataract operations were not done—they were not done the way they are done now—and there was a lot of chance that she would lose her eyesight. She had learned Braille; she had gone to class and learned Braille before she had the operation. She had also memorized every piece of furniture and everything in this house, so that if she did lose her eyesight she would be prepared and wouldn't have to go through this horrible thing of learning everything from a total sense of blindness.
WALI ALI: Do you know when they were born? Do you know how old they were say in 1946?
MARY LOU: She was 80 years of age in—I came to S. F. again in as a married woman in 1954 and she was 80 years of age in 1955, and her birthday was Dec. 11, so you can go back from there.
WALI ALI: Yeah. And what about Jacob?
MARY LOU: He would have been a couple years older, I think. And I don't know when his birthday was. They were also distantly related, by the way, like 132nd cousins or something like that. When he came to S. F., I guess the first thing he did—he went to her grandparents, that's it—that's how they met because there was a distant relationship there.
WALI ALI: Did she maintain her piano and keep up her playing all those years?
MARY LOU: Until the time of her—she had arthritis in later years, and also suffered from some senility from the time in 1946 until I came back in 1954. Yes, she did, and as a matter of fact at her 80th birthday party she played quite a few pieces that she had composed herself. She still was a good player. Technique- wise alone—she still had the technique even with the arthritis, which could be difficult.
WALI ALI: I'd like to get a little bit into, if you don't mind, the story about their relationship—
MARY LOU: Oh yeah, (much laughter)—
WALI ALI: When you said that they didn't talk for 25 years, did they—
MARY LOU: It was over 25 years at the time of Uncle Jacob's death and Uncle Jacob died in 1954.
WALI ALI: You mean they didn't talk at all to each other?
MARY LOU: There was absolutely no conversation—as a perfect example, Uncle Jake—somebody picked me up at the train station and I came out here and Aunt Hattie loved cats. And there were about 3 or 4 cats in the house, including the maid's cat who was more wild than tame. And the first time I met my Uncle Jake was at the dinner table. And the way the was the set-up was—that's very funny come to think of it: Uncle Jake sat at what you'd call the end of the table instead of the head of the table, and Aunt Hattie sat at the head of the table, and because I was here the two sons—I think the normal set-up would have been Elliott on one side of the table and Samuel on the other—but they had the two sons on one side and I'm on the other side. Even for a simple thing like, "Would you pass the cream," it was communicated between the sons from one parent to the sons and depending upon what space the sons were in one might ask his mother or ask the other son—it was like his son and her son—
WALI ALI: And which was which?
MARY LOU: Samuel was really more of Aunt Harriet's son—
WALI ALI: That's what I thought—
MARY LOU: And much closer, and over the years I know Elliott turned his mother against Samuel after his father died.
WALI ALI: That's another story. It's only important to go into it for several reasons: Samuel always talked about it, he always referred to it, he never let it go. He was always saying what an unhappy family situation he had had.
MARY LOU: Oh, it was sick; even as a 13 year old, and I had, as I said, I knew nothing about this when I walked in. My uncle brought me home a box of candy from Sees one day. My aunt didn't speak to me for two days because I not only accepted the candy but I ate some. The cats by the way, the cats would get up at the table and eat from the table, on the table, while we were eating and I found out subsequently that my Uncle Jake was a fanatic about cleanliness, keeping things up, and this house stunk of cats, cat hair all over—and he was an asthmatic—I know now, that those cats were in the house to kill him. She would have had a 100 of them if she could have. There was absolutely no communication between them. They hated one another; later on she used to tell me these terrible tales—this was as a married woman—ugh! I'm pregnant, I'm in bed, my aunt has come to visit me, and is telling me about the agonies of childbirth and what that meant for this room. After—yes, Samuel was the younger of the two, no wait a minute—he was the oldest?
WALI ALI: He was the oldest.
MARY LOU: That's right, he was the oldest.
WALI ALI: I wanted to ask you a question about something he said on a couple of occasions. I don't know whether it was—I know I recall him saying it on one occasion, maybe two. He said that one of the reasons that he was disliked by his parents was that they never forgave him for being conceived out of wedlock. That he was conceived out of wedlock, and that he was born after they were married.
MARY LOU: I don't know about that, and I can see—first of all to paraphrase this, I had met Samuel once or twice before coming to S. F. and as a married woman—and why I came here, my cousin Elliott told such stories about Samuel, they were unbelievable—and I have since found out that, and experienced through the years, that Elliott was a congenital liar! If there is such a thing as being born as a liar, he was born as a liar. And so therefore, a lot of—I really had this picture of a very—how can I put it?—avaricious for one man very mentally unbalanced, I can't even think of some of the opinions that I had of Samuel, and I really regret that I had so many years when I could have known Samuel and didn't because of the way the family set-up was at that time. And when I first got into communication with Samuel, it was after his brother's death and I was really very afraid to encounter him from everything that I had ever heard, and since you all know what a lovely human being he was, you can see the misconception—so that I wouldn't have known about it. If Elliott had known about it he certainly would have said it; he would have had no qualms about bringing that up.
WALI ALI: One wants to use one's discretion in terms of what goes into some book.
MARY LOU: As I can understand it—my aunt had to have been a very spoiled woman, very, very spoiled—her grandmother had—I was brought up for a great many years by my grandmother—so I know how this goes—grandmothers tend much more to spoil their grandchildren than they do their own children. And she must have had everything that she could ever possibly have wanted. And if she wanted Jacob Lewis, or if the family decided she wanted Jacob Lewis. I don’t know, but it could have been a good marriage at the first. She never shared a room with him after the birth of the second son, that much I do know. And he fell in love with a cousin that came—like third or fourth cousin, that came to town—and at one point was really contemplating a divorce, and I don't know whether the grandparents stepped in or if it was a thing that he would have lost his position at Levi-Strauss but family pressure was put on him—in fact the cousin was living here for awhile, and I found some old letters which I threw away, they were horrible! And that was the end of any communication between the two of them.
WALI ALI: And the culture of the times was such that it was conceivable that people could live together like that for years—
MARY LOU: And particularly when you consider that her mother was a divorced woman and that stigma had been there as a young girl being brought up.
WALI ALI: It's hard to believe how times have changed—
MARY LOU: And we are talking of over a 100 years ago now, well over a 100 years ago. So they—at one time they had entertained, but this would have been at the turn of the country. I think that the only social life that they had together would have been, say, through the company, wouldn't it?
WALI ALI: Yeah, because that is the only reference that I have to any social life. A man named Daniel Koshland, whom I don't know if you know, one of the senior presidents of Levi-Strauss we have been in touch with. Do you recall that correspondence, Sabira? We got one letter from him in which he said something about having played bridge or something like that.
MARY LOU: Oh yeah, they were all bridge addicts too. In fact Elliott was a three time national champion, in the old Culbertson days of bridge, which would have been in the early thirties.
SABIRA: When you first met Sam Lewis he was fifty, right?
MARY LOU: No, as I recall, he came to Canada—you see I had lived with my grandparents off and on from the time I was three years of age and I recall his visit to them in Canada. I was living there as a small child. And when I was living in San Fernando with my grandparents and while I was still down there he came down, and he would sing, he would start singing Gilbert and Sullivan in the mornings when he got up. And he had progressed through—he evidently had a complete—even Elliott who hated his brother would say that he knew every chorus, line, stanza, whatever, libretto, from everything that Gilbert and Sullivan had ever written.
WALI ALI: So how old was he?
MARY LOU: He would have had to have been in his fifties or late forties.
WALI ALI: That first meeting that you had?
MARY LOU: No, as a small child I have no conception. I started school when I was 3 years of age—with different schools it is kind of difficult to place myself, but I know that I was small and I lived in Canada, but I wasn't in the 1st grade. So the fact that I started 1st grade when I was five it could have been between the time I was 3 and I was 5.
WALI ALI: And then after that you didn't meet him again until—?
MARY LOU: I saw him one time in the L.A. region and then in '46 here, and I never saw him again until his mother's death.
WALI ALI: What do you remember about those earlier meetings? I realize everything was colored by the—
MARY LOU: I liked him—at the time, both here in the house—he didn't have that much to do, the other brother took me to a Chinese dinner or something like that, and my aunt felt that the way to entertain a 13 year old was to get on buses and go out to see a show at the Cow Palace and then the old department store, the White House, and everything, and plus I suffered from an immediate case of, sand fleas upon arrival here. and was scratching up one side and down the other. When Aunt Hattie was here in the house and Uncle Jake wasn't here it was a fun house. She had a nice neighbor lady next door, she was, an Irish woman, she had a son who was home from a seminary on Easter vacation, I remember that, and it was really a fun place. As soon as five o'clock, or whatever time Uncle Jake came in, it was horrible, it was just really horrible. There was no affection shown between anyone, none of the sons showed any affection to their parents, and I don't know if it was a house rule that they had to be at the dinner table or not but I feel that that must have been one of the rules under which this house functioned.
SABIRA: So they both lived here? ,
MARY LOU: Yes, they both lived here and they hated one another.
WALI ALI: Oh God, there is no question but that they did.
MARY LOU: I didn't even know this until years later, but I knew it from being here that there was no—
WALI ALI: According to Murshid, Samuel he was called then, what he said was that Elliott was always telling lies about him—
MARY LOU: Elliott could not tell the truth where a lie would serve—that sums up Elliott as best as anything—
WALI ALI: So people couldn't understand why this man, I'm talking about now in his later years-where when he had all these young people who looked to him as their spiritual teacher, loved him very much, and then he'd be in the middle of giving something and he'd start talking about his—something about his brother who had tried to ruin him at every step of the way and so on; those marks stayed there but he was able to transmute it—
MARY LOU: I think that that speaks for the person that he became over the years that he was able to—that he could come out of it—because the scars had to be so deep that it would take a very large person to come up out of that at all—where you could even forget it for any period of time—
WALI ALI: We're jumping way ahead to the last years when everything changed, but Elliott used to call up all the time—Elliott began to depend upon him the last couple of years of his life—
MARY LOU: And still hated him—
WALI ALI: That may be true, but he was always after—there was some lawsuit that went down between them—
MARY LOU: Oh yeah, and then there was a watch—
WALI ALI: Do you know anything about that—
MARY LOU: Yeah, I know a little bit about it—there were several lawsuits, they were still having a contest over their grandfather's or great grandfather's will and estate in which money had dissipated of course into the Lewis estate and when Uncle Jake first made out a will—his own will—he left nothing to his wife Harriet Lewis, and of course under the law he could not do that, there was no way that he could do this—but he was forced because of the community-property laws to leave one-half of his estate to Harriet Lewis regardless of what he had to do with it or didn't have to do with it, and he must not have been gone to his grave a happy man over that. He said that as far as the two sons were concerned, he set up trust funds and they would be paid so much per month, but according to Elliott, Samuel was paid more money to stay away from the house than he, Elliott, was paid to stay in the house. How much validity there is in that particular statement, I don't know. However, during the last years of Jacob Lewis's life, Elliott would drive him to work and take care of him or what have you, so it could have been that his father felt that Elliott could be better—there was no way that the two of them could ever have lived in the same house at that point of time. But also at the death of both brothers all money that was left in the trust—
WALI ALI: I've seen that will—giving to these various charities that were specified—
MARY LOU: Yeah, right, because I guess he figured that Elliott would have run through his mother's money by that time, which was absolutely right.
WALI ALI: Elliott inherited his mother's money and Samuel didn't?
MARY LOU: Yeah, and the house! In fact, when Uncle Jake died the will was contested. Elliott went into court and contested the will, and I'm not sure that Samuel—see I have this from Elliott and I know Samuel was involved in that because my grandfather came down and one of them turned him against the other brother., and in fact, I know who it was—according to Elliott, Samuel had subverted my grandfather—
WALI ALI: Is, that Uncle, Harry?
MARY LOU: That's Uncle Harry.
WALI ALI: Uncle Harry is the one that Samuel always had good relations with. They shared letters through the years—
MARY LOU: Yeah, grandfather was a great letter writer and Samuel was too, and they had some common bonds. In fact one of the pictures in the book.
WALI ALI: He's passed on now?
MARY LOU: He died three years ago in February.
WALI ALI: He was 90 something?
MARY LOU: He was 96 years of age when he died, and if he hadn't had cancer, he'd probably still be walking around. In fact he was very lucky he died when he did because it was before the pain started, the bad pain. But, yeah, he was quite a person—
WALI ALI: I met him once.
MARY LOU: In his sixties he could play handball and beat anybody 40 years younger, so, but at any rate—
WALI ALI: Samuel identified with his pioneer type of life—
MARY LOU: He was what they called a boomer—he went out and started, of course, as a fireman on the railroad engines and he'd go from one part of the country to another—that's how he met my grandmother in Oklahoma—they lived in Mexico—in fact Samuel had visited them when they lived in Mexico, at one time
WALI ALI: I am interested in hearing a little more about Uncle Harry—
MARY LOU: This was one of the court cases that they had, and evidently when my aunt he got on the stand, stood there and announced that she renounced the son publicly, meaning Samuel—oh it had to be just really pathos.
WALI ALI: Oh God! The nature of the contesting of the will was…? What was the legal point? What was the issue—that Samuel wasn’t to receive anything?
MARY LOU: No, the first point was that she felt she should have received the entire estate and not the community property that was very begrudgingly left to her by her husband and also I think that Elliot was trying to make sure that Samuel didn’t get anything. That’s my own opinion and I have no facts to back that up, but the original contesting was over the fact that she felt and since Uncle Jake died in the early part, or the middle part of ’54, of September ’54 and Aunt Harriet’s senility had already started, I think this was Elliott. This is just my own editorial opinion.
WALI ALI: Samuel said that he was reconciled with his father on his father’s death bed. That there was some reconciliation—
MARY LOU: Yeah, in fact that is where the watch came up—this is the watch—It has an inscription on the back—
WALI ALI: The traditional gold watch!
MARY LOU: Yeah, except that he continued to—
WALI ALI: Sixty years of—
MARY LOU: I have a certificate of his employment upstairs—after 65 years they gave him a certificate—it's a classic! But at any rate Uncle Jake had told Samuel that this was his watch, that he could have the watch, and so they fought over this watch, from 1954 until—and it was still evidently a bone of contention when Elliott died, which was five years ago.
WALI ALI: It must be more than five years—
MARY LOU: Right, Elliott died in 1970.
WALI ALI: Samuel died in '71.
MARY LOU: That's six years, yeah, but this was just one of the things they fought about, and then there was also, as I said, going back to a grandfather's will and the amount of money there which had been totally dissipated, that was still a bone of contention at least as far as Elliott was concerned until the time that Elliott died.
WALI ALI: And then of course there was the whole contesting about who was going to get more—as the money from the trust was changed through the years.
MARY LOU: And then Wells Fargo, I think the only time that they we are together is that the Wells Fargo had been appointed as a trust officer, for the trust for the estate, and they sold all the Levi-Strauss stock which was private stock at that time quite and reinvested the money like in government bonds and stuff—and that's the one time that I do know that the two of them got together during that period of time where they had done nothing together but clicked heads with one another,
WALI ALI: There was always this undercurrent, but there was this mutual interest when I was around, which let's say was '68/'69/'70—in regard to that they were both interested in applying for more money from the trust and they had to put their heads together to do that. And apparently—I don't know what were the results of these various lawsuits.
MARY LOU: Nil! Nobody got anything except spent a lot of money on lawyers. They just—I don't know, it was really ridiculous. When Harriet died, Elliott didn't even want his brother at his mother's funeral. And if my grandfather hadn't intervened Elliott was going to make a big scene, and tell Samuel to go away. He did not want him at that funeral!
WALI ALI: What were his reasons? I've been trying to understand that—
MARY LOU: He was crazy!
WALI ALI: Well I don't know.
MARY LOU: Yeah, there's insanity—there has to be a streak—in fact my mother looks at me every once in a while and says (laughter) "I wonder," and we have kind of touched on this because there is definitely a streak of insanity in the family—you can hate someone—and it wasn't just that my grandfather was a very sadistic person—he was a beautiful person, but he was also a sadist, and—
WALI ALI: Your grandfather?
MARY LOU: Harry, Uncle Harry—oh he was a brut! But he was also a very beautiful person, when he wasn't being a monster. And he turned against his own son, he was trying to blackmail his own son, just to cause him mental anguish—that is not a normal person.
WALI ALI: It is such a strange history; as much as, Murshid referred to it everyone thought—everyone humored him about this subject to a certain extent because no one thought that it could be as bad as he made it out to be. Now I see that it was much worse!
MARY LOU: It was! When Elliott died—this house—there would be stack of papers, paper bags what have you, letters 15/20 years old laying on the table opened with stacks of things on it—and I came across some things. Elliott had made out a Journal, an indictment against his father and against Samuel and I burnt it. He would go into things like he was even … his brother was a deviate; he was even going on about bed-wetting incidents; or masturbation—but he was making it like it was the most foul decadent—oh it was hideous! You'd find pictures of my uncle with nasty things written across the pictures or comments that both Elliott and his mother had written these things—they had tried to eliminate every trace of Samuel from this house—but the funny thing was, in Uncle Jake's bedroom, they had never touched it. It remained exactly the way it had been—boxes and boxes of shirts that had never been worn—in the original wrappers. This, as a matter of fact was up there (the gold watch) it was black—you didn’t even know what was inside of it from the dust. But Uncle Jake died in '54 and that room hadn't been touched.
WALI ALI: It hadn't been touched? Until when?
MARY LOU: Until I moved in when Elliott died in 1970. It was like the bed was made, there was a counterpane that had JEL on it—these were Uncle Jake's initials—his hairbrush, his comb, his Shriner's hat with fez, boxes of shirts that had never been worn, nightshirts, nobody had ever used that room. Aunt Hattie stayed in the room that she had and Elliott stayed in his room—
WALI ALI: How much longer did she live after his passing?
MARY LOU: She died in 1960—let's see, Shana was born in 1958, no Shana was born in 1960—she died around 1960. She died '6l, or '62, I'm not sure, but my middle daughter was born in Oct. of '60 and we moved to Daly City in '61, so Aunt Harriet died in either ‘61 or '62, I'm not sure.
WALI ALI: Why did the two brothers live here, under those circumstances?
MARY LOU: I imagine it was a matter of economy. See, Elliott never worked, Elliott never really—oh that was another thing—journals where Elliott had got into business and Uncle Jake would say—Levi-Strauss has opened a store up in a northern area—oh the whole thing—they started a corporation, and Elliott was not a business man—
WALI ALI: I know, it is curious because Samuel said that his father had never supported him because he felt that his brother would be a business man and that Samuel's interests early hadn't been in business at all, and had been religious or philosophical or whatever, and consequently this was looked upon as being effete and non-productive and therefore, he said, and I don't know if there is any verification of this in the records that he graduated from Lowell with the highest marks. And then that his family which was well off never—wasn't willing to send him to college or anything of the kind.
MARY LOU: Elliott didn't go to college either. Neither one of them did.
WALI ALI: Neither one of them did, but Elliott somehow was tried to be taken into the business and it didn’t work out.
MARY LOU: That's right, it did anything but did work out. It was always a financial disaster whenever Elliott did anything business-wise, and then over the years, during the war years, Elliott had something to do with the court of San Francisco for awhile and then he was in cleanup—demolition cleanup—I think he had the rank of a Colonel in the Army. He never had any money paid into social security—he just never worked. And yet he used to make fun of Samuel going back to school and learning gardening. It was, he was—how did the Rabbi say that—a sportsman!—he was a sportsman! And he had invested in—where he got the money I don't know, but he had money invested in stock at the race tracks, because he used to brag that he'd never lose—if he lost money on a bet, he was still getting money on his dividends and he never worked—he was a totally non-productive person. Oh yeah, at one time he had been President or Vice-President of—they'd had a semi-pro football league—in fact the 49'ers evolved out of this league that they used to have, prior to the war years, and then after the war years they became professional. And he had reams of stationery made with the logo, and the imprint and the whole bit on this. And that was his way of life.
SABIRA: You mentioned that Elliott gave money to women—
MARY LOU: Yeah, he sure did. S: Do you remember anything about what Samuel might have done as far as women were concerned? Any relationships?
WALI ALI: Elliott said that Samuel had gotten married, but whether he did or not I don't know, but he made some very uncomplimentary remarks about Samuel. And I really have no idea; Elliott was a liar.
WALI ALI: It is obvious—because everything I've ever heard him say, and from all records and documents, and evidence, seems to be usually false. It's very strange. He was never married was he?
MARY LOU: No he tells a story, and I have no idea whether this was a fabrication or not, this was some years ago—
WALI ALI: There was, an annulment or something—
MARY LOU: No, this was when I was still married—oh no, he had her dying in childbirth—oh wait a minute, he did get married, that's right! He did get married. He took Aunt Hattie on the honeymoon, and he did marry somebody—evidently this was before Phil and I got married in '54. And I guess he had been dating this lady for some time—some probably outrageous period of time, and yet they did get married and for some reason or another she just wasn't willing to share his kind of life under the circumstances that had been dictated—and yes there was an annulment. That much I think is true—
WALI ALI: Samuel's said that—
MARY LOU: Yeah, I think that that one is true. But had told the story—evidently he had gone back East and tried to go into business back East, probably during the 20's,and it could have been true because the circumstances—he had been drinking when he told the story—he was a heavy drinker, but this was in a home situation, not a bar, and it could have been true, Anyway, she died in childbirth., But it was something that his family never was really that conversant with. See there was also the problem of Judaism—and when I say problem there—my uncle was a practicing Jew—he had membership, as a matter of tact, at Emmanuel—and Samuel deviated from the family religion at an early, age, and both of them made their Bar Mitzvahs though. They both made their Bar Mitzvahs.
[End of side ones]
and Hattie is buried at a Jewish cemetery but that is because Uncle Jake had purchased a plot there prior to their death.
WALI ALI: I know Samuel in referring to his own childhood he recaps that he was something of a child prodigy, I think this is mentioned—
MARY LOU: They were all brilliant—
WALI ALI: And there was certainly this genius on his mother's side, but he recalls remembering previous lives and being able to read the Bible at a very young age. And he refers to his, in 1915, when he must have been 18 years old going to the Exposition out here and being—
MARY LOU: That was 1916—
WALI ALI: That was '16—and being impressed by the Theosophical display there which was teaching the unity of all religions and so on, so he always had a religious interest, and I know that that must have been a bone of contention in the family.
MARY LOU: Yeah, it would have to have been. I don't know whether my uncle was a devout person or just a—
WALI ALI: Social Jew—
MARY LOU: Social Jew! He did pay his dues every year at Emmanuel, and I imagine he did observe the High Holidays. My aunt was totally A-religious at the time that I met her. No, she had transcended that—she used to do as much work for the Little Sisters of the Poor over here on Lake Street as she would do for others—she had gone beyond the bounds of any formalized religious group, as far as charity or works of charity were concerned. But as I said, as soon as Uncle Jake died she joined the Unitarian Church because that was like defying him, even in the grave so to speak. This was how sick this situation was. This house—when I first came into this house—it was so cold you couldn't believe it, and my mother was out here shortly after Elliott's death and then she went back say six months after I started living in the house. And she was talking about just such a simple thing as getting up in the night to go to the bathroom—she didn't feel the coldness prevailing in the house that she had before. I know this sounds corny, but houses have atmospheres, feelings—
WALI ALI: Atmospheres! Oh I believe that—
MARY LOU: And you cannot believe what this thing was like. It was—
WALI ALI: Did Elliott always live here? He never lived—
MARY LOU: He never lived anyplace else except for when he was in the Service. Or say when he had gone back—I know there was a period at one time when he was living back East. Or attempting to go back. They apparently had a lot of relatives back East who were very very wealthy, the so-called leading Jewish families—our crowd—there are some of them that are mentioned in that book, and I'm not really sure which. I know Thomas Mann was a first cousin of Elliott and Samuel, and also they had some relatives in Australia. They were the first knighted Jews ever in Australia, probably the only ones ever knighted as a matter of fact, because even Israelis had trouble getting knighthood. So they did come from a very socially prominent background and also a wealthy background.
WALI ALI: Do you know how long Samuel lived here in the family house or when he moved out?
MARY LOU: No I don't. I know he was here in ’46 when I came here—
WALI ALI: He was here in `46 when you came here?
MARY LOU: He was living here in the house in '46.
WALI ALI: I know that he must have been out before then and come back or something—
MARY LOU: Yeah, it could have been that—I think he would come and go for a period of time there—but after '46 and until '54, I have no idea. Then in '54 I don't think he'd been in this house in a great many years. He might have been allowed to come back when his father died because by that time Elliott was running everything.
WALI ALI: Now his father died in '54?
MARY LOU: Yeah.
WALI ALI: In '56, he went for the first time to the Orient, Samuel did. He took the money that he had inherited from—he had received some lump sum at that time. He made his first trip to India, and Japan and the Far East in 1956. And I'm sure that after his father's death he never came back here to live because after 1956 we have a pretty good—
MARY LOU: As I said, in ''54 when Uncle Jake died, but Elliott had been running the thing before then. Mother was out here between '52 and '53 and Uncle Jake was very ill at that time. He had a heart condition, he had had asthma since he had been a child but he would still go to Levi-Strauss every day, and I think there were some times he couldn't drive and Elliott would drive him. I know he was still active as far as business was concerned when mother was out here in '52-'53, but Elliott was running it. It was—because of his father's physical limitations and because of the mental state that my aunt was going through at that time. He was pretty much in control of whatever took place in this house, except for the fact that all monies were provided by his father.
WALI ALI: What was his father's position at Levi-Strauss?'
MARY LOU: He was the Vice-President, and a member of the Board of Directors at the time of his death. He started as an elevator boy when he was about 14 years of age or something because he used to say that he went up—using the elevator phraseology—that he'd started from the bottom and worked his way up, or something.
WALI ALI: It would certainly be interesting to find out at what point that Samuel left, because it is hard for people in our generation to understand why, in the face of such unhappy home situation, a young man wouldn't move out sooner than he did.
MARY LOU: Because the home was the integral thing then. We have become such a nomadic society or such a transitory society in the last 50 years, but at that time you lived in the same community as your parents, your grandparents and your great grandparents, you just did not move, and plus again going back to Judaism, Judaism is a family—is a totally family oriented religion.
WALI ALI: Because I know—I don't know how much you know about Samuel's life between 1926 and 1950, so—
MARY LOU: Only from what I've read in the book, In The Garden.
WALI ALI: So I couldn't very well draw you out on anything in that period—
MARY LOU: And I've heard references from Elliott and they were probably all false. Except for the fact that Samuel, at one point, was a gardener in Golden Gate Park, that's about the only factual thing—
WALI ALI: You don't know anything about the period in which he was living in Marin County in the early 1930's?
MARY LOU: No I don't. After his death I was talking to someone who had known him during that period of time and it was through the Sufis that I encountered this person, maybe if you said something I'd remember—but probably you have all that information—and then I know that he had left all his papers and everything to someone who had been a friend of his during those Marin days. And I think somebody was going to get in touch him because the Sufis wanted to keep the papers.
WALI ALI: Right. What about your Mother? Do you think she would know something about Sam?
MARY LOU: Yeah, I think she would know a lot because ever since she was a small child—either with my grandmother or with both parents—and that was a rotten marriage too. Good marriages didn't run in this family. She was always coming to San Francisco and as a young—now Samuel was very active in politics during the 30's with the Democratic Party, because I remember mother telling me about being out here and Samuel taking her to this party where there were all these Hollywood stars, Edward G. Robinson and people like that, which of course made—mother was not a child at that time because she and Samuel—mother will be 70 in Dec. of this year—so there is 15 years difference or something like that in their age—and they were close. You see these were the only—
WALI ALI: Mildred and Samuel were close?
MARY LOU: Yes, they were, at that time, but she kept in contact with her cousins over the years and there were periods of time when she was coming out here.
WALI ALI: Was she also close with Elliott? Was she one who was able to bridge all these gaps?
MARY LOU: Evidently—they had really very little family, and my mother's brother—there was absolutely no relationship between this side of the family, and my Uncle Raymond is a doctor and when he got out of medical degree and got his degree, my Uncle Harry said, "Change your name." So he changed his name to Rosedale. And his children were brought up never knowing that there was any Jewish taint—and tainted the way they had it—blood in the family—because my uncle's wife was a French Catholic, very devout Catholic and very anti-Semitic. In fact one of my cousins was visiting one time and let the news slip about Uncle Harry being a Jew and the oldest daughter was going to break her engagement because of the tainted blood. Sheer hysteria—in fact this is one of the things that Uncle Harry used to use to get to his sons all those letters I had opened—old Rosie's used overall store (?) some father, a prominent Dr. Rosedale, it's something—however—
WALI ALI: I get the picture.
MARY LOU: It was great! So they had very little to do with each other; I think Elliott went back and visited Uncle Raymond one time. And as I understand it, or the feeling I had, was that they couldn't wait to get him out of the house and they didn't want anybody to see him. So there would have been no contact—
WALI ALI: There were three—there was Raymond and there was Mildred—and there was?
MARY LOU: No, there was a child that was born and then died around 3 years of age. So actually there was just Raymond, Mildred, Elliott and Samuel—and that was it family-wise.
WALI ALI: But Raymond, Mildred—and was Jacob her brother or was it Harriet that was her sister?
MARY LOU: Raymond Rosedale is Mildred's brother—and so there was just the two because the other child died as an infant.
WALI ALI: And so they were the only two children, it was their—I'm still working on it.
MARY LOU: They were first cousins to Elliott and Samuel.
WALI ALI: What did they have in common? They were first cousins in that her—
MARY LOU: Her father and their mother were brother and sister—Harry and Harriett says it right there—gee I never thought about that. That's why the similar names. At any rate—but Mother kept up the only relationship that they had with their Uncle Harry's family would have been through my mother and grandmother, because grandmother would come here and visit occasionally.
WALI ALI: Do you think your mother would feel like talking about these things?
MARY LOU: Yeah, sure, in fact she has a cassette at home and she could make a tape for you very easily. It would just be a matter of getting in touch with her.
WALI ALI: We have written her and we haven't heard anything—
MARY LOU: My mother is the world's worst letter writer, and also there has been a lot of sickness at home. My grandmother almost died last summer. And grandmother is 96 now. And then my step-father—his mother died the Saturday of Christmas week.
WALI ALI: It would be interesting—and I would like to get her account aside from all the family garbage, so to speak, which I think is worthwhile and important in terms of setting—it is an achievement in Samuel's life that he was able to rise beyond it. It's also an indication—he said some things about it that I think are important. He said, "My difficulties as a child made it easy for me to sympathize with the young generation that was coming around and which was so much…." (people talking about the generation gap). He said, "I was in the generation gap long before, and I was able to sympathize and give some advice."
MARY LOU: And he had come to transcend the difference in the ages because he had been through all this garbage that these kids are screaming about and in fact they never had it so good as compared with the way he was brought up. But mother would remember him as a man in his twenties, thirties and what have you
WALI ALI: And it's impossible—
MARY LOU: And she'd talk about how he used to go and visit them—over the years he would visit them in Canada. And my mother and dad were married—whenever they were married—they came to the States in 1928 because the immigration laws were changed then; they had a dual citizenship and they had to choose between being Canadian and American citizens when the immigration law was changed here in 1928 and they opted for American citizenship, and came to the U.S. But she was in touch with him over the years and either from coming out here on visits or his coming to Canada—I don't know if he ever went into the Southwest, I doubt it very seriously. In fact I have no recollection of anybody saying anything about this. Neither Elliott or Samuel—
WALI ALI: Did she also see him in the last years of his life, is that right?
MARY LOU: Yes, in fact, in was in '68, '69—the year that my husband and I separated, mother was out here and she decided—she had been thinking about getting in touch with Samuel over the years because she'd been coming out here. I came out in `54 and she'd been coming out intermittently over those years and she had decided that Elliott was full of shit, and even if he wasn't full of shit, she wanted to see Samuel, and it just so happened that when she contacted him, they were having a party for him at the Minerva, it was a birthday party he had.
WALI ALI: Oh I remember—maybe I was there—was that '69?
MARY LOU: It would have had to have been '69, and Samuel, and I guess it was Saul, came out to the house—first came out—oh yes, they took her to the party, that's what it was. They came out to the house and he had this full beard, and she said, "My Lord, you look like Moses." And he said, "I am," she commented on, how Biblical he looked or patriarchal and he made some—because my daughters remember that and Phil and I had to go some place on, a business trip of his, these social things we were pushed into, even though we weren't speaking—anyway they came out and I was down in Carmel someplace but the girls remember very vividly because they'd heard all this crud about Samuel and here this man comes in here with his flowing robe sort of thing and the beard, and they just flipped out.
WALI ALI: It must have been, amazing for them. I know he was so delighted to make your acquaintance in the last years of his life.
MARY LOU: All I can say is that—I think mother summed it up perfectly—when I called to tell her that Sam was dead, she said, "We lost a friend." And we never felt that way about Elliott. We've talked about it since. We really let ourselves be in a position where we didn't—she was so glad that she made the effort to get a hold of Samuel—I think she had in previous years, in fact I know she had, but it didn’t work out, where she could get in touch with him; but Elliott never knew about it. Elliott never knew that she was in town, because she didn't want to hurt him. But it was really an experience. Like the girls are still talking about the stories that Samuel told! They called him Uncle Sam. He would tell them his fables and things, in fact when my grandfather was up here, it was the first time I had met you and we went over to Precita Avenue. We'd all been out to dinner and he was telling some stories that night. Fables, and oh I guess they loved it, and his tantalizing dances and that sort of thing. They were cheated, I really feel.
WALI ALI: I know that he was able to see—it was important to him to see something of his family karma resolved. In the fact that he was able to have this opening of friendship with you and your daughters. It was really nice that way, and he felt good about your getting the family house and that whole thing.
MARY LOU: That's another thing. Elliott had told me that I would probably have a fight with Samuel over the house when he'd made out the will. I'd probably have to go to court etc. and all that kind of jazz.
WALI ALI: I know there was some—
MARY LOU: In fact there was calmness between you and I on the phone when I was contacting you when Samuel had died, the autopsy thing and all the rest of that and—
WALI ALI: I think that—
MARY LOU: I was coming under this misconception of this—at Aunt Hattie's funeral Samuel was very cold, and it was very easy to see why he was cold, he was there on sufferance, he knew that Elliott did not want him at their mother's funeral, and I was told not to speak to him.
WALI ALI: I'm sure it was a horrible experience for him, and for everybody.
MARY LOU: Oh it had to be! This really tells the best story about Elliott that I can think of. When he died I had to take care of all the arrangements. And as far as I was concerned he was still a Jew and he was going to have a Jewish funeral. And I went over to Sinai and had the arrangements made and they had this very unique little habit where they have these coffin rooms. And you have to go in there—although Sinai is much better about all that, I've been told, than say—they are a non-profit organization anyway, but there was this one beautiful casket that was made of wood. It was beautiful, with all these monstrosity gross things in there, and so I chose that and I think they all fell within one price range anyway which had nothing to-do with it, but several people called me and had "cows" that I had buried him so quickly and had no respect, I'd picked out the cheapest, coffin. Then I had four different people say that he'd already paid for his own coffin and funeral and etc. He'd gone around telling people that he'd made his own arrangements so that I wouldn't be stuck with it. Which he hadn't—this to me personified the kind of lie that Elliott would do better than anything else. "I’m a good guy, everybody else is rotten, or I'm out to save everybody from all this trouble, I don't want to be a burden to anyone, because I'm paying my own way," and that sort of thing. My mother was, now he never did tell any stories about her, I take that back. He never said anything derogatory about his mother. In fact he could remember that they used to—when they were all young, they'd bring people home and Aunt Hattie would get up and fix bacon and eggs and what have you, and play the piano for them and stuff like that, There must have been a period of time when they did have some good memories.
WALI ALI: I should hope so.
MARY LOU: But everybody else was rotten in his—
WALI ALI: Can we talk a little bit about just what you recall of your meetings with Samuel.
MARY LOU: At the time that I came here in '46, as I said, there was not too much communication. There wasn't too much communication with anybody in this household, at that time. He was just like a shadow figure. And then when he came down to San Fernando to visit the singing—that is something that I remember very distinctly.
WALI ALI: The singing—to San Fernando?
MARY LOU: This would have been between '45 and '48, yeah because I was back in Texas in. '48. And he came down to visit my grandparents or he was down there for business, I don't know. He stayed at the house a couple of days. And I started getting up in the morning to Gilbert and Sullivan and he was not—the other brother had been down also, Elliott, one was a braggart and it was: me, me, me, me, me, but Samuel wasn't, Samuel was more into a philosophy thing; this caught my interest at the time as opposed to his brother's ego trips. And that I very distinctly remember; the actual conversations or the contacts I just have a general idea about. They were not really—as I said, they were more philosophical—
WALI ALI: And then what were your impressions when you met him? It is important, I think, to get an impression, a full story about how and what your impressions were when you met him in '69 and those subsequent meetings—
MARY LOU: I didn't meet him in '69. I was out of town at that time, and actually I didn't see him again until after Elliott, had died in '70, and it was because I hadn't even moved into the house yet.
WALI ALI: So let's focus on that. What took place at that time?
MARY LOU: The first time that my grandfather came to town and he wanted to get together with Samuel.
WALI ALI: That's Uncle Harry?
MARY LOU: Yeah, Uncle Harry. And I still had all these notions about Samuel and what his brother had told me, and I wasn't too happy about the situation. Grandfather had made arrangements with Samuel and we were all going to go to dinner. And I was totally against it, but my grandfather—at that point I would have done anything to keep him off my back. So we went to dinner and it turned out to be a very nice experience, We went to the Indonesian House over on Castro Street.
WALI ALI: He went with Saul, is that right?
MARY LOU: No Saul wasn't there that night. It was just Samuel.
WALI ALI: It was just Samuel.
MARY LOU: Yes, it was just Samuel—
WALI ALI: That’s unusual because he usually went with somebody—
MARY LOU: And I can’t remember—
WALI ALI: Oh, you picked him up then?
MARY LOU: I know I drove him home. I don’t know whether I picked him up or not, I’m not sure about that. And I have a really good memory; this shows you the state that I started the evening in.
WALI ALI: Yeah, I can imagine!
MARY LOU: And I had the girls there—and I didn’t even want the girls to meet him—and I told grandfather that I didn’t even want the girls—
WALI ALI: The family tradition was that he was mentally disturbed and that you didn’t want to—?
MARY LOU: It wasn’t so much that he was mentally disturbed; he was not a nice person, he was bad karma—how does that sound? I don't know, you see, by this time I knew good and well that Elliot was a liar—there was no two ways about that, and I knew that Mother had this really beautiful impression of Samuel from ’69, but also I just had this—but probably when it comes right down to it—I didn’t want to spend an evening with my grandfather, much less with my grandfather and my cousin Samuel. That’s really where it had to be coming from. I just didn’t want any part of it at all. But we—being around my grandfather at that time was a terrible strain; he hates my grandfather, see? And I'm getting all this about the degeneracy and all that.
WALI ALI: Oh, I see.
MARY LOU: At one point I remember screaming at him, "By God, they are my relatives too." And for me to scream at my grandfather had to take an awful lot of pressure. I was still afraid of him. Yeah, until the day he died, I still had a fear of my grandfather. But at any rate, we went to dinner and we ended up—I took Samuel home to Precita. He invited us in, and it was really nice—
WALI ALI: I must have been living there—
MARY LOU: Yeah, I met you then. I met some other people whom I don't remember, I don't remember their names at this time. And I remember Samuel showing me the garden in the back, and he was talking about the organic vegetables he was working on. And also, I hate this—but I had this religious kook thing going on in my head, religious cultist. And I was just coming out of being a fairly good practicing Catholic at that time. I had this—it really hurts to see what an idiot you can be—so it was quite an upsetting evening in many ways because I was put into a social position I did not want to be in. I also had these pre-conceived notions about Samuel, and also the religious cultist bit … and I had to go through a lot of changes before that evening was over and came out finding that I really liked him. But not to such a point that I was going to do anything to be around him—
WALI ALI: But that is a tremendous change even so. I'm interested to know if you can remember anything more about it. Did he, was he very friendly? I would imagine—
MARY LOU: The evening very definitely started out strained, because by this time I had had a couple days of grandfather—oh and another thing about grandfather—grandfather was hard of hearing, he wears a hearing aid. My youngest daughter was born with a hearing defect, the nerves weren't formed properly, so by this time I had had a few years under by belt of the experience of living with someone who has a hearing lack. My grandfather would put you into a position where I could be as close to him as I am to you now and I would have to shout because he claimed he couldn't hear. Yet I found out that in a restaurant one time a very soft-spoken (in a Mexican restaurant) woman was speaking in Spanish and my grandfather knew every word that she was saying and turned around and made a good comment to her. This was one of grandfather's little numbers that he had played. So I'd had some extra days of screaming at grandfather, screaming so that he could hear. It is very difficult to explain the strain in the later years of my grandfather and being around him would—my mother, whenever she had to be around grandfather would have an extra supply of tranquillizers. It had gotten to that point. My grandfather—my father tried to take the car to the ocean one time—and my grandfather kept insisting that my father was wrong—this was up in Vancouver—and to take this direction and that direction, so in taking one of grandfather’s directions, my father found himself on the beach, and he decided he was just going to that take the car right into the water until grandfather told him to stop. My father was not that bad, but grandfather would push him. But that particular evening they talked about family—about what grandfather had been doing with himself, what Samuel had been doing with himself.
WALI ALI: Elliott had just died?
MARY LOU: No, it wasn’t—see grandfather was living in Vancouver at the time of Elliott’s death.
WALI ALI: And Samuel happened to be in Geneva.
MARY LOU: Oh yeah, grandfather was living down south because his second wife had died and that was about the period of time—in fact this was his last visit. He was going to move for the rest of his life to Canada. So he was saying goodbye to Samuel and to the children and I, because he expected to go to Canada and officially die there. And then when he really got ill, he tried to come back to die in his own country. And grandfather was making some cracks about Elliot in trying to get Samuel engaged in agreement as to the type of person that Elliot was, which Samuel did not. I guess that is when I first started having some thoughts about, “Hey wait a minute, this doesn't fit, the script that I have on this man." And of course the same with my mother, I had already transcended that about, "This is your cousin, and you have memories to go back, on, and even though Elliott's terrible, there had to be some basis for what he said." But, yeah, that's what it was; grandfather couldn't get Samuel to come into agreement with him on the type of person that Elliott had been—
WALI ALI: Samuel was very forgiving about Elliott at the end of his life, of course he had come to such a spiritual realization in himself, he was able to forgive his past, but—
MARY LOU: Yeah, but the spaces that he had to forgive, you have no—there had to be vaults there, just vaults that hadn't even been opened as fair as things to forgive. In the dinner, plus the fact that I am a food-nut, I had never been exposed to this type of food before; that was something where Samuel could really share his fund of information with me. The people at the restaurant—he'd evidently been there before—the way the owners were treating him and what have you—
WALI ALI: Was this the, place over on Clement Street?
MARY LOU: No. This was on Castro.
WALI ALI: Oh Yeah, that restaurant has since closed. I remember, we often went there.
MARY LOU: It was great. And as I said, by the time we got over to Precita Avenue I was not quite in the same shape mentally that I had been when the evening started. And it was really nice, and as I said and was telling stories to the girls, and I'm a typical mother; I liked him—and children have a better sense of awareness; they don't have so many fronts that they have built up over the years. They can see; they don't have the clouds over their eyes that we do from our own experiences and they can really see through a person.
WALI ALI: How old were your girls at that time?
MARY LOU: Oh this was 1970, and the youngest one is 12 now, so she would have been 6 or 7 at that time. And then Twyla had just started High School; Twyla is 20 now, but—
WALI ALI: You have two girls?
MARY LOU: I have three so they are 12, 15, and 20 now. And the 12 year old and the 15 year old still can remember distinctly the stories and there was a thing where he would move behind a chair and hide, and he was having them play games with him and they could give you practically a word to word description of what took place that night, because they still really, really remember. Then later on after grandfather had left, the next time Saul and Samuel and I went out to dinner, in fact that's when we went to Yet Wok on 19th and Clement, and that was really a neat evening, but I had a commitment where I had to go to the Parish—my own Parish in Daly City—the girls were in Catholic school, and I had to go and call Bingo that night. So it was a thing of I had to leave early. He came here and talked for a little, but I still had to get to Daly City.
WALI ALI: Did he say anything upon coming into this house? It must have been very hard for him.
MARY LOU: It was very strange for him, and I think it was very emotionally difficult.
WALI ALI: Yeah, I think it must have been—
MARY LOU: Because he made a comment on the feeling of the difference of the House., and of course some of the furniture, the original furniture, like that love-seat over there, and the mirror—and that's the same dining room set that was here when Samuel had lived here. And some of the pictures were the same. So he had visual recollection, not just from the rooms and the shape of the rooms but the physical set-up from the furniture—oh yeah, it's hidden right now, but there was an old stereoptic, the boxes with the slides and he remembered that. And he was talking about it; it was something that he had grown up with. But it was difficult for him, and as I said, he did make some remarks about the difference in the feeling in the house. And I guess it was the first time that there had ever been a cohesive family unit living here. Since the house was built, as a matter….
WALI ALI: Elliott lived here by himself from 1960 to '70 then?
MARY LOU: Yeah, and twice a year I think he had someone come in to do some cleaning. I'm sloppy, but this was something else.
WALI ALI: So then I know I remember your coming to the Whirling Dervish Bazaar, in Sausalito. Was that then the next time you saw Sam?
MARY LOU: No. It is the latter part of '70 again, Thanks giving, grandfather had had an operation, he was still living in Vancouver, and mother had gone out for she was concerned about him, and that is when she found out that the operation was a success but the patient is going to die. So she came down here, and it just so happened it was a couple days before Thanksgiving, or the day before Thanksgiving and I decided to have a brunch with friends on Thanksgiving weekend. I also had to go to court on my divorcee hearing the day after Thanksgiving, but we had this brunch and Samuel came by, and Saul came—he'd brought some of his robes, I guess you'd say. And he came in and said something to mother about how he didn't know how to dress for this. I forget, I wish I could remember his exact words, I am sure that mother will, but she said, "Oh Samuel, you look fine just the way you are," and then later on it dawned on her that he was really disappointed, that he really wanted to be in a peacock-glory sort of thing—but anyway we got him to change clothes—which he was very happy to do. He put on a purple velvet robe—I forget, but he told us who had made it for him—
WALI ALI: Oh I know the robe; it was made by one of his disciples.
MARY LOU: Oh it was beautiful—
WALI ALI: The sun and moon with Bedouin embroidery on the front.
MARY LOU: Yes, it was just beautiful, and he had the time of his life. Everyone who was here that day still remembers their encounter with Samuel.
WALI ALI: Who was here? There couldn't have been too much family, because there isn't much family left.
MARY LOU: There was no family, because by that time we were it. And they were friends of mine, people that I've known. In fact, one of the men that was here that day—he and his wife—I'd met them before they were married, and they were the first social friends that Phillip—my former husband—and I had had in S. F. except his old friends from high school days. And it was really funny. Earl had been in the hospital after that period of time. He had picked up some bug in Pakistan that almost killed him. But anyway, he had heard of Sufi Sam. From the book In The Garden, by the way, I found out that that was one of the names that had been given to Sam and that people knew him by. I'll have to have him get in touch with you; he would remember the people or know the people that he was in touch with in the hospital. And all of a sudden it dawned on them that they were talking about my cousin Samuel.
WALI ALI: They were in the hospital at the same time?
MARY LOU: No this was after Thanksgiving in 1970 that he was in the hospital, and these people that he was in the hospital with were talking about this wonderful man, or it could have been before this but it took him while to put the two together and figure out—until it dawned on him that this was my cousin Sam. And then when he found out that Samuel was dead he wanted to get in touch with me and he called me—he felt that he had lost a close friend. And someone that he really wanted to seek out and learn things from.
WALI ALI: It's such an unusual story. I don’t know, but I feel that as a person who seems to be settled with the responsibility of putting together a biography there is an awful growing interest, as in Samuel. The movie Sunseed, I don't know if you ever saw it?
MARY LOU: We were going to go when it was there at the Palace of the Legion of Honor and this asthma I've been living with for eight years now—and we didn't make it, and I was really upset because I wanted to see it.
WALI ALI: It's still being shown around and—
MARY LOU: If it's in the area, I wish you'd let me know. I refuse to drive to the Eastbay, I get totally lost.
WALI ALI: As a matter of fact, they've made now a 30 minute film of the footage of Sam in that movie with some additional things, and it is going to be shown in May sometime. We'll send you the dates.
MARY LOU: Oh, I'd really appreciate it. I want the girls to see it too.
WALI ALI: So let's go ahead with your story.
MARY LOU: So anyway, this was Thanksgiving weekend which was in 1970 and Samuel was here—
WALI ALI: Did he do a lot of hi-jinks then? In some social situations he could be very much of a clown.
MARY LOU: My feeling is that he did and also there were periods—he was sitting right there on the window seat—and just observing, I think that he really felt for the first time that it was a home. This was his home and of course this is all second thought, but my impressions and feelings from the experience of that particular day were that he would be sitting just as an observer and enjoying every moment of it. In this house that he had been brought up in and the people were warm and enjoying themselves, there was love; I think that must have been just an unbelievable experience for him.
WALI ALI: I know he referred to it, and of course, at the time I didn't particularly know how it would have been significant to him.
MARY LOU: There were close to 100 people in and out that day. It was something. The first guest came at 9:30 or something and the last left around 8 o'clock that night.
WALI ALI: How long did he stay here?
MARY LOU: He was here for about 3 to 4 hours.
WALI ALI: He stayed a long time.
MARY LOU: He had something that he had to go to and he didn't want to leave but he had to be someplace at a certain time. It was a Sunday; he had something that he had to do.
WALI ALI: He had classes—
MARY LOU: Yeah, I realized that he had a busy schedule but as it is, I think he stayed until the last final moment that he could probably stay. And everybody enjoyed him; as I said, everyone that was here that I still have contact with, they always remember Samuel. In fact a lot of people when he died—he died three months later—and a lot of people who had been here called me and said, "Is that your cousin Samuel that we met at your house?" And I would say, "Yes." In fact one lady and her husband went with me over to the eulogy, or whatever you want to call it, over in Marin—
WALI ALI: Oh yes, the Urs—
MARY LOU: I couldn't get off to go to Novato; you see I had X number of hours, I had just started a new job, and quite a few hours during the first month of my employment had been on the phone about Samuel, in fact the company was extremely considerate—most people would have been fired, but the circumstances were so unusual that—
WALI ALI: Yeah, I remember—we could talk about that a little too—
MARY LOU: Yeah, they took into consideration what was happening, but, I could not ask for the time off to go to Novato. It was just a—plus Saul had communicated with me that they were having something on an evening, in Sausalito which I could attend. But, I don’t know, he was—and the next time I saw Samuel was at the first Whirling Dervish Fair, which was great. And my kids still tease me—I have this dress—I went out and bought a dress which went to the floor, because I said, “I am not going to disgrace Samuel as being the straight relation." And he said, "We don't have…." I said, "That's alright, at your age, you don't have to—." And it was pouring rain—
WALI ALI: I remember—
MARY LOU: And I got a purple dress, as a matter of fact. I still remember. And I still wear it. And I got this very plain but very rich purple dress to the floor and everything, and we had such a great time, we didn't want to leave. We really did not want to leave.
WALI ALI: I would really like to get your kid's memories. It would add another real dimension to it.
MARY LOU: Anytime that is convenient with you. They both go to school two blocks away; one is in high school and the other is in elementary school so—
WALI ALI: When do they get off from school?
MARY LOU: Between 2:30 and 3.
WALI ALI: It might possibly be some afternoon after 3:30.
MARY LOU: Because Shana has a part-time job, it's not a regular schedule, she works at Baskin & Robbins—31 different flavors on 4 hour shifts, but she works maybe 2 or 3 times per week, or maybe once a week, it depends, but she always knows a week ahead.
WALI ALI: We'll try to set something up, preferably for us on a Thursday afternoon.
MARY LOU: It would be much better for you all—for their memories too, because also it would not only be a different viewpoint but it would be a different age viewpoint. And Twyla gets home intermittently; she lives over in Berkeley.
WALI ALI: I know that Samuel was so delighted to have rediscovered his family, to have some family that he had a natural heart connection and friendship with—he spoke to me about it several times. He was talking about how much he loved the girls and how much he wanted to do for them, etc.
MARY LOU: Oh, back to the Whirling Dervish Fair, when he got everybody to dancing, my children had a cowl "You aren't going to get up there and dance, are you? What will people say?" You know how children are, so super conscious of their mother making a fool of herself. And we all ended up dancing! That was a really neat day. Because the next time I saw Sam was at the hospital. And talked to him on the phone.
WALI ALI: Was he conscious at the hospital; was he in a normal state when you went to the hospital? I know most of the time in the hospital he was unconscious.
MARY LOU: He knew who I was—
WALI ALI: Yeah, that's not usual—
MARY LOU: But that was like the first; he had only come there that day he had fallen, early in the morning, and this was like that evening or that afternoon that I was there—because I went over right away. And there was one other time, they had moved him into that four bed ward, and he had this rash from the sheets and everything, because I got into a really unpleasant session with one of the doctors. In fact I had quite a few unpleasant sessions with the doctors there. But that is when I was trying to get him out of there.
WALI ALI: I know, that was a very unpleasant time period, as far as we were concerned—
MARY LOU: They killed him, as far as I'm concerned.
WALI ALI: You mean the people at San Francisco General?
MARY LOU: Of course I have been told since, that he chose to die or that he felt that that was the time—but they certainly assisted him in his wish. In fact the final autopsy report I sent to mother to show to an attorney friend of hers in Houston—who really, at that period of time if I hadn't had a bellyful of courts, we were going to sue the city and county of San Francisco. Because what they did should never have happened and should never happen to anyone else, and this was totally separate from any financial remuneration or anything. But this attorney in Houston he wanted Mel Belli to take the case. But this man, Herman Wright, was at that time President or international President of the National Trial Lawyers Association.
WALI ALI: To me this is news in a sense, I never have thought that there was anything—
MARY LOU: You don't develop uremic poisoning from a concussion!
WALI ALI: Do you have a copy of the autopsy?
MARY LOU: No, my mother does. He died of dehydration, uremic poisoning—they killed him from lack of proper medical care!
WALI ALI: It was the strangest thing, the concussion we thought was the cause—
MARY LOU: No! The concussion is what got him to the hospital, where because of not giving him the proper attention he died—and the hospital said, "He wouldn't' eat," but they waited too long to give him I.V's. The dehydration had already started because the dehydration is what caused the uremic poisoning, because you don't, you body doesn't—
[end of side two]
WALI ALI: So we were talking about the hospital experience. Saul was of course the person in charge from our point of view, and I'm sure the hospital had a tough time with this great influx of disciples—
MARY LOU: Yeah, I'm taking that into consideration, though.
WALI ALI: People that were so concerned about him and were there around the clock, and everybody, I'm sure, has a lot of judgment of themselves and second guessing about the whole thing—
MARY LOU: I found out since then that when Samuel was taken there he was put in—because at first they weren't sure whether they were going to have to operate or not—and then having been a Ben Casey worshipper for years, throwing subdural hematomas at me and etc, and I don't remember that part of the autopsy report and I don't know whether there was a clot or if there wasn't a clot, or if there was pressure, but my experience is that there wasn't because there wasn't any—his eyes were in the proper focus—in other words, there was no pressure inside the brain, and if there had of been, then they were even more derelict in not operating. At one point there I had told them that I would give permission if it were necessary, but I wanted somebody else's opinion on it. But anyway, since that time, in fact that year, I ended up in an intensive care unit—he was in what they call intensive-care when he was first taken to the hospital, and I since have been in intensive care, and I know that if it had not been for the Sufis he never would have gotten any care at all. In intensive care, you operate with two nurses to three patients, is the rule of thumb, and from my own experience of being in intensive care, I know just how little care and attention that he was getting at that particular hospital.
WALI ALI: Of course once he was in there then we had the hardest time in getting him out.
MARY LOU: I threatened them with a Court order, and even then they were doing these numbers on the ambulance not showing up and that they didn't have the release papers signed and all that kind of stuff, of the settlement of the will, and we threatened them with. a Court order; we were going to go and get an injunction for a Court order to be served to have his body, the living body, removed from the hospital. Plus they also tried to pull that number of having him declared an incompetent and a ward of the State so the State could handle the estate. I don't know if you are familiar with that part of it or not.
WALI ALI: No, I didn’t know—
MARY LOU: Oh yeah, some social worker at the hospital decided that Samuel didn’t have all of his facilities, and he wasn’t in a competent state and somehow or another they had found out about this damned amount of money that he got every month from the estate of his father. They were going to have him declared an incompetent person and a ward of the State of California So I called—how did I find out about that? Was it Saul that told me?
WALI ALI: Saul was the person most in touch with.
MARY LOU: But I was going through all these things at the hospital, and screaming at various and sundry people there. There was a Mrs. Leon, I remember that because my former husband has a friend who is—Philip Leon—and they were distantly connected, and she was worse than nothing, and I talked to the administrator in the hospital; then I called my mother and mother sent a telegram and then followed it up with a letter what would happen to them legally if they took any steps to have Samuel declared incompetent and a ward of the State of California And at that time a friend of hers who had been an attorney in Oklahoma City—Frank Huston—he was in a state office that handled this sort of thing—having people declared non-compris, etc. She called Frank Huston in Sacramento, and Frank called the hospital and told them very distinctly what they could do with themselves. And I can't remember the name of the social worker right now, but the man was a total idiot, but that was good for a couple of days hysteria.
WALI ALI: That whole period was so filled with so many different ideas, from our point of view we were suspicious of hospitals to begin with and didn't want them to be morning around and then possibly from the medical point of view should have taken certain steps. I can't even recall if we were opposed to them on the operation. I know, we opposed them on operating—
MARY LOU: Because I had the decision at the time, I felt, that if his life were going to be totally in danger by not having an operation that the only consent would come from me, and the only consent could come from me as the nearest relative—
WALI ALI: The nearest relative, yes—
MARY LOU: I had talked to Saul about it, but I didn't—I know at the time that I made up my own mind that if I really felt it was necessary I was going to go ahead and give the permission, but those doctors up there I didn't feel right about them, and as I said I had all those back memories of Ben Casey and subdural hematomas, and I knew from my own observation of Samuel that he could not be—his head, his face, they couldn't be in the shape that they were and have this horrendous pressure inside the brain, and as I found out since, doctors will take a shadow and say, "My God, it's a clot, the brain is going to burst."
WALI ALI: But one of the top brain specialists in the country looked at his pictures, Dr. Podlery—because somebody—I'm not sure of all the medical details, and I'd have to consult Saul—but one of Murshid's disciples father is the chief brain surgeon at one of the biggest hospitals in Boston, Mark Hopkins or one of the big ones, so she got in contact with him and he contacted somebody, and he came over there and that was when—I can't remember whether it was that they didn't have the pictures to show him—there was something funny—he came over there, and we approached him and we had been trying to get him out of the hospital, and I saw a copy of the letter that he sent to Dr. Podlery in Boston where he said he got over there and he discovered that people were just basically interested in getting him transferred to another hospital. There was something funny there. I know you were quoted in the papers as saying that you wanted—that there was some question as to what S. F. General was doing and of course we were trying to fight the autopsy for religious reasons and that was in a sense cross purposes—
MARY LOU: No, yeah, but I was in agreement with you all and I also knew that they killed him, that was my opinion, and it still is my opinion. And I wasn't willing to go against it, because I knew from my experience with Samuel's feeling about Elliott's body having an autopsy performed, that this was a very strong belief that he had.
WALI ALI: This is a belief in Orthodox Judaism as well that they oppose autopsies.
MARY LOU: But, I wasn't in conflict with that. It was just that I felt, and still feel that S. F. General killed him. And as it turned out, the autopsy was—
WALI ALI: I would—that's a very strong statement and any kind of historical record would have to be checked into by some reliable persons. If I can get a copy of the autopsy report, I think that would be important.
MARY LOU: It was sent to mother; I don't know if she still has it or not or if—
WALI ALI: Saul may have a copy, I don't know—
MARY LOU: But Herman Wright would probably know the circumstances because he's the one who said that there was a very definite winning suit against the City and County of San Francisco, plus the fact that they are supposed to have a really great trauma department and all that kind of jazz. In a lot of cases people wouldn't live unless they were taken to S. F. General, but still they don't have a good reputation. Just the filth in there alone.
WALI ALI: I know—
MARY LOU: Listen, I could be hit by a car outside of S.F. General and I would lay there and with my dying breath say, "Take me anyplace but not inside of those doors." I really think that the whole thing was a very bad situation, plus the fact that they tried to have him declared legally incompetent. A man is in a coma; does that make everybody in the hospital a legal incompetent that is in a coma? For whatever period of time they are in a coma—you could say that a person is a legal incompetent coming out of an operation then, because they are recovering from the effects of the anesthetic. I'm sorry, my blood pressure still comes up—
WALI ALI: I am glad to get it on tape and on the record.
MARY LOU: And also on that hearing, when the injunction had been filed to stop the autopsy when we had to have the hearing, and the assistant district attorney—in fact it wasn't even the assistant D.A, it was the D.A. that was handling that came in. No it wasn't Fergun it was O'Connor who was his top person who came in—and he was talking about the autopsy report when it looked as though there were symptoms of arsenic poisoning—as though Samuel's people or I had tried to have him killed, and then he brought up Uncle Jake's will—
WALI ALI: In the courtroom?
MARY LOU: In the courtroom! Pir Vilayat Khan would probably remember that.
WALI ALI: …[?]
MARY LOU: Yeah, I was on the witness stand, as I said, and I almost hemorrhaged right then and there. And my feeling was that Saul was there and two other people from Precita Avenue—
WALI ALI: I was there! I was there but I just don't recall all that.
MARY LOU: Yeah, I remember that, oh yeah! He was talking about some of the things had a connotation or could be, because certain symptoms can be similar and totally unrelated, about arsenic poisoning—
WALI ALI: There was no autopsy at that point—
MARY LOU: You are right, there wasn't an autopsy at that point. He was talking about the symptoms, the physical symptoms, the reactions of the body—from what S. F. General had told him, because at that point I remember I was sitting on that witness stand, and I said, "I really think that the Jewish Home for Old People and the Shriners Hospital had better ways to get money than to claim that—because it was off the wall—
WALI ALI: Oh sure, what they are trying to do is to raise any kind of doubt, then they have to by law have an autopsy.
MARY LOU: Of course under the law the trauma, the break—but still where is the religious freedom? That was the whole basis, as I recall, of the injunction because one of the first amendments to the Constitution but however, oh no, I remember because I thought I was—I wanted to go….
WALI ALI: I think that was just pulled off the wall, as to what the autopsy actually found.
MARY LOU: The dehydration and uremic poisoning.
WALI ALI: I remember that but whether or not there was a subdural hematoma or whatever that was—
MARY LOU: No, there wasn't! They wanted to operate—
WALI ALI: I recall someone saying there was, we'll just have to see the report—
MARY LOU: Maybe there could have been, but my feeling the whole time was—and grant you I really have some pretty strong opinions about it—and I don't have any good feelings toward the City and County of S. F., but my feeling at that time was those doctors were saying one thing to one person and turning around 180 degrees and saying something else, and there was no feeling of really care or consideration for the man as a man, and it was just going to be another case that we can test our skills with—let's get him on the operating table and take its skull off and go to work, that kind of thing. That was my whole feeling—
WALI ALI: That was our feeling about them, and that's why we were opposing them—
MARY LOU: And at no time did I feel that his life was in danger from not having the operation, because if I had really felt it was a matter of life or death, I would have signed the papers for the consent, but I never had that feeling.
WALI ALI: Alright, let's drop it.
MARY LOU: And I had a close friend at the time who also had that feeling—because I was leaning a lot on him because I'd never been through an experience like this before. And he was of the same opinion, This was giving me agreement (?) and all that kind of jazz. But I still to this day do not feel that the lack of the operation was the cause of Samuel's death.
WALI ALI: I've never had any feeling that it was either; as to what it was physically, it is a matter for debate, and I'm going to have to check into it a little bit and see if we can find that autopsy report.
MARY LOU: Mother, as I said when I sent it to her, she gave it to Herman Wright and that was Herman's opinion. And it was my choice at the time, she left it up to me and I just did not want anything to do with courtrooms again or attorneys for a long period of time.
WALI ALI: Dropping this whole subject, taking an overview and looking at Samuel as you knew him, and looking at the whole family background, do you have any remarks in summary or any way that you'd like to sum up .
MARY LOU: The first thing that came to mind when you started that was that he was a saint. He would have had to be saint to come out of the hate that his environment consisted of, and to have so much love for so many people, and to be able to instill love in other people. I really feel that my life and my children's life was really blessed by knowing him but we lost a lot just in our own personal lives by not having the pleasure of really knowing Samuel better. And I feel more so for my children than I do for myself. I really wish that they could have had more of an exposure through the years to Samuel and to have benefitted from his knowledge and his philosophy. Because by the time I met Samuel my life was pretty much the way it was going to be, but I think it would have been—I just feel sorry that it didn't turn out the way it could have turned out. And I am also very glad that we did have the good moments—that it was not a thing that I still had those preconceived notions of this—devil or—listen, Elliott had so many words for his brother that it's…. In fact the last time that my parents were here—Christmas day—they came in Christmas day and then they had to leave three days later because Bruce's mother had died. I was saying something about—I really feel, I felt resentment—I am trying to remember what my exact words were—it was very negative as far as Elliott was concerned. And mother said, "No never feel that way, just be glad that we did get to know Samuel the way that we did."
WALI ALI: Thank you.
MARY LOU: I'll either call or write mother to ask her to make a tape, because I know she would. It is just a matter that there has been an awful lot of sickness—in fact I doubt if I'm ever going to see my parents again. I thought this when we put them on the plane Christmas week to go back to Houston. And my oldest daughter, as a matter of fact, is going to go to Houston to spend the summer, because she feels so strongly this way. Before Christmas, I guess it was in November, I was over at Altmans in Stonestown, because I always get the girls calendars every year for Christmas. And I was walking through the aisles and I saw this book and I looked at it, and I saw Samuel's picture on it, and I almost freaked out—you can imagine, somebody who is in your family and you had no idea that there was anything like this, and you are walking through a bookstore and there is his picture staring at you. In fact, I'm still looking for a possible frame for this—it was this picture! So I got a copy for myself and I got a copy for my mother, and as it turned out, the week before Christmas they called and said that if I didn't have anything better to do, they would come out and spend Christmas day with us—this was their Christmas present to one another as a matter of fact. They decided to come out here for Christmas. And I knew which package it was in and I had the camera posed, and I tried to get a good shot, and she looked at it and she looked at it again and all of a sudden it hit her and she started to cry. And she was just holding the book with the picture of Samuel on the cover. So when they went home—they stay in a motel when they come out here—because they like their privacy—they like the peace and quiet too. And she said she cried throughout most of the book. She read it that night; she went to the motel and she read it, and she is still re-reading it. I think probably—with the exception of handing her three grandchildren to her with a deed that they were hers for the rest of her natural life, I don't tink she could ever have had a gift that would have meant as much to her. And this book is really something—the explanation of him gardening—sowing the seeds—and then the poem at the back of the book that he had written as a young man—on all religions, that was really something. My little daughter, I don't know if she did or not, but she was going to take it to school for her religion class. And by the way, over the years when Shana was still in elementary school, in Catholic school this is until the eighth grade—she'd written a lot of things about Samuel—her cousin Samuel and the Sufis and everything like that. Either in different class assignments—probably in most classes in religion. And I have some things upstairs—I put things away—when they are 21, I am just going to hand them giant scrap books of their things. I have some of the things that she had written about him. One of her teachers was here that Thanksgiving brunch that I had, and still remembers Samuel very, very distinctly. He made quite an impression upon her. This was a teacher in a Catholic school. And it was really neat; but that poem though is so beautiful, and to think of the age that he had to have been when he wrote it plus coming out of this sick environment. It's amazing.
WALI ALI: Don and Harriet Palmer were like distant, distant cousins but had known Elliott and Samuel all of their natural lives and were about 15 or 20 years younger. Do you know where they can be reached?
MARY LOU: If they are not in the S. F. phone book, I don't know. They had a son by the name of Alan, who also was going into the photography business or was going to freelance as a photographer. I lost contact with them after—
WALI ALI: What part of S.F?
MARY LOU: They did live in the Sunset district.
WALI ALI: We may be able to trace them down. Any other people that you think we should contact that might have some information about this?
MARY LOU: No, because mostly they were Elliott's friends and then there were some people whose first names I knew but not their last.
WALI ALI: Mildred, your mother, is a person that I don't think anybody would have the kind of information to fill in that period of the childhood and—
MARY LOU: There was about 40 years there where you really have a gap.
WALI ALI: We have a tremendous gap in terms of trying to—we want to give some kind of understanding of that early life and how it was connected—
MARY LOU: Now my cousin Lee who also was in Houston, I think she had some encounters over the years with Samuel, and I am not sure; but she lives in Houston and she and my mother are in contact. So that would be another source there, but mother would know if Lee has an information—I know that Lee knew Samuel; I think there were periods of time, probably during the war years, when she was out here when her husband was going overseas.
WALI ALI: Do you feel your mother would have any objection to some of this history, being gone into. It is a sensitive matter in terms of a family to go into some of this stuff.
MARY LOU: My mother and cousin have always for years—my cousin is 11 years older than I am, my cousin Lee—for years we have been talking about writing a book, and both of them wanted to write a book about this particular family, and the first line of the book was going to be, " My great aunt and uncle haven't spoken to each other for the last 25 years!" So I don't think they'd mind.
WALI ALI: Good, I'm so glad, we just really have to make sure that we can get it—
MARY LOU: And particularly to have someone come out—what was it—out of the mud grows the lotus?
WALI ALI: Yeah.
MARY LOU: That just about sums it up about Samuel. To have come out of this situation—and I'm not kidding about the insanity. My mother and I have not talked about it that many times because it is not something that you want to verbally think, but there are times when we wonder whether it will come out or if it has come out, and she and I are concerned—or if it will come out.
SABIRA: There are various definitions of what insanity is too.
MARY LOU: Yeah, true. But there is a mean streak. My grandfather was a sadist. He could really push your buttons, and he did. And Elliott was not mentally well. Senility is one thing, and Aunt Hattie in her own way was probably the most normal.
WALI ALI: Everything into consideration—but Samuel was always very strong in seeing that he was reconciled to every member of his family before they died, and so even Elliott—I think it is significant that he wouldn't take up a lot of the negative things about him, because he felt in a certain way that they had become reconcile before his death.
MARY LOU: I imagine that as much as Elliott could care for someone, that he still cared for Samuel—like you see there is a component missing. There are just parts of the human emotional system that I think Elliott didn't have. I just wish I could give you more information.
WALI ALI: You have been very helpful.
MARY LOU: I will contact Earl Staley and have him call you. And see if he knows any people who can give you information—especially the ones who were in the hospital—this was the man that was in the hospital with this parasitic bug from Pakistan, and the revelation dawned upon him that this man that he wanted to meet and that he wanted to seek information from was my cousin Samuel.
WALI ALI: And anything also about the autopsy report.
MARY LOU: I'll write myself a note—I'm having a very interesting experience having fallen—I am 43 years of age and last year I realized that I had never really moved any person in my life except my family—and now I am in love. I called home last week to my mother, "What'll I do?" This is why I know I'll be calling her this week—
WALI ALI: You've gone through some real transformations in your life in the last six years.
MARY LOU: Yeah, I really have, thank God; a couple of years ago I realized that things just weren't working properly and I took the EST training, I'm not recommending EST—but for me it was really—
WALI ALI: Some of my friends, some of the Sufis have gone through it too, and it has generally been very helpful to them.
MARY LOU: Yeah, it's just—I'm not going to say that Werner Erhard is god, in fact there is a great article about Erhard in this week's edition of New Times, which is a semi-liberal type magazine—sick! But however, the EST training has a lot of beneficial results. This is where I realized that I couldn't blame other people for what had been going on with me—it's really saying that I'm responsible for everything that has happened—but when you get out of that 60 or 70 hours of the training, you know it, and in fact it was one of the seminar series that I got that I had never really loved anybody and the first time I had to verbalize that to myself, I almost went crazy. Now I can communicate it to other people, however, I am really fortunate that I got out of where I was.