Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier



I was seven years old. The Christmas tree was up and lit, gifts wrapped and placed under its branches. Mother and I were enjoying the beauty.

“Can we open our presents?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she answered. “We have to wait until daddy and your brother come home.”

So I sat on the couch to wait and fell asleep. When I awoke, the tree lights were off and most of the gifts were missing from under the tree. The room seemed dark and cold. No brother. No daddy. What happened?

“We’ve opened our gifts,” Mother said, smiling. “You were asleep.”

I sat on the couch, dazed. In my mind I could see them around the tree smiling, laughing, and opening their gifts. Happy without me.

Mother picked up a doll from under the tree and brought it to me. “Look, you got a doll,” she said, a happy excited expression on her face.

I didn’t care about that doll. Mother laid it beside me when I didn’t reach for it. And I didn’t care about the other gifts she laid beside me. She had refused to let me open gifts without daddy and my five-year-old brother, but they could opened gifts without me. They wanted to open gifts without me.

I outgrew that feeling because Mother and Dad truly loved us. They grew up in large families and very poor. They blessed us with a better life than they had had.

But, I learned an important lesson on my seventh Christmas. Never let anyone feel left out. Engage the lonely in conversation. Let people know they’re important. Be an encourager. By doing that, you are never lonely or left out yourself.



RWA and NYC Vacation


Our airplane landed in Queens, we hailed a cab, and got our first taste of New York traffic. Our driver was adept at weaving through the crush of vehicles, but someone kept beeping their horn. Irritated, Chuck called through his window, “Shut up! Where do you think you are, LA?”

Our driver said, “Oh, that’s me.”

We soon learned that horn honking is part of the cacophony of NYC.

The RWA Convention was at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square. We had a view of that famous location from our room on the 37th floor. On television, Tames Square looks large and the crystal ball huge. In real life, to my disappointment, the square of concrete is squeezed between towering old buildings. The crystal ball and clock are tired looking. Rubin Johnson said this part of town used to be the worst section of the city. Now it’s full of people rushing up and down the sidewalks, miles of traffic, mostly yellow cabs, end to end in three lanes honking their horns.

Theaters line this street, Broadway. Chuck checked ticket prices for The Lion King. Per person is $250. We didn’t go. I’ll read the book.

Be careful where you eat. We stopped at a corner restaurant/bakery and bought cinnamon rolls. That evening we opened the bag in our room and prepared to enjoy our treat. They were so dry I suspect they were three days old. Their lunch and dinner menu looked inviting so we returned the next day for lunch and ordered a T-bone steak to share, staying away from the pastries on display. The T-bone steaks I’ve had in the past are served with the bone intact, the top loin strip on one side and the tenderloin on the other. Ours came without the bone and without the tenderloin. Cheated again.

On the other hand, Chuck’s nephew, Johnny Roller, took us to Grigino, an Italian restaurant on the Hudson River and the food was superb. Also dinner at the Marriott Marquis was marvelous.

Johnny lives in Bronx and for two days ushered us around town seeing spots we would have missed otherwise. The Cloisters Museum and Gardens in Manhattan. Art and Architecture of medieval Europe 12th and 15th Century featuring 5,000 works of art. Every block of stone hauled over from the old country and reconstructed onsite.

St. John the Divine, the magnificent fourth largest Christian church in the world. Designed in 1888, opened in 1941. We passed the Intrepid on our tour, drove through some of the Burroughs, viewed a Buddhist Temple, and visited a friend of Johnny’s who lives in a $2 million penthouse.

On our own we visited Central Park by bicycle, pedaled by a young man from Russia. Always pay in cash. We used our credit card and somehow an extra $100. was added to our bill. Chuck caught it and our bank erased the charge. We strolled into Strawberry Fields in the park funded by Yoko Ono and admired a mosaic lying on the ground titled “Imagine”. A young man was singing and strumming a guitar, the guitar case open for tips.

Toured the amazing and beautiful Grand Central Terminal. We embarked on a boat tour on the Hudson River (after being search like boarding an airplane) and had close-up views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Security was tight even on the water. Chuck saw a boat with guns drawn approach a pleasure boat when it got too close to shore. We drove by the Empire State Building, and also viewed the new Tower of Hope glistening in the sun.

The pools at the footprint of the Twin Towers are awesome. The area is landscaped with trees. One special tree was transplanted from the Twin Towers footprint. Two square pools have replaced the base of the Towers with a waterfall on each side of each square. On the parapet of the walls of the pools, 75 bronze plates are attached and inscribed with the names of 2,983 victims of the day the towers fell. (Wikipedia.org)

Oh yes, and the RWA convention. There were too many workshops to visit every one of them so RWA put them on a flash drive for a small fee. Also, after arriving home, workshops were offered online, pick and choose those of interest or missed and download. All in all, the convention was well organized and of value.

It was a wonderful trip and although we saw a lot, we missed even more. Go back? Maybe.


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.


A Tribute to Marilyn Jensen

My first novel, “McCarley’s Edge” had been struggling to escape from my head and hand for some time. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Marilyn Jensen for abetting the escape.

Years ago, Marilyn was leading a writer’s workshop at the East Whittier YMCA. She informed me in no uncertain terms that Maggie McCarley — a minor foil in another story I was writing — was competing detrimentally with the main protagonist. Consequently, Maggie got un-shuffled. And now stars in her own right.

When I saw Ms. Jensen was a member of WCW I was greatly looking forward to getting reacquainted. Sadly, I learn I just missed her by a few weeks. I still tremble when I hear her favorite constructive criticism: “Condense! Condense! Condense!”

(I’ll try, Marilyn, I’ll try. But I’m afraid I’m hopeless!)

Steve Enyart, WCW, Class of 2014

Editor’s Note: Marilyn Jensen, a longtime member and frequent office holder of the Writers’ Club of Whittier, died this past October and is sorely missed.

Grief, a poem by Clair Khoeler
A Tribute to Marilyn Jensen, a poem by Hong-My Basrai

Leave a comment

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.


A Little Larceny Led to Unexpected Lesson

In 1943, my 3-year-old brother, Virgil, and I, age 5, hadn’t yet started school. Moreover, we had no television, and I don’t ever remember hearing a radio in our house. Consequently, we modeled what we’d learned at the Church of God in Wyandotte, Michigan where my father, the Rev. A. J. Allen, preached.

Virgil and I would line up our stuffed animals and dolls and sing and pray with them. Other times, we’d play “heaven and hell.”

Here’s how it worked: Outside our back door, a small concrete porch served as a pulpit. Four steps led down to a sidewalk,. One of us stood on the porch and preached about heaven to the one in hell on the sidewalk below.

My brother liked to preach, so I spent a lot of time in “hell.” He loved to wave his arms in the air and yell at me to get saved. (All that practice paid off; he recently retired from preaching.) I on the other hand, just wanted him to finish so I could preach.

Just because I was a pastor’s daughter didn’t mean I stayed out of trouble. For instance, I recall one day when Dad heard me say a dirty word.

Now, it couldn’t have been very dirty because we did not hang around people who spoke that way. Nonetheless, Dad decided to wash out my mouth with Lifebuoy soap. He laughed when that big bar of soap wouldn’t fit into my 5-year-old mouth, but I did get a taste and never again said a dirty word–at least not around Dad!

At that age, I also hadn’t yet grasped the meaning of one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not steal.” I either daydreamed or slept through most of my dad’s sermons, and Sunday School teachings went right over my head. As such, I learned my lesson on stealing not from the pulpit but from the world of real-life crime.

At a grocery store one day, I asked my mother, Mildred, for one of the candy bars on display, but she refused. I really wanted one, so when she turned away, I took a Baby Ruth and shoved it into my coat pocket. (My middle name is Ruth, and Baby Ruth bars were my favorite back then.)

To my horror, my pocket had a hole in it, so I couldn’t let go of the candy bar. As a result, I clutched that Baby Ruth tightly in my little fist as I followed Mother through the store and checkout stand, out the door and all the way home. Thank goodness it was cold out and it was a short walk home, so the chocolate didn’t melt!

At home, the truth came out when I took my hand out of my pocket to take off my coat.

“I have to go back and pay for this,” Mother said, and she did so immediately. Her reaction surprised me; I thought she would scold me and return the candy, not go back and pay for it.

SONY DSCWhen Mother returned, Dad, Virgil and I sat at our dining room table while she cut the Baby Ruth into four pieces. I got a piece of candy the same size as everyone else’s. I didn’t get spanked, and Dad didn’t bring out his Bible and pontificate on the evils of stealing. He enjoyed the chocolate as much as the rest of us.

As you can see, my parents also taught us about mercy and grace. In fact, their lesson sure beat hearing Virgil preach to me about stealing. I would’ve spent a long time in hell!

Reprinted from Reminisce Extra, March 2012 by permission.



Dad Learns to Drive

In 1941 my dad bought an old car and taught himself to drive. He was twenty-eight and fresh off the farm. The car had a motor and a front seat where he and mother sat. The back seat was gone as well as the floor. Dad placed a long board where the floor should have been and that’s where my brother and I stood while holding onto the front seat. I was four-years-old and Virgil was two. Our angels must have been watching over us because we could see the road passing by below us.

Dad and I are made out of the same cloth. At sixteen I taught myself to drive our stick-shift–back and forth in our driveway until I mastered the technique.