Squash blossoms, brie, and Eunice O’Hanna

Serendipity dances up and down the streets of San Miguel. For instance, one day I walked up Aldama away from the center of town, past Parque Juárez, and towards the neighborhood of San Antonio. Having recently reread Mary Morris’ book Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, in which she took up residence in this barrio for a year, I was curious to see it for myself.

In her book, which was published over 20 years ago, she says, “I never would have moved to the neighborhood called San Antonio if I’d known better. For that part of town was different from the other parts. Very few Americans lived there. It was too far from the center of things. I would have to walk half an hour up a dusty hill to get to market. It was the poorest part; it was where the servants who served the wealthy lived and where others struggled just to get by. It was the dustiest, dirtiest place, where the Mexicans would call me “gringita” and my own mother, when she heard me describe it, would beg me to leave. I had no idea what I was doing when I moved into San Antonio. But I am grateful for the mistake I made.”

I don’t know if Morris has been to San Antonio lately, but things have changed. It’s been gentrified. In fact, the reason I was headed there was to look for a little organic produce store someone had told me about where you can buy the most delicate of local grown lettuce as well as heirloom tomatoes.

After a little searching around, I found the organic place and bought some squash blossoms and fennel. Leaving the store, I noticed that just across the street was a bakery where I bought a loaf of just-baked sourdough bread. Like something you’d get in San Francisco. And it was while breaking off a chunk of this still-warm bread that I stumbled across a cheese shop with a very nice selection of French cheeses.

As I said, Mary Morris’ old neighborhood has gone a bit upscale since she was there. I think today her mom would be just fine with her living in colonia San Antonio.

Anyway, it was while walking home with my squash blossoms and brie that I came across Eunice O’Hanna. Eunice lives in one of those grand mystery homes in San Miguel. From the street all you see is a brightly-painted wall with baroque façade and intricately carved wooden door. What’s behind the wall and door is always an intriguing mystery.

As I was walking down the street, Eunice, who must be in her 80s, was just coming out her front door. We chatted for a few minutes and then she invited me in. I followed her through the door and into a magical courtyard with fountains and a riotous garden of tropical flowers, particularly pink- and apricot-colored bougainvillea. It was like a miniature Garden of Eden which, Eunice explained, is why her décor had this Paradise-lost theme to it, centered by a very large, very beautiful Adam and Eve wall mural.

The Adam & Eve mural in the home of Eunice O'Hanna. Photo by David Lansing.

The Adam & Eve mural in the home of Eunice O'Hanna. Photo by David Lansing.

It was all fascinating. But not as fascinating as the dozens and dozens of strange necklaces Eunice had designed and now had on display in two rooms on either side of the courtyard entrance. The necklaces were made from old beads and amulets and coins as well as what Eunice called “found objects.” Meaning just little things she’d come across somewhere in Latin America that caught her attention.

Since many of the necklaces looked as if they’d been sitting in their display cases for decades, I asked her if she sold many. No, she admitted, not many. But, she said, she didn’t care.

“There are plenty of people who want to buy them. I just don’t like to sell them. So usually I don’t.”

We were both silent for a moment while I tried to wrap my arms around this. Afterall, she had a gallery, albeit in her home, and the jewelry was well-displayed and there were prices on everything. Yet she wouldn’t sell them.

Why was that? I asked.

She sighed, holding one of the delicate pieces in her hand. “People don’t deserve them,” she said.

And then she changed the subject by asking if I’d like something to drink. Her maid brought out a tray with a pitcher of agua de jamaica and a little dish of lime slices. We sat out in the courtyard, drinking the refreshing hibiscus tea while staring at the wall of a naked Adam and Eve, forever divided by a conniving blue snake.

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  1. Sonia’s avatar

    It was just her passion. And to sell would be giving away a piece of her.


  2. david’s avatar

    I think you’re right, Sonia. I don’t think Eunice had any children, so her art became her legacy.

  3. Barbi O'Hanna- Embody’s avatar

    My mom has 4 children. But you are correct in that, her art is like her children, she made them and they are all beautiful and to give them away or sell them, would be like giving a bit of herself away. Only very special deserving people have the pleasure of owning some of her exquisite pieces.

    Barbi Embody
    Child #4

  4. Greta Wa;das’s avatar

    To Barbi Embody,
    I wrote to Eunice but got no answer. Is she OK? What’s happening? Hope all is going well with you and family. Love, Greta

  5. MAGGIE’s avatar


  6. Fred Schauer’s avatar

    Eunice’s parents-in-law (I think), Sam & Bess O’Hanna, were my godparents. The O’Hannas were close friends of my parents from the 1930s, and in the 1950s and 1960s their summer house in Budd Lake, New Jersey, was across the street from our much more modest summer cottage. And as a stamp-collecting child in the 1950s I always cherished the South American stamps, usually Venezuelan, that Sam would bring back for me from what at the time I thought of as astonishingly exotic locales. And I have fond recollections of their Manhattan apartment, their big black Buicks in the 1950s, and much much else.

    Fred Schauer
    Charlottesville, Virginia

  7. Laurie O'Hanna’s avatar

    My mother, my amazing mother, Eunice O’Hanna. She has been painting and creating since we were (all four of her daughters) little girls. We would come home from school in the afternoons fresh off the school bus in Oradell, NJ and find Mom up on a ladder painting murals. One time she nearly drank from a cup of turpentine rather than her coffee! We howled with laughter. That’s how committed she has ALWAYS been to her work. One time our father (David O’Hanna) arrived home from a trip with his father (Samuel O’Hanna) from Caracas, Venezuela only to find that our refrigerator had been painted RED. Yes, I said RED. Who does this in the ’60s? Eunice O’Hanna, that’s who. Nothing is safe from creative change. Nothing!

    I have the distinct honor of having her stay with me now in the SF Bay Area as she rests through what has been a difficult year of poor health. Of course, our goal is to return to San Miguel, but at this time, that is but a dream we keep alive.

    All 4 daughters have traveled to be with Mom in the near 30 years she has been there, bringing our children and exposing them to her passion for her creativity. My 2 kids spent enough time in SMA to attend summer school on various occasions, where they learned the language and the art of the locals.

    I know why Eunice O’Hanna will not sell her amazing ethnic collection of hand-made, painstaking hours creating these gorgeous necklaces. Because she made them with her heart and soul. Each one of them represent a piece of her history, her self-discovery, her coming of age. I must admit, though, over the years, I did bring a few home and when I wear them, I feel she is with me.

    Only a couple of her children (Barbi and me), were with her when she left those dreaded days behind and then magically morphed from imprisoned housewife then marched through the Gloria Steinem movement and declared it was time for her to discover the real Eunice. How lucky can two daughters get?

    On occasion, she will simply give one to someone who REALLY clicks with her, someone whom she feels deserves a piece of her. I am one of the few (and I MEAN few) who have been fortunate enough to have my pick of the lot. However, somehow when they are offered, I am unable to bring them back to California with me because they are true museum pieces, they are a piece of her era. They belong where they are, like a curator who wouldn’t dare allow a visitor walk away with the Crown Jewels, the Mona Lisa or a rare artifact from the Smithsonian, neither will my Mom. I fully support this. You can look, but you cannot take. A museum store wherein her items could be duplicated, would be blasphemy.

    I wear them when I am with her. They mean so much when we are together! They keep the spirit and bond between us (for a myriad of reasons over my 54 years) strong, rooted, like glue are she and I. I am wearing them now. I feel like Cleopatra. My mother is and always will be the reason I strive to make a footprint on my childrens’ lives as she has and continues to do. If my children wind up loving me only half as much as I love her, then I will have been a great mom.

  8. Barbi’s avatar

    Wow Laurie you are and always will be a great writer. I miss you and mom. I know she is in good hands after leaving me a few months ago. I wonder if we could get in touch with Fred Schauer. I do not remember him do you? When he was describing Grandma Bess and Grandpa Sam’s place in Manhattan, it brought back many memories. I do remember all the great stuff Grandpa would bring back from Venezuela. Heavy sigh…,
    a long time ago, but not forgotten.

    Keep on creating and by the way, your children DO love you as much as we love mom! I know this to be true. I am so enjoying getting my Gabi time, you have no idea.

    Love you to reeses pieces.


  9. Lois’s avatar

    I am a close friend of daughter Nancy. Nancy is a kind, loving, giving person. She was with me during my Mom’s last days and I will never forget how she helped me through such a difficult time. Now she is working to make her Mom’s
    (what could be her last days ) happy and productive.

    She has tried to work with her Mom on the jewelry and has told me about the happiness and fulfillment it brings when
    they are able to spend time doing that together.

    Eunice is so lucky to have 4 wonderful daughter and I cant help but think the one I know the best is the best.

    Thinking only good thoughts for all. Lois

  10. Barbi’s avatar

    Lois you have no idea of who the real Nancy is. She is a cruel mastermind of pure evil. My mother is gone but not forgotten…..looks like Nancy fooled you too! Fool me once shame on you, fool we twice, shame on me.

  11. Lois Edwards’s avatar


    Totally inappropriate and very inaccurate. Lois

  12. Greta Waldas’s avatar

    I’m trying to find out what is happening with Eunice. I heard that she had died. So many wonderful memories over so many years. She was a great friend, a true artist, but most of all a very loving mother. Barbie, please let me know how you and your family are, and how Eunice spent her last year. Love, Greta

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