WHITTIER – Judging by the grin on her face, former poet and author Mina Reyes approved of the new flower garden being planted in her front yard Monday by a dozen children and adults – even if she didn’t remember why they were there.The 85-year-old Whittier resident was once a vibrant businesswoman and writer, but Alzheimer’s disease over the past few years has left her unable to take care of herself or her home.While her once-sharp mind slowly faded, Reyes’s home began to deteriorate, say friends.A group of parishioners from Whittier’s My Friend’s House church, who are also members of AmeriCorp VISTA, a kind of domestic Peace Corps, chose Reyes’ home for their annual community beautification project to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.“Every year on this day we think of a community project that will help someone in some way,” said Trisha Garcia, member of AmeriCorp VISTA and organizer of the event. “I know Mina and knew this would make her happy. She can’t do the work herself and she has no family that helps her.”Her clouded memory vacillating between lucid and rambling, Reyes leaned over the railing of her front porch to inspect the children’s digging.“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get this done for years.”Reyes receives 24-hour assistance from her caretaker, Frances Andrade, 62, who has known and helped her for several years. In May 2004, Andrade moved in with Reyes in order to provide the around-the-clock care that was needed.“She began paying me to come and clean for her and sometimes she’d pay me to sit and she’d read and read,” Andrade said. “And she’d tell me stories about her husbands – there were three.”Reyes owned a successful secretarial service that provided secretaries to law firms in downtown Chicago, according to a biographical introduction from one of her poetry pamphlets. The pamphlet covers a range of topics and includes a poem for which she won her first poetry contest in Hannibal, Mo., where she was born.One poem, called “Brothers,” touches on the issue of race, the last lines of which read: “What does it matter? The color of skin.”Other of Reyes’ poems hint at strained family ties, with themes of forgiveness in one addressed to her brother.After moving to Whittier 43 years ago, Reyes worked in the secretarial service industry and continued writing – a passion she has sustained since she was in grammar school. Although Reyes has one son and two grandchildren, no relatives visit her anymore, said Andrade.“No one comes to see her,” he said. “It’s sad. I can tell you, she’s very happy, very happy today. I can tell.”Reyes’ autobiography, “A Pocket Full of Rye,” centers on her life during the World War II years between 1940 and 1945, when she ran the secretarial business with her first husband, Carmel Signa. “I have not set forth my entire life story, for which you should all be grateful,” she wrote. “I have told only of the World War II years, 1940-1945, a time of historic importance which should never be forgotten.”When writing about a creative writing class she once took, Reyes betrayed some of the fortitude that drove her colorful life.“Now and then…one encounters a wrinkled, gray-haired old lady, such as myself,” Reyes wrote, “gritting her false teeth, determined to create with her yellow pad and pencil, who could be admired for being too smart to admit defeat, or pitied for being too dumb to quit, depending upon the reader’s opinion of her `creative writing.”‘ [email protected](562) 698-0955, Ext. 3029 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
Making her garden grow