Category: Family

The Queen of the Silver Dollar, Chapter 1: Day of Diaspora

Day of Diaspora

One day when I was in the fourth grade, I was pulled out of my classroom and hauled off to Juvenile Hall. But initially I was summoned to the principal’s office. There I found my mother and my sister, River, waiting for me.

I wasn’t in any trouble. My mother had just taken River out of high school, and had now arrived to pluck me away from my grade school. In the car, Mom put on the kind of sales pitch one would need to put on, to convince a child not to be frightened.

“Guess, what son?! Today you and your sister get to go to Juvenile Hall! That’s a real fun place, where you get to play all kinds of fun games. They’ll treat you real nice there, and you’ll get to make a lot of new friends.”

“Yeah, Tippy, you’re gonna love Juvenile Hall,” my sister chimed in. She didn’t want me worrying, either. River always looked after me, and was trying to lure me into a positive mood. But I’d heard of Juvenile Hall before, and had always thought it was a place where bad children were sent. I said as much.

“No, good kids can go to Juvenile Hall, too,” my mother corrected. And you’re a good boy. They have a special place there for good boys and girls, where you’ll be treated very nicely.”


By the time we arrived at Juvenile Hall, my mother and sister had me convinced that this place was better than Disneyland. Why, I couldn’t wait to get inside and enjoy all the wonders of Juvenile Hall.

My sister and I sat on a bench, at Juvie, and watched my mother speak with an official-looking person. He was frowning and shaking his head. I overheard him saying something about how these kids didn’t belong here. And then my mother came back and led us away.

I felt disappointed. They’d done such a good job at selling me on Juvenile Hall, that I started complaining after my mother broke the “bad” news to me.

She took us home to a darkened house. My stepfather was no longer there. I was told that he and my mom were getting divorced. That was the best news I’d heard in a long time, as my stepfather was a very abusive man. My heart sang. But my other sisters and my brother weren’t at home, either.

This was the day of diaspora, for my family. My mother had five children, and this was the last day all five of us would live together under the same roof.

Over all the decades that have ensued, I’ve been able to piece together snippets of information that have slipped out, here and there, to decoct a basic idea of what was going on at that time, and unravel this family secret.

It seemed my mother had come up with an “ingenious” idea for making money.

She had opened up a bank account in two different banks, with very small deposits. I’ll call them Bank A and Bank B. Then she wrote a large, rubber check from Bank A, depositing it in Bank B. Before the check could bounce, she wrote another large, rubber check from Bank B, back to Bank A, to cover the first rubber check. In this way, she quickly built up large phantom balances in both banks.

Then she went on a spending spree, and paid for it by writing large, rubber checks. When businesses contacted her banks, they received confirmation that the checks were covered, due to the large rubber checks she’d previously deposited. And so they accepted these bad checks.

This is a crime known as check kiting and paper hanging.

Of course, my mom’s house of cards eventually caved in, and she had to face the music. I know she was required to pay back the money she stole. But I also suspect she had to do a small amount of jail time, though she’s never admitted to this. That’s why she tried to place my sister and me into Juvenile Hall. She needed someone to take care of us during her incarceration.

But Juvenile Hall wouldn’t have us. My sister and I were not criminals, so they could not legally take us in. Why my mother ever got the idea that they would house us, I don’t know. Maybe she wasn’t thinking very clearly during those trying times.

Mom ended up calling her parents and confessing her crime. And my grandparents agreed to take care of River and me, until she got out of jail and had enough money to take us back.

The god of irony and goddess of karma were playing cruel tricks on my mother and grandparents, on this day of diaspora. Family history was repeating itself. That’s because shortly after my mother was born, her parents had also left her with her grandparents.

It seems my mom’s parents didn’t want a child. They were party animals and alcoholics. And children got in the way of all the partying they wanted to do. They had no time for raising children, what with all the booze that waited for them, at the bars.

But then, due to the unavailability of birth control in those days, they had more children, and my mom’s mother needed a babysitter if she was going to keep up with her husband’s barhopping. So at age 10, my mother was retrieved from her grandparents’ care and forced to become a nanny to her younger brothers.

This was a bitter experience for my mother, which she never forgot or forgave. She’d bonded with her grandparents, and now she’d been ripped away from them. She blamed her mother for this, and her relationship with my grandmother would be rocky for the remainder of my grandmother’s life.

Yet now my mother had to eat crow and place my sister and me under the care of my grandmother. The same grandmother who’d placed her under the care of her grandparents. Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and now my mother was doing exactly what had been done to her, when she was a child. This fallen fruit was bitter and rotten to the taste, when she picked it up off the ground.

It was bitter and rotten for me also. My heart felt lonely and empty, like a vacuum had sucked away everything that made life worth living. I was only nine, going on ten, and I missed my mother terribly while under my grandparents’ care. They were actually good people, in their own way, but they weren’t my mother, and every child needs their mother, no matter what sort of crime she may have committed.

But life is change, and everyone must reckon with the forces of great change at some point in their lives. I now had somebody new looking after me, whom I’d only known casually up until this point. My grandmother.

The months that followed began an on-again, off-again relationship with this grandmother that would last for many years. It was a relationship of crossing paths and give and take. Of mutual rescue through the storms of life, and mutual friendship and animosity. Over the years, we would care for each other, and we would battle each other.

And I must admit, she was a tough old bird to care for and battle against. I couldn’t have done it without my wife. In fact, she took on the greater portion of this challenge, by far. This is a series of posts about some of those cares and battles, with a lady whom my wife and I came to refer to, as the Queen of the Silver Dollar.

This is the first installation of my nine-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 2: My Barhopping Grandparents.

Swimming Pool

There are some places we may assume are safe, but no place is absolutely safe. I learned this lesson when I was 16.

I lived with my mother and stepfather in a very large apartment complex. The layout of this complex included about a half dozen, two-story apartment buildings, all surrounding a swimming pool. One might think a swimming pool encircled by all those eyes, ears, and windows, would be a safe place for a dip in the chlorinated water.

Not so.

My mother and stepfather decided to have a pool party. My stepbrother and his wife, and a couple of my stepfather’s friends and their wives, attended this soiree. The festivities began with beer and snacks, inside our tiny apartment’s living room. After the mind-debilitating effects of the poisonous alcohol began working its magic, the revelers debouched from our small habitat and headed for the pool.

It was a cool, overcast day in San Diego, that November afternoon. All the other tenants were snuggled indoors near their wall furnaces. So we had the lukewarm pool to ourselves.

A volleyball net bisected this outdoor natatorium, and one of the tipplers grabbed a volleyball and called for a game. Sure, what the hell, they all shrugged. I joined half of them on the shallow end, while the other half squared off against us on the deep end. I didn’t swim well, so I was glad to be on the side where my feet could touch the concrete.

After a few sets of knocking the ball around, things began to drag. No drunk at a party can stand for that, so somebody livened up the action, and I got one of the shocks of my life. My stepbrother sneaked up behind his dad, grabbed his swimming trunks and yanked them down.

I gasped. My stepfather was a prideful, crosspatch of a man, whose sense of humor did not abide this sort of affront. Especially when he’d been drinking. I expected a harsh backlash that would spell a sudden end to the party. So I got my next shock when he responded with laughter and just pulled his trunks back up, with a grin.

Next thing I knew, everyone was getting pantsed in the water. Except me. I was 16, and very shy about my body. I felt mortified about the prospect of my bare ass being exposed, even if underwater. So I held on tight to my trunks whenever anyone approached, especially from behind. There were a few abortive attempts, but the pranksters soon realized that I meant business, and gave up.

After about a half-hour of this frivolity, the drunks were ready to get out of the pool and go back inside where the beer was. But I opted to remain in the water. I’d been learning to swim, and wanted to practice a few laps.

One of my stepfather’s friends also decided to stay behind.

He was a big, husky man in his early-40s. He trained greyhounds to race at the nearby Agua Caliente racetrack, in Tijuana. And he had lived for awhile in the motel near the border, that my family had managed, until we moved to this apartment complex a few months before. That’s how he had become friends with my stepfather.

He was always friendly to me, but I tried to avoid him. He was a little too friendly, and I’m wary of people like that. And he talked about sex a lot, whenever he was visiting my stepfather. I thought he was a little weird.

But he kept to himself, in the pool, and I was able to swim my laps without much interaction with him. I felt safe there. After all, this was a public place, surrounded by many homes.

I was improving at swimming, and enjoyed getting in a little practice. But finally I tired of this exercise, and headed for the ladder at the deep end. I didn’t notice him swimming up from behind.

Halfway up the ladder, he yanked my swimming trunks down, then threw his arms around my waist. He pulled hard on me, trying to get me off the ladder. I shouted a protest, something like, “Hey, I don’t want to play that game! Let me go!” But this was no game. There was no laughter. He just kept pulling on me.

I felt terrified. I instinctively realized that if I reached down for my swimming trunks, he’d be able to drag me off the ladder and into the deep water. There, I would be helpless for whatever he was planning, which I could only imagine with dread. So instead of reaching for the trunks, I wrapped my arms around the bars of the ladder and held on tight while shouting, “Help!!!”

I cast my gaze desperately about, at all the windows of all those apartment buildings. Surely someone would hear me, peer through their window, and see what was going on. There was no way this creep could get away with this in broad daylight, in such a public place.

But to my dismay, nobody responded to my cries for help. No alarmed faces appeared in windows. It was as if the apartment complex was abandoned. Nobody came to my rescue. I was alone in my struggle against this assailant.

He angrily commanded me to let go, but I held on tight to my one and only savior. The ladder. He was much stronger than me, but when you wrap your arms around the bars of a swimming pool ladder, it probably requires a team of mules and a crowbar to pry you off.

Finally he must have realized I wasn’t going to budge. And that the longer I kept yelling for help, the greater the chance somebody would hear me and catch him in this criminal act. So he released me and swam away.

I instantly pulled my trunks up and scrambled up the ladder. Then I fled, running for the safety of my apartment. Once inside and safe, I headed for my bedroom without saying a word to any of the drunken partiers.

I figured nobody would believe me anyway. Hell, they’d take his side. And I realized he could pass this off as a misunderstanding, arising from an innocent continuation of the pantsing game. I felt no confidence that my mother or stepfather would take me seriously.

I heard him enter the apartment a few minutes later and tell his wife that it was time to go home. I stayed in my bedroom until I was sure they were gone.

He was a smart one. He’d been around my stepfather long enough to realize what an abusive asshole he was. So he must have calculated that I was an easy target. When kids have a bad relationship with their parents, they rarely share their vulnerabilities. An embarrassing thing like an attempted rape is nothing one would want to divulge to a person who has belittled and demeaned them most of their life.

So my stepfather’s friend was safe. I never told on him. This left him free to find new targets and new victims. I regret that, but at the time I felt too afraid to talk about it to anyone. I trusted nobody.

I finally told my sisters about it when I was 53. And they understood, because they had been molested as children also. I was just another member of the club. Though not a full member, like them. Their predators had succeeded, so I was pretty fortunate. They shared some of their experiences, and their stories were much more horrifying than mine. I felt aghast at what some men do to children. And these men were trusted family members.

I doubt our society will ever be rid of the crime of child molesting. I think it’s been going on for thousands of years, and will likely continue for thousands more. But I believe there are things parents can do to reduce the likelihood of it happening to their little loved ones.

I think one of the best ways is to always maintain a strong level of mutual trust. When it’s clear to family members, friends, neighbors, and other acquaintances that the children of a household feel safe to tell their parents anything, I think those children are far less likely to become targets.

And of course another way, is to never assume that a public place is a safe place.

My Psychic Wife

When we met and fell in love, I had no idea how much my wife had been sought after. But not by Don Juans bearing roses in clenched teeth. No, the people who had stalked her, and who had clamored for a few minutes of her time, were the lovelorn, the desperate, and the distraught.

After we’d been together for awhile, Kay revealed to me that at one time she had worked as a psychic. Not only that, but she’d had such a reputation for accuracy, people would flock to her from miles around to pay for a reading.

I wished I could say that I knew that, but I couldn’t. I’d never been psychic.

She charged $20 for individual readings, and $25 for group readings, and this was back in the 1970s, when the minimum wage was around two bucks an hour. So she made some decent money on the side, exploiting her psychic powers for profit.

But Kay says the work was mentally draining. She’d have to spend the day before a reading, in a meditative state. Visions, and other revelations would come to her at this time, but the deep meditation required for this would leave her feeling exhausted.

But did she really have psychic powers? I’m a skeptic and told her so, right from the start. To my surprise, she said she felt relieved. Now I wouldn’t be hounding her to read my fortune, and to tell me all the terrible things that might be in store for me.

Bushwa! I thought. But then again, who knows? Since I believe nobody can read minds, how am I supposed to get into her mind and know that she can, or cannot, read minds?

Another reason she felt relieved is because she claimed she had turned her preternatural powers off. Kay says that you can get in a mental place where your powers become stronger. But you can also let go of your powers and they will become weaker. One day, Kay decided to allow her powers to weaken and fade away. These days, she says it’s very rare for something psychic to occur to her.

She claims she was born with these powers. When she was a small child, she claims to have had the premonition that her brother would die young. But she kept it a secret, because she didn’t want her mother getting upset. Sure enough, when her brother was 33 years old, he was killed by a drunk driver while jogging by the side of a highway.

In fact, the day she decided to stop being psychic was the day her brother died. She knew it was coming, and she didn’t like knowing such things. But there were other reasons. She had also grown tired of hearing people’s problems, and feeling their pain, and being liked only for her psychic powers, rather than people getting to know her as a person. Especially because it wasn’t just strangers who treated her this way, but also coworkers, friends, and even family. Plus, the Bible says it’s a sin to be psychic, and Kay is superstitious about the Bible.

And then there were those times when she’d read someone’s fortune, and dread telling it. For instance, how do you tell someone who has cancer that they aren’t going make it? Kay hated being the bearer of bad news.

When she was 24, she worked at a nursing home. She kept sensing something about the charge nurse who worked at the home. One day she had all the nerve to walk up to her and tell her that she knew something about her past. That she’d had a baby girl who had died. The nurse felt shocked. It was true, she confessed, and it was something she had not told anyone about, because she didn’t like talking about it.

Kay also told this nurse something else that had been weighing on her mind for several days. She informed the nurse that soon there was going to be a mass killing or mass suicide somewhere in the world, and that a lot of people were going to die. About a week later, the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana occurred.

After this the nurse was so impressed, she started hounding Kay for readings. This left her feeling irritated. Then another nurse began hounding her for a reading. But she refused. She was tired of being pressured to provide psychic services.

But one day she changed her mind. She suddenly got the urge to do a reading for the nurse. So she went to her house and sat in front of her. But then her mind drew a blank. Nothing came. It was an awkward moment, and Kay felt embarrassed.

Then the lady’s daughter walked in, whom Kay had never met before. Kay looked at her, then looked back at her coworker, and warned her, “Don’t let your daughter get into any red sports cars this summer.”

The mother freaked out. It so happened her daughter had a friend who drove a red sports car. She absolutely forbade her daughter from riding in it. And that summer, the daughter’s friend got into a terrible wreck that destroyed the passenger side of the car. Kay’s advice had possibly saved the girl’s life.

When Kay gave an individual reading, only about one or two things about a client would come to her. But her clients would press for more. She could have embellished, like many so-called psychics do, but she chose not to take advantage of her clients.

There were only three main areas of interest for her clients: They wanted to know about their future love life. Or, they were going through a difficult time, and wanted to know how things would turn out. Or, they were distraught over the loss of a loved one, and wanted to hear some news from the departed soul.

In group readings, Kay would ask for a piece of jewelry from every member of the group. She would hold it, rub it, and do readings from what she picked up off the jewelry. Kay could also feel their physical pain, such as back pain, or any other pain they were currently experiencing in their body.

The information she got only applied to the owner of the jewelry, so it wasn’t the way fake psychics work, where they say something aloud that’s vague, and almost guaranteed to apply to at least one person in the group.

One day Kay was shopping, appropriately enough, in K-Mart. An employee walked up and told her that he’d heard of her, and that he didn’t believe she was psychic. He challenged her to prove it to him. Kay had never met him before, and knew nothing about this guy. But she said, “Okay. You can’t wait to get off of work. You have a brother who’s in the military, who is visiting, and he’s at your home right now.” The guy turned pale. He looked like he’d been stricken. He admitted, “You’re right,” and turned around and walked away.

Sometimes a skeptic would accompany a client to a reading, and would scoff and jeer in the background. Kay always found this funny, because she always shocked these skeptics with her accuracy.

I’m a skeptic, myself. And even as I write this, I too am scoffing and jeering. Yet with a wary mind.

I worry that if what Kay has told me is true, she may secretly harbor psychic powers, even now. That’s a little unnerving. How the hell can I get away with anything?

And so, as I go about my day, I try to think random thoughts to throw her off. I’ve gotten very good at this, and can sometimes get away with being sneaky. Now, what the hell was I doing? Oh yes, I’m writing a post. I’ll admit that I get distracted easily, using this strategy, but it’s worth it.

Kay will never be able to read my mind.

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