She married Albert Franco Sr. and was the mother of two by the age of 23. After her husband abandoned the family, she left her children with their grandparents and waited tables and worked in the fields to send money home. She tried working in the banquet halls of Chicago, but was too small to lift the big, silver platters.

Franco said he remembers her arriving by Greyhound bus to visit and take her children out for milkshakes.

Always, people commented on her beauty. Especially her green eyes, described as blue by Kerouac.

She reunited the family in a housing project in Fresno, later moving to a house in a working-class neighborhood. She waited tables in the city's Chinatown and for years worked for Greyhound.

When Albert Franco was 11, his mother met LeRoy Kozera, who drilled water wells for farmers.

"I don't think she knew anyone like him even existed," he said. "He was a good man. A hard worker who treated her and us well. After she met him, she was very, very happy."

They were married until LeRoy Kozera's death in 2004.

Well into her 80s, Kozera continued to take bus trips. She said she liked to see the country and meet new people.

Because of her connection to Kerouac, her death from natural causes in Lakewood on Aug. 15 was international news. Hernandez's novel "Manana Means Heaven" based on her life will be released this month.

Franco said he still finds it hard to believe that the mother he knew as sweet and quiet was involved with the man known as King of the Beats.

"She wasn't wild-like. I'm sure she did her thing in her time. But she wasn't like his clan. Not by a long shot," he said.

Until his mother's past surfaced, Franco had never heard of Kerouac or "On the Road."

"I don't read much other than the sports page," he said. "But my mother did. She loved books."

After Kozera moved in with her daughter in Lakewood three months ago, Franco went through all the books in her Fresno home. There were many famous authors. He found nothing written by Kerouac.

Kozera is survived by her two children, seven grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

diana.marcum@latimes.com