Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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Road Trips

We took two types of road trips.  The first one was when we drove as far as the Volvo wanted to take us.

As we traveled through the countryside I enjoyed the mountains  and the clouds until the left blinker stopped working, the freeway was downhill, rain was pouring and there were trucks in several lanes.  I set aside the California tour book and read the car manual.   My husband  was sure by wiggling some wires he could correct the problem.   We turned on the lights in a heavy downpour and the dashboard dimmed.   It was normal for our car to act up, it had over 260,000 miles.  We patiently drove in the right lane until we got to a rest stop.   We called our mechanic from a payphone.   This was the 90’s when coin operated payphones were everywhere.  Alberto confirmed that it was a bad fuse,  we should just replace it.    This was a modern rest stop with vending machines.   One of them was filled with car-parts, including a box of fuses.

The rain stopped.  As we continued to drive I was happy to hear the click-clack of the blinkers.   The dashboard lights were still dim and we decided to skip some of the sightseeing so we would get to the hotel before dark.  We adjusted our itenary for the whole trip just in case the headlights became moody.  DSC_0047-001

A year later we visited the gold rush towns in California.   I was reading about Mark Twain in Murhys  when the car started making strange noises.   Later the churning went away and my husband gave the Volvo an Italian tune-up.   He drove as fast as the car could go, to clean out the gunk.  This was Alberto’s advice before the trip.  The car was shaking, my eyes were glued to the rear-view mirror checking for police when John slowed down.  He had trouble holding the wheel because of the vibration.   He was sure the car was in much better shape now.

The hotels I booked would let me cancel till 6 pm that day.  I thought they invented this rule for people who dared to travel in old cars.  Half-way on the trip the engine got stuck in 2nd gear.   Being an automatic car, it wouldn’t go faster then 25m/hr.  We cancelled the rest of the lodgings.  The car shop in Jackson didn’t have the parts unless we waited three days.  We telephoned Alberto then decided to drive home, over 400 miles in second gear.  My husband explained that we might blow the engine then we would get towed to a local mechanic, hopefully this would happen near a bigger town.

Since we were driving 25 m/hr I could leisurely read the billboards and signs for auto repair shops and occasionally shouted over the engine noise “There! A Volvo dealer.”  The car was still moving so we didn’t exit the freeway.  The engine was rattling, I concentrated on my tongue so I wouldn’t bite it again.  I forgot to worry about the police giving us a ticket because we drove under the minimum speed limit.  We were three miles from home when the car shook and begun humming quietly.  It was shifting properly.  Next day Alberto checked out the car and couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

The second type of trips were when we followed a plan.  The hotels were prepaid to get discounted rates  and we looked for signs for restaurants and national park entrances.  We enjoyed picnics and panoramic views on mountain tops without worries of a moody car.  On these vacations we drove a Prius but that’s another story.


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RWA and NYC Vacation

RWA and NYC

Our airplane landed in Queens, we hailed a cab, and got our first taste of New York traffic. Our driver was adept at weaving through the crush of vehicles, but someone kept beeping their horn. Irritated, Chuck called through his window, “Shut up! Where do you think you are, LA?”

Our driver said, “Oh, that’s me.”

We soon learned that horn honking is part of the cacophony of NYC.

The RWA Convention was at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square. We had a view of that famous location from our room on the 37th floor. On television, Tames Square looks large and the crystal ball huge. In real life, to my disappointment, the square of concrete is squeezed between towering old buildings. The crystal ball and clock are tired looking. Rubin Johnson said this part of town used to be the worst section of the city. Now it’s full of people rushing up and down the sidewalks, miles of traffic, mostly yellow cabs, end to end in three lanes honking their horns.

Theaters line this street, Broadway. Chuck checked ticket prices for The Lion King. Per person is $250. We didn’t go. I’ll read the book.

Be careful where you eat. We stopped at a corner restaurant/bakery and bought cinnamon rolls. That evening we opened the bag in our room and prepared to enjoy our treat. They were so dry I suspect they were three days old. Their lunch and dinner menu looked inviting so we returned the next day for lunch and ordered a T-bone steak to share, staying away from the pastries on display. The T-bone steaks I’ve had in the past are served with the bone intact, the top loin strip on one side and the tenderloin on the other. Ours came without the bone and without the tenderloin. Cheated again.

On the other hand, Chuck’s nephew, Johnny Roller, took us to Grigino, an Italian restaurant on the Hudson River and the food was superb. Also dinner at the Marriott Marquis was marvelous.

Johnny lives in Bronx and for two days ushered us around town seeing spots we would have missed otherwise. The Cloisters Museum and Gardens in Manhattan. Art and Architecture of medieval Europe 12th and 15th Century featuring 5,000 works of art. Every block of stone hauled over from the old country and reconstructed onsite.

St. John the Divine, the magnificent fourth largest Christian church in the world. Designed in 1888, opened in 1941. We passed the Intrepid on our tour, drove through some of the Burroughs, viewed a Buddhist Temple, and visited a friend of Johnny’s who lives in a $2 million penthouse.

On our own we visited Central Park by bicycle, pedaled by a young man from Russia. Always pay in cash. We used our credit card and somehow an extra $100. was added to our bill. Chuck caught it and our bank erased the charge. We strolled into Strawberry Fields in the park funded by Yoko Ono and admired a mosaic lying on the ground titled “Imagine”. A young man was singing and strumming a guitar, the guitar case open for tips.

Toured the amazing and beautiful Grand Central Terminal. We embarked on a boat tour on the Hudson River (after being search like boarding an airplane) and had close-up views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Security was tight even on the water. Chuck saw a boat with guns drawn approach a pleasure boat when it got too close to shore. We drove by the Empire State Building, and also viewed the new Tower of Hope glistening in the sun.

The pools at the footprint of the Twin Towers are awesome. The area is landscaped with trees. One special tree was transplanted from the Twin Towers footprint. Two square pools have replaced the base of the Towers with a waterfall on each side of each square. On the parapet of the walls of the pools, 75 bronze plates are attached and inscribed with the names of 2,983 victims of the day the towers fell. (Wikipedia.org)

Oh yes, and the RWA convention. There were too many workshops to visit every one of them so RWA put them on a flash drive for a small fee. Also, after arriving home, workshops were offered online, pick and choose those of interest or missed and download. All in all, the convention was well organized and of value.

It was a wonderful trip and although we saw a lot, we missed even more. Go back? Maybe.


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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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Strawberry Fields Forever

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June 25, 1976

I travel to Blairgowrie, Scotland with three of my high-school friends.   Although we are Yugoslav citizens we are allowed to work in Great Britain if a British citizen offers us temporary employment.  We have work visas for six weeks and we join other students in a summer camp.

July 10, 1976

The sky is gray most of the time. Finally, the sun shines for more than two hours. My bucket is half-full of strawberries.  With both hands I pull off the ripe berries while I’m careful not to squeeze them.  The bucket can’t have any leaves, stems, or straw because it would spoil the jam.

It is 10am and my fingers are swollen.  When I pinch off the green stem a tiny bit of fruit juice drips on my fingers.  Then the straw around the plant sticks to my hand.  I marvel at the perfect berries and taste another one.  Delicious, like each one I had before.  I never thought that a fruit could grow to be this sweet under a gloomy Scottish sky.

I earn 3 pence per pound of fruit.  I wonder how many buckets I will fill up today.  I’m determined to earn the most I can.  If I work hard by the end of the day I’ll have 3 or 4 British pounds, unless it rains.              Continue reading