Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier

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Ghost Blogs Too

Just now Marilyn Jensen sends in an article for the administrator of Wittier Word Weavers to post for her. Who is Marilyn Jensen? She was a long-time member and many-time board member of the Writers’ Club of Whittier (the mighty WCW). Marilyn was WCW’s Member-at-Large in 2014, her last position with the club before she passed away in October of that year.

It has been already a year and Marilyn seems to know that. She also knows that our club is now blogging, and it seems that she doesn’t like to be left out of the new activity.

The best she can do from where she resides is these three pages she wrote for a Police magazine in April 1984. You can find the still very-active magazine by following this link http://www.policemag.com/magazine/1984/04.aspx. This article, “Winchester Mystery House” that we take the liberty to include here on our blog was published and archived in the April 1984 issue.

Marilyn wants to. If WWW violates any copyright law, so be it. Marilyn wants to contribute, and considering the difficulty of sending something legible down to us that was instantly thought-formed in invisible ink, a far more advance technology than what we can dream of here below, recycling an article long-forgotten may be best means Marilyn can think of.

Catch Marilyn if you can, Officer!



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.”


Bye Lines

Hi dear!

Your linen is washed clean,

Beds and dishes all done

I took today’s  mail in

And left the den light on.

Coffee is in the pot

(you always liked it hot)

Your meal’s in the oven;

Just turn the button on.

Sorry could not linger

Wrapped around your finger.

Now you mind the store!

I will be home no more!

Goodbye dear!

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The Chick Sexer – A Novel Education: Part 3


Nisei, second generation Japanese Americans, really enjoy ballroom dancing. The first classes I taught in L.A. were Nisei groups. European ballroom dancing became popular in Japan as far back as the 1880’s. One old photo I saw depicted Japanese men in western suits and their partners in kimonos dancing the waltz. By the time Frankie Honda arrives in Japan in 1930 the tides are churning. In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria. The Prime Minister of Japan was assassinated in an attempted coup d’état in 1932. The power of militarism was rising. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933.

I remember once listening to two of my Nisei dance students talking about World War II. One man was in the 442nd Regiment, a combat unit made up almost entirely of American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, and the other Japanese American fellow fought for Japan. I wondered: How could that be? I learned that Nisei (born in America) were automatically given dual citizenship by Japan unless a request was made to be removed from the family records. Many children who were sent to Japan by their parents got stuck there for the duration of the war. The young men who were of age got drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army.

A book called “Dear Miye” written by Mary Kimoto Tomita documents through letters what a young woman experienced when she went to Japan to study in 1939. Political tension between America and Japan having escalated, she received an urgent cable from her parents telling her to take the next boat home. December 1st, 1941, she boarded a ship, with some two hundred other Nisei girls like herself, returning to California. December 8th they were told the unthinkable. The SS Tatsuta Maru turned back to Japan, zigzagging so as to avoid submarines. She hadn’t a cent to her name and, she and her family had no communication for the duration of the war.


to be continued . . .


Back to School: A Recurring Dream

As I stumble into my octogenarian years, “Back to School,” is a recurring dream—and not a pleasant one. The nightmare often starts with me standing in front of my class, partially dressed. I’m usually wearing a shirt, tie, baseball hat, and flip-flops. The rest is missing. It goes downhill from there, with being late, forgetting my lesson plans, losing control of my class, and general chaos. My students ignore me, and I can’t find my school keys. The worst part is standing before the principal with her staring in disbelief and asking, “Where are your pants?” Waking from my dream to find I am still retired, is always a relief.

“Back to School” was one of my favorite phrases, second only to “Let’s Take a Vacation.” As a woodworking teacher, my job was much different than that of an “academic” teacher. Not only did I have to teach, but also had to master a set of skills that would send some educators into another occupation. As did other teachers, I taught a subject, evaluated student learning, managed a classroom, and administered discipline. That’s not all. I supervised the operation of a large shop full of tools and machines, established safety procedures, maintained the equipment, inventoried and restocked supplies, sold wood to students, and managed a budget. I ran a business. The good news? Unlike an English teacher, I didn’t have a bunch of papers to grade on the weekend.

Every day, as my students worked in the shop, I coached them through the process of turning raw materials into finished products. At the end of each period, led by a student foreman, busy as bees, the students stored projects, cleaned workbenches, dusted off machines, swept the facility, and inventoried the tools. It wasn’t unusual for me to stand there, arms folded, observing my students, and thinking, I love being a teacher.

So, what’s with the dream? Where does my nightmare with its exposure, classroom chaos, and hint of failure fit in? According to one source, it has to do with not living up to my moral standards and goals. Really? Should an octogenarian be struggling with those ethical issues? I think not. However, they do take me back in time

Each year, during my teaching career, when June and the end of the school year arrived, I was disappointed. I had not met my goal, to be the best I could be. It didn’t take long to get over it. After all, in three months, I would have another chance. That’s the beauty of teaching. The school year starts in September, a new beginning, a time for renewal. The thought of returning to school, the opportunity to improve, was exciting. “Back to School?” Nightmares aside, I loved those three words..


The Graveyard Shift

It was a sunny day in California, as usual. I made it to class by the skin of my teeth.  Mornings were hectic for me. Putting my papers together, fighting the traffic, finding parking space and climbing steep stairs to reach my class was a handful for a single parent catching up with life. Education was a luxury I had accorded myself, despite the difficult choices and sacrifices at this stage in my life. I knew what fatigue meant, not to be confused with the garb the military wore.

I was fishing for my books from the briefcase, when I heard a thump on the seat next to mine. It sounded familiar – the drop from exhaustion after a stressful day.

“Hi,” I said, looking up. He was unshaven, unkempt, crumpled. “You must be dead tired,” I added. Couldn’t he at least comb his hair? 

“Yes,” he sighed, “I worked the graveyard shift.”

No wonder! Why did I use the phrase “dead tired”? He can’t be digging graves, could he? We were taking an upper-class business course, a step away from graduation. Couldn’t he find a better job? And you thought life was difficult for you lady?

          The professor’s call for attention cut our communication short, but not my interest in this strange guy. I wanted to concentrate on the Master’s lecture but couldn’t. The “graveyard shift” bothered me. What drove this young man to the desperate decision of digging ditches? Surely he could find a better company than the dead! I wonder if he saw ghosts at night, or angels visiting their kin.  There must be an explanation!  

As soon as we had intermission I followed him to the coke machine. He allowed me to go first. I couldn’t help but ask:

“Tell me, ‘what do you exactly do in a graveyard’?”

“What graveyard?”

“Didn’t you say you worked in a graveyard?”


“Graveyard shift, remember?”

His laughter could have burst the ceiling asunder. I was mortified. Was it my accent?

“I work the night shift,” he replied, wiping his tears.

Graveyard shift instead of night shift, evening gown instead of nightgown, and shelled nuts for nuts without shells, I still had a lot to learn – so close to a business degree and yet so far from mastering the innuendos of the English language!

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Teach Old Dogs

learnHow many times have you heard of this phrase “teach old dog new tricks” as a deterrent to learning something new? My husband uses this as an excuse each time I ask him to join me in ballroom dancing. Many writers in my club refuse to look at blogging and OMG, micro-blogging, as serious writing. Time spent composing Facebook or Twitter posts is time wasted. PERIOD! And blogging? You’ve got to be kidding. Who has the time to doodle aimless thoughts? “I can hardly manage to turn on my computer,” some say. “Why would I want more complications? Facebook? Twitter? Blogging? Thank you very much!”

Yet in my life, I’ve seen that given the circumstance, when forced to learn—to re-adapt to a new life, to advance a career or transition to a new job, to cope with technology changes, to live in a new country, to communicate with the younger generations, so on and so forth—people (old dogs too) can always acquire new knowledge. Some learn faster than others. But no one fails to pick up enough new tricks to keep life going in the right direction.

Immigrants do it all the time. When I first arrived in the U.S., I possessed merely fifty English words. I just smiled a lot to people, and that seemed to do the trick for a while. My first American contact was our landlord, a Chinese American divorcee who spent his time plotting against his ex-wife. My verbal exchanges with him consisted of “thank you” and “good morning” or “good night.” I took care to not let his heavily-accented English contaminate my new language in its vulnerable and impressionable stage.

Then we found a job almost instantly, one that did not require much talking, only doing. This time our language teacher was a black lady with a largest butts endowment I had ever seen up until then, and now I have a name and quick description for: Kardashian. Me and my younger brother showed up at her home as instructed (and translated by my English fluent dad) and were shown two bathrooms and given a bottle of Ajax each. She pointed at the bathtubs, sinks, and toilets. We understood perfectly. But except for a set of rags and sponges, she did not give us any tools to work with. I managed to say, “How,” pointing at the urine-ringed bowls. She smiled. Big, white teeth. And showed me my hands. Then made quick, vigorous scrubbing motions with hers, saying “Scrub hard. Make it clean.”

I nodded. Understood.

Learning demands good attitude. And hope. You learn with the desire to be better, to get over the hump, to be in a better position with time.

PS: Thanks to Rubin Johnsons, I recently learned to type an m-dash by pressing simultaneously Alt 0151.


Summer Vacations: The Best Times of Our Lives

About fifty years ago, after five years of college and coming to the end of my first year of teaching, I wanted my children to spend time with my mother and father, their paternal grandparents. If I could make it happen, my kids would get to know their grandma and grandpa and benefit greatly from being showered with their love. They would also meet and spend time with their east-coast aunts, uncles, and cousins. We lived in coastal California—my parents lived in a small, rural village in southern New Jersey where the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean converge, a popular vacation spot, 2,800 miles distant.

Along with being a teacher, I was also a journeyman mason, skilled at brick and block work and concrete placement and finishing, skills in high demand wherever construction was in progress. That year, in early June, my father told me there was lots of construction work in south Jersey. Although oceans apart, a plan for a summer-long visit with my folks was brewing. A working vacation for me, coupled with a summer-long visit to my east-coast family, was doable. My wife agreed, and plans were made. My kids would be spending the summer with grandma and grandpa. Hopefully, upon arrival at the Jersey Shore, I would find work.

On the last day of school, after signing out and turning in my keys, I headed home to finish packing the station wagon. At 10:00 PM, with the kids in sleeping bags and our luggage strapped on top, along with my surfboard and fishing rods, we headed east. To avoid the California desert heat and glare, I drove though the night while the family slept. They awoke in eastern Arizona and we later stopped for the evening in New Mexico

Although we drove long hours and through the nights, we made sure the kids had plenty of pool time at the motels. During the drive, I often lead the family in song. One favorite, while crossing the desert, was, Cool Water, by Roy Rogers and Sons of the Pioneers. Another was 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, great for long journeys because it had a repetitive format and took hours to finish. Although a long trip, we had fun. Coast to coast, the trip took four and a half days.

Upon arrival, I found work with a contractor I had worked for in the past. The first couple of weeks were difficult. Working as a mason, my body, soft from lack of physical work, was not ready for what was about to occur. The shock to my muscles resulted in two weeks of continuous pain. In addition, my coworkers, knowing I was a teacher, found my discomfort and inability to keep pace, a rich source of amusement. By the third week, I recovered. By the fourth week, I held my own. It wasn’t long before my fellow workers had a difficult time keeping up with me. By summers end, I had lost fifteen pounds and added muscle. I returned to teaching, tanned, lean, and fit.

My parents’ single-story, three-bedroom home was not large enough for a host of visitors. Several years prior, my mother said to my father. “You know our children will be visiting in the summers. We need more rooms to accommodate them and our grandchildren.” So, Dad built a second story, adding three more bedrooms and a bath. The upstairs became the sleeping area and in-house playground for my kids and their four cousins. In preparation for their grandkids, Mom and Dad stocked up on bicycles and beach toys.

It was a great summer for my children. Along with the constant barrage of hugs and kisses from their grandparents, they had lots of unstructured, unsupervised playtime in the small rural town, much like my own childhood. Part of my plan was for them to have that experience. It wasn’t unusual for my mother to pack them a lunch and send them off on their bicycles for a day’s adventure, admonishing them to be home for dinner. All of their daytrips included the beach. Upon their return, covered with sand, they required a rinse in the outdoor shower Dad had built for that purpose.

Weekends were my vacation time, with fishing or surfing on Saturdays and beach with the family on Sunday afternoons. Sunday morning was a time of devotion. Being a small town, there was no church. Every Sunday, fire engines were removed from the firehouse and an altar and chairs were set up. Voila! A place of worship! After services, there was a rush home to change into beach attire. A five-mile caravan to the beach followed, loaded with kids, buckets, shovels, blankets, towels, and beach chairs.

We enjoyed those summer vacations for years to come, with the dash across the desert and heartland of our country into the Mid Atlantic States and arriving at the family home. We did this for six years, until my body could no longer take the physical abuse of masonry work. Those were great working vacations. My parents loved my kids. My kids loved my parents. Ever since, both of my children have often said, “Those were the best times of our lives.” I agree.

To this day, even though my parents are long gone, I make the journey every year. The difference is, now I fly. My wife and I will make the trip in late September. My sisters will be there, as will some of their children and grandchildren. We will stay in the home that Mom and Dad built.