Tag Archives: story telling

The 1950’s Woman ©

A Story by Bobbi Rankin

In the 1950’s, it was not normal to have a mom who worked. The norm was a mom who stayed home and did ALL the housework, shopping (if she drove), cooking and caring for the children. However, not my mom, she went to work. By the time I started school, off she would go to her job and me being the youngest, after school I would go to my friends house, where there was a stay-at-home mom waiting to feed us cookies and milk. After all it was the 50’s.

You do remember those days of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver”?

Do you remember how the mom would have the dinner ready and waiting for dad to come home from work and all the family would sit down together while mom served them their meals?

You remember watching those shows and feeling comfy knowing they were familiar scenes of your daily life. I remember them too but my home life was different. My dad went off to work every day too, but he was the one who sat with me to watch those classic shows of our black and white TV.

There were many times my dad would hop in the car to go do the grocery shopping, by himself. He would also help with the cooking and cleaning. We had hardwood floors that needed waxing twice a year. Dad would always help my mom do that tedious job.

You may wonder why my mom would leave her family to fend for themselves while she was fulfulling her own wants and desires (how scandalous, for sure). She did it not only for her own needs, but also for our family. She worked for the extra income. She worked for the desire to be a more satisfied woman.

My mom grew up in Montana and eventually became a teacher in a one-room school. Her students were mostly Native Americans. Occasionally she traveled back and forth alone on the train from Montana to San Francisco to visit her sister. My mom married in her late 20’s, also not a normal thing for those days. She was an independent woman, as we say today and woman in her own right. A woman who did things out of the norm.

There were times it bothered me to see my mom go off to work in her fashionable black dress, pearls and black heels. That meant she would not be waiting for me after school. I would not find her in a neatly pressed apron with warm, fresh from the oven, cookies and milk. It was, at times, not what I wanted. 

After 3rd grade I became a “latch key kid”. Rarely did I let that dampen my day. What came of those carefree days is that I pretty much raised myself but always knew I was growing up in a loving and caring environment. 

Being “neglected” is not in my vocabulary nor is it in my personality. I was always proud of my mom, she was always a lady, showed her love for our family and me and she was independent. I guess I did well with that 50”s mom of mine. I think some of her independence rubbed off on me. At least I hope it did.

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VW Beetle, aka, The Bug ©

VW owned by Shinazy

VW

It’s December 1969. I’m writing a check for $1,700, making me the proud owner of a Tan Volkswagen Beetle, equipped with a powerful 54 hp engine and an Automatic Stick Shift transmission. Yes, VW made automatics, actually semi-automatics, I still shifted through the gears, but no choreographing my feet, as there was no clutch pedal – Hallelujah. However, this improvement decreased the power, but it was easier to operate. And operate it I did, for the next thirty-eight years.

My VW reflected my personality, became my middle child, and a character in my history.  My daughter is a few years older than my VW and twelve years older than her brother, so most of my adult history involved undertakings with my three children.

One of my daughter’s birthdays, I hauled eleven pre-teen girls and my friend, Jean, to play miniature golf.  As I stood in the driveway staring at the Bug, then at the mob of girls, then the car . . . How was I going to get all these bodies into such a tiny space?  Could I use dad’s college-students-crammed-into-a-phone-booth technique to continue the birthday celebration?  What about everyone’s comfort and survival?  Like logs in a cord of wood I stacked the girls, they thought this was the best thing we did all day.

Creating childhood memories was as much fun for me as it was for my children.  Being mom gave me another chance to play, be silly, experience life.  I also wanted to create holiday traditions.  Every Christmas there was the excursion to the tree farm. Folks in the parking lot with their trucks and station wagons would stare as I lashed a tree, longer and wider than my Beetle, onto the roof and proceeded to secured it with lines and knots that would hold the Titanic to any dock.

The Bug was more than my tree toting truck. One Labor Day, returning from Volcano, CA, roasting in stop-n-go traffic, my son and I decided a water fight would be a welcomed activity.  While sitting inside the car – a plastic interior has its advantages – we splashed each other until we looked like it had rained.  There we sat, all wet and smiling and cool.  We stopped at every gas station to refill our bottles … and the battle continued.

Although there were many joyous experiences, the lack of power was always an issue.  When my son finally weighed 100 pounds I stopped parking the VW in the up hill direction. It’s hilly here so this parking technique was …if not impossible, at least, impractical. Whenever it was the two of us in the VW, I would have him walk to the corner and wait for me; I’d eventually get there, and then, there was the incident when his grandmother was a passenger and he had to give the VW a push to get the bug moving.

During the entire thirty-eight-Bug-driving years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where freeway on-ramps were driveway entrances to bumper-car traffic.  And, around here anywhere I went I encountered undulating streets. All this resulted in me driving in the slow lane watching cars flash by at the posted speed limit, while I visualize my car passing the slower car ahead.

Every few years, when I just could not take it any more, I’d decide to “buy a fast car.”  After a few months the urge would pass and I’d continued to be passed, but it all stopped in 2007. Oh, did it ever … zoom, zoom.

My sister wanted me to end this story with these words: “And my sister was soooo thrilled when she no longer had to ride with me in this classic car?”

Little does she know it was her visit that started the twenty-five year plan to go from zip to zoom. But that’s another story.

photo by shinazy

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Guest Rooms ©

A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

I have two good friends, one woman, one man, who each live 2-3 hours drive from me.  “Mi casa es su casa” is not just a casual term for either of these friends.  It is quite literal.  Not only are their homes always open to me, they’ve given me keys, so I can pop in whenever I like.

Like many families, their homes have designated guest rooms.  Unlike many, however, I am the nearly the only guest — I’m at one home or the other at least monthly.  Over time, the guest rooms have been affectionately re-labeled, “Malati’s Room.”  One has a bed I gifted my friend years back; the other has a bed I recommended during a refurnishing spree.  I have purchased favorite high-loft pillows to leave in each room, and have moved the table lamps around to accommodate my late-night reading patterns (light over my right shoulder, please).

One of these guest rooms is a gallery of my daughter’s college artwork, and includes a triptych of photos of my kids at three stages of their childhood. Come to think of it, it has more of my children’s presence than my own room at home.

I most always call and ask the same question, “Is there room at the Inn this weekend?”  And, quite naturally, the answer is always some variation of, “Of course; your room is always ready for you, Madame.”  Still the gracious guest, I alert them my approximate arrival time.  But, as it’s often late at night, I sneak quietly in like an errant teen, careful not to awaken them.

In the morning however, out of the guest rooms I come, the ceremonial coffee awaiting me, with milk, if I remember to bring it.  At some time during the stay, we catch up on gossip at one house and solve all the problems of the world at the other.  I always have other tasks on my visit agenda, but protect time for the treasured chatting sessions.

These guest rooms have been mine for over a decade now, and I seldom think how truly fortunate I am to have such caring friends.  Raised to be well mannered, I often bring a little something to thank them, but staying in these guest rooms has more meaning to me than I express.

But now, as I sit in the living room chair I always occupy during a visit, while my friend prepares our evening meal, I realize…

This Is Wonderful!  I am one of the most fortunate women in the world.  I am home here too.

I have two precious friends whose guest rooms have been deeded over to me. Guest rooms aren’t really guest room in these homes, they are Friends’ Rooms. 

photo by elisaself

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Grandchildren ©

A Story by Will Jones

Until February, our three sons, ages 31, 28 and 22, had blessed us with two…granddogs: Daisy, a sweet-natured, affectionate, red-nosed pit bull, and Sweet Pea, a somewhat aloof, reluctantly affectionate, but otherwise lovable beagle. Of course we dreamed of being real grandparents, like so many of our boomer friends. You can imagine our joy when our oldest son and his wife announced last summer that they were expecting. 

Never mind that they lived in Boston, about as far away from our California home as possible without leaving the country.  Digital photos and Skype would keep us close until we could visit.
In September we signed up for a May trip to New York with friends and added on an extra five days in Boston to personally meet who would by then be our three-month-old grandchild.

The blessed event occurred on February 13th, 2012: a healthy, serene baby girl. My son created a Picasa album almost immediately, and we Skyped twice in the first couple of months.  But nothing, other than the birth of our own children, prepared us for the outpouring of love we would experience when we arrived in Boston on May 14th.

For five full days we were with our granddaughter every moment except when we returned to our B & B to sleep. Everywhere we went we rode on either side of her in the back seat so we could gaze into her expressive blue eyes, laugh when she flashed a sudden smile, talk to her in response to her wordless chatter, feel the pressure of her tiny hands wrapped around our fingers, wonder at her calm beauty when she slowly fell asleep, her dark lashes resting on her rosy cheeks.

We took her to her first Red Sox game at Fenway Park; we visited Lexington and Concord, her first history lesson, and the Jack Kerouac Memorial in Lowell, her first American Literature lesson; we strolled through scenic parks on perfect spring days under new green foliage and among vibrant wildflowers.  We fell gloriously, deeply in love.  Leaving was difficult, but we’ve circled the calendar…our Boston family will be here on July 7th! In the meantime, wonderful photos and great memories will nourish us. Having a grandchild…everything we heard it would be…and more.

 photo by Will Jones

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Encounter In The Park ©

In the park with Bob Deason

parkLast winter, I met a friend in the park every morning at 7 to go for a walk.  It is good exercise, and it is just a good way to start the day.  However, it was usually pretty cold.  Now I don’t mean New England winter cold, but it was almost always right around freezing. 

One morning when I got to the park, there was a woman in a sleeping bag on one of the park benches.  She had a number of parcels pulled in around her, as if everything that she had left in the world was right there.  I felt the usual “There but for the Grace of God go I” moment.  Then my friend arrived, we went on our walk, and the woman in the park was forgotten . . . until the next day.  We were there bright and early, and so was she, curled up in a ball to preserve body heat.  It was clear that she was staying . . . at least until someone moved her.

There she was, right in front of me each day, so it was no longer a chance encounter with someone who reminded me of unpleasant realities.  I had to make a choice to either do something, or treat her as one of the “invisibles.” It really was no choice.  I had to do something, but what was the best thing to do?  I want to help, but I really don’t want to get involved.  I could call the welfare office to get her some help, but is that what she would want?  I finally decided on the direct approach.  The next morning I brought a cup of hot coffee and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and left them next to her with the words, “This is for you.” She nodded but said nothing.  We repeated this pattern for the next 2 days, and then she was gone.

Her absence left me wondering where she had gone, and also forced me to examine my own motives.  Did I do what I did out of true compassion, or just to try and make myself feel better?  I certainly did feel better each morning that I left her a modest breakfast, and I lost that feeling when she moved on.  I just hope that what I did helped her make it through a few days, and that she has somehow found her way to a better place.

photo by Bob Deason

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Natural Freedom ©

A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

I’ve been watching babies, toddlers, and preschool kids a lot lately.  With nice weather, they appear outside with their moms, everywhere, like naturally free wildflowers do in in  the springtime fields.

Nine months ago, a young family moved in next door: Mama Bear, Pappa Bear and Four Baby Bears, all under the age of nine.  Although I knew they were there, and saw them on their way to school and karate practice, they were relatively silent and invisible all winter and spring.

This past weekend, the weather started a sustained hot-spell.  Dad spent most of one afternoon installing a canopy, splashing pool and swings set.  As soon as the installations were complete, as though on cue …  out of the house emerged two screeching and laughing daughters, a slightly quieter son, the mom and baby.

For the rest of the weekend,  the kids played in the backyard, chatting, chortling and throwing water at each other. This was natural freedom at its most joyful expression.  Occasional spongy balls, towels or flip-flops would find their way over the fence into my backyard.  The kids didn’t hesitate to shout my name as loudly and as prolonged as necessary to get my attention…  Hey, they were just exhibiting their rights of natural freedom…. They even transformed the three syllables of my first name into multiple singsong melodies … distinct songs, same intentions:

  • They enjoyed  playing sound games singing my name
  • They really did  want me to get the ball back to their side of the world

For the first time in years, the neighborhood was truly alive with a natural freedom of speech.  The kids engaged each other in and out of the pool, on and off the swing set… supervised only through the wall of windows along the back of their home.  No adults interfered with their play. No adults limited their voices. No adults put restrictions on their volume. … They were free and full of energy, life force and creativity.

As I listened to the little kids wind down toward bedtime, two thoughts came to mind:

FirstThought: “I finally got the meaning to a Jim Morrison poem:

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are  … That kind of freedom can’t be granted. Nobody can win it for you.”

Second Thought:  Last week, like a mad cheerleader, I easily coaxed 500 high school students, parents, teachers and school administrators alike to stand on the hard bleachers and “shake their booties” half way through the insufferably long, boring High School Scholarship Awards Event (see previous BOBB story, High School Scholarship Night.

Something totally out of the norm for these sorts of rituals occurred… We all laughed and  played with the natural freedom of the little kids next door.

photo by shinazy

High School Scholarship Night ©

A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

Half of the gym floor is covered with red plastic sheeting to protect it from shoes. Now, however, it’s a perfect trip-and-fall opportunity for 75 teens wearing stiletto heals or six-inch platform shoes. The flip-flop kids are equally at risk as they shuffle their way to the bleachers.  Also in danger, we baby boomers, parents and presenters alike, simply because we’re not the nimble plastic sheet-walkers we use to be.

This year, the presenters have been upgraded from sitting on hard wooden bleachers to fifty-year old cracked plastic chairs that pinch the skin if one wriggles, even a little.

The Pledge of Allegiance is followed by the National Anthem.  Then, 500 +/- people attempt to get comfortable for the endurance event: The scholarship presentations themselves.  Last year, this took three hours.  The optimistic school principle promises it will be completed in two hours this year.

We proceed… In a deadened monotone, the first presenter drones, half hidden behind a podium:

“ Hello, my name is Mrs. Beverley Somebody (Fill in the Blank).

I represent the Women of (Fill in the Blank).

We are happy to present some amount of money (Fill in the Blank) to the following student (Fill in the Blank), who wrote the most impressive essay and will graduate to go to college (Fill in the Blank).”

As the student descends from the nosebleed section of the bleachers, we watch her step carefully over sweatshirts, backpacks and her classmates’ parents.  Finally reaching the non-plastic section of floor, her stilettos emit the loudest sound our ears can endure.  It seems the school’s microphone stand is a strong amplifier.  Through the old sound system, we can hear the recipient’s footfalls with more audible definition than we can hear Mrs. Somebody’s muffled voice!

And on it goes, one uninspired presenter after another, each offering a version of the same speech.  Only the unexpected stiletto-bongo-walk of a random recipient keeps us awake.

After the first hour, there’s rustling in the bleachers:  The students are restless; their parents are chatting; little brothers and sisters are running around.

Finally, it is our turn to present.

With the loudest, crispest diction I can project through the old sound system, I SHOUT:

“Everybody, Stand Up! 

Get off those hard bleachers, NOW!

We’ve been sitting for a Full Hour!

If my tuckus is numb, surely yours is too!

Shake it out!  Stomp up and down.  Move around a little!

That’s right…  Move around a little!”

While most of the presenters hold steadfast to their cracked plastic chairs, a bleacher rumble bursts forth.

The energy is infectious… even a few whoops and hollers!  After a few moments, the bleacher denizens are refreshed and sit down.

I laugh aloud and thank them for playing with me.  After my presentation, I leave the gym for a photo shoot with our organization’s scholarship recipients.  Behind me, I can hear the audience:  They are awake and re-energized for the next hour or two of scholarship presentations.

My job is done… until next year.

Congratulations, Class of 2012!

Huckster ©

A Story by Will Jones

“Red ripe New Jersey tomatoes,
three pounds for half a dollar!
Sweet corn, sweet corn, ripe peaches and plums!”

The huckster drove down the narrow alley
calling out his summer temptations,
his strong voice echoing and beckoning
in the red brick canyons like a Siren’s song.
The women poured out the basement doors
in their aprons, their hands wet with dishes and wash,
carrying small snap purses with just enough change
to transform another predictable dinner
into a fresh and sumptuous summer feast.

The tanned huckster, flashing his white teeth
and practiced smile, the one the ladies liked,
his fast hands weighing on a hanging scale,
brown bagging in a magic flash like a shell game carny.
As the women retreated, one by one,
back to their day’s work,
his voice drifted and faded
around the next corner, into the next canyon,

“Red ripe New Jersey tomatoes,
Three pounds for half a dollar!
Sweet corn, sweet corn, ripe peaches and plums!

photo by Ajith_chatie

Bay To Breakers ©

A Story by Patti Isaacs

              To Protect and Serve

I lived in the Bay Area for a year and a half. The job that brought my husband and me there evaporated in the recession, so we moved back to Minnesota. But we can’t stay away. Running Bay to Breakers is a great excuse to come back, reconnect with our friends here, and revel in San Francisco’s joie de vivre.

As dawn breaks, we gather at the BART station. The train pulls up at 7:10 a.m. and we skip aboard in high spirits. A gangly young man in 1970s retro basketball shorts and a frizzy, multicolored clown wig like mine gives me the high five as we enter the train car. His pseudo-Afro is cinched in the middle with a green terrycloth sweatband to match his Celtics jersey.

I sit down with my group of friends: Suzanne in a fuchsia feather boa; Gauss in his Minnesota moose-antler hat; and Sean and Jeff, serious runners, in nondescript wicking tees. At each stop the car takes on more costumed participants, all jolly and some already a little tipsy: A cow and a milkmaid; a kitty-cat with pointed ears and leopard print tail; Superman and Wonder Woman. Several of the characters discreetly sip spirits from bottles encased in brown paper bags. Laughter fills the background as I catch up with our friends after a year away from them.

At the Civic Center stop, two San Francisco police officers board the car. I can tell they’re the real thing and not costumed runners because they’re wearing long pants. Bay to Breakers participants dressed as cops would be wearing the same blue shirts and carrying the billy clubs and handcuffs—but they would replace the regulation trousers with Speedos or buttless chaps.

The officers walk up and down the aisle, smiling and chatting amiably.

“Sorry, no drinking on the train,” the male officer says to the Devil, grinning. “Hand it over.”

The Devil shrugs his shoulders and gives up his booze.

“I’m going to have to take that from you,” the policewoman says, stretching her arm toward a glitter-dusted man in a gossamer tutu and crooking her fingers.

“Can’t blame me for trying,” Tinkerbell replies, a lilt in his voice. He’s not angry and hands her the bagged beer can.

The train stops at a station and the officers take the alcohol to the open door, pouring it out onto the tracks. They walk back down the aisle, handing the empty containers to their owners. Then they return to the door. Before stepping out, the policeman smiles and calls back, “Have a good day, and be sure to recycle!”

Only in San Francisco.

photo by patti isaacs

Cooking With Nemesis ©

A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy­­­­

Growing up, it seemed most adults were accomplished cooks.  Great meals and great cooks were abundant in my family.

My mother was sufficiently committed to cooking that my father built her a kitchen cupboard to house a fifty-gallon rice storage drum.

My Grand Father (see, Grand Father’s Little Girl), whose career path included being Chief Chef on merchant ships, consistently served me works of art for breakfast:  Cantaloupe skillfully separated from the rind, magically converted into a serving dish.

The most talented chef, however, was my maternal uncle Tony, who worked at a prestigious restaurant on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  Watching him prepare holiday dinners was like watching a master conductor at the New York Philharmonic.

In college, the unspoken agreement was: my roommates cooked; I was responsible for the cleanup.

Alas, the goddess Nemesis entered my life when I married.  My husband, a kitchen alchemist, created nutritious and visual lovely family meals seemingly out of nothing…  To contrast, my pancakes looked horrifically asymmetrical, no resemblance to the cookbook images.  These amorphously shaped blobs of dough were followed by similarly shaped cookies, biscuits, crab cakes, etc.

The first and only time I attempted to make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner, I misread the cookbook and boiled too many potatoes.  Uncle Tony rescued me.  Even then, it took two gallons of milk to turn my clumps of potato cement into something resembling mashed potatoes … expecting them to be creamy would have required divine intervention.

Nemesis had indeed incurred her revenge.  I became a defeated cook and retreated from the theatre of the kitchen.

Fortunately, my young children enjoyed helping me prepare the four dinner items I knew how to assemble: tacos, mac & cheese, steamed broccoli, spinach salad.  As they matured, they each in turn became masters and I, the sous chef.  Balance was restored to the world.

As my last child left for college, I developed compensatory tactics for nourishing myself:  Non-fat plain yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfast, an ethnic restaurant for lunch, salads and the occasional sautéed tofu sandwich for dinner.

I learned how to scramble an egg because frying anything over-easy was beyond my skill set.

I think I’m sufficiently healed from the post-traumatic stress of my early cooking attempts, so I’ve decided to overcome this personal deficit and take tentative steps toward using, rather than just storing, the pots, pans, bowls, measuring spoons and whisks I own.

But first, a final offering to Nemesis… Recently, for a potluck party, I purchased a one-of-a-kind artist-signed cheese plate, Brie Mons Sire, a baguette and organic black raspberry preserves for guests to assemble.

Perhaps Nemesis has tired of her assault, will accept my humble gift, and allow me to join the world of the cooking.

photo by ndrwfgg