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.



Thanksgiving is…


…fighting over2014 HB iPhone 849 the Holiday’s menu.

He wants to preserve the traditional dinner menu: turkey and roast beef, corn bread, pumpkin bread, green bean casserole, nut-berries salad, yam and mash potato, brownies, and three kinds of pies. It was well-rehearsed and fool proofed, mind you.

I want to try a brand new line of homemade concoctions that I recently assemble, inspired by a dozen cooking sites and Pinterest photos which I successfully “clipped”, incorporated into a three-course menu, complete with a comprehensive shopping list through the use of a cool site, Plan To Eat.

I imagine myself the successful hostess presiding over half a dozen long tables in coordinated tablecloths and skirts, each with a child-height center piece made from the flowers and grasses cut from our yard, each lavishly decorated and sumptuously decked with gourmet foods that not only look gorgeous and appetizing but also tasting delicious and surely generating a collective “Oooh” and “Ahhs” when the first bites are taken.

My side dishes will be pieces of arts, with artistically carved pieces of vegetable and fruits that are low salt and glucose-free, and no fat. No preservatives. No dyes. No artificial anything. All lovingly assembled by hand and if cooking is required, it will be done on the stove top or baked in traditional oven, not the microwave. No zapping. No zinging. Only licking with sanitized, oily but germ-free fingers.

My main dishes will be the same as his: turkey and beef, without which Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving. The vulgar-looking bird: big as a little pig, plain- and coarse feathered as the corpse devouring vultures doesn’t even sing or soar. It did not even originate from the New World; hence the name, I was once told. So what’s the big deal? I guess history is always filled with obscure deals like our turkey tradition. My turkey tradition? Since when do I have a turkey tradition? You see, it’s confusing!

Yet Thanksgiving is the season for loving couples to fight over dinner menus. The turkey is sure to get its central place, and the beef. Besides that, it’s war time. He wants to add tamales. “Made from scratch?” She immediately retorts. “Oh no, you don’t! Over my dead body.”

He isn’t going to lose points. “Carved appetizers for over fifty guests, some of them Indians, the majority of them Vietnamese who eat nothing but catered homeland foods from Little Saigon, and some of them a mixture of half this and that, hardened American souls who would not know the difference between cilantro and parsley, a salad fork from a pickax, and laugh if you call for chutney masala to put on your roast beef?”

Thanksgiving is that tender moment when they will all sit down together as one family. Many will say Our Father to ask for grace. Some will murmur “Bismillah….” Yet many others can’t wait to start in a defiant silence, believers and nonbelievers notwithstanding. And the dinner will consist of a hotchpotch of dishes from recipes collected over past seasons and Pin-ned recently, brought by relativesor store bought.

Peace out and Happy Thanksgiving!


In the Fall of Life


Golden leaves, sweaters and chills

Winter sliding down the hills

Arthritis, medicine and pills

Are somebody else’s ills.


Shaky knees that disengage

Bones turning to cartilage

White hair growing on my crown

Are happenings I disown.


My heart beats much louder now

More than I care to allow.

I get sensational thrills

Sans those damned blood pressure pills,


And if I were not so shy

I would write to “Santa dear,

Please next time when you stop by,

Knock louder, so I can hear.”


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November’s Theme: Thanksgiving Is…

WCW FallPotLuck5
This is Thanksgiving to Mr. Whittier
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

What is it to you?

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A Halloween Memory

One Halloween, I was Sam Jackson, in a mélange of his roles from three movies: Snakes on a Plane, Pulp Fiction, and Star Wars. I wore a Jedi robe and a Jeri curl Afro wig. At a Halloween party, I scattered around two dozen rubber snakes early in the evening. After the refreshments started flowing, I climbed onto a chair to complain (very loudly) about all of the effing snakes. Then I recited from memory (also loudly) his speech from Pulp Fiction:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.

Finally, I whipped out my Star Wars Jedi light-saber (the one that lights up and makes a loud humming noise), leaped into the startled crowd, and started smiting left and right. It was fun!


A Halloween Charade of Otherness

By Fran Syverson

Like a king on his throne, there sat our son. He was regally draped in a velvety-looking burgundy lap

robe, and wore a handmade crown of cardboard covered with gold foil. Proudly he reigned, a scepter in

his hand.

He oversaw his vassals roaming the gymnasium floor in the community center. What a motley bunch

they were—their regalia ranging from tattered rags to fancy top hats. Ballerinas in pastel tutus

pirouetted to the music. A giant, hairy, brown ape had great fun huffing and grunting as he prowled the

room, bent over so his arms nearly dragged on the floor.

Supernatural creatures were there, too, as befit the season. One needed no more than a bedsheet to waft

airily about as a ghost. A tall, conical hat and a broomstick—and, abracadabra! a witch! In a corner,

other witches presided over a cauldron—remember Hamlet’s “double, double, toil and trouble, fire

burn and cauldron bubble”? And at the cauldron, brave kids shrieked or giggled as they handled the

slimy eyeballs—a.k.a. peeled grapes.

All through the town, other youngsters in costume were plying their annual “trick-or-treat” ploy, filling

their baskets to brimming. To the horror of their dentists, no doubt.

But these “youngsters,” from tiny ones to some well into their 20s, 30s, and even 40s were enjoying

their Halloween party with their peers in the city’s rec center. As I looked out into the crowd, I was

touched at the thought that, perhaps, for these folks the Halloween masquerade took on a special

importance. For the evening, they each had a persona beyond that of their daily lives.

Camouflaged though they were, many could be recognized from their classrooms I’d visited. The hairy

ape with his arms hanging low did so in part because his daily stride lists to one side. He has cerebral

palsy. The pirate wearing the patch over one eye was cleverly disguising his blindness. A Tiny Tim

hobbled about adeptly with his cane. Why not?—he hobbles adeptly with it every day.

This was the Halloween Costume Party for more than a hundred children and youths with physical and

mental handicaps. Or, as we say now, people with “special needs.” And I like to think that one of their

special needs was being met at this party. Here they were able to be someone other than themselves for

a few hours. Here they flew away from their limits and lived a charade of otherness for a brief time.

Yet, were they really so different from the trick-or-treaters trekking the streets? Doesn’t everyone like

to inhabit a fantasy world sometimes?

Our son did. For a couple of hours each Halloween, he was King of the Hill, reigning over his kingdom

from his decorated throne: his wheelchair.





Tickle, tickle , little brain,

I wonder what you contain:

Pearls of wisdom? Gems of thought?

Strings of ideas, unexplored?


Off you go to left and right,

Seeking new paths of delight,

With tentacles that disperse

All over the universe,


Trying hard to understand

The beginning and the end

Of the unsolved mystery

That makes the world’s history.


Fly, little brain, fly off high,

And check out for yourself why

The stars romance with the moon,

The sun is brighter at noon.


Partake of the sea waves’ mirth;

See the miracles of birth;

Find out why life is a test;

But please come back to your nest.



Haunting Memories

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Maid’s quarter in the background

It’s funny how your mind works, how it opens up to the, supposedly, triviality of life. A water pump, per example. Yesterday I wrote about my grandpa’s death and my father’s old water pump came up. It used to sit on a raised concrete platform that later, our housemaids turned into their day bed, a sleeping place large enough for three, topped with a bamboo mat, and overlooking a wall-sized window to a tiny inner courtyard that linked the kitchen and the maid’s quarter. It was an ideal place to take a nap, where your back against the concrete cement was cooled, and the platform itself was always chilled by the deep well below it with ten feet or so of cool air.

The pump was operated on and off during my toddler years. Rat ta ta, rat ta ta it went, like a motorcycle, rat ta ta against the whirring of a foot-pedaled sewing machine, black in color, emblazoned with the word Singer in gold letters. During its busy days the pump was a joy for me to look at. How its leather bell turned. How it shook on its four curved legs, like a hog wanting food. It sat high on the well platform that later was the maids’ bed, then, it turned silent and purposeless, only sputtered to life occasionally when my father wanted to show us how a pump worked. It needed engine oil in one of its hole—dark, sticky oil that looked like molasses.

In my teen years the pump was moved to the floor, next to the maids’ large wooden bed, a bed with wooden slats and larger than any other beds in the house, topped with two frayed bamboo mats. Three maids could sleep comfortably on it, and sometimes with me in their midst, when I wanted to change scenery and experience the life of helping maids. The squarish raised platform, with a squarish wooden lid in its middle, as I mentioned, would be another sleeping place. Now and then I would lift the lid up and looked down into the dark below. I sent my voice into it and heard it echoed back mysteriously, like another person’s answering teasingly, by imitating me, like I used to annoy my little brother, repeating words he said, on and on, until he was fed up and burst into tears. Sometimes I stepped down to the first few rungs of an iron ladder that led straight into the brimming dark surface, but never had enough courage to descend completely, not even dared to let my head disappeared inside the opening. It was this haunting idea: someone might close the lid and I would perish below unbeknownst to anybody else. They would not find me, and when they would, a few days later, I would be floating at the top of the dark surface like the cat I had seen, swollen and ugly.

Even with the well lid close, I could not bring myself to sleep on the platform alone. Somehow I was consumed by this idea that the bottomless hole beneath would one day swallow me live, lid or no lid. A skeleton’s hand would grab me.

“Dearly departed ghosts love to take little girls with them as brides,” my maid used to say. And they said that the ground on which my parents’ property sat used to be a cemetery, although before that it was swampland, with groves of bamboos and roaming cows. A bamboo thicket still remained by the red gate to prove their words. In my wild imagination I saw crosses where the trees stood, and in many moonless nights, the white kite stuck on the tall mango did wave its eyeless head and fleshless arms. And in my ears rang the echoing words from the well bottom, “Helloooo, hell Oooo….”


Death Came A-knocking

Coffin3I was only five when my paternal grandpa passed away. His death was the first human death I encountered. Before that I mostly experienced the smell of death and a few times its ungainly sight on animals—of dead mice when the cats left them decapitated behind some cupboards or inside closets, of the cat itself, one of the strays who roamed the rooftop and screamed morbidly many nights. My maids said that some toms were having cats and no one could ever catch them at the act. I vaguely understood that some cats eat fellow cats besides mice, rats, birds, and lizards.

The stench was horrendous. Then they found him, her, waterlogged and thrice its normal size, after it had been down to the bottom of the cistern as tall as the wall that supported the kitchen roof and up again, floating on the surface of the water that my father pumped up daily from our own well. It was years ago. I remember the sound of the pump going like I remember the cats’ fighting sound, their nightly screams, the chirping of mice behind some holes and their footsteps running on tiles. I cannot erase the smell of death from my memory.

The violent fragrance of the white tuberoses, the brown tea leaves that covered Grandpa’s dead body so he would not smell—I remember them all. For three days he lay in that coffin, and someone was always present so that no black cat would jump over him. Or else he would rise with the cat.

On the third day I was walking down the stairs of Grandparents’ house with my cousin when we heard a hammering sound. We both froze. It was getting dark outside and shadows dance inside the stairwell. On one wall was a deer head with two marble eyes. Next to it was a large painting of the last supper. My cousin flopped down on the stair step, pulling me after her.

“Grandpa,” we both said, stricken. The hammering became louder and urgent. In my mind I saw him trying to get out. Soon he would call like he used to bellow after me, “Hong-My. Come.”

My cousin covered both her ears and started howling. And I did the same, trying to block out Grandpa’s rapping on the wood of his coffin. Combined in force, our scream might have risen above the loud knocking and drowned them out. Or they stopped. To me, the sudden ceasing of the hammering sound was even more terrifying than their loud knocking. It meant only one thing: Grandpa was done fighting with the lid that held him inside. He had freed himself from the container. And he was about to come after two little girls.

My hysterical howling surpassed my shyer cousin’s. I screamed now for my life with all my might. Ah, ah…tongue knocking against teeth, teeth chattering inside skull, eyes closed to avoid seeing Grandpa walking up to us.

Cold hands wrapped my shoulders. Ah, ah. I was beyond myself. I tried to run away but my feet was two useless lumps of heavy rubber, which would collapse under me like a string-through toy snake.  Then my Grandma’s concerned voice, “Hong-My, what’s the matter? Why are you girls screaming like a possessed train?”

No, it wasn’t Grandpa, we were told. The undertakers were the ones’ hammering. They were nailing shut the coffin to take Grandpa to his final rest.

“Wipe your tears,” said Grandma softly. “Don’t be sad, Grandpa is in God’s hands.”