Friday, July 23, 2010

Implanted Memories

I put off a new blog post following my attendance at Readercon because I was waiting for a review of my co-edited anthology Is Anybody Out There? (with Nick Gevers, from Daw Books) to be posted on  But, alas, the review was delayed for various reasons according to the reviewer, and by the time it was posted, I had a flight booked on Southwest Airlines for Southern California. My mother, now 87 years old, had her left knee replaced 18 years ago and it decided to dislocate on the Friday morning that I arrived in Boston for Readercon. She's now in a hospital rehab and we learn this morning whether or not the knee will need to be replaced yet again. [Update: it won't, at least for now.] So I arrived in SoCal to keep her company and to see what assistance I could provide (like contacting her friends, checking her mail, paying bills, banking, watering plants, etc.).

And here I sit in a Starbucks, with a two-buck cup of coffee, taking advantage of the free wifi.

I realize that this blog has always been dedicated to the art of editing, and publishing, and authors and their books, but please indulge me for now.

I've been staying in my mother's house these past few days, a house that we purchased in Anaheim when I was 15 years old. It's a long walk -- but as a kid you don't mind -- from Disneyland where I used to hang out on Saturday nights when there was always a band, lots of dancing -- and girls. As I unpacked my suitcase to hang my shirts up in the closet, I noticed on a shelf all the family photograph albums. A couple evenings later I decided to look through one of those albums and found the photograph included here. [Note: I just realized I have no way to scan and upload this pic at this time, so even though I'm writing this blog now -- it's just after 8:00 a.m. Friday morning -- I won't be able to post it until after I arrive home; if not Saturday evening, then Sunday. Sigh....]

Yes, 'tis I in this photograph. I'm guessing I'm around 3 years old. Unfortunately the photo isn't dated; in fact, none of the photos I found are dated, which is truly sad. The photo was taken at the first house my parents owned, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in an area of the city called "Tenth Ward." Sounds ominous, doesn't it. A bricked alleyway can be seen on the other side of the fence on which I cling. And the building that you see on the other side of the alleyway is a bakery. My mother has told me this story so many times that it is now one of my memories, as if I remember the dialogue and events myself, in my own mind. I'm sure all of you have such "implanted memories" from your parents, or grandparents, possibly even friends.

The story goes that my grandfather came by the house one afternoon (more in a bit about my grandparents), and when I saw him I started swearing -- most famously, repeating the words "son of a bitch." My grandfather became outraged and accused my mother (his daughter) and father (it was a weekday, and my father was at work) of teaching me such words. She insisted that neither she nor Al (my father, obviously) spoke these words in front of the children (I had a sister who was 5 years older). Her worst transgression was saying the word "hell" on occasion. Well, my mother's insistence barely appeased my grandfather. As the story goes, a few days later, my mother and grandfather were with me in the backyard, when to their surprise they heard -- emanating from one of the open bakery windows -- a voice shouting: "You son of a bitch, if you don't do it this way I'm gonna...." And of course, you guessed it, as soon as they heard that shout, I started repeating the words "son of a bitch, son of a bitch" over and over again.

So my grandfather walked over to the bakery, asked to speak to the workers. He told them to shout some obscenities by the open window, and then watch the reaction from the little boy across the alley!

At least everyone learned the true source of the naughty words!

If you were to exit that gate in the photograph, turn left and then walk down the alleyway about 30 feet or so, you would come to another gate; upon entering that gate you would be in my grandparents backyard. Though the two houses actually resided on different streets, the backyards abutted one another.  I would walk home from kindergarten each day -- I think it was around 11:30 a.m. -- and when I arrived home I would learn what my mother had prepared for me for lunch that day. If it wasn't something I really wanted to eat, I would walk out the back door in the kitchen, go through the gate, down the alley, enter my grandparents backyard, down the walkway to the kitchen door, and enter my grandparents house. At which time I would get a wonderful greeting of hugs and such, and then my grandmother would make me pretty much anything I wanted for lunch! Those were the days of a 5-year-old....

My grandmother lived to just past the age of 100.  I contacted the White House a couple months before her birthday to ensure she received a birthday greeting from President Bill Clinton.  I don't know if this "service" is still available now, for when a US citizen turns 100, but it was then.

A couple decades passed when I didn't see my grandmother at all. She lived in Pennsylvania and my family had moved to California when I was 12.  And I was a "ramblin' man" (to quote from the Allman Brothers Band, whom I played religiously on my 4-channel, 8-track stereo system in my Dodge Tradesman 100 van, which was a Levi blue color!) from my college years through my late 20s. Through the years that followed, I would write her on occasion, but probably not as often as I should have. But by the time my grandmother turned 99, I knew that she wasn't well: a bad heart valve that could go at any time. And though a family reunion was planned in Pennsylvania for her 100th birthday in 1998, I was worried she wouldn't make it and I would miss seeing her at all. So my wife and daughter and I traveled to PA in April, about 3 months before her birthday, for that visit. I wanted to ensure that my daughter could see her great-grandmother one last time.

My grandmother came to the United States from Austria-Hungary, alone, when she was 13 years old, and lived with an aunt in Chicago. I won't get into her life story, but I did want to say that when she was older, she became a US citizen and, not recalling her exact date of birth, selected July 4 for her birthday because she was now an American. She did have a wonderful 100th birthday party and family reunion on July 4th, 1998 -- and then passed away in August.

I miss her....


  1. I'm guessing you were two in that picture. And blond! Sounds like your grandmother was hanging on for her 100th birthday party, the way so many elderly or sick people do wait for some anticipated special occasion, and then die content.

  2. Hi, Judy -

    And you should see an earlier photo -- blond ringlets!

    Evidently I was quite articulate with my swearing, thus the thinking that I was 3 years old. But I'll accept 2, or some age in between. I wish I knew how high that fence was, then I'd be able to determine how tall I was at the time.

    Pretty cool shoes I was wearing at the time, too! Probably Buster Brown.

    - marty