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Archive for the ‘family stories’ Category

I grew up in a large family.  There were seven kids plus my mom and dad.  My dad was the only one who worked, as was the norm in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  My dad drove a fork lift at one of the local canneries.  The only way there would ever be any money for Christmas gifts was for my mother to save money in a Christmas Club account at the local Bank of America where she made a weekly deposit.

One year my brother David, who was about eight years old that year, fell in love with a toy he saw on a TV commercial.  It was a cannon that shot hard plastic balls.  It was called the Mighty Mo.  The commercials showed the Mighty Mo crawling over and through rough terrain all on a miniature scale, of course, but it looked really neat.  The clincher was the footage of the cannon balls launching out of the Mighty Mo!

David had to have one but we were taught to not ask for anything, not even for our birthdays or Christmas so he couldn’t ask for one.  We lived a block away from Safeway and my mom used to send us on daily trips for the odd supply she needed before the next week’s big grocery trip.  Safeway carried a few toys then.  They placed them on the shelves high above the produce department as those shelves were normally empty.  On one of the trips to get something for my mom, David was thrilled to discover that Safeway had about two dozen Mighty Mos on their shelves!  After that day, David volunteered to go to Safeway every single time my mom needed something.

Every day David returned from his Safeway run to report exactly how many Mighty Mos were left on the shelf and every day, as the number dwindled, he gave my mom his report in a sadder and sadder tone.  First there had been two dozen then only eighteen.  Soon there were less than a dozen and when there were only four left, David was really sad. About three days before Christmas, David reported, with tears in his eyes, that there were no Mighty Mos left at Safeway.  When Christmas arrived, David was the only one of us that was not excited about it.  We all wanted him to be happy like we were but nothing got him excited.

On Christmas morning, we got up and my big brothers helped us girls get dressed and ready to go upstairs to open presents.  That’s what we did each year because it gave my parents a little extra time to get up.  When we got upstairs, David was the last one to go into the living room where the tree was with our Santa gifts unwrapped.  When he came in he found us all with huge smiles on our faces and our eyes intent on his face.  He didn’t know what was up until he looked under the tree and found his Mighty Mo with a big red ribbon on it!

We all enjoyed that Mighty Mo for several years.  David especially liked to shoot the cannon balls out of the Mighty Mo from the top of the stairs in the back yard.  It was a fun toy.  I only wish my brother David was still around to tell the story himself.

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Mayonnaise Sandwiches

My mother-in-law always waited until everyone else in the house had been fed before she would eat.  She would sit at a stool on the inside of a bar counter where she could reach everything, the stove, the microwave, the sink, the dish cupboard, and the counter itself.  There, she would cook and put the plates on the counter and call each person to come and eat.  There were three stools where people could sit and eat and a fourth place in case there were more people in the house.  We would sit and eat and she would keep us company and talk while sitting on the other side of the counter.  Then, when everyone had eaten and when she had put dishes away for anyone that might not be home but was expected to be hungry when they arrived, then and only then would she eat–IF there was food left.  Often, someone had come in and eaten twice since she started the process or someone would eat more than anticipated, and there would be no food left for her.  That’s when we would see her make herself a sandwich.  Toasted bread, mayonnaise, lettuce.  That was it.  That was what she would eat and she seemed perfectly happy with that.  No matter how many times we asked her to eat with us, most often she would sit and wait til everyone was done, even if it meant that she’d eat only her mayonnaise sandwich.

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When I was growing up we always got a new outfit for Christmas.  We didn’t get new clothes often but Christmas and Easter were two days of the year when we were sure to get a new outfit.  Later, we also got a new outfit for the first day of school.  I remember that for Christmas, we had to get dressed before going to the living room to open gifts.  So we would get up and my older brothers would help us get dressed in our new Christmas outfits and finally, when we were all dressed and ready, we were allowed to go to the living room to open our presents.  By then, our parents had also gotten up, gotten dressed in their best clothes, and were waiting for us in the living room.  My dad would always take pictures of us just after our packages were opened and because we had gotten dressed before opening gifts, the pictures in the photo album show us fully dressed.  There aren’t any candid shots or any shots of us in our pjs.  We just didn’t do that.

When I got married, I was surprised to learn that in my husband’s family, everyone showed up in the living room in their pjs.  That’s how we opened our packages, in our pjs.  And there were lots of candid shots of us opening packages.  It seemed very strange to me at first, but then I got used to it.

Now, with my own kids, we just open packages in our pjs.  I don’t think anyone can wait until we are dressed.  Last year, however, we had a couple of my daughter’s friends over for Christmas morning so I got dressed.  I just can’t let myself greet company in my pjs.  This year my daughter’s boyfriend will be there so I guess this year I will also get dressed before going out to open packages, which is just as well because we’ll all be traveling and I don’t think I am going to pack my big terry cloth robe so I guess getting dressed will be the only choice!

What does YOUR family do?  Dress or pjs?

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[This was first posted on this blog on August 27, 2007.]

Last week my youngest daughter was leaving on a trip to New York and Washington, D.C. I was supposed to take her to the airport (about an hour and ten minutes from home) but I wasn’t feeling well. I called my older daughter at work and she left work an hour early to drive us. However, the younger daughter, Susie, wasn’t ready on time. She was so late getting ready that we left home a full hour and a half later than we had planned. Were it not for my older daughter driving, Susie would have missed her flight, but because her sister drives fast, we made it to the airport in under an hour. Although it was twenty minutes til take-off, Susie made it through check-in, security, and to the gate before the flight left.

Tina, my older daughter, was good about it and only complained once, saying that had we known Susie was going to be so late, she could have worked the extra hour. I agreed. Once we got the “okay call” from Susie and we knew she was on the flight, Tina and I needed to eat. Because it was late, after nine, we knew there would not be a lot of choices open to us in the Oakland area, at least not in any neighborhoods we wanted to visit. I suggested that we take the Bay Bridge into San Francisco instead of the Richmond Bridge toward home. I joked that at the very least, I could get us to the 24 hour Mel’s Diner on Lombard or the 24 hour IHOP. While on the bridge, I noticed Fisherman’s Wharf in the distance and suggested we try Pier 39 where I knew there was a Hard Rock Café. My daughter loves to eat at the Hard Rock and has eaten at about 20 of their international locations. I figured it would be a treat to thank her for leaving work early and driving us to the airport. I knew she had never been to this particular location and that she would love to add one more souvenir glass to her Hard Rock wall.

We found the restaurant easily and the parking lot across from Pier 39. We rushed ahead of a group of slow walking tourists because we only had about 45 minutes until the restaurant closed. I had a funny feeling, you know, the kind that tells you something is wrong but you don’t know what. We were seated right away and ordered our food and drinks. Without much waiting, our food arrived and we ate and had a nice chat. Tina told me about some of the people at work and some of the hotel guests she has checked into the resort hotel where she works. We had a very nice time at dinner.

When it was time to leave, I realized I didn’t have the parking ticket to have it validated. She said it wasn’t a big deal, I had probably left it in the car so we walked back to the parking lot. No parking ticket in the car. We would have to pay the maximum, thirty dollars. Not good when I was already regretting having splurged on the dinner! She was stubborn and insisted they would give us a discount or the real rate if we showed them the receipt from the dinner. I didn’t think so. I was right. The attendant, in barely understandable English, said we’d have to walk back to the restaurant and get a validation then come back and he’d talk to the manager and see if they could discount the rate. My stubborn daughter insisted that she wasn’t going to walk “way back to the restaurant in the freezing cold” and that there must be someone she could talk to about it. Yes, she got part of her stubborn genes from me but she also got her father’s stubborness so she has a “double stubborn whammy”! She kept arguing with the attendant who finally told her to park on the side then he left. We assumed he was coming back. He didn’t. We waited twenty minutes. He didn’t come back. Tina was really upset. She tried to pay the maximum with her credit card but we didn’t have a ticket so the machine could not process it. She wanted to drive through the arm across the exit and just leave. Not a good idea, I told her. It was my car. There were police around. I told her “don’t do it” because we wouldn’t get more than twenty feet away without the cops following us and then we’d both be in trouble, not to mention my car would be damaged. She drove around the lot hoping to find someone else’s lost ticket. She even tried pushing the button at the entrance to get a new ticket. No luck. I finally convinced her to let me walk to the office to get some help. She drove me to the office where we ran into a police man and we explained we needed to get out but had no ticket. She was all smiles for him! He got an attendant to come out and we paid the maximum (my cash which we really couldn’t afford at the end of the month) and left. She didn’t speak to me the rest of the way home except to mutter under her breath, “Next time give me the ticket.” Actually, it is common practice for someone else to carry the ticket because they get lost in my huge purse. I didn’t dare tell her that for fear she’d bite my head off or drive the car over the Golden Gate Bridge!

At least we both now have fresh San Francisco Hard Rock Café souvenir glasses. Not all was lost.

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[This is from a collection of memoir short stories I’ve written.  This has not been shared previously.  I hope you enjoy.]

We sat at the table after we were all finished with our dinner. My mom and dad said they wanted to talk to us. There had been something wrong with my mother since she picked us up at Ben and Mamie’s house after she got back from the doctor. My mother never went anywhere without us except when she went to the doctor. When she did that, she would leave us across the street with Ben and Mamie. Ben and Mamie were old. They sat on their front porch every day, all day long. They had grown up kids and some grand kids but none of them ever came to visit so Ben and Mamie liked it when we visited them. They were always very nice to us. Sometimes Ben would come over to our house to talk to our father and they would sit and talk and sometimes, when my father was at work and my mom needed something, she’d call Ben and Mamie and Ben would come over to help with whatever my mom needed. Mamie never came over. We only waved at her from across the street or talked to her when we went to sit on the porch with them so my mother could talk to them. So when my mom left us there to go to the doctor, we were glad to go. We got to play with toys that had belonged to their kids a long, long time ago. They kept them in the basement. That day we had played and talked and Mamie gave us sandwiches and lemonade. She called them sanweeches and limonada. After we played and watched cartoons for a long time my mother got there and she looked like there was something wrong. She didn’t sit and talk with Ben and Mamie. She didn’t even look at them. She just said it was time to go because she was late cooking dinner and my father would be home soon. She thanked them and reminded us to thank them, too. There were no smiles on my mother’s face that day. Her voice was funny, not the same as it usually was. She didn’t look at anyone, only at the ground. Then we walked back to our side of the street. My sisters and I went to play in the back yard where our brothers were. They were older so they didn’t have to go to Ben and Mamie’s but they could not take care of us, either. My mother went up the front steps and inside the front door to start cooking. When we ate dinner, my mother and my father didn’t talk to us. They didn’t talk to each other, either. Just us kids talked. We talked a lot, like normal. When we talked to our mother to ask a question, she didn’t seem to hear us. Her eyes were wet but there weren’t tears so I knew she wasn’t crying.

When we finished dinner my mother said she and my father had to talk to us about something important. We sat and looked at our mother and father, waiting for them to tell us something. She said that the doctor had told her something that we all had to know. She had already told our father and now we had to know. I looked at my brothers and sisters and I thought she was going to say that we were going to have another little baby in the family. That’s what had happened before, when the doctor told her about Irene and Gilda so I knew that we were going to have a new baby.

“The doctor says that I am very sick and I am going to die,” said my mother. She waited for us to say something. I didn’t know what it meant. I was four. What was going to happen to my mom? I looked around and I knew the others didn’t know either. Even Carlos didn’t know. He was nine. He was the oldest.

“What does that mean? What is going to happen to you?” I asked her.

“Dying,” she said, “is like going to sleep but you never wake up. You can’t wake up ever. You can’t talk, or walk, or eat, or drink. You can’t take care of anyone. You are just asleep.”

That didn’t sound too bad to me. I liked to sleep in the mornings. I didn’t like to get up when my brothers and sister went to school. It was hard for me to fall asleep at night because there was still so much going on in the house and I just didn’t want to miss any of it. That was the hard part but once I was asleep, that was easy. I could sleep a long, long time so I didn’t know why my mother didn’t want to be asleep for a long time.

“That’s okay, Mommy. We’ll take care of you when you sleep. Don’t worry. You can rest and sleep as long as you want. We’ll be okay. We’ll come wake you up when you have slept a long, long time,” I told her and I hugged her.

“No. I won’t be here when I die,” she hugged me back and I could hear in her voice that she was going to cry.

“When some one dies, they don’t wake up. When a person dies, they are put in a big box and buried in the ground. I won’t be here when I die. I won’t be able to take care of you.” She wiped tears from her face and explained that we would not have a mother any more. We would have to be good to each other and take care of each other, and mind our father. We would have to take care of our father, too.

We were all crying by then. None of us moved. No one got up from the table. I looked at my father and he was crying too. He had picked my little sister up and was giving her a bottle but he was crying. I had never seen my father cry before. Finally, it was dark outside and we just went to bed. No one wanted to watch the television. No one wanted to play hide and seek outside. We just went to bed and I could hear crying until I fell asleep. That weekend, we tried not to cry. We tried to have fun and not be sad but when one of us thought about my mother dying, the crying would start all over again.. We didn’t understand it. We just knew that things would not be the same. Our mother was going away. I was not going to have a mother any more. I wondered if she was mad at us. Maybe she wanted to sleep for a long time and go in a box and go away. I just knew I wanted my mommy to stay in our house with us, even if she was asleep.

After a few days, my mother changed and she didn’t cry any more. She was happy again. She was laughing a lot and smiling a lot, even when there was nothing to laugh at or smile at. She smiled all the time now. We were glad she was happy again but we couldn’t understand how she could be happy to be dying and leaving us. Maybe she had decided she wanted to die so she could get away from us. Lots of days and weeks passed and I waited for my mother to die. She didn’t die. One day I forgot and I went back to being a happy little girl, just in time for my next birthday.

A long time later, years later, I found out that the doctor had given my mother the wrong test results. He had taken the tests again and they were normal. She was healthy. She knew it. My father knew it. Only they forgot to tell us.

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While commenting on a blog post the other week, I was reminded of the time my daughter would not cooperate with the dentist.  She was about five.  It was the year she began kindergarten.  I had taken her and her brother, who was about 8, to the dentist for a check up.  Tony cooperated beautifully.  Tina not so much.  It took a second then a third visit to get the x-ray film in her mouth.  On the third visit, I was the one that held the film in her mouth.  The technician gave me the little button to depress to take the picture because by then we had all figured out that she would only let me anywhere near her mouth.

The x-ray revealed that Tina had two cavities.  Her brother had one cavity and did a great job of letting the dentist work on his mouth.  We figured that would help to get Tina to cooperate.  We all made a big deal about Tony being so brave and he got a special treat (a trip to the toy store to pick out a much wanted toy) after the visit.

Then it came time for Tina’s appointment.  She went.  We sat in the waiting room and then were ushered back to the treatment room.  As soon as the dentist walked in, Tina curled up, sticking her head deep against her chest.  Nothing either then dentist or I did could get her to uncurl so he could work on her mouth.  The dentist let her play with his instruments and ask questions and brought toys in to the room for her.  Nothing worked.  Thirty minutes later, we left with no work having been done.  I made another appointment.  This time, the dentist gave me a prescription for a sedative to give to Tina when we left the house for the dentist’s office.  This sedative would take effect by the time of her appointment and the doctor would be able to fill her two cavities. Perfect plan.

The morning arrived.  Tina was very cooperative.  She took the cherry flavored sedative and we left the house for the dentist’s office.  When we got there, she was so sedated that she could not walk.  I had to carry her in, which was no easy feat.  Although she was only five, she weighed  about 65 pounds!  The doctor was ready and they took her in right away.  She was so out of it that it was funny.   She was half asleep.  The doctor and I looked at each other, relieved.  She would finally get her fillings done.  Tina was all sleepy and then smiley and happy and sleepy again.  As soon as the doctor pulled her cheek and raised the hypodermic to put her mouth to sleep, Tina slapped his hand and he ended up injecting his own hand, instantly numbing it.  So much for that visit.  He couldn’t do anything with a numb hand and was forced to cancel his next appointment, too.

Once at home, Tina’s dad and I had a long talk with her.  She promised she would let the dentist work on her mouth.    So we tried again.  This time, before we even left for the appointment, she refused to get in the car.  I didn’t want to waste the doctor’s time again so I called and rescheduled.  Then I issued an ultimatum.  Either she cooperated with the dentist to get her cavities filled or she would not be allowed to go trick-or-treating the following week.  She agreed.  When we got to the dentist for the next appointment, again she refused to open her mouth.  I reminded her about the trick-or-treating.  She said she would open her mouth.  She did but only long enough to bite down hard on the dentist’s hand!

That was the year that Tina missed trick-or-treating.  I tried and tried to give her another chance before Halloween.  The dentist even helped out saying that he would squeeze her in for an appointment if she agreed so she could get the work done before trick-or-treating.  Tina didn’t budge.   In the end, she just flat out refused and we were pretty tired of the whole thing so I followed through and she did not go trick-or-treating when her brother went.  She stayed home.

Eventually, once she turned 6 in January, she sort of grew up and agreed to let the dentist work on her mouth and she got the cavities filled.

Keeping her from trick-or-treating was one of the most difficult things I had done as a parent, to that point, but it had to be done.

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One of the most exotic acquisitions during this time period was a Jaguar–not the kind that eats and prowls and growls–but the kind with four wheels that moved as sleek as a cat and purred like a kitten.  It was a beautiful car.  The cream colored beauty had matching leather interior with highly glossed wood paneling, inside and out.  The steering wheel was on the right hand side.  Of all the things he ever bought or bartered, this was the one we all hoped my dad would keep and the one we all missed when he sold it two days later.  He apologized to us explaining that he couldn’t resist the buyer’s offer of a cash 500% profit.

My personal favorite of my dad’s deals was a white Honda 90 motorcycle.  I loved it.  It became mine.  I was 15 and there was talk that when I turned 16 I would get my license on the Honda 90.  We lived on a cul-de-sac with very little traffic so I was allowed to drive it up and down the street.  I loved feeling the wind blowing through my long dark hair (even though I was only going about 35 or 40 mph).  Unfortunately, I never got my license on that motorcycle.  I ruined my chances of that one early summer evening, four months shy of turning 16.  I persuaded my sister, Irene (aka The Drama Queen) to go down the street on the motorcycle with me.  There were three boys who lived down the street.  They were all cute.  They were a few years older than us but they always smiled and flirted with us when we went by.  I had seen them in the window when I had driven by earlier so I knew they were there.  When Irene and I go to their house, I turned toward the window where they stood and smiled, tilting my head in a greeting.  When my eyes returned to the road, I realized that the STOP sign was much closser than I had thought.  I hit the brakes so hard that the motorcylce flipped and threw Irene and me  into the air.  Irene claimed not to be able to walk or even get up.  Although my legs and arms were cut and skinned, I picked her up and put her on the curb then I picked up the motorcycle but I couldn’t get it started so I ended up walking it up the hill (and it was a steep hill) to our house.  When I got home, my mom and dad were in the front yard and they asked what happened.  I told them we had flipped over and they asked where Irene was.  I told them she was on the curb because she couldn’t walk up the hill so they both panicked and jumped in my dad’s car to drive down and get her.  I was upset at my parents because they left me bleeding to go get Irene.  And I was more upset at the boys we were trying to impress because they had seen us flip over and knew we were hurt and they didn’t even come to see if we were okay.  The Jerks.  Needless to say, my mother persuaded my father to get rid of the Honda before one of us got killed on it (her words, not mine).  Losing that motorcycle was one of the worst things that had happened to me in my almost 16 years.

Of course there were some deals that we all regretted.  One was a very expensive and beautiful red headed macaw parrot that got sick and died within 48 hours of coming home with my dad.  Then there was the piano my dad brought home.  Apparently, he had always dreamed of having a piano so he made a trade for an upright piano that was in bad condition.  The wood needed to be refinished and it was out of tune.  Then there was the fact that no one in the house played the piano and none of  us had any  intention of learning to play.   So it sat in the garage for the better part of a year and my dad eventually had to pay someone to come and take it away.  There were also some bad scenes and rude phone calls with disgruntled customers but my dad always seemed to be able to smooth things out without it becoming ugly.

Through his wheeling and dealing, we were able to enjoy and experience a lot of things that would not have been open to us if my dad had not been forced into this mode of supporting our family by his work injury.

These years also gave birth to a variety of hobbies which began as one of my dad’s deals.  After acquiring a hand gun through a trade, my father’s interest in guns and rifles grew to the point where he was actively seeking deals that involved weapons.  He ended up with at least a half a dozen hand guns and three or four rifles.  Dad got so involved with guns that he proudly showed off his collection to anyone who came to the house, including my sisters’ boyfriends who, while not having to listen to a lecture on how to treat his daughters, paid for it dearly by having to listen to him explain all about the history of each weapon, including how to care for it and how much damage it could do when used.  Most of the boys never came to the house more than once.  I was smart.  I never brought any boys home.  I was not about to put anyone through that show!

One of the benefits gained was that my father’s lack of income and the size of our family made it possible for me to get a full four year scholarship when I was accepted to Stanford University.  Now I call THAT a bonus!

We learned a lot during those hard years.  We learned that if we are resourceful we will always land on our feet.  We learned “si se puede” and we learned to stick together as a family.

And as my dad is so fond of saying, “no hay mal que por bien no venga.”

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