A shopgirl when she left everyone and everything she knew in Germany, Elsi Gerda Becerra created a mini homeland in Floral Park — filling her house with German steins, having a German butcher deliver German cheese, going to German stores and speaking in German to family pets.
That was just the tip of Becerra’s quirky complexity, her family said.
“Even though she’s not here, I feel she’s with me,” said her son, Robert Becerra of Floral Park.
Elsi Becerra, 74, a one-time school kitchen manager, died of lung cancer on June 24 at a Great Neck care home.
She had started smoking at age 13 at a time when cigarette vending machines were ubiquitous in Germany, her son said.
In her last months, she wanted to be in anti-smoking commercials, which often showed people deformed by the disease, so she could warn others, said Grace Navarro, Becerra’s friend.
At the care center, Navarro videotaped a mock commercial featuring Becerra, who died shortly after it was made.
“She said if she could help one person, she would be happy,” Navarro said.
Elsi Becerra was born in 1947, at the start of the Cold War, outside Munich, in rural Crailsheim, where an old church was the only building standing after World War II, her son said. Childhood was one of the best times of her life, plucking fruit straight from trees to eat whenever she wanted and harvesting crops on the family farm, her relatives said. Such labor gave the petite Becerra “Hulk Hogan” sized hands, her son said.
“She came from a family of hardworking people,” Robert Becerra said. “ ‘Never quit’ is pretty much what she would always tell me.”
Elsi Becerra married a U.S. Army soldier stationed at a nearby base and flew with him to Queens in 1971, but they broke up about 12 years later, her family said.
In 1985, on a night out with her friend, she met her future husband, Robert Becerra Sr., at a bar. She fell for his kind ways, he for her blue eyes.
Their relationship highlighted the funny, sometimes dry side of Elsi Becerra, or the “queen of the one-liners,” as her son called her.
If her husband drove too close to other cars, she’d tell her son she could have met the occupants: “All I have to do is drop the window and shake their hands.”
If she was exasperated, she’d say “where’s the cyanide when you need it?”
“It was like Comedy Central,” Navarro recalled.
But when life was not all happy, Elsi Becerra endured those times with strength and commitment.
When an inattentive driver failed to notice Becerra and her young son crossing the street, the mother pushed her child out of the way and was struck by the car, relatives said. Serious injuries left her with pain for life, but she rarely complained, they said.
Another time, her car crashed with her German shepherd Daisy inside, her son said. The dog ran off, disappeared and was later hit by another vehicle. An animal lover, she helped nurse Daisy and never left the dog’s side again, the son said.
In her senior years, Becerra indulged in daily rituals. Just before dinner time, she’d station herself by the window to watch a well-dressed, handsome young neighbor walk home from work. At night, she’d consume crime docudramas on television. At bedtime, she’d mix fruit with yogurt and take it up along with the daily paper to her room, where she liked to post newspaper obituaries on the wall.
“She just had a personality that was unmatchable with almost everyone that I’ve met,’’ her son said.
In addition to her husband and son, Becerra is survived by her sister Martina Muller of Munich.
Elsi Becerra was cremated. A memorial Mass will be celebrated 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Victory Church in Floral Park.