Once Upon A Time – The Life Of Betty (Potter) Willson #6


The following is a transcription of over a hundred handwritten pages of my mother’s remembrances journaled in a notebook over a span of years after reaching the age of 88. The words and sentence structure for the most part remain as originally written vividly projecting her personality, the flavor of the landscape and her view of the times.


February 1967 I was robbed and raped at work.  It was Saturday at 5:30 p.m…  I was managing a maternity shop one block from Capwells on Telegraph Ave.  He came in his collar around his face so I couldn’t the lower half of his face.  He immediately put pistol to my temple and told me to get down on the floor behind the counter.  He had locked the door as he came in.  I did as exactly as told.  He then went to the cash register, the box on the shelves and under the cash register  I had about $300 in cash but he kept saying there should be more. I was sure I was set up.  I had a well to do customer buying her first maternity clothes.  She bought well over a thousand dollars’ worth.  In the store there was a black women and her mother trying on clothes and listening to my conversation with the customer.  They left telling me they would be back.  The customer didn’t have enough cash so she put it on her master charge card, took her packages and left, it was about 5:15.  Bob called and the Robber told me answer and hang up, I did.  He then with the gun at my back pushed me into the bathroom.  He did not realize as we went through the dressing room to the bathroom there was a mirror on the door,  I saw his face.  He blindfolded me with a towel, put a gag in my mouth and tied my hands behind my back.  Told me tie down on the floor.  He pulled off my pants and raped me.  He got angry because I wore a long bra that fasten in the back.  He could get to my breast.  After raping as I laid on the floor he kept kicking me.  I guess he even used the gun handle.  He left and when I felt the cold air from the open door I knew he was gone.  I manage to get on my feet and work my way through the store on to the sidewalk.  I could hear people walking pass me but no offered to help me.  So I worked my along the building to the Tall Shop that was next door.  The girls who worked took the gag out, untied me and called the cops and Bob.


When the cops came they asked questions.  I told them what he was wearing and what he look like.  They put me in a car and drove up and down streets looking for him.  We didn’t find him.  They took me back to the store where Bob was and he took me to the hospital.  I had called the owner before I left.  At the hospital they cleaned me up to make sure his semen and disease he carried was gone.  Bob and I then went to the Police Station where for three hours I went through books of photographs of passed rapist to see if I could find his picture, I didn’t.


My back was hurting so bad I could hardly walk or stand, we went home.  Not once did Bob hold me kiss me or hug me or tell me he loved me.  I guess he was in as much shock as I was. The next morning, Sunday, a police Lieutenant and police photographer came and took pictures of my back where he had kicked me.  I was one solid mass of back and blue. I was so nervous, Bob suggested we go for a ride.  We stopped at Wilma and Bills trailer home.  I lost it, I started shaking and crying,  I couldn’t stop.  Bob and Wilma took me to the emergency hospital in San Leandro, a doctor examined me and gave me some pain medicine and something for my nerves.  He talked to me for a long time, told me no to be ashamed of what had happened but tell everyone what happened, get it all out in the open. When we got home Grace and Julian were there.  They put me to bed and Grace stayed with me until I went to sleep from the pills the doctor had given me.  They stayed all night.


The next morning the owners called and ask me to come in and help find Saturday’s receipts.  Bob took me down.  The police hadn’t told him I was raped so I did.  When he found out and called his insurance company and they put me in St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco.  I was there for about three weeks.  The first week in traction for my back.  He had kicked a couple of vertebrae out of place.  The other weeks I was just a nervous wreck, crying one moment and hysterical the next.  Nancy and Kay came to visit.  The third week they (the police) caught the rapist.  He still had my wallet.  I came out of the hospital to pick him out of the lineup.  Then went back to St Francis Hospital.  The guy thought I wouldn’t know him but I saw his face in the mirror before he blindfolded me.


When I came home from the hospital Bob still hadn’t held me or loved me. He had bought a gun.  Every night between 7 and 8 I would get a telephone call telling me not to testify at his indictment.  They said they knew the day care center Nancy took Sarah and Bryant to, what school Kay’s children went to.  I guess they did the same to other he had raped as they refused testify.  The Lieutenant police officer assigned to my case lived just a block away.  The police tried tracing the calls but without success.  They changed my number but before I could give my new number to Kay or Nancy whoever was calling had it,  I changed back to my old one.



About a month later I testified at his indictment.  He was Black Panther.  Huey Newton and all his buddies packed the chambers.  The black women who were in the store the day of the robbery were there also.  Kay went with me as Bob was working.  She set there crying all the time.  I was testifying when I told Judge Wilson that the criminal refused to leave my nitro pills.  The judge cleared the court room only allowing Kay to stay.  It was awful his lawyer made it sound that I asked to raped.  He was indicted to stand trial in June.


Again I was harassed by the Black Panthers so I went to the cabin with my grandchildren.  It didn’t’ have a bathroom yet but we did have fun.  In June only I and one other women would testify although he robbed and raped 10 other women.  They were afraid of the Black Panthers.  The other woman who testified had gone east after the rape and came back for the trial.  She testified and he threw himself on the mercy of the court.  The judge gave him twenty years to life.  The officers told me when I was working at Capwells that he got out in seven.  So much for justice.


I refused to go back to work at the maternity Shoppe and as they wanted me back I couldn’t draw unemployment.  I did receive $1000 from their insurance company.  I was still a nervous wreck on drugs, Thorazine.  I took so much that my teeth fell out.  My memory is not too good from February to September.  I do know I spent the summer at the cabin with Cindy, Mary, Brenda and Sarah.  Nancy was going through a divorce.  I was very trying on her as Don had destroyed most of her confidence.  The louse.  Kay had left for Portland back with John Ove, another bad apple.  Why daughters married such men when they’re so intelligent I don’t understand.

I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Bob for his lack of love and support during that year.  When I confronted him about he said who wants to go where a blacks had already been.,  over a year passed before we ever had sex.

That summer was the most wonderful in my life.  Just my grand babies and me.  They used the outhouse, took baths in the swimming pool on the deck, built play house out of blankets, dug tunnels and gold mines and slept on the floor.


In September with the children back in school I went back to Oakland to look for a job. In November I went to Capwells as a part time Christmas worker, sale clerking in the china department.  After Christmas which we spent at Kay’s I did inventory at Capwells.  I heard there was an opening in the furniture department so I applied.  There had never been a furniture women in any of the Capwells stores.  Mr. Baker interviewed me so I was the first. He told me to show those old men just what a woman could do.  Mr. Grenbawn, Mr. Drano and Mr. Munson were the men.  For the first month I sold nothing, then a lady told me that the men said I was there only to show the furniture not to write up sales.  That night I told them and what the lady had said that from now on if their customers came to me it was my sales.  I let them know that I was going to steal from them for a month just like they did me.  I did and became the top sales clerk, topping all other stores and they started hiring women.  Mr. Munson couldn’t take it and he quit.  Drago and I became great friends, Grenbawn taught me a lot about furniture.  Mr. Baker saw that I went to all the manufactures seminars.


(I left Bob after he finally told me who wants go where a black had been.  I hurt to very core of my soul.  I thought I had been a good faithful wife.  True we fought a lot mostly about his drinking and smoking.  He was extremely jealous with a cause as I like to talk with men but talk was far as we every got.)   The first time I brought home  a commission check for over five grand, (boy was I proud)  Bob said he would quit working if a wife could make more in a month than he could in a year, he didn’t need to work.  It was a big blow to his pride.  He spent his time with the grandchildren,  to the race track once a week and went up to work on the cabin. When I left him it was only for 2 months.  I had a nice little apartment downtown in walking distance of Capwells.  When he asked me to come back he had quit drinking and smoking cold turkey and ask me for forgiveness for not being there when I needed him.  He told me he really loved me and needed me.  I went back and our relationship got better.  He was a proud man, a wonderful grandfather who never ever corrected or punished his children, generous and loyal to his few close friends.


In the seventies I loved my work.  I went to LA for a few days to visit Vinita who had worked at Capwells but moved to LA.  She was an artist and had her own studio in Hollywood.  Two of my best friends Janice and Marge worked in Linens.  Janice got cancer of the breast and had them removed.  She lost her hair but she made it a joke, she wore a different wig every week, black one week, blonde the next redhead the next, sometimes short sometimes long.  Later in the 80’s when she died of cancer it had spread thru out her entire body before she died, she was fighting but given a three months notice so having been a cigarette smoking for years she decided to try every brand on the market.  She left me a necklace, it is one of my most treasure possession.  While working at Capwells my hands and arms would go to sleep.  The Doctor said my bra straps were stopping circulation.  I had a breast reduction, went from double D to C.  He didn’t do a great job as my nipples almost disappeared, took about 5 lbs. out of each, 60 stitches and a lot of pain


In 78 Nancy’s second husband Donald Gokey was killed in an auto accident.  A sixteen year old kid with no license hit him head on,  Nancy didn’t press charges, at the time she was Branch Manager of World Savings in Modesto.  She bought a house with the money from the insurance.  I moved  to Modesto, transferred to Weinstocks,  I was there for about a year while Dad fixed up the house in Oakland, going home on my days off.  We sold the house for $63,000 and moved into a house on McRitchie Way  that Nancy bought, the nicest I had ever lived in,  a real nice home,  Bob watched Nancy children.


Because I brought my salary with me when I transferred it was more than their supervisor received.  They piled the work on my marking,  the floor, deliveries and not only my department but china, television and handling complains for four departments plus selling.  I ended up with a return of angina attacks.  Three time in the hospital.  Bob would go to the cabin to work on it a week at a time.  We finally got it going.  Built on a large deck, put a laundry room down underneath and bought a new heater.  In 1982 at the age of 62 I had enough.  I retired with $50,000 in stock.  I sold $25,000 of it and bought a washer, dryer, water heater and furniture.  Loaned or gave Gary some money for his wife to attend college and become a nurse. He had divorced Kay and married Jan who was something like a Mennonite.  He gave up his music.  When married to Kay he had a band, bought a bar that failed and had two children, Scott and daughter Marlo.  He gave Kay everything in order to marry Jan and with her had two children Robert and Sandra.  We then had 10 grandchildren.


The Cabin:

We lived there for about 10 great years, at least for me, Bob was another story.  Doing nothing I didn’t want to do.  I moved in and I threw all those heart pills down the toilet.  I watch the trees grow, painted, played bingo at the senior center, visit with Peter Hill and played cribbage with Turney.  Bob cut trees sold the wood,  built a wood shed.  The only time I got sick was when a black widow spider bit me and when the hammock collapsed and I hurt my back.  Polly and Roy came for a visit so did  my niece Janet and her husband  Arnold.  Della and Barney also came while were building it.


Mary and John left Tara with us when they got married.  Poor Bob   he was nearly blind and in 87  had a heart attack, the doctor gave him five years to live.  He would need a whole new heart transplant.  Mary was a god sent, she was living in Stockton with two children, Tara and Katy.  She would come up at least twice a month, take Bob to the eye specialist in Stockton.  She stayed with him when I went to Hawaii with Cindy and Manny.  She stayed with him when I spent a week with Brenda and Brian before they left for Okinawa.  Mary was always there when needed.  Sarah would also take Bob to the doctors.



When Brenda and Brian came back for Okinawa they spent a week with us, Cynthia and Mary came with their little ones.   Becky, Tara, Katie, Heather and Josh.  All those wonderful babies, Bob loved all.  We had 10 grandchildren, Cynthia, Mary, Scott, Brenda, Marlo, Sarah, Sally, Robert, Bryan and Sandra.  I have 14 great grandchildren, Mary’s two girls Tara and Katherine – Cynthia two girls  Rebecca and Roberta – Brenda’s two, Josh and Heather,   Marlo’s two  Garrett, Allison,  Sarah two , Aaron and Nathan, Bryan’s two  Emily and Paige,  Scott’s Sarah by Lana,  Bryan girl by Robin, Jessica.





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