Bernard Mendoza in Round Top
Bernard Mendoza’s move to Round Top was prompted by his first grandchild being born a Texan. At the time, he and his wife Marilyn Albert lived in California, having moved to America from London in 1980. They wanted to be close to their granddaughter, but not too close. After putting thousands of miles on a rental car, a real estate agent said, “You seem like Round Top people.”
They came, visited Festival Hill, and for the past 13 years have integrated into the Round Top landscape by building a home and piecing together Fayette County’s oldest two-story log cabin (circa late 1830s) that they found crumbling in a pasture. In 2014, the pair published a book of photos and essays called Townsfolk, which captures the faces of Round Top and their accompanying stories. I met the duo at the “handing over” of original Townsfolk prints to the Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin.
Bernard and Marilyn, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year, welcomed me into their home to shoot the breeze just as the spring antiques show was commencing. Do you know how daunting it is to take a picture of a man who has photographed—and was called maestro—by Vincent Price?
DOB: Oct. 10, 1944
(He left school at age 16 after being voted “Most Likely to Do Time”).
What was your first paying job? Bob-a-job. Boy Scouts went door-to-door as a fundraiser seeking odd jobs for a “bob,” which is slang for a shilling. Cleaning windows, gardening, that sort of thing. You gave people a yellow sticker to go in their window to let other scouts know not to stop.
When I was six, I wanted to be: Something grandiose I’m sure. Like a football [soccer] player or a cricketer…scoring the winning goal.
What is your favorite quote? “Ours is an excessively conscious age. We know so much, we feel so little.” D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930) and “Aut nunquamtentes aut perfice” (Do it perfectly or do not attempt it all) Mr. Harper, my Latin teacher.
What would you tell a 16-year-old Bernard Mendoza? If you are different, embrace your difference.
No one has ever said this about me: That I’m too short. (He’s six foot six inches and was six feet tall at age 13.)
Most famous person I’ve ever met: As a child, Ralph Reader. I worked with Vincent Price on a HLP advertising campaign, great guy to work with. And, of course, Peter Sellers. He was my father’s second cousin; his mother’s maiden name was Mendoza. Probably where I got my weird sense of humor from.
Early or late? Depends on whether my wife is with me or not.
Haven’t been to the grocery store, and dinner time looms: I make a cereal cocktail: put a layer of one cereal in a bowl, add some sugar, put a layer of another cereal, and so on. (As per Marilyn: Warm milk over the top in winter and cold milk when it’s warm outside.)
Pickled beets, eggs or pigs’ feet? Pickled eggs. I doubt you can find kosher pigs’ feet.
Favorite vacation spot? I am so lucky and spoiled. Our life is one big vacation. We go places, we work, it’s a vacation. I am lucky; I have never felt I’ve been to work one day in my life.
What is the biggest compliment you have ever received? Thank you. You’ve made a difference.
What are you afraid of? My wife. (Marilyn chortled.)
Star Wars, Star Trek or Dancing with the Stars? I have never seen any of them. I do like stars, though.
First car? Austin A40, though I chiseled the “u” out to make it an Astin A40—the only one in existence.
Last picture you took with your phone? The inside of my pocket. (Author’s note: I should’ve paid better attention to his answer. I handed Bernard my iPhone and suggested he take a selfie. Results provided to show the “success” of that idea.)
How do you start a conversation? Marilyn says: you always find something funny to say.
I regret: That my children grew up far away from their grandparents.
Every day I: Wake up and don’t see the daisies growing toward me, I know that it’s a good day.
I am never without: My camera.
Can you tell a joke? I am really bad at telling jokes. It’s always been a problem; I see the ridiculous in everything. Probably that and my dyslexia is why I had such a bad time at school. You know, we English take ourselves way too seriously, but I see the silly side—a different perspective.
Why Round Top? (See intro.) Festival Hill—expect the unexpected. It was not what we had expected in rural Texas. The cultural pull is what drew us to Round Top. Our life has been one long adventure based on being open to what’s next. I left school at 16 after being expelled from a number of schools. I was working for my father’s real estate company, and I knew I did not want to do that forever. I saw the film Blowup about a photographer who in one scene was romping around in background paper with two nude models, and I decided that I wanted to be a photographer. It was hard going, and I was ready to quit when Marilyn heard about an assignment with the advertising agency Charles Barker Co. I had a liquid lunch followed by a liquid dessert and went off with my portfolio to the interview. I got the job. Many years later I learned that the reason I got the job was not my portfolio but that it was because I was wearing a suit and tie. Their client was a bank, and they needed someone who would fit in with bankers—and there was me thinking it was my talent.
by Katie Dickie Stavinoha
Publisher’s Note: While we’re big champions of using social media to help spread the word about the Roundtopolis, we enjoy old-fashioned visiting. Since taking over the Round Top Register, Lorie and I have had many opportunities to meet lots of interesting people. We want you to meet them, too. So, we’ve introduced “Shooting the Breeze.” It gives us one more excuse for visiting with folks face-to-face. Enjoy! If you have ideas for people for us to shoot the breeze with, let me know at [email protected].