Excerpt from the Multiple Award-Winning Memoir, “What Lies Within”
I arrived in California on Memorial Day weekend 1961. Expecting sunshine and flowers, I encountered moisture-laden gray skies and barren desert. “Where’s the sun?” I asked my uncle, who had driven my mother, sister, and me across country. “You told us we were going to sunny Southern California.”
“We don’t get much sun this time of year,” Uncle Richard replied. “If it comes out at all, the sun will appear late in the afternoon.”
My expectations fell once more. I had not wanted to leave New Jersey and suspected the gray skies portended things to come. While I’d experienced many gray days growing up back East, I thought California would be different and return the sunshine to our newly changed lives.
Unc tried to lift my spirits by taking me to the beach the next day. We drove from Alhambra to Redondo Beach, where I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The sun shone on the inviting azure-toned water, so different from the leaden-looking Atlantic. We strolled down to the beach to get a closer look. Teenagers resembling models in sun tan lotion ads strolled along the shore.
I just stared, feeling like an awkward, pale-skinned, dishwater blond from New Jersey amidst the bronzed, bikini-clad California girls and the guys who hung all over them. They all looked so tan and confident.
“Let’s go,” I pleaded. “I don’t feel like swimming today.”
Bewildered, my uncle drove back to Alhambra, wondering what had happened to transform the sunny day to May gray.
My mother Ruth Berger was born 110 years ago today. It seems only fitting that I will address a women’s club to talk about What Lies Within, the book I wrote about my childhood as a tribute to my wonderful mother. (She was a very private person, and I’m not sure she would approve my tell-all story, but I think she might be proud.)
Alhambra High School’s class of 1966 gathers to celebrate its 50th reunion on Saturday. I will be there along with more than 100 classmates out of a class of 568 students. I won’t have to guess who people are thanks to the magic of social media. Through it many of us have been catching up on each other’s lives for quite a while. I do look forward to seeing old friends in person. A good chat is much more personal than digital communication. (more…)
To be a good writer, one must read. As soon as I learned to read, I became a voracious reader, devouring library books and the Weekly Reader books that arrived each month. Books were a big part of my childhood world, as I mentioned in my memoir, What Lies Within. The reading habits I established early have remained with me all my life. (more…)
Each day offers a chance to learn something new—or be reminded of what is important. I learned that lesson through laughter and tears last Monday when I attended the memorial Mass for my friend Maud. We met when we served on the Docent Volunteer Council of the Museum of Ventura County, and we bonded instantly. With her warm smile, outgoing nature, colorful and impeccable outfits, quick wit, keen intelligence, and love of food, she instantly attracted my attention. I was fortunate to join her circle of acquaintances and later become her friend.
Seven years ago I taught two life-writing classes to my fellow docents and volunteers as part of my museum service. Maud eagerly joined the class, which I offered because I felt strongly that if we spent our time preserving the stories of people who had made history in our county, we should also preserve our own. People eagerly shared their backgrounds and tales from their lives, which gave me new insight into so many with whom I’d worked but never really knew.
After the class ended, several members asked if I’d teach others. At the time I couldn’t, but many went off and continued to write on their own. Maud was among them. About three years ago she said, “I’ve written about my time in Africa, and I’d like to share it with you.” I felt honored and learned so much as I read her manuscript.
When she was about forty, she went to Nigeria with her husband, who had accepted an administrative position with the Peace Corps. They already had four children, one who had special needs, and magically during their two-year stint they conceived a fifth. Maud referred to her as her African-American baby because of her youngest child’s birthplace.
Maud enjoyed her time overseas, embracing the culture, caring for her husband and children, and becoming part of a team that contributed to so many people’s lives. While there, she wrote many letters home to her parents and in-laws, describing their daily lives and also revealing how much she missed her family. Maud believed family was everything.
When I met her, Maud was a widow, and she’d already lost one son. Three years ago, when our younger son died, she reached out to me with love and compassion. She knew how it felt to lose a child, even when that child was a grown man, as our sons were. I will always remember her kindness.
Recently, as her health began to decline, Maud said, “I only have enough money to live until I’m 95, and I’m already 94.” She felt ready to leave this earth, although those who knew and loved her were not ready to say goodbye.
At her memorial service, we were reminded how to live by her example, finding joy in each day and focusing on what was important. As the priest said, “She taught us to worry less and enjoy more.” That’s a lesson I’ll take to heart.
“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”
Cicero, 80 B.C.
On this Memorial Day weekend we remember those who served our country and honor their sacrifices with moments of silence, prayers, flags, and ceremonies. We remember.
Memorial Day also brings personal memories for our family. On this Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, I remember my brother, John. He often joked that had we met in high school, we probably would have dated, as we had so much in common. We’d look at each other and laugh, thinking this scenario sounded too much like a Hollywood script. But we didn’t meet in high school or even know of each other’s existence until we were in our mid-fifties. (more…)