Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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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.


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Rock-a-Bye Baby

I see the pair of shoes perched on top of it before I see the rock. I hear the voices amidst the leafy trees before I spot the people. Clusters of young people. One group sits in a semicircle looking up a boulder teetered on the down slope of a hillside. As we walk on I discover another crew on the move, each person carrying a large black mattress on their shoulders. Then we find them, our kids, our own three children and their group of college-aged friends.

Finally, our destination!

Even armed with three GPS, the dash mount Garmin, plus his and my smartphones with our map apps on, it has taken us a while to locate the right place, and the climbers. During the car ride, my mind was assailed by the terrible images involving bodies and boulders—bodies tumbling down; limbs crushed, twisted in odd angles, or severed from their sockets; my babies condemned forever from ever playing any musical instruments again.

They had left with their dog and a few friends in three separate cars a few hours before us. We were supposed to “chill” at home, meaning my son’s apartment, or go downtown sightseeing, or whatever. Each time a text message “ding” in, my heart jumped. This was the younger brother’s and his sister’s first outdoor climbing. But “Everything’ s cool, Mom. We’ve been practicing at the climbing gym. And we’ll be uber-careful!”

The call for help came in soon enough. “Come get Tanty. Dogs aren’t allowed here.” It was all we waited to jump into our car to join them. Our life had purpose again. We couldn’t be happier!

Garmin directed us to an address given by Google. We veered off the road to nowhere, even as Garmin clearly intoned “Your destination is to the right” then “You have arrived.” It couldn’t be, because to our right was a wood, all barricaded in. Perhaps they walked in after having jumped the fence. After all, they were looking for places to climb. A fence was one such obstacles.

“I hope we have cell connection,” I said, before punching in my son’s name. We established connection, thank Heaven, and I quickly told him there was no park at the address given by Google, unless….

“You sure there is only one Castle Rock Park in this area?” I remembered a Castle Rock park in my own home town, 400 miles away. Oh God almighty, don’t tell me we are making this mistake.

“You are perfectly fine, Mom. Just drive on for, uh…ten minutes. We are in an area a bit past the park. You’ll see.”

We climbed back into our car and drove on as instructed, this time ignoring Garmin. Then we spotted them, cars, then more cars, then people, more people, people with families and kids—but no dogs–walking along the road, past a tiny parking space already filled up. More cars waited in a line off the road.

“They aren’t here. I don’t see his car,” said my husband.

“Perhaps they drove inside,” I suggested, but already hitting the call button to our son.

“Where are you? Your car isn’t here. And the lot is full,” I said all at once, frustration mounting.

“Where are you,” he asked. I remembered the little boy who repeated after my words, “Are you my mother?” when I used to read to him from a picture book, “Are you my mother,” pointing at the words as he repeated after me.

“We are right in front of the park. Should we find a place to park or not?”

“No. Drive on down further. Look on your left for a group of cars, the second group, not the first.”

And so it went. The minutes stretched into a quarter hour. By the third U-turn, I turned on the map on all our devices, just in case.

But finally, here they are, our hillbillies and their large boulders, and tall leafy trees reaching up to the blue beyond, and the aroma of hamburgers grilled on a portable propane stove perched atop a rock. And dogs are fine here. Perhaps they just want us to be here with them. I smile at the pleasant thought.

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One of them is scaling a monolith that brings in mind the Obelix of my youth, while several of his peers huddling about with arms outstretched, clearly ready for any mishaps. Two black twin-sized mattresses placed end-to-end graced the jungle floor, “to cushion the fall,” explains my son, the younger one, while his older brother reads from a book, seemingly evaluating the difficulty of the climb.

“It’s a V3, you guys,” he yells out to the climbers, clearly happy.

It will take a few more books to learn what V3 means, and the history behind that V. Or you will have to do your own googling for a shortcut and get sucked down the rabbit hole right beneath that majestic boulder.

PS: No rock climbers would take a short cut.


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The Bet

For a short period of time, my mother lived in what was called “older adult” housing. That is, apartments for “mature” people, aged 55 and older. In her ‘70′s, my mom certainly fit the requirement.

Basically, folks who lived there were independent. If they required special assistance as time went on they would be given whatever they needed; meals prepared, apartment cleaned, that sort of thing. The ages of the residents ranged from relatively young and active 55 year olds to a few 100 year old spry citizens.

Every once in awhile, someone wouldn’t be seen for a few days and it would come to pass that the person had died in their apartment. This was taken very matter of factly by the residents, who didn’t seem too fazed by it.

I didn’t realize HOW not fazed they were by it until one day when I was visiting my mom. We were talking in the communal dining room. An older gentleman approached us and asked my mom if she wanted in on this month’s “action”. My mom shook her head no and he said “It’s gettin’ up there pretty good, you should think about it.”

After he walked away, I asked my mom “What’s the ‘action’?”

“Oh, these idiots are collecting money for a bet.”

“What bet?”

“They’re betting on who is going to croak next.”

“WHAT?!” I was horrified.

“Shh!! Do you have to be SO loud? Every month you’re supposed to put into the pot ‘x’ number of dollars. And then whoever dies next, if you guessed it, you get all the money. People haven’t been guessing very well, because I heard they have collected over one thousand dollars. Someone is going to make a killing.”

“MOM!”


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That Means BOTH Hands

The hubby and I are babysitting our godson, who is about 5 years old. When his mom comes to pick him up, he tells his mom he has to “pee”. We send him off to the bathroom, so he doesn’t have to hold it all the way home. He runs upstairs and we hear him running water after a bit. As he’s coming down the stairs, we have the following conversation:

Me: Did you wash your hands?

Godson: Yeah.

Hubby: Did you wash BOTH hands?

Godson: (smiles) oops. (runs back upstairs)