Archive for the ‘nana/grampa’ 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.

The carpet tack story

August 26, 2013

I’m terrified of carpet tack, which I once lost a fight with, and which is now exposed around the perimeter of my living room.

Our new house, which we’ve lived in a little more than a year, is tacky and gross. The elderly women who sold it to us probably considered it chic, but its day has passed.

The window dressings and wallpaper make the biggest early-’60s statement, but the carpet may be the oldest thing in the house.

For the first month we lived here my son said, “It smells like old people.”

Like teenage boys smell good.

In fall I brought a kitten home from the grocery store for my son. It peed in the living room. Fine, cut that corner of the carpet out.

In June my daughter chose a kitten from the pound for her birthday. By the beginning of August our living room carpet was half missing. Not half all together, mind — half cumulatively.

Before my birthday party I made the kids pull it up from the whole room. There’s a nice wood floor under there. And tack strip.

Here’s why I’m terrified of it.

I was running late for work at the ’50s restaurant shortly after I had flooded my parents’ house. Tack strip lined the threshold between the living room and the enclosed porch I had stashed my uniform in.

As I ran by, I sliced open the bottom of my right foot, long and clean.

My grandmother took me to the emergency room. There was a lot of waiting. We played Scrabble together, but then I was alone with my thoughts after they led me into the exam room.

This is when I began to consider what would happen when I finally saw a doctor. He was going to want to stitch me with a needle.

Oh nuh-uh.

I tried to leave.

First my grama, then the doctor caught me before I made it past the desk.

I argued. “I changed my mind. I’m fine. It’s so silly. I don’t know why I came. I’m sure I overreacted.”

They probably thought I was in shock. “As long as you’re here, let’s have a look.”

More arguing. I lost that fight too.

“I need to stitch this.” Knew it.

“No, thank you.”

“No, really. You’ve sliced it clean open. Everytime you step, even if you tiptoe, you’ll re-open it as it tries to heal.”

“That’s OK.” I grabbed my purse. “I have to go to work now. I won’t step on it.”

“What do you do?” I was a hula-hooping dancing waitress. I had to wear saddle shoes. He didn’t think much of my good sense.

In the end, I was 19, and he could not make me get stitches. I stayed off my foot as much as possible, and it healed fine and quickly.

It didn’t even scar me, unless you count my fear of tack strip.

The ranting waiter story

June 8, 2013

My husband hates this story. Everytime it comes up, he gets angry. 

I figured since I wrote the story my children hate, I’d make a trilogy. Tomorrow I will post the story I most hate. You will hate it too.

One afternoon I had a lunch date with my mom and Nana at an expensive restaurant in our quiet Main Street-style downtown. It went badly.

When we got there the place was barren.

For some reason we were neglected. Some people came, ordered, ate and left while we waited.

I said, “When this is over we will have paid about $35 each for a miserable afternoon.” That kind of ticket is a splurge for me. I can’t afford to spend that casually.

We left.

Our waiter found us two doors down at a fifties-style burger joint.

We had just ordered and were standing in the middle of the dining room looking for a place to sit when he burst in, insisting we go back. “This isn’t fair! I’ll have to pay for all your food.”

He didn’t apologize. He argued those that ate had gotten there first.

My grama looked like she was trying not to cry. “Let’s just go back. People are looking,” she kept saying.

Everyone was staring. They listened to the waiter yell at us in front of the jukebox until the Betty’s Burgers manager brought out our order and offered to find us a table.

When I related this to my husband he turned red. He said, “He treated you that way because you’re women. If I had been there, he never would have done that. Makes me so angry.”

I think it’s sweet that my husband gets so worked up. I tell this story a little more often than I need to.

The mom translator

June 7, 2013

Saturday Night Live last week aired a commercial parody. “Moms are great,” the narrator says.

“They love you; they cook for you; they’re always there,” I’m paraphrasing.

“But they can’t remember celebrities’ names.”

Wow. Has he been to my house?

“Call now to order the Mom Celebrity Translator. Type in what Mom said, and the translator instantly shows you the celebrity she meant.”

I often say having a conversation with my grama is like being on a game show. She loves to talk about what she saw on TV, but she can’t remember a single star’s name.

I’m not making this up. We were visiting with my aunties and she said, “I watched that movie on TV last night with that one guy from the big romance movie, that blonde lady and the woman who’s married to that famous actor.”

I nodded, “I didn’t know that was on! I just got the karaoke version of the soundtrack.”

Everyone looked at me.

Chicago.”

I speak Nana.

Memorial Day

May 25, 2013

Today is supposed to be in memory of people who died in service to our country.

I don’t know any.

But I know a lot of people who were willing to.

I know that my grandmother (on my mom’s side) married my grampa immediately before he was shipped to Europe to fight in World War II as a member of the Army Air Corps. There was no communication for three years. She didn’t know, during all that time, if he was alive.

And I know that Granny (on my dad’s side) spent every night of the Vietnam War watching fish swim around her tank. My dad was in Da Nang. He had enlisted in the Air Force, and she couldn’t do anything but watch the fish and try to keep breathing.

And I know Boom Boom lost her job when her husband was sent to Afghanistan. She was unable to work nights and be a single mother of four girls. Her employer couldn’t accommodate her shift request. That only added to the stresses of having a husband at war.

Whether being at war was a wise move or a mistake, supported or protested, right or wrong, they volunteered to do whatever was asked of them. They and their families sacrificed comfort and safety so people like me could enjoy the life of freedom, comfort and safety this country has to offer.

Arthur Anderson, Tony Aulbach, William Badgely, Bob Barton, Fred Bauman, Sandy Beach, John Berry, Bill Buchanan, Ramon Cesneros, Howard Chapman, Stephen Chapman, Newton Cole, Neal Derry, Summer Duval, Jason Frey, Bill Garcia, John Guerrero Sr., Harold Houser Sr., Skip Howard, Sam Irwin, Jay Johnson, Albert Landeros, Dan Landeros Sr., Danny Landeros Jr., Eddie Landeros, Raul Landeros, Lee LeBlanc, David Lowy, Joseph Lucero, Tom Martin, Bill and Marie Elaine McClintock, Aaron Mello, Chris Miller, Edwin “Bill” Momberger, Chris Nicholoff, Donald Park Sr., Joseph Park Sr., William Park, Carlos Puma, Tim Radsick, Phil “Sonny” Romero, Alex Salmon, Rick Sforza, Kyle Siegel, Elbert “Smitty” Smith, Monte Stuck, Charles Wheeler, Vickie Wilson, and their families.
Not all of them are still with us, but they all came home.

Not all of them are still with us, but they all came home.

To those on my list and those I neglected to mention, thank you for your service.

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.

My memory

February 21, 2013

My grama used to ask me, “Did you see Oprah yesterday?”

I told her I didn’t watch that show, but she always asked, so I started recording it.

The first episode I watched shocked me.

There was a woman who could tell you how she celebrated every birthday, what she wore every Halloween and who all of her teachers were in school. Can’t everybody do that? I can totally do that.

They threw dates of major headlines at her. My daughter walked into the kitchen to find me sitting on a stool, yelling at the TV. “Lennon was shot. The space shuttle exploded. Baby Jessica fell in a well.” I could play this all day. I was having a blast.

Then this woman started to speaking to me. She said she was lonely. No one else shared her memories.

She said she wanted to forget. Me too. I take baths instead of showers so I can prop up a book, because if I shower I will stand there remembering. I will remember every disappointment, insult and fearful moment of my life.

This is also why I don’t go running.

Ok, that’s not why I don’t go running. But it would be if running were easy.

This Oprah guest who talked about feeling alone made me feel less alone — but more like a freak. I had no idea I was a freak. It’s a good thing I watched.

The next day I was eager to discuss it. I picked up Nana from her Scrabble club. “Did you see Oprah yesterday?”

“No,” she said.

Grampa’s jacket

February 15, 2013

I can’t find my grandfather’s jacket.

It’s an ugly, dirty jacket that’s too big for me. I look like a bag lady in it.

When I was 12 I had a flu I’ll remember forever. On the first day of it, my grandparents were over for dinner. I was balled up on the couch with chills.

Grampa crouched by me, kissed my forehead and took off his jacket. My eyes were closed, but I remember feeling him drape it over me. It was warm from him — a curing, comforting warmth. I haven’t found that same relief from fever chills since.

Decades later, he kept Tootsie Rolls in the pockets for my children. He always had them there. I imagine him filling those pockets before he left the house.

My children were 4 and 6 when he died of an early morning heart attack.

He used to call my daughter ‘The Baby.’ He must have been having delusions in his last moments, because right before he died he said, ‘The Baby’s bringing me cookies.’

She’s 17; I still call her The Baby.

And I’m hysterical, because I can’t find the jacket.

How I came to learn Spanish

February 9, 2013

I once was a long-term substitute in a Spanish class. I can speak the language pretty well, but most of the words surprise me by sight. I often say, “Is that what that word looks like? I would have spelled it completely differently.”

This is because I have never studied the language.

When I was 19 I worked in the office of a college. How I came to work in that office is a whole story in itself. I will tell it soon.

One afternoon the Hot Guy I had been trying to figure out how to meet walked in to ask for an application packet for a semester in Mexico.

“I’m going on that,” I said. I had never heard of this program.

I went to my mom and gave her one of the packets to sign. She didn’t even lift a brow, which makes me wonder how she stood me.

She said, “It says you have to be able to speak Spanish. You checked ‘Yes.’ ”

“I’ll figure it out by June. I took French in junior high.”

She signed the form and wrote a check. It was mid-March.

How cool is this? I called my grama to tell her about my upcoming trip, and by bedtime my grandparents, two of their friends and I had plane tickets for spring break in Mexico — a 10-day crash course on location.

My grandparents both spoke Spanish fluently. This is how they communicated when they didn’t want their kids to know what they were saying.

We went to Mexico City, San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque.

We saw ancient pyramids recently discovered underneath forests, with hidden sarcophagi. We hitched a ride to a village on a sideless VW bus, and when we got there we met a woman making tortillas on the ground and children who had never seen sunglasses. At night we ate fresh blueberry pancakes from a vendor with a griddle on wheels outside a cathedral.

I learned Spanish by hanging out with children trying to sell me little things they made. I taught them some songs, and they taught some to me.

Before I left, I gave a little girl my sunglasses.

By June I spoke broken Spanish, but I could make myself understood. I was able to survive living with a family and attending the university there.

I dumped the Hot Guy after a week for the Smart Guy. That’s another story too.

link to photos

A happening

January 20, 2013

In my lifetime, today happened.

My daughter asked to miss school to accompany me to a brunch this morning, where people were gathering to watch President-elect Obama be sworn in.

It was an emotionally charged morning. I sat at a table between my parents, across from my grandmother and my daughter, and watched a black man become my president. I tried to eat, but I couldn’t swallow. I guess there was too much proud in my throat.

When the oath was finished, and President Obama said, “So help me God,” we cried. People stood and clapped. And embraced. Celebration drove a need to hold one another.

I love what happens to us during historic moments. We have happenings. People came together to watch Neil Armstrong set the first footprint on the moon. We came together to grieve on Sept. 11 2001. We came together today. We gather to watch, to rejoice, to share awe or fear, to support and to touch.

On the way home, my daughter, who is 14, said, “It must be a bigger deal than I can understand that he’s black.” What a beautiful statement of how far we’ve come.

It was only a year away from being in my husband’s lifetime that Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing racial discrimination in schools and employment — and in public. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act enforced blacks’ suffrage. That was within my husband’s lifetime.

And now today happened. And my daughter doesn’t see a black man; she just sees a man.

Today, as always, I celebrate being an American. Today, as I do every four years, I celebrate the right to participate in my government. And today, for the first time, I celebrate that the people of my country chose to turn to a man for leadership, who in my parents’ lifetime would have been legally beaten in the doorway while watching his light-skinned brothers register to vote.

At dinner with my family tonight, I will raise a glass to the following people: every American soldier who has shed blood or was willing to shed blood protecting my right to vote, read a newspaper and choose my own church; Harriet Tubman; Dred Scott; Rosa Parks; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson; and President Barack Obama.

I salute their courage — and as I was reminded this morning — their hope and virtue.

The Secret

January 17, 2013

Monday afternoons are girls’ time at my mom’s house. We sit around the table with coffee and something fattening. Some work on scrapbook albums, some just visit.

A few months ago my grandma was telling us about a book she had just read, called The Secret, (and by ‘read,’ I mean bought, put on the bookshelf and learned all about on Oprah).

She was explaining to us that you have to decide what you want and behave as if you already achieved your dream. She said we are magnets for positivity when we put positivity into the atmosphere.

“You attract what you put out,” she said.

“It’s true,” I said. “I attracted my husband by putting out.”

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 Rose Parade story

January 2, 2013

Around when my grama rounded 80 years, I started thinking that she was getting old.

She gave the illusion otherwise.

I also started taking the comments she made about what she’s always wanted to do as some manner of bucket list.

Among those comments was the annual “I’ve always wanted to go watch the Rose Parade.”

I learned there was a trip planned through her church, wherein people spent the night in a church on the route, got a pancake breakfast and were sent into the morning for float watching. That sounded nice.

We knew all the families going. It was perfect. The kids were excited. I signed us up.

This was the year the parade was on Jan. 2.

We played Chronology, which was new to us, and Taboo, of which my daughter is the master. Woo hooo, great fun all around, and our octogenarian was a sport about sleeping on the floor while teens watched DVDs of Curb Your Enthusiasm a few feet away.

In the morning everything went to pot. It was cold, windy and raining. Nana was undaunted. She piled blankets in her arms and said Let’s go.

We were not in a church on the route. We started walking and it never ended. It was more than a mile. The rain was making our blankets heavy, and Nana can’t walk far, so it was slow traveling. Our hats, scarves and sweatshirts were useless in the wet. I wanted to throw the blankets down and leave them.

Finally we found our group on cold metal folding chairs in front of a bar, which was closed. Nana and I had to pee.

Someone pointed down the route. “Go about five blocks. There are port-a-potties.” Forget it. My pants were already wet, what harm a little more? At least it would be warm.

We sat to wait. There was no way to get warmth. The rain was coming down on us hard. Time dragged. Across Colorado Boulevard I saw RVs parked at a gas station. I fantasized about going over there and offering them a million dollars to share their accommodations.

After a while, my son said, “Is it going to be like this the whole time?”

I turned to Nana. “I’m not going to make it. Shall I go get the car and pick you up?”

Hell no. She wanted to see the parade. It’s shameful to be out-hardied by an 80-something.

My 13-year-old son and I left her and my 11-year-old daughter. On the walk back my son looked over his arms and feet and said, “I could not be wetter.”

“I could not be colder,” I said back.

At the church I called Nana’s cell to see if she’d reconsidered. The parade hadn’t started yet, but others had left, including my daughter.

When The Baby walked in she said, “I feel so sorry for the kids marching in bands today.” She and my son are both marchers. They started talking about how heavy and itchy the uniforms get when they’re wet, and what the water does to the instruments.

I tried Nana again. She was finally ready to cry Uncle. She had started walking.

I jumped in my car and headed routeward. When I got to the underpass, there were pylons blocking my way, and an officer pacing in the dry.

I got out and started moving the pylons. I was frenzied knowing Nana was walking — sopping, cold and carrying that leaden blanket. She is simply not as strong as she is stubborn.

The officer made to stop me. I shook my head. “My grama needs to be picked up. You wanna stop me, you’re gonna have to shoot me.”

In hindsight, that was more dramatic than was warranted.

He squinted against the rain and made out a white-haired figure struggling our way. I got a by-your-leave and went to her.

The next year, on Jan. 2, I went over for breakfast. She was there in her chair watching the Rose Parade on TV.

She didn’t complain, just like she never complained once on that rainy day.

I could not be regrettier.

click here for photo

Naming the baby

December 28, 2012

My grampa and I were close. He did little things all the time to show me he loved me.

For instance, whenever he knew I would be stopping by the house, he went up to A&W and got me a vanilla shake. I only like chocolate shakes, but I so loved that he did this for me that I never told him.

He used to say all the time, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

My first baby was due on Dec. 20, and Grampa had brought my family to Colorado to be with me. They got there Dec. 13, just in case.

By the 23rd I was jumping in the snow, trying to hurry things along.

Grampa came out with a cup of coffee and sat down to watch me. “What will his middle name be?”

“It’ll be my husband’s name, unless he’s born on the 28th. If he’s born on your birthday, Grampa, I’ll believe fate wants him to have your name.”

Grampa made me stop jumping. “Hold that kid in five more days!”

My son was born the next day.

While I was in the bed, my husband filled out paperwork.

“I named him after Grampa anyway,” he announced. That baby-naming maverick.

But the truth was, I was happy he wanted to make Grampa happy.

I would do anything for him, too.

Lyrical confusion

December 27, 2012

When I was a teen-ager I used to stay at my grandparents’ a lot. One night Nana and I were in the kitchen, and I had one of my Beatles cassettes in her ghetto blaster.

I was singing along to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. “…A girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Aaaaahh.”

“Did they just say what I think they said?”

“Probably.”

“What strange lyrics,” Nana said. “People will write songs about anything.”

This was some 25 years ago. Recently we were listening to the song again and she said, “This is that strange song about the girl with colitis.”

Her memory is better than her hearing.

Finding Christmas

December 25, 2012

A few Christmases ago I announced there would be no gift giving.

My children’s perspective on the holiday was awry.

They had become shallow and greedy. Christmas turned them into brats.

My son said, “But you’re taking away the best part.”

I raised a brow and he added, ” — the giving!”

Too bad. We were going to have a real holiday with a fire, caroling, charades and togetherness, and we were going to appreciate it with a good attitude, damn it.

This is when I discovered I truly am the boss. Everyone said OK.

I planned a Dec. 23 evening of caroling at hospitals, followed by egg nog and baked goods back at home. I invited the friends and neighbors of my parents, my kids and myself. It was glorious.

Christmas Eve I put on a turducken feast with the whole family — cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. There were hugs and games. Norman Rockwell had nothing on me.

Christmas morning brought the crowning glory of the whole year though, and it was a surprise to the boss.

We were lingering over the dregs of breakfast, and my mother was fussing with the remaining bacon. She was trying to give it away. Then she wanted to consolidate it to the potatoes plate. It was becoming disruptive.

I got irritated. I asked her to leave it lie.

Finally she said, “Heck with it.” She scooped all the bacon off and flipped over the platter. There was something taped to the bottom of it.

We looked at it and frowned. We looked at her. She just sat there. We looked at one another.

My grama reached out and took it. It had a line of hand-written music notes. There were shrugs and more looking around.

My mother just sat there. Nana passed it on.

Halfway around the table it got to my kids. They looked at it and read aloud by humming Deck the Halls in unison. Musicians and show-offs the both of them.

My mother finally spoke. “I thought you would go to the piano and play it.”

She was disappointed? We were all excited, what’s to complain?

We all ran to the hall. There were boughs of holly decked there. Tucked inside one was a slip of paper. It had a four-word crossword puzzle drawn on it.

Nana solved it. The four words led us out to the patio fountain. We found another clue there and a small basket of wrapped treasures. The hunt was afoot.

The six of us ran from clue to clue, puzzling them out as a team. Sometimes there were treasures too.

One of the clues was a rhyme about pressing against light. When we put the clue against a light bulb, invisible ink came to the fore and revealed the next destination.

Each was challenging and clever. Each played to a different family member’s strength.

It was more fun than opening gifts, which we returned to the next year, because doing Christmas right was too much work.

The woot bew story

December 23, 2012

My cousin Sterling and his bride Alison arrived today.

He’s turning 32 next month, but I still see him as a 4-year-old who hums the theme to Star Wars and can’t say the R sound.

Our grampa used to tease him. One afternoon Sterl wanted a root beer.

Grampa waxed confused, “Woot bew?”

Sterl was patient, “Not woot bew, Grampa, woot bew.”

Everyone tried not to laugh.

“I’ve never heard of that. What’s woot bew?”

Sterl got impatient, “Not woot bew, woot bew!”

“Honey? Do we something called woot bew?”

Tonight I asked Sterl if he remembered this. He remembers hearing about it. He’s still a little sore.

My husband said, “One day you’re going to do it to your kids.”

“I know,” Sterl said. “And that’s why.”

Pay it forward, baby. Ya gotta get revenge somewhere.

My grandparents’ song

December 5, 2012

On the morning of my grama’s first anniversary after my grampa died, she walked into the kitchen and turned on the radio.

She was stunned to hear “If I Loved You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. It was their song.

Who’s ever heard this song on the radio?

The last time she had heard it, Grampa was singing it to her on their 50th anniversary, seven years before to the day.

Today would have been their 69th.

Code words

November 20, 2012

When my grandparents didn’t want people to know what they were saying, they would talk in Spanish.

Mostly, it was my grandpa telling Nana not to meddle. He would murmur, “No te metes.”

At some point this morphed into “No tomatoes,” which he didn’t have to murmur.

This is English to us now, for ‘butt out of those people’s business.’

Every New Year’s Nana announces her resolution is remind herself no tomatoes.

She can’t do it. There’s no stopping her from tomatoes.

The Ranchero

November 18, 2012

I have a 1958 Ford Ranchero. I’m not an old-car guy, and I’ve never driven it, but I love it, and I almost lost it.

The truck used to be my grampa’s. On Saturdays until I was about 6 he would take me with him to the dump, which is about the only time he used the truck.

He would open the driver door so I could crawl across the bench seat, and he would always say, “One of these days you’re going to get in through your own door.”

Occasionally he would use it for an errand. I heard him more than once come home and say, “I got another note on the windshield,” as he tacked a piece of paper to the kitchen bulletin board.

The notes all said the same basic thing: I want to buy your truck. Call me.

These put a hardness in the pit of my stomach. Forget that new car smell; I was sentimental about 25-year-old Ford cab smell. 

When I was a teen-ager, Nana said, “We’re re-doing our will. If there’s anything you want to be sure to get, speak up.”

I didn’t hesitate. Tap tap my truck.

Later my grandparents said, “It’s just sitting there. We don’t even use the thing. Why wait for us to die?”

I was married then. I can’t tell you how my skin crawls when my husband refers to it as his Ranchero.

A few years ago my Uncle Sonny started asking around, “Where’s Uncle Albert’s Ranchero?”

He wanted to fix it up. A bunch of old-car guys were fixing up cars together. 

My husband said he was planning on fixing it up in a father-son project. Then it would be what our son drives.

Yeah, my son’s going to get sticky, dirty stuff on his hands. Didn’t my husband read The Birthday Cake Story?

This never came to pass. So in 2003 I told Uncle Sonny he could take it, work on it, do the car show thing, but not have title.

Everybody was happy. I was about to get around to getting it over to his house.

Does the name Uncle Sonny ring a bell? His other mention was the story about how his house burned down.

If I hadn’t been so lazy, it would have been a carbecue.

For now it’s just sitting there. We don’t even use the thing.

But when we do, I’m going to breathe in deep as I crawl across the driver side.

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.

I punched a guy

October 24, 2012

When my grandparents took me to Mexico, I got groped a couple times.

I learned something about myself. I’m slightly violent.

The first time, the guy brushed my chi chis too close and too long to be an accident.

Without thinking first I slapped his face, con fuerza.

He just kept smiling.

Two days later we were boarding a crowded bus for an open air art market. A Donny Osmond-looking passenger motioned me go first and said, “Pasa-le.”

I gave him a nod-smile with a ‘gracias’ and squeezed by. My eyes were ahead, but I felt a grope, in front, down low.

In a split second I had Donny sucking wind from my fist in his gut.

I saw my grandparents go through three rapid reactions — surprised, concerned, amused.

It wasn’t until we were at the market that we could recap. They shook their heads at me.

“Why did you punch that guy?”

“He touched me.”

“I don’t think so.”

They said he was sincerely shocked, confused even.

Down went the Welcome-to-Mexico sign.

I punched the wrong guy.

An anniversary

September 20, 2012

Today is my parents’ anniversary. They married in a private ceremony in the living room of our new home just after I turned 6.

I was in Boulder on this date 14 years ago. My son was 2 and my daughter was 9 months old.

As I did every few days, I called to visit with Nana. My grampa said she couldn’t come to the phone. She was sick.

From 1,000 miles away, I worried all the time. Too sick to talk on the phone was awfully sick.

I had to drag it out of him, but I learned that she had thrown up black and bloody stuff, and then collapsed.

My call interrupted his trying to scrub the stain out of the white bathroom carpet. It never did come out. I will withhold my comments about having a white bathroom carpet in the first place.

I hung up and called mom at work. She left immediately.

Auntie Martha, whom Mom had called, had gotten to my grandparents’ house in five minutes and called an ambulance.

I grabbed the kids and got on the next flight to California. I was there by 5 p.m.

My poor parents spent their 20th anniversary with me and babies all over their house.

Nana was OK. She had taken an aspirin and made a hole in her stomach.

Happy anniversary Mom and Dad.

A miracle?

August 21, 2012

One summer we packed the kids plus Uncle Jer and Katherine in cars and drove to Southern California for a vacation.

At the end of the visit my mom dropped a bomb. The doctor had found a tumor on her cervix. It appeared to be growing rapidly.

In a week she would have surgery.

I put my suitcase back down and waved everyone but the babies back to Boulder. I would stay until 10 days after the surgery, to offer emotional support, tend to her post-op care and do the cooking and cleaning.

She had been through breast cancer in ’90, so we took this seriously.

On the day of the operation, the waiting room was packed with family. My grampa stayed home with my kids.

About an hour and a half into it, the surgeon came in looking sorrowful. “We opened her up and found tumors all over the place. There’s a big one we hadn’t even known about, because it’s hiding behind the intestine.” Or some such.

“We can get some of them out, but some are inoperable, so there isn’t a lot of point. We’re aborting the mission and closing her up.”

He shook his head, making another go at his sorrowful face, and walked out.

It was quiet in the waiting room. Then my grama stood up. She was calm and dignified. She strode out of the room.

I peeked out the door’s window and saw her in the hall with her back to the wall. I thought about my own daughter and left her to her privacy.

After a long time, I went to check on her. She was gone.

 Then she came back in and sat next to me. She leaned in conspiratorially, topped it off with a knee pat and said, “Everything is going to be fine.”

Was she losing it? Nothing was fine.

She smiled and began talking with Uncle Monty about the price of housing in Whittier.

I said, “Nana, are you OK?”

She said, “I visualized the doctor walking in and saying, ‘Everything’s OK. There’s no cancer.’ Then I went to the chapel and prayed for it to be me instead.”

This seemed to be final. She made that nod you make when you just replaced the batteries in your flashlight and you’re ready to get on with using it.

Then the doctor flung the door open. He had put on his congratulatory face and was smiling at us each in turn. “Everything’s OK! There’s no cancer.”

Holy crap.

“We did a freeze section on one of the tumors. It was fibroid tissue.”

Um. Wasn’t that ruled out early?

“We can’t figure it. She hasn’t had a uterus or a period in 13 years. Fibroid tumors are an impossibility. But that’s what they are.”

Shortly after, Nana began chemotherapy for macroglobulanemia, which is a cancer in the blood and bones.

I believe this was a coincidence. Nevertheless, if anyone sees me go into surgery, please show my Nana where the hallway is.

Knock knock

August 6, 2012

Tonight we took my grama out to dinner, and we were talking about funny things people said or did.

Nana shared that when she and Grampa took me to see Annie for my 10th birthday, I saw a photo of ice in a glass in the program and said loudly, “There’s subliminal seduction in this photo.” (I had read the book and learned how sexual words or images were hidden in ad photos. This is neither here nor there.)

Everyone near us in the audience turned to look at me. This is neither here nor there either.

I said, “But remember on the way home, when we were doing knock-knock jokes, and each answer had to be a song?”

“No.”

“You said, ‘Knock knock’ and Grampa and I said, ‘Who’s there?’ and you said, ‘Wendy’ and we said, ‘Wendy who?’ and you sang ‘Wen-dy deep purple falls….

“Then Grampa said, ‘I have one!’ ”

“Knock knock”

“Who’s there?”

“The.”

I miss him so.

My grampa’s death

July 24, 2012

My grampa died on this date, 12 years ago.

About three months after we discovered the tumors in my son’s head, my grampa was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

This was out of nowhere. He didn’t smoke or live with a smoker. He was a watercolor artist.

The doctor told him he had about a year to live. It was March.

I came by the house sometime that spring and found him repaving the driveway. I sat in my car for a second shaking my head that he would spend his remaining time doing this.

I must have had a face, because he pointed to it when I approached and said there was a crack.

I thought, ‘What did he care?’

It later occurred to me he didn’t want my grama to have to deal with it.

Everybody handled his impending death differently.

He didn’t have the fighting spirit my mom wanted him to have, but he was cooperative. He drank the tea she gave him.

Nana took him for a weeklong camp with Deepak Chopra.

Then one morning in July my grama got up and went to the bathroom. She hurried, as always, to get back to the bedroom before my grampa beat her to making the bed.

She found the bed unmade. With a peek into the family room she could see he had fallen back to sleep in his recliner. She smiled at that. She made the bed.

Then she did her face and hair.

When she went to him, he had his hand on his chest, and he wasn’t breathing.

He was warm.

She calmly called 911, and then my mom. She says his spirit embraced her. I believe this. She’s never done anything calmly.

She knew it was over.

We realized in the aftermath they hadn’t believed the doctor. There were no plans, except to go on a cruise. They had tickets on a ship that left the day of his funeral.

Nana even discovered afterward there was a mix up with their life insurance, and they weren’t covered.

We all jumped in and helped with arrangements for the body, the service, Nana on her own.

I wrote and delivered the eulogy.

People asked, how could I do that?

How could I not? I had too much to say.

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 circus death story

July 8, 2012

The big top has gone up in Southern California. When I was a girl, my grandparents took me to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which had come to Anaheim.

To my little-girl mind, it truly was The Greatest Show on Earth. Cotton candy in hand, I saw tigers, clowns and a trapeze artist that dangled off a motorcycle on a high wire.

Grampa bought me a glittering light-up thing that whirred when you pulled the strings. I was happy all the way.

We had gone to the morning performance. I later learned that during that day’s afternoon show, the motorcycle driver — doing a handstand on the handlebars — went off the highwire and crushed his accompanying acrobat.

I wanted to link to the news story.

Will you believe I haven’t been able to find but one mention of a Ringling-and-company death online? Five years ago, a woman twirling from a scarf fell to her death. The show went on.

Curiously, none of the pieces about that 2004 fall mentions a history of circus mishaps, or, specifically, the Ringling Bros.’ fatality record. As news articles go, this is a glaring omission. They say only, “Brock said it was the first death of a circus performer during a show for the 134-year-old company in at least 10 years.”

The only other mention that anything has ever gone amiss at a circus was a story of the historic Hartford fire of 1944.

The supression of damning news, combined with tales and YouTube footage of animals’ being mistreated, is creeping me out.

I’m finding a new place to eat cotton candy.