Category Archives: Immigrant

My Dead Do Not Whisper


Lisnahunchin, Portglenone Ireland 1936

Photo By George Morrow

My dead do not whisper.

They are not soft shadowy forms seen out of the corner of the eye at twilight.

They are not the simple black and white images framed and hung or saved and filed on my hard drive. Nor are they just the facts printed on documents found after long  searches on-line.

My dead are so much more.

They stare at me. Locking eyes and daring me to discover and dish out their particular details…

How fitting that I managed to finally place the last piece of your story today, Annie Jane, on this your 142nd birthday.

Annie Jane Gamble, my grandfathers mother.  I can tell you that she was  the daughter of a weaver, born in Lisnahunchin, Portglenone Ireland in 1874. Annie Jane Gamble moved to Scotland where she married a man, George Morrow, 5 years her junior. They had five children, one of which was my grandfather, George Morrow who  took all these photos and then left this treasure trove without markings or notations of any kind, and in the process drove me mad with curiosity for nearly 5 decades…

The woman in black velvet, is her mother, Mary Dempsey, who married said weaver John Gamble in the 1st Presbyterian church in Aghogill in 1871.

Today after years of searching I finally found the marriage license of the the younger woman,  Agnes Morrow Howard, my grandfathers sister, and the birth certificate for her child, Anna Gamble Howard. Anna was born in 1932, which was the key. The child in the photo was long thought to be a grandchild, but nameless. I knew the photo had to be taken before Annie’s death on  January 5th 1938, and the child looks about 4, so I guess this to be the summer of 1936.

Four generations.  Mary, Annie, Agnes and Anna. Named and noted at last.

Happy Birthday Annie.  I will keep writing and we will remember.


Filed under Family, Family Tree, Genealogy, Immigrant, Life, Scotland, Scotland's People, Story Telling, Writing

Grannie Sands, the Surviving Teapot and Sirens with your Supper

They always bombed at tea time.

Not the pass the cookies, pinky finger out thank you very much kinda tea; but the this is the real meal, pass the plate, wash your hands, elbows off the table,  kinda tea.

They always came together, the sirens with  the supper. It was as if Hitler didn’t want the English to ever have a hot meal.

Sirens sounded, chairs pushed away from the table, leave everything,  and remember to close the blackout curtains before you go.

Then with gas masks in hand, the family, the block, the entire city, would walk,  not run to their designated bomb shelters. Not easily rattled, those  English.

The children carried children sized gas masks in little boxes tied with string. Hand in hand, down they would go, each family to their assigned spot, each spot marked with a mattress propped against the wall. The mattresses were lowered onto the floor and they all sat and waited.

First they waited for it to start.

Then they waited for it to stop.

The all clear sounded, the mattresses were propped back onto the wall, and hand in hand they all emerged and went home.

Life went on in Liverpool.

Juxtapose  that with my house,  present day where life just  isn’t worth living if the cable, internet or electricity are out. All three would sign the beginning of the apocalypse. I shudder to think what would happen if everyone should be in the same room, at the same time, talking, and forced to have actual eye contact.

My father-in law, Griffy was one of those children, the ones with the little boxes tied with string.

The night his house blew up, the sirens went off but the supper wasn’t the only thing left behind.

That night, the last night in the house, Griffy was bedridden  and coughing and Grannie refused to go until the tea he had a cuppa tea to sooth his throat.

“We will be right behind you, ” she said as the rest of the family left for the shelter.

Grannie put the kettle on, and as she went to close the curtains, she saw her neighbor across the street writing  a letter at her kitchen table. Her boyfriend was away at war, and afterwards Grannie liked to imagined the young woman’s  last thoughts were filled with love.

The whistle of the kettle and the bombing were simultaneous.  Grannie Sands filled  the Brown Betty teapot with hot water and then collected Griffy from the bed.  Teapot in one hand and child over her shoulder Grannie Sands made for the shelter.

She  made it to the front door before Hitler landed a direct hit on the neighbors house across the street.

Griffy was blown into the alley and landed unharmed. He stood and ran to find Grannie Sands.

He found her in the street, sitting straight up, arms out, with her ass wedged into the street drain.

The teapot  still clutched in her hand.

and she hadn’t spilled a drop.


Filed under Griff, Humor, Immigrant, Life, My Husband's Parents, Stories, True Life, World War II, Writing


Vivid blue crayon sky.

Camelback, Praying Monk, and Squaw Peak, familiar shapes rise from the desert floor.

Lunar landscape pink Papago with worn holes through and through, the place to ride bikes watch the sun set and the stars rise.

Giant saguaros marching, stopped forever in their uphill climb, arms  ever reaching.

How could you forget such things.

In town for a reunion, driving east, new roads fast and paved in basic black,  extra wide lanes with solid bright white lines, stay on your side please

Rear view mirror,  look behind, see the sun set, it never fails to impress, only see it in pieces, and curse the luck of my direction, always going the wrong way.

Invite for pizza at a childhood friends house, meet her kids, see her mom, her brother always a huge crush.
Standing around the kitchen granite gleaming, spic and span, glass shines, so unlike my own, where I consider myself lucky to have floors the color of dirt.
It is not unusual to have some foreign unidentifiable substance stuck to your bare feet…. last time it was a gummy bear.
The patio something out of Pottery Barn, a little living room, sofa- chair-tables lamp, all complete with drapes, hold the warmth in.
Here he was, the golden-haired boy of summer, how many times did I sit in the bleachers hoping he would see me?
Stories began…
His stories were crude, his language base and biased.
Jew whore, bitch, slit..I took a breath, sat and just listened.
…. we  had lit a fire outside,
I had forgotten how cold it gets when the sun goes down in the desert.
Then they both really started talking…
their  mom used to leave them for days at a time. 10 and 8 no food, mom gone… imagine.
Mommy was off for the weekend with different boyfriends.
He remembers sitting in the back of a car with his sister while their parents were in the bar  gett’n their drink on….strangers knock on the window and
After working with children in foster care for a decade, I knew how damaging neglect could be they don’t even care enough to beat.
I watch him, but his voice is drowned out in my mind,
Coldplay Fix you….I will try to fix you…plays instead.
No way social worker girl….this is not your problem..
His story was drugs,  38 years worth, everything you could imagine. The longer he spoke the more broken he became, splintered and scattered.
I was given tours of scars and injuries, DUI’s…
I sat and listened, as rants of political views vastly different from mine began,
I hear some Fox news one liners spouted with ease.
Only when they started on immigrants did I speak.
“I am an immigrant”
She seemed shocked.
The rant became one of foreigners serving in the military,
“I wasn’t a citizen when I was in the Navy, ” I said.
She was agape.
“But you were born here, your parents had a mortgage, how could they do that not being citizens?”
The basic civics lesson ensued….one can be a legal immigrant, tax paying with all the rights and duties except holding office and voting.
It almost stopped the ranting, having a familiar face be the unmentionable, immigrant non-citizen scapegoat for all of the country’s ills.
They ranted on, he gesturing violently punching the air, Michele Obama the intended target.
Calling Barrack, Barry, a child chiming in, age ten looking up for approval.
I watched in two worlds, seeing the boy, hearing the man.
I realized their view comes from a place of fear, distrust, and ignorance.
Not my view, I chose another way.
Yes,  I voted for Obama, I said when asked.
Yes,  I am in Law school.
“You’re not going to work for those ACLU assholes are you, those lying un-American Civil Liberty Union pricks”
It almost turned uncivil when I showed them my ACLU membership card.
My childhood friends, different paths different world views, here they were with a Democrat in the house. Don’t think there is enough bleach in the world to clean that up…suddenly I have the image of them hosing down my chair when I left.
I let them rant, the rants only outpaced by the number of bottles of beer, I lose count.
No thanks I am driving….
He asked  me for a ride to his mother’s house.
I blink and remember we are both 48 years old.
I swallowed my judgment, smiled and nodded.
He wanted to stop and get beer, wanted me to drink  a tall boy in the parking lot, I just laughed, and said I didn’t roll like that.
What else could you do?
I pulled up to the house, he opened the door, and then paused.
He turned and looked me straight in the eye and said,
“I love you, I have always loved you, and always will.”
Then he left.
I cried all the way back to the hotel,  deep sobs, and had to calm down with hot bath and an overpriced mini bar shot of  Grey Goose.
Fix you,  still playing, this time on my ipod….they seemed so splintered, and the pieces are scattered…even social worker girl knows…
There is no way to fix that.


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Filed under Arizona's Immigration Law, Immigrant, Law School, Stories, True Life, Uncategorized, Writing


Twilight is ghost in the graveyard, red-light green-light, hide and seek  mother may I; twilight is magic after dinner time, when the darkness is not yet fallen, and parents sometimes say yes, but  “stay in the yard”. 

Twilight is almost dark, twilight is when childhood fear and play walk together for a little while. 

Laughter chases the scary away, hiding and jumping out, giggles give your hiding place away the always running, hot, fall onto the grass, drinking cool water from the hose,  come in before full dark time. 

Later in the dark,  alone, scary returns and the cool sheet pulled over your head will sometimes keep it away.

Sunlight is alley archeology; the pieces of  glass, crushed metal, empty paint cans, wooden planks and bottles our bounty,  our work for the day, scouring the rocky roads between the houses, behind the gates, behind the backyards were treasures abound.

Everything can be found here, everything is thrown out in the alley.

The alley is an  in-between place.  

Our bounty is large and important finds, each has a place, a usefulness and our mission is to get each treasure home, over the fence, and into the yard before anyone sees. The mission is everything. We can not fail.

 We have to check and see if she is watching.

She won’t let us bring our finds into the yard, she calls it junk and trash, and points, hands on hips, raises her brow, and orders our treasure left behind.

It can’t happen, if she sees all is lost.

 The youngest with her brown curls is usually sent in. Small, adorable and quick she darts to the door and peers inside.

She turns, gives the signal. The coast is clear.

She waves us in, and stands watch.

Mom is no where in sight.

We race to the hedge of giant oleander,  each slim branch is filled with poison flowers of pink and white, they are brushed aside, a dangerous petal curtain, hides what lays inside.

The oleander hedge towered at the back of the yard, the boughs reached high to the sky and then bend back, creating a  crawl space deep inside, invisible to anyone, it is the perfect fort.

We run like scampering insects, back and forth dragging the big wooden plank, the empty cans two at a time, we drag our fort furniture and set it all inside. We set the plank atop the cans and create a bench, we place the other cans around for more seats, we sweep the dry hasn’t seen rain in nine months dirt, sweep it clear of leaves and roly poly bugs, earwigs and twigs.

I tag the others for another mission, supplies from the kitchen.

It will be dangerous. She is in there, almost dinner time, chances are she is watching now.

Bravely they leave the fort, I watch from the bench.

I didn’t see them enter my yard.

The two boys from school.

I stood up and parted the petals.

“What do you want?” I ask, a little voice tells me to be brave, and a strange different feeling not scary is growing.

“Hey what’s in there Gardner?”

The enter the fort, the once big space now shrinks, I lean against the branches, they sit.

I feel better somehow they sitting, they are smaller now.

The tall one speaks, “He lost a bet” He shrugs his head toward the other shorter one.

I look at one then the other, not understanding.

“He lost a bet, and he has to kiss you”.

The noise from my heart flooded my ears, as he stood and made his move.

I was looking  at him,  his face, first while he was sitting, then as he was above me.

The tips of his eye lashes were lighter brown than the rest, and curled so much that when he laughed his  deep brown eyes disappeared into them.

 His breath was warm and he smiled as his face grew closer and closer, I noticed he didn’t show his teeth when he smiled, it was more like a grin…

I stood up then, seemed like the thing to do, a girl should have her first kiss with both feet on the ground.

I looked up and then with his head slightly turned his lips met mine.

Soft and warm, and salty. I opened my eyes and his were closed.

Whoops! Oh!  I guess you close your eyes. I closed mine again.

 Soft warm salty- then minty warm softness, and the rushing of my heart gave way to a feeling much more,  more inside, way way  deep inside.

Then just as thought I liked this, it was over.

He backed away, smiled, and they backed out of the fort,  hopped over the fence and were gone.

The two youngest called from their now abandoned mission to the kitchen,”Mom says come in for supper!”

I leave the fort, fingers on my lips, wondering if yoanyone could see it, if  the warmth was showing, wondering if it will stay forever.

Later at the dinner table I look around, my mother busy with serving the chicken, only she knows who gets what part of the chicken.

I watch as my father reads the paper, and wonder if they see my lips and face red and warm, will they notice anything different?

I sit at the table, fingers still feeling the warmth on my lips, milk is spilled, dinner is served eaten and dishes cleared.

No one sees, no one but me.

Its full on twilight outside, street lights starting to shine, ghost in the grave yard time,

 “Mom can we go outside?”

“stay in the yard please”

I place the kiss and the curl of his lashes inside where now I knew my parents didn’t see; an  inside,  in-between place, and I locked it away for a while and ran out to play.

I knew I can get it out again later. I knew it will be there forever. 

I knew there is time enough for kisses after the twilight fades.

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Filed under Children, Family, Humor, Immigrant, Life, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

The Good Dishes, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and Mom was Always Right

Gilded, hand painted, embossed with a pattern or plain, weightless in the hand, delicate to hold and durable despite their fragile looking nature,  fine bone English china cups were my mothers good dishes.

Hold them up to a light and see through them. Look  straight through the inside down to the bottom,  straight through the inside  hold it close to the light, and the shadow markings are seen. In the light the bottom of the fine bone china glows and it tells all it’s secrets. 

Move away from the light , and the  magic markings fade, the bottom looses its translucent  glowing nature, and the china cup becomes again, just a  smooth dainty vessel. 

My mother had different favorite cups, one for the morning  and one for the afternoon and the morning cup was never ever used for the afternoon coffee and vice versa.  Tea cups with saucers were for tea, and coffee cups were for coffee. Tea cups were wide-brimmed open flower like, and not very tall. Coffee cups were mugs, taller cylindrical shapes with larger handles for fingers to wrap inside and around thumb on top. Tea cup handles were more for show,  on a tea-cup handle one pinches between thumb and the first two fingers, never ever do you wrap your little fingers through a tea-cup handle, at least not after age 5,  it just isn’t done.

She was particular about her china, not just the make, only English Bone China, but the shape and the way the cup felt in her hand was of the utmost importance. “Too heavy” she would say as she held the possible purchase shifting it from hand to hand with a sigh. Too heavy was the most common complaint when it came to cups. There were others especially for coffee cups,  too wide a brim, too bowl like and the contents cooled to quickly. Like  a Scottish Goldy Locks and the porridge, chairs and beds, my mothers cup had to be just right.

The contents of the cup, even more so.

“Bill!  When in the creation of Christ have I ever had coffee this color?” a frequent complaint mother used to chastise my father for not being generous enough with the half and half.  He would dutifully retreat and add more cream, laughing usually, and returned only when it was the predetermined proper Helen Gardner  approved color.

This everyday occurence  we kids called “The Helen and Bill Show”.

The Helen and Bill Show,  like the Road Runner and Wile. E. Coyote really didn’t have a strict antagonist/protagonist roles.

Like the cartoon, all of my parents shows followed the same predictable pattern.

Dad was sent out for product A, and no matter how specific the instructions, no matter how complete the list, no matter how accurate the map of Smitty’s Big Town, or even Fry’s Grocery, Dad always returned without product A. Whether it was the wrong brand, size or heaven forbid he came back empty-handed, Dad like Wile E. Coyote and his Acme products, could never win.

Wile E. had cliffs, and looks of doom as he waved goodbye in mid-air before the drop.

Dad didn’t have cliffs,  just waves of  angry words he would have to wade through, and  he always did,  and the show always ended with a

“Ah come on Ellie,” and then laughter,  a cuddle, an embrace and it was all forgotten, they never kept score. Never held a grudge.

If they had a cell phone in 1975, The Helen and Bill Show would never have aired in my house, I used to wish Dad had one, thinking  that it could have saved my dad a lot of trouble. Now I know it would have been a terrible loss, not witnessing all that loud loving conflict resolution The Helen and Bill Show Style. By resolution I mean of course…my mother was always right.

I have proof.

My first piece of evidence is this.

The day my sister Elaine moved out, (she who gave me my love from all things Tolkien) she unloaded a priceless pearl of wisdom so powerful so profound I am still in her debt.  As my sister packed her bag, I watched from the doorway. She turned to me and said, 

“Mom is always right”

“But Elaine, she isn’t! Just yesterday…”

“Mom is always right” she repeated slowly.

It only took about three more exchanges of similar content for the meaning of her words to finally sink in.

Ah… Mom is always right.

Even when she isn’t. Elaine was trying to save me years of knocking my head against the  solid ever standing stubborn wall that was my mother….. I so wish I would have listened…

My real proof came years later, after my mother died, and it came straight from my father.

Dad was up early the morning after mom died. I awoke to the sound of my childhood, the sound of a tinkling teaspoon spoon stirring round and round  in a coffee cup. Which was strange because five years earlier Dad had a series of strokes, and he lost the taste for coffee.

I rounded the corner, and sure enough, there was Dad, stirring his spoonful of sugar round and round in the Tasters Choice Instant brew.

“Dad what are you doing?  I thought you didn’t like the taste of coffee anymore?” I stuttered.

He took a long pause, and then put down the spoon, lifted the bone china cup and took a quick sip, before he answered,

 “No, your mother didn’t want me drinking it, she didn’t think it was good for me,”

For five years after his stroke, my father faithfully made my mother her coffee, twice a day,  in her cup of choice, stirring adding two sugars and the correct amount of half and half, and never made himself one. Not once.

That’s how I know it for sure, cause Dad didn’t have coffee for five years…Mom was always right.

Dad said so.

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Filed under Children, Erma-ish, Family, Humor, Immigrant, Life, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

The Weight

The pennies were burning a hole in my pocket, I had snagged them from the penny jar in my parents room, hopped on my bike and hit the road. I peddled the two blocks down 42 street to Thomas road, standing up all the way, the candy store my destination. There is nothing like jumping out of a swimming pool on a Phoenix summer afternoon and being completely dry before you were even around the first corner. It s dry heat alright. As a kid on a bike it was heaven.

I was standing outside the door of The Little Giant, where I went when I was jonesing for a double bubble, which had to have the cartoon, always felt like little blocks of cement in the Arizona climate, but worth it as it had the best bubbles,  or maybe an orange Tootsie roll pop,  it was two candies in one, a sucker and a chewy chocolate Tootsie roll center, or would be the  new-found candy love,  a  jolly rancher watermelon hard sucker, not the single little kindly wrapped candy, no, the long tightly wrapped can’t open it its too tight jolly rancher sucker stick. These suckers I had to tear open with my teeth, the cellophane strong, my patience lacking. I have to admit sometimes I just bit it and sucked the darn thing through the plastic packaging.  

I put my bike against the wall and start to open the door, I feel the cool ac rush out as I push against the cold glass door, but I let it go and stop. There is a sign. Its pasted on the glass just at my eye level.

 The sign read, NO shirts, NO shoes,  NO service.

I read the sign like the new reader I was, reading everything.

It was  maybe the summer of third grade I would have been 8, Mrs. Wortman’s class, who sent me a get well card when I came down with the chicken pox, or maybe it was fourth grade, Mrs. Shanklin’s class, where she brushed my short uneven hair and chopped bangs with such tenderness I told her my mother had plenty other children at home and I was sure I could go home with her….really! It wasn’t fifth grade, I was practically an adult in fifth grade, that was Mr. Robertson and his heel savers which tapped out morse code…here I come,  as he came through the breeze way giving us all at least thirty seconds heads up that he was arriving…

I am standing there, reading the sign, reading each requirement as if it is the ten commandments.

I knew about the ten commandments. I learned them and our lords prayer before I stopped going to Sunday school. I didn’t understand why we went and my father didn’t. One Sunday I just said “If it’s so good for us how come you don’t go?” He remained silent.  That’s the last time I went up to the First Presby Sunday school.

The sign reads commandment number one, shirt.

Whoops. No shirt, just wet shorts, and a bathing suit top. Maybe bathing suit tops count, maybe he won’t notice.

Shoes, commandment number two.

I look down, yes, sandles are on, check.

This is Phoenix, one might have no shirt on, but the sidewalks and streets are hot grills just waiting for some unprotected flesh.

Thats not all the sign said, it had something else on it too.

Scratched underneath the NO shirt NO shoes NO service were the words… no spics.

No spics.

I think I know what it means.

I have an idea this is bad.  I don’t know how I know this,  but I know my father would have slapped me for saying the words. He never slapped, but I just knew these words were bad, they were really bad, and they were mean. The words were scary mean  hateful words that made my heart beat out loud, more than the Pit and the Pendulum movie I just saw on TV.

They were not the normal bad words that made adults slowly smile and tell you to stop when you said them, those were adult words. I can’t wait to be an adult and be able to say those words. But these are not those words. These are scary words that are sitting on my chest and I am worried. These words are a weight that grabs and holds the scary close.  It’s like glue and they are stuck on me forever. Worst of all  I think it means somebody doesn’t like my friend Stephanie, that they don’t want her to go inside to buy candy.

I push open the door and head for the candy at a crawl. I look around, see the man behind the counter smile at me. I turn and look at the candy, I don’t know what I want anymore.

The ride back is not at top speed, I am sitting in the seat, and the weight sits on me and won’t go away.  It is a Pandora moment, the box is open and I have seen hate and felt its weight. It was the end of my innocence, and I wondered if those people hated me too, we were not citizens, we have come from somewhere else, far away, and my parents spoke with a different voice than all the other parents. I feared for our different-ness, and rode home face wet without a pool.   

I still have the weight, 40 years later. I don’t live in Arizona anymore, business took our family away.

I watch the news,  see the Arizona law makers making news, wonder how many  American citizens, children of less than whitest color are watching too. Bad enough I think that I read such hate scratched upon a door. I did not hear it on the news. I did not read it in the paper. I did not read it on the internet. And it was not the law of the land, it was merely ignorance and its violent twin hate. I wonder what the consequences of their Pandora’s box will be. 

I am lucky I am an immigrant with green eyes, and light brown hair,  they would consider me safe, I fall into the politically correct color category.

What will be the consequence be of the police lights as they are pulled over, the weight of their burden when their parents are asked for identification, lights shone on their faces in the back seat. Will it be carried forever, will it color their future the way mine did me?

How will they carry this weight I wonder, these children of a less than politically correct color.

It’s a weight no child should ever have to carry, even if it is the law.

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Filed under Arizona's Immigration Law, Children, Immigrant, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

The Aunties

 Sky Harbor International.

We were being forced into picking up some relatives coming on their holiday,  dragged from our  permanent summer positions in the pool playing Marco Polo and dragged into being something called… presentable.  

This usually meant matching summer dresses, white sandles, and combed hair, usually wet as we had waited until threatened with bodily harm before exiting said pool and interrupting very important Marco Polo game.

“But I don’t remember Auntie Jeanie, or Auntie Rita”, followed quickly by,

“Isn’t there another one? Whats her name again?”

“Yes,  Auntie  Mary, you remember she lives in Vegas with Uncle Orin, we went to see them at Easter….”

“What is a holiday?” 

 “A Holiday is it’s a vacation”, mother explains.

“Are these the really old Aunties?”

 “Are we illegal?”  

 “Do they talk funny?”

 “Why do they have to come to our house?”

Her grip on the wheel was going white, time to back up. I had a sixth sense for the swing.

“If a holiday is a vacation, why don’t you just call it a vacation?” 

Whoops that was it,  here it comes.

The Blind Arm Swing.

 The Blind Arm Swing was a talent my mother had developed that enabled her to,  without turning around, blindly swing her  one arm and slap formed hand into the mists of her  five off spring sitting in the back seat  while driving with the other hand and landing a blow on usually the only one who wasn’t paying attention and therefore  a totally innocent party.

It didn’t matter who got hit, anybody would do . The Blind Arm Swing usually led to quiet, which was exactly what she wanted in the first place. Punishing the guilty had nothing to do with the Blind Arm Swing.  But I’d see it coming, and this being  the time before seat belts and car seats, had escaped into the very back of the wagon, into the backwards seats. She missed me completely.

Upon our arrival at the Sky Harbor terminal, we  raced onto the terminal roof,  it was outside and rock covered.  I still do not understand how placing landscaping material atop a roof enables better heat reflection, but there you have it.

We watched the planes land from a distance, watched until we could yell out the planes identity, American! United! TWA!  There was always a smile for those first with identifying the plane.

We watched the stairs being put next to the planes, watched as the doors opened, and watched as those brave souls inside felt the heat of  an 115 degree August afternoon.  We  would giggle as the relatives from Scotland descended the stairs, and crossed the tarmac. Like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia,  the heat waves, warping their  shapes into a tartan mirage until they were  very close. 

 Closer inspection found them wearing  suits, hats, girdles, and hose;   They carried enormous bags, handbags filled with delightful British candy that never made it unmelted into our airspace.  They sported bright red faces,  hankies,  and serious  sturdy shoes by one, strappy wedges by the other.

The Aunties had arrived.

The Aunties were my Nana’s sisters.

Nana came to live with us shortly after my Papa died. Nellie Bell was white-haired blonde about 4’10, blue-eyed, liked a high ball at four pm, smoked like a chimney and introduced me to Harold Robbins novels when I was about 11. Nellie didn’t really cook, liked to dress up in sparkles and go out dancing, but did make shortbread, tea, scones, and hot lemonade in a big kettle on the stove. Nellie came to live with us, and it changed everything.

Nellie told stories, tales of American soldiers during WWII in Glasgow, stories of her younger sisters running off to dances, riding on the back of motor bikes, and staying out all night with the brazen American GI’s.  She told stories of meeting my Papa, dancing the Charleston on the factory floor of Collin Book Binders, seeing him watching her, knowing he was the one for her.

Now,  the sisters were here, I looked at them, knowing the stories, trying to match the tales with these pink  faces, neither of them looked like they would ride on the back of a motorcycle at all.

First came the retrieval of the cases.  Large unyielding monstrous hard sided suit cases weighing more than humanly possible to lift even before they were packed. Each bag had two tiny fixed wheels on one end and a  plastic loop strap on the opposite end,  these only concessions the manufacturer had given to the notion of manageability. Inside were the usual gifts of the Scottish relatives, rock candy, a peppermint stick as long as your arm with a picture all the way through of Edinburgh Castle, Tartan Tea Towels which were actually cloth wall calendars which after the year upon the kitchen wall where then washed and then had a second life as a tea towel, and leather bookmarks, made by uncle or auntie or cousin so and so…and mothers favorite, Black Magic Chocolates which of course we could have none of,  unless of course,  she didn’t like them.  It was years before I actually got to eat a candy that didn’t have my mothers teeth marks  and a bit out of them first. She of course had to taste it to see if she liked it…. 

“Just one bag  each Willie,” the Aunties were the only ones who called my Dad…. Willie.  The talking and cackling had begun in earnest now, the woman lagging behind, Dad ahead wrestling the suitcases, all five of us kids milling around  and holding the hands of either an Auntie or Nellie Bell.  Soon we would be home and then the party begun in earnest.

Unlike other preteens in 1975 America television was band for the most part at our house. Television,  snack foods and soda pop were determined to be, “Crap” by my father. That is unless the Aunties were here, for when there was company, there was booze, and when there was booze, there were mixers…Ginger Ale and Coke a Cola… it was  like Tony the Tiger says,  Great!

The brogue thick,  crackles loud and continuous the house full of members of the British American Club.  There was Bill T. a creepy man who even at age 11 I knew to stay away from, but he wasn’t a Brit, he was just married to one. There was Johnny Bev, a lounge singer who befriended my Nana at a dive, think Tom Jones only tackier, all chest hair, low-cut polyester shirt, and gold chains, and then there was Bob Shaw, my dads best friend, he owned a jewelry store in Glendale. Years later he would be beaten and killed in his store, and my dad went to every parole hearing for his killer until the day he died. But back then Bob was very much alive, and very much the trouble maker. Bob would make up contests, have us all standing on our heads in the hall, to see who could stay on their heads the longest. We never won, he always beat us, I never got a good look,  but I swear the top of that mans head was flat.

The slosh was danced, a line dance from Glasgow, usually only the woman, and usually only when they had too much to drink, booze flowed, dollars handed out to us kids just for refilling said booze. My sister Michele could mix a perfect High Ball before she could write her name…

Later when everyone else was sound asleep, I heard the Aunties all outside swimming with Nellie in our pool. They were cackling, still had drinks and smokes, and stories, I opened the window to listen….

” Wasn’t it you Jeanie who went on the back of that bike with that American?” Nellie laughed….

” Uck aye hen, t’was”

“.. what did mother say when you came home again?”

“She did’nee say anything, she just hid behind the door and when I came in there she was with her shoe in her hand…and she battered me with it all the way up the stair within an inch of me life!”

“But it was worthy every bloody smack I tell ya I’d do it again!” 

Roaring laughter, all round.

Tomorrow it comes full circle.

Tomorrow I  become one of the Aunties going to visit a beloved sister, on my way west, stopping in Sky Harbor, at least for a little while.

Tomorrow I go to visit my sisters. 

I wonder if it is time to tell our stories, of who jumped off the cliffs of the Salt River topless, who snuck out the window, who drove our parents station wagon at 14,  who sang in a band, and where we received our first kiss. I wonder if they the new ones looking at us would every believe such tales possible, such tall tales about four such old Aunties.

It makes me cackle in anticipation, mine mixed with the laughter I remember, and hear still in my heart.

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