Shared Stories: My Second Home

Road trips with her father to his home in rural Arkansas were “golden,” formative experiences for Sabreen Adeeba, despite the obstacles facing black families as they traveled in that era.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Sabreen Adeeba

When I was a young girl I recall my father and I leaving the hustle and bustle of big city life in Los Angeles.  

The familiarity of school, new construction, urban churches, taxi cabs, buses, neon lights, and sirens in the night were exchanged for summer vacations to the South, where my father was born and raised.  El Dorado, Arkansas, was a simpler life and a second home for me.

Road trips were an enjoyable memory for transportation to Arkansas.  I and my father enjoyed traveling by car.  We always began the trip with food he had prepared.

Sometimes I sat in the front of the car with my father, but my favorite place was the backseat where I colored, played with my dolls, and, as I became older, loved to read.  Most of all, I admired the views – horses grazing, cattle, and mountains.

We drove through three states before we arrived in Arkansas – Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In Arizona there were grand canyons, so colorful. My favorite were orange, though they were all beautiful.  


New Mexico was my favorite state. It was so cultural and very visual. My father would buy sombreros, moccasins, and jewelry to take home as souvenirs or gifts.  

The last state we passed through was not as intriguing as Arizona or New Mexico. It became a learning experience.  

Hungry and tired my father and I stopped at a small café in Texas. We sat down at a table and waited to be served. We never were. The treatment of the waitress towards us left me confused and my father angry.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I remember him saying as I followed him out the door.  

We never stopped at hotels when we traveled to Arkansas. My father usually pulled over to a truck stop where there were restrooms and we slept in the car. All in all, I stilled loved the road trips to Arkansas.

I loved the big farmhouse my father grew up in with acres of farmland, the smell of fresh grass and the distinct color of soil that resembled red clay in looks and touch.  

I have memories of a warm breeze caressing my cheeks, colorful butterflies, beautiful and free. Honey bees sucked pollen from flowers, while birds sang sweet melodies from their nests in the trees.  Hens clucked happily about the yard.  

Rural mornings awakened us with the aroma of baking biscuits in a country oven and the crispy smell of freshly-sliced bacon from Uncle Charlie’s smokehouse. Grits were simmering in butter, fresh eggs from the hen house were waiting to be scrambled or fried, or sunny-side up.  
Jams, preserves, maple syrup and butter, which was kept cool in the cellar, sat on a long wooden table in the kitchen where we all enjoyed the tasty delight called breakfast.

Lunch was simple for us kids involved in rigorous play. Lunch might not be more than biscuits left over from breakfast, with honey and lemonade, or cornbread and buttermilk.

Suppers were early in the South and may consist of fresh collard greens from a well-kept garden that I helped pick and wash. Hot water cornbread, yams, Aunt Betty Mae’s mac and cheese. Fried chicken or fish was a specialty.  each cobbler, sweet potato pie, pecan pies were not uncommon for dessert.

After supper, when the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, we all sat outside on the wide porch. The elders told folk tales, sang blues, and played guitars. All was golden to a young girl’s memories.

Aunts, uncles, and cousins always came to visit when we came to Arkansas. Some stayed while we were there. Days were filled with Southern glee, plus joy. I was never bored.

Arkansas was as much my home as Los Angeles, if not more.  My last visit to Arkansas was at the age of 13, but I remember it like yesterday, when I was a young girl.  

Shared Stories: Middle Child Syndrome

Maria Garcia shares her story about a common parental experience – “the children are so different.” Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns


By Maria L. Garcia

Growing up as the youngest child, with three siblings ahead of me, had its perks. How was I to know that seven years later I would be displaced from center stage and become the middle child when brother after brother would be born?

I do not remember ever feeling left out from my siblings; enough to call it a syndrome of sorts. My dad’s love for me was always reassuring and reaffirming, and so my behavior was aimed at pleasing him with much due respect.

Not until Ed and I were newly married and ready to start up a family did we start to think of children. We were in the era and culture where newly-weds were already subjected to the Philippine Inquisition:  “Are you already pregnant?”

If your answer was yes, people would start counting the months, and anything short of nine months is a “deposit,” indicative of some premarital taboos in society. And if the wife isn’t pregnant yet after nine months, she is labeled as “barren.” Either way, the Filipino culture dictates that it’s everybody’s business to know the wife’s pregnancy status when wed. 

Ed and I got pregnant with what one would call a “honeymoon baby.” Ten months after we were wed, our first child, a son, was born to us. Although we had a yaya, or nanny, for Carlo, we were both excited to try our own parenting skills. We gave him much attention and time, as would be the case for most firstborns.  

Three years later, we felt we were ready for another baby, but wanted a girl. We were going to try a Reader’s Digest suggested method on conceiving a girl.

A few days before my due date, I began having labor pains. In nervous anticipation, the suspense was over when the obstetrician announced it was a boy. We had a good laugh, with a sigh of relief that a normal healthy baby boy, although not a girl, was born to us on April Fool’s Day. Grateful, we named him Mark Anthony.  

Parenting the second time around, we found ourselves more relaxed and less anxious, now that we were veteran parents. The two boys were pretty much best friends, playing and sharing toys with not much of a sibling rivalry. 

Mark displayed his very social traits, even with the other street children in the neighborhood. He would invite them over and feed them our food behind our backs. We would often see neighborhood kids with chocolate rings around their mouths from Mark secretly sharing our chocolate milk powder.

Four years later we got pregnant with our third baby. This time, we would simply be accepting of whatever God blessed us with, which turned out to be a baby girl. We named her Noelle Nicole, like a Christmas gift given to us in February.

Although each of them had their own yaya, we did not diminish in giving them parental attention, or so we thought. Carlo was excelling in school academically. Noelle was too, gifted in both math and the arts. Mark received certificates in handwriting and spelling, but was not academically excelling like his siblings. 

It was only much later that, in retrospect, I gleaned that Mark’s visual acumen and hand-eye coordination would translate itself in his growing years. He seemed to be more interested in after-school Boy Scouts or karate class, rather than academics. Being a young mother then, I started to be concerned. Was he really lagging behind his siblings at school?  

Mark had difficulty sleeping when he was young, so Ed would put him in the car and drive him around the block until he fell asleep. Other times, Mark would ask to sleep before 8:30 PM as he feared that he would have insomnia. 

We noticed Mark was not interested in any of the academics, but he would draw the motorized taxi-tricycles shuttling around our neighborhood endlessly. He included all the details, and from various perspectives. Mark never drew the same model twice; each one was different from the other.  

In 1982, we decided as a family to migrate to the US. Carlo had been on vacation to San Francisco with his grandmother and cousins the previous year. Being the quiet 11-year-old that he was, Carlo did not say much about his feelings on our plans to move. 

On the other hand, Mark, age seven at the time, was excited. He “could hardly wait to roll down the snowy slope,” but, “must take some bananas to America!” Noelle at age 4, was not quite aware of moving our permanent residence to a different country.

Mark was getting rather difficult and defiant in his teenage years. I was in a quandary on how I should deal with his choices. One time, I was called in by the principal because Mark had come to school with his head shaved on both sides. If I had not confirmed with his grandma that she was the one who actually cut it, the principal would have had him suspended. 

Mark did not want to continue on to Catholic high school like his siblings, so we transferred him into the public system. His high school years were difficult. He was ditching and failing his classes. He was more social than focused. The school recommended that we go to family counseling. 

It was then that I came across the “middle child syndrome” terminology. Mark wanted to be his own self, a trait we had noticed even at an early age. Ed and I called him “Indie,” short for independent. 

I did not think Mark would even graduate from high school, with the kind of rebellious streak he was having - his ear piercings, his driving without a license, his running away for days. Thankfully, I followed the advice of Mrs. Leone Jackson, an elderly parishioner and retired teacher in her 90’s: “Look for him and when he comes home, hug him and just tell him you missed him.”

While both the oldest and the youngest earned degrees from universities in computer science, chemistry, and biology, Mark dropped out of community college and chose to go his own course and take animation classes. 

I feel like I prayed for Mark doubly hard out of the three children. I had even gone on a pilgrimage and climbed a mountain for Divine intervention. I learned that I could not control Mark for what he wanted to be – an animator.

The good news is that Mark rose from the challenges of his own journey. Even without a degree, his hard work and persistence got him into animation studios such as Sony, Klasky Csupo, Fox, Nickelodeon, Disney and Laika. 

This year, he received an Annie Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement for Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production for his work on the film, Kubo and the Two Strings. 

Although not many have seen the film, it has been acclaimed by many critics and has received nominations for Best Animated Picture by the Annie Awards, the Golden Globes and currently, the Academy Awards. As a proud mama, I believe that the “middle child syndrome” is just a part of the cocoon’s stage of turning into a butterfly. 

Shared Stories: The Courtship of Juan and Ligaya

Lisa Filler tells the dramatic story of how her mother and father met and married during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Lisa Filler

My mother Ligaya had suitors of different kinds: a doctor, a school supervisor and an engineer, but nobody really became her boyfriend.

In 1940 Ligaya got a teaching job near Manila in a village called Welfareville. This village was created for orphan children, children of parents with contagious diseases, and delinquent boy and girls. This is the place and time where my parents met. 

Ligaya and all single employees were provided with lodging in the dormitory. The assistant principal, Julia Diokno, was assigned to lodge in the Home Economic building and take care of school supplies. Julia asked Ligaya to accompany her especially at night.  

One day a young man came and introduced himself as Juan, the half-brother of Julia. Their mother, Pastora Banaag, had been left a widow with two daughters, Julia and Tentay. 
Pastora had run away and left her two daughters with her strict brother who took care of her when her husband died. Nothing was known about how Pastora lived for 10 years, until she moved to Cavite City with a baby boy, Juan, who was born in Tuy Batangas. 

Pastora had been earning her living by cooking and selling food. One day she asked her neighbors, an elderly couple, Leonida Ayroso and Mr. Filler, to watch Juan while she went to the market. She did not come back. 

This elderly couple did not have any children and now they were left with a baby boy they hardly knew. Out of their own kindness they adopted the baby and named him Juan Ayroso Filler. Mr. Filler worked in the US Air Force in Subic Bay. 

When Juan was 6 years old, Mr. Filler died. Leonida was elderly and did not have experience earning a living. The little boy Juan started to earn a living by carrying wood and water to neighbors and doing other errands.  

When Juan enrolled to go to school, the teachers helped Leonida seek a pension from the US Air Force. Juan continued to earn a living by distributing newspapers before going to school. Leonida adopted a niece to take care of her. 

Juan graduated Valedictorian from Cavite High School and got a scholarship to the University of the Philippines. He was one of the graduating classes of Mining Engineers in 1941 when the Japanese bombed and conquered the Philippines. 

The university was closed and Juan looked for his haft sister Julia to stay with and find job. He got a job in Welfareville as a security guard and stayed in one of the storerooms of the school. 
Juan, Ligaya and Julia practically lived in one household, sharing the kitchen, dining and bathroom. Juan would help Ligaya in washing dishes and clothes and at the same time try to hold her hand (chancing). 

This continued and then later Juan would steal a kiss. Ligaya, who had never been kissed, liked it. One day a woman came looking for Juan. Juan took the woman to his room for several hours. Ligaya was hurt and told Julia that she will stop helping her since she has her brother to help her. 

Ligaya went to her dormitory. Juan tried to talk to Lher but she did not want to talk to him and avoided him. Juan was so in love with Ligaya that he asked the help of Ligaya’s brother Albert who was also working in Welfareville. 

Ligaya refused Albert’s help. When Ligaya was scheduled to visit her father in Pagsanjan, Juan asked Iking, a family friend of Ligaya, to help get him a chance to talk to Ligaya. They were able to visit Ligaya in her dormitory. 

As soon as Ligaya met them Juan fell on his knees crying for a chance to court her. Ligaya said, “No. You will not even pass my father’s criteria. You are not from the Pagsanjan and are eight years younger than me.”

Juan said, “I will face your father and introduce myself. I will go with you to Pagsanjan.”  Juan asked Iking to introduce him to Ligaya’s father. They took the same bus to Pagsanjan. 

Ligaya went directly to her grandmother’s house across from her father’s house while Iking and Juan went to the house of Ligaya’s father. Ligaya didn’t know what happened there. 

After several hours Juan and Iking came asking Ligaya to sign a marriage license. Ligaya was so surprised. Juan and Iking explained to Ligaya that her father asked questions about Juan and Iking’s recommendation. 

He asked Juan’s intention. Juan said, “I love Ligaya and want to marry her”. The father explained that with the war condition, it was scary to have single daughter. He heard of single women raped by the Japanese. So if Juan was ready to marry Ligaya, he could marry her. 
So Juan got the marriage license with the help of Iking. Everything was arranged. After Ligaya signed the marriage license, all the cousins started cooking and preparing an altar at the grandma’s house and called a priest to celebrate the wedding.

After the wedding Ligaya stayed at the grandmother’s house and Juan stayed at Iking’s house. The following day they had to go back to Manila. Iking got a room in a hotel owned by Ligaya’s cousin for Juan and Ligaya’s one-night honeymoon. 

Afraid that they may lose their jobs, they kept their marriage secret. Ligaya stayed in the dormitory, Juan continued staying in the school storeroom. When they told their secret to Julia, Julia said, “Do not be afraid to lose your job. You have to live together.”

Juan and Ligaya announced their marriage and rented an apartment. They did not lose their jobs. And the rest is history. 

Shared Stories: Lessons from Grandma

Maria Gutierrez was the first-born of five children.  With the help of her sensitive grandmother, Maria overcame feelings of frustration brought on by responsibilities and hand-me-down clothes.   Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Maria Gutierrez
I wish I had said, “Thank you, Mom, for giving me four siblings.”  My first impressions were emotional reactions – feeling threatened by the presence of a new baby every time Mom came home from the hospital.

There were five of us by the time I was six. I felt neglected and overwhelmed with my role as a “babysitter,” obligated to help Mom care for my siblings. I helped with changing diapers and giving bottles.

During first grade, Grandma bought me easy, first-grade story books describing how siblings live in harmony.  My grandmother and God used these readers to change my feelings from rejection and resentment to acceptance.

During our childhood years when we lived with Grandma Delfina, she asked her sons, our uncles, to teach us baseball, volleyball, and tetherball skills. My siblings and I enjoyed playing volleyball with our neighborhood friends. 

Grandma and Mom gave us permission once a month to invite our friends over and enjoy at least two hours of a baseball or volleyball tournament in our large, asphalt backyard.  We each made a point of thanking Grandma Delfina with a kiss and a hug.

One evening, when I was thirteen, I was sitting all alone in Grandma’s downstairs dining room with tears running down my face.  I was gazing at four, large black trash bags filled with used clothing that Aunt Alice had given my sisters and me.  Since my cousins were larger in size, I knew that the used clothes would not fit us.

Surprisingly, Grandma Delfina walked in holding two grocery bags. I helped her carry one bag upstairs to her kitchen. She said, “Elena, I have something to give you that will make you happy.” I followed her to her bedroom, where she handed me four fashion magazines.

“Look through these magazines. You might find some outfits that you and your sisters would like. I am going to teach you to sew with the used clothing your aunt gave you.”

I hugged and kissed her for her understanding, moral support, and this ray of hope.  I saw these magazines and I could envision my sisters and I wearing those outfits.

Her kind gesture and compassion motivated me to major in Home Economics in junior high school.  The first class I registered for was Clothing and Domestic Skills, which consisted of basic sewing and effective housekeeping skills.

\Very early on Saturday mornings during our childhood, Grandma would gather us and show us how we were to help with household chores Grandma was affectionate, loving, and patient as she walked us through our chores.

We were rewarded once a month for our good work. Grandma would stop the Helms Bakery truck on Fridays and let us choose our favorite donut or cookie.

Grandma not only taught us domestic skills, she also taught us patience and love.  

Every year, one week before Christmas and one week before Easter, Grandma Delfina would invite my sisters (Carmela and Genie) and I to her upstairs kitchen to make sugar and chocolate cookies and cupcakes.  

I was in charge of mixing the ingredients for the cupcakes.  With the help of Grandma’s red hand mixer, I mixed the water, oil, eggs, and flour.

Then my sister Carmela would slowly pour the batter into the lined cupcake tins.  Once they were baked and allowed to cool, my sisters and I decorated the cakes with multicolored candy chips and candy glitter.

Grandma allowed us to each pick one cupcake to taste.  The cupcakes tasted so good that they made our eyes water and we gave Grandma a Thank you kiss and hug.

These were just a few of the many lessons that Grandma taught me.

Thank you, God, for giving me godly, virtuous women who taught me acceptance, gratitude, creativity, baking, sewing, cooking, domestic skills, patience, and love.

I pray that with God’s help, I will pass on these skills and virtues to my nieces and nephews.

Shared Stories: Night Swimming and other Stories

Karen Borrell, from the Adirondacks in New York, describes her transformative experience at a nearby lake with friends.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns


By Karen Borrell

I learned to swim in our lake by practically drowning while playing “King of the Mountain” on a floating raft with a bunch of friends.  I came away from that experience with a love for swimming, but not much better judgment.

While in high school, I had gone to a nearby lake resort with some friends.  On this particular occasion, we decided to go swimming at night.  There was no moonlight, as it had been raining for days and was still overcast.

After swimming a bit, we decided to play hide-and-seek.  Everyone scattered in different directions, and I had the idea to swim out to one of the closer rafts and swim under the big metal drums to the air space underneath and hide there.

When I dove under the drum and came up to the expected air pocket, my head hit hard against one of the planks that held the drums together.  I was shocked and dazed enough that I lost my sense of direction.

I swam to clear the raft, only to hit the sandy floor of the lake.  I stroked quickly in another direction and hit my head again.  I swam to what I thought was sideways to clear the bottom of the raft, only to hit my head again 

My breath was getting very short, and now I was pawing frantically at the boards, trying to find an end to them.  I was panicking and began to swallow water. 

My struggle began to change and my panic was transformed to memories of my whole life up to that moment.

I remember it was in chronological order and I became fascinated by the flash of detail and the amount of memories that my brain had stored and could remember. 

I felt euphoria and was totally at peace.  Next, my hand felt the edge of the drum and I pulled myself up to air. 

I was helped to shore by concerned friends and spent about four days recovering from the near-drowning and bad headache that lingered. 

But I was left with a powerful wonder at what had happened to me.  I told everyone, and felt no one understood what an incredible thing had occurred.  Apart from that experience which I will never forget, I totally lost my fear of dying and still feel that way today.

Water always seemed to be my personal challenge.  For years I had many scary encounters with it.  Some still can make me tremble with remembering and, in a way, reliving the feelings.

One of the curiously “lucky” happenings occurred at the same beach already mentioned.  I was idly swimming in the summer-warm lake water watching a few children splashing and not paying close attention to anything in particular.

A group I was watching broke up and wandered elsewhere.  A small signal went off in me and I alerted to count heads.  Hadn’t there been another boy?

Unwilling to just wonder at my uneasy feeling, I set out quickly, swimming as fast as I could, keeping my eye on the spot where they had been. I dove under the water searching and saw the boy! 

I grabbed him and exploded to the surface with him and soon was walking up to the beach. An embarrassing crowd drew up as I was doing all the things I guessed one should do. 

The boy vomited water and began to cry.  He looked to be about eight years old.  His friends gathered around and told me where he was staying. 

I carried him to the rented summer cabin only to find that his mother had driven to the city to wash clothes.  I ended up leaving him with the mother of one of his friends as the boy was doing fine again.

I was glad this story had a happy ending.

Shared Stories: Our Dog, Hachi

Nobuyo Avery regularly took care of animals during her childhood in Manchuria. But she never had a pet until she came to the U.S. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns


By Nobuyo Avery

Before talking about a pet, I must confess why I am afraid of any animals, including dogs, cats, birds, or any creatures.  

In elementary school days, all students had assignments to take care of chickens or rabbits.  I disliked these duties because I could not stand the smell of the animals and the feeling of the skin or furs. Nor could I stand the chickens attacking me.

At home we never had a pet like a dog or a cat because our parents did not like them.  We never learned to appreciate them like most of the people. Our parents raised chickens for eggs, but I managed to be excluded from the duties of feeding them or caring for them.

Adding to this was an incident in our neighborhood when I was eight or so. We were told not to step outside due to a stray dog wandering in the residential area. We were told that the dog had rabies and a child who was bitten had to be carried to a hospital.

Another time I was walking to a store and a barking little dog was chasing me furiously. It was only the size of a small Chihuahua, but I was so scared of the constant high pitch yelping and those mean-looking teeth. I was holding on to the mail post waiting for a rescue. I was afraid of dogs and I did not like them.

My husband, on the other hand, loves dogs, as he grew up with a dog or two as pets. But he was not a cat lover. Our children seemed to love having pets. We went through having fish, hamsters, a cat, and birds while they were young. Unfortunately they never kept their promise to keep the cages or aquariums clean, nor did they feed the animals.

When our oldest son asked to have a puppy for a Christmas gift, I hesitated, but everyone in the family agreed that it was a good idea.  I was a minority.

For some reason the first pet we bought from the pet shop died after a few months, and we did not have one until our neighbor, Mrs. Moore, gave us a puppy, a mixture of German shepherd and St. Bernard.

I gave the dog the name Hachi. It was the only name I knew and it was the name of a famous faithful Japanese dog. His statue is at a train station in Tokyo where he waited for his master’s return from work every evening, whether it was raining or snowing. He even waited at the station after his master’s death. With my limited knowledge of dogs, I thought he was a German shepherd.

Our Hachi became the children’s best friend. Our daughter Elizabeth called him her best boyfriend, played and walked to the nearby park. Cliff taught him to do tricks and made him to be obedient to his commands.  

Hachi was always playing with one of the children. They ran together, played games, chasing each other, and more. He did attack strangers but never harmed me at all, though I was a bit scared to touch him.

Guess who had to make sure the dog food was sufficient and that the yard would be cleaned after his mess?  Having a dog in my own house, my fear of dogs diminished somewhat.

We never forgot the sad evening on the fourth of July when we came home from church and found him almost breathless. The vet told us that he had twisted his intestine and there was nothing he could do at that stage. Poor Hachi died at the age of ten while all of us wept over the poor dog.

I was outside after the fourth of July washing and cleaning spinach from our garden and experienced how awful it was to be out in the yard where the smoke and smells from the fireworks filled the air. I thought about poor Hachi and his sufferings. He was so scared that he was looking for a hiding place in the backyard. If only we had come home early or left him indoors that night, we could have saved our favorite and fun-loving best friend.

Shared Stories: Good Morning, Burglar

Claire Hess recalls the day when she was a young mother with a new baby and she felt her heart stopped. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns


By Claire Hess

The setting:
An apartment in Norwalk, California, down the street from the old sheriff’s station on Pioneer Boulevard. 

The characters:  
Child: two weeks old, laying in her crib
Me:  laying in bed
Burglar: not sure how old and with unidentifiable characteristics 

On a cool, crisp December morning 48 years ago, my heart stopped temporarily. The following is what happened that day. 

My husband left our apartment in a hurry about 7 a.m. forgetting to lock the front and only door to the small furnished apartment we shared with our newly born child. He was on his way to downtown Los Angeles where he worked for the Medical Records Division of a county hospital. 

We said our early goodbyes and knowing that my baby was sleeping, I immediately turned over in bed to rest awhile before her first morning feeding.  

About five long minutes went by before I heard the front door open. Heavy footsteps, one at a time, were slowly coming toward the bedroom. I thought, “It must be my husband, forgetting his key or forgetting something important in our bedroom/office/everything you could imagine in that room.”   

By the final footstep I was expecting to see his handsome face. It was a stranger’s face stopping in the hall staring at me. 

I likewise stared at him, only all the adrenaline went out of my body and I could not move a muscle. I was terrified. I learned why many people can’t fight back when accosted by a stranger. 

I am so thankful I did not scream as he might have charged at me to shut me up. My daughter was sleeping so peacefully through all this and I was glad. 

He realized someone was in the apartment and exited out the front door. Did he take anything?  e took all the change in my wallet; I somehow had left it on the bar the night before.   

I called the police and they searched all around, of course. After the police left, I still searched the closet thinking he was still there.  

Gee, we were lucky that day no harm was done. I called my parents and husband and relayed the events. He wasn’t too worried about me. My mom and dad suggested we move as soon as possible.

Later, we could only surmise that my husband forgot to lock the door when he left that morning. End of story. 

I am still breathing but will always remember how my heart semi-stopped that cool December morning.  

Shared Stories: The Phone Call

It is hard to lose a sibling, especially at a relatively young age. Yolanda Reyna describes how she coped with the death of her brother Louis, an artist and writer who lived in Kansas City. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Yolanda “Yolie” Reyna

A knife in my heart, shock, grief, a range of emotions. My heart had been ripped out! I felt withered, then shock became my best friend, not leaving my side. It’s amazing what a phone call can do to you. The phone call that would change me forever was the phone call of the death of my younger brother Louie.

Inherently, I did not know what to expect with planning a funeral and having never flown before because I had always been fearful of flying. Therefore, I wasn’t sure about going to Kansas City. Nevertheless, I agreed to go with my eldest brother Jimmy. 

I had no idea what to expect. Not knowing what Louie died of and with so many thoughts racing through my mind, I came to the conclusion that no matter how much I was grieving, I had to put my emotions aside and get the energy to prepare myself for the inevitable. 
We could not leave right away due to bad weather. Meanwhile, I had been in contact with the mortuary and getting feedback regarding my deceased brother. They informed me that by the time we would reach our destination, viewing would not be recommended due to deterioration. My heart sank after hearing that news.

Furthermore, I had never visited Louie in Kansas City. Knowing that he had always wanted me to visit sent chills up my spine.  The conflict I was facing was having an intense impact on me. Still, I was faced with: Why didn’t I ever visit him? He was gone, and I have this enormous courage now? I had to battle these thoughts along the trip. I relied on my brother Jimmy for reassurance, guidance, and support.

Remarkably, the flight and trip to Kansas City would be one of the best experiences in my life. In a sense, it almost felt as if Louie spiritually took control. When we arrived in Kansas City, we couldn’t help but notice the beauty and serenity in the town.

When we parked in front of Louie’s residence, to our surprise, a light mist of snow had begun to fall, almost as if he were welcoming us there. I dreaded stepping foot into his home. My first reaction was to go to his room, where he had passed away. 

As I stepped in the front entry, I noticed a living room filled with his art work on the walls. As I crept on the hard-wood floors and made my way through the narrow hallway, I trembled as I slowly walked. 

When I made my way to his bedroom and stood there in his room, I immediately felt the tears streaming down my face. Jimmy was right by my side. We both embraced one another and wept. Yet, knowing Louie passed away in his sleep somehow gave me comfort.  Seeing a Bible and a picture of my mother on his nightstand gave me great comfort. 

Jimmy and I stayed in Kansas City for six days. I began searching for any documents that were needed for cremation. Realizing what had to be taken care gave me enormous strength. 
I didn’t know if any will was ever put in place of my brother’s future. So I had to contact his employer for any kind of information on a possible life insurance policy. Thankfully, he did have one.

Finally, the day had come for his body to be cremated. That would be one of the most painful experiences in my life. The agony of sitting in the mortuary office and answering questions and imagining my brother in one of those rooms was eerie and sad. 

That evening, Jimmy and I treated ourselves to a dinner in honor of his cremation. My emotions ran high and low. My eyes were greatly swollen, leaving the most burning sensation. Just when I thought I could not produce any more tears, they’d come streaming down again. 

On the last night of our stay in our brother’s home, there was peace in our hearts, minds, and souls. Jimmy and I sat in the living room reminiscing of our time with our beloved brother Louie. We talked about the good times and how much he had accomplished in the fifty three years he had lived, and how much he had always made us laugh, the laughter would fill the room. 

Hearing the news of the death of my brother Louis was incredibly hard on many levels:  the grief, the fear of never having flown, but mainly the regret of never visiting him. Since then, I have this tremendous courage, force, and somewhat fearlessness. The truth is, I often hear my brother saying to me, “It’s OK, Sis, you’re here now.”

Shared Stories: A Dream Come True -- My First Vacation

An older sister’s need for a babysitter was the occasion for Vickie Williams’s first trip away her childhood home in Louisiana.  She traveled to Chicago in a brand new ’67 Malibu, reveled in a Motown concert, and took her first airplane ride in a 20-seater plane. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Vickie Williams
Winter slept, as spring leaped forward. Orange-black butterflies suckled on still magnolias during the day. The scent of honeysuckle perfumed the night air. Plum trees fully laced with white blossoms attracted black bumblebees and early birds sang morning, delightfully feasting on their prey.

Dewdrops nestling on blades of grass quickly evaporated in the rising sun as day progressed and lazy dogs lay sluggishly in humid Delta heat. Old trucks with live chickens for sale rumbled through the neighborhood and children took to competition playing box hockey, shooting marbles, jumping rope and racing up and down the streets.

Sunshine drew elders to their rocking chairs on their garrets. Winter wear packed in mothballs were stored in old footlockers and cedar chest awaited the return of winter.

Backyard gardens planted in late March blossomed, looked hopeful as yellow flowers flourished on tomato vines signaled future possibilities. Chickens laid eggs in their coups and cackled. Toddlers played in dirt painting their faces with mud, and manicured lawns looked like shags of green carpet.

March winds hummed loudly and danced with fury. April showers brought heavy rains as fluffy white clouds mushroomed into blackness. Crystal sheets of rain poured heavily and thunder roared loudly with sharp bolts of lightning.  

I loved playing skinning the cat, draping my knees over the T-shaped poles that held up our clothes lines, as the remainder of my body dangled toward the ground. These were springtime snapshots of my familiar, where I lived in the South.

The school year had ended. March winds and April rains had passed.  It was mid May 1967, when I received the good news. I was going to Chicago for the summer. I had just turned fourteen years old on May 7th that year, a poor, proud young colored girl with my chest stuck out after receiving the exciting news. I wasted no time packing mother’s gray Samsonite suitcase she let me borrow.  I needed no encouragement to do so. Her approval was all I needed, such a wonderful belated birthday gift.

My sister Gertrude, who lived in Chicago, needed a babysitter for the summer. Going to a big city was a dream come true. She and her husband had come home to visit with their two-year-old son and upon returning to the Windy City, they needed someone to look after him.

My nephew and I bonded like glue. His dark dreamy doll eyes stole my heart, when our eyes first met. He quickly became the magnet of my affection. He was soft, serene, and sweet as a velvet breeze.  I was happy to show off his good looks. It was love at first sight.

“Be good. Behave. Do what they ask you to do,” mother instructed. “I’m gonna miss you.” “I’ll miss you too, Ma Dear.” “I love you.” “I love you too.”

Hugs and kisses flourished between us, as we said our good-byes. Mother stood at the edge of the front yard waving, loudly issuing more instructions. “Keep the doors locked when you are home alone. Don’t talk to strangers.”

My nephew and I proceeded to the back seat of the car waving good-bye, as the car took off. My father had said his goodbyes the night before. He woke up with the chickens to go to work.
Christmas arrived early May for me. I felt as light as a helium balloon in my own orbit. I gladly left my dusty tracks behind, spinning dreams in my mind, headed Midwest. Little did I know what was in store.

Leaving my hometown for an entire summer was a long stretch, bigger than my imagination. I did not know what I had bargained for.  My young mind took no time to think about it. I relished the opportunity to get away. I embraced the journey.

I knew of no other kid on the block as fortunate as me. Poor folks like us never took vacations. My vacation was usually around the corner to Uncle Eddie’s, my mother’s brother, for a week. His children were close to my age. All of my siblings were much older.  

My hay fever resonated, spring was in full bloom, as my nose and eyes watered for relief. Pollen rode the air, as the humidity, not quite oven-like was heating up. Leaving home sparked adventure in my mind. Nothing could tarnish my exhilaration.

I had visions of seeing the world some day, as I sometimes drifted into wonderland daydreaming, watching planes sailing across iris-blue skies. Opportunity embodied my dream. My day had come. I often pondered what other places would be like beyond the South. Good weather along our journey made traveling provisions ideal.

We pivoted from the Deep South headed North in a brand new burgundy 1967 Malibu Chevrolet. It was spick and span, stylish and smelled new. As we advanced to the Windy City, I could not contain my excitement. My eyes, riveted with curiosity, drank in the scenery along the way.  I inhaled countryside fresh air, soaked in intriguing landscapes: rainbow meadows, fields of yellow, purple, red and pink wild flowers, green pastures, orchards of trees, spans of cotton fields and unknown crops. Crossing bridges and witnessing steamboats meandering on the Mississippi River grabbed my attention. I had never seen so many big rigs ambling down the highway.

I dared not sleep. All the excitement made me feel like a rookie advancing from the minors to the big league. I felt so lucky. The sparkling beige interior made me proud to be a passenger in such a plush car.

The dung of cows, sheep, and goats grazing in fertile pastures created a lasting stench, as we traveled through the countryside. I was relieved to inhale the fresh breath of pines and towering oaks once we passed the stench. I was enchanted with stylish southern brick homes sitting on acres of grassy green carpet, rustic red barns with stacks of golden hay, and men plowing farmland on industrial tractors.

I saw silver strands of moss draped on trees and wondered what was in the thick bush. I cringed to know. Eerie thoughts came to mind.

As night unfolded, I felt like a junior astronomer enamored with clusters of stars sparkling like tinsel in the jet-black sky. I was moonstruck and awed. We listened to Wolf Man Jack on the radio spinning Motown jams and danced in our seats. It was about a day and a half before our arrival in the city.

My first view of Chicago was not impressive. Houses crunched next to each other startled me. The buildings appeared drab, mostly grey stone, dark, dirty, and dingy. No grass anywhere it seemed. Soot veiled the city. The air smelled stale and rancid.

Washburn Ave, a main artery in the inner city, teemed with hustlers. Old women sat at bus stops weighted down with grocery bags and laundry carts. Peddlers pushing their products selling everything from fine jewelry, clothing, Chicago dogs, and Polish sausages crowded the streets.

Young women in hot pants and go-go boots hung out on street corners. A man smiling with gold front teeth tapped on the car window trying to sell watches while we waited at the stoplight. Colored men dressed in bright yellow, red, green, and purple suits with matching wide brim hats, and shoes paced the streets.

My eyes ablaze with so much color, my ears overwhelmed with such commotion. The streets reminded me of a busy circus. Some folks 

moved as if they were on octane with a mission. The scariest sight was a man without a shirt wearing tattered dark pants draped in chains dragging a flatbed of wood on his tobacco brown back. Some colored men had processed hair and others had Afros. It was a blend of the wildly exotic and the ordinary, a real shock to me.


L-Trains screeching and chugging on tracks vibrated with annoyance. It was an alarming welcome to the city. I silently longed for the simple life, the peace and quiet of my laid-back neighborhood: the smell of sweet magnolias, the comfort of my mother’s kitchen, the scent of fresh cut grass, clean air, and open spaces. I missed sprawling shade trees and warm southern greetings,

Things got better as we approached the apartment on West Adams where my sister lived. I greeted it with a sigh of relief. The building had several entrances and many levels. It was an upgrade from home with a red brick exterior, neatly attired with modern furniture, walls with fresh coats of paint, floors blanketed with carpet, a doubled sink in the kitchen, a sparkling stove and snow white refrigerator. It was a quiet habitat.

I met Rose, my sister’s friend. She was round, plump, and friendly, had no children and adored my nephew and me. I had no one my age to communicate or play with. I grew homesick quickly, but never asked to go home.

My sister worked days and her husband worked nights. He slept must of the day. We played card games, monopoly, dominoes, and checkers for entertainment, when my sister and her husband were not working.

My freedom was restricted. Caution a must. Doors always locked. My brother-in-law was not to be disturbed. Plenty of food and a neatly kept apartment maintained by my sister were reassuring. The noise level I monitored. I was quiet as a whisper.

My nephew was a joy to care for. I would put him in his stroller and with my sister’s permission we would go for short walks. I read him stories, bathed, and fed him. The conservatory was nearby and we would frequent there regularly.

On his parents off-days, we would go sightseeing. We visited Lake Michigan, and nearby were White Sox’s Park, Soldier Field where Gale Sayers, the Chicago Bears running back, broke ankles and made tacklers miss.

We went to the Loop downtown, and my favorite place of all was the Regal Theater. I saw a “dream girl” like performance there. It was a gift from my brother-in-law for being a good babysitter. The line up included the Spinners, Four Tops, Impressions, the Miracles, Martha and the Vandelas. 

The glitz and glamour caused my eyes to glow like the moon. I struck gold and was in a Motown groove. The songs and choreography received long applauses. Those days the music was the star.

Going Home
I never thought I would miss home so much. I longed for my mother’s loud voice and soulful cooking, the rivalry playing sports with friends, and the freedom to roam free. I missed the simple things, picking plums and blackberries, buying penny cookies and dill pickles at the neighborhood store, hanging out at the softball park, shooting hoops at the recreational center, saying hello and chatting with elders that admired my spunk.

I missed spending summer nights at Uncle Eddie’s around the corner, keeping my cousins awake telling jokes and giggling. “Go to sleep gal. Y’all stop that giggling.” My Uncle’s command made my rebellion that much sweeter. We would pull the covers over our heads, place our hands over our mouths, and silently giggle.

My anticipation to return home was like a drought thirsting for rain. Leaving my nephew behind brought tears to my eyes. A lump swelled in my throat. “Thank you so much, Vic, for being a great babysitter,” my sister with a forlorn look said to me. “I’m going to miss you so much.”

We hugged tightly saying our goodbyes. I picked up my nephew and held him closely not wanting to leave him behind. I wanted to safeguard him from harm, hurt, and danger. A rivulet of soft tears fell from his eyes when I told him I was going bye-bye. My brother-in law and I locked eyes with a smile and I grabbed him around his waste ever so grateful for spending a sometimes lonesome, but eye-opening vacation with them. “You be good and hit the books. Thanks a million,” he said to me.

I took my first airplane ride out of Midway Airport in Chicago. I was thrilled. The plane was a commuter with a single engine. The seats were snuggly, rubber-band tight. It only seated about twenty passengers or less.

I had to change planes in St. Louis. The plane there was much larger and the skies were surreal for travel. It had a black cover on its nose as if it had been in battle. My stomach was queasy on take off, but with little turbulence, my ride home was a success. The ease in which we sailed the heavenly blue skies was seductive.

Leaving Chicago I had earned my wings. I was ecstatic to see my parents’ faces. My residence at 814 Camp Street never looked more inviting to me. I had so much to share. There was no sweeter landing than home sweet home.

Shared Stories: Gilmore City, Part 2

Because of damage to his bones from tuberculosis, Mervin Chantland spent nearly eight years of his childhood in a full-body cast.  Mervin’s father, a farmer, arranged for a couple in Gilmore City to take care of the young patient as long as he was in the cast. This is the second part of Chapter 2 in Mervin’s book. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Mervin Chantland

When I was young, I had a great friend named Tom. He worked for a grocery store and used their van to deliver orders. Tom was only fourteen years old at that time, but they let him drive because they knew his family needed the money. 

When he was delivering groceries to farmers, he would come to get me and help me up into his delivery van. I think he may have gotten into trouble from his boss for doing that, but it gave me a wonderful chance to get out of house and make his rounds with him. Tom would also pick me up and take me to his house, where his mom would play canasta with us. We did that a lot.

My friends and I would go to all of Tom's basketball games. When he was practicing, we would keep bugging him to throw us the ball so we could shoot, too. Tom says he didn't get in much warm-up time that way. One time Tom was playing baseball, and he hit a home run. He says he could see me going on my crutches as fast as I could to his house across the street from the baseball field to tell his mom the good news.

Well, after Tom graduated he got a 1938 Chevy; and there were times on Saturday nights that he would stop up town before picking up someone special for a movie. Many times, upon returning to his car, he would find me waiting there. And he generally took me along for the night's fun. The only thing Tom worried about was whether I had told the Knolls that I was going.

Tom says I was the most courageous person that he ever knew. As he put it, my handicap should have left me with a bad attitude but it built inner strength and determination instead. Tom says there wasn't anything I wouldn't try to do. Later in life, Tom became a farmers' mailman. Tom, you were a great friend when I needed one the most. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

After some time had passed, my left shoulder started hurting; and I was diagnosed with TB in the bone there, too. That resulted in my having to have that arm in a cast for about a year. Perhaps because of the medication I was taking, my shoulder turned out all right. My left arm just ended up being a little shorter than the other one.

While I was having the cast taken off my arm in the hospital, all the hospital staff suddenly started dancing around. Shouts could be heard from out in the hall. No, it was not in my honor. It was 1945, and news had just come in that "World War II has ended!" Wow, that made a great impression on me!

Now that I was able to walk, I would sometimes help Prof while he was custodian at the Gilmore City School. I really enjoyed that. On one occasion, I ended up with a life-long souvenir of those times we spent together. 

I was helping as Prof assembled lockers in the hall way. He would pry up the lockers and I would put pads under the legs. On one locker, the pry bar slipped and the leg came down on my finger, cutting out a good-sized flap of skin. Just by having a bandage tied tightly around my finger, the wound healed up just fine, but that horseshoe-shaped scar is still visible today. Prof felt awfully bad, but I told him it was okay. It was the kind of accident that could happen to anyone.

Eventually, I was able to get around well enough that I could go to school full time. But it wasn't "all fun and games." One day, it was raining and we had to stay in for recess. I remember taking a ruler to hit a ball, but I missed and hit the teacher right on her backside. Wow! There I was, having just started attending school and already in trouble!

It was also this first year in a real school that something very unexpected happened. On December 14, 1943, I stayed home because I wasn't feeling very good; and Gilmore City High School burned down! A teacher who went back in to make sure all the children had gotten out perished in fire. What a loss for us all! 

Well, now that I was walking and making friends, I was ready to do some of the crazy things young kids do. One day two friends were talking about hunting "snipes" in the cemetery and I asked what they were. 

My friends laughed as they told me how they would hide behind tombstones and have another friend go and get some kids to help hunt the snipes, hairy little creatures that lived in the cemetery. My friends took me along with them, and soon the other kids arrived with flashlights and gunny sacks. 

Of course, there were no such thing as snipes, so we would just wait until the others got close to us before we started making all kinds of weird noises. Those kids ran like heck to get out of there, and we had a good laugh.

Once, as I was walking up a street in town, the wind started blowing really hard and I heard this loud banging sound coming toward me. I turned to look and there came what had been a round grain bin, about thirty feet in diameter. Having been torn up off its foundation, it seemed to be trying to roll but was so out of shape that it just bounced along. I ducked behind a tree as it went crashing by. That was really scary!

Mostly, with my new freedom came a lot of fun. Gilmore City doesn't have a theater now, but back then we kids would go to the movies up town. Horror movies were our favorite. One movie I remember watching was Frankenstein, with Boris Karloff. After a movie, we would walk home in the dark. More than once, one of the kids would run up ahead of us and hide in the trees so he could jump out and make weird noises to scare us.

Another source of fun came from a car Prof had that was high off the ground. My friend and I took it to a field one night to chase jackrabbits. While we were flipping the headlights from low to high, the rabbits would run under the car and out the back. It never hurt them, and it provided us with a lot of fun.

Since I would get so lonesome for my family, my Dad would sometimes send my brother Bill to stay with me at the Knolls' house. In the summers Bill would come up and spend a whole two weeks with me. That was so important to me. It was great to be able to maintain the family connection.

After the war, I was sometimes given toy cars that had been made in Japan. When I looked inside the toys I could see words like Coke, 7 Up, and other names of soft drinks. The people in Japan didn't have a lot of metal after the war, but our troops had left plenty of soda cans behind, and they made good use of them.

(This excerpt is from Chapter 2 in the book, “Can’t: No Such Word,” by Mervin Chantland, available on


Shared Stories: Gilmore City, Here I Come

Mervin Chantland spent nearly eight years of his childhood in a full body cast because of damage done to his bones when he contracted tuberculosis at age two. When his family could no longer care for him and do all of the work required on the farm, Mervin’s father arranged for Mr. and Mrs. Knoll in Gilmore City to take care of the young patient. This section is from Chapter 2 in Mervin’s book. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Mervin Chantland

Calvin Knoll got his nickname, Prof, because he had once been a teacher, as had his wife, Lou. When Dad took me to live with Prof and Lou, I was a very confused and angry young boy. There I was, separated from my family in a strange house and unable to get up and run like I wanted. 

I felt like a caged animal and could not understand why my family had abandoned me. Once when Lou leaned over me, I bit a hole in her arm! Prof told his wife, "You have to take him back." But Lou replied, "No, he needs me." That's the kind of woman she was, and I learned to love her as time went by. I have no doubt that she really cared about me.

Lou and Prof had two sons, Stanley and Sterling, although Sterling was the only one still at home when I went to live there. When World War II started, he joined the Navy; and he would always send me home something. One time it was a sailor's hat. Another package contained a record of "Popeye the Sailor Man." Sterling seemed to understand how hard it had been for me to make that adjustment to a new "home." He was really great to me.

When I was old enough to begin my education, it was arranged for a box to be hooked up by telephone line to the school. And that was how I "went to school." I could talk to the teacher and the kids in class, but it was very hard to learn that way. I believe I was able to learn as well as I did only because Lou and Prof had been teachers and were willing to put in the extra effort to help me understand.

I find myself wishing we had computers in those days. It surely would have made things much easier. I can only imagine being able to actually see my class and watch the same teacher's instructions as my classmates. It may have helped me to learn more easily and motivated me to. keep up with the rest of the class. That could have made such a difference in my life.

My medical care was another area that required special arrangements. Every three months, an ambulance-type vehicle with a stretcher and seats for other people would pick me up and take me to the hospital in Iowa City for a checkup and a new cast. 

The trip was over 200 miles each way, as we meandered from farm to farm to pick up other patients. I remember that we always stopped to eat on way, and I had the same thing every time - a hamburger and vanilla ice cream. That was a special treat.

Oh, spinach! How I hated it! The first time I went back to the hospital for a checkup, spinach was served with the food. I was told to eat it, but I didn't want to. I hated that stuff So the nurse forced it into my mouth. It almost made me throw up. But I learned from that first time what to do. I got an old sock and took it to the hospital whenever I had to go back. When they brought the food with spinach and they weren't looking, I would put the spinach in the sock and stick it in a drawer in the nightstand.

They would come back later and say, "Oh, you ate it. Good boy." When they left I had a smile on my face and thought, Yeah, right! Then I would take the sock home with me and throw that horrible green stuff away.

Another unnerving thing for me in the hospital was having an aid or nurse give me a bath. And I'm talking about a very thorough, whole-body bath. It was so embarrassing to have these strangers see me naked. Most of the time I was treated with respect, but one nurse seemed to enjoy the embarrassment it caused me. And she was mean, too. She seemed to love to dig under my fingernails until they bled.

All the children in the hospital stayed in a ward, which is a large, long room with beds. During one stay, I had been given the first bed, right next to the door. I could see down the long hall leading to the room, and once I saw this lady come in at the other end of the hall. She looked familiar, and as she got closer I realized it was my mother! Wow, was I ever excited! She was still living at the TB sanitarium, but just happened to come to the hospital for a checkup at the same time I was there.

And my mother was so thrilled to see me! It had been extremely hard on her to leave her family and give up the chance to raise the little boy that meant so much to her. She had also given birth to my sister Doris while she was in the sanitarium, and my older sisters Kay and Jeanette took the "perfectly healthy" baby girl home to raise her. My mom missed out on a lot during that time, and I don't think she ever recovered from the losses.

It was around 1938, when I had gone to the hospital for a checkup, that they phoned my dad and said I would have to have an operation on my hip. Dad told them to go ahead. Mom, who had just returned home from the sanitarium, was so upset she insisted on being there with me. 
Although it was a hardship, Mom made the long trip to Iowa City. The operation resulted in an infected portion of my hip bone being removed and my hip fused. Then I was taken back to live with Lou and Prof. I still couldn't walk and had to lie in bed until I was healed up.

I don't remember the name of the doctor who operated on me, but I was told that he had come from Germany in the 1930s, just as Hitler was coming into power. After he got to America, he was well thought of and went to the Iowa City University Hospital to practice and teach.

While I was lying in bed wanting something to do, I told everyone I wanted to learn to play a guitar. So my family got me one, and I tried to learn but didn't have any luck. Maybe I didn't really want to play it, or it was just too difficult to learn. Anyway, the guitar went into the corner and just sat there. Bummer! I would like to have had that skill all these years.

I remember at Christmas time that year, I said I wanted an Erector Set so I could build things. Well, I was sure surprised to get two Erector Sets for Christmas! I started right away to build a lot of stuff, and the sets included electric motors, so I made things that moved! I felt like I could really accomplish something, even though I couldn't walk around. That was so wild!

I was about nine years old when the doctor called my Dad and told him they had a new medicine that they would like to try on me, and Dad gave his consent. About one year later, my hip seemed well enough that my cast was removed and I was given crutches to walk with. I was so happy! However, I took just one step before the crutches hit a water spot on floor. I went down on the end of my foot and broke my ankle. I was back in a cast! I had been free of a cast for only about one hour. Unbelievable!

After healing up, I had the cast taken off again. Since my right leg was weak and a lot shorter than the other one, I was fitted with a leather and metal brace with a peg on the bottom. I was finally able to start walking around and feeling more like the other kids, but they called me "Peg Leg." That bothered me at times, but I learned to ignore them. They were just being kids. I think that kids are probably the most cruel because they aren't able to understand how much they can hurt someone with the things they say.

Back home on the farm, my brother Douglas Arthur was born, the eleventh and last child. Poor Douglas was only thirteen months old when he died from TB meningitis. Another painful loss for my family! My sister Kay wasn't able to get back for the funeral, so Mom had a picture taken of Douglas in his casket to send to her. We were each given one of those pictures. It was so hard to look at it.

When my first son was born, he was a beautiful, blond baby. As he slept in his basinet, he looked so much like little Douglas that it scared me. At night, I kept my son's basinet beside my bed with my hand in it; and I would jump awake whenever the baby moved. I was able to get over my fears eventually, but it took some time.

(This excerpt is from Chapter 2 in the book, “Can’t: No Such Word,” by Mervin Chantland. Available on Amazon here.)

Shared Stories: A Box of Chocolates

Life presented Daniela Kanz with a special surprise one Christmas at the Downey Wonderbowl. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns


By Daniela Kanz

I heard Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks in the 1994 movie, say, "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." 

Whenever Christmas rolls around, I always receive a box of chocolates. My daughters have continued the tradition their dad started. “Why do I get a box of chocolates every Christmas?” you ask.

Turn the calendar back to December 23, 1961. This New York transplant to California went with a friend to Wonderbowl in Downey. 

We noticed several young fellows about our age, bowling. One of the fellows made me chuckle every time he went to throw the ball. As he began his stance and before he let go of the ball, he did a little movement similar to what is now known as twerking. I suppose he was way beyond his time.  

After a few minutes of watching them, we wandered over to where people played pool. Then I noticed a table similar to pool but with more balls.

I remarked, “I wonder what they are playing,” to my friend. It turned out that the person standing next to me was not my friend, but the fellow I had noticed earlier. 

He responded, “They are playing snooker.” I had recently seen the movie The Hustler with Paul Newman, so I was intrigued. The young man began to explain the difference between snooker and pool. 

Then he said, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?” 

“But I don’t even know you,” I replied.

His response, “My name is Bruno, what’s yours?” 

“Ahhhh, Dani…”

“OK, now – let’s get that cup of coffee.” After my friend Bruno and I entered the dining area and sat at a booth, the other young men swarmed us, one of whom latched on to my friend.
Soon it was time to drive to Long Beach to get my friend home. Bruno insisted on coming along as fog had rolled in and he was concerned about this novice driver navigating the Long Beach Freeway in the fog. 

After dropping my friend off, I dropped Bruno off and went to my apartment in Downey figuring I would never see this fellow again, though I did give him my phone number.

The next morning was Christmas Eve day. I woke up to a knock on my door. There stood Bruno.

“How did you find me?” 

“I called and you gave me the address,” he said. I must have done that in my sleep. Soon we were sitting at my kitchen table, drinking tea and visiting. 

He asked what I had planned for the holiday. I told him I planned on going to midnight candlelight service at the Downey Presbyterian Church and that I had one ticket to see King of Kings in Hollywood.

He told me that his dad had a stroke and was at Rancho Los Amigos in Downey. Would I accompany Bruno on a visit to his dad? I had nothing better to do and truth be told, I liked him. His dad was extremely happy to see his son and I enjoyed the dad’s German accent. It made me feel nostalgic for my parents.

After our visit, Bruno suggested we take a drive and look at the lights around town, since it had become dark. The drive was enchanting, as I never experienced this growing up in New York City. 

After the drive, Bruno wanted me to come to his home to meet his mom. It was only fair, since I already met his dad. 

After visiting awhile, it was time to open gifts. I enjoyed watching the festivities when all of a sudden Bruno handed me a wrapped box. I was stunned. We just met and spent the entire day together. How did he have something for me? 

I opened the box and saw it was See’s Candy. Later I learned that he had originally given it to his mom and asked if she minded if he gave it to me.

He had another worry. What if the present had a note attached that said – MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM NORRIS THERMADOR – his place of employment. He was thankful there was no such note. 

Since I had nothing for him, I went in my wallet and offered him the movie ticket. He said he would not go unless I went with him. He called and found out he could obtain another ticket. He also accompanied me to the candle light service.

This man captured my heart and by February 10th we were married.  

Shared Stories: A Magical Learning Experience

Candy Wong has a grown son who is a medical student.  Her driving passion now is to master English and attend an American college. She is grateful to her first professor at Cerritos College who quoted Will Smith, taught her life skills as well as English, and introduced her to a life-changing exercise – the full plank. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Candy Wong

How would you feel if you could never read a book? Never understand what people around you are saying? 

When I first came to the United States, I could do none of the above. I felt helpless when two people were talking in front of me, because I didn’t understand what they were talking about.
With this built-up frustration, I decided to study the spoken word.

Since I began studying English 20 at Cerritos College, there has been a big change in my life. My English has improved and I have become an active learner. I consider my English professor, Dr. QB, as my mentor. 

Before taking Professor QB’s class, I was a lost college student who didn’t know what to do, but Professor QB taught me how to be a better college student through encouragement, practicing the full plank exercise, using time management, linking up with student clubs, writing essays, and benefiting from her college story and her attitude to students. I have learned what I need to do in my academic path.

Dr. QB made me believe that I could advance my English through hard work. Even when I was in English 20, I found that writing was difficult for me. I didn’t have the confidence to study at a higher level, but Dr. QB told me firmly that I could pass the next class - English 52. Now I am taking Dr. QB’s English 100 online course, and it is a huge challenge for me.

I learned a new exercise when I enrolled in her class.  My class started at 7 a.m. Some of my classmates were very sleepy. Dr. QB asked us to do an exercise called a full plank because it can make our blood circulate better. We wouldn’t feel so tired in class. 

She demonstrated how to do it. We put our hands and feet on the floor and straighten our bodies like a pieces of wood. 

We did full plank only few seconds the first time.  Each day we held it longer than the last time. I have continued to do this exercise for more than three months.

I found my asthma condition has been improving. In the past, I was attacked by asthma every month and took steroids to control my condition. There were side effects to my body using steroids such as weight gain, grayish skin, and insomnia. 

My son is a medical school student. He warned me if I didn’t take steroids to control my asthma, I might die of respiration problems. I could not imagine that full plank could relieve my health condition. I have improved my English in English 20, and I also got the benefits from doing full plank.

Dr. QB taught me time management. We needed to record our activity for five days. From the information on my log, I analyzed that I was a person using most of my time to help others to do urgent things. It often made me lack time to do my important things. 

Dr. QB asked students to do a daily planner, a weekly planner, and a course planner to guide us to study, to work, and to rest. After I learned how to do this, I have procrastinated a lot less. The pace of my life seems easier than before.

Dr. QB led students to link up with different students’ clubs in Cerritos College. She divided us into several groups to do research and use PowerPoint to introduce Cerritos College student clubs.

It was a very useful activity; some of our classmates joined the clubs after the presentation.  Dr. QB emphasized that students should make good use of school resources to help them advance.

Dr. QB taught us how to write an essay. After many practices in writing, I could recite the writing procedures without thinking. I have learned writing an essay since I was in elementary school, but no teacher could help me totally remember all the steps of writing correctly. Under Dr. QB’s very clear instructions, each time I wrote an essay I could apply these writing rules spontaneously.  

I enjoyed the 10-minute writing prompts in her class. They were great warm-up writing exercises at 7 a.m. I had a comfortable feeling after using my all my strength to write out my thoughts.

Professor QB set herself as an example to teach students how to succeed in college. She told us when she was in college, she didn’t know her goals and dreams. Therefore, when she was in her sophomore year, she dropped out.  From her working experiences, she encountered many unfair situations. 

Those experiences made her know that if she wanted to have meaningful life, she would need to go back to school. Even after she went back college and got her degree, for many years she still could not find a job she really loved.  Until she found her element; she saw that she was advancing towards her goals. She reminded each student going to college to set up his/her goals and drive himself/herself to accomplish them.  

College was a place for us to grow through seeking out our experiences and opportunities. Her college experiences lifted my spirit to study, as I could relate to her.

Dr. QB is an effective person. She prepares her lessons very well. Every activity in the class was connected smoothly. I didn’t see her in a rush or forget to bring something in class.  I appreciated when I observed her talk to students. She was very serious about her teaching, but in her heart she is very kind to students. She really wants to help students successfully transfer to a four-year college.

Dr. QB taught us not to abandon our goals and to persevere through our obstacles. Studying and taking the class English 100 is extremely difficult for me. Someone had once told me that there were many students who had to retake English 100.  

Dr. QB had quoted Will Smith’s view on success to teach us about studying hard.  Will Smith stated, “I’ve never viewed myself as particularly talented… while the other guy is sleeping I’m working… while the other guys are eating, I am working… I’m working really hard.” 

I really connected with these words and that drove me to do my best. The learning experience from English 20 is magic in my life. The magic combines everything I love and requires everything I have to offer. It requires dedication and practice. To be a student of Dr. QB, I believe it is one of the most precious experiences I have had in my life. 

Shared Stories: My Love for Synchronized Swimming

For those who are familiar with Brooklyn and Queens, New York, Daniela Kanz offers a fascinating description of Jones Beach in the summertime and the all-day trek required to get there. Live musicians played for the water ballet show in the bay. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Daniela Kanz

My interest in the Summer Olympics mainly evolved from my enjoyment of synchronized swimming.

One of my all-time favorite movie stars as a child was Esther Williams in the aqua-musical Million Dollar Mermaid (the 1952 biographical movie about Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman).

This movie led to my love of swimming and eventually water ballet. I have borrowed the DVD from the library several times to enjoy watching it yet again. 

Esther Williams was an advisor to the International Olympic Committee at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for the new sport of synchronized swimming. Not only was Esther Williams a film star, she was a businesswoman – being first to endorse a product – swimwear. She later was involved in selling swimming pools.

I became enchanted with water ballet before I knew about America’s Mermaid, as Esther Williams was nicknamed. I have fond memories of the water ballet shows put on at Jones Beach out on Long Island, New York. Going to the beach from Jackson Heights without a car was quite a journey. My Dad and I would take a bus to the subway to the Long Island Railroad, and then another bus to the beach. It seemed like we would never get there to this ten-year old.

I fondly remember my Dad playing the Why Game with me to help pass the travel time. He would mention something, and I would respond “Why?” – And he would come up with another answer and I again would reply 


It never ceased to amaze me how far and how long he could play this game without running out of things to tell me. My memory does not serve me well enough to tell you what some of these tales were, but I can still feel that amazement and wonder that this interaction with my Dad provided.

Once we arrived at Jones Beach, the first stop was to the umbrella rental stand. My Dad felt we needed that protection from the sun.

Then I would finally be allowed to get in the water with the admonishment – You must come out when your fingertips start to shrivel. He also went in the ocean water a few times and only did the breaststroke. He never did the crawl stroke the way I learned to swim.

Jones Beach has a boardwalk with many vendors. Every time I eat pizza, I think about the time my poor Dad burned his lips so badly with some melting cheese from a slice of pizza we had purchased on the boardwalk.

I also recall being amazed at his eating clams on the half shell with just a bit of lemon juice squeezed on them. I refused to try them when he offered some to me. I have since tried them and can tolerate this delicacy, but just as soon pass when offered.

One of the best things about Jones Beach was not only the ocean to swim in and that wonderful clean white sand to play in – there was also a swimming pool and the very odd thing was that the pool was filled with salty seawater rather than chlorinated water.

When evening came, the best was yet to come - the water ballet show in the bay. There was huge stadium seating in a horseshoe around the water and several feet across the water was a stage with a live band to accompany the water ballet performers.

After the show, it was all I could do to get to the bus with my Dad. I slept on the bus – was awakened to get on the train – was awakened again to get on the subway – and awakened yet again to get on the last bus to our street. I struggled to the house from the last bus stop and was asleep before my head hit the pillow dreaming about being a water ballet artist one day.
Super Storm Sandy hit my beloved Jones Beach hard in October of 2012, but the needed repairs were complete by May of 2013. Maybe one day I shall return.

For those who would like to see Esther William, there is an interview available on YouTube. In November 2007 Good Morning America’s Diane Sawyer interviewed her childhood hero Esther Williams and both spent time in the pool together. 

Shared Stories: My Beloved Brother

Sadly, there are many who can relate to the story of a family member suffering from addiction.  Yolanda Reyna shares a loving tribute to her sibling Gilbert.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Yolanda Reyna

My brother Gilbert was taken away from my mother when he was a young teen.  My mother had six children from my father, three boys and three girls.

We called ourselves the Brady Bunch, after the sitcom on TV. So, I guess I was Jan Brady and my brother was Peter Brady.  We were the middle children. I felt a connection with Jan. I’m not sure if Gilbert felt a connection with Peter. 

My brother was a happy child; we were all happy children. Sure, we were disciplined, and that meant getting yelled at a lot and getting the belt to our butts.

My mother had so many children that when she called out to one of us, she’d say every name except the one she was calling.  We’d laugh as she called out the names.  We’d wonder which one she was calling. 

We knew that one of us either had to take out some trash or run to the store to get something she needed for dinner. That was a daily routine in our family.

One day my father and mother got into an argument, but that was not the first time.  They had had many arguments. I never knew what they were arguing about because they spoke to each other in Spanish. So whatever this one was about, it was big!

My father left the home and took my brother Gilbert with him. To this day, I never knew why my dad took him. I do know that he favored Gilbert. They were gone for a very long time. I remember missing my father, not that I didn’t miss my brother, but I really missed my father.

They went to live with my grandmother in Watts. My brother Louie even ran away to be with them. But my father told him to go back home. I didn’t know at the time how long they were gone but I believe it was a year. That is a very long time.

When my father finally brought Gilbert back home we noticed a change in him.  He was very rebellious, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and drinking alcohol.  Rumor had it that my father had brainwashed him. 

When Gilbert was seventeen, he wanted to join the air force. Because he was a minor, he needed the consent of our parents. I believe my parents were separated at the time, and I guess, they gave their consent, for whatever reason. Maybe they thought it would give him some structure in his life.  Somehow they weren’t having any success.

When he was given leave from the air force, Gilbert would visit our family. I remember being so proud of him, and he was proud of himself too. I thought he looked so handsome in his uniform.

Everyone made a big to-do when he visited the family. There were a lot of hugs and kisses! My mother cried a lot. She also cooked a lot of homemade meals. That’s what he looked forward to – homemade enchiladas! He was basically treated like a king!

After Gilbert served in the Air Force, he attended mechanics school. He then met a girl named Rita. She wasn’t Hispanic, she was a white girl. That’s how my father referred to her.

Rita’s culture was very different, but in other ways, she was like us. She was very outspoken and she fit in well with our family. They soon got married and had a very nice wedding. I was a bridesmaid! It was a wonderful day for both of them. They had two sons, Gilbert III and David.

My brother decided to live in Arizona, so we didn’t see him as often as we wanted to. But he did visit during the holidays.

I knew my brother drank alcohol, but I never knew it was a problem. Often times Rita would call my mother to let her know that my brother was being very abusive toward her and the boys, and that he was spending his hard-earned money on booze. He was a mechanic and earned very good money.

My mother occasionally sent Rita money to ease the burden. The years went by, and Rita continued her calls to my mother.

Finally, Rita could not put up with him anymore. She told Gilbert to leave their home. My mother sent Gilbert a plane ticket to come back to Los Angeles. Only then did we realize and see what Rita was talking about.

Gilbert lived with my mother and he stayed in the garage. I lived with my sister Ophelia at the time. Gilbert was out of control. He lost his job, was drinking every day and was mistreating my mother. He could be like a roaring lion waiting for his prey.

The only thing my mother could do for him was pray. He started to roam the streets and was often spotted panhandling.

But there were days when he was sober. When he was sober, he was caring and funny. He loved Bugs Bunny, and he’d go on and on, talking about the cartoon character. It was amazing to me what joy he found in that cartoon character.

He had a lot of favorite TV shows. The Rockford Files was one of them. He was also extremely intelligent, using words that I didn’t understand. He quoted scripture from the bible. That was impressive!

When my car needed fixing, he was always there to service it. He taught me how to change the oil. He was my mechanic back in the day. 

When I wanted to visit my mother and my father, I’d call to see if he was around and drinking. When I knew he was sober, I would sit in the garage with him. He would be so quiet and reserved. I could not comprehend the two personalities! 

He’d sit there and smoke cigarettes and watch TV. When I think about it now, it breaks my heart, but for some reason, my brother had this inner torment. He used to say, when he was drunk, “I can’t get this monkey off my back.”

One day my mother called me and asked if I could get him out of the house.  I went to pick him up.  I said to him, “Come on, Brother, let’s go for a ride!” The first thing I noticed was that he was very drunk, and his demeanor was overbearing.

There were two things my brother demanded respect for – the Los Angeles Rams and the name Reyna, which was our last name. When he was fueled with alcohol, he would remind you of those two things.

So when he said to me, “What’s your name?” I said, “Yolanda.”

“Yolanda what?” he snarled.

I said, “Yolanda Reyna.”  And with a furrowed brow and tightened lips, he’d answer, “That’s right, and don’t you forget it!”

I just could not comprehend the two personalities, and I was torn between the two of them. But that is what alcohol does to a person.

I saw him slowly deteriorate from being very handsome to looking bloated, very dark-skinned, and meaner by the day.

One day I received a phone call.  It was November of 1997, Thanksgiving weekend.  My sister Mary called me.

She said, “Yolie, are you sitting down?”

My beloved brother Gilbert, who was so proud of his military service, is buried at Riverside National Cemetery. He was forty-one years old when he passed away.

Shared Stories: Thanksgiving Wisdom

Her granddaughter’s observation one Thanksgiving gave Yolanda Adele a sense of peace after her father passed away. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Yolanda Adele

It was 1991. Getting together with the family for Thanksgiving dinner was not something I was looking forward to, having lost my father, whom we called Popi, just two months earlier. 

Yet I felt an obligation to my mother and the rest of the family to be there to help alleviate the obvious void that was left in my parent’s home.  

On holidays before my dad died, the house and neighborhood were filled with sounds of Mexican music blasting from Dad’s reel-to-reel tape recorder. 

It could play non-stop for 24 hours and sometimes did, often to the annoyance of the neighbors, and always to the frustration of my mother, in spite of being hard of hearing.  I could hear the music the minute I turned the corner on to their block, though their house was almost at the end of the street.

Popi enjoyed having lots of activity around him, especially since my eldest daughter Yvette made him a great-grandfather, first with Jaime, born in 1986, then with Brandon who was born in 1990. 

It amazed me to watch Popi interact with his great-grandchildren in a way that he never could with his own children. I came to realize that becoming a grandparent was God’s way of giving parents another chance to get the bonding thing right, if they didn’t fare well the first time.

Jaime loved her Popi. The last time she saw him alive she was five years old. She came with her parents to visit with Popi in his bedroom where he lay on a hospital bed. My mom called us to the kitchen to eat. I told Popi to rest, and that we’d return in a bit.

After a while Jaime left the table. I got up to look for her. I went to the living room where her toys were spread out on the floor. She was not there. I checked in the bathroom, she was not there either. 

I walked down the hall to my father’s bedroom. There I saw the sweetest sight. Jaime had somehow managed to squeeze through or climb over the hospital bed’s metal side guard, and lay on her side facing her Popi. They both smiled at each other as Jaime gently stroked the top of his head. 

Now, the family gathered without Popi, without his lively Mexican or any other kind of music playing.  In fact, the only sounds beside our voices were the harsh clattering of the dishes and silverware.  

I didn’t know how I was going to get through this strained family gathering. We held hands around the table preparing to say grace. 

Then, with the voice of an angel, Jaime proclaimed, “Popi is so lucky. This is his first Thanksgiving with God.”.

Suddenly I felt all the pent up tension leave my body. A smoothing peace washed over me. Someone turned on the radio filling the house with a joyful noise.

Then I knew Jaime was right. And I whispered “Happy Thanksgiving, Popi.”

Shared Stories: City Slicker

Claire Hess grew up in a story-book time in the 1960’s – across the bay from San Francisco. Circumstances dictated an abrupt move to a very small town for her senior year in high school. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Claire Hess

The authors of my being were travelling on a cool morning blanketed with fog from Pt. Richmond to Hayward, California, a distance of approximately 23 miles, in a speeding taxicab at 2:00 am to anticipate the birth of yours truly.

Why did they go so far?  Mom wanted me to be born in the same hospital with the same doctor as my brother who came before me.

The taxicab skidded on its side along the Bayshore Freeway close to Golden Gate Meadows, a race track.  The track was almost my birthplace, but the taxi righted itself and sped off to Hayward Hospital, where I was born instantly.

I entered this world on November 3.  Was this a twist of fate?  When I look back on the event, I see that I have been somewhat of a gambler too with life’s trials and tribulations.

After living in the housing projects of Richmond, my parents bought a lot on a small hill overlooking the bay called El Cerrito, neighboring Berkeley, California.  I missed the expansive lawns of the projects and the cot I slept on, but was excited to live in a new area that looked like mini-country.

Behind us was a golf course where my brother and I spent many long hours box-boarding down the 7th hole green and selling lemonade to the golfers.  There was also golf-ball selling, and many times a golfer would say, “I lost that one last week, but here’s 25 cents.”

A large, pregnant German Shepherd followed us home on the 10th hole one afternoon, and as a good book says, “Pick up a starving animal and it will thank you for it.” She delivered her ten pups one afternoon on my parents’ twin beds. She was thankful and said, “Here are ten more.”

Next door to us was Fire Station #3 and the firemen were not neighbors, they were family.  I can still remember the firemen, their caring conversation and their tiny kitchen.  When I smelled the aroma of spaghetti sauce, it was time for me to go home.  I always felt safe when my parents left, knowing that they were within earshot.

My brother and I always wondered who would run next door if we had a fire.  One Christmas, we were burning the discarded paper and the wood above the fireplace caught fire.  I can’t remember who ran next door, but they were in the house within a minute.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960’s was very political, and at the same time, sheltering. As we did not have computers and smart phones, I came home and practiced my squeak, squeak violin for two hours and did my homework.

I started playing in the third grade and stopped in my junior year of high school. I begged my parents to let me quit and take typing lessons or drama. They said OK.

That summer I missed out on a trip to Mason City, Iowa, to see the premier of the Music Man because of my estrangement from the orchestra. But I took it up again and played one semester in college.

San Francisco was only 12 miles away, but in those golden days that was a big trip.  When relatives came from the Midwest, Dad would pack everyone in our 1955 blue Ford and drive over the Bay Bridge to Grotto #9 at Fisherman’s Wharf to have the best clam chowder, with oyster crackers sprinkled on top, and, of course, the entrée prawns.

It took almost an hour to get there because most of the time we got lost, what with all of the one-way streets.

Oh, but what a city San Francisco was – so cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and with views of the bay on most of the hills.  Women wore stylish, small hats, and covered their hands and nails with gloves.

I heard the bad news when I arrived home from school when I was finishing my junior year.  We were moving to a small town in northeastern California by the name of Alturas.  This is the last larger town before you are in Oregon.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

I pleaded with my parents to let me stay behind and finish my anticipated senior year.  Couldn’t I live with my best friend? 

Oh, now Claire, you know that would be impossible.

Nothing worked and I was destined to leave the friends I had spent all my school years with. We were classmates since kindergarten and there were 562 of us – how could I leave?

The move took place, and two parents, three children, one German Shepherd, and one cat took Highway 395 up to Modoc County, the county seat.  This is where the Modoc Indian Wars were fought, and also the site of the Japanese internment in Tulelake during World War II.

The country was completely different from the bay area, and we were the strangers.  The town only had 2,450 people and had more bars per capita than any other city in California.  There was a saloon on every corner, it seemed.  If you lived in a small town, you know that all know your business before you do.

Two weeks before school, I saw two boys throwing frogs on the pavement, so I was not sure about this place.

I decided not to be a city-slicking snob and plunged right into my senior year with gusto.  September rolled around and the whole school of 320 was very friendly and welcomed me with open arms. I felt strange, but made many friends.

When there were tryouts for the senior play, I was chosen for the lead in the play, Aunt Susie Shoots the Works.  I would not have even been given a walk-on part at my old high school, as the competition was too keen.

The play centered on a man-hating spinster who owns a sausage factory.  This was living, and I did not miss the old school!

I met a friend who owned horses in a small town north called Davis Creek, and she and I would ride.

In my public speaking class, I announced that I had never, ever seen falling snow, and they answered, “Just you wait.”  The first snow was rather eventful, but after shoveling it with my dad, the novelty soon wore off.

The night of the senior play, I took my mother to the drug store and I was thinking a lot of my lines.  It was snowing quite heavily and a girl darted out in from of the car next to me.  Luckily I slammed on my brakes and did not hit her.  It really shook me up and I do not think I drove the car for a few months after that.

Graduation took place in May with 32 of us Modoc Braves, and I looked forward to the summer and then on to Chico State University in the fall.

That summer I was hired as a waitress at a local restaurant in town, and it was also the bowling alley and Greyhound Bus station stop.  I worked for $1 an hour.  That was less than the minimum wage at the time - $1.25.

Many interesting incidents happened on the job, but the one I remember the most was when two English ladies came into the restaurant and they each tipped me a silver dollar!

Every night I would arrive home and Mom would get up and we would count all of my tips – she was shocked at the silver dollars!

I believe in the premise that unfortunate circumstances train you, give you strength, and usually end with a happy ending.  I have wonderful memories of experiences in the small town that enhanced my knowledge and gave me a good comparison of urban versus rural communities.

Home is where the heartbeat is.

Shared Stories: No Stopping a Determined Driver

Statistic show that a fair number of young people today are not as anxious to drive as teenagers were many decades ago. Janice Collins learned to drive on the back roads of Colorado, and even a rollover accident didn’t deter her or her friend. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Janice Collins

I’ve been in two car accidents that were the rollover kind. The first was when my girlfriend Delores and I were travelling near her home on sandy country roads in Colorado.

She hit a rut in the road near a large ditch, causing the car to swerve.  We rolled over and the car landed on the embankment. I was not trapped, just tossed around in the car, and I lost my glasses and shoes.

When I couldn’t see her, I crawled out of the window on my side and went around the car trying to find her. Her head was sticking out from under the car which was upside down and covering her body.

She was conscious, and asked me not to leave her because it was such a terrifying thing to have happened.  Since I could not help her, I left, telling her that I was going for help.
I ran faster than I had ever run before, shoeless and without glasses, to the nearest farm house to make phone calls.

When I got to a house with a fenced yard, the dogs didn’t accept me.  So I hollered for help. The people heard me and made phone calls, and then took me back to the site.

An ambulance came for Delores and the parents of both of us also came. Fortunately, Delores was in a small depression under the car, and it must have been made when we hit the embankment and rolled over.  

She was only bruised, no broken bones or concussion. I was taken to the doctor’s just to be checked.  We were both about seventeen and the accident didn’t deter us from driving.  Our parents were calm and didn’t want us to feel any worse than we already did.

My second rollover accident involved my car. My husband was taking us to Denver to visit my father who had ulcer surgery.

We hit a slick spot in the paved road, after a rain storm. We slid and rolled the car. The car was totaled.

My husband’s finger was badly cut, and he held it in place while we tried to stop the bleeding. We were fortunate that a passerby stopped to take us to the Denver hospital so he could get stitches.

My husband was a very brave person to have handled the situation so well.  He was more worried about me instead of himself.  

Once again, the accident didn’t stop us from driving.

Shared Stories: Here I Am, Ready or Not

Mervin Chantland wore a body cast for eight years of his childhood as treatment for a severe case of tuberculosis diagnosed when he was two. His loving family found medical help in Iowa City, over 200 miles from their family farm, and every few months Mervin made the journey to have the cast replaced on his growing body.

Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Mervin Chantland

I was born December 13, 1934, on a small farm just outside Badger, Iowa, and was given the name Mervin Darvin Chantland. I was the ninth of Carl and Cora Chantland’s 11 children.  My claim to fame in my first year of life was related to be by my sister Jeanette. She said I walked at a younger age than any of the other children – in my crib at seven and one-half months and on my own at nine months.

Mom had been so lonesome for her life in Battle Lake, Minnesota, that Dad said she should go back and visit. My sisters offered to take care of me, only two years old at the time, but Mom said she wouldn’t go without her baby. Jeanette tells the story of how she and the other girls went into town and bought me “the cutest coat and cap set” to wear on the trip. It was dark blue.

Dad took the two of us off by first driving us to Minneapolis where we took the train to Dalton, Minnesota to stay with Mom’s relatives, the Fashaugs. All this time I had been fussing and crying that my hip hurt every time I walked.

Mom couldn’t figure out why I was so fretful. This just wasn’t like me. And Mom wasn’t able to get very much rest as she tried everything she could think of to make me comfortable. From Dalton, we took the train to Duluth, and went from there to visit Mom’s brothers and sisters in Mahtawa, Minnesota.

After our trip, when Dad came to pick up us, Mom said, “I never want to go back to Battle Lake again. It is not what it used to be.” Mom was exhausted, and Jeanette says she believes Mom was pregnant with my sister Doris at the time.

“Walking at nine months!” That turned out to be pretty ironic, considering the rest of my story.
Dad took me to a doctor right away, determined to find out why I had seemed to be in such pain during the Minnesota trip. The doctor moved my leg and I cried out. An x-ray of my hip showed I had Tuberculosis (TB) of the hip bone.

I was taken for treatment to Iowa City University Hospital. Jeanette remembers that when they took me there and left me, I cried so loudly they could hear me from out in the street. Mom was so thankful to soon receive a letter from a nurse informing her that I had settled down all right and that they loved me very much.

When my mother was tested, she was found to have TB as well, so she had to leave her family and go to live in Oakdale Sanitarium near Iowa City. All of our family members were tested, checking to see if they reacted to a patch test on the arm. Older members were also given x-rays. They all turned out to be fine. Even Dad had escaped the infection, thank God. 

All of our family members had to take cod liver oil – to make sure everyone remained healthy. Even all of the children who attended school with my brothers and sisters had to take the terrible-tasting stuff. According to Jeanette, this brought a lot of criticism on our family. My siblings were called “TB kids” and were teased and avoided in school.

That’s how it was back then. TB was very contagious, could cause a lot of complications, and often required harsh treatment. My family stood it as best they could. They didn’t have a choice.

When I finally came home from the hospital, I was in a body cast. This covered my entire right leg, went up under my arms, and then went down to my left knee. A bar was attached between my legs, to keep my legs separated and he hip stable. It was believed that I had contracted the TB from my mother, from having been a nursing baby.

Mervin with his sister, Jeanette, when he was in a full body cast. Photo courtesy Mervin Chantland.

Mervin with his sister, Jeanette, when he was in a full body cast. Photo courtesy Mervin Chantland.

With our mother away, it fell to Dad and Jeanette, the oldest girl at home, to take care of me on the farm. It was very hard on them. Since someone had to be up with me most of the time, Dad and Jeanette had to take urns every other night. I had to be carried everywhere, and the cast made me very heavy and clumsy to handle. I was basically a cheerful child, but I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly not able to get down and play and walk around like I wanted. And it was hard for me to rest comfortably for very long at a time.

In nice weather I was placed on the cellar lid outside so I could lie there and watch the other kids play. They tried to include me and make my life as normal as possible. Being in a cast during the summer was really miserable. It was very hot; but to make things even worse, I would itch everywhere under the cast and couldn’t scratch myself. Back in those days, the women wore corsets made with “stays,” long, flat metal pieces that kept the garments stiff. Jeanette took one of the stays from a corset and slid it up and down inside my cast to attack the itchy spots. It’s unbelievable how good that felt. 

Eventually Dad decided that they couldn’t continue to provide me with the constant care I needed. It was very hard on Dad and Jeanette to let me go, but they had become so worn down that they were afraid they were putting the health, and maybe even the lives, of all three of us in jeopardy. Jeanette still gets tears in her eyes when she ways she was afraid I was not going to live.

I was three years old when Dad hired Lou and Prof Knoll in Gilmore City, Iowa, to take me into their home and care for me. This was over 20 miles from our farm in Badger. Dad paid the Knolls $39 a month for my care and took them meat, eggs, and milk from the farm to help out.

The above chapter has been reprinted with the author’s permission from his book, “Can’t: No Such Word.