Shared Stories: Butterscotch Sundaes

Many people remember the excitement of a visit from a favorite relative when they were little. Sharon Smith’s “Uncle Jimmy” was a dynamic and generous figure in their family.  (FYI – the “hawsepipe” mentioned in her story is the pipe that the anchor chain passes through near the bow of a ship.)  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
We kids called him “Uncle Jimmy,” although he was actually Mom’s first cousin.  His young good looks reminded me of Clark Gable.  His wife, “Aunt Tedodie” (short for Theodora), reminded me of the actress Gene Tierney.  He called ALL the ladies, young and old alike, “Sugar” in his inimitable Southern drawl.


He was a Merchant Marine and would often be at sea for as long as two or three years at a time.  Whenever he docked in the Los Angeles or San Pedro harbor, he spent time in our home. 


He always took Mom and kids out to eat at the nearby Stan’s Drive Inn and told us to order whatever our little hearts desired.  And, oh boy, did we!  That was a real treat for us as we didn’t get “treated” like that very often.


I must have been all of nine or ten years old.  I ordered a hamburger, French fries, and a coke. For dessert I ordered a butterscotch sundae.  My siblings went “hog wild” with their ordering also.  


Anyway, after we downed all that food plus a butterscotch sundae, he asked if we would like anything else.  I immediately said, “I would like another butterscotch sundae,” and VOILA, he ordered it. 


Then, about half way into that second butterscotch sundae, I started feeling queasy and had to make a mad dash to the restroom.  I wonder why!  Do you think maybe my eyes were bigger than my stomach?  Wouldn’t you think that very incident would have cured me of my love for butterscotch – well, not so.  It’s my favorite to this day --not caramel, but butterscotch!


After our Stan’s Drive Inn visits, we would go home; the adults would gather around the kitchen table and question Uncle Jimmy about all his travels to faraway places.  They’d ask about where he had been, what the people were like, what were the different traditions, what about the food, etc.  Seems my family always wanted to know about the food!  


I recall being frightened at the adult conversation about what was going on in the world, and I also recall his words that, “China is the one to look out for.”  Considering our world today and what’s going on around the globe, he was right on the mark even way back then.


He was such a wonderful and loving positive in our young lives.  He bought me my first bike.  It was a boy’s bike, and it was not brand new, but I sure got a lot of pleasure out of it for quite some time.  


I even rode it over that crazy, yet exciting, curved and bumpy entrance to the corner beer joint. I enjoyed a lot of freedom riding that bike through our neighborhood.  It was a good time to be a kid.  It was a time when kids felt safe just being a kid and doing kid-like things.


Uncle Jimmy started going to sea as an ordinary seaman at the very young age of fifteen.  His home was in Houston where he became known as “Blackie Merrell,” and he was assigned to the S.S. Liberty Bell.  He later played a major role in the formation and the building of the National Maritime Union. 


In 1939, Uncle Jimmy was elected Chairman of the Gulf District.  It is written in “The Hawsepipe” (the newsletter of the Marine Workers Historical Association) that under his leadership the union in the Gulf was cleaned up and the goon squads ceased their activities.

Even more years down the road, he went on to be elected as one of the Trustees of the Pension & Welfare Fund and served in that non-paying capacity after he retired from the sea.


To this day, when I hear the words “Marine” or “butterscotch,” I am reminded of our favorite Marine, our beloved “Uncle Jimmy,” and the result of the night of two butterscotch sundaes.
 

SHARED STORIES: Learning to Dance

Barbara Goodhue grew up on a Colorado farm in the 1930’s and 40’s. Her move to California with her first husband typifies the experience of so many who came here after World War II.  Barbara’s  life story reflects challenges, courage, and success.  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 Barbara Goodhue
         
As a rule, I don’t usually get stressed over things, and especially something that I have no control over. I have gone to church since I was very young and been taught to have faith and trust in God. I think that is why I stay calm even during times of great stress.

I was married to my first husband Leo for twenty-seven years. We met at a street dance in Pueblo, Colorado. He lived on the farm where he grew up, twenty-eight miles south of Pueblo, but he worked at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. I worked at the Colorado State Unemployment Office, and also had a part-time job on Saturday morning working for the Texaco Company.

The town was having a street dance, and being young, I was curious, so my sister Dorothy and I went. Leo asked me to dance, but I told him that I didn’t know how to dance and he could dance with Dorothy. He didn’t want to dance with her. My answer didn’t deter him. 

I told Leo where I worked so he wanted to take me to lunch sometime. A few days later he came into the office and we made arrangements to go to lunch. We courted for about a year. Leo took me to my first movie, “My Friend Flika.”  I was twenty-two years old. 

Leo and I were married in 1953 and moved to California shortly after the wedding. It was a good marriage and we had four children.

Leo worked several jobs before getting one at the A.J. Bayer Company in Vernon. He worked there for twenty-three years. We lived in several different places.

Leo was ill for a long time, had lost both of his legs due to the hardening of the arteries, and was in and out of the hospital. We didn’t have very much income and I was working part-time three days a week as an instructional assistant at the elementary school near us. At that time I was also trying to get a better fulltime job.

I did get one at Bee Industries in South Gate. It was part of Superior Honey Company. They sold bees wax candles. I was on the order desk taking orders over the phone, answering questions for customers, typing up the phone orders and ones that came in the mail.

It was a full time job and paid better than the one at the school, but I was gone more and had to have someone take care of Leo part of the time. Besides all of this, my youngest daughter Leona was still in school and another daughter Lola was going to college. Leo passed away the day before Lola graduated, which added to the stress at that time.

A number of years later my second husband Roy was ill. By this time Superior Honey and Bee Industries had been sold to another company in Stockton, so I was without a job again but had taken tests and been hired by the Los Angeles County Office of Education. I was working for a school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Handicapped children in Lawndale. I was driving from Bell Gardens to Lawndale to work. Roy became ill and I had some of the same stress problems again.

A few months after Roy passed away my niece and nephew invited me to go to a square dance class. I first turned them down because our church was against dancing. Also the class was on a Sunday afternoon and I went to church on Sunday evening. I didn’t think I could get back in time for church.

After thinking about it for a while, I called them back and said that, “A woman is allowed to change her mind, isn’t she? I told them I would like to try the square dancing, so I met them at their home in Norwalk and went with them.

The class was already in progress and I had missed more than the number of lessons allowed. Also, being single, it was harder to get a partner to dance with. I stuck with it, though, and learned all of the calls and the dancing. I have been square dancing now for almost twenty-five years and I really enjoy it. It is good exercise, you meet a lot of nice people, and it keeps your mind sharp by making you think to remember the calls.

I meet my third husband Russell at a square dance class in Downey. Russell was born and raised in New Mexico and owned a farm there that had belonged to his dad. He had a man from that area taking care of it and raising cattle. We were married for eight years before he passed away. 

We had many happy years of square and round dancing. Russell had a motor home and loved camping. We went to many of the monthly weekend campouts with the square dancing club and made some long distance trips. One trip was to Stratton, Colorado, for my 50th high school reunion in 1999. 

One trip was to Iowa to visit my sister and brother-in-law who were hosting our family reunion that year. From there we went to South Dakota, saw the Bad Lands and Mt. Rushmore, then we drove through Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and back to California.

Another year my brother and cousin hosted our family reunion in Indianapolis, which we went to. On our way home from this trip Russell and I attended the New Mexico Harding County 75th Anniversary, the county where Russell had his farm. We would stop by and check on things there when we went that way. 

Some of Russell’s friends still lived in the area, and he enjoyed visiting them. The county’s anniversary celebration had a parade, rodeo, and barbeque on Saturday. On Sunday there was a watermelon feed, rodeo, and horseshoe tournament which Russell participated in. Russell enjoyed playing horseshoes.

In early September of 1997 Russell had had open heart surgery with a heart valve replacement and a pace maker. He recovered from this very well. Then, unfortunately, the day before Thanksgiving in 1999 he fell off a ladder picking oranges in our back yard and broke his ankle.

After three months of recovery and getting back to normal he had gone out in the yard to trim some of the trees. I went out to tell him lunch was ready and found him dead on the ground. It was March 2000.  A blood clot took his life suddenly. 

I’m sure there have been many other times of stress and possibly some that I could have had more control over, but all in all, I have had a pretty good life. Thanks to my Faith in God.

SHARED STORIES: The Fire

Gail Earl’s family experience with a threatening fire near the Colorado River reminds us all to reflect on what is important in life. While “her” fire was not as destructive as the recent fires in northern California, it evokes similar feelings and lessons. 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

As we were half way to the river, we received a phone call from our neighbor there. He knew we were coming and he wanted to warn us not to come. There was a big fire and they were in the process of evacuating the area of our house. Everyone was being evacuated to a school.

We decided to continue on and hope for the best. When we got there we were stopped by the police and told we couldn’t enter our street. Our property is on the river and enclosed by a private gate, so there is only one way in or out.

We drove across the river and parked in the boat launch and watched all of the helicopters hover over the river, suck up water, take off, and drop it on the fire. There were several planes with scoop buckets and many helicopters all working together.

It was quite a sight to see. The smoke was very black and thick and growing. We are surrounded by desert so there is a lot of brush to burn.

The most amazing sight was how many idiots on jet skis and boats were in the water right under where the helicopters were trying to scoop up water. I so wished there was a police boat there at the time to give them all tickets for being so stupid. It was really irritating. 

Because of the smoke it was very hard to tell just how close the fire actually was. There were fire trucks at the entrance to our home and they were there to hold the fire back from getting to the nine homes inside the gates.

We watched all of the activity for a while and then decided that we would go to a hotel and stay. Now, I am the calm one and I expected my husband to be a little more concerned than he was. He was so calm it seemed weird. He just kept saying, “We have good insurance. If it burns down, it burns down.”

The fire burned for three days before they had complete containment.

Our nine-year old granddaughter Savannah loved the idea of staying in the hotel. She thought this was great fun! She instantly called “dibs” on the shower caps and little soaps in the room. 
I asked her what in the world she wanted a shower cap for, and she told me she was going to wear it every time she cooked with her mom, just like the lunch lady wore. That little girl sure keeps a smile on my face. And yes, I have seen her wear it since.

The fire destroyed eighteen structures, caused no fatalities to humans, and burned over 6000 acres; but it never touched our house. I am very thankful. That house is our dream home that we designed and built fifteen years ago. I would hate to lose it, but this experience has reinforced by life-long beliefs. It is all just stuff and can be replaced. My treasures are all in the people I spend my life with.

SHARED STORIES: My Mother's Garden

Vickie Williams spent her childhood in Louisiana.  This reverent essay on her mother’s garden is almost a prose poem. 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

The Roman poet Ovid once said, “A rested field produces a beautiful crop.” 

As winter would take hiatus and spring would unfold, according to the old worn almanac, upon the request of my mother old man Jim Tillman, in faded blue coveralls and sometimes in khaki uniform with bent brim hat, would bring plow and stubborn mule to break the ground for mother’s garden in our back yard. Perfectly carved, masterfully crafted rows for sowing seeds made a picture-perfect layout.

After sowing the seeds in fertile, dark Louisiana soil, little miracles would unfold gradually, slowly over time. Curiosity enticed me. Little green pinheads would pop up, so delicate and fragile at the start.

However, after incubating with time they would spiral, bud, bloom, flower, and take on shape, full form, and personalities. Vines would creep, crawl, stretch, and grow. Fresh, plump sun-ripe tomatoes and crispy, crunchy cucumbers were right at my fingertips.

Homegrown vegetables were always plentiful. Fresh string beans spiraled on bean post. Specked butter beans, fuzzy okra, banana squash, fire-hot red pepper for pepper sauce, turnip, cabbage, mustard, and collard greens grew in abundance.

Mother’s green thumb was magic. She watered and nurtured them; spoke to her plants as if they could hear her. “Give them tender care and love,” and in my mind’s eye they responded.
Early morning dewdrops tickled my toes, as I tiptoed through my mother’s garden. Intrigued by nature, watching seeds transformed mesmerized me. I grew to love the smell of early morning in my mother’s garden. 

It was my sweet spot hangout, playground, laboratory for insects and me. I loved to catch crickets, I played with earthworms, poured salt on snails, thumped red beetles, trapped any insect I could, and placed them in jars. 

My eyes roving here and there, peeping under vines, curious to see what I could find. Sometimes, I would find a spot on the ground and simply daydream.

Nature with blue-sky canvas brought me much joy. Mother would often ask me to pick vegetables for her out of the garden. It made me feel all grown-up, and setting at the dinner table made my efforts quite rewarding. Before the blazing sun appeared, it was fun time for me. Growing up, I never went hungry. We were poor, but I never knew it.

SHARED STORIES: All's Well that Ends Well

When Karen Borrell’s brother Phil suggested a family cruise from Montreal along the St. Lawrence River, she declined at first, and then decided to meet him and his wife after their cruise, traveling with them by train to their childhood home in rural New York. But two months before the trip, she broke her foot and was walking with a brace. Things got worse from there. Fortunately, modern cell phones came to the rescue. 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

My reunion with my friend Liz in Montreal was all that we hoped for, except that the very next day, I felt the ache and warnings in my body that signaled I was fighting some invasion. I was determined to ignore it as best I could and not put a damper on our time together.

We enjoyed our outings, touristing the libraries and museums, but I lost my voice by the second evening. After the next day I had a sore throat and a growing heavy cough.

On the day of my brother’s arrival, Liz took me early in the morning to the train station where I would meet Phil and his wife after their cruise. The three of us would go by train to Albany before renting a car and driving to our childhood home in the Adirondacks.

At the station, I left Liz watching my luggage at intervals while I strode up and down, looking for Phil and Gail who were to meet me there at 9:00 AM. No sign of them.

Finally I got a baggage carrier who checked my ticket and led me down the stairs to the right train, the right car, and put my luggage in place. I kept stepping out of the train, hoping to see Phil and Gail arriving. I finally spoke to the conductor, who led me through the whole length of the train while I scanned the passengers for my family.

Then the conductor said, “We leave in two minutes; are you going or staying?” I told him I would stay. In my mind I thought the ship must be late coming into Montreal, and decided the best thing for me to do was to continue with the plan, and somehow they would catch up with me in Albany.

The October scenery outside my window was all that I had looked forward to: lakes, rivers, mountains, and vibrant yellows and oranges with an occasional flash of bright red, and many shades of green. It was beautiful. Only an infrequent house or two broke up the landscape. What a lovely change from my city life.

But I was concerned as to the whereabouts of Phil and Gail. I had wild thoughts that they would hire a cab, and try to catch up with the train. Or maybe they would hire a light plane and meet me in Albany.

After crossing the border into the United States, I got a text message from Phil.  Clearly unaware of my situation, he said that their ship would dock tomorrow morning!!  He and Gail would meet me at the Montreal train station, gate 58, at 9:00 AM the next day.  I was on the train a day early!!

Fortunately, he also mentioned that they decided to take the train to Schenectady, New York, instead of going to Albany.  I panicked, jumped out of my seat and began running through the cars, fighting with the heavy safety doors until I finally found the conductor. He calmly assured me that this was no problem and no change in price. 

When my blood pressure came down, I looked up hotels in Schenectady on my iPhone. I thought it might be nice to stay downtown where I remembered I used to shop on special occasions, and where my other brother Ric had attended Union College.

There were two choices. One hotel was $215/night and the other was $70/night. In an economically depressed city, I decided the cheaper one would be okay.

I texted my plan to my brother and then had time to think about how I had made such a mistake as boarding the train a day early.  Why hadn’t I noticed that the date was wrong? Lizzy hadn’t noticed it either, nor had the baggage carrier, the conductor, or the border patrol when they were checking my papers. How had I skipped an entire day?

When we reached Schenectady, passengers stepped out onto a platform with stairs. I struggled down two flights with my large suitcase and my flight bag. I was still sick and my head was pounding.  A man at a small desk downstairs called a cab for me, but it took almost an hour for the cab to arrive.

By now it was almost 6:00 PM, and the short ride to my hotel brought me to a shabby neighborhood with people sitting outside on their porches. They were sitting on dilapidated steps, smoking something that I suspected was illegal.

My cab pulled up in front of a building with a small glass door, and a sign blinking, “Open, Open!” The pleasant driver placed my luggage inside the door. Stepping up to the window, I saw a woman ironing and two small children playing near her.

I told her I had reserved a room, but she but couldn’t find any trace of my transaction in her computer. As she continued looking, a very scroungy man came into the small office, popped a wrapped object into the small microwave, efficiently heated its contents, grabbed it and left for the street again.

The lady saw that I was wearing an Om charm on my necklace. She told me that she was from India (which I had already guessed), and I told her that I had been there and it was a very interesting visit for me. She seemed delighted and quickly assured me that there was a room for me and gave me one on the first floor.  This was very fortunate for me because it turned out that there was no elevator.

Room 132 turned out to be very decent and clean! The bathroom fixtures were all recent and immaculate.

By now I needed something to eat, and the manager told me there were places “down the hill.” Putting my coat on over my purse, I started to walk, avoiding eye contact with the porch people along the way. I worried if I would be able to make it back up the hill.

Finally I saw the Union College campus, and then the edge of downtown. Ahead was the Proctor Theater that I had attended years ago. Its marquee was still blinking, advising patrons of that evening’s production. Across the street was an Italian restaurant with outside seating.
The sun was still warm, so I sat outside enjoying my meal. The waiter packaged up what I could not finish, and I headed back to the hotel up the hill. It was difficult and I stopped to rest often. By now I knew that I had a fever and was really quite ill.

I tried to look my best whenever I passed a curious individual. It was getting dark, and I was the only person who looked like me and my age. I wanted to look like I knew what I was doing and where I was going. I walked passed the porch people who appeared not to have moved since I first crossed their paths.

Safely back in my hotel room, I pushed the blinds against the window with a sweater, wheeled my suitcase against the locked door, and shoved an arm chair behind that.  After calling my husband to tell him about my mistake with the dates, I went to bed, falling asleep almost immediately.

Phil texted me the next morning that they would rent a car and pick me up in the afternoon, so I headed for the office and my “Continental” breakfast. 

The lady manager was busily waving a smoking stick of incense around the different gods that decorated the walls, and I smelled the agreeable scent that was so much a part of my memories in India. She greeted me pleasantly, and we chatted about the importance of acknowledging the deities.

Breakfast turned out to be minimal. There was coffee, but no cream or milk. I took one of the two English muffins that had been set out, and she gave me some jelly packets. Before leaving I asked about the charge for staying later than the 11 a.m. checkout time. I paid it and headed back to my room, where I fell back to sleep despite having the coffee.  Later I ate the cold leftovers from last night’s dinner.

About 3 p.m. there was a knock at the door. It was the husband and manager.  He said I had to leave, that my time was up!  I told him that I had expected to be gone by now, that my brother was late but would be arriving any minute. I knew that the train did not arrive until after 4 p.m., but I wasn’t going to tell the manager that. Fortunately, he walked back to the office.

Trying to make things look better, I put my suitcases outside my door, as if my departure was imminent. Then I sat on the bed and waited.

At 4:30 p.m. the manager came back to ask what was happening. I told him that my brother had arrived and was on his way, but that he told me he got lost.  The manager just shook his head, but he was very decent to me.

At 5 p.m. he appeared once more, just as my brother arrived!  All was well! 

Reunited at last, Phil, Gail, and I quickly left Schenectady behind and soon approached Amsterdam, where my family had lived for about seven years. We passed familiar streets and places, commenting on different memories, not stopping, but full of all the good and bad that flashed in our separate thoughts, some mentioned, others not. There were changes, but the city was still alive and surviving the loss of Mohawk Carpet Mills, the large broom factory that my friend Sylvia’s father owned, the pearl button factory, and Chalmer’s Knitting Mill.

We stopped for a nostalgic supper at a familiar diner on the north edge of the city, and then wound our way up the country roads to the mountains and the cabin we would be staying in. Marion, a long time friend, greeted us. The cabin was stocked with snacks and drinks we might want.

Marion was a city girl who met and married my brother’s very best friend Paul. Paul was from generations of hunters and rural-survivors. After their children were grown and gone, Paul and Marion retired from teaching at an upstate university, and took over his parent’s rental cabins on the lake. Grandma Wilbur, his mom, had lived to be 101 years old.

Marion greeted us with a huge breakfast in her home the next morning. Phil had knocked on my door in the middle of the night, concerned about my coughing. I was determined not to ruin the time for any of us, and did everything I could to pretend I was not that bad.

I was so happy to be there, and I’m sure that helped. As we sat at breakfast, plans were made for our short five-day visit. It would be a whirlwind of remembrances.

 

SHARED STORIES: The 'M' Room

Some experts say that birth order can affect a person’s development. When Gloria Hannigan’s daughters give her a tour of their new house, it brings up an issue for her that she thought was long passed. 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 Gloria Hannigan

My daughters were showing me around the home they just moved into. They called one of the bedrooms, the “M” room.  “M” for Mattie when he spends the weekend; “M” for Mom when she stays over; and “M” for middle as it’s the middle bedroom.

After I returned home that word “MIDDLE” kept running through my mind. Middle room, middle class, middle child. Ah, that was what was nagging at me. Was there now a crack in my “Mother’s” armor, allowing the middle child to show through for the whole world to see, even my children?

Yes, I was a middle child, sandwiched between the firstborn, only son, who never did anything wrong, and the blonde, giggling, deep-dimpled baby girl. Once I was the baby, but it lasted only one year and four months, when I was suddenly bumped up under Wonder Boy and held there firmly by Golden Girl. 

I fought a constant battle to get out of the middle and move to the forefront. Regrettably my ammunition was sadly lacking.  I had find, straight hair that would not hold a curl no matter how my mother tried to set it, and believe me, she did try and try and try.

I had the Irish white skin that freckled and burned and peeled and burned again all summer long.  y scrawny body racked with a bronchial cough from November until the following April.

A weaker child might have just settled into the middle slot and made the best of it. But not I. I had an abundance of stubbornness and spunk which lasted me until I donned the armor of motherhood, where I had a throne that was mine alone.

Amy I now in danger of being ousted from this throne as my armor gets older and erodes around the edges? I’ll have to spend a night in the middle room and see if it caters to the mother, or the middle child in me, or maybe a little of each.

SHARED STORIES: Reflections on the Space Age

Kay Halsey was born 95 years ago in Atlanta in 1920, where her father was a minister. The arc of her life spans a time from Model-T Fords to space travel. As she reflects on the changes she has seen during her lifetime, Kay is always looking forward. 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 Kathleen Halsey


A few years ago our country celebrated the ending of our space program started by President Kennedy. His idea was to put a man on the moon. The final flight of the space ship Endeavour flew over my house. I heard it coming and ran out to see it. When I went into my house the TV was showing people who worked in Palmdale on the Endeavour with tears in their eyes.

I thought back to my childhood in 1927 when I would go up a hill behind my house and look at the dark sky with a bright shining moon and thousands of twinkling stars. There were not many street lights then to block out the vision to the stars.

I sang this Mother Goose rhyme: I see the moon and the moon sees me/The moon sees somebody I want to see/God bless the moon and God bless me/and God bless the one I want to see.

Many things were being discovered in the 20’s. Instead of carriages and wagons drawn by horses, Henry Ford and others were perfecting the automobile. Our lighter-than-air vehicles were being experimented with and tested on the beach in Long Beach and in North Carolina.  Many men were killed when their biplanes crashed. Charles A. Lindberg, however, after many crashes was heard on shortwave radio on his nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean to Paris in May 1927. The South Pole was being explored and recorded by shortwave radio by Admiral Byrd. He used ships and planes.

I was moved deeply when on a visit to Maui I took a long automobile trip along the coast to Hana, a native Hawaiian village. On the coast was a small stone church with Lindbergh’s grave. The epitaph on his grave was from Psalm 139:  “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me.”  His victory had turned tragic when a kidnapper took and killed his young son for ransom. Lindbergh and his family had fled to a small island off the coast of France. Then he retreated to Maui.

Our scientists continued to work on air travel, spurred by WWII. Experiments on TV in 1940 materialized so that we made the first space capsule in Downey. In 1969 Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, “One giant step for mankind,” I heard as I was watching the event on TV with my father who was born in 1886. 

When I was teaching in the 1960’s and 70’s, NASA produced great brochures about space development that I displayed on the bulletin boards.  It was an opportunity to open the eyes and minds of a new generation of children who did not understand the involved steps of space travel and all the knowledge that we had gained about our universe.

The development of the rockets Atlantis, Discovery, and Challenger was done in Downey, El Segundo, Long Beach and San Diego.  Even seven flights set down in our Edwards Air Force Base.  No wonder the creators of the Endeavor had tears in their eyes.  Thousands of hours of work by many people made Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon a reality.  It was a long time since man believed that the world was flat until a man actually landed on the moon.

My Mother Goose prayer about “the one I want to see” was a reality made by the dreams and work of many men.  We have sent rockets to Pluto recently and learned many things about our universe.  What wonders have been wrought by the work of many men, not only in the US but around the world?

Shared Stories: My Family of Veterans

As we celebrate our nation’s birthday this Fourth of July, we also salute the men and women who have served our country so unselfishly. Dora Silvers grew up in New Jersey, not far from New York City. After World War II, she and her husband settled in Norwalk where they raised five children. In this piece she recalls her family’s military contributions and her wish for peace. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles from a writing class held every Thursday at the Norwalk Senior Center. Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Dora Silvers

My father came from Russia in 1914. His uncle sponsored him. He drove a horse and wagon to West Point and continued on to his uncle’s cleaning establishment in Newburg, New York. He met a lot of generals, and they encouraged him to enlist in the army in 1917. That was World War I.

My father went to Cooks and Bakers School and took a crash course in French. He was sent to France where he was injured in the leg and had shell shock from the mustard gas.

My father was a great cook. My mother had six children, and whenever she went to the hospital to deliver a baby, she had to stay there for eight days, so Papa did the cooking. He made my favorite hamburger with lots of fried onions, no buns. This was before McDonald’s.

My brother Jay enlisted in the army during World War II. He also went to Cooks and Bakers School. Jay was on a hospital ship that went to Germany. When he arrived, he was summoned by an officer and asked, “Why are you still here? I sent you back to the States as you completed too many reconnaissance missions.”

Jay replied, “That must be my cousin. He’s over six feet tall and has dark hair. I am only 5 feet 8 inches and have blond hair.”

After looking up some records, the officer apologized and excused Jay. They both had the same name, Jack Phillip Edelman. Jay found out that his cousin was on the tailgate of a plane and took pictures over Germany that helped us win the war.

My brother Jay became a chef in a hotel in Atlantic City. Then he opened his own business.
My brother Sam enlisted in the army in 1952, and was sent to the Philippines. He was my baby brother, the youngest of six children. When he came home, he had a bakery and deli.

My husband Jack enlisted in the Navy in 1944. He was on an oil tanker that went to North Africa, England and Scotland. After he came home in 1948, he went to refrigerator and air conditioning school. Jack and I were married in 1949, and we moved to California.

My son Mitchell enlisted in the Marines in 1967. He went to Vietnam and died under fire in 1968. I miss Mitchell. He was my firstborn and a wonderful son. In the summer he would help the neighborhood boys get fishing rods ready, and then take them to the lake in Whittier to go fishing.

Now, I want all of our troops overseas to come home. No more wars, just peace.

 

Shared Stories: Causes of Homelessness

Maria Garcia grew up in Manila and has traveled to many places in the world. The growing plight of the homeless in this country has moved her to reflect on her own experiences and what she can do to help. 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

I thought I understood homelessness because in my country of origin, the Philippines, where I grew up in the city of Metro Manila, the poor have always been a part of the city scene. 

Little did I know that the highest homeless population in the world, according to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, is the Philippines, due to poverty and natural disasters.

Coming to America where my mindset was the land of milk and honey, I was shocked to see raggedly-clothed people pushing carts with heaps of plastic bags, perhaps filled with belongings or garments of sorts. They have been compared, along with those seen on the sidewalk of a freeway ramp or in the Mission District in downtown Los Angeles, to a mini tent city. 

When I was still in my thirties, I had taken on a penchant for backpacking trips in Europe with my husband (who is my best friend). I had the privilege of a mother-in-law who took care of our three children at home. Without making any prior reservations, we, of course, risked being in some sort of homelessness, if you will.  

On one such summer trip in 1997, my husband and I got to Krakow, Poland, by train. While he kept watch of our carryalls, I walked from one hotel to the other within the periphery of the train station seeking a room.

By then it was already close to midnight. Not finding a room for us in any of the inns, we decided that two vacant benches by the railroad platform were the best bet for us getting some much needed sleep. There was a third bench, but there was something on it. Exhausted as we were, we each took a bench and used our backpacks as our pillows.  

By about 2 a.m., when it was getting really cold, this lump of blankets on the third bench beside us stood up, and we saw he was a homeless man. At that moment, with no shelter, we felt we were no different from him. 

But we started to walk a few meters and sighted the silhouette of a backpacker walking towards some stairs. We followed him and lo and behold, in the underground, other backpackers were slumped snugly on the floor in their sleeping bags. We joined them.

By the light of the morning and the sound of voices awakening us, a shaggy old man dressed in some simple clothes, approached us and asked if we needed a room to stay. He had a room available for $15 a day at his pension house.  

We were so terribly deprived of any sleep that we hardly had any energy to even doubt the man’s word. We grabbed the opportunity and followed him. 

His so-called pension house was run down and had no occupants except us, and we were shown into a room with five beds. Still, fatigue got the better of us and in the cold, we both snuggled on one bed, only to be awakened hours later by the scampering of mice on our covers. In retrospect this was an experience of quasi-homelessness that one could not easily forget.

Other than that experience in Krakow, I really did not have to think about what it meant to be homeless until I was recently teased about being homeless myself. In February of this year, my husband and I came home from a vacation and found our house to be malodorous, making me almost gag. 

Yes, we were informed via email by our daughter that our house had been flooded due to a busted pipe. But seeing our house in person was a real shocker. We immediately called the insurance company and checked in at a hotel that very night.  

I recalled the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” It is a historical drama about the left-behind victims of genocide seeking not only temporary shelter, but a permanent place to live. I felt empathy for those people, and I realized that hotel living, as in our case, was no way to be categorized as being homeless. We also had family and friends who offered to have us stay with them until our house was repaired.

I have become more aware of the homeless population, and I felt a strong reaction when I heard a friend say that most homeless people are homeless by choice. I so defied that statement that I just had to do my homework.

I found out that the reasons for homelessness are illness, mental disorder, depression, addiction, unemployment and the list goes on. An unfortunate series or circumstances and events can lead to homelessness.

How it pained me to hear on the news that a homeless person was shot on Venice Beach.  My heart goes out with the thought of there being a victim, of being maltreated like an unimportant member of society. So the placard said “Life for the Homeless Matters.”

California is listed as having one of the highest homeless population in the 11 named states. I cannot stay blind, much less insensitive, to those who have the courage to go on with life despite  the challenge of homelessness. I feel that I can do my part whether it means volunteering in a center or joining groups to build houses in Tijuana. I have only just begun.

 

Shared Stories: Vic's Coat

Yolanda Adele and her husband Vic were high school sweethearts in the early 1960’s. The threat of the Vietnam War was ever-present as they shared their last evening together before he left for boot camp with the Marines. 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

Vic’s coat was black and made of a heavy cotton blend. It smelled of Old Spice Cologne. He wore that coat the day before he had to leave for Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Boot Camp, where he was to train before shipping out to an undisclosed location.  It was an ordinary spring day in 1962. Vic was just nineteen years old. The war with Vietnam was escalating and so were my fears of ever seeing him alive again.

Vic walked the twelve miles from his parents’ house to my house in Huntington Park to say goodbye to my family and me. My mother hugged him and gave him a blessing. She was holding back tears. Perhaps, she was remembering when my father said goodbye to her before he left for the Army Air Corps (as it was called then) to go overseas during World War II.
My father shook Vic’s hand and wished him good luck. Then dad asked Vic if he’d like to borrow his car to take me for a drive. Though there were ominous clouds in the sky, Vic opted to go for a walk instead, and declined his thoughtful offer. 

As we walked in silence down Pacific Boulevard for several blocks, I buried my head in the folds of his coat sleeve. So many emotions stirred up in me that it was difficult to sort them out. Though I had just turned seventeen, I knew that I loved Vic and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Sure we didn’t have money, a home, a car, or even the right to vote yet, but none of that mattered as long as we could be together.

Suddenly there was a violent clap of thunder; the skies opened up and sheets of water poured over us. We ran in and out of store doorways for shelter, huddling close, giggling, and stealing kisses.

I never felt the cold in spite of the fact I was wore a thin, cotton dress and sandals. Vic put his woolen black coat around my shoulders insisting that he was not cold. We were carefree and laughing loudly. The hard rain washed over us like a benediction. 

Eventually the time drew near for him to leave for the base.  I began to cry, tasting the salt of my tears mixed with that of the rain. Tearfully Vic stood in front of me and held up my chin.

“We’ll get married on my first leave from boot camp, O.K.?” I nodded enthusiastically.

“Promise me that you’ll come back,” I begged.  We kissed hard even as the rain soaked us. We held on to each other tightly in defiance of all the storms we would have to weather.

As we walked back to my parents’ house in the relentless rain, it became difficult for me to keep up with Vic’s gait. His pace became almost a sprint to get us to shelter. I lagged a little behind, all the while gripping his sopping wet coat sleeve.

At the house Vic took off his coat, and my mother hung it on a hanger and placed it in the shower to drip dry. My dad drove him to his parents’ home. 

Days later when Vic’s coat finally dried, I noticed that one of the sleeves was at least four to six inches longer than the other - a reminder of how tightly I tried to hold on to him on the day he left. His coat retained the faint fragrance of Old Spice.

I wore that coat many times in the fifteen months he was overseas as I worried, wondered, and waited for him to return. That coat brought me comfort when I wrapped its uneven sleeves around my shoulders while writing to him and reading his letters. During that uncertain time, we continued pledging our love for each other. No other article of clothing has warmed my heart more than Vic’s coat.

Over four decades later I was reminded of that day in the rain. Vic and I were celebrating our May birthdays in the Napa Valley, and we had just finished dining at Misto’s, a posh Italian restaurant not far from our hotel. We decided to take a walk down the main boulevard to look in the storefront windows.

It started to rain, and soon we were caught in a heavy downpour. We found ourselves in a store doorway seeking temporary shelter from the drenching rain. As we turned to look at each other, we burst out laughing loudly and unabashedly, knowing that we were each experiencing deja vu at the same time. 

Vic put his coat around my shoulders before stealing a kiss. We then ran out in to the rain, hand in hand, soaking up the magic of an ordinary day like the two teenagers we once were.                                                                   
Foot note: On July 2. 2012 we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

 

Shared Stories: My Amazing Sister

Along with her parents and seven siblings, Maria Zeemen spent three years of her childhood in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia during World War II. Not only did her entire family survive, her younger sister Letty overcame the effects of polio contracted during that time. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles from 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

Maria Zeeman

I recently went to visit my sisters, Letty and Nel, in the Netherlands. My youngest sister Trixi, who lives in Montreal, also came with me. I have a sister,Clara, who lives in Vancouver, and my oldest sister, Frances, lives in Toronto. At the ripe old age of 94 she is unable to travel.

It took me 10 hours without stops to land at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.  It wasn’t an easy flight, but I forgot all about my discomfort as soon as I law Letty.  She has always been an inspiration to me.  She is only two years younger than I am, so I always felt close to her.

My family is Dutch, and we lived in Indonesia before World War II because my father was a ship’s captain. My parents had eight children. During World War II, when we were all put in a Japanese concentration camp, Letty had polio.  During our three years in the camp, there wasn’t anything we could do for it.  She was only seven years old when we were freed, and not long after that she got a special shoe with a brace.

Her disability was more noticeable with the brace.  She didn’t only walk with a limp, but also with a loud clunking sound as her clunky shoe hit the ground with every step.  Children teased her often, and she could only play sports or games with other kids if we (her siblings) played with her.

My sister Letty had a hard time, but one day she got sick of it and threw the shoe and brace into the ocean! She refused to ever wear another one again, no matter what my parents did. Her leg was much thinner and 1 ½” shorter than the other one. She always walked on her tippy toes with that foot. She was quite determined to overcome her disability.

Every single day, Letty did many strenuous exercises that she found while investigating her illness in library books. The opinion of her doctors was that she would end up in a wheelchair. They said that there was nothing they could do to make her better. That leg was  always going to be much weaker than the other.

My father wanted Letty to work in an office, but that’s not what she wanted. She wanted to be a nurse, helping people. The nursing school in Amsterdam didn’t want to take her because of her disability, so she went to the other end of the country and applied again, faking her disability. It worked.

She did her training and did it well. Everyday she continued her exercises on her leg. She began to play tennis and became really good at it. She skied and participated in all of the sports events that she could.

My amazing sister Letty became a better swimmer, bicycle rider, tennis player, and walker than me. The only thing I could beat her in was table tennis or badmitten. She lever let polio get the best of her. Letty was very focused and determined and overcame many hurdles.

Letty married and raised three children. She has seven grandchildren, and today Letty can still stand on her head and do the splits like a woman much younger. She’s quite an inspiration and I’m so proud of her. I was happy to spend time with her and the others in the Netherlands.

Shared Stories: Fingerprints

Dora Silvers is a real New York kinda’ girl.  In this essay on fingerprints, her humor is dry, and some of her stories would fit right into a Seinfeld episode on TV. 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 Dora Silvers

When my twins were born, their footprints and thumbprints were on their birth certificates.  Also my thumbprints.

When my brother Ben was in New York, a man was running down the street and gave him a heavy typewriter. Then the man hopped on a waiting bus and disappeared. A policeman tapped my brother on the shoulder.

He said to Ben, “I have to take you in, you have stolen property.” Ben looked around, and there was a patrol wagon.

Ben told him, “Someone gave it to me and then got on the bus.”

The officer insisted, “We have to take you in, and that is it.”

When they got to the police station, Ben asked if he could call his father. My dad said he would call cousin Max who was a lawyer in New York.

After Ben was fingerprinted, Max showed up. Max asked to talk to the owner of the shop where the typewriter was stolen. The owner described the thief as short and with gray hair. Ben was tall and had dark hair. So Ben was released and cousin Max treated him to a dinner at a fancy restaurant.

My daughter Nancy had just been hired at a bank in the New Accounts department.  After work, Nancy changed into her leotards and sweatshirt She was going to the gym to work out.

As she was leaving, her boss called her over and said, “Nancy, you have to go to the Sheriff’s station and get fingerprinted. That’s a requirement at this bank.” So Nancy drove to the Sheriff’s station where they took her fingerprints.

A week later, as she was again leaving work in her gym outfit, her boss said to her, “Nancy, your fingerprints did not take. You have to go back and have them done over.”

So she drove to the Sheriff’s station again, but this time there was a bus and men were lined up.  She told the officer, “I have to get fingerprinted.”

He said to her, “Get in line!” She was so embarrassed at having to stand in line with men who were wearing handcuffs. 

When she got to the front of the line, the deputy said, “Are you back again?” All of the men laughed and said, “Atta girl!”

When she told this to her friends who were waiting for her at the gym, they all thought it was funny and laughed. Nancy was embarrassed.

When I got hired as a secretary at McDonald Douglas, my boss told me, “Next week an agent from the FBI will come and interview you for your top security clearance because you will be handling government documents.” Then he handed me several forms to fill out. The first form was AKA, which means “Also Known As,” so I put in my maiden name.

The government agent was real cute, with blond hair and the nicest blue eyes. I gave him my forms and he said, “I will have to fingerprint you.” First he took my thumbprints, and then my thumbprint and my index finger and my middle finger.

I looked into those blue, blue eyes and asked him, “Why?”

He said to me, “In case you open your boss’s top drawer.” I did not know if he was kidding, but a week later I did get my security clearance. And I never did open my boss’s top drawer.

Shared Stories: The Melody Shoppe

Helen Hampton grew up in rural Maine. She sang in the chorus and loved music. When she moved with her husband to Florida, he presented her with a unique opportunity. 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

In 1946 my husband Ralph and I moved to Florida. Ralph sold insurance, and after we had been there a short while, one of his customers said that he was selling his music business. Ralph called home and asked me how I would like to own a music store. I knew nothing about a business. After all, I was only twenty-two years old.

I thought for a minute and said, “Yes, that would be nice.” And so we bought the store. It was in St. Augustine, only two blocks from the ocean.

I called my store The Melody Shoppe. I started out with just sheet music and records, over on the west side of town. It was a small shop, but new, and it was next door to a movie theatre. That was good for business, as the people from the theatre would come in when the movie was over.

About a year later, I moved my store over town to the main business section into another new building. It was very large so we sold pianos and instruments. Business continued to be very good. We sold a lot of band instruments to the local high school and many pianos.

Doing business in Florida was different from many other states. First of all, we closed at noon every Wednesday because of the intense heat.  Also, we had to worry about hurricanes and flash floods.  All of the businesses kept sand bags on hand in case of emergency.

One Wednesday afternoon we were all at home listening to storm warnings on the radio. Ralph went down to the store just to be sure that everything was fine. He sat in a chair watching the storm but soon fell asleep. When he awakened, to his shock water was seeping through both doors! He hurried to put the sand bags in place.

After the storm, our store was the only business on the street that escaped flooding, that’s to Ralph’s foresight. Imagine what would have happened to our pianos if the store had flooded! My friend had a store next door to us, and she lost the first two shelves of shoes because of water damage.

I was so happy those five years that I owned the music store. Then Ralph was called in to the Navy again for the Korean War. He was sent to San Diego and we sold the store and moved to California.

Shared Stories: Mother

Kay Okino grew up in Hawaii before World War II. Her mother was from a generation when the oldest daughters were often expected to stay home and help with the family. Kay is now a retired RN, and she is her mother’s daughter – a gentle woman who looks after others. 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

Recently in our memoir writing class we were asked by our instructor Mrs. Mansell to write on the topic “One Thousand Steps.”

“Hmmm,” I said to myself. “How many steps have I taken since my first step? Was I nine months old or a year old when I started to walk?”

My mother will know, but she is gone.  I cannot ask her, but this Sunday is Mother’s Day. I will think of her. She was a very lovely, kind mother.

She was born in Hilo, Hawaii, to my grandparents Itaro and Tsune Nakao.  She was the eldest of five children.  After finishing sixth grade, Grandpa would not allow her to continue school.  She went to work as a maid in a Caucasian home.  The rest of her siblings defied Grandpa and went to the States to study after high school.

As it turned out, none of Grandpa’s children returned to Hawaii, so it fell on Mother to look after Grandpa in his old age. He lived to a ripe age of one hundred, a holy terror.

Everyone gave a great sigh of relief when he finally went to join Grandma. This sounds like a harsh statement, but truly, Grandfather was a large part of Mother’s life in her old age. Looking after him was taking a toll on her life. His behavior resembled today’s Alzheimer’s illness.

My mother married my father Aigoro Uyeno when she was twenty and he was twenty-seven. It was an arranged marriage, a custom of that era.  She had married into a very difficult family which included a father and mother in-law, and three grown brothers-in-law to look after.
One of them left to get married. Another, the eldest and my favorite uncle, got sick and Mother looked after him. Father had built a little room for him next to the house, and I remember Mother caring for him until he died.

As I write this story, I wonder how Mother did everything – cooking for the family and washing clothes. I cannot remember Grandmother helping her.  I was too young to help. There was no electricity, no washing machine.

My mother had children every two years, yet I cannot remember her scolding me or my siblings.  I have never heard her or Father utter harsh words.  That shows how peaceful she was.  In the last years of her life, she and Father had come to live with me, and died at my home.  I had never expressed this sentiment or thanked her.  I wish I had.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers here.

Shared Stories: A View of My Country

Because she was so much younger than her classmates, Cynthia Vanasse describes her public school years as being a challenge. But the strengths that she gained also culminated in the unique opportunity of living in Norway as an exchange student. 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

I came into the world on November 28, 1941, in Corning, Calif. but moved to Columbia, Mo., at the tender age of six months. This move led to some disadvantages during my time in public school. It also led to the amazing opportunity of being an exchange student in Norway, and my gaining a new perspective on my country.

Why was my birthday not in my favor? The cut-off day for entrance into first grade was December 1; my birthday is three days before. As there was no kindergarten at the University Elementary School connected to the University of Missouri, I was four years old when starting first grade.

I entered the door to my new school as a socially and emotionally immature girl when compared to my schoolmates born in January and beyond. The only thing I had going for me was my brain; thank heavens I could read, do math, and generally keep up with my older contemporaries. But when recess came, I was the shy little girl hoping to get my turn on the swing.

This situation led me to think that excelling in school was my only saving grace. My father’s being a student in the University studying for his Ph.D. did nothing to discourage my determination to at least be good at something. That something did nothing to up my popularity rating (if I were even on that scale).

This self-concept followed me through my high school years. We had moved back to California, but I remained that immature student, this time with pimples, frizzy Toni-permanent hair, braces, and no money to be fashionably dressed. What could I do but build my esteem by assuming the role of “Super Studying Student?” Of course, this status was also not considered “in.”

I never had a date and didn’t go to the prom.  My one standout achievement was all my activities in the school yearbook. And the teachers seemed to enjoy having me in class. I was one of the eager “nerds” who paid attention and did all the homework.

Because of my grades and activities I was given an opportunity to be a high school exchange student. 

Traveling to Norway I was a naïve 17-year-old on my way to a foreign land, beginning a journey fated to give me a new understanding of my country. I wonder how my parents thought I could adjust, given my lack of skills in the social arena.  

Guess what? Norwegian high school students had a different “status ladder,” and I ended up nearer the top. My acceptance gave me a new sense of self. Maybe not being invited to the prom was not that important.

My first response to seeing my new home in Voss, Norway, was delight. This little town was set in a forest of trees intersected with narrow dirt streets; there were no cars to be seen. The downtown segment was a selection of “mom and pop” stores, a post-office, and police and fire stations.  

There were no “big box” stores loudly proclaiming what was inside. My new home for the year was on the side of a hill, reached by following one of the narrow streets. It was nestled in the midst of a forest with views of nature from all windows.

Needless to mention, this scenic locale was totally different from my Long Beach home. There were no freeways, no smog, no noise, no advertisements, no sidewalks. There was one mode of transportation for the general population—the train that went from Oslo to Bergen. The only people who owned cars were the chief of the hospital (who was my Norwegian father) and the police and fire personnel.

I immediately loved this little town; it offered quiet peace, time for nature and friends, and there was none of the frantic activity of people rushing about. All this seemed to be a paradise compared to my U.S. city. However, after several months, I began to realize that the diversity of cultural experiences and the excitement of new adventures were totally missing.

I started to appreciate my city at home with its university, plays, concerts, interesting people, and proximity to beaches, mountains, and the desert. And I noticed that as life in Voss became a bit constricted, alcohol offered an escape for many.

 My “job” was to be a student in the town’s “gymnast” (school) with my same-age peers. Immediately I realized that my education was grossly inferior to that of my classmates. Each student spoke three or four different languages, was way ahead in math, and generally was educated to a much higher level than I was at the time.

It became apparent to me that my inability to compete was a function of our U.S. school system and not my lack of ability. When the “playing field” did not depend on prior knowledge, I did very well.

I was distressed over what I thought was my inferior education, and only when I returned to the States and entered the University of California, did I begin to get a “different take” on our American opportunities. Students are quickly challenged at our schools of higher learning, everyone has a chance to attend, and students from foreign lands choose to study here.
In Norway a student takes a test at 13, and if he doesn’t do well, he does not go further with academic studies. Only the elite are educated there. In the United States we give everyone an opportunity.

My home life in Norway was also different. My Norwegian mother spent the day doing work in the house. She spent a great deal of time in the kitchen producing delicious meals, pastries, and everything else destined to make me a “full-figured” American. Our “middag” meal at 2 p.m. was a formal occasion with a white table cloth, formal settings, and mouth-watering food. 

This family-oriented meal time was totally different from my home in the United States. My mother was a junior college counselor who was well-educated and sophisticated. Meals were not her first concern, and, consequently, I kept a thinner figure.  

We tended to have the same menu every week (liver and onions, tuna fish on toast, and hamburger patties). Even though I loved the Norwegian cuisine, I preferred the thoughts and lifestyle my mother introduced. Knowledge lasts a lot longer than food.

I have only touched on some of the major differences found in Norway. My plane ride not only presented panoramas of the earth, it also landed where I had a chance to recognize what I value in my own country.

In the last analysis there is no other place I would rather be than at home in the United States. And I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to learn this!

My college experience was delayed a year while I was in Europe. This gave me that extra year to “catch up” after the deficits partially caused by my November birthday. I successfully navigated on my former strengths and added some new ones.

Shared Stories: A Horse of Course

Kacie Cooper grew up in Norwalk where zoning regulations permitted horses. Interwoven among the humor, Kacie sheds light on some of the angst common to many adolescents, as well as her own personal challenges. The story is also a tribute to her parents. 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 Kacie (Kathy) Cooper

“Go right to the horse and ask the horse/He’ll give you the answer that you endorse/He’s always on a steady course/Talk to Mr. Ed…”

When I was a young teenager there was a show on TV called “Mister Ed.”  It was about a man who talked to his beautiful Palomino horse, and his Palomino horse would talk to him.  I loved that show.  What I wouldn’t give to talk with a horse.  Who knew that my young life would turn out to resemble this sitcom?

I met my first best friend, Mary, when I was only seven years old.  But she had many other friends and I was often alone.  When I was twelve my father brought home a little Shetland pony and life got a bit easier.

She was auburn colored and we named her Cindy.  She was perfect.  I think I felt safe around her because she was shorter than me.  I learned to clean her hooves and her cage, and feed her in the mornings before going to junior high school.

She and I had a great relationship.  She never asked too much from me, and perhaps what I gave her was all I could give at that young age.

The day before my 13th birthday I got silly and brave and decided to try talking to Cindy.  I wanted to tell her my deepest thoughts.  It worked for “Wilbur”, didn’t it?

Cindy was expecting a little colt any day and I was ecstatic just waiting for the arrival.  “Cindy! Please! Please, Cindy, if you have a little male pony, we could name him Mister Ed. That would be appropriate since it’s also my dad’s name.  Plus, it’s also the name of a famous TV star horse.  Can you do that for me, Cindy?”

I stared at Cindy, and turned away from her, thinking she’d be more up for talking if I didn’t put her on the spot.  Moments later as I entered my house from the backdoor I heard a snort from Cindy.  I just knew she had heard me.

The next morning I woke up before dawn to feed Cindy. I was so excited; it was my 13th birthday!  

“Now Cindy, I have this juicy, red apple for you.  Happy birthday to me.”  As I reached for the apple in my pocket I told her, “Did you say something Cindy?”   

Then I froze. The apple rolled out of my hand onto the ground. I never actually planted my eyes on her pony, but I knew that she had given birth that morning, my birthday.  

Cincy had done her best for me, but the pony was motionless.  No one had to tell me anything.  I knew he was dead.  I was a teenager now and had to grow up.  I also knew I would never be able to talk to this beautiful, male, Palomino pony.  Under my breath I whimpered, “Goodbye Mister Ed.”  Then I ran into the house to tell my dad.

A few months later I recovered and Dad had traded Cindy for a much bigger, older horse named “Lady.”  I was very uncomfortable with Dad’s new choice.  But perhaps Dad thought there was something I could learn from this old battle axe.  He was always telling me to “talk” to Lady.  I wondered if he had overheard me talking to Cindy.  Taking care of this giant of a mare would be hard, but I’d give it my best shot.

Lady was also auburn colored, but very tall.  At the time I was only five foot one.  I didn’t mind cleaning her cage, but I was very threatened by the challenge of riding her.  My left leg was shorter and smaller due to the polio I contracted at age three.  I was afraid that Lady would crush that little foot because I just knew that Lady did not want to be ridden.

Dad had shown me how to saddle her and put the reins on.  After a couple of times riding her he told me, “Now take her to that open field across from your friend Mary and ride her over there.”

“By myself?” I enquired.  But that was all I said.  I never asked Dad too many questions.  He was always trying to teach me something.

I never told anybody how afraid I was of Lady.  I just felt I was a wimp because of the polio.  Now I wanted more than anything to get tough.  But I would have to somehow talk to Lady in her own language.

A few weeks later I felt more confident.  I walked to the open field across from Mary’s house and rode Lady bareback.  I pulled the reins back.  She acted as though she was going to bite the back of my hand.

“Oh no you don’t!  I’m the boss here.  You will not bite the hand that feeds you, Lady!”  She immediately stopped snapping at me.  But she was trying to tell me she wanted me off when she began lifting her hind legs and kicking them out from behind her.  I decided to share this extra bonus with my best friend Mary.

Mary rushed over to us and quickly climbed up on Lady.  Instantly Lady took off like wildfire.  You would have thought she was in one of those rodeos that my dad had taken the family to.
As soon as the bronco act was over Mary jumped off and angrily ran to her front door.  I sensed that something was wrong.

“What do you think, Mary? Wasn’t that fun?” I asked her as she opened her door and slammed it behind her.

“Kathy, your horse is crazy! And so are you! She’s a bucking bronco!”

“Yeah, I know.  Yeah…wasn’t it fun?”  Mary never replied.’

The day Lady died I watched a big tow truck pull up on the empty lot next to our house.  My mother yelled for me to run back into the house.  I did, but watched from the backdoor window as they hooked Lady up to a big crane and carried her body away.  

The whole time my mom was crying like a baby. I don’t even remember her ever riding Lady.  Years later I realized that she was mourning my loss.  She knew what that horse had done for me during those adolescent years. I really missed Lady, but I got even closer to my mom after that.  We talked more to each other. My mother was the real Lady.

Shared Stories: Oops, It's a Girl

Barbara Sparks was an only child who was very much loved by her parents. Her father was the best father he could be, sharing all of his talents and enjoyments with Barbara even though she was not a son. 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 Barbara Sparks

My father was raised without a father. When you have no model to follow, you invent the ideal father and you play the role. Even though I was a daughter and not a son, he taught me all of the skills that he knew.

First he decided that a father had to be hard working, and he was. After World War II he came to Los Angeles to give his little family a better life than they would have had in Oklahoma.  There were many opportunities in Los Angeles.

Initially he worked as a longshoreman as he looked for a more secure job. He found a position with the U.S. Rubber Plant making tires. He held this job until the plant closed down, and then he retired at that time.

During the time that he work there, he had such pride in his work and did such a great job that he moved to higher paying positions in the plant and he earned a pin for his great service to the company. He gave the pin to me, and I still have it.

He took pride in showing me off at the company Christmas parties. I have wonderful memories of this annual event. There was not only great food, but there was also a toy for each child.  
My father believed that fathers needed to shower their children with gifts during Christmas and on their birthdays. There were always several gifts for both me and my mother’s younger sister, who he was raising. He had exquisite taste in clothing and purchased only the most stylish items. When I went off to college he bought me my first car.

Playing cards and dominoes was fun for my father, so I was taught to play cards and dominoes as well. This was okay, but I can’t say the same thing about hunting and fishing. My father was an avid fisherman who subsidized his income by selling fish.  So I was taught to fish and hunt as well. Sometimes I think he forgot that I was a dainty little girl.

My father believed that fathers should take their children places – like wrestling and boxing matches, football games, and baseball games. I guess this was a good thing because I did play football with my cousins. Most of my cousins were boys, and that was what we played whenever they came to my house.

My father shared his cooking with me too. He did strange things, like covering the pan with cornmeal before putting in the cornbread batter, and forgetting the beans in the pressure cooker until there was a loud explosion causing beans to land on the ceiling and floor.

My father believed that fathers should take their children on trips during the summer. He took me to Oklahoma, Mexico, and every year we went to the Colorado River to fish. He drove so fast that I often thought we would not reach our destination in one piece. I decided that sleeping on the journey was a good thing to do since I didn’t want to see when we had an accident, or when the car landed at the bottom of a mountain as we drove around the sharp curves.

Even today, I go to sleep as soon as I get on an airplane so I won’t see any accident that might occur on our flight. Another thing about my trips with my father was that we never stopped to visit sites along the way or stopped to eat or even go to the restroom.

I know that my father tried really hard to be a good father. He was the best father he knew how to be. I appreciate all that he did for me.

Shared Stories: Of Course I Have Running Water

Barbara Goodhue grew up on a farm in the 1930’s and 40’s. Her family life could have been a model for “Little House on the Prairie.” After helping with chores, she and her siblings rode to school on a horse. 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 Barbara Goodhue

I grew up on a small farm in eastern Colorado about eight miles north of Stratton. I am the second of seven children, and our farm had no electricity or indoor plumbing. My brother Dale was the oldest child. Altogether we were four boys and three girls.

My father farmed corn, maze, and other hay for feeding the farm animals during the winter. Several times a year my aunt and uncle and nine cousins came over when we butchered a pig or a cow. The chance to visit with our cousins was a lot of fun for us. We helped with grinding the meat for sausage, and my mother preserved the sausage in large jars.

My mother was a farm wife who not only cared for us children, but also worked in the garden and fields, helped to milk the cows, and did many other regular farm jobs. Each spring she planted a huge garden with rows of green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, radishes, parsnips, etc. Some of the produce from this garden was canned in fruit jars and stored in the basement.
Our water came from a well powered by a windmill on a small hill. The water had to be carried to the house by me and my siblings whenever it was needed. We heated the water on a coal stove for doing laundry, washing dishes, taking baths, etc. 

For water to drink and wash our hands, we had water buckets on a washstand. We used a tin cup or a dipper that everyone drank from. Our bathtub was a large, round galvanized tub. Years later, when my parents had moved to a much larger city and had indoor plumbing and other amenities, my mother would jokingly say about the farm, “Of course I had running water – I had seven kids with buckets.”

We did laundry on a washboard. Sometime later we got a washing machine with a hand wringer. After we put the clothes through the wringer the first time, the clothes had to be rinsed in clean water to get the soap out. Then we put the clothes through the wringer again before hanging them on the line to dry.

A coal stove was used for all cooking and heating. My mother made homemade bread, biscuits, apple and cherry pies, cakes and cookies. Sunday dinner was always a treat with fried chicken and dumplings, or sometimes roast beef. When it was dark, we used kerosene lamps for light.  I washed the globes to make them shine, and I filled them with kerosene. About 1953 my parents got electricity through the REA (Rural Electric Association). I had already graduated and left home by then.

My siblings and I helped with the chores as we grew and were able. We milked the cows and separated the milk from the cream before going to school in the morning, and this had to be done again in the evening. The cream was put in five or ten gallon cream cans that were kept in cold water in a shed next to the windmill. When the cans were full, they would be taken to town to be shipped to a creamery. 

We also fed the chickens, gathered the eggs daily, and cleaned the chicken houses once or twice a week. We helped my mother hoe the garden to keep the weeds out and carried water for it.

All of us who were old enough worked in the field shocking feed and gathering ears of corn which were also prepared for eating and canning. Most of the field work and harvesting was done during the summer, so we didn’t have to miss school.  

There were several different primary schools in the area. I remember one called Greenwood, which was about three miles away, and another called Idylwild, which was about one mile away. The schools were one room, and all eight grades were taught and supervised by one teacher. There could be twelve to fifteen students or more.

We either walked or rode a horse to school, even through the snow and cold weather. Sometimes two or three of us rode on one horse. There was a barn or shed to tie the horses in while we were at school. At recess we would play tag, hide and seek, ante over the roof, and London Bridge is falling down. On stormy days we played indoor games such as dominoes, checkers, Chinese checkers, hangman, etc. We also played these games with our cousins at home.  

We didn’t get an allowance, but when brown beans were harvested, Mom would give us a penny a cup for all that we picked up off the ground. We would be real excited about going to town when we had a nickel or dime to buy candy or an ice cream cone for five cents. 

When we had chicken pox, we were quarantined for a long time. Our family doctor, who was in another town about 6-8 miles away, would make house calls.

My mother made our clothes – including dresses and bloomer underwear out of printed flour sacks for us girls. We did have some nicer dresses for church and Sundays. Sometimes we would wear the ones we wore to school. When she had time, my mother made dresses and clothes for our dolls. 

We made our own doll furniture with empty spools that used to have thread on them, and we made small cardboard squares for a table top. We would also put nails in the dirt with a string around it to make fences for our toy animals. On stormy days we played indoor games and read books.

Winters could be very cold, with bad snow storms or blizzards. Sometimes we were unable to get to town or to school. My brother sometimes stayed with a couple who had a dairy farm. He helped them with farm work in exchange for room and board so he could attend school in the winter.

After I was old enough, I did baby-sitting for different families in town for 25 cents an hour. I would also stay with one couple during the winter when the weather and roads were too bad for my brother and me to drive to high school. I also helped this couple, who were wheat farmers, during harvest time by taking care of their two girls, helping with house work, and cleaning up after preparing meals for the harvesters. One couple asked me to go on vacation with them up through the mountains and help take care of their two children. Our family had never been able to go on trips like that, so this was a treat.

I graduated from high school in 1949 and I had planned to go to Pueblo, Colorado, about 175 miles away to a business college. But I taught school for a short while first to earn some money.

I guess there was a shortage of teachers, so at that time the district was busing the kids to school in Stratton. Two families didn’t want their children to go on a bus, so the district told me that if I would go to the teachers college in Greeley for six weeks during the summer and get an emergency Teacher’s Certificate, they would hire me to teach the three children – one each in first, third, and fourth grades. I did that for one year so I would have money to pay for my college.

I was successful, and went to school in Pueblo where I later met my husband. These are all very good memories.

Shared Stories: Cruisin' the Boulevard

Sharon Benson Smith is a native Angelino – born in East Los Angeles, and a regular at cruisin’ Whittier Boulevard. Car clubs were so big in the 1950’s, that when Sharon was named Queen of the Friendship Festival, famed County Supervisor John Anson Ford was the one who placed the crown on her head. 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

I was born Sharon Darlene Benson on February 4, 1938, to Levi and Beatrice Benson.  I was only one of six children born at home at 4537 Gleason Street, Los Angeles, which is just south of the 60 Fwy.  My father was a truck driver for Safeway Stores for forty-two years.  Prior to that he drove a truck for Lucerne Milk.  My mother was a homemaker.

We kids attended Humphreys Avenue Grammar School, Kern Avenue Jr. High (later renamed as Griffith Middle School), and James A. Garfield High, a school that was later made famous by the movie “Stand and Deliver.”  A few siblings, after attending Garfield for a while, transferred to Roosevelt High School.

Gleason Street was flanked by Ford Blvd. on the west, and McDonnell Ave. on the east.  A few blocks south was 3rd Street, or Beverly, where one of the first “The Hat” restaurants was located, famous for “The World’s Best Pastrami.” It is now a King Taco and still a popular eatery.  Farther south is Whittier Blvd. where all of the 1950’s happenings took place.

Particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, we cruised the “Boulevard” from Ford to Atlantic. There was a Stan’s Drive Inn on that corner of Whittier and Atlantic which was a popular teenage hangout.  If Stan’s was all “full up,” you went next door to the GG Drive Inn to get your fries and Cherry Coke. 

This busy corner was also the home of the Golden Gate Theatre, where I worked as an usherette and cashier all through my high school years.  The building was badly damaged by an earthquake years later, and is now a landmark.  It truly was an architectural piece of work.  This is also where I met my husband.  He was the doorman, and we were married for seventeen years and had three wonderful, successful children.

Car clubs were very popular in the 1950’s.  I recall names like “the Drifters,” Coffin Cheaters,” and Road Knights.” They had their club colors, jackets (which girlfriends wore if the guys didn’t), special license plates, and bumper stickers.  And who could forget the Angora dice hanging from the rearview mirror? All of this, not to mention tuck & roll upholstery, lowered chassis, twin pipes, skirts, moon hubcaps, and Huggie Boy blaring rock ‘n roll on the radio!

When I was sweet 16, the Road Knights and Knightettes asked me to represent them at the upcoming annual contest for Friendship Festival Queen held at Fresno Park. Car clubs from all around the greater East LA area sent a contestant.  WOW! Was I surprised and excited when I was crowned Queen. And, how fortunate I was to have this open the door to many such awards.

That was 60 years ago, and I’m still humbled, and appreciative of the honor bestowed on me that day.