This interview was conducted by Sarah Elizabeth Beasley on March 25, 2008 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2007 class.
Shirley was born December 19, 1948 to Ima Gene Willeford and John William. She had two brothers named James and Kenny Willeford. She was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, however, her family often traveled and she spent some time in Houston, Texas. She went to high school, but dropped out in 12th grade. She worked jobs such as an accountant and did customer service work. When she was seventeen years old, she married Norman Herschel Criswell the second, whom she met at church. They were married in San Antonio, Texas on March 18, 1966. She later had Judy Criswell in 1967, followed by her son Glenn Criswell, in ,1969. Growing up, she was lower middle class, and once married, she was middle class. Her hobbies include arts, crafts, bowling, cooking, sewing, shopping, travel and being with her family. When asked about her life growing up in San Antonio, she says she was the only girl in her house. She was the first great granddaughter, and born on her grandmother’s birthday. Because her family was poor, both her parents worked, and she was forced to watch and take care of her siblings. She did their cooking, cleaning , laundry , and all other chores. When she was fourteen years old, she was baptized in her southern Baptist church called Kingsborough Ridge. In high school, she was the president of the home makers club, which she said was a lot more popular back then than now. She was required to teach sewing, meal planning, etc. Her mother taught her to sew professionally, and she sewed all of her own clothing. At the age of seventeen, she was married, and dropped out of high school, because her family moved to Houston where she attended junior college. There, she took accounting classes, and quit her job, where she worked at a cosmetic counter. She said even simple grocery stores had cosmetic counters that were professional, similar to Macy’s or Dillard’stoday. After taking classes, she began to work as a book keeper at various companies. When asked the most apparent change in her life as a child compared to now, she laughs, and says gas inflation.
What was school like for you when you were growing up?
I didn’t really like school much. I did well in school, but it was really hard for me. I had to study a lot in order to pass. Math was the hardest subject for me. I went to PF Stuart elementary school and later on I went to Sam Houston High school, but I quit school in the 12th grade to get married. During high school, I wasn’t involved in a lot of extra curricular activities because I had to go home and baby-sit both by brothers, and cook dinner for everyone. My mom and dad weren’t home when I got there, because they were busy working. I went to a Junior college called San Juan Unto In Houston and took book-keeping classes. This was a smart move for me, and allowed me to get a better job. I was off on the weekends. I ended up working at Treasure Chest advertising for 15 years, where I did customer service work.
What was your earliest childhood memory?
Mornings- my dad did construction and we moved from site to site. My grandmother lived with us, and we shared a room. When we lived in San Angelo, it snowed; that was a special day. My mom made us snow ice cream, and kool-aid with icicles.
Who was your best-friend?
Brenda- she lived next door. When we were teenagers, we bleached her hair blonde, and when her dad got home, he was really mad. I said we had better fix it back to light brown. We didn’t have enough money to buy more dye, so we brewed really strong coffee and poured it over and over her head until we got it back to the right color. She was later the maid of honor at my wedding.
What was your neighborhood like?
We lived on a street where my grandmother, four of my aunts, and a lot of my cousins were our neighbors. My family lived all around us, in several streets of the subdivision. We all rode our bikes up and down the streets, and walked to our cousin’s houses to play. There was a field behind the sub-division where we played until dark everyday. We knew everyone in our neighborhood. The houses were small, with small yards and it was called Pecan Valley. The houses were very close-together. Now when you visit the same neighborhood, the houses are rental and low-income. It’s not a good neighborhood anymore.
Did San Antonio look different when you were growing up?
There were no malls. If I wanted to go shopping, I went to Joske’s shop downtown. There were small stores with animated displays outside. The traffic outside was less than today, and there were less highways. There was no wal-mart. I went to a lot of small “mom and pop” type of stores, such as Gibsons, Wynns and Cretzky’s. There was no highway 410 or 1604 either, and people had less cars than today.
What did you do for fun?
I played with my cousins- we would go on family trips and camping. I’d go fishing with my grandpa for hours. When I was old enough to date, I went to the movies, dances, and the park every weekend.
Who was your first boyfriend?
My first boyfriend’s name was Norman. We lived in a small town of only 100 people and most of them were relatives- It was hard to find a boyfriend. For my 15th birthday he bought me 12 yellow roses.
What movies were popular back then?
Elvis,The Beatles, Jail house rock…I liked jail house rock because of the dancing, and remembered everyone at the time was mad at this movie, and kids weren’t allowed to watch it, because they said it was vulgar. I never liked music, but I’d go to the movies with boys I met in the military, and we’d watch movies such as Blue Hawaii. I could not afford a color television set, but I went with my sisters to a corner store and watched Red Skeleton,which was a comedy act. There was an outside speaker and everything, and we’d buy cokes and floats, and sit outside and watch for hours.
Did times back then seem more peaceful? Explain.
I believe the streets were more peaceful. We’d be gone for hours, playing. We rode the bus downtown when we were older with my cousin, where we’d go shopping and talk to soldiers. We would even go with them to the movies, and for a coke afterwards. There were a lot of military guys downtown- they had been drafted.
What was your school like?
Schools were the same as they are today. We were allowed to go to school activities on school time. We could not wear pants or skirts to school, though. If you were married, you could not graduate with your class or join clubs. If you were pregnant, you had to quit. You don’t know how important school is until you look for a good job. If a girl was wearing pants, she was sent home. There were no computers or air conditioning. We typed on type-writers. For lunch, we usually left campus , ate at home ,and came back later. They did not offer free lunch to anyone.
Do you remember any discrimination back then?
I went to a restaurant with a group of friends, and two of them were a mixed married couple. The girl was white and her husband was black. They asked our whole table to go to the back and refused to wait on us. Also, when I’d go to eat with my friend’s David and Rosemary (a mixed couple) many waiters refused to help us.
What were the special places in San Antonio?
Downtown was special, because there were a lot of things to see, like museums and the Alamo ,and a lot of restaurants to go to. When I was young, a lot more people spent time shopping downtown ,and a lot of kids took busses there and went to the movies.
Did you travel? Where?
I traveled a lot. I’ve been to Chicago, Houston, Flordia, Georgia, Nevada and Dallas. My favorite trip was Chicago. One time in Chicago, I didn’t have a cab reservation, so none of the cabs would take me anywhere. I finally found a guy that took me to a hotel, and he said his friend would pick me up from the hotel later. I ended up calling a friend to get me instead ,and I later found it was a huge scam and they were robbing people. I enjoyed their blues clubs, the sears tower, the pretzels and the pizza. I went to the Wrigley gum factory too.
What school subject did you like?
My favorite subject was history, but I did not finish school ,so I did not get to study it as much as I wanted to. I took book-keeping classes, because I needed a job. A lot of the girls would take home ec. classes, but there were no boys in them at all. If you were a boy taking that class, everybody would laugh at you and call you sissy.
What kinds of things do you do for fun these days?
I like bowling , a lot. I go bowling with my friends every single Tuesday. I also love arts and crafts. I was the secretary of the CB club with my husband. (That’s what they call the radios they keep in big trucks). My husband loves to work on cars and go to car shows. I love going antique shopping and to different restaurants.
What is your dream job?
I always wanted to be an airline stewardess ,because you get to travel everywhere, and meet all kinds of people. I never pursued this dream , though.
What is your political affiliation?
I consider myself to be a Republican.
Would you like to add anything?
My mom taught me to sew when I was about 12- she made all my clothes when I went to school. I made clothes for both my children and myself. I do a lot of crafts, and sell them at shows. I really like to meet and talk to people and share ideas. I have two children- a boy and a girl. I have six grandchildren- four girls and two boys. My daughter was the first girl born on my husbands side of the family for five generations.
I had always been married longer than my mom. My dad died at 34, a year after I was married. My mom later re-married, and her husband died after 17 years of marriage.
Before doing this project, I never really thought about my grandmother’s history. I rarely looked at her old photographs ,or even thought to ask her about her life growing up. I now know that my grandma has traveled all kinds of places, hated school, and wanted to be an airline stewardess! I never would have known these things before the project. Most importantly, I feel I understand her better- I realize that she didn’t have the same opportunities as me when she was young. In fact, she didn’t have much of a childhood at all. Although she talks about going downtown on the weekends, in reality, she spent most every weekday doing all her household chores ,and taking care of her brothers as if she were their mother. Her mother and father were busy working incessantly to pay the bills, and she pretty much had to take over as a mother to her younger brothers. I feel really lucky to have time to go to school and pursue my dreams, because it wasn’t easy for my grandmother. I always assumed that her life was difficult, but I left this interview with a lot more empathy for her, and appreciation for her help. I realize that she is helping me to achieve things she was never able to do- it means a lot to me. When my grandmother was discussing her childhood , I saw her eyes tear up. She especially looked sad when I asked her about her favorite childhood games, and she said she was unable to play any because she didn’t have the time. When I asked her about her dream job, she also frowned, because she was unable to pursue it. When the topic was on discrimination, she seemed angry , and her voice immediately increased compared to her reactions to the other questions. I verified a lot of her information based on talking to other people in my family. I spoke to my aunt about her life, my mother and my uncle. I was able to get all kinds of perspectives that helped me to understand my family. I now understand both the good and the bad that I have seen from all different sides. Overall, this way of interviewing someone is pretty good ,because you are able to hear stories from an actual person, and not a dusty old textbook; you are able to see their reactions and judgments on things that really had an impact on their life. You are not always able to get an objective view, however, which can lead to inaccuracies- but you definitely get an emotional, and interesting perspective.
-December 19, 1948 Shirley Windwehen is born at San Antonio, Texas
-May 10, 1965 Shirley drops out of high school
-Feb 17, 1966 Shirley is married and becomes Shirley Criswell
-Jan 10, 1967 Shirley’s father passes away
-Feb. 21, 1967 Judy Kay Criswell is born
-Nov. 19, 1968 Shirley’s mother moves to Houston
-Dec. 10, 1968 Shirley and her husband move to Houston and live with her mother
-Nov. 10, 1968 Glen Criswell is born
-Jan 7, 1969 Shirley’s husband, Norman Criswell begins working at Southwestern bell Telephone Company
-May 08, 1970 Shirley enrolls in a community college and takes accounting courses.
– Sep. 30, 1970 Shirley begins working for an engineering firm
-Aug 1973 Judy Kay starts kindergarten
-Aug 1976 Glen Criswell begins kindergarten
-March 1978 Shirley moves back to San Antonio, Texas
-Aug 1986 Shirley’s mother is re-married
Feb, 8, 1986 Judy Criswell is married
-July 6, 1986 Sarah Beasley, Shirley’s first granddaughter is born
-October 10, 1986 Judy is divorced
-December 11, 1986 Shirley’s step-father dies
-August 1990 Judy is re-married
-October 10, 1993 Glen is married
-April 11, 1990 Judy has Nancy Ratliff
-April 12, 1994 Judy has Stephen Ratliff
-April 15 Glen’s wife, Charlene, has Shelby Criswell
-June 16, 1998 Glen’s wife, Charlene, has Rylee Criswell
-Sep. 11, 2001 Shirley is laid off
-Feb. 06, 2003 Shirley’s granddaughter moves in
-March 12, 2002 Shirley’s husband retires
-September 13, 2003 Shirley’s mother dies
-May 2004, Sarah graduates high school
-May 2004 Sarah enrolls at Palo Alto College
-December 2005 Glen has Cole Criswell
-September 2005 Glen Criswell is diagnosed with stage four colon cancer
-September 2005 Glen Criswell is diagnosed with stage four colon cancer
- The official website for Elvis Presley Elvis was popular when my grandmother was growing up. This is a website with information about his music and life.