Cleta Friedmann and Herbert H. Howell, Goldsboro NC.

Melissa Ann Howell Schier
20 min readSep 5, 2023
My mom and dad, Cleta Friedmann and Herb Howell

Walking the ten thousand steps with my mom, Cleta every day, allowed she and I both the chance to walk back in time, figuratively, and recount certain people and events in history. These events we discussed shaped her and my dad’s early marriage and later life. Theirs is a beautiful love story, that continues on to this very day.

Mom, in these conversations, reminds me of all the people and things (parents, siblings,priests, schools and friends and institutions, particularly church) in her life, that have been important to her, and my dad, and it is a fun conversation while we are walking. She explains how their loving influences along the way have always been of great value.

And as I hear about these people, and places I am always so impressed to see how her friends, both recent and distant, have had such interesting and noteworthy lives. I can see clearly how my parents devoted love for each other, and early Christian values, combined with military life, uplifting friends, hard work, and family focus, enhanced and created long term success and especially JOY, in their lives.

The Ralph and Sarah Champion Friedmann family

Mom grew up as one of eight children, and her parents and siblings were her first, best friends. Living in Brownsville Texas, she and her siblings were born to Sarah Champion (originally Campioni, her father having migrated from Rovigno D’ Istria, Italy, into Port Isabel Texas). Sarah lost her mother early in life, and was one of four children born to Jose Champion, and Concepcion Anzaldua. The two boys, Phillip, and Jose Enrique stayed with the dad to grow up, while Sarah and her sister Lydia, were placed with her dad’s two sisters, who were unmarried at the time, named Tia Maria and Tia Teresa.

Without his wife, their dad felt he could not take proper care of all the two girls and was grateful his loving sisters were able to help him, so even in the face of adversity, this dad, still managed to find a way to provide a good life for his daughters.. These two ladies, who raised Sarah, remained influential for my mom and her family as they visited the two Aunts often.

Tia Maria and Tia Teresa were very proper, and taught Sarah and Lydia how to sew, cook, clean and take care of a household while going to Catholic school. Sarah learned how to make tortillas from scratch, using flour, lard and water, how to cook a meal for a family, how to sew, how to clean, how to economize, how to care for a garden and how to honor God. These were the same things that Sarah would eventually pass down to her children as well and those children would pass it down to me and my sisters.

After Sarah married Ralph, according to my mom, the young couple had been given the entire upstairs of her Aunt Cleta’s house, to live in. Sadly, when they had their first baby, Ralph Jr., he died at six weeks of age and is buried (baby boy Friedmann) in the family cemetery.

Sarah was heartbroken but the support of her aunts, and her husband helped her heal, and she then went on to have eight more children, Bettye the oldest, then Joyce, Ralph, Cleta (mom), Marie, Bob, and Russ and Germaine who were fraternal twins. My mom was named Cleta after her Aunt Cleta, and the name means “glory”, or “called forth” which very much describes my mom.

Like Sarah, my mom and her siblings also grew up in Brownsville, just across the border from Matamores Mexico, speaking fluent Spanish and English. Mom said that when they wanted water, they could say water or Agua, and that they knew, as very little children, who to speak English to, and who to speak Spanish to.

Mom is back row second from the right with flowers in her hair

As they grew, the family was busy helping each other, doing chores, going to church, participating in sports, playing music and dancing. Mom and her sisters, were best friends with each other and went to an all girls Catholic school, staffed by the Sisters of the Incarnate word, all the way through high school.

Mom was always helping her mom, and I guess that was her first job, taking care of her twin baby brother and sister…but she also had other work as a young adult.

Cleta Friedmann at the Cotton Exchange doing the numbers board

Her brothers went to an all boys catholic school and mom admired and loved her brothers as well. The nuns at the school, were mom’s second group of friends growing up, and these loving holy women were very supportive to mom and offered her help and comfort many times in her life as she recounts.

Cleta Joan Friedmann left and Joyce Friedmann right

As a little girl, in the house they lived in to start with, my mom had to share a room with three other sisters, sleeping at the foot of the bed and sometimes even the floor with just a sheet and pillow. Many times she helped with the twins, getting them to go to sleep for her mom. Having a German ancestry from her fathers side, gave my mom a stoic personality… she is someone not afraid of hard work…and someone with a lot of confidence in herself.

Mom also loved to laugh and have fun and she played the ukulele and her sister Marie sang with her. Growing up their home was a simple but bustling and happy place for mom and her brothers and sisters. While her dad worked hard long hours, her mom provided close supervision and direction which contributed to the healthy development of a strong value system in all the children.

Marie Left and Cleta Friedmann Right

Mom, said her next two best friends, growing up were both named Alicia. Mom told me how she wanted to be a baton majorette, but that the nuns told her she was too vain and they made Alicia Avila the majorette instead, and put my mom on the drums.

Mom said that Alicia Avila’s father was in the cotton industry. Mom makes me laugh every time she shows me how she played those drums and marched in the band while enviously watching Alicia with her beautiful legs and snazzy outfit way in front twirling and blowing the whistle and leading the band.lol.

But in spite of her joking, mom said that she was proud of how she played and she described how they wore white boots with red tassels and their team (at the boys school) was the bloodhounds. Mom tells how the Catholic school in Corpus Christi shared their uniforms with Villa Maria High school, which was mom’s school, and part of the uniform included white felt hats that mom thought looked silly but she wore them anyway with pride. The outfits were completed with red pleated skirts, white bobby socks and saddle shoes.

Rita Faye Phillips,. Tootsie,Alicia Perez, Joann Champion

I love hearing from my mom how important school was to HER mom Sarah and how and she made sure that her daughters and sons got the right kind of education, that included devotion to God and to Christian values. They had curfews, were only allowed to date after a certain age, and had to do schoolwork and help with household chores. The boys were also involved in sports.

Having five children of my own, and living miles away from them and my mom, it can seem like those wonderful days are hard to picture or imagine, but talking to my mom brought these important things to life for me. In those days people often had to move far away when they grew up …because of jobs or other reasons. I have noticed, however, that more and more people are wanting to stay close, physically, to their parents and siblings, many of them building a compound of houses on one large piece of property, so that the family can support itself and its members can support each other, more easily. I love being able to spend time with family, and I think that there is an advantage to being close.

Ralph (RJ) Friedmann Jr.

For mom, was close to her family but also close to the nuns at her nearby school and her friends who went to Catholic school. These people were very influential with mom, and these values they taught to her as a child stuck. Because my mom so valued her Catholic school education, she made sure that my sisters and I also went to Catholic school. Like my mom, we learned many valuable lessons from the nuns and from the other children who attended with us.

my mom and dad, Herb and Cleta, with five little girls

Later when Cleta was close to finishing high school, she had gone to visit her other friend, Alicia Perez who was then attending at Our lady of the lake college in San Antonio, and the ladies attended a ball…. Cleta’s arranged date had hurt his legs and was in a cast so he could not dance. Mom who loved to dance and sing said that the date was much less exciting than she had hoped for. But one good thing came of it and that was that the girls met new people, through blind dates set up by friends. I loved hearing these little details from mom, of her dating experiences, as they are so relatable.

It was while she was in San Antonio visiting Alicia, that mom met Marco Gregory Cuccinello who was in the air force. Mom said he told her that he was “blown away” by her and drove all the way to Brownsville, just to spend the day with her. Mom said that Alicia Perez went on to eventually marry a man named Stevenson and they built a great business selling appliances to all the stores in Mexico.
Sarah was very perceptive about the character flaws of the people her children wanted to date so when Sarah saw Marco, she took one look at him and said that it was “over her dead body” that Cleta would marry Marco, even though he was very polite and handsome.

Mom leaving to go on a date with Carlos

Though they dated a few times and mom really liked him, he got transferred to Mexico. Mom was sad he was gone but her mother was happy he had left. At this point, mom had another friend, Barbara Ward who was attending UT at Austin, who had come back home to Brownsville for a visit. Barbara had recently met my dad Herb and his friends who were all in the Air Force. This friend Barbara set up all her girl friends with the cadets for blind dates that weekend.

Cleta on the left

According to mom, there was a place called Sammies drive inn and it was opened up for the Air force cadets on Saturday afternoons. The hours for cadets was from twelve noon to five p.m., and they could meet, drink a beer for only twenty five cents, and any one who knew how to play music, could have a jam session.

Originally Sarah did not want mom or her daughters to date ANY one in the military, but that is when Cleta and her older sister Joyce reminded Sarah that R.J. (Ralph), mom’s brother, was in the Marines. They asked Sarah how would it be if no nice girl would be willing to date R.J. just because HE was in the military? They had a point and Sarah relented. (more interesting details that parents DO listen to their children’s opinions)

Cleta Joan Friedmann at Boca Chica beach
Herbert Hugh Howell at Boca Chi

The man mom had been paired up with, as her blind date by Barbara, was not her type as he wore tight pants, and had a large butt and had a taffeta shirt that easily showed sweat. Mom said that the cadets were not supposed to wear their uniforms and said that all the other men had nice slacks, and were fit and wore nice cotton shirts and ties.

My mom also said that she and her sister only had one rum and coke to drink whenever they went to Sammies. Mom said that night her sister Marie was having a great time, having been paired up with Herb, my dad, while another man Jim, had been paired up with one of the Rusterberg twin girls. But mom did not want to go out with “taffeta shirt” again.

The very next day Jim called mom’s house early, to ask Marie out for a date the next weekend, and she agreed. He called Marie right away before Herb could call her, even though Herb had really enjoyed the date and also wanted to ask her out again. Mom said that Sarah had a rule that if anyone asked her girls out on a date, and they refused, there could be no other date accepted for that occasion.

I love how Sarah wanted to teach her girls courtship ethics and cared about other people and their feelings. Because mom did not want to have to get stuck at home, she avoided answering the phone in case “taffeta shirt” tried to call and arrange a second date. She knew if she was not answering the phone, she could not be put in an awkward position, if anyone called.

That was when Dad called asking for Marie, who had already accepted a date with Jim. Her other sister answered the phone and since Marie was not home she handed it to Cleta and my dad said “what about you”? My mom was thrilled because she said he was polite, handsome and a fun dancer and her sister had fun on the date so of course she said yes. It is so neat that mom and dad met on a blind date with OTHER people but ended up falling in love with each other!

Herbert H. Howell (left) with Cleta’s brother Ralph Friedmann Jr. (RJ)

When she accepted the date, she and my dad started dating only each other and she forgot all about Marco. (turns out Marco had an affair with his best friends girl, when his buddy was out of town, and felt so guilty about it that he could not communicate with mom. It was only after he confessed to a priest who told him to be honest with mom, that he got up the courage to tell her what had happened but by then she was dating my dad).

Mom said that she and dad became best friends and had so much fun dating, dancing, going to the beach and going to bullfights, but there was one big problem. Dad at that time, was engaged to Mary Lib from his hometown in NC. at the time. He never kept it a secret and he made it clear to my mom that their dates were for the purpose of “friends only”. When he left to go to Wichita Falls, dad wrote mom a “dear John” letter saying goodbye forever which devastated her.

In Wichita Falls Texas, when he had graduated and earned his wings, and was going to be awarded them at a pinning ceremony, which was a big deal for the cadets, his fiance Mary Lib refused to attend because she chose to go travel with her parents instead. At that point, Herb became very disenchanted with the relationship and broke off the engagement. He realized he was not in love with Mary Lib any more but was in love with my mom.

Because he was one of the top two cadets in his graduating class, Herb was allowed to choose where he wanted to serve and he chose to go back to Harlingen AFB so he could date my mom some more. From then on, they only had eyes for each other… a compelling and beautiful love story.

Cleta Joan Friedmann leaning against my dads green car

Mom said that the day Herb came back to Brownsville, she was walking home from her work, because her mom had asked her to come straight home. When Cleta arrived, Dad was there to surprise her, and his green car was parked in front and he had brought Sarah a bouquet of flowers. I LOVE hearing this part of the story…how dad looked leaning against the car waiting for mom, smiling at her from ear to ear. .
By this time in her life, mom’s oldest sister Bettye had married Everett and her older sister Joyce, was married to Doug Young and was living in an apartment in Brownsville. For a lot of their dates, Joyce and Doug invited mom and dad over and taught them both how to play bridge and Herb and Cleta would go to their apartment after dad got off work, and all of them would have game night.

Mom said that Doug, an only child, was crazy about Joyce, who was the sassiest of her sisters and who liked to bend the rules, sometimes going up to the levee and coming in late past curfew. But her sassiness was part of the unique and fun person whom Doug loved. During their courtship before they got married, he also loved coming to pick up Joyce for their dates, hours early, just so he could hang out at the Friedmann house because it was so full of activity, happiness and bustle. Doug grew up without all that activity in the home as an only child, and it was fun for him and he always loved the busy home of his wife’s family, my mom’s sister . Joyce and Doug are also my godparents.

The air-force was a great career starter for Herb and he had wanted to be a pilot, but because there were no slots open for that, he chose to be a navigator, bombardier and radar detector and eventually was transferred to Sault Sainte Marie Michigan.

Mom and dad had rapidly fallen in love and had planned an October wedding, with time for mom to fly up and meet Dad’s parents in North Carolina, but because of the upcoming transfer to Michigan, they chose to move up the wedding to June.
Mom laughed and said that when she and dad were getting marriage counseling with the Catholic priest, mom pronounced their next destination as Sault “SALT” Ste. Marie, which is actually pronounced to sound like SUE. She said that the priest told her how he loved visiting Canada and how there was also a SAULT Sainte Marie in Canada, teaching her the correct pronunciation without drawing attention to her mispronunciation.

Mom was receptive to the teachings of the priests in her life, and receptive to the authority of the church, which always stood her in good stead.

Herb and Cleta were not the only ones who fell in love and married, as mom’s sister Marie married Jim, dad’s friend in the air force, a few months later and two other friends of dads also married girls they met in Brownsville. Marie even borrowed Mom’s dress for her own wedding, a few months after mom’s wedding, which was a dress which their mutual sister had ordered and bought for Cleta from a lovely catalogue. Marie customized it by making it ballet length which was in fashion at the time and mom was not able to attend as she was up in Michigan by then.

Sault Sainte Marie Michigan had no base housing and mom and dad lived on top floor. They became friends with the couple who lived downstairs, who were also in the air-force. Mom said that they planned a picnic with the couple at the lake but that it was freezing cold. Her only warm thing was a heavy sweatshirt from Notre Dame that her brother R.J. had given mom.

She said that she and dad had to buy heavy coats and snow shoes to wear. Mom said that they were only there a few months when dad was sent TDY to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Though they were gone part of the time to Florida, while in Michigan, they managed to become good friends with the couple downstairs, who were James W. and Lindl Graves and even had their first Christmas turkey dinner together as newly married couples.

Mom said that this couple were delightful and that James was a very accomplished man and had graduated from Cornell and had studied agriculture and that his wife was charming and was from San Antonio.The couples were glad to have each other as friends because the snow kept them housebound a lot.
When mom realized she was expecting her first baby, the couple who owned the home she and dad were leasing, Cecil and Elda Hare of 709 Court Street, who also ran a grocery store, were kind enough to deliver her groceries directly to the house for her so she would not have to go out in the snow. Mom said that they even gave her double portions of what she paid for, without charging her for the extra. (funny thing is, when mom ordered a pound of calf liver to make liver and onions in those days, and unbeknownst to her, was getting two pounds…it caused her to question the quantity she was getting, once they moved away, because it was half of what she had been getting… hahah).

Mom said that dad worked three days and was off two, and then worked two days on and then was off three. She said she loved to walk to the corner store in her neighborhood, to buy candy and magazines especially since she was so far from friends and family. But she was ready to be a mother and was a fantastic mother. Dad was a fantastic dad as well.

My mom had five girls in six years. Heidi(which means of noble birth) the oldest was born in the north and the rest of us (Melissa (honeybee), Andrea (named after the Andrea Doria as mom said that the story about the boat was so fascinating to her) Stephanie (crown), and Tina (follower of Christ), were born in the south. I love the names my mom chose and often regret not giving her name, or my dads name to any of my children. I believe that names are very significant to children and should be meaningful and my parents names are very meaningful to me today.

Mom and dad went from Michigan to Otis Air force base in Cape Cod Massachusetts, which she said was absolutely beautiful and they were there for about a year. Then they moved, after dad chose to end his career in the Air force, and they lived with dad’s parents for six weeks until they found a nice apartment on Rose Street in Goldsboro NC. where dad went to work in his dad’s business. Goldsboro, my hometown, is a place I still love to visit and is where my sisters and I grew up.

When they first arrived in Goldsboro, people were so friendly and mom said that JoAnn Bryan and Pam Rouse, carrying her baby daughter Lisa, stopped by her duplex and introduced themselves. Back in those days, people met by tea parties and playing bridge or tennis or golf. That is how mom began to meet all the ladies who were also newlyweds with small children. She said that Ann Kinsey had a tea for mom, where everyone wore lovely hats and white gloves and heels and stockings, and Ann invited all the ladies who eventually become lifetime friends with mom and dad. The Goldsboro friends have maintained loyal friendships with my parents throughout the years, for which mom is so grateful.

I believe that the air-force training was good for both mom and dad and taught them how to be self reliant and also how to be aware of the need to be patriotic. Dad wanted to serve in the Air-force, and he was able to get deferred from the draft because he was in college and had agreed to serve in the military as soon as he graduated from UNC. Dad was concerned about the Korean conflict and had been very good in his job as a bombardier and radar detector …and eventually studied and became a pilot like he had always wanted, with all the ratings except a multi engine rating, I think under the GI bill.

I have had fun researching all the people mom and dad had as lifetime friends, because it reveals how their moral and christian code of ethics, which governed them and their friends, helped build a multitude of successful careers while also building tight knit communities and loving relationships. Even people with widely differing political views were able to communicate easily during this span of time when my mom and dad were raising a family, because of the mutual respect and consideration for others…and I think that these relationships started with the love between my mom and my dad. I think that the song by Ed Sheeran, Perfect Symphony (with Andrea Boccelli) describes my mom and dad perfectly and is so beautiful…my mom says that song gives her goosebumps every time she listens to it.

Love is what creates the perfect symphony between people of the world…people of different families and different origins. Love is what was the foundation of my mom and dad, and all their relationships. Some of their friends, too many to list, were the Bryans, the Bennetts, the Housers, the Patricks, the Roses, the Rouses, the Schwalms, the Thorntons, as well as people like Josaphine, Monsegnior Gilbert, Father John and hundreds more. My parents inspired and were inspired, by so many wonderful friends over the years and loved them all.

Don and Pamela Talbot Rouse family
Art and Connie Schwalm family

They say birds of a feather flock together, but it was not the feather of politics that kept the flock together, it was the feather of Christianity and family values, that kept the flock together then. My mom and dad shared the common values of faith, hope, charity and love, and were focused on raising their children to the best of their ability. Over the years, mom’s involvement in The legion of Mary, the Catholic Church and the alter guild and choir, The arts council, the Presidents council of fitness, the book fair at the school, as well as working full time when her children were older, provided the strong core values that were passed on to us.

My dad, who was originally a different religion, converted to Catholicism and took classes and was very impressed with the parish priest, Right Rev Monsignor Edward T. Gilbert, and the example set by my mom, as a devout catholic.

Herbert H. Howell and Right Reverend Monsignor Edward T. Gilbert

Like my mom, we all learned to cook, to sew, to clean, to play tennis and basketball and to jog, to paint, write poetry, to read good books and to listen to parents, devout priests and hardworking nuns. These values each generation has learned, continue to be essential today, in the establishment of a strong and good community, in my opinion. Times may seem to have changed, but the values of society have remained the same, and it is because of the continuing influence of strong people like my mom and dad, and their timeless connection to all that is right and good that we as a society can have hope and can step into joy and happiness. A good life is its own best reward and my mom and dad are my best examples.

Cleta Joan Friedmann and Herbert H. Howell

--

--

Melissa Ann Howell Schier

HoustonWorkout on YouTube, mom of five, journalist and artist and conservative who values life.