Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Chicago’

Meeting Her Parents

After going out for a year and a half and living together for four months, it was time to meet my wife’s parents. Her parents lived in Chicago and we lived in California. The day of reckoning had arrived.

images

One day, as Audrey was talking on the phone with her mother (which she does every week for hours on end), her Mom told her that they were coming out to a convention in San Francisco and wondered if they could meet us for dinner. Audrey had replied, “Yes, we would love to.” and then informed me of it afterwords. I was reasonably shocked, but as ready as I’d ever be. She had told me a little about her parents and I’d talked to them on the phone, but had never met them in person.

I was nine years older than their daughter and already had three children from a previous marriage! Audrey had never been married, was only twenty-four and had grown up as an only child. And even though I had a Masters degree, at the time of our meeting I was working as a nursing assistant, which was as far away from their daughter’s previous boyfriend, who was going to medical school, as possible.

The meeting took place at what is now the Sheraton Hotel in downtown San Francisco. We met them in the lobby. I had on the one good suit I owned, that looked like something from the seventies and just as tacky. Audrey looked beautiful, as always. Her parents looked just like I had imagined, though her father wasn’t as tall as I’d expected. We exchanged formalities and went outside to get on the cable car and go down to Ghirardelli Square, where we went to a fancy Hungarian restaurant.

After being seated and making sure to follow everything they did, such as eating with the proper utensil and delicately sipping the wine, her father asked about the work I did and what I had done in the past. I tried to make health care, counseling and massage sound important and exciting, but I could tell it wasn’t going over real well. Then her mother asked about my kids. I gave her a glowing report and tried to convey how different that relationship had been, from the one her daughter and I had now embarked upon. Her anxiety and fears seemed to increase, despite my good intentions.

I must admit, if my only daughter was involved, at age twenty-four, with a man in his thirties who already had three children and worked as a nursing assistant, I would have had my doubts, concerns and clanging sirens of apprehension!

As we all stood on the trolley car, on the way back to the hotel, her father unexpectedly asked me where I lived. The one thing we hadn’t told them yet was that we were living together. Not sure what to say, I finally said, “I live real close.” Luckily, he didn’t ask where or how close. I’m not sure I could have pulled off another stretch of the truth.

As we were driving home that night Audrey said, “It will take time, but I think they like you. They’re just scared about my future, that’s all.”

“That’s all!” I exclaimed. “That’s quite a bit, your future.”

I admitted that in spite of all my preconceptions and notions about her parents, that I liked them as well.

Audrey and I have been married twenty-six years now and her mother and father (who has since passed away) are both close to our hearts and lives. They have loved all their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the ones that didn’t come through their daughter and even accepted their American son-in-law, who never became a lawyer or physician and still only has one good suit.

Hazel and Goliath

johnsonExcerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Interview with Hazel Johnson (Born: January 25, 1935 Died: January 12, 2011). Photo of Ms. Johnson holding her Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It started with her husband. Hazel Johnson’s sweetheart of seventeen years died an early death from lung cancer. Within ten weeks of diagnosis he’d passed away. As Mrs. Johnson began to look for answers she discovered she wasn’t alone, a significant number of people in her Southeast Chicago neighborhood were and had been dying from the disease. A high percentage of infants were born with tumors and defects. It wasn’t genetics, it wasn’t lifestyle, it was the very air they were breathing, the water they drank and the homes in which they lived. The environment was silently altering the very bodies within which they lived.

After educating herself about pollution, toxins and contamination, she put her new found knowledge to work and started PFCR (People For Community Recovery). With her leadership, things started to change. Surrounded by toxic dumps, incinerators and disposal sites, PFCR galvanized the community and successfully challenged some of the largest corporations and politicians in America to take notice and clean up the area they’d been ignoring for years.

HAZEL JOHNSON:

Let me start from the beginning. How I really got involved was my husband had died of lung cancer and at the time they didn’t know what was the cause of it. hen a few years later I heard that our area had a high incidence of cancer and I wanted to know why. We had a lot of people being ill and I knew there was something wrong. I didn’t know what it was at the time.

I started making telephone calls to the health department and was fortunate enough to get in touch with Dr. Reginald Jones. He was well abreast about the area. He explained to me what was going on in the South East side of Chicago . . . about all the contaminants and things. He told me of an organization that was dealing with the environment. I made numerous calls and found out about the Environmental Action Foundation. At that time they had a young man whose name was Kent Silva. I questioned him on a lot of things, about different types of chemicals. He sent me a lot of literature so I could read up on it.

PCR (People for Community Recovery) really started in my bedroom. I did a lot of studying to see what the problem was that we were dealing with out here. When I first started a lot of people thought I was crazy. People said I didn’t know what I was talking about, because this was something new to everybody. They weren’t talking about the environment then like they do today.

In our apartment, in the attic, we have what I call angel hair. I called for them to remove the angel hair from the attic of our apartment. The kids would climb up in there and come out crying and stinging, you know, from the fiberglass. We had that removed.

After that we started fighting against Waste Management across the street because the odor was horrible . . . you had the garbage smell. I started doing a little research on Waste Management and learned how they were dealing with chemicals with the incinerator; how they were burning chemicals from many parts of the United States.

And the garbage . . . I’d never been concerned about the garbage before, until I really got involved with the environment and what was going on. This was all in the early eighties. You know, you put your garbage out and you don’t think about it no more. After I got involved dealing with the environment I got to be more concerned about the garbage and the whole recycling bit of it.

The Waste Management over there. (Nods outside.) I waited until my fifties, in July of eighty-seven, before I went to jail for stopping the trucks that were going in there. We had the media . . . we had a lot of people. In fact we had over five hundred people participating with this stopping the trucks from coming in. We had planned it. We had big garbage cans. Some people were out their barbecuing, with sandwiches and stuff. We had a party. After all the media left Waste Management called the police on us and seventeen of us decided to go to jail for “trespassing”.

When it came to court the judge didn’t know what to do, because he complimented us on what we were doing. Then he called the lawyer and talked to her in the back, in the chamber and when he came back he just said, “Stay away from the property for six months.” After that, we were next door to the property, on the expressway, with big signs and truckers and cars passing by were honking, blowing their horns and carrying on. We really had a lot of excitement going along the expressway. Waste Management called the police on us again, but there was really nothing they could do. We weren’t on their property.

We were saying how we didn’t want another landfill right across the street from a high school and everything, because of how it would affect the people.

And at Miller Manor they had some well water, which was so contaminated you couldn’t even drink it. It smelled just like a rotten egg. It was horrible! And they’d been paying taxes for water they couldn’t even use. There were about six families of older people. A lot of people didn’t believe the city of Chicago had wells, because everybody thought they had all the new system. When the EPA came to check they find out the city has over two thousand wells! After they got so much publicity for that the mayor came in and helped those people out. They didn’t even have a hydrant. If they had had a fire the place would have burned down automatically. So they went in and installed a water system and a hydrant and stuff and they started getting regular water, which they didn’t have to pay for since they’d been paying all those years before and couldn’t even use it. It made a big difference.

The media really picked up a lot of things I’ve been doing. I think that’s made a lot of these success stories that I talk about. The media participated a lot in it too. One little girl, I like her very much, her name is Deborah Nargent and she’s on ABC. She was a great help with the asbestos problem and gave me little tips of what to do and how to be successful with what we were doing.

Sometimes it gets frustrating getting folks to do what they should have in the first place. Like I’m telling my daughter and everybody right now, I am worn out. I am tired. At one point I’d never get home until ten or eleven o’clock at night. I’m working here during the day, then in the evenings we’d have meeting after meeting. Now I’m exhausted. I’m an older woman. At one point I was in the air two or three times a month, going to universities and speaking to meetings or before congress talking about the environment.

I’m on the CSI (Common Sense Initiative), dealing with the industry people in Washington. I asked my daughter Josephine if she’d like to be on the board for that because I’m tired. I don’t want to do no more running around here and there. A lot of people think that’s pleasure. To me it’s not because when I come back I’m worn out. I have to rest two or three days returning from wherever.

But I’m fortunate to say that the majority of the things I’ve fought for are real successful. When I first started a newsman from the local ABC came and asked me, “How do you think a small minority group like yours can buck up against a Multi-million dollar corporation?” I said, “You never know what you can do until you try.” About a year or two later I wrote him a letter outlining all my accomplishments, but he never returned or called saying he’d received the letter. Later on, when we were having a protest about the airport they were talking about building, he was there. I asked him, “Did you receive my letter?” He said, “Yeah, I received it.” But he made no comment on it.

Then we fought for the lagoons to be cleaned up and they cleaned up three of them. They had over 30,000 contaminants in them. Some of the stuff that was put in there had been in so long that they couldn’t tell what it was. A few barrels had paint solvent; some had baby sharks and baby pigs that had been used for medical research, that were in formaldehyde. They had problems trying to clean it all up because whatever was down there was such a mess it would clog up the trucks taking it out. They had to go back and get more money because it took a lot longer than they’d expected. The South side of Chicago was a forgotten area. Nobody was saying anything about the South East side until I got involved.

I’ve discovered that there are more waste sites and dumps around people of color and in poor areas than in other communities; not just here, but all around the country. We’ve brought this issue to national and international attention. I went to the world summit in Brazil. e had women from around the world discussing the problems in our communities. They had people from more than a hundred and twenty five countries. It was the first time they’d ever gotten so many dignitaries from different countries to sit down and take a picture together.

Complete profile of Ms. Johnson and others at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

Call Today

Dear Gabriel,

DAP-one-million-sig-enoughMy son Blair was murdered with a gun on his way home from school. He was riding a Chicago city bus, and he was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting just a few days before Mother’s Day.

Newtown, Connecticut doesn’t look a lot like the South Side of Chicago. But when I hear the stories of Newtown families, I am familiar with their pain.

One month has passed since the heartbreaking mass shooting that took the lives of twenty first-graders and six adults. No community should have to go through that kind of terror, and no parent should have to feel so much loss.

Please join me and the families of other gun violence victims in saying: ENOUGH.

We recorded a new TV ad to Demand A Plan from our leaders in Congress.

Take a minute to watch the ad and call your members of Congress RIGHT NOW.

Today, more than forty mayors across the country organized events with law enforcement officials, faith leaders and survivors of gun violence to commemorate the tragedy at Newtown and demand action from our elected leaders in Washington.

More than a million people have signed the Demand A Plan petition calling on President Obama and Congress to step forward with a real plan to end gun violence.

But our leaders need to hear our voices every day. Please watch our new TV ad and make a call TODAY:

http://DemandAPlan.org/ENOUGH

I’ve met parents and loved ones of gun violence victims from all across the country. We share a connection because of the pain we’ve all been through, and we can offer each other some comfort and understanding. But there’s nothing that would make us happier than never adding a new member to our group ever again.

Thirty-three people are murdered with guns every day in America — sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. We’ve had ENOUGH and it’s time for our leaders in Congress to act.

Thank you for calling your members of Congress to Demand A Plan,

Annette Nance-Holt
Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Hazel Johnson – Part 1

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Interview with Hazel Johnson Born: January 25, 1935 Died: January 12, 2011). Photo of Ms. Johnson holding her Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hazel Johnson – Part 1

It started with her husband. Hazel Johnson’s sweetheart of seventeen years died an early death from lung cancer. Within ten weeks of diagnosis he’d passed away. As Mrs. Johnson began to look for answers she discovered she wasn’t alone, a significant number of people in her Southeast Chicago neighborhood were and had been dying from the disease. A high percentage of infants were born with tumors and defects. It wasn’t genetics, it wasn’t lifestyle, it was the very air they were breathing, the water they drank and the homes in which they lived. The environment was silently altering the very bodies within which they lived.

After educating herself about pollution, toxins and contamination, she put her new found knowledge to work and started PFCR (People For Community Recovery). With her leadership, things started to change. Surrounded by toxic dumps, incinerators and disposal sites, PFCR galvanized the community and successfully challenged some of the largest corporations and politicians in America to take notice and clean up the area they’d been ignoring for years.

HAZEL JOHNSON:

Let me start from the beginning. How I really got involved was my husband had died of lung cancer and at the time they didn’t know what was the cause of it. hen a few years later I heard that our area had a high incidence of cancer and I wanted to know why. We had a lot of people being ill and I knew there was something wrong. I didn’t know what it was at the time.

I started making telephone calls to the health department and was fortunate enough to get in touch with Dr. Reginald Jones. He was well abreast about the area. He explained to me what was going on in the South East side of Chicago . . . about all the contaminants and things. He told me of an organization that was dealing with the environment. I made numerous calls and found out about the Environmental Action Foundation. At that time they had a young man whose name was Kent Silva. I questioned him on a lot of things, about different types of chemicals. He sent me a lot of literature so I could read up on it.

PCR (People for Community Recovery) really started in my bedroom. I did a lot of studying to see what the problem was that we were dealing with out here.

When I first started a lot of people thought I was crazy. People said I didn’t know what I was talking about, because this was something new to everybody. They weren’t talking about the environment then like they do today.

In our apartment, in the attic, we have what I call angel hair. I called for them to remove the angel hair from the attic of our apartment. The kids would climb up in there and come out crying and stinging, you know, from the fiberglass. We had that removed.

After that we started fighting against Waste Management across the street because the odor was horrible . . . you had the garbage smell. I started doing a little research on Waste Management and learned how they were dealing with chemicals with the incinerator; how they were burning chemicals from many parts of the United States.

And the garbage . . . I’d never been concerned about the garbage before, until I really got involved with the environment and what was going on. This was all in the early eighties. You know, you put your garbage out and you don’t think about it no more. After I got involved dealing with the environment I got to be more concerned about the garbage and the whole recycling bit of it.

The Waste Management over there. (Nods outside.) I waited until my fifties, in July of eighty-seven, before I went to jail for stopping the trucks that were going in there. We had the media . . . we had a lot of people. In fact we had over five hundred people participating with this stopping the trucks from coming in. We had planned it. We had big garbage cans. Some people were out their barbecuing, with sandwiches and stuff. We had a party. After all the media left Waste Management called the police on us and seventeen of us decided to go to jail for “trespassing”.

When it came to court the judge didn’t know what to do, because he complimented us on what we were doing. Then he called the lawyer and talked to her in the back, in the chamber and when he came back he just said, “Stay away from the property for six months.” After that, we were next door to the property, on the expressway, with big signs and truckers and cars passing by were honking, blowing their horns and carrying on. We really had a lot of excitement going along the expressway. Waste Management called the police on us again, but there was really nothing they could do. We weren’t on their property.

We were saying how we didn’t want another landfill right across the street from a high school and everything, because of how it would affect the people.

And at Miller Manor they had some well water, which was so contaminated you couldn’t even drink it. It smelled just like a rotten egg. It was horrible! And they’d been paying taxes for water they couldn’t even use. There were about six families of older people. A lot of people didn’t believe the city of Chicago had wells, because everybody thought they had all the new system. When the EPA came to check they find out the city has over two thousand wells! After they got so much publicity for that the mayor came in and helped those people out. They didn’t even have a hydrant. If they had had a fire the place would have burned down automatically. So they went in and installed a water system and a hydrant and stuff and they started getting regular water, which they didn’t have to pay for since they’d been paying all those years before and couldn’t even use it. It made a big difference.

The media really picked up a lot of things I’ve been doing. I think that’s made a lot of these success stories that I talk about. The media participated a lot in it too. One little girl, I like her very much, her name is Deborah Nargent and she’s on ABC. She was a great help with the asbestos problem and gave me little tips of what to do and how to be successful with what we were doing.

Sometimes it gets frustrating getting folks to do what they should have in the first place. Like I’m telling my daughter and everybody right now, I am worn out. I am tired. At one point I’d never get home until ten or eleven o’clock at night. I’m working here during the day, then in the evenings we’d have meeting after meeting. Now I’m exhausted. I’m an older woman. At one point I was in the air two or three times a month, going to universities and speaking to meetings or before congress talking about the environment.

I’m on the CSI (Common Sense Initiative), dealing with the industry people in Washington. I asked my daughter Josephine if she’d like to be on the board for that because I’m tired. I don’t want to do no more running around here and there. A lot of people think that’s pleasure. To me it’s not because when I come back I’m worn out. I have to rest two or three days returning from wherever.

But I’m fortunate to say that the majority of the things I’ve fought for are real successful. When I first started a newsman from the local ABC came and asked me, “How do you think a small minority group like yours can buck up against a Multi-million dollar corporation?” I said, “You never know what you can do until you try.” About a year or two later I wrote him a letter outlining all my accomplishments, but he never returned or called saying he’d received the letter. Later on, when we were having a protest about the airport they were talking about building, he was there. I asked him, “Did you receive my letter?” He said, “Yeah, I received it.” But he made no comment on it.

Then we fought for the lagoons to be cleaned up and they cleaned up three of them. They had over 30,000 contaminants in them. Some of the stuff that was put in there had been in so long that they couldn’t tell what it was. A few barrels had paint solvent; some had baby sharks and baby pigs that had been used for medical research, that were in formaldehyde. They had problems trying to clean it all up because whatever was down there was such a mess it would clog up the trucks taking it out. They had to go back and get more money because it took a lot longer than they’d expected. The South side of Chicago was a forgotten area. Nobody was saying anything about the South East side until I got involved.

I’ve discovered that there are more waste sites and dumps around people of color and in poor areas than in other communities; not just here, but all around the country. We’ve brought this issue to national and international attention. I went to the world summit in Brazil. e had women from around the world discussing the problems in our communities. They had people from more than a hundred and twenty five countries. It was the first time they’d ever gotten so many dignitaries from different countries to sit down and take a picture together.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

MORE STORIES

Framed

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

We flew in from Montréal, with a stopover in Chicago. I combed my hair and smoothed out the incorrigible wrinkles in my pants, before stepping out from the hot taxi into the dry heat of New Mexico.

Bending over to pick up our bag, I noticed the large stain covering the underarm of my white shirt. “Just what I need,” I fretted. “Wrinkled pants, hair that won’t stay down and stinking to high heaven.”

My face felt naked. The sun was beating it into a hot iron. Something was missing. I felt in my shirt pocket and found only damp vacancy.

“Have you seen them?” I asked Rosalita, my lover and confidant.

“Maybe there, in the bag,” she nodded towards our luggage.

“Should I put them on?”

“Go ahead,” she replied. “Take a chance.”

“You sure? You know how some people are.”

“Don’t be so paranoid,” she smirked, laying her hand on the small of my back.

“I’m trusting you on this,” I said, bending down, carefully pulling them out of their hard, plastic case in the side of the bag and placing them firmly on my face.

“How’s that?”

“Fabulous! Come on, let’s go.”

She took the sacrificial lamb by the arm and led me to the slaughter.

Sweat dripped from my forehead like a steam bath. I thought about home. It was a refreshing 42 degrees Fahrenheit when we had left that morning. Calm, sunny, delightfully cold weather had embraced the landscape, requiring long-sleeve flannel shirts to keep out the chill.

“I’d rather freeze to death, then live in this baking hell,” I thought, as we approached the adobe style home in the suburbs of Albuquerque.

Rosalita’s parents met us at the front door. She introduced her mother and father, Carmen and Francisco Morales and announced lovingly, “And this, this is my sweet Jacque.” I felt her hand guiding me forward.

Her parents looked stoically at their future son-in-law, blinked several times to clear their vision and realized I wasn’t a mirage or distant heat wave. Her mother recovered first, stepping forward and extended her large, brown-skinned hand.

“Buenos tardes Jacque,” she smiled sweetly, as if she was about to give someone on death row their last wish. “Mi casa, su casa.”

“Our house is your house,” Rosalita translated, seemingly oblivious to her parents’ demeanor.

“Thank you,” I replied to Mrs. Morales. “It’s a pleasure.”

Rosalita locked eyes on her father, who appeared to have been jolted into a sudden catatonic state of unknown proportions.

“Papa?” she said. “Papa!” Her raised voice hit him like a whip. He turned, forced a strained smile and shook my hand as if it had a sign reading, “Wet paint.”

“Come in. Come in!” her mother insisted, putting her arm around Rosalita. Her father followed robotically, carrying our bags as balancing weights to keep him grounded. I could feel his eyes flinging poisonous darts at the back of my head like a blow-gun.

It was refreshingly cool inside. “Ah. This is nice,” I sighed. “How can you stand the heat?”

“We kind of like it,” her father said brusquely.

“I guess you get use to it.”

“I guess so,” he said, turning abruptly. With our luggage in tow he walked slowly down their clean, whitewashed hallway. He had large, rough hands and moved as if he was in a military parade.

Mrs. Morales followed her husband. “Let me show you your rooms. You might want to freshen up,” she added, glancing back at the clothes hanging on my body like wet laundry. “Here’s yours,” she motioned to Rosalita, then turned to me. “You can stay in her brothers’ old room. he bathroom’s down the hall. Come out to the back patio when you’re ready. Lunch is almost done.”

“Merci . . . thank you,” I replied.

She nodded, “De nada.” then spoke to Rosalita. “Rico and Junior will be here any minute.” She kissed Rosalita. “Oh no, the enchiladas!” she exclaimed, running to the kitchen in her light green fluorescent pants and pale yellow blouse with ironed on lace.

I looked to Rosalita for an explanation. “Rico and Junior?” I’d heard of Rico and her brother Francis, but no Junior.

“My brother. Francis was named after Papa, so we just call him Junior.”

Mr. Morales squeezed between us. “Excuse me,” he mumbled and disappeared out back.

“This is a disaster,” I said out loud.

“It will be fine. Just give them a little time, OK?”

“Time’s not going to help. Did you see those looks? They don’t even know me and they hate me.”

She gave me a hug. “They don’t hate you. They’re just scared. It’s not every day their only daughter says she’s getting married.”

I tried to ignore my gut. “I hope you’re right.”

“I’ll see you in a few minutes.” She swayed coyly towards the bathroom, her long braided hair rocking in unison with her heart-shaped hips.

After drying off and changing my stained garment to a casual short-sleeved blue dress shirt, I took my skinny self and ventured out to the back patio. A gorgeous garden of blooming cactus filled the yard, with a vine-covered trellis covering the patio from the blistering sun. Her father was hand-watering a small patch of grass between the cactus and patio. He had on a large brimmed, white cowboy hat. He didn’t notice I was there until his wife came out with a basket and offered some bread.

“Have some homemade bread.”

“Thank you,” I replied and proceeded to devour three pieces in a row. “This is delicious.” I licked my fingers, seeing that she was making a religious effort to be cordial. “What is it?”

“Cornbread . . . Jalapeño cornbread. You’ve never had cornbread?”

“Never,” I innocently replied.

“How could you live without cornbread?” Mr. Morales interjected loudly. “Rosalita has surely made you some of her mother’s famous cornbread?”

“No.”

Her father looked accusingly at Mrs. Morales, who frowned back, shaking her slightly rouged cheeks in utter dismay.

“We eat out mostly,” I explained, “or I cook up something at home. I’m pretty good with a little sauce and some wine.”

“You cook?” Mr. Morales exclaimed, as if I’d told him I was a serial killer. I nodded. “I need a drink,” he exclaimed and headed towards the house. Before disappearing he stopped and turned. “You want a margarita, beer or something?”

“A margarita?” He shook his head in disgust. “Water would be fine, thanks.” He nodded, visibly vexed and went inside.

“Please,” Mrs. Morales motioned towards the flower-decorated picnic table laid out methodically with shiny silverware and maroon and turquoise ceramic dishes. Before the bottom of my fifty/fifty percent nylon and cotton pants touched the wooden bench she asked, “Where are you from Jacque?”

She plunked down directly across the table, leaned forward and waited for me to continue. Her well-rounded, bronzed face had wrinkled crowfeet protecting her knowing eyes, bordered by thick black and gray hair. She sat like a voyeuristic priest, waiting for a secret revelation or confession.

“Montréal. Actually, a little town north of Montréal. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it. It’s called Saínte-Thérèse.”

“I’m sorry,” she smiled. “I don’t know Montréal.”

“It’s in Quebec province. Do you know where that is?”

“It’s in Canada, right?”

I nodded, bemused with Americans’ ignorance of geography.

“But where are you from originally?” she persisted. “Your family . . . your people.”

“We grew up in Saínte-Thérèse. Our parents moved to Toronto for awhile in the early sixties, but didn’t like the crowds, so we moved back to Saínte-Thérèse.”

“No, no. I don’t mean where you grew up.” She shook her head. “Your parents . . . your people?”

“My parents met in Quebec,” I offered. She shook her head and was about to give up when I smelled Rosalita’s sweet fragrance. She hugged me from behind, sat down, looked over at her mother and saw her frustration.

“What’s wrong Mama?”

“Nothing,” her mother said, looking away.

“Your Mom was wondering where I was from. You know; my family and stuff.”

“Mama, shame on you!”

Her mother got up and went towards the house.

“He’s from Iceland!” Rosalita shouted. “Or is it Sweden?” she said to her mother’s back. “One of those bleached white, Northern Anglo families!”

An involuntary sigh escaped from my throat. “I should have seen it coming.”

She gave me a squeeze. “It’s just ignorance.”

“Perhaps,” I replied sadly. “Whoever said ‘ignorance is bliss’ must have been pretty stupid.”

Angry sounds drifted from the kitchen with unintended clarity. We could hear bits and pieces of jumbled distress. “I am not!” her father exclaimed. “You don’t like it any better than I do!”

“Don’t say that!” her mother shouted. “It doesn’t mean a thing to me.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“Shhhhh . . .” her mother countered.

“How long are we staying . . . a week?” I asked. “By then I’ll have been drawn and quartered or systematically tolerated to death!”

CONTINUED

Meeting Her Parents

After going out for a year and a half and living together for four months, it was time to meet my wife’s parents. Her parents lived in Chicago and we lived in California. The day of reckoning had arrived.

One day, as Audrey was talking on the phone with her mother (which she does every week for hours on end), her Mom told her that they were coming out to a convention in San Francisco and wondered if they could meet us for dinner. Audrey had replied, “Yes, we would love to.” and then informed me of it afterwords. I was reasonably shocked, but as ready as I’d ever be. She had told me a little about her parents and I’d talked to them on the phone, but had never met them in person.

Her mother is originally from Germany and (to me) sounded like the psychologist Doctor Ruth, who was always giving advice about sex on the radio and TV. Audrey insisted that she didn’t sound like her at all, but I could never get the image of a small lady with white hair and a strong German accent telling us about body parts, relationships and orgasms.

“Actually,” Audrey had told me, “my Mom and Dad are both pretty conservative and old-style European”, which I discovered meant they always dressed nice, expected “proper” etiquette and manners and admired those who were “cultured and sophisticated”. They were in for quite a shock, let me tell you. I have always liked books, movies, music and art, but not necessarily interior design, opera or classical paintings. Her mother could speak German and English and her father spoke at least four different languages. I’m lucky to get by with English!

Another small matter or glaring fact, was that I was nine years older than their daughter and already had three children from a previous marriage! Audrey had never been married, was only twenty-four and had grown up as an only child. And even though I had a Masters degree, at the time of our meeting I was working as a nursing assistant, which was as far away from their daughter’s previous boyfriend, who was going to medical school, as possible.

The meeting took place at what is now the Sheraton Hotel in downtown San Francisco. We met them in the lobby. I had on the one good suit I owned, that looked like something from the seventies and just as tacky. Audrey looked beautiful, as always. Her parents looked just like I had imagined, though her father wasn’t as tall as I’d expected. We exchanged formalities and went outside to get on the cable car and go down to Ghirardelli Square, where we went to a fancy Hungarian restaurant.

After being seated and making sure to follow everything they did, such as eating with the proper utensil and delicately sipping the wine, her father asked about the work I did and what I had done in the past. I tried to make health care, counseling and massage sound important and exciting, but I could tell it wasn’t going over real well. Then her mother asked about my kids. I gave her a glowing report and tried to convey how different that relationship had been, from the one her daughter and I had now embarked upon. Her anxiety and fears seemed to increase, despite my good intentions.

I must admit, if my only daughter was involved, at age twenty-four, with a man in his thirties who already had three children and worked as a nursing assistant, I would have had my doubts, concerns and clanging sirens of apprehension!

As we all stood on the trolley car, on the way back to the hotel, her father unexpectedly asked me where I lived. The one thing we hadn’t told them yet was that we were living together. Not sure what to say, I finally said, “I live real close.” Luckily, he didn’t ask where or how close. I’m not sure I could have pulled off another stretch of the truth.

As we were driving home that night Audrey said, “It will take time, but I think they like you. They’re just scared about my future, that’s all.”

“That’s all!” I exclaimed. “That’s quite a bit, your future.”

I admitted that in spite of all my preconceptions and notions about her parents, that I liked them as well. I also clearly saw where Audrey’s need to talk about certain events of the day in minute detail came from. Her mother also likes to talk and explain what happened, why it happened, what she thought about it and how it made her feel. Luckily, at least most of the time, they both talk about interesting, relevant and important matters.

Audrey and I have been married twenty-one years now and her mother and father (who has since passed away) are both close to our hearts and lives. They have loved all their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the ones that didn’t come through their daughter and even accepted their American son-in-law, who never became a lawyer or physician and still only speaks English.

Cheapest Trip Ever!

It was on a gorgeous afternoon that I sat at an outside table of a local downtown coffee house and took an unexpected voyage around the world.

I had just put my derriere on a metal chair (made in Italy) and was waiting for my friend Betty (originally from Chicago) to join me with pictures of her recent trip, when the woman at the next table asked about the emblem on my shirt. I told her it was an Iranian National Soccer Team patch. She asked if I knew someone there and I said our family had an Iranian exchange student live with us for a year when I was growing up. She explained that she and her husband, who had just joined her, were fans of Majid Majidi and other Iranian filmmakers. She introduced herself, her husband and their child (Sylvie, Richard and Marcel), just as Betty sat down with her Guatemalan coffee.

Turns out that Sylvie and Richard (Oxman) put on a political/international and cultural event (including documentary films) which is called OneDance and includes filmmakers, educators and activists from around the world. They are also the proprietors of French Paintbox. Several times a year they organize retreats in the Southwest of France and meet participants from around the world. It doesn’t sound like your ordinary tour, as those on the trip have the opportunity to study and paint daily with master teachers’ such as Isabelle Maureau from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure Des Beaux Arts De Paris. Sylvie said they also take daily excursions to botanical gardens, vineyards, museums, grottoes, country fairs, musical events, cafes, etc. She said it’s always a mixed group and you don’t have to be a painter to attend (thank goodness).

As their son Marcel, who looks like a miniature French movie star, came up to tell me that we both had on the same colored shirts (white), I thought about my wife’s French connections. I mentioned that my father-in-law spoke five languages and that he had lived in France for many years and that he and his wife (my mother-in-law) are originally from Germany. My friend Betty and her son both speak French, as does her husband (whose family goes back to Nova Scotia). Betty, obviously not thinking, asked if any of my children speak French. She should have known that that could send me on a long torrential downpour about my kids.

I looked down at my tennis shoes (made in China) and told them about my daughter, who traveled to Eastern Europe with her husband and how much they liked Italy, The Czech Republic and Turkey. Our other daughter was in Tahiti for three months, as part of her college studies. Two of our sons have been to and loved, Ireland and England and some of our best friends live in Sweden, I concluded, realizing I had never answered the question about speaking French. Sadly, I finally admitted, I don’t speak French or any other language, besides English, but both our daughters can speak Spanish, my wife German and youngest son took French for a year and a half in school. I’ve been trying to learn Kinyarwanda, which is spoken in much of East Africa (especially Rwanda), but still only know a few words.

After Sylvie, Richard and Marcel naturally tired from my monolingual linguistics, having heard all about my wife’s three-month trip to China, the Cameroon and French soccer teams and world politics, they politely said their au revoirs’. Betty was finally able to get a word in edgewise and told me about her trips to the East Coast, Nova Scotia and Nigeria.

About an hour later I walked past a World Bazaar retail store, paid my parking garage ticket (with American dollars), got in my Japanese car, turned on some Brazilian music and drove past Mexican, Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian and Afghani restaurants to my friend’s home on an Italian named street.

I’d only been at the restaurant for a couple of hours, but it seemed like I had traveled the globe. It was a pleasure meeting the Oxmans, hearing about French Paintbox and talking with Betty; but quite ironic that I, a stay-at-home American native, had felt like such a world citizen. For the price of an espresso (coffee from Nicaragua) it was definitely the cheapest trip I’ve ever taken!

Tag Cloud