Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


A Fifth Anniversary

“Yours will be a straightforward surgery,” Dr. Maghami said five years ago in a City of Hope examining room. “I won’t need to crack your jaw or do anything disfiguring.” That, believe me, was good news. I didn’t want my grandchildren secretly referring to me as Scary Grandma.

So, let me get right to the happy ending. I am celebrating five years with no recurrence of cancer. A spot of cancer was skillfully removed from the back of my tongue and also, as a precaution, 22 benign lymph nodes from my neck. My tongue seems as grateful as I am. Didn’t need chemo. Didn’t need radiation. This is definitely an express route away from Halloween and straight toward Thanksgiving!

Therefore, I deeply thank:

  • My dentist Dr. Kim who noticed that suspicious patch and advised me to have it biopsied.
  • Dave Harris, who told us how to get in touch with Dr. Maghami.
  • Ellie Maghami, my gifted Head and Neck surgeon.
  • Valerie, my speech therapist who taught me that the tongue is a strong muscle and won’t break. She also gave me those silly exercises to develop perfect speech.
  • My husband, who handled all the stress, all the paperwork, all the driving — and who slept on a chair in my hospital room. Don also walked up and down the corridor with me, closing the back of my hospital gown as I wheeled my IV pole out front.
  • My first-born son Darin who asked more than once when he could visit me in the hospital, even though I assumed such a visit wouldn’t help either one of us. But it did. He also brought:
  • His sister/my daughter Andrea, who taught me how to blog and who suggested the name Tongue In Cheek – while I blatantly added Cancer Is Hard To Swallow (click here) Tongue In Cheek – Cancer Is Hard To Swallow. It became my journal and also a reference for friends and family so Don wouldn’t have to repeat information over and over on the phone each night.
  • My middle-born son Justin who, from 2,000 miles away, sent a single-word expletive via email, which pretty much summed up everyone’s feelings. He and his family have since moved to California.
  • My dear mother who, once I was home, wanted to help. She toddled across the room with my glass of water balanced on the seat of her walker. “Oh, I feel so useful!,” she sighed with a smile. I miss you, Mom.
  • The Conners, who not only fixed dinner, but who drove it from Glendora to Whittier to sit and eat with us.
  • Juli, who sent humorous gifts from Illinois (my favorite item being a hand mirror with beautiful rosy lips painted on the non-magnified side).
  • Treasured friends who sent greeting cards and who wrote such tender expressions of caring. I saved those cards for five years and re-read them last week.

I will see Dr. Maghami on Tuesday and plan to walk in with a a big smile and a mylar balloon in the shape of a “5.” She’ll probably say, as she did on the First Anniversary, “This calls for a hug.”



West of Whittier

Jessamyn West

Jessamyn West

Because I admire Jessamyn West, I keep a file on her, hoping to one day assemble thoughts and details into an article. I might even put “Friendly Persuasion” on my Netflix queue for motivation. At the moment I am reading an autographed copy of her 1973 Hide And Seek — A Continuing Journey and would like to share an excerpt, to close out the month of August and to celebrate our Writers’ Club theme “Vacation.”

As background, please know that Jessamyn West proudly proclaimed “Solitude has always excited me.” Me, too! It’s the ultimate vacate-tion. She added that she wasn’t sure it would be quite so exciting if condemned to a prison cell or cast away on a desert island, but “when the opportunity for solitude must be stolen…it is, like stolen fruits, very sweet.”

In Indiana at age four (and probably until she was six in Whittier) little Jessamyn would sit in a round metal washtub and admonish her baby brother “Stay out!” As a school-aged girl in Yorba Linda she “found larger quarters: a piano box instead of a tub” where she could secretly observe adults, children and animals. As an adult she escaped via travel trailer, one which she named Walden on Wheels, planting herself along the Colorado River. “Was Thoreau never lonely?,” she asked. “Certainly. Where do you think writing like his comes from? Camaraderie?”

She also admitted, to my delight, “I’m not the greatest woman in the world for going, but when it comes to stopping, I am hard to beat.”

Thank you, Ms. West. It’s been a pleasure traveling with you.

—Jessamyn West became an Honorary Member of WCW in the 1970s.


Summertime 1950s

My neighbor and I are nine years old – or twelve – and barefoot for three months, living on a dead end street in Montebello. Bettie and I are bored. We are standing on the cross-pieces of the black and white dead-end barrier, looking at a plowed field where a commercial nursery has earlier grown plants.

“What should we do?” one of us asks again this year.

“I dunno,” the other answers. “What do you want to do?”

We gripe because our grandparents had good old days.

“What if these are our good old days?,” Bettie asks. We groan because our lives are so bleak.

We decide to put on a radio show at the picnic table in her back yard. She plays 45 rpms on her portable record player, which is in a cardboard carrying case, and the music wafts from her bedroom window. For a microphone we use a bottle or a saltshaker, maybe a slotted spoon. I hear the buzz of flies. We break for “a commercial word from our sponsor,” which is Wong’s Italian Tacos.

Soon the radio show loses its fascination, so we sit on the curb tossing gravel pieces into the air and catching them. “What do you want to do?,” one of us asks. We somehow entertain ourselves until evening when the streetlight comes on, mom’s signal that we are supposed to head home. Bettie goes to her house. I go to mine.

We leave another good ol’ day behind.

For safe keeping.


Celebrity Stubble

Before the Academy Awards show arrives, let’s see a show of hands: am I the only one tired of grungy-faced men who think they look sexy?

Yeah, I know it was originally supposed to suggest a tousled just-woke-up casualness, as if a man had only moments ago tumbled out of bed shirtless and in boxer shorts. But today the five o’clock shadow has elbowed its way into any event with a red carpet, and attacked random men in tuxedoes. Oh, please! Let the fad die.

I have no problem with a well-trimmed beard, goatee, mustache, or soul patch – but celebrity scruff? No. To me it’s acceptable for an actor to employ a grubby face only as a screen character, like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, but I am annoyed when he shows up for a TV interview looking like an old prospector. I think awards presenters are exhibiting rebelliousness, or lack of respect, to think they can sync “unkempt” with a black tie.

My theory is that insecure men want to emulate heartthrobs, and distractingly gorgeous men want to see how far they can push their fans’ loyalty. Ordinary men think this applies to them as well.

Did you know it’s possible for a man to watch videos showing how to shave the underside of his chin and the hollow of his cheek (using the proper gels, of course)? And that there are websites to help him find doctors who will do facial hair implants? It takes a lot of work to look like you forgot to shave.

Are you shaking your head yet? I am.

OK, Hollywood: stop the madness. Hire a research consultant or someone old enough to know that “5:00 o’clock shadow” came from an era when men shaved before going to work – and wore sandpapery whiskers by the time they headed home. Real men didn’t preen over a face full of stubble before leaving the bathroom to appear in public. They got a close shave and drew women near enough to prove it.

Time to move on, Hollywood. If Don Johnson can annul his first two marriages and divorce his third wife, why can’t other men be brave enough to let go of designer stubble? After all, Sonny Crockett’s vice died in Miami in 1989. May it rest in peace.









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A Doll For Christmas

I tend to resent some of the newer dolls on today’s market.

Remember baby dolls? Little girls could hug them, hold them, nurture them. It was like a rehearsal for good parenting. Now I see advertisements for big-headed, swollen-lipped, racily clad dolls named — appropriately — Bratz.  Lord, deliver me.

unnamedMy personal childhood favorite was an 8” plastic Ginny doll which I received as a Christmas present in the 1950s. I found this doll a few years ago, in the back of a cupboard, stuffed into her red suitcase with all her clothes. It took me back to an innocent time when my neighbor and I used to play with our Ginny dolls — hers brunette, mine blonde — when we would act out scenes on the front lawn, the backyard picnic blanket, or in our bedrooms.

Whenever we saved up enough allowance, we bought them new outfits from the hobby shop on Whittier Boulevard, alongside boys who bought model airplane kits, and Dads who wandered in to augment their narrow gauge railroads. Betty and I would finish up Saturday morning by visiting the corner drugstore for a Coke or root beer, and buying a small paper bag of horehound drops to share on the walk home. Kids were allowed – expected – to walk home in those days.

I remember how happy I was buying Ginny her white nurse’s uniform with a red cross on the front; the unnamed-1chintz pinafore; jeans and gingham shirt with country straw hat. Not fettered by living my entire life in Southern California, I was thrilled to buy Ginny a pair of ski pants, with a set of wooden skis and ski poles. I also treated her to a winter coat made of green felt – finished with a wide collar that looked as if it had been cut from a barrister’s wig, or toy poodle.

Ginny’s accounnamedutrements include a shoe bag; socks, shoes, purses and hats; a hand mirror with comb; and a beloved Asta-type dog straight out of the old Nick and Nora movies. He was still wearing a plaid warming wrap and was tethered by a black leash.

I remembered trying to comb Ginny’s blonde hair around my finger in a perfect roll, to sit at the back of her neck. I even bought her a hatbox full of tiny curlers. Today her hair is wild and unruly.

Ginny’s most elegant apparel was a red velvet figure-skating outfit, a la Sonja Henie. The hem was trimmed unnamed-1with white fur and silver rickrack, which at age nine I found to be breathtakingly beautiful. In 1952 it probably was. There were ice skates, too, but I never found them in the jumble of clothes. Opening that lid startled me, to see the heap just as I had left it some time during the Eisenhower administration. What an embarrassing snapshot of my childhood habits!

Ginny’s chubby arms and legs still move, but they do not bend. She’s babyish, but not a baby. I didn’t cuddle her, but I took care of her, like a good Mom. She maintains her rosy cheeks and rosebud mouth. She acquired a rosy tummy and rosy backside, too, from 50 years of hibernating in cheap red velvet. Maybe I wasn’t such a great Mom after all.

I think a doll becomes more valuable if she is played with and develops a smudge-faced, wild-haired history. Sorry, Antiques Roadshow, but it’s sad to think a doll is worth more in the box, dust-free and untouched. My Ginny was played with. We learned things together. She made me a better person.

God knows what Bratz might be teaching our girls today.


Oy yoy — Coyote!


Coyote by Rebecca Richardson

Coyotes have taken over our neighborhood – again.

Some say the coyotes were here first and that we should move if we don’t like it. Others offer to loan us a gun.

We are not going to move after 40 years of peaceful coexistence with neighborhood cats, dogs, ants, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, opossum, deer and — yes, even coyotes. We are also not interested in nor are we trained with guns or poison.  Coyotes can move at lightning speed and will flash from view before I can grab my camera, let alone aim a gun. Anyway, what would I do with the carcass? More to my point, the gun solution is illegal.

Coyotes leave yellowed traffic paths in our ground cover, dead areas on the hillside where they camp and urinate, and dying potted plants where they repeatedly chew plastic watering tubes.

My husband and I started with moderate strategies: he patched gaps in the fence and altered our night time watering schedule to random, unpredictable times. I rubbed hot pepper sauce on plastic watering tubes to discourage coyotes chewing. Don installed motion-sensor lights on all sides of the house. These attempts helped, but after several power outages in our area, Don tired of having to repeatedly reset the lights and the timers. Soon sprinklers washed off the hot sauce.

Every day, we encountered canis latrans fecal droppings on the driveway, prompting a Morning Poop Patrol before backing our car out of its garage. We have no pets but we do have visiting grandchildren. It motivates us to stay indoors, especially after the neighbors lost all their cats.

Just when we thought the invasion might be ebbing, we noticed our morning newspaper was missing: pulled from its plastic bag and strewn down into the gully across the street. The advertising section was left in the bag, so we joked about having literate coyotes, accent on litter. I even spotted a coyote trotting down the driveway to meet the newspaper deliveryman. Pre-dawn “coyote chatter” (more yipping than yelping) led my husband to comment they were probably arguing over the sports section.

They jumped the back fence
like dolphins performing at Sea World…

So, even after mothballs, hot sauce, surprise watering rotations, security lights and loud noises, coyotes once again prowl the property. This morning we scared off five of them. They jumped the back fence like dolphins performing at Sea World, then our neighbor turned on his light and yelled “Hey! Get out of here!” The pack jumped back into our yard and ran out the front.

The good news is that we are safely ensconced indoors and I can still enjoy my morning paper – if I get to it before the coyotes do.

This article appeared in the Gateway Register, April 2014. Barber is a retired teacher who grew up with dogs and Road Runner cartoons. 


Accidental Email

Sherry BarberMy name is Sherry Barber. Maybe yours is, too.

I receive errant emails at least once a month, each one from a person thinking he or she has reached a different Sherry Barber, usually someone from a different state. I live in California and notify these senders to check their directories or contact lists, but the notices keep coming.

My name isn’t common or uncommon, but it has provided a peek into the lives of other Sherry Barbers.

I once got a stern reminder from an art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico that I needed to complete payment for recent purchases. I tried to explain it wasn’t me, but the gallery owner simply itemized the bill. I could almost hear her tapping a brightly polished fingernail on the invoice. Months later this same establishment contacted me to say I could “collect great art at 40% below retail cost.” Maybe I’m in their good graces again.

I have also been cordially invited to Plein Air classes on Cape Cod, landscape painting instruction in Bar Harbor, Maine and pastel painting workshops in New York and Massachusetts.

One woman wanted to get together for brunch and discuss wedding invitations. In Texas.

An art supply store in Rochester, New York notified me of a sale on wax paints and hog brushes, and reminded me with exclamation points that now was a good time to start my holiday shopping.

In a break from art world communications, a link came to me “valid for only the next 24 hours” to confirm my participation in The Zero Day Initiative. I had no idea what that was, but I hoped the other Sherry Barber hadn’t missed it. I later learned, through Wikipedia, that it had something to do with malware, viruses and worms…and selling my discoveries to the government.

Then there was someone named Debbi, who “so loved our time together last week” – in Colorado – that she wanted to make sure I signed up for her class which would instruct me on how to paint, teach, or create an exhibit. She called her workshop “the best kept secret in Texas!” Apparently the correct email address was, too.

And now there is an invitation, according to recent email, from someone on the north shore of Lake Michigan who wants me to learn about Under-Painting and Field-Size Theory. I’m pretty sure this has nothing to do with the government.

I’m wondering if my daughter-in-law ever has this problem. I’m going to drop her an email.

Her name is Sherry Barber, too.