Caroline Wagner was one of the four children born to Katie Jung (b 3/10/81, d 2/1/63) and Charles Wagner (b 12/23/72, d 9/25/53). She had a twin brother, Carl, and two sisters: Gertrude (b 10/12/12, d 3/28/89), and Catherine (b 5/27/16). Her recollections of her childhood were not happy, at least as reflected in this undated letter to her sister:
“You are a little unfair in thinking that my childhood was so “ideal” compared to yours. At least you learned to take responsibility and to do things but Ma always thought I was consumptive and weak and just as I was made to feel like nobody I always was made to believe I couldn’t do anything. None of us ever had a chance to plan things or suggest things because we were “too dumb.” Everyone of us had a bum deal – not only you. Each of us held a different position in the family and were treated accordingly. You and Kay at least felt that Pa had some affection for you but I can’t remember even one time in my whole life that Pa ever showed me any love or affection and Ma’s affection was always so shaky. Remember the tantrums she used to have – tearing at her hair and biting her hands and screaming to get us to mind her? What a way to bring up kids. And how she resented us growing up and finding out that she wasn’t frightening us anymore and we could figure things out for ourselves. Boy, oh boy!”
Caroline graduated from LeMoyne Grade School in Chicago on January 30, 1929. She attended high school, but never graduated. She continued to brood about her upbringing, but tempered it with hope:
“My life, as long as I can remember it, has not been nice at all. I have really never enjoyed myself, as I would like to. I hope I do have some good times before I’m too old to enjoy life . . . To tell the truth, now I am looking forward to being a woman of 22 with a lot of common sense and ideals and maybe a husband and a nice home. I hope it comes true.”
In June of 1933, when she was 19, Caroline met Victor Ligda, a high school teacher from California on a summer automobile trip across the country. He was visiting the Brashavetez Family, managers of the apartment building on Cornelia Avenue where Caroline lived. There was an immediate attraction. Altho Victor continued his trip after their meeting, he returned to Chicago on August 20. The next day, they went to a 19 inning White Sox – Yankee game in which Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig played. On August 22, they were married at a City Hall ceremony with her sister, Gertrude, standing up for her. A hurried family celebration followed. On August 23, they left for California. In a letter from Cheyenne, Wyoming on August 27, Caroline wrote:
” . . . you can all see what a wonderful husband I have and how lucky Gertrude is to have him for a brother-in-law. I hope she does the same to me some day soon.”
The Victor Ligdas stayed briefly with his mother, Edith, in Oakland, before leaving for Dorris, California for the 1933-34 school year. Caroline enrolled as a student at the high school where Victor was teaching. Country living was completely foreign to her. She was not accustomed to living in an area where everyone knew everyone and took an interest in their affairs. She was somewhat of a curiosity as a student. When she became pregnant, she felt the local women were shunning her. That led to feelings of isolation. In November, she wrote: “Sometimes I feel as tho I will try to forget it all and rush back to Chicago, and it isn’t because of homesickness either!!!”
Victor finally agreed that it would be better if she returned to Chicago to have the baby. In March, she returned to her parents’ apartment at 915 Cornelia Avenue. Three months later, after an argument with her mother, she returned to Oakland where her son, Paul, was born on July 13, 1934. She described her routine as a mother in a letter to her sister of October 8:
“I get up about 9 . . . and eat. Then I see how the baby is . . . and wash the diapers and other clothes. Then up again to clean the rooms and then Vic is home for lunch . . . Then I must prepare some-thing for him . . . and then clean up our things and then its time for the baby’s sunbath . . . Then I must bathe him and then feed him again. Then it is about 2:30 . . . I have a chance to get myself cleaned up and . . . take the baby out for a long walk – never less than two miles. Twice a week I walk out to the college with the baby and the buggy and get Vic. We fold the buggy up and stick it in the back of the car and are off for home. Then it is time to feed the baby again and then eat supper and help clean the kitchen or do it alone and then I go to gym or short-hand. And then hurry home for it is time to feed the babe again and then slumber. So you see I have very little time for anything else that I would like to do.”
In the same letter, she mentioned that her mother-in-law, Edith, lost her job, the family had no income, and just $300 in savings. It got her down:
“We are going to have a horrid Xmas here. No money or cheeriness or nothing. I wish we could come East for the holidays . . . I hate it here and always shall.”
At the same time, she was able to write that when: “Vic gets “a permanent job and we have our own place again,” some of her family might come to California to visit. Clearly, she was homesick and troubled that her family could not share the joy of her son. Christmas of 1934 was particularly hard for her. She was not getting along with her mother-in-law. She suspected Edith’s Christmas gift of a 10 cent cup and saucer was, “out of spite” because she drank too much coffee in the morning. She was, nonetheless, impressed with San Francisco and said she would like to live there.
In 1936, she was again pregnant and shared some of the experience by letter with her sister, Gertrude, who was also pregnant with her first child. Caroline warned: ” . . . a baby ties you down as nothing else does. But then you’ll have mama. I bet she’s thrilled and happy about all of us. Damn it, I wish we lived closer to you.”
Her daughter, Susan, was born in Oakland on October 7, 1936. The problems with Edith, her mother-in-law, continued. Caroline commented Edith was being: ” . . . rather nasty to Vic and me lately and it makes him so mad.” Shortly thereafter, they left Edith’s home and moved to San Francisco where Victor was teaching. Their first San Francisco address was 5415 California Street Later addresses were 430 14th Avenue and 515 4th Avenue. Times were better financially. In December of 1939, Caroline’s sister, Gertrude brought her son, Fred, for a two month visit.
On June 11, 1940, Caroline wrote her parents a letter in which she commented on the War relecting some of her feelings:
“Now that Italy is in the War, it looks more horrible. How she could turn against her friends in the last War seems awful, but she is not a strong fighting nation and needs lots of help. If the Allies hadn’t been so stingy to Germany after the last War, the War might have been averted. Don’t think that I am siding with Germany but the people there have to live same as anywhere else and they need food and raw materials in crder to live and the Allies wished to deny them that. Just the same, I hope Germany loses for the sake of democracy. If the Allies can hold out a few more months, they should have a chance as Germany is bound to run out of gasoline and raw materials for new equipment unless she defeats the Allies before then. Nuts on the whole situation.”
On August 26, 1940, Caroline took her children to Chicago for their first visit with their maternal grandparents. During her stay, Victor completed a move to a better flat at 624 3rd Avenue. He also disposed of a stray cat that had adopted the children. Caroline and Victor agreed to tell the children the cat got left home to look for them and probably got lost.
By 1941, Victor had over 8 years experience in teaching and felt his future in the profession was secure. Caroline, despite her huband’s preference that she not work, took couching lessons to pass the civil service examinations. That year, the Ligdas purchased their only home at 559 44th Avenue in the Richmond District where they had been renting almost five years. He interrupted that career after the outbreak of the War by volunteering for Army duty. In 1943, he was sent to Officers Training Schools in Florida and Alabama. Caroline remained in San Francisco with the children. She was lonely writing Victor that the children: ” . . . miss you so much, at times it’s pitiful. Wish they wouldn’t talk so much about it; it makes me feel so terrible too.” She was apprehensive: “I just seem to feel that, perhaps, I’ll never see you again and the thought almost drives me crazy.” She also wrote:
“Daisy and Louise went to Santa Maria for a week today and 1/2 hour after they left Dick called me up and asked me to go out with him! He was so insistent and I was so insulted and he pulled the old gag about liking me for years and years. I put him in his place politely but firmly . . . Daisy would commit murder if she knew he called me. It’s a slap in the face for her and for me too. I love you.”
Caroline took part time as a typist for the U.S. Civil Service Commission complaining that she was paid $11.33 for four days work when she figured she should get at least $18. She did not enjoy the work. It was too easy for her. She wondered how others could be satisfied doing work that was so repetitious.
In June of 1943, after Victor was transferred to the Santa Ana Army Air Base, Caroline took the children to be with him. The family rented a home at the corner of 4th and Acacia Streets in Garden Grove, California from June of 1943 until February of 1944 when they found a larger home at 1221 So. Van Ness Avenue in Santa Ana. Caroline celebrated her 30th birthday that year. She wrote:
“The scene: a 30 year old woman, married, with two children, living a very unsettled life at this time. She is anxious to return with her family to S. F. to establish her own home again tho her ideas of “home” have changed so in the past year, that she doubts if the house in S. F. will ever satisfy her again. She now wants an old 2 story home with 4 bedrooms – a house that can be fixed up to shout good living and graciousness to all who enter it. She wants nice things such as sterling silver, good linens, comfortable rather than handsome furniture. And personnel things as sewing machine, desk, etc. She knows that, God willing, she’ll get it all in good time because her husband is of the same nature.
“Right now she is primarily interested in her immediate future and wonders where her husband will be sent. At times she is glad to be an army wife – secretly proud of her 1st Lt., but lately has had to fight down regretting the step he took as she can once again see her family apart.
“She likes people – in fact having friends is very important to her. She always helps a friend once she’s made one. Her husband admires her poise (as he says) in meeting new people and hitting it off. Her husband says she looks the same as the day he married her, tho she knows it’s not true. She’s only gained 5 lbs in 11 years, but there’s no denying she’s 30!! Her husband has told her repeatedly that he couldn’t have married a better companion, mother, and wife. She loves to hear those things and he never fails to give her a compliment. She keeps him laughing, but has caused him many painful times. If she isn’t happy, then he is sad too. She likes a good time and he likes to have her gay and witty. At a party he talks about her good points to anyone who’ll listen. Of course he has to have a few drinks to help him get started.
“She drives a car – her husband always expecting her to crack-up some day. But only once in 4 years has she run into anyone and that was merely a touch.
“She sews a lot and right now is making Xmas presents for the women in the family.
“She loves her children dearly but, thru impatience, made them so independent they could get along without her . . . Her husband wishes she were more strict with the children but their teachers have said that everything they do shows excellent home training.
“She hopes to see her Chicago people soon and would love to have her husband stationed somewhere so they could all stop in Chicago on the way. These days “wishful thinking” is a great part of her brain and she makes perfectly elegant plans knowing that they never could materialize. She suspects, with every right, that her little family is on the verge of being separated again. When the thought overpowers her she is left limp and weak. She wishes she could get over being such a scared brat.”
During the period the family lived in Southern California, the Ligdas became good friends with Floyd and Dorothy Mills who were neighbors in Garden Grove. The Mills’ had two children about the same ages as Paul and Susan. Floyd Mills was often away working in Alaska. Dorothy Mills and her children and the Ligdas did a great deal together. In October of 1944, Caroline hosted a small dinner party for Dorothy’s 30th birthday. Victor and Dorothy were to become romantically involved.
Victor was transferred to Carlsbad Army Air Field in New Mexico where the family lived in what Caroline described as: “our hovel” for two months until there was another transfer, this time to San Antonio, Texas. Unable to find housing anywhere near San Antonio after weeks of motel living, Caroline took the children to Chicago to stay with her parents until Victor could find housing in San Antonio. She first stayed with her parents at 917 Cornelia Avenue, but later moved in with Mike & Gertrude Brashavetz, her sister and brother in law, at 3529 N. Wilton. Caroline found office work to help with expenses and accumulate some savings. It was four months before Victor was able to find an upstairs flat at 215 E. Craig Place in San Antonio. In March of 1945, the family was again together for three months. Victor was transferred to Maxwell Field in Alabama. Fearing more difficulties in finding housing, Caroline returned to San Francisco with the children to await her husband’s discharge when the war ended.
After the War, Victor resumed his teaching career. Caroline younger sister, Catherine, who had married Wayne Wooster, was living in San Francisco. There were frequent Wooster-Ligda family gatherings. On weekends, there were visits to Grandma Ligda in Berkeley where Victor helped keep his mother’s house in repair. The relationship between Caroline and her mother-in-law was more cordial. Life as a mother was not completely fulfilling. By the fall of 1947, she described herself as becoming:
“. . . very restless and uneasy and there seemed no point in anything and I got to thinking that I was going out of my mind . . . I had a beautiful home and 2 lovely children whom everyone admired and whose teachers always told me they would go a long way and had wonderful home training. And so, in desperation, I went to a psychiatrist . .”
She was assigned to Dr. Ken Everts, who was to become a lifelong friend. She wrote:
“He is the only person I’ve ever met that I can feel completely myself and at ease . . . I don’t love him nor does he love me – it is just a platonic friendship. And we do have fun together!”
The Ligdas remained in touch with the Mills, but the relationship between Caroline and Dorothy was strained. In October of 1948, she wrote:
“D. Mills came up with the pup she had promised us and she pulled all her old tricks – belittling me in front of people, acting coy around Vic etc. and so in answer to the letter she wrote when she got home I explained to her that I’ve tried to be nice to her with no success and so I’ll not extend her any more invitations nor accept any from her in the future. I should have done that 2 years ago.”
In fact, her husband had been having an affair with Dorothy since his discharge from the Army in 1946. In 1949, the situation came into the open. Victor left home and was eventually to sue for divorce and marry Dorothy Mills. Caroline wrote:
“My heart is broken – this is worse than death – and I feel so inadequate and so insecure and so unsure of myself and I am filled with deep concern over my children for whom I’ve always wanted the best. They are filled with insecurity too . . . I dropped out of the sorority and I avoid the people Vic and I knew. I simply do not like to be with people if I am unhappy and I’ve had two months of making excuses for Vic’s absence. From now on I’m going to say that we’ve separated and let it go at that. But as far as friends go, I still have all my neighbors . . . and I have the opportunity to make new friends too . . . The kids and I get along beautifully. I’m so thankful that I’ve not said one unkind word to them about their father . . . I am deeply sorry that my marriage had to go on the rocks but, looking back, I can see what a struggle I’ve had . . .”
Victor first requested separate maintenance, but Caroline wrote:
“I feel now that I’d rather sever the ties completely and start another uncertain life . . . I’ll go to work as soon as I can because it takes 400-500 a month to rear P & S the way I want to do it and to give them the opportunities they need.
“Of course I hope to be married again but must face the fact that maybe I won’t and sometimes it scares me to think I’ll be alone the rest of my life. And, frankly, I don’t like to work; I’d rather be a housewife. . . I have no special boyfriend and am still hoping some Prince Charming will come along. He must be nice and he must make good money and he must like me more than I do him.”
Caroline took work as a secretary and office worker. They left her unfulfilled. Her natural talents involved meeting and dealing with people and selling. Jobs which required an office routine bored her. At the suggestion of her sister, Kay, she became a Real Estate Agent for Ernest N. Dever Realty on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco. She enjoyed listing and selling houses and became very successful. In 1951, she was able to take her children on vacation to Sun Valley, Idaho. In 1952, she sold the house on 44th Avenue and bought a larger house at 34 Pt. Lobos in San Francisco. She bought her first new car – a Buick. By August of 1952, she was feeling giddy: “I feel that I am living too fast and things are happening too fast. All good things, but it scares me a little to think that so much is coming my way.”
On September 25, 1953, Caroline’s father died. Her mother survived him until February 1, 1963. In that period, Caroline and Kay took increasing responsibility for her support and care.
In 1953, Caroline met William Field , a salesman. She introduced him to the real estate profession and won him a position of the staff of Ernest N. Dever. He quickly became the top salesman earning a great deal and living well. On July 1, 1954, she wrote:
“Bill and I sure have a lot of good times . . . Sometimes I feel that I would like to marry him but then I know if I seriously thought about it I wouldn’t do it. I would have to do it on the spur of the moment so if you ever get a wire signed Mrs. Wm. Field you’ll know who it is. I wonder about myself a lot and how I unconsciously don’t care to give up my way of life, yet I know it can’t always continue like this. Bill is very much in love with me but I’m just not too sure of my own feelings and certainly don’t want to get myself engaged and unengaged again . . . I’ll just let time take care of all this and Bill is willing to wait.”
They were married 17 days later. Bill moved from his apartment to her home on Pt. Lobos. Two years later, she sold her home. They purchased a new home at 75 Skyline Drive in Daly City where she would live the rest of her life.
In 1956, her son, Paul, graduated from college. Her daughter, Susan, had met and fallen in love with her husband-to-be, Paul Lindstedt. Caroline treated both to a European trip. She flew to New York to see her children sail on the Queen Elizabeth on February 17, 1956. Susan returned to marry Paul on August 19, 1956. When Paul returned, she purchased a four unit apartment building in his name at 77 Miguel Street in San Francisco. Her son lived in the building until 1960 when his work took him to the East Coast. She then assumed management and continued to operate it the remainder of her life.
Sometime after Caroline earned her real estate broker license, she and Bill left Ernest N. Dever to open their own real estate office: Field Realty at 163 School Street in Daly City. They were very successful. Together they acquired several pieces of property, but they did not agree on the management of their property or on the handling of the money they made. She preferred to operate each piece of property at a steady profit. Bill Field preferred to resell properties as soon as it could be done at a reasonable profit. She preferred to save. He spent what he made. Caroline always said Bill knew how to live well. They took a European tour in 1958 which included a visit to the Brussels World Fair. She enjoyed good things, but was basically conservative in her life preferences and could not adjust to Bill’s impulsive way of life. They separated in 1964. She wrote:
“Kay said she wrote you of my depression about Bill and so tomorrow I go to court for the first chapter. I’ve only seen Bill once in two weeks and he does not come into the office at all anymore. I feel funny inside today, but feel that I am doing the only thing possible to try to ease the tension and “unrest,” and then I’ll try to build my life again for the third time! I may be in for a long, hard battle or maybe not.”
They were divorced on October 28, 1965. She obtained title to their home and two rental houses in the settlement. She never remarried.
After her divorce, Caroline continued her work as a Real Estate Broker under the name Field Realty. She continued to be successful, but no longer had a desire to accumulate property and steadily decreased the time she devoted to business eventually closing the School Street Office and operating out of her home. At times, she felt depressed. In 1967, she wrote:
“I find myself slipping into depression despite the activities I try to get involved in . . . I live alone and I work alone and I am alone and I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone . . .”
In 1966, she bought a dog, Dodo, who she loved dearly. In 1977, when Dodo became ill, she had to put him to sleep. She wrote:
“My dog is dead. I lost my friend. He loved me. I loved him. He could depend on me. He loved bedtime – he knew he’d get his treats and then could settle down at the foot of the bed. I miss him so much.”
She developed a deep friendship with her nephew, John Wagner, an extremely successful stock broker. That friendship included frequent telephone contact and occasional trips to Chicago where John always treated her to a fine time and saw that she was introduced to those he worked with.
She became an important part of the lives of her six grandchildren: Susan’s children: Pamela born October 8, 1957, David born March 18, 1959, and Paul born May 10, 1961; and Paul’s children: Jill born November 15, 1964, Jay born August 4, 1966, and John born February 14, 1968. She taught each of them to call her “Pretty Lady,” rather than “Grandma,” and each of them did until, as young adults, they adopted the nickname, “P. L.” Eventually she became known by that name in the both her son’s and daughter’s families. Her great-grandchildren, Jason Cook, born April 3, 1987, and Michele Lindstedt, born March 1, 1987, were being taught that name at the time of her death.
After attending a Billy Graham Crusade in the early 1970’s, Caroline became active in the church. She began bible studies at the Church of the Highlands in San Bruno where she built a strong circle of friends. Her religious interest helped her form bonds with her daughter’s family and in-laws, David and Ethel Lindstedt of Scotts Valley, California, all of whom were devout Christians. The Lindstedts made Caroline a part of many of their activities including two trips to Hong Kong in 1982 and 1984.
On April 28, 1988, while on a trip with the Lindstedts to Southern California, Caroline suffered a seizure from the spread of cancer to the brain. She was taken to the hospital where she was stabilized enough that she could travel. Against the advice of her doctor, she refused to be admitted to a hospital where she feared her life would be unnecessarily artificially prolonged. Unable to care for herself, she went to her daughter’s home in Menlo Park where she died on May 24, 1988. At her request she was cremated and her remains interred with those of her parents at Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, California. She left an estate of cash and property worth about 3/4 of a million dollars to her two children.