Most of us have old family stories that have been verbally handed down to us over the years…some that we heard as children that we vaguely remember and others that we experienced ourselves that we…well, vaguely remember.
I have cats, not kids (the human variety that is)…no grandkids, nieces or nephews, to bore with stories from the old days when I’m 90.
So before I forget, I might as well write some of them down just for the heck of it.
Like, for instance…. I’ve got San Francisco in my bloodline on my Dad’s side of the family. My grandmother was about 8 years old when the 1906 earthquake and fire decimated the City. She used to tell my brother and me stories about it, but alas, I have never remembered much of what she said.
But there is a silly San Francisco story that I do remember. I was reminded of it when I accidentally caught the last half hour of the movie, “Dirty Harry” on TV last night.
My grandmother, Edna, was driving somewhere or other with her kids as the passengers most likely (so we’re talking 60-70 years ago) when she accidentally turned onto the road that led to the entrance to San Quentin.
The devil is in the details, but the thing I vividly remember about the story is that Edna stopped the car and the fellow that she asked for help happened to be a convict.
He was probably out working on a “project” with other convicts and under the supervision of an armed guard. And he wasn’t allowed to talk.
So without really looking up, he muttered through clenched teeth, “Lady, just back up and turn around.”
Which of course she did. The prisoner most likely went back to banging on rocks with a pickaxe and Edna and the kids were safe.
That’s the kind of story that I think of as old-fashioned and “colorful.” Nowadays, granny and the kids would probably be detained by Homeland Security for 8 hours….
Then there’s the time when I was about 20 or so and my mother and I went on a road trip to San Francisco. During the course of that trip, I drove my little red Chevette east all the way down the twists and turns of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth. It was an awesome cheap thrill!
You can still take this thrill-ride down the Crookedest Street, but since 2001 eastbound traffic is not allowed on major holidays and there is no parking on the block during the summer.
On my mother’s side of the family, there is the story that her mother, Sadie, used to tell about my 10-year-old mother Betty’s little Japanese girlfriend. They hung out and did kid things together, but then one day, the little Japanese girl simply disappeared. She and her family had been taken away to a WWII internment camp. My mother never saw her again.
When I was 3 years old, I’m told (and I’ve seen the photos) that I had a stuffed cat that I simply adored and carried with me everywhere. (It was in the shape of a Teddy Bear but it was a cat.)
My parents took me along on a vacation with them and one day when we returned to our hotel room, the cat was gone. He had probably gotten tangled up with the bedsheets (of course I slept with him!) and hauled off by the maid.
My parents checked with housekeeping but alas, no one had seen or knew anything, so I never saw my stuffed cat again. Perhaps that is why I have such an abundance of live-action cats now — I am compensating for the loss and the leftover grief….
My father’s father, William, worked as an executive for the Cunard company back in the day when a cruise ship was a SHIP (more specifically, an ocean liner). He and Edna travelled all over the world on the Mauritania, the Caronia and the dignified queens of the sea, Mary and Elizabeth and many was the time that our family would go down to the docks to visit in their stateroom for awhile and then stand at the railing of the pier to see them off.
The best fun of it were the little many-colored rolls of paper streamers. The object was to throw one out to your loved one — hopefully she or he would catch it — and then you’d each hold on to your end ’til the ship pulled out far enough and the paper would break. And in the meantime, the smokestacks would blast and you’d wave and smile until you could see those faces no more.
The whole image still brings a tear to my eye.
There are many other stories that I’ve forgotten that I remember and I guess I’ll jot them down now and then. In the meantime, the clock is ticking…I need to ask the ones left who lived the stories to fill in some of those devilish details….
©March 2011 by Phyllis J. Hanniver