At first glance it may appear that Lottie Romero has never broken a fingernail or had sweat dot her brow. But first impressions can be deceiving and, in the case of Lottie, it would be true.
She looks like a demure little lady with her polished manner of dress, and matching brooch and earrings. But years of hard work, deep love, and great laughter have molded her into a woman in her 90th year, who still laughs long and hard, looks for new adventure every day, and loves her family and friends with all of her heart.
Lottie and her daughter, Della (Ewing) Bonsall, stroll through the past from Lottie’s birth in the small oilfield community of Ged just south of Vinton, through her 90th birthday celebration earlier this month.
Lottie Bell (Vice) Ewing Romero and her identical twin, Lucy, were born on March 8, 1927, to Ozema Vice and Lucy (Ogea) Vice. Eventually she would have a total of six siblings, including Lucy. She recalls that the area had only a store and a post office and it wasn’t until she was almost eight years old that the family moved to the outskirts of Vinton, where she began school.
As a young girl she and her twin, Lucy, worked for a while along with their mother at a cafe on Hwy. 90, her father having died when she was 10 years old. Most of the patrons were railroad men and it was this early experience of hard work that her mother and father instilled in their children that has been the defining theme throughout her life — that and dancing.
She recalled a time during their teens when they both worked at the only picture show in town — Fox Theater — which just happened to be next door to a bar. In Lottie’s words, “I was the cashier and Lucy was the pop corn girl. The people would come in and look from one to the other of us and say, ‘What’s going on? Y’all look just alike.’ Some of them would say, ‘We’ve had too much to drink, let’s get out of here.’”
Lottie recalled that as young women their mother chaperoned every date, every dance, and maybe even scared off a suitor or two for the sisters. Years later Lottie learned that a few had wanted to ask the sisters out for a date but were too afraid of their mother.
Eventually Lottie met and married Wilmer “Bae” Ewing. Together they had five children, Larry Ewing, Della, Danny Ewing, Peggy (Ewing) Dubois, and Jimmy Ewing. Before their marriage Wilmer served during WWII and at one time was reported as missing in action. Having suffered injuries during his enlistment, he became a stay-at-home dad while Lottie, at the age of 38, entered the workforce. Della, her daughter, said of that time, “Dad was disabled so he took care of us while momma worked.” To which Lottie replied, “They would rather eat his cooking than mine anyway.”
She began her career at Equitable Bag Co. in Orange, Texas that would carry her through her 65th year. She said, “The first year it was a nickel and hour. The second year it was two nickels.”
It was a hard job, but relying on her hard work ethic helped her through the physically exhausting shift work. Her duties included working on the assembly line checking bags for imperfections and stacking them as they came off a conveyor belt. And if that wasn’t enough, the building had no air conditioning and no heat. “In the wintertime you froze and summertime you smothered,” she said.
Lottie recalled as a young mother having to pawn her ring for groceries toward the end of the month when the budget was stretched thin and, after payday, going to buy it back. This happened several times but Della recalls that as children they never had any idea that they were poor.
Apparently creative cooking was another of Lottie’s many talents. Della said, “Momma would make spaghetti and she would put rice in the bottom of the bowl then she’d put the noodles then she’d put a spoonful of the sauce. Then when I was old enough to go spend the night somewhere, I went to somebody’s house and they just had noodles and meat sauce and I’m thinking, ‘Well where’s the rice?’ I didn’t know that it was eaten with just noodles, because we had the rice to fill us up.”
Lottie also made homemade biscuits every morning and after the kids were all off to school the neighborhood women would gather at her house for coffee and biscuits. “And they were little flat round things — and they liked them,” said Lottie. “Well I liked the big fluffy ones but that was the only kind I could make,” she laughs.
“Even as a teenager everyone always wanted to come to my house and see Momma,” said Della.
With the passing of her husband in 1970, Lottie was left with five children to care for. Never one to shy away from her responsibilities she continued as she always had and at the same time passing along to her own children the same things she had been taught from a young age. They mowed lawns, delivered newspapers, and did other odd jobs to help with the family’s finances. “They worked hard, sha baby, and they were so young” Lottie said. “And they are beautiful kids — they are great, every one of them.”
Della says that if it wouldn’t have been for her mother’s work ethic she would not be where she’s at today. She says that her mom instilled in her children the belief that if you wanted something you worked hard, giving it your best, taking pleasure in doing even menial tasks to the best of your ability. “We were good because we had a good example.” Her father reinforced that concept when he encouraged her by telling her that any job she did would have her name on it.
With Lottie’s love for dancing it is no surprise that she met her second husband, Jessie Romero, at a dance in Orange. She recalled, “When I saw this guy dancing, ah he could dance. But I had a time getting him because a friend who worked at the paper mill with me, she wanted him. Then I finally won him. I didn’t think I would because he liked her and he liked me.”
Lottie and Jessie were married for 31 years until his death 12 years ago. Just three weeks separated the deaths of both her and Lucy’s husbands. Another shared event, one of many that seemed to repeat itself throughout their lives.
Lucy passed way three years ago and she is missed every single day by Lottie. Much like many twins, the two shared just about every aspect of their lives and had many an adventure together.
Della says, “Mom and Aunt Lucy would go to the store and look at a dress. Then they would come home and one would make the pattern and the other would cut it out and they would sew it.” Lottie even sewed a dress for a pageant in which Della was competing. A pageant she won of course.
Lottie told of a time when she and Lucy visited the local post office. While Lottie ran inside to do business, Lucy stayed in the car. Once inside Lottie ran across an old friend and caught up on each others’ lives, making a mental note to be sure to wave to his wife when she left. When Lottie got to the parking lot she immediately started waving to a lady in the nearest car. Tentatively the woman waved back. That’s when Lottie noticed the friend’s wife sitting in an altogether different car. Undaunted she waved hello again and headed for her car whereupon her sister asked, “Lottie, why were you waving at me?”
The stories just kept on pouring out, one after the other. Tales of the sisters losing their car and having to call the police to find it, hugging strangers at buffets because they seemed to need one, and having a far reaching reputation as one of the ‘Vice Twins.’
“Oh we saw a lot of sights and never met a stranger,” Lottie said. “If we made someone laugh it made us feel good, because we were laughing.”
At times the laughter was not even known to Lottie. She wrote to 18 World War II servicemen before her marriage and continued that tradition when her son, Larry, was enlisted. Unknown to her, these letters were eagerly anticipated by Larry and his fellow soldiers.
“I couldn’t spell too good back then,” Lottie said, “so I’d leave a blank [for the word] and say to myself, ‘I hope I can remember what that was.’ And they’d write to me and say, ‘We had the best time reading your letter. So don’t you ever quit writing because we really get to laughing and our friends get to laughing.’ Even now when I write a letter to anybody, I still have some blanks.”
Her love of dancing also goes back to her childhood. She said, “Every night when daddy came in from work we had to have our work outside done, we had to have our homework done and on the table from school, and we had to dance. Every one of us, all seven of us. Then we had to kneel down and say our rosary. That was every night.”
Della, having never heard this story before from her mother, was surprised. Della recalled that as a child she and her siblings trooped upstairs each evening and knelt around the bed to say the rosary. Evidently a tradition her mother learned in her own childhood.
With her own grandchildren, Della has been unknowingly carrying on the tradition that was set down for her own mother at a very young age. She too dances with her grandchildren, and has since they were babies, “Come on, you have to dance for your supper,” she tells them. And though two are in the military and the youngest is 14, they do.
Lottie still gets around well enough to dance two times a week. And though still active, usually hitting the road each and every day, she admits to slowing down from her usual four times a week.
Earlier this month, generations of Lottie’s family and a roomful of friends gathered to celebrate her 90th birthday. The walls of the room at the Vinton Recreation Center where the party was held were lined with hundreds of pictures depicting scenes of closeness and celebrations of a life well lived. In these pictures one gets a feeling of family that extends well beyond bloodlines. And though she is the last of her siblings, she still looks forward to each day as a new day for adventure.
She shrugs off any reference to her having a hard life — always seeming to find the good to come out of the events life dealt her.
“We had a good life, a busy life. But it was so much fun. I couldn’t have asked for any better,” she said.