Shared Stories: What wrong have I done?

Dulce Ruelos and her family left their village to go into hiding when Japan invaded the Philippines. When everyone returned home and school resumed, Dulce feared she had done something wrong. 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 Dulce Ruelos

In 1945, at the end of World War II with the surrender of the Japanese army and the takeover of the Philippines by the Americans, we were finally allowed to go back to our homes from the places where we had hidden for safety.

The initial sight was one of total devastation. All houses were bombed and burned to the ground.  There was only one structure left standing. This was a large, two-story house belonging to my cousin Lorna. 

The roof and walls were riddled with bullets, but the floor was still usable. This structure became our school building. 

Meanwhile, temporary dwelling places had to be built. Bamboo was plentiful and came in handy for use as floors or walls. Our lot had a deep well, so a safe water supply was available for us and our neighbors. We lived temporarily in this hut until better housing could be built.
Top priority was to reopen our school. The only building that could be utilized was the lone surviving home. Quick fixes were made so that classes could start.

First and second grades would occupy the ground floor, and the bigger and older third and fourth graders would be on the second floor.

I was enrolled in second grade. My teacher was a frail-looking but strict and efficient teacher named Miss Teodora. Textbooks and major school supplies had to be shared, and classes resumed with a sense of normalcy.

One day the principal, Mr. Ruiz, came to our classroom. We all stood up as a sign of respect until he motioned us to take our seats. Mr. Ruiz then spoke with Miss Teodora in a soft tone, almost a whisper, and turned toward the class.

He focused his look on me and I heard him mention my name. Needless to say, I was scared, and I began to ask myself, “What wrong have I done?”

Did he find out that I scribbled something on the wall?  But my handwriting is so fine and small.  You see, graffiti is nothing new. Finally he announced that with Miss Teodora’s permission, he would take me upstairs to the fourth grade class.

He asked me to stand in front of the class. Then he gave me the fourth grade book, opened it, and asked me to read from the book. After reading, he told me that I could go back to my class.

At that, I heard him tell the fourth graders that he wanted to show them that a second grader could easily read their book that they were having difficulty with and they should strive to improve their reading skills.

This experience was a moment of pride and an unforgettable memory.

Shared Stories: My Grandparents’ Ranch in Mexicali

Maria Gutierrez’s visits to her grandparents’ ranch in Mexicali, Mexico, left her with lasting impressions.  She and her siblings slept outside under mosquito netting and reveled in games with cousins and the warmth of a large, extended family. 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 H. Gutierrez

When I was seven years old, visits to the ranch of my grandparents in the Mexicali desert valley in Baja California were very adventurous trips.

My siblings and I rose early at the crack of dawn, 6 o’clock in the morning, with exciting anticipation to see our grandparents.

After five hours on the road from Los Angeles to Calexico, the border town that welcomed us into the steaming hot Mexicali valley, I sighed with relief knowing that soon we would arrive at the ranch of abuelita and abuelito

Upon our arrival, Grandma and Grandpa hugged and kissed us on our dusty foreheads.  With a smile on his face, Grandpa helped Dad bring our luggage and food into the family room of their adobe house.

In the living room, which was Grandma and Grandpa’s master bedroom, there was a velvet painting of an armadillo.  My grandparents laughed when I told them that the armadillo looked like an animal soldier.  Grandpa told me with a loving smile that I had a creative and funny imagination.

As I looked out the bedroom windows, Grandpa told me that their ranch home was surrounded by cotton and corn fields that his sons tended and harvested.

“Come and eat.  Lunch is ready!” Grandma said as she led us into the dining room.  A long wooden table covered with a red plastic tablecloth served as a “royal carpet” for a homemade dinner of Mexican rice, pinto beans, and red chile, chicken, and cheese enchiladas.

After lunch, my parents and siblings were entertained by a black and white 12” x 12” TV.  Grandma whispered into my ear, “Elena, I have a surprise for you.”  

She led me into the living room and opened an old, dusty metal footlocker.  It was filled with Spanish primary school novels and textbooks.  I read two hours before bedtime.

Since the adobe guest house was occupied by my uncles, my family slept outside, enjoying the cool night air on queen beds under mosquito net covers.  My sisters and I shared a bed protected with pink mosquito nets.  I could hear those nasty insects buzz all night.  

In the middle of the night, when I was sound asleep, I thought that I was awakened by angelic voices.  Turning to my right, I actually was awakened by my sisters crying out, “Elena take us to the bathroom.  We need to urinate!”

Being the eldest, I was assigned the responsibility of taking my siblings to the luxurious cardboard and wooden outhouse.  I hated this chore, but held back my anger each time we had to visit the outhouse.

I enjoyed counting the stars at night while I quietly sang, “Twinkle,, twinkle, little star.”  This experience filled me with deep contentment and serenity.

On Sunday morning, as the warm rays of the sun and the melodic good morning ritual of the Rita roosters awakened us, we could smell the delightful aroma of cinnamon and raisin oatmeal (avena), Mexican bread and Mexican chocolate coming from abuelita’s kitchen.

After breakfast, Grandpa shared with us the agenda for the week.  He told us to sit in a circle on a bamboo mat in front of an old chalkboard.  The remaining days of our visit were written on the chalkboard.

“Today being Sunday (Domingo),” he said, “you kids are free to do whatever you desire on the ranch.  Your uncles have a few fun activities you can choose from.  

On Monday (Lunes) we will visit Tío Mikey and Tía Anita and their family.  And on Tuesday (Martes) we will visit Chole’s (Mom’s) third brother and family who live two miles from ejido Juarez (Grandpa’s ranch).

They invited us to join them for a delicious homemade lunch.  On Wednesday and Thursday (Miercoles y Jueves) we will take a trip into town after breakfast to buy provisions and do some sight-seeing.

Our special day of the week will be Friday.  Grandma and I have planned a Graciano and Fonseca family reunion.  And Saturday will be your day of departure.”

This last statement made me feel very sad.  I shook my head and said to myself, “No, Elena, you have five days to look forward to.  You’re going to have fun and be happy.”

Wednesday and Friday were my favorite days.  On Wednesday morning we got up at 7 o’clock to a warm 85-degree day.  After breakfast, my siblings and I hopped into the back seat of our Blue and White Chevy Impala on route to Calexico.

Upon entering the town, I was amused by the vendors on the streets singing funny rhyming melodies.  

Grandma and Grandpa purchased their groceries from a colorful market called El Mercado, or Tanguis, very similar to a farmers market.  I enjoyed reading the labels and signs that described the vegetables and fruit.  

I took out my little red notebook and wrote the names of my favorite fruit and vegetables in Spanish and English.  Abuelita (Grandma) was so impressed by my interest in learning that she treated me to my favorite fruit, a juicy red apple.

Our last stop was to a small Mexican shop that sold books, school supplies, and souvenirs.  As I walked into the shop I was amused by the display of colorful Folklorico dolls.

Abuelito (Grandpa) said to me, “Elena, mi amor, choose your favorite doll. I want to buy you a gift.” I was so happy that tears flooded my eyes. My grandparents also bought gifts for my siblings. I will always treasure this trip to Calexico.

The family reunion day on Friday was a very special day for me. Outside of our grandparents’ adobe home was a huge thatched roof patio decorated with colorful red, green and white balloons and streamers. A long wooden table was covered with a green and white plastic tablecloth that served as a stage for a delicious Mexican potluck lunch.

The main dishes were two large Pyrex baking pans of green and red chili, cheese, chicken, and beef enchiladas, a pot of menudo, Mexican rice, and pinto beans

Mama and I prepared a huge bowl of potato salad. We also prepared the appetizers which included big bowls of tortilla chips and chili-flavored potato chips and guacamole in a red and green ceramic bowl.

My mom baked a marble cake decorated with 12 Mexican flags that we purchased at the educational supply and souvenir shop.

One hour later, Uncle Roberto blew a red whistle. He made us laugh when he put on a red, green, and white wig.

Tío, you act like a funny clown,” I told him, giggling.  He had my young cousins and I line up on the dusty desert soil that he called the “Graciano playground.”

He introduced us to the Mexican jump rope where the children sing funny, rhyming melodies in Spanish while jumping. I enjoyed this game the most. I waved my pompoms (red and green) while my pre-teen cousins played baseball and volleyball.

At the end of the day when my cousins departed for home, my preteen uncles sat down with me on a red bamboo carpet and played jacks. To their surprise, I won every game. Robert, my favorite uncle, said with a smile on his face, “Elenita, you are very intelligent and you are good at learning Mexican games.”

“Gracias, Tío,” I replied with my head down, feeling kind of shy. The Fonseca-Graciano family gathering was the most memorable day of my visit to Mexicali.

Saturday, homeward-bound, was the saddest day of the week for me. I so desired to stay at least another week.

While sitting on the patio wooden benches, we exchanged gifts. Mama nodded her head to me, which was the signal for me to carefully carry the gifts that were in a beautiful Sears shopping bag. Mom gave Grandma six Tupperware containers and a Pyrex baking pan.  

Her father received a blue cotton Gabardine dress shirt and a pair of navy blue working gloves. And my two uncles were given a pair of brown work gloves with matching sweatshirts.

Our grandparents gave us delicious homemade cornbread and corn tortillas. We hugged, kissed, and shed a few tears. I told my grandparents that we had so much fun that I looked forward to visiting them the next year.

Yes, we were blessed. I will always cherish the special memories of our first vacation with my siblings to our abuelitos in the Mexicali valley desert ranch.
 

Shared Stories: My First Set of Wheels

Being the good grandmother, Yolanda Adele digs out her decades-old, special childhood gift so she can help her young grandson learn to roller skate at the local rink.  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
On my 11th Christmas, my godfather, Uncle Brown, gave me my first pair of official roller-rink skates nestled in a bright blue and silver metal suitcase. On the side panels of the case was a graphic design of a smiling boy and girl holding hands, “couple skating.” In the mind of this pre-teen girl that design spelled out many potential possibilities. 

The white, smooth leather boot skates have a round rubber tip at the toe for stopping on the rink floor. The boots are high tops with silver laces. 

At eleven years old, I imagined the strobe lights from the roller rink ceiling bouncing off the shimmering, silver-color laces, spotlighting my every gliding move. 

I stood several inches taller on wheels, and I felt regal when I laced up my new boot skates. These skates were nothing like my first set of wheels, street skates that had to be fastened to my shoes and adjusted to size with a special skate-key that I wore around my neck like an Olympic Medal. 

Braking was left to the skater’s imagination.  In my case, that meant maneuvering myself to a nearby tree, bush, or a playmate’s extended hand to stop my momentum.

The rink skate boots are my favorite childhood gift. It’s hard to believe that I was married just six years after receiving those skates.

When my grandson, Moises (Mosey) was about six years old, my daughter Tina called me at home from the Skate Depot, a roller-skating rink in Norwalk. She said that Moises was there with her along with his first grade class. She added that he was having trouble balancing himself out on the rink floor. 

She could not help him because she had the baby, my granddaughter Hannah, with her. She asked if I could come there to assist Mosey. I quickly remembered exactly where my skates were. I told Tina I’d be there soon. 

When I arrived at the rink, it was apparent that my skates were at best, archaic.  I saw the skaters blur by with their state-of-the-art, inline roller stakes. 

“Whoa!” I knew I was in trouble then. Maybe I could skate and hold Mosey up on the rink floor for a time but - who would hold me up? Mosey spotted me and ran up to me in his stocking feet. He was excited.

“Nana, Mommy said that if you don’t skate with me we have to go home!”

“Honey, first I have to ask the skate attendant if my kind of skates are permitted on the rink floor. If he says my skates are O.K., I will skate with you.” He took my hand and hurriedly led me to the counter.

I took a skate out of the case and showed it to the attendant who proceeded to hold up my skate as he stared at it, like an archaeologist examining a find. 

With his index finger, he gave the wooden wheel a spin and said, “Yeah, lady, I guess so, but when was the last time you skated in these things?” 

I told him that I thought Dwight Eisenhower was president at the time. Actually, I had skated in them when Mosey was still an infant.  A roller rink had a Mommy and Baby Day when the rink was open only to The Moms’ Club, to which my daughter Tina belonged. 

At that time, babies in their strollers were allowed on the rink floor with their mommies and grandmas who supported themselves by the handle on the strollers, simultaneously skating and pushing the strollers to slow tempo music.                                

“Nana, does it fit?” my darling grandson asked while jumping up and down.  Why hadn’t I thought to try on my skates before I got here! 

I loosened the now lack-luster laces and leather shoe tongue before trying to slip in my foot. The experience was reminiscent of the ugly step-sister forcing her foot in the ill-fitting glass slipper like the Cinderella story.  My leather boot was no longer pliable, the lining was breaking down. 

The fit was stiff and uncomfortable. But what could I say, except...? “Of course they fit!”  Tina whispered in a concerned tone. “Mom, are you sure?”

I answered with bravado, “Absolutely!”  Mosey and I soon booted up, he in his new in-line skates and I in my relic skates. We headed for the rink floor. 

I had one hand on him and the other on the railing. Suddenly my ankles wobbled.  It took Mosey and I long time to go around the rink. I skated within range of the railing. A few times I let go and ended up skating in an undesirable direction like a loose cannon. I fell once and hurt my - pride.

Finally, the music stopped. An announcement was made to clear the rink floor. My reprieve did not last long. The next announcement was that the rink would be opened for skating in the opposite direction. Try as I did, I could not skate slanting in a different direction without at least a stroller handle for holding on. 

To my relief Mosey started skating less wobbly now, so I let go of his hand setting him free on his own first set of wheels.

I can’t help wondering what kind of skates Mosey’s children will have when in line-skates become archaic. And will Mosey reminisce about his first set of wheels? 
 

Shared Stories: Wardrobe Malfunctions

More than a few women can probably relate to Helen Hampton’s clothing problems out in public. 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 Helen Hampton

Back in the 1940’s, when I studied voice at the Boston Conservatory of Music, I used to go to dinner at Schraff’s before my voice lesson.  It was a pretty place with candy and other sundries on the street floor, with a lovely restaurant at the top of a spiral staircase.

One evening I was wearing a new girdle, and the stays in it were killing me! I knew I could not take my singing lesson in agony, so after dinner I went to the ladies room to take off my girdle.
Whew! Instant relief! Into my purse it went.

But then I realized – I had no way to hold up my stockings. Luckily I had heard long ago that pennies twisted at the top of hose will hold them up. And so, I twisted the pennies into each stocking and left the ladies room.

As I was exiting down the spiral staircase, the pennies started falling out! One by one they fell down the stairs, jingling all the way. I felt all eyes on me as I made my descent with my stocking around my ankles. I was SO embarrassed!

I rushed back upstairs to the ladies room. I took off my stockings and put them into my purse with the girdle! After making my way down the spiral staircase with my head held high, I then proceeded on to my singing lesson.

On another occasion, a skirt gave me problems. During World War II, my sister and I were volunteers for the U.S.O. in Boston. I sang with the band and we both danced with the boys.
One night I rushed home from work to change my clothes before going to the U.S.O.  I chose a beautiful light blue skirt with a matching blouse.

In a rush, I put the skirt on, and then I styled my hair. When I reached for the blouse, I found a button missing.  I hurried to look for something else to wear and found a pretty red dress.
My sister and I hurried up the street to the subway. Running late, we ran to the U.S.O. and signed in.  Within a few minutes a boy asked me to dance.

As I was dancing away, I kept seeing my sister waving to me. I kept waving back. Finally my dance partner asked what I was doing. I said, “Oh, my sister keeps waving to me.” 

He looked over at her and said, “I don’t think she is waving. I think she wants to come over.”
We danced over and my sister pointed to me, laughing her head off. I looked down and saw a light blue accordion-pleated skirt hanging three inches below my red dress! I was so embarrassed!

I excused myself, rushed to the cloakroom, took off the skirt, hung it on a coat hook, and returned to the dance floor. Needless to say, my dance partner was not in sight!
 

Shared Stories: Pets or Pests?

Yolanda Reyna grew up without family pets and afraid of dogs. When she married, her husband’s dog was a new experience.  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

When I was a young girl growing up, I don’t recall having any pets in my home.  What I do recall were pests such as cockroaches and mice. That was about the only thing I saw wandering around my house (besides people).   

I mean, I didn't think they were my pets. But honestly, I got used to them, you see, as I was growing up.  My family and I lived in very poor conditions. 

But as far as pets like a dog? Well I only knew one thing - I was afraid of them! My recollection of dogs was that they roamed the streets.  I just knew of dogs being outdoors, not indoors, let alone sitting on a sofa or wearing doggie clothes!

I remember one time my mother let me walk to the store (by myself) to buy some candy.  Oh, I must have been around seven or eight years old.  As I started to walk down the sidewalk, out of nowhere came a little dog (it could have been a Chihuahua).  

That teeny weenie little thing just started barking at me. I was so paralyzed with fear that I could not move. I started to cry so loud that I think I scared the poor little thing away. My mother eventually came to my rescue. 

After that incident, I never really cared for dogs or any animals. It's funny how something like that can just change your outlook. But also growing up, my siblings and I were normally chased by dogs when we walked to school. I really could not understand how and why people loved animals so much!

When I met Robert, the father of my children and my ex-husband, he had a dog named Max. Max was a golden retriever. He was a big dog. Robert loved him so much. He kept him in the backyard. I wasn't too fond of the dog, but I did appreciate how much Robert loved him. 

I didn't dislike the dog, I think I didn't know how to appreciate him. I had been dating Robert for about six months when Max ran away.  He was gone for two weeks. Robert was devastated. 
He even cried! I thought, what a baby. 

After two weeks, Max appeared with no warning. Somehow he managed to make it back home. Robert had told me the story of his return. I was shocked! 

After dating Robert for a couple of years, we eventually got married and had two children, Reina two years old and Lil Robert one years old.  I had already grown accustomed to Max. He barked a lot! It was annoying!  He could be a pest at times! 

But then I realized he was sort of protecting us.  Because dogs bark at everything. They have a sense like no other.  He barked at everything and everyone! 

His favorite time of the day to bark was when the mailman was approaching.  It was like clockwork! Every day at around 3 pm he would bark and bark! 

So I’d say, “Great, the bills are coming in,” or, “Oh! My unemployment check is arriving!” Max had different barks for different people. He had this wailing bark when he knew Robert was coming home from work.  It was amazing!

Robert really loved Max and Max loved Robert too.  I saw the bond between them. Each time Robert came home from work, of course he’d greet his family first, but then he would go straight outside in the backyard and greet his dog. 

The love they had for each other was nice to see.  Robert would sit on a chair and let Max sit on his lap.  He let Max lick him all over his face!  

Robert had Max for quite some time, since he was a teeny weenie little thing. He told me the story when he first got Max. How he was so little he fit in the palm of his hand or how he let Max sleep on his chest at times. 

Max was only around my children and me for almost four years. I met Max December of 1989 and he left us around 1994. It was the saddest day for Robert and it is sad to say I was forced to call animal control. 

One day while Robert was out in the backyard attending to yard-work, Reina our two- year-old wanted to go outside with her dad, but I was very nervous of her being around Max. I never allowed her to get near him. 

Robert only allowed Max to get near her when he carried her in his arms. Robert assured me she would be fine if I let her go outside. So while I was in the kitchen, I could see Reina around the patio area.

No sooner than I blinked, Max appeared and was humping Reina from her little behind! Reina being only two years old, didn't have a clue what was going on!

I literally witnessed this! I raced outside and Robert turned and witnessed it too! He yelled at Max! It was hilarious but yet scary. 

That was all it took, plus, with having two children, Robert really didn't have time for Max. He never walked Max nor did he take him for any vaccinations. 

I did not want the dog around. So I told Robert I think we should consider giving him to someone that will spend more time with him.  I just didn't want Max around. I know it sounds cruel but I was thinking of my children. 

I called animal control and they took Max away. Robert agreed but I made the final decision. To this day, I often think about that time and the love that Robert and Max shared. 
 

Shared Stories: Miss Fireworks

Sharon Benson Smith lived in East L.A. during the car culture period of the 1950’s – before the construction of the East L.A. Interchange changed the neighborhood.  This story is about her participation in a July 4th advertising campaign.  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 Sharon Benson Smith

In 1954, at age 16, and shortly after I was crowned Friendship Festival Queen of East Los Angeles, I was approached by a local merchants’ association to pose as “Miss Fireworks” for the local advertising of an upcoming 4th of July celebration to take place in the general area.

Again, I was honored, discussed it with Mom, and she quickly agreed as long as she could accompany me.  

Sharon Benson Smith in an advertising photo for July 4, 1953.  She is sitting atop a three-story building at the corner of Atlantic and Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles.

Sharon Benson Smith in an advertising photo for July 4, 1953.  She is sitting atop a three-story building at the corner of Atlantic and Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles.

So, I donned the pink high heels that I wore in the Friendship Festival contest and the multicolored, one-piece bathing suit I wore when completing my Junior Lifeguard tests at the local Atlantic Plunge.

All of my siblings and other family members were elated for me, as usual, and we awaited the momentous occasion.

Mom was with me, of course, but she wasn’t too thrilled that they wanted me to pose, three stories high, seated with my legs dangling down the side of the building  They assured her they would take every precaution to ensure my safety.  So, up three stories I gladly went, via the elevator, to the top of the building.

By the way, this took place right outside the window of our family dentist, Dr. Winnegar, so that put me at ease immediately.  I was sitting on top of my little East L.A. world, looking down on the streets we cruised on Friday and Saturday nights.

From this vantage point, I could see the familiar intersection of Whittier and Atlantic Boulevards.  I could even see the very popular Stan’s Drive Inn, where we often “hung out,” as well as the façade of the Golden Gate Theatre where I was then employed.

A family member took photos of me in the bathing suit, but this 8” X 10” photo is the only photo I have that was taken professionally of the occasion.  If my memory serves me correctly, a few photos were posted in the area surrounding the celebration, but it didn’t get a lot of publicity.

I was just honored and humbled, once again, merely to be considered to take part in such a special occasion, and I can’t think of any celebration more significant that the 4th of July!

My memory of that long-ago day keeps pulling me back to what was truly special about it - looking down on a very worried Mom who was looking up at me writing her hands, and telling the gentleman in charge to, “Please take care of my precious cargo.”

Special congratulations to Sharon from the Memoirs Class for her recent L.A. Press Club award, 3rd place, for her article about housing which appeared in the Downey Patriot last year. “We’re proud of you, Sharon!”
 

Shared Stories: My Cat for 25 Years

Kay Halsey shares the story of a beloved feline who wandered into her yard one day and stayed for decades. 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 Kay Halsey

When I had children at home we often took our supper out of doors in the lovely backyard where it was cooled by orange and apple trees. My husband would enjoy feeding a stray cat under the table when I wasn’t looking. Cat loved his donations and stayed around. He became my cat.

He could jump from the roof to the ground and run very fast. Other cats stayed away, but Cat found our house his home. Eventually, when my husband had died and my four children had left home, he was my companion.

He was my companion for 25 years. He sat by me, with his rear towards me, guarding me. His tail always lightly touching my leg. He slept in the mornings until I made my breakfast. I would find him sitting in the chair waiting for me to come and eat, hoping I would let him lick my cereal dish.

One morning I missed him. When I went outside I found him lying on some weeds, enjoying the warmth of the sun. His long tan and black hair had turned to white.

Anytime I stopped working and sat down, he joined me. He jumped in my lap, hoping I would scratch his neck.

Cat talked to me – a guttural sound was a Good Morning greeting, a high-to-low growl was notice that he wanted more to eat.  

He had been around for 25 years at least. He would ask for food, but smell it and not eat. His body was long and thin. His rear quarter dragged and he’d lost his jumping ability. Inability to swallow and difficulty in movement seem to go with age.

The stress of caring for an old cat was immediate. I tired of seeking out accidental messes, shed fur, fleas, and smells. I myself was having trouble keeping my home clean.  

I made an unplanned decision to take him to SEAACA, a facility that humanely disposes of cats. It was reason instead of emotion.

I put him in my arms and put him on the back seat of the car. I registered him with the clerk at SEAACA for $35. I was told to drive to the back of the building and wait my turn in the tent.

I held him in my arms. A man in green gloves came out of the gate and put him in a wire cage. I saw his sad eyes! I knew this was the loss of a wonderful companion so necessary for both of us. A neighbor told me that the clerk gives the animals a shot for termination. This was a sad day in my life.

There are many losses when you grow old and find yourself alone. I am safer and now more active in Tai Chi, fine art painting, and writing for memoirs class.
 

Shared Stories: Childhood Island Adventures, 1951-52

After chronicling the courtship of her mother and father, Ligaya and Juan, Lisa Filler now shares her unusually early memories as a little girl in the Philippines after 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 earliest memories were when I was 2 years old in the Philippines.  My father got a job as a mining engineer assigned to the different islands in Visaya and Mindanao. The whole family, Nanay (Mommy), Tatay (Daddy), Kuya Jubert (eldest brother) Jose (sibling) and I were going with Tatay as he was assigned to work in the different islands in the Philippines.

In Cebu Island, we lived in a house on the mountain where we had to walk thru a narrow wooden bridge that shook as we walked through. Nanay was so scared because deep below the bridge was a river.  

Our house was a typical nipa house (made of bamboo) located in the middle of the mountain. The living area was elevated about three feet from the ground. We used the space below the living area as our playground.  

The living area was divided into two rooms. The big room served as living room at day and bedroom at night. We shared one big mat on the floor when we slept at night.  I was always at Nanay's side. 

As we lay down we watched the lizards on the ceiling and named each one.  I’m usually the little lizard, Tatay was the biggest, then Nanay, and so on.  We knew it was time to sleep when we heard the sound of the big lizard (tuko).  

The small room served as the kitchen and dining room.  The kitchen did not have good lighting. Our stove was made of three big stones using dry wood for fire. 

There was a time when Nanay was about to put a cooking pot on top of a sleeping snake curled up next to the stove.  She kept quiet so she would not wake up the snake, then ran to the neighbor for help. The local neighbors knew how to handle the situation. 

Our toilet and bathroom were separated from the house. We had to bring a pail of water when we went to the toilet or bathroom.  At night we used a portable container to pee.  

In front of the house was a corn plantation while in back of the house was a path going up the mountain where our maid lived. 

One of our neighbors was the Evidente family. Agnes was my playmate, Rene was Jose’s playmate. Kuya Jubert was going to school. We played like miners using Tatay’s miner helmet crawling under the chairs. 

There was a time that Agnes and I tried to follow Jose and Rene to the river at bottom of the mountain. As we walked in the shallow water, we were carried by the current. Luckily, Jose and Rene were able to pick us up when we reached their location. 

When we could not catch-up with Jose and Rene, Agnes and I would explore the mountain on our own. One day on our way going up the mountain we saw a big body of a snake crossing our pathway.  It was black with a yellow design. 

We did not see the head and tail because there were tall weeds on each side of the pathway. We ran to the house of our maid. We did not tell our parents about these adventures but our maid knew.

When we moved to another island, in Zamboanga, our house was next to the sea shore. In front of the house was the road, while behind the house was the actual sea shore. The toilet, located over the deep sea water, was connected to the house by a narrow wooden bridge.  
On good days we and neighbors would wade on the shore. There was a time we heard a loud cry because a neighbor was stung by jellyfish.  

There was a street with lots of monkeys. One day a small monkey kept on following us, so we took the monkey home and kept it as our pet and named her Cheetah. 

After a year we had to go back to Manila. When we were on the boat to Manila, we encountered a typhoon. My parents were holding us kids, while Kuya Jubert held Cheetah as the boat was tossed up and down by the waves.  Everybody was vomiting. That was the scariest experience my parents ever had.       

As for me, this simple life close to nature with lots of fun and adventure was my happy childhood memories.     
 

Shared Stories: The Killer Kern

Frank Novak’s story of a rafting trip after a winter of heavy snowfall is a cautionary reminder for those vacationing in the Sierras this summer.  Ten people have died so far in Kern and Tulare county rivers this year.  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 Frank Novak
 

In the winter of 2010 – 2011, the Sierras received nearly double the average yearly snow fall. At Donner Summit, made famous by the ill-fated Donner party, the snow level was over 60 ft deep.

By June, the snow melt had swelled streams and rivers up and down the Sierra, and the Kern River was flowing at twice it’s normal volume. My three brothers-in-law, my niece, and I had a reservation for a rafting trip.

We had rafted this river before, on a warm day with the river drifting between banks and occasional sandy stretches, dropping around rocks that threw spray into the boats and caused squeals of laughter. 

This year, the river was high over the banks, flowing into trees and fields, and in the middle of the river a column of water moved like a freight train over massive rocks that were exposed in normal years. In a portent of thing to come, we were given heavy wetsuits to wear along with the usual life jackets and helmets.

There were four rafts in the group. Our raft shoved off third, going single file down the river.  It didn’t take long before the second raft in line flipped. We could see it enter a particularly sharp bend in the canyon, and as it rounded a large rock with vertical walls on both sides, the boat was over in an instant. 

The six guests and the guide took a long ride in the water. They were in quite a while, but eventually were able to get back in the boat. We didn’t think too much about it; we were still having fun.

A little bit later we arrived at the lunch spot. We felt good and ready to eat, but the folks who had been in the water were in a somber mode. Some of guests from that boat had bare feet because their rubber wet suit booties had been sucked off by the current.

They all sat quietly, staring blankly into the distance. They didn’t seem much interested in food. The guide of the boat that had flipped walked around talking softly to the other guides. 

Eventually, all the folks from that boat loaded into the supply van and headed back to base, done for the day. The rest of us—we still didn’t get it. 

Just after lunch, it was our turn. Sliding down a chute, paddling to try to keep the boat steer-able while bouncing up into the air, we were suddenly in the water, the boat upside down. 
I surfaced six feet away; but the current was relentless and I couldn’t get to the boat until our guide reached out with his paddle and pulled me over. We hung to the side, moving fast past another boat that was pulled over at the shore. That guide threw a rope, and only by that means were we able to get our boat out of the powerful center current. 

We sat on the warm rocks, gathering our breath, feeling the adrenaline subside. No one talked, but to be honest, none of us wanted to continue. 

We had all felt how powerless we could be against the force of the river. But we had no choice now—for us the only way off the river was to continue down: only a couple more bad rapids to go. 

The last rapid was Pinball, a hundred-yard field of boulders snaking down the canyon. It didn’t look bad considering where we had been.  We were half way through, controlling the boat and doing well, when from behind a rock appeared a four-foot-deep hole in the swirling water.
The bow nosed in hard, the guide at the rear of the raft was catapulted down river in a high arc, and we were in the water. 

I was completely under, the black bottom of the boat above me, the life jacket pushing me up, pushing my head against the bottom. I tried to work out from underneath, but I was wedged between the edge of the boat and something else, maybe another swimmer. 

I pulled with my arms and kicked, but suddenly the suction of an undercurrent pulled me down. It was deep and flowing.  Above me, three feet of green water was dimly lit by the sky. I remember thinking, I’m still OK … but I’ve been down here a long time. 

After I surfaced and spent the next minute sliding down the middle of the river getting face-full after face-full of water from waves standing three feet tall, and after I decided to swim for the shore and was carried down a side channel where one of the other rafts was waiting to pull us out, and after I lay hunched over the thwart, gasping and repeating the same curse word over and over under my breath, not caring what anyone else in the boat thought, and after the long bus ride back to the camp, and the returning of gear, and the mandatory smiles and photos with the guides, and after we had taken inventory of the physical cuts and scrapes, we sat in a restaurant and tried to sort out the psychic damage.     

“Now that it’s over,” one of us said, “I’m glad that it happened.” 

“Not too many people get that close to drowning and can still talk about it.” 

Between June 1 and the end of the Fourth of July Weekend 2011, five people drowned in the Kern River.  

Shared Stories: A retreat for the body and soul

Daniela Kanz thought a unique form of underwater massage would help her aching back. The clothing-optional rural retreat also nurtured her soul. 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 aching back has troubled me for years. When I learned that Wassertanzen (water dance in German), and/or Watsu, might prove therapeutic, my curiosity was peaked. I searched the internet and learned this bodywork in warm water combines Shiatsu massage and muscle stretching. The water dance is done under the water with the receiver of the treatment wearing a nose-clip.

One Friday morning at 7:30 am, we were off to Napa and the Wine Train. We had some difficulty finding our way as my co-pilot (I was driving) led me astray. We switched drivers, asked directions, and finally ended up on the right road again. We went over a toll bridge twice that we didn’t need to go on.

The wine train in Napa was just as I envisioned. We had a fancy dinner in a car decorated as an old fashioned dining car. The service and food were good and it was fun. I think I would enjoy going during the day and being in the ‘dome car.’

Then we were off to Harbin Hot Springs outside of Middletown. This is where Harold Dull developed the Watsu body therapy.

The hilly terrain and the stairs I climbed to our room presented some difficulty, but it was well worth the effort. After settling in, we put our bathing suits on and were off to check out the pools. We seemed quite out of place since we were the only ones there with swim suits on. 

Harbin is a clothing optional retreat. When we finally gathered up the courage to slip out of our bathing suits and slip into the pool, we were struck by how no one paid any attention, and there were no sexual overtones.  Most guests wore sarongs out of the water - unless they were sunbathing.  I was surprised to see a few children there as well. 

Loud voices are discouraged. There are several pools - one with lanes for doing laps, and a smaller heart-shaped pool with warm water and a low-normal voice range permitted. 

Another larger warm water pool has an adjoining smaller, hot covered pool that serves as a sanctuary. The warm pool requests you to ‘whisper’ and silence is required at the hot pool. 
A cold pool is a few steps up from the hot pool. There is beautiful foliage surrounding the area and decks provide a place for sunbathing or stargazing.

I met Michael (my ‘giver’ – and I was the ‘receiver’) at the massage hut where he explained how he liked to begin with a prayer to Mother Earth and Father Moon. He asked me a few questions and I told him my experiences with watsu in Palm Springs. 

I relayed that I wanted a watsu as well as the wassertanzen, especially after watching another couple in the warm pool earlier in the day. Michael told me we would meet at the small heart shaped pool.

When we were in the water, he asked me to get my hair wet and to hold my nose as I went under the water. I went under the water and he remarked “but you didn’t hold your nose!” I learned that when I took water ballet. 

Michael stated I was ready for wassertanzen and had me try the nose clip. He told me he would slip the nose clip on my nose during the session so I could have an initiation to wassertanzen

The 60 minutes went swiftly. The sensations were different from my previous experience.  In my first session, I felt like an embryo with the feeling of well-being and nurturing of a mother’s love. The new sensation I felt when I was completely submerged was that I was playing with the dolphins and whales.

There are no clocks or radios at Harbin, so after dinner we were in bed by approximately 8:30 p.m. 

In the morning, I awoke about 4:30 a.m. I wanted to check out the ‘star gazing’ deck and when I looked up into the sky, I was pleasantly greeted by Orion – the only star constellation I know. 
I entered the warm pool with several other people although not nearly as many as the previous afternoon. I tried the hot water pool and it was so hot, I felt I was burning my skin.  I didn’t get in much past my ankles.

I returned to the warm water again, but wanted to do something different. As I exited the pool into the hot pool area, I saw a woman coming out who was there since my first attempt to get in. 

I whispered, “How do you stand the hot water?” She replied, “Go in the cold pool first.” So I did – and I thought I would freeze, and couldn’t get past my waist – then I tried the Hot again, and did manage to get in for a few minutes. It did feel good on my back. 

Then I went to the heart shaped pool where I had my watsu/wassertanzen. There was only a single male soul there and he appeared to be mediating, so I slipped in the water as quietly as I could. 

I looked up into the sky and finally could see Orion again. In the other pools Orion was hidden from view by the foliage. I added some salty tears to the pool as I had myself a good cry. It really was a good cry - a cleansing of sorts. 

Then I began to remember the feelings of swimming with the whales and I thought to myself, how come no one ever asks a whale to get thinner? How come they are accepted just as they are? Why can’t I (and other people) accept me as I am? Maybe I’m supposed to be big. 

I acknowledge that I am tired of fighting the ‘battle of the bulge’ and that perhaps it would be better for my back if there was less of me, but for the moment, I need to worry about nurturing my soul. The body will just have to wait.

As we were leaving the retreat and going to our car, a young man was coming up the hill with two deer following him – a mother and fawn that reminded me of Bambi.  The deer are very tame near Harbin because they know no one will harm them. There were also many beautiful birds. 

Our time at Harbin was much too short and I want to return, but on September 12, 2015, the Valley Fire destroyed the majority of Harbin structures. The rebuilding is ongoing and I look forward to news of their reopening.
 

Shared Stories: The House on New Jersey Street

In an era without cellphones, Yolanda Adele knew how to keep herself occupied when there was no one around to play with.  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

In my preteen years, I lived with my mother in a small, rented “Arts and Crafts” style house in the East Los Angeles Boyle Heights district.  Its design was influenced by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The front porch was spacious. I’d often sit out there on the full-size divan and greet our neighbors as they walked past our house after they got off the street car at the corner of our block, carrying their metal lunchboxes. 

There was only one bedroom, which I occupied.  It had a screen-less window that looked out into our Gypsy neighbor’s drive-way which supplied me with many interesting views of their colorful life-style, but that’s another story. 

My mother used the dining room as her bedroom.  It had a built-in mahogany buffet table next to her bed.  The kitchen had a built-in ironing board and a walk-in pantry.  

The backdoor led into a screened porch that served as separate entrance for boarders who rented the upstairs area that had been converted into six bachelor flats - one-room furnished apartments.

Whenever a room was not rented, I’d love to let myself in with my Shirley Temple doll, movie magazines, chalk-like candied cigarettes, vinyl records, and portable record player in tow. I‘d quickly pull down the Murphy bed and get Shirley cozy in it. Next thing to do was plug in my record player -  and my imagination. 

To anyone peering in, it might seem like a dingy room with a lonely child in it, but they‘d be mistaken.  Within those four walls I was in control of my environment, my Magical (“tinsel”) Kingdom where I was the reigning starlet.

The sparsely furnished room was transformed into a mansion, not unlike Tara. The essence of Miss Scarlett O’Hara loomed among the icons from the silver screen.  I’d often see the likes of Clark Gable, Charles Boyer, Robert Taylor, or Cary Grant looking back at me from the oval mirror above the dresser. 

I’d coyly raise my imagined Waterford Crystal champagne glass in a mock toast before returning my attention to the girls, Bette Davis, Susan Hayworth, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner. They were beautiful and sassy in their own, signature way. 

Of course, all of us girls smoked cigarettes, but none quite like Bette. 

She could blow different sized smoke rings that hovered over the guests like halos, or demons. Whenever Bette spoke passionately, she’d wave her cigarette holder like a wand to punctuate her point of view. 

The most thrilling scenes were watching Bette motion to Paul Henreid from across the crowded, star-studded room when she wanted “a light,” and he’d gallantly rush to her.     

From his inside jacket pocket he took out a solid-gold cigarette case engraved with his initials, a gift from her. He removed a cigarette for himself, put it to his mouth, and slid the case back into his pocket, never taking his eyes off of hers. 

He took her cigarette, put it to his moist, warm lips and lit their cigarettes simultaneously; after which he handed one to Bette as their eyes locked. In that smoldering, charged moment, I held my breath before exhaling the smoke from my candied Lucky Strike cigarette.     

Big orchestra music from my small record player filled the room with the sounds of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Embraceable you, followed by Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face the Music and Dance. 

And dance they did. The room glowed with the bevy of brightly colored gowns the star-divas twirled in. Luscious, sweet floral fragrances from their perfumes mingled and permeated the atmosphere. 

Alas, the chime from the Good Humor truck coming down the street often broke the magic.  Shirley usually cried for an ice -cream sandwich.  I’d quickly pick her up and yell over my shoulder as I ran out the door, “Darlings, you all go home to Hollywood now, the party is over.”  

I always returned to clean up after my illustrious parties.  I’d put back the Murphy bed and gather my belongings.  All the while I’d plan the guest list in my head for the next gala event, knowing that there would always be enough room for my imagination, and the cast of hundreds, even if we had to move the party down the hall to another vacant apartment.

Shared Stories: Po Tai Island and My Wonderful Uncle

Candy Wong’s family is from Po Tai island in Hong Kong. Every year the islanders celebrate the festival of Tin Hau, goddess of the sea who protects fishermen and sailors. Candy’s uncle has a well-known restaurant on this small, nearly uninhabited island. 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
Po Toi Island, an island belonging to Hong Kong, is my homeland. It is the most southern part of Hong Kong. Most of the islanders are fishermen.

Being fishermen, they believe in a Goddess named Tin Hau. People on this island thank Tin Hau for blessing their lives. They celebrate Tin Hau’s birthday on March 23rd every year. 

The leaders of the island ask every resident in the island to donate money to pay for four days and three nights of opera performance. The opera performance is very intricate and requires a lot of preparation.

First, they need to build a temporary theater, which can seat 500 people. Then, they invite a Cantonese opera group to come to the island to perform opera in front of Tin Hau Temple. 
During the Tin Hau festival, every islander stops working and joins every gathering. Tin Hau festival is so much fun for everyone. It is like a carnival on the island.

My uncle, Leund Chi Ming, is one of the leaders in the festival and he’s a leader because of his involvement with tourism on the island. 

While I don’t live there anymore, my uncle is a famous cook who still lives on the Island. My uncle is able to survive on an island with less than fifty occupants through building a restaurant called Ming Kee.  

It’s an open-aired restaurant with a small stage for dancing.  Working only four days a week, from Thursday to Sunday, his salary stems from the tourism business. Most of the tourists venture onto the island for its hiking trails in hope of catching a sunset facing the Pacific Ocean.

Thursday is his business preparation day.  In the morning, he drives his small truck to the organic farms in Aberdeen to buy seasonal vegetables. In the afternoon, he chats with fishermen at the Aberdeen pier and makes deals with them. Usually he orders lobsters, shrimps, mussels, clams, fishes, crabs and, of course, my favorite eels. 

After all of the food is delivered to his restaurant, he works with the workers to clean and chop until midnight. He then awaits his first customer to come the next day.  He keeps a close eye on the pier to greet the first customer coming onto the island. 

Guided by two rows of hanging orange lights, customers slowly file in, and my uncle greets each one of them with the biggest smile. Usually, customers like to sit in the front part of the restaurant.  It is because the restaurant is built on the beach; and they can take a walk after dinner or dive into the sea and swim in the unpolluted sea water.  The meals at my uncle’s restaurant, in my heart, are priceless.

Gradually, many people in Hong Kong began to know about the restaurant. Recently, he was interviewed by a journalist from the travel guide, Lonely Planets. After the article was published, the business of my uncle’s restaurant increased 30%. 

He is planning to work one more day a week, and he hopes to use it to create new dish and do extra business preparation. I hope my uncle really enjoys his career because his passion to serve great food and provide an unforgettable experience to Po Tai Island is cherished.

You can find a picture of Po Tai island and Ming Kee restaurant on Google Maps.
 

Shared Stories: Always Doing Her Best

In this tribute to her mother, Yolanda Reyna recalls the modest circumstances of her childhood and her mother’s talent for meeting for meeting the needs of a large family. 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

When I was a young girl growing up, my family didn’t have much. We were raised on welfare, but I do remember my mother making the best of everything!

Just going to cash her welfare check, she made sure she was properly dressed. She’d fix her hair so pretty, find the right outfit to wear, and put her lipstick on so perfectly. 

Yolanda Reyna's mother

Yolanda Reyna's mother

My father also made the best of everything. I don't recall my father ever owning a suit, but when he got dressed, he’d put on a plaid shirt, a pair of blue jeans, and work boots. He also made sure that he was properly dressed, so he could drive my mother to cash her check and take her grocery shopping.

Back then my father owned a blue Chevrolet pick-up truck and most times the children rode along with them in the back of the truck. Sometimes I got to sit in front between my parents. It was so much fun! I’d stretch my neck out just to look out the window as my father drove down the streets. I still recall the sounds of the gears shifting. 

There was a check-cashing place where my father drove my mother to. I remember the lines being so long! We had to wait for hours for our mother. While my father sat in his truck and waited, he would listen to the radio, while the children waited patiently in the back.

When my mother was done cashing her check, my father drove us to “Phil’s Market.” That was the grocery store where my mother shopped. I remember that market being on Rosecrans Blvd. in Compton. My mother would buy the children new toys on that day. The girls got miniature dolls and the boys got miniature toy army men!

When the grocery shopping was done my father drove us back home. We were so excited to get new toys on that day. We couldn't wait to play with them. While my sisters and I played in our room, my brothers played outside. 

My mother really made the best of things when she was in the kitchen. While she cooked dinner, my father sat in the garage drinking his beer and listened to his music.

My mother did her best with what she had in the kitchen. When she cooked, she never measured anything. We didn't have measuring cups. I don't even recall us having salt and pepper shakers! She’d pour the salt in one hand and with the other hand, she would use her fingers to toss the salt in the pan, and all she needed was salt and pepper to season her meals.We never owned a whole set of dishes. We had plastic dishes and most of them had a burnt spot somewhere, or part of the edge was melted because she used them as lids for the pots as she cooked.

My mother never owned any Tupperware. She would use a cup or a bowl for anything that was leftover. The cup was mainly used for leftover tomato sauce. A meal that was often made was macaroni and tomato sauce. 

She also made cut-up hot dogs and tomato sauce, or as she would all it “chopped up weenies and tomato sauce!”

We also had hamburger meat with potatoes and tomato sauce. That was a specialty in our family, often handed down from generation to generation. That meal would later be called “The Poor Man Meal.”  

When the holidays came around, or it was our first day of school, my mother would use home-made hair curlers on our hair. All she needed was an old T-shirt, a brown paper bag, and a pair of scissors. 

She’d cut out strips of both the T-shirt and bag. I can’t even begin to explain how she mastered her work, but believe me, it did curl our hair!

One more thing my mother made the best of, was her old fashioned remedy, Vicks! When one of the children got sick with a cold or cough or if one of us got a leg ache, which was often because we loved playing and running outdoors, she’d rub Vicks all over our chests or our legs!

My mother, the shopper, the cook, the hairdresser, the healer! Her legacy!
 

Shared Stories: Devastation

The 2011 earthquake in Japan prompted Kay Okino to reflect on another time of great devastation to her father’s ancestral home – the bombing of Hiroshima - and a story of survival. 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 Kay Okino

On March 11 2011, there was a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan that brought great destruction, one that left tens of thousands dead or missing and 350,000 people homeless.  

Great damage was done to the country’s nuclear plants, which are, to this day, not able to control the seeping radiation that is causing havoc to Japan, and if not controlled, to the rest of the world.

In 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Japan, by the United States, which ended World War II, thus eliminating further casualties of U.S. soldiers and of Japanese too.

Hiroshima is my father’s ancestral home.  In the fall of 1989 I visited Japan for the first time. There I visited the Atom Bomb Museum and looked at the eerie pictures and things that had melted into the concrete.

Gambaku Dome, photo courtesy Wikipedia

Gambaku Dome, photo courtesy Wikipedia

There stood the Gambaku Dome, translated Atomic Dome, the only physical structure that survived the atomic attack.  Looking at it and visiting there were sad experiences for me.  My uncle, my father’s brother, lived very close to the area, only about ten minutes ride on the train.

When the bomb hit, all the able-bodied men rushed to the area to help.  Even amidst terrible destruction and misery, beautiful acts of human kindness emerged, bringing hope to this troubled world.

I never forgot the story my uncle told me about when the bomb fell. He said, “I rushed to the city to help. There was destruction all over. Amidst the rubble, I found a little girl – three or four years old – crying on the beach for her parents. I looked all over for her parents, but couldn’t find them. Everyone was homeless. The city was destroyed. There was nowhere to take her, so I brought her home.”

He had four children of his own.  Food and other necessities were scarce, but he raised the girl as his own until her father was found some years later, and they were reunited.

At the time I visited, the girl had already married and was living in Tokyo quite away from Hiroshima.  I asked my uncle, “Does she remember you?”

He answered, “Yes, she has never forgotten and comes to visit me from time to time.”

In 1999, ten years later, I visited Japan again.  Sadly, my uncle was gone.  I visited his grave which was located at the edge of his property next to a forest.

He told me something I had completely forgotten.  After the war, he said, “You sent me a box of old clothing.  In it were a sweater and gloves.  The winter was cold.  Those things helped me so much.”

I believe that because of this we became very good friends.  Unfortunately, our friendship came very late.  My uncle’s name was Yoshima Uyeno.
 

Shared Stories: My Aunt Helen

Cynthia Vanasse recalls a special summer as a young child with a special aunt.  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 Cynthia Vanasse

Do you have a favorite relative? Most of us do, I think. Mine was Aunt Helen, my father’s sister. I was lucky to have spent a summer with her and her family when I was about ten years old.

My parents, younger sister, and I lived in Missouri and were moving to Long Beach. My father had been hired as one of 10 professors to start a new state college there. While they got settled, I stayed in Palo Alto with Aunt Helen, Uncle Ivan, and family.

I missed my family, but being with Aunt Helen was a treat! My mother was a brilliant, good-looking, well-dressed, lovely woman. She would have been happy to have had the services of a professional cook and housekeeper.

Our home was always clean and organized, but meals were not glorious affairs. Dinners consisted mostly of hamburger patties, tuna on toast, or liver and onions.  

Imagine my delighted tummy when it was filled with Aunt Helen’s spaghetti, meatloaf, pies, and so many other culinary treats! As to Aunt Helen’s housekeeping ability, that left room for improvement. Who cares about that at age 10?

Aunt Helen’s casual house was similar to her parenting skills. Her four children and I enjoyed more freedom than I had previously known. Almost every day we would walk unescorted to the neighborhood swimming hole and stay to our endless delight. I now realize that Palo Alto, near the Stanford, campus, was semi-rural, a safe environment compared to crowded city living.

This new-found freedom was doubly enjoyed because of Carl, Helen’s only boy. She and Ivan, her husband, gave him every opportunity to learn practical skills like carpentry. I had not been exposed to these abilities and was intrigued. My only sibling was a “useless” sister who was six years younger and always sick.

It was with conflicting feelings that I greeted my family when they arrived to take me to our new home in Long Beach. Seeing my mother brought me great joy. She has always been number one with my affection. My sister remained a “pain in the rear,” and Daddy seemed pleased with his new position.

Leaving Aunt Helen and family, however, was sad. She taught me that all mothers are not the same. Each has her own personality that determines, to a large degree, how she relates to her children.

Shared Stories: My first experience baking bread

Belle Fluhart recalls a serious baking error that many of us can sympathize with – misreading the recipe.  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 Belle Fluhart

I was 12 years old during the Depression. My three older brothers were 18, 19 ½, and 21 years old.

When I started the 7th grade, I was delighted that I would have a class in sewing and a class in cooking. One semester sewing, the next cooking, every year.

In the cooking class we were making bread. The first day we copied the recipe from the black board, and talked about what we were going to do. The next day, we measured out the liquid and yeast, and mixed the liquid ingredients together and left it for the yeast to do what it’s supposed to do. I think it’s called proofing. The third day we mixed in the flour to make a dough.

In no time I realized that something was wrong, because it was not making a dough. I was adding more and more flour.

I had misread the recipe where it said to add ¼ cup of water, and I had actually added 1 ¼ cup of water. The teacher was watching me, but doing nothing. I realized that she was wondering what I was going to do.

I got some more yeast and put in more salt. I don’t remember the other ingredients, but I put in whatever was necessary to make up for all of this flour it was taking to make dough.

I mixed the dough, made a round ball, and put the oil on it. Then I found a big bowl and left it to rise overnight. The next day, I had a great, big ball of dough where I was supposed to have a little ball. I put flour on my board and started kneading the dough.  

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By this time, I was so embarrassed. I was just kneading the dough. I could feel the enmity of my fellow classmates. Everyone in this room hated me because I had a great, big ball of dough and everyone else had a little ball that could be held in the palm of one hand.

I wished I could crawl under a rock and just disappear. But there was no rock. I started to cry. I wasn’t looking up. I just kept kneading and kneading that dough.

Suddenly, the teacher was at my elbow. She said, “I went over to the cafeteria and borrowed a bread pan.”

At that, I looked up and the teacher was smiling. I quickly dried my tears and oiled the pan, formed the loaf, and put it in the pan. I put it up to rise and went home.

The next day we all baked our bread. I had to allow extra time for my big loaf. When the bread was baked, and beautifully browned, the teacher wanted me to cut it so she could taste it.

I pleaded with her to let me take it home so I could cut it where my brothers could see it. She said, “All right, if you promise that you will bring me a piece tomorrow.”

When I got home, my brothers grabbed the bread and one was starting to cut it.

I said, “The teacher made me promise to bring her a piece so she could try it.” My brother with the knife said, “The teacher gets the first slice.”

He cut the first slice and wrapped it up. He said, “Don’t forget to take it tomorrow morning.” I said, “I’m going to put it with my books.”

The first thing I did the next morning was to take the bread to the teacher. She took a bite and said, “That’s delicious.”

At the end of the semester, the teacher was preparing to pass around the report cards.
She said, “It has never been my practice to give anyone an A+, but this semester, I’m giving a student an A+. She doesn’t always do things right. In fact, she makes some great, big mistakes. But she always is able to compensate for her mistakes and make an edible product. And in these days, it’s so very important to not waste food.”

I was very happy, and couldn’t wait to take my report card home to show my brothers.

Shared Stories: Can anyone spell 'manic episode'?

Gail Earl’s stream of consciousness one sleepless night takes her from a bedside candle, to apple orchards, to her daughter’s peach allergy, and Sister Cornelius.  Many of us can relate to this problem. 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 Gail Earl
 

I haven’t had these many thoughts all week. Why now, at 2:30 a.m., is my brain filled with useless information? 

I am not sure why I felt the need to look out my upstairs window now.  All I see are several other houses (all lights off), the occasional car zipping down the street, and one lone opossum exploring my driveway. 

I’m watching him intently, like it matters where he’s going. And that car that just drove away, where is he going at this hour?  

This candle on my bookshelf looks like a tree in the moonlight.  You know the best trees, ever, were the trees in the orchard when I was a kid.  We’d have crab apple wars and peach pitching contests.  I wonder why my granddaughter is allergic to peaches.  

My mind is racing about a book I’ve wanted to write for 4 years and wonder how will I ever get it finished if I can’t seem to get it started. Maybe I really will start tomorrow with a designated time every day to write. I’m sure that will help. 

Oh wait, I can’t start tomorrow.  I don’t think I’ll be sleeping any tonight and my two granddaughters will be here at 6 a.m.  

I wonder what we can do for fun tomorrow.  We got free passes to a couple of zoos this week when we went to the Science Museum.  Maybe we can – oh, never mind. It will be too hot for me to spend the day at the zoo.

Oh, let me check my email - nothing much going on there.  Facebook – no. Guess everyone’s sleeping. Why do I have such trouble sleeping at night? I have for years.  

I wonder how sweet Ms. Johnson is doing. She lives in that house right there. She’s blind and lives alone in that big house. I suppose there’s never any lights on there. I never noticed.  

Wow, my plants in the front yard look really nice. The moon is so perfectly full tonight. Boy, my oldest grandchild Elizabeth loves stargazing with the big telescope on the driveway at the river. The sky is so clear there that there is more light from stars than dark with nothingness.  
That reminds me of a passage I either heard or read once that was talking about the sky being so full of stars that it looked like “little holes in the floor of heaven.”

Speaking of holes, I wonder if the corner donut shop still sells donut holes. They were so yummy. When my son was in junior high, we’d stop on the way to school and grab a donut. 
His was always blue. Who eats blue donuts? I’m just saying:  chocolate – yes,  maple – yes, vanilla - yes. What the heck is blue?  

We’d always pass the same Mustang on our way out of the donut shop parking lot, and my son would wave to the pretty young girl inside who was also being driven to school. I can’t believe that they have been married for 19 years already.  

Where did all that time go? Time - is it morning yet?  I think I might be a little crabby tomorrow. Do you know that Sister Cornelius, 2nd grade, was the crabbiest person I ever knew? She had to be 100 years old back then.  Her and that darned yardstick. I think she whacked me every day!  

Now Mr. Chichecki was the coolest teacher I ever had. I had him for both 6th and 7th grade. He taught both. I loved him! Now who in the world fails kindergarten? Yes, I really did. Of course there was a really good explanation for it!

Why do I care about this now?  Can’t I think about all these very important things in the daytime like most human beings?  I wonder how many human beings there are in the world. I wonder how many of them are leading a happy life. And what the heck is the meaning of life anyway? Why are we here?

I should buy new bedding for this room. I wonder what color I like. Should I change the bedding in my room too or just leave it?  Do I really care enough? I wonder if – I - O.K., this is just stupid. I need some sleep. I wonder if those Sleep Number Beds are any good?

Why won’t my brain shut off?  It would be different if I was solving some world problems.

Nope, no world problem solutions. Just donut holes - story of my life.
 

Shared Stories: 1943-49 Starting a Family

This is Lisa Filler’s second installment of the story of her mother and father who were married and started their family during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in World War II.   (Note: Lisa is a very cute lady with an exceptional smile.)  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

The Philippines were governed by Japan during World War II. American soldiers left with the promise of General McArthur, “I shall return.”  

Ligaya and Juan, my mother and father, continued working and learned the Japanese National Anthem, numbers and some Japanese words.  In October 1943 Juan Alberto  (nicknamed Jubert) was born, the first child of Juan and Ligaya. 

He was so cute with light and smooth complexion. Co-teachers and neighbors liked to take care of him. Ligaya breast feed Jubert while she was on maternity leave. When she went back to work she asked her friend and neighbor, Nan Abarquez, who also gave birth to a son (Teddy), to take care of Jubert while she was at work. Jubert and Teddy were breastfed by Nan, one on each breast. The two became very close friends.

There was a rumor among the Filipino population that McArthur was coming back as he promised. Ligaya’s father told them to come to Pagsanjan so they will be close to him.  One day in Pagsanjan, Ligaya went to the market. On her way home, a Japanese soldier with a rifle stopped her, demanding her to go inside a house. 

Ligaya knelt down, begging him to let her go home. She tried to explain in Japanese that she had a son waiting for her. But the Japanese soldier still insisted. 

All of a sudden the soldier ran away, to Ligaya’s surprise. She got up and started running home. While she was running an American airplane was flying very low. That’s why the Japanese soldier ran. 

When Ligaya reached home, everybody was packing their things to evacuate to the mountain. They lived on the mountain on her father’s coconut plantation while the town of Pagsanjan was bombed by American airplanes. 

When the Japanese surrendered, they went back to the town and most of the houses were gone, including their house. The Filler family went back to their jobs in Welfareville.

In 1945 Ligaya got pregnant but had a miscarriage. In January 1947 she gave birth to second son who was named Jose. Jose was cuter than Jubert, also with light and smooth complexion. Juan was so proud of Jose because he was allowed inside the delivery room with Ligaya. 

In 1948 Ligaya was pregnant again, and this time she was already 40 years old. Teresa and cousins suggested having an abortion. Modern women at that time were having abortions. Ligaya and Juan said no. They wanted to have a girl; and no matter what gender, they wanted this baby. 

In February 1949,  I was borne and was named Lisa. Because Ligaya was 41 years old she was given a Twilight medication that put her to sleep while delivering the baby. I was borne asleep and had to be in incubator. 

When Ligaya woke up she asked for her baby. My father explained that there was some complication that I have to be in incubator. They went immediately to see me. 

Ligaya was so happy to see her baby girl but so sad that she cannot hold her. I was not looking good. I had to stay in the incubator for weeks. Ligaya was released from the hospital without me but they visited every day.

When I was released from the hospital I was not cute as my two brothers. I was skinny with dark skin and cried a lot. To Ligaya and Juan I was the answer to their prayers; their precious daughter. Ligaya was so happy to hold her baby girl. 

I was so close to my mother that we were inseparable. People called me the shadow of my mother. I cried until I fell asleep whenever my mother went to work. Sometimes she would take me to her classroom. Co-teachers and even the principal took turns watching me.

However, some people were wondering if I was switched in the hospital because I have dark complexion and don’t look like my cute brothers.
 

Shared Stories: An old family friend

Janice Collins recalls a family friend of her father who lived much longer than anyone expected. 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

When I was a teenager in Stratton, Colo., my father and uncle would visit with Carl Mages. Carl was also from Kansas, when we used to live. He remained a bachelor all his life because his doctors told him he probably wouldn’t live long.

Carl felt he needed special foods to recover from a dysentery he got in the service in World War I. It was later determined that he was suffering from an amoeba germ caused by the flu.
Carl started a diet of his own which consisted of black-eyed peas, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, cabbage, cranberry sauce, and sometimes a little beef or venison. It’s my opinion that when he ate the meat it was because he was hungry for it.

Carl also suffered from ulcers and a tumor on his colon, but in 1953 he went to an Indian doctor in Oklahoma. Carl was thankful to her for helping him rid himself of most of his health problems.   guess his stomach problems were solved with herbs – Indian remedies. Later in life Carl developed diabetes and followed doctor’s orders regarding diet.

As though he didn’t already have enough problems, Carl then was hit with a terrible dizziness resulting from a broken gland at the back of his skull.  

He was advised to move to a higher altitude, hoping to end his dizzy spells. He sold his Kansas land and bought a section or so at Stratton. Carl rented a room at the Collins hotel in Stratton where he made many friends.

After his retirement from farming, Carl moved to New Mexico and lived there for 28 years in government housing. He said he sat and watched traffic go by on the interstate highway for entertainment. Carl lived there until he suffered from a bad fall and had to move back with family in Kansas.

At the age of 95 Carl was looking forward to his 100th birthday, and he actually lived into his hundreds. As far as I can remember, he lived to about 104. A news reporter found out about Carl and his life story was published in a Kansas paper.

I remember how much Carl liked people. He would fish at Bonny Dam with us, but I believe his favorite thing was playing ball with us kids. Carl was a jolly soul, always joking and laughing.
 

Shared Stories: On the Edge of Danger

If you’re planning a trip down the Colorado River, or even if you’re not, Elaine Held’s account gives a good idea of what to expect.  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 Elaine Held


Standing on the edge of the world I was fascinated with the ribbon of water snaking around corners far below. The Grand Canyon is aptly named. Every moment changes the color and formation of the water.  

My experience with the Canyon had always been from the top but now I had a chance to experience the wonder from below with my husband. He had made the trip twelve times before and the men had decided it was time for their wives to be introduced to the magnificent beauty from below.

When we arrived at the jumping off spot the boats were waiting for us. For some reason we were made to wait a long time.  I finally made Bill tell me what was going on.  

He explained we couldn’t start until the Forest Service found the body below us. A man had stepped on his boat the night before and slipped off to his death.

Finally, we boarded the boats with our hearts in our throats. We had two rafts about 16 ft. long and one gargantuan raft that would help carry our stuff. The first day was a learning day.  
Nothing can be left behind, so a huge ammo can with a toilet seat on it sufficed for a bathroom. Second: you never go on board a boat at night. Third: Everyone helps with everything. Last: if there is an emergency, get out of the way.

It takes a while to get used to the world upside down. The walls of the canyon go straight up both sides, creating a small, narrow plantless world. At night the sky is outlined by a ribbon of stars above. 

You keep your personal things in a small ammo can so nothing gets wet. The first night we sat around in chairs and got to know each other better. In the morning our ammo can was open and some things were missing. That wasn’t possible.  

Everyone became a detective, but no one could figure it out. The cans were latched in a way they could not come open on their own. We were in the wilds so no person could have done this.  

The next night our guide, Steve, sat up all night with his camera. Sure enough, as we slept, a long, slim furry body crept from ammo can to ammo can. This animal had a long ringed tail and was named for it. A ringed tailed cat. They have thumbs as raccoons do, so they deftly opened each can and took only what they wanted.  

Two nights later, as we sat in our chairs, a mountain lion walked right between us to the water. After drinking his fill, he walked back near enough to us so that I could have touched him.

For the entire trip, Bill described to me the most terrifying rapid called Crystal. My fear grew and by the time we got there, so I was honestly thinking of walking around it. I couldn’t do that, but I expected to end up in the river.  

We got out and the men went high to observe the water. They had enough experience to read water and knew how to run the rapid by figuring the water. When I got to where I could see it, my terror exploded. As I watched, two people in kayaks ran it and both flipped and rolled until they were through, and then they righted.

Our turn. I concentrated on trusting my husband. Immediately my world was filled with water. Water in every shape roared around me. Bouncing through on rough water we exploded out of the other side. I was alive.  

The water calmed and Bill brought our boat to the side to watch the others. The other two boats both flipped. The smaller one flipped straight backwards and everyone got to the boat as soon as they could. 

One woman was caught under her boat, but Bill got a hold of the edge and she had room to get out from under. We dragged her into our boat. When everyone was accounted for Bill asked if I saw Crystal when we went through?  

Really! He was so excited because the water was a perfect whirlpool and he could see the bottom of the river.

Now I could relax the rest of the way, which I did. Laughing, Bill said there was a little rapid ahead. I wasn’t even looking at it until it ripped me off my seat into the water. Shocked, I turned toward the boat.  

Bill was frantically motioning to me to get to the boat. Not understanding, I did what he was motioning. When I got there he grabbed the bottom of my swimming suit and literally threw me over the side into the boat.  

When I turned, I saw I had been between a huge rock and the boat.  Only then did I look to see why my ankles hurt. We had been told at the beginning to tie our tennis shoes tight so if we went over we wouldn’t lose them. I had done as told but the water was so powerful it tore both my shoes off and my ankles were bleeding. I still have the scars.

Some memories are forever. The beauty we witnessed was heightened by the excitement of being on the edge of danger.