Archive for the ‘family legends’ Category

The lady in white story

October 11, 2013

This is another family legend. I expect I will get different versions as cousins and aunts read today’s post. I hope so.

When my grandmother’s mother was 5 she was orphaned. Her father had died in a silver-mining accident. Then her mother died giving birth to what would have been my grama’s aunt or uncle.

She lived in a small village in Chihuahua, Mexico.

At the end of her mother’s funeral, everybody followed the hearse carriage down the dusty road. It was too fast for her, and she was separated from the procession.

No one noticed that she was left behind.

She was lost in the mountains, and night fell.

Then a woman in white appeared and took her by the hand.  They walked together through the village to the child’s aunt’s door.

The woman in white never spoke.

She knocked on the door, but the aunt, who answered the knock, never saw her. When the girl turned around, she had vanished.

I think it’s assumed it was her mother, come to lead to her to safety before crossing into the light.

Either that or it was a hiking lab tech who didn’t know Spanish.

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The haunted apartment

May 28, 2013

As long as I’m poaching Unca Rob’s blog posts, I might as well go all the way. I’m taking the big one.

This is my family’s classic ghost story.

You can read the account straight from the guy who saw the ghost, so really, you don’t need me. My version will be more condensed, and from my mom’s perspective. She remembers some of the details differently.

My mom had a boyfriend with an apartment in a nearby town. His room was on the second floor.

One night he told her he was awakened by the front door’s opening and closing. He thought it was his roommate.

He said he heard the usual vibration of the iron stair railing as someone ascended, but didn’t get an answer when he called his roommate’s name.

Then he saw a figure walk into his room, stand over the bed a moment, then disappear into the closet. Scared the heck out of him.

About a week afterward, my mom was in Auntie Martha’s living room with her brother (Unca Rob), her cousin (Uncle Chauncey), and Chauncey’s wife, Dena.

They were telling ghost stories, but nobody believed any of them.

Then Mom told what was happening in her boyfriend’s apartment.

Mom says Chauncey’s eyes got real wide. He asked for the address.

He said he lived in that building two years ago.

Uh huh. This is the same guy who told mom and Rob Frankenstein lived behind the university.

He described thinking his roommate had come in. He heard the iron railing vibrate. A figure came in the room. It disappeared into the closet.

Dena was nodding. She remembered it all. My mother wasn’t liking this.

Chauncey said, “It was Apartment 45, wasn’t it?”

According to Mom, “Everyone was freaked out.” A legend was born.

Korean confusion

May 14, 2013

My sister is visiting from Hawaii. This is an enormous treat for me.

After work today I swung by her mom’s house. The girls were there, and there was great visiting going on. They were talking about family history, and interesting or funny stories. My favorite.

My grama was telling us about her stepdad. He was Korean.

He came to the United States because he was involved in some kind of covert political business.

Nana said when he got his driver license the DMV employee was among the many Southern Californians at the time who had never heard of Koreans.

In response to ‘What is your race?’ he thought he heard ‘Aquarian.’ That’s what’s on the license, which Nana says she still has.

My aunt Doreen said that during World War II he wore a button on his shirt that said, ‘I am Korean,’ so he wasn’t mistaken for Japanese. This was protection from being taken to a Japanese concentration camp.

A button? I’m astounded. Why didn’t the Japanese go get some of these buttons?

My sister wanted to know about Korean dishes that may have become family recipes.

“Oh, yes!” all the women said. They described Korean noodles, a soup with pork, cabbage, celery, soy sauce and thick noodles.

“How could I never have seen this in Hawaii?” my sister asked. “There are a lot of Koreans there.”

“Maybe you’re confused,” I said. “Maybe they’re all Aquarians.”

The refrigerator story

April 17, 2013

My favorite uncle has a blog too. He e-mailed me the other day calling dibbs on the refrigerator story.

I respect dibbs as much as the next guy, so I ruefully considered the episode off limits.

Then I had three thoughts. 1) Unca Rob hasn’t written a post since before the Superbowl, and that one appears to have been deleted. 2) I have now given him seven days to use his dibbs, which everyone knows expire after three. And 3) He already got the haunted apartment story. Family lore should be fairly distributed.

So here it comes. Remember You hate to hear it? You have not yet begun to cringe.

My great-grandmother had a small refrigerator in the ’50s. It had one of those handles that attached in the center but continued up like a spire to the top of the door.

One afternoon during a family party, all of the children were playing hide and seek or tag or something. Unca Rob would know.

One of the cousins climbed on top of the fridge. He was a little boy.

At olly-olly-oxen-free he slid off. But he aimed poorly.

The handle went up through his anus. He hung there, legs adangle, until rescuers were able to slide him up and off.

He had to go to the hospital.

He’s fine now.

But I’ll bet you’re not.

The streaking story

March 26, 2013

This is the story about when my grama streaked her knitting club. I tell it in honor of her birthday today.

I don’t know when it happened. She said she thinks she was in her seventies. I think she means it was during the ’70s, but she says no.

She says it was when everyone was ‘doing all that streaking.’

Now, my grama is too proper and modest to run naked past anyone, but she hates to be left out of the fun. She reconciled this by getting a flesh-colored body suit and stitching dark yarn in the appropriate patches.

When time came in the evening to have tea and dessert, my grama excused herself to the bathroom, doffed her street clothes and ran through the shocked clutch.

Nana laughs everytime she imitates her oldest sister yelling her name out in shame. Auntie Eggs would have been in her seventies in the ’70s, and in her eighties in my grama’s seventies, so either way, she was old and appalled.

My grandmother’s biggest concern was driving to and from. Once she got on the road, she was seized with the panic that she might get in a car accident and die.

What would the emergency workers think when they saw those brown felt nipples?

My grandfather never knew any of this happened.

Frankenstein Road

March 2, 2013

Today is my Uncle Chauncey’s birthday. Uncle Chauncey is an imp.

He used to take his little cousins, my mama and Unca Rob, to a narrow road in town, where he said Frankenstein’s monster lived.

They were afraid. He was amused.

This road has an oft dry creek running alongside. It’s dark — lined with oaks and eucalyptus trees. It’s creepy.

He showed where the scientist’s plane crashed, stranding the monster. He showed them the propeller.

He said it was called Frankenstein Road.

Naturally, when I was a kid my mother did the same to me.

And you can bet I’ve taken my children monster scouting on that road during thunderstorms.

This family has many imps.

The diet story

January 3, 2013

There is an oft-told story in my family about my mother as a little girl, overhearing Nana saying she was going to diet.

My mother screamed and ran from the room. Nana found her crying on the bed.

“Don’t die yet! Please don’t die yet!”

By the time Nana was in her 80s, we were all saying it.

The eyelash gluing story

December 10, 2012

My friend Linda sent me a with-and-without-makeup e-mail showing beautiful famous women looking like regular folk. I zoomed in to see what the trick was.

I found it: eyelashes.

In every after picture, the women had false lashes prettying them up.

I went straight to the Longs and bought a bunch.

Last night I went to a dressy deal, so I glued a pair on. I looked old. All I needed was a cheetah skin purse and some off-color foundation, and I could have passed for one of those 50-somethings in denial.

Still I’m glad I tried it, because I remembered the story about Aunt Frances.

Aunt Frances isn’t technically an aunt. She grew up with the sisters, and by the time I was born I couldn’t tell the difference. She has always been one of the aunts.

And she has always worn false lashes.

Now I got this tale third hand at least, and it seems unbelievable, but everybody says this is the way it happened — and by everybody, I mean Mom.

Aunt Frances one day grabbed the wrong tube off the counter and super-glued her lashes. Her lids sealed closed, and she couldn’t open them nohow.

She groped for the phone and rode in an ambulance to the hospital, where they had to use a razor blade to slit her lids apart.

We’re in Southern California. If I were that doctor, I would have done a no-earthquake dance, spun around and spit three times, just in case.

The piano in a paper bag story

December 2, 2012

When I visited my biological father in San Francisco, he was just moving into an outrageous penthouse home above Ghirardelli Square.

The building was old — in a good way. It was grand. It took my breath away.

From the penthouse terrace we could see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Alcatraz.

This whole building was vacant. My father had been hired to design and oversee a parking structure under it. The digs were provided at no charge.

On this day I arrived he had to go do a thing.

My job was to meet the piano delivery guys. Their job was to get the shiny full-grand piano up to the top floor.

They came in scratching their heads, sans instrument.

“We’re gonna have to bring it up the stairs.” Duh. Were they expecting a larger elevator?

I stared at them, waiting for the point. The staircase was plenty wide.

“We need more guys.” Ah.

“I’m sorry. I’m visiting. I don’t have any guys.”

They laughed at me. I guess they weren’t asking for guys. They said they’d come back tomorrow.

When my father came back he looked around and made a little between-the-brows squeeze.

I remembered my mom said that when they lived in that fourth-floor walkup at Harvard, he carried a piano up in pieces, using paper bags.

So I said to him, “They’re coming back tomorrow. They wanted to buy some paper bags to bring it up in.”

“Hey I did that once!” This is my favorite part of this story. He thought that comment was a coincidence.

His bride made a between-the-brow squeeze. Oh goody! I was going to hear the story first-hand. I’ve known this story about 15 years longer than I’ve known him.

We settled in around the table and heard it told.

My father had visited a shop around the corner from his Irving Street apartment, and gave the owner some amount for an old piano.

He had neither vehicle, nor dolly, nor money for a mover, but he had a screwdriver and a lunch bag.

He dissassembled the whole thing and walked back and forth to the fourth-floor walkup, first with the bag full of keys, then hammers, then strings. He carried the frame in parts too.

My mom opened the door to find pieces strewn all over the floor, and her husband standing over them with a squeeze between his brow, trying to figure out how to put it all together.

He did, replacing ripped pads and chipped pieces in the bargain.

He moved that whole piano all by himself, but the professionals? They needed more guys.

The tissue story

November 12, 2012

When I was in junior high I went to my Auntie Martha’s after school. She lived across the street from campus.

Auntie Martha was one of my grama’s older sisters.

I would snack on the Frosted Flakes she kept hidden in the bottom cabinet and watch General Hospital on her little black-and-white kitchen TV. After that I would push the chairs aside and jump on the Linoleum under Richard Simmons’ guidance.

Auntie Martha watched Guiding Light and then Phil Donohue in the den.

After my workout I went in where Auntie was. We would play gin or backgammon. She taught me to sew.

Then in the evening my dad would pick me up. Sometimes he would sit on the patio and have a beer with Uncle Phil before we left.

One afternoon I went in the living room and she was pulling wadded balls of pretty paper out of a new gym bag and ironing it.

The bag had come stuffed. My mom had just bought a bag like this. I was fascinated by the whole scene.

“This will make nice wrapping paper.” She was making a pile of the ironed. Each sheet was different.

I couldn’t get past that she was ironing wrapping paper.

My dad showed up just as she told me that she also irons her tissues and reuses them.

Dad was in a hurry.

This was too much. We went back and forth with ‘You really do?’ ‘I really do’ as he dragged me out.

I never knew Auntie Martha to be cheap, and that was disgusting. My incredulity was consuming.

The next afternoon it was the first thing I wanted to talk about.

“Auntie, I want to buy you clean tissues. I think it’s gross you iron and reuse them, all full of mocos.”

I wish I hadna said that.

I’m sure you’ve deduced she meant tissues for gift wrapping, not Kleenex. I’ve been teased it about it these past 28 years. This kind of embarrassment spreads fast through my family.

And 28 years later, I’m still using the wrapping paper I went home and pulled out of my mom’s new gym bag and ironed.

The transfusion story

November 4, 2012

I got a call at work from my mother this morning, saying Nana was in the emergency room because of internal bleeding.

It’s a quarter to 11 p.m., and I’ve just come in the door, still in my suit and heels, because they only just got her settled into a hospital room.

She’s having a blood transfusion.

She had one before. Here’s the family’s oft told story about it.

AIDS was new and mysterious at the time. Nana was afraid to have blood from the blood bank. She wanted to select her donor by reputation.

We all volunteered and learned we weren’t pure enough.

Auntie Doreen, Nana said, was the only one she believed was truly innocent. She wanted that blood, and that’s the blood she got.

Doreen’s husband, my Uncle Punt, came in after the transfusion and shook his head at my grampa. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But now that she has Doreen’s blood, she’s going to want to go out for dinner every night.”

And you know what? She did.

Another ghost story

August 30, 2012

Yesterday I went to my cousin’s wedding reception, (my goddaughter’s wedding was yesterday, too, and I had to choose.)

There was lots of family there I rarely see. I sat next to Uncle Monty and we started telling family stories — my favorite.

I told him I’d blogged The Refrigerator Story. I could tell by his face he knew which story I meant. He had been there.

He said the fridge still worked after, so “Mom” kept using it, but the handle wasn’t quite right. You had pull on it really hard. In the ’60s he noticed it in Unca Rob’s apartment.

Then he told me things I’d never heard. He told me about Mom’s second husband. The cousin/friend who stepped in after “Papa’s” murder.

Everybody called him “Daddy.” He died of a stomach ulcer.

“I saw him the weekend before he died, leaning against the house, holding his side.” Monty said he ran in the house to tell his grandmother, and she made I-don’t-care lips and waved him away. “They hated each other.”

I didn’t know.

After he died, Auntie Elsie and her husband Bill came to visit.

They stayed in Daddy’s room. During the night Elsie woke to see her husband standing in the window, arms spread, holding the curtains open.

In the morning she said to her man, “Hey what were doing in the window, and how come you tied the curtains back?”

Bill said, “I wasn’t and I didn’t.”

“But the curtains are still tied back.”

Everyone went to see. Not a lot going on that day, I guess.

My mom was among them, and can attest to the amazingness of this next part.

The curtains were indeed swagged back, but nothing was holding them that way. Elsie touched one, and they fell straight.

It was the Daddy ghost.

I guess he was trying to tell them he was dead — you know, that it was curtains for him.

My great-grandfather’s murder

July 18, 2012

My children asked me the other night about all my grama’s siblings. They were trying to name all nine kids in order by age.

I was surprised that they were surprised when, after six of them, I said, “Those were all from the first dad; then you have the last three from after the murder.”

They did a cartoon-style double take.

How could they not know the murder story? This is a big family tale, not because of the murder, so much as because of the supernatural lore that comes with it.

I will tell it from the beginning.

My great-grandmother was orphaned in Mexico at age 5, and came to live with an aunt in the Southern Californian town I live in now.

When she was a teen her aunt arranged a marriage with a Korean boy. They mistakenly thought his family owned a laundromat, and that he was consequently rich.

Neither of them spoke English, or each other’s language.

“Mom,” as everyone refers to her, told her children later this arrangement broke her heart, because she was desperately in love with someone else.

“Papa” and his best friend (or cousin, depending on whose version you get) had come to the States during the Japanese occupation of Korea. 

At some point in the marriage, he began to work covertly for the Korean Underground — a secret war against the Japanese. He told his wife he had to keep his activities secret from her, for her own safety.

All she knew was that he was giving speeches, and inciting politcal unrest.

When my grama, the sixth child, was six months old, he told Mom that if anything happened to him, he wanted her to marry his friend from Korea. He gave her his watch and told her to keep it safe.

The next day my grama’s two oldest sisters were walking home from school. Mom was on the porch with a neighbor and my infant grama when the girls approached the house.

From another direction they saw Papa riding his bicycle — his only form of transportation. They all saw a car come from out of nowhere and run him down. It appeared deliberate.

Marguerite and MaryAnn, 12 and 10, dropped their books and ran to him. Mom handed the baby over to the neighbor and joined the rush.

When they got to him, everything vanished. The car, the bike and the body dissipated like an apparition, right there on the edge of the orange grove.

That night Papa didn’t come home from work. The police came.

They found his body in the grove. He had been beaten to death with brass knuckles.

The family line is that MaryAnn is psychic, and everyone was riding her psychic energy as she picked up on his death. She had the time right, but not the method.

Mom did as she was told. She married the friend/cousin and saw to the watch. One of my uncles has the watch now. I’d love to take it apart, and see if there’s something hidden it.

Eighty-five years later, MaryAnn still talks to Papa all the time.

The stabbing story

June 28, 2012

The other night when we were at my parents’ for Fathers Day dinner, my son was provoking his sister. She was swiping at him and he was holding her off with his massive armspan.

My grandmother, who is the sixth of nine children, said her brother Joe used to do that. He would just plant his hand on her head and hold her out of reach so she couldn’t fight back.

He was the fifth child, almost two years older than she. She said he was a bully.

“He pushed me too far,” she smiled. “One night at the table I picked up my fork and jammed it into his thigh.”

Reliving this stabbing made her look happy. I guess those were good tines.

I wasn’t happy. I knew what was coming.

“I’m gonna do it. One of these days, I’m jamming my fork into you,” said my daughter, who was suddenly looking happy.

 Thanks, Nana, for spreading this joy.