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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Swallows Return to Capistrano

Anyone in my family could tell you that I have a terrible memory for dates. My husband often teases me that I will someday forget our wedding anniversary. One date I always remember, though, is the birthday of my father-in-law, Bill. He was born on March 19th; the day the swallows return to Capistrano.

It seems fitting that Bill's birth date is renowned for this famous migration. Bill grew up the youngest of five in Southern California. His ancestry goes back to the Basque Country, and his grandfather, Domingo Amestoy, who landed in San Francisco, traveled by foot down to Los Angeles,and allegedly shot a bear along the way. He became one of the area's early ranch settlers.

The Amestoy family prospered and lived at  Rancho Los Encinos, in the San Fernando Valley.
Bill grew up loving the beautiful California landscape and later reminisced over the enormous flocks of birds that would blacken the sky as they migrated south.

When World War II broke out everything changed. Bill enlisted in the Marines and was sent off to fight in the Pacific. His horrific war experiences matched those of many young men, and after years of intense island fighting, he was sent home to recover from shock,stress, and break down.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, a young, spunky girl from Vermont was experiencing her own war effort. After graduating from a small business school for women, Diana was assigned to the Pentagon, in Washington DC. She later decided to move to the Big Apple, where she found a job in the famous Helene Rubinstein empire.

When Bill was back on his feet, he traveled to NYC to see an old war buddy. Lee Marvin. My father-in-law often  described Marvin as someone who "literally got his ass shot off". The actor had not yet begun his rise to fame, and was happy to introduce Bill  to the intriguing young Vermonter who worked for his mother, herself the assistant to Helena Rubinstein. Bill and Diana fell in love,and had one son, Jeffrey Lee, who later became the love of my life.

Many years later, we were all out to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. There had been the usual vodka martinis, and a little too much wine, causing  Diana's conversation to become quite animated. My very quiet and reserved father-in-law suddenly leaned across the table and said, "I love you, Di." My mother-in- law was suddenly speechless and then laughed with delight. Despite the odds,after the ups and downs of a long married life, those swallows always eventually returned.