May 10th, 1984

A day she’ll not forget - After 40 years, a mother finds sender of her roses.

Since 1944, May Robinson has wondered who sends her 20 long-stem roses every Mother’s Day.  On Sunday, 40 roses were at her Redwood City doorstep in the hands of George Retelas.  The answer to her 40-yer-old question.

Because he knew her son could not do so, Retelas 66, of San Leandro, has sent the flowers to Mrs. Robinson, 83, every Mother’s Day since he returned from World War II in September 1943.  Barney, Mrs. Robinson’s only child and Retelas’ wartime buddy, was killed at age 21 when his Navy plane was shot down over Guadalcanal in 1943 while on his way to a rest-and-relaxation leave.

Barney Robinson and George Retelas had flipped a coin to determine who would receive the last leave available to their unit at that time.  Barney won the flip. Mrs. Robinson has been blind since the time of her son’s death due to acute glaucoma.  She has long said the shock and sadness of Barney’s death led to her blindness.

Retelas visited Robinson after he got home from the war to drop off some of Barney’s possessions, but never revealed he was the anonymous flower sender.  “My sons and daughter always told me to go see her.  I tried to come out last year, but I chickened out.  I guess I was too sentimental.”

On Sunday, Retelas, dressed in a suit and fidgeted at the steps of Mrs. Robinson’s Burlingame Avenue home.  Hugo and Frances Bianco, neighbors who watch over the frail woman, led Mrs. Robinson to the door where Retelas nervously clutched the roses.  Mrs. Robinson, her mouth agape, touched the flowers, and heard Retelas’ voice say, “From here on out, you’re going to know it’s me every year.”

“Oh my! Oh goodness sake!” Mrs. Robinson, tears in her eyes, repeated over and over again.  She gave Retelas a long hug and said softly, “What a surprise for Mother’s Day. It’s like seeing my son again.”  There to witness the scene were Retelas’ wife, Koula, his daughter, Margarita of Daly City, and his son Sam, of Hayward.  Also present were Sam’s wife, Lillian, and their children, George, 5, Kosta, 3, and Georgina, 1.

Mrs. Robinson was led to a kitchen table as Retelas held her hand and explained the flower shop that had delivered roses the previous 39 years is now out of business, “So I had better deliver them myself.”  When the roses did not arrive Saturday, the normal flower delivery date for a Sunday holiday, Mrs. Robinson thought that something might have happened to her anonymous friend.  Hugo Bianco reminded her, however, that the roses were once delivered late five or six years ago, so she should not give up hope.

Retelas remembers Barney, who was younger than he, as “young and full of life and energy.”  George Retelas was a mechanic and Barney Robinson was a gunner when both were in Navy Torpedo Squadron 11 assigned to the Pacific Theater during World War II.

When Mrs. Robinson received the flowers last year, she told the Times Tribune, “I think it’s this nice Greek boy. I’ve tried to trace him, but I haven’t had any luck at all.”  Once she got his phone number, called and left a message, “but I never returned the call,” Retelas said.  “I was just too sentimental.”