Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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Be All You Can Be

FullSizeRender (29)The future is in my hands. I am the maker of my own destiny, and it is up to me to realize it. There are the doors, and I have the master key.

Summer 1986. Vietnam was far behind–its horror, its close borders, our life on hold. I had been in the US for two years, a sophomore in college averaging 18-24 quarter units, holding a part-time job, and dating and partying. I embraced life with every breath and burned with impatience to make more of myself. At 24 years old, I knew full well I had a late start. In my mind was this constant warning that time was running out, and I’d better hurry in this order of urgency: by all means get my career going—a bachelor degree, then immediately a job so that I could have that needed health insurance to fix my cavities, then locate a suitable man to start a family. Meanwhile, I should grab as much fun as I could while discovering myself and reaching the two urgent goals above.

That summer I desperately wanted to travel out of California. The summer before an appendectomy had kept me homebound before the summer quarter started. Then school. Then work. Then school again.

With no money to begin with, I had to be creative. One day, on my way to class I walked by a sign. It said, “Be All You Can Be.” I was fascinated by what I read. That was exactly what I had been wanting. Below the sign was this picture of a soldier dressed in a camo fatigue uniform. Hmm! That wasn’t in my plan, but…, it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. I pushed in the glass door to sit down across a desk from a black man in army uniform. He flashed his teeth and extended his hand, a very American gesture that I wasn’t yet comfortable with, but we shook hands nonetheless, or he shook mine. After the mutual introduction and I was to call him as Sergeant X (I can no longer recall his name), he described to me in length what the program was all about. It was called ROTC, and it trained college students for later recruitment into the US army. As of immediately, I could sign up for the summer basic training, and the US Army would give me a free medical evaluation and if I qualified, would send me all expenses paid to Fort Knox, Kentucky for a six-week stay. Afterward, I could choose to return straight home, or go on to another destination of my choice, and the ticket would be provided.

I didn’t share it with him my ulterior motive—it wouldn’t be wise to do so, but the sergeant has just described my summer travel plan. In my mind it was an excellent opportunity to travel, live among “real’ Americans, earn some money as I would be getting a stipend, and to top it off, being given six full weeks of free workout. Sergeant X could call it an army training if he wanted. For me, it was a dream vacation. I walked out of the ROTC office elated.


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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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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.