Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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.”


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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.”


Has Anyone Warned Them About Halloween?

When we first moved to our house, the one WE owned, it was an adventure in learning all sorts of new things. We learned all about homeowner’s insurance, how to shut off the gas in case of an earthquake and, most importantly, what to expect during Halloween.

No, really. When we were first married and living in a rental for the first couple of years, we got maybe 4 or 5 kids on Halloween— tops. And we really didn’t decorate that much, since there weren’t that many trick or treaters.
September rolled around after we’d moved to our new place and we were at a neighborhood get together. We were talking about the latest neighborhood news when one of our neighbors said, “Hey, has anyone warned them about Halloween?” The hubby and I looked at each other and then to our new neighbors.

“Why, do you guys have problems on Halloween?” I asked.

“Oh no, no. Well, I guess it depends on what you would call ‘problems’.”

Another neighbor chimed in, “Oh, it’s just that we get a lot of kids on Halloween.”

Relieved, I said, “Oh, ok. So how many do you usually get? Like 50 or something?”

Apparently, I said something incredibly funny because everyone laughed.

The first neighbor responded, “Well, we counted the kids we had last year. It was around 600 or so.”

“WHAT?!” But then I thought to myself, “Oh that’s ridiculous, they’re just messing with the newbies.“ Yeah, that’s pretty funny,” I said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Nope. No joke. 600 last year. So make sure you buy enough candy.”

The hubby and I looked around at their faces and it didn’t SEEM like they were joking.

That night, he and I were discussing the conversation. “Do you really think they had that many kids or are they just pulling our leg?” I asked. The hubby’s attitude was “Let’s wait and see what happens.”

“Oh sure,” I told him, “On Halloween night I’m gonna send you out for another 500 pieces of candy while I have a mob of kids at our door, waiting. That sounds like a wonderful plan.”

Later that week, I seemed to have my answer. Visiting a neighbor’s house, I saw literally a MOUNTAIN of candy, at least 3 feet high, piled on top of their dining room table.

Eyes wide, I asked, “That’s your Halloween candy?”

“Yes. Have you started getting yours?”

“I will as soon as I leave.”

Even as we went shopping for what seemed like an incredible amount of candy, I was hesitant. Who has this many kids at Halloween? I’d never heard of it. But then as the month went on, I began to see many of the houses in our neighborhood getting pretty decked out in preparation for it. Most houses were decorated head to toe with spider webs, ghosts and any other Halloween appropriate scary stuff.

One house apparently had all the talented people. They actually set up a guillotine, complete with a “body” with its head waiting to be chopped off. When you walked by, you triggered a device, which in turn, released the blade at the top of the guillotine down to the bottom and chopped off the dummy’s head. I was impressed at the craftsmanship of the neighborhood’s Halloween animatronics.

With all the house decorating and animatronics, it seemed like there was a wee bit of competitiveness there, people checking out what new things others were putting out for Halloween and who was just staying with their old standards. We had bought some new stuff, but really nothing could compare with what our neighbors had. I was in awe.

In all our prior years of Halloween, we always did the same thing.  Sat in the living room, waited for someone to ring the doorbell and then answered the door, gave the kids their candy and then went back and to wait 15 – 20 minutes for the next doorbell ring. Our first Halloween night in our new house, the little kids started coming around 4pm. However, once it became dark, the flow of kids knocking on our door became incessant to the point where as we were giving out the candy to one group, we could see the next group coming up the walkway. We finally just sat on the steps outside the house and handed out candy.

The stream of parents and kids was so steady at one point, it almost looked like a line at Disneyland! One of our neighbors came to check on us and said, “Oh yeah, we should have mentioned, you might wanna get some comfy chairs since there’s no point in being in the house. We just bring our lawn chairs out and make a night of it.” This went on for five and a half hours. FIVE AND A HALF HOURS! My butt was numb from sitting on concrete steps all that time.

The kids kept coming. We had bought 650 pieces of candy and used every single one of them. We ended up having to turn kids away, saying “We’re all out of candy” and hoping we didn’t get “tricked.” What a night! Over 650 kids for our first Halloween in our new house. The hubby and I were exhausted after we got done. His advice? “Time to move. Especially if we have to do THIS every year.” Many years later we still haven’t moved, but the number of kids on Halloween has increased…last year one of our neighbors counted 1400 for that particular night.

It’s getting close, so time to start getting ready for the Halloween crowd!


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..


Adding Twitter Followers

twitter-312464_1280As an experiment, I decided to try to boost the number of people following me on Twitter. I wanted to see how difficult that would be and what effect it would have.

It turns out to be tedious and time-consuming, but not really difficult. If you follow people, they’re likely to follow you back. If you follow lots of people, you end up with lots of followers. I boosted my followers from under 100 to over 1000 in about a month.

Whether there’s any value in having ten times as many followers is an open question.

Continue reading

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Unfinished Poem

All my life I straddle

Between light and shadow

Right and wrong

Vietnamese French

Gujarati English

Yin yang, boy girl

Mom dad

I straddle East-West

Tea coffee

Rice roti

Christianity Buddhism

Teeter tote Catholicism Islam

Saddle love on pointed hatred

Spanning the valley of indifference

Between you me

What could be that were left in the void

Between here and there

tall nose as forbidden as the summit of Himalaya

Skin too white or dark

Food too bland or too spicy

But come to think of it

Your chanting prayers heals deeply

And my singing halleluia gives wings to hope and forever love

You kneel with your forehead on the ground

And I with my upturned grace

That moment we are two spirits united with the Supreme

I am between logic and madness

Formulaic and spontaneously chaotic

I calculate my number of words

Aiming for the cold effectiveness of sentences

to the point

I die every day as I’m living

As I breathe air steadily polluted

My lungs declining with age

I kill in cold blood as I dismiss the Other

Unaware of their need for space, food, love, human connection

I lie as I’m telling the truth

So dark it’s unbelievable

As when I told her

Mom, let go, and die in peace.

I do not know how to draw

But with the alphabets I sketch

I release my balloons of thoughts in clusters

And hope that they carry a message to the wilderness above

I guide them, my children, like kites

sometimes they float so high and travel places

And dance and dip and flutter in the wind above people watching

But sometimes they got caught in tree branches

 dive straight down like a bird shot dead