Category Archives: Story Motif

Family History: Durian and Watermelon

baskets of durianMy son and I are walking through Chinatown in Los Angeles when I spot baskets of a fruit I’ve never seen. I ask the vendor what it’s called. He answers in something that sounds like Chinese, but might have been Malay. He beckons for me to follow him. In the back of the store, next to the dried fish, he whacks the fruit open and offers me one of the large teardrop pods. It’s sweet, custardlike in texture, maybe slightly slimy but not unpleasant. I nod. He seems pleased. He puts the rest of the pods in a sealed plastic bag. Money exchanges and everyone seems happy.

What I don’t realize, standing next to the dried fish, is that particular spiky fruit is mostly known for its strong smell.

Richard Sterling, quoted in The Travelling Curmudgeon, says:

“… its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia.”

Still ignorant of that fact, my son and I stop at a Marie Calendar’s Restaurant to have lunch. I open the baggie, thinking the fruit might compliment our salad and realize the problem. I quickly close the bag, but not before the people in the next booth complain that there’s a gas leak in the restaurant. Two tables over, someone else makes the same observation. I try to explain to my waitress that it’s not a gas leak, it’s an exotic fruit, but she’s not buying that any fruit could smell like that. “It’s really strong,” she tells me. “The manager is calling the gas company right now.” I get up and go to the front desk where the manager is on the phone and hand him the baggie. He’s puzzled. I open the baggie. He puts down the phone while I explain. I thought I would be asked to leave. Instead, he merely asked me to remove the offending fruit from the premises–immediately.

Durian PrepAs soon as I got come, I called a friend who had lived in Indonesia. She knew exactly what I was describing–“a Durian,” she said giving me a name for the fruit. “You’re the only round-eye I know who has actually eaten it,” she added. “The smell is enough to make most people puke.”

That was fifteen years ago. Last summer, in Toronto, I noted both slant-eyes and round-eyes buying the fruit at the stand in that city’s Chinatown. I asked the guy ahead of me in the checkout aisle what he planned to do with his. He told me it was wonderful with sticky rice and coconut milk, like that was no big deal.

When my grandfather came to America in the 1930s, he’d never seen a watermelon. One hot summer day, he was at the market and noticed that everyone was buying watermelon, so he bought one. He brought it home and set it in the middle of the kitchen table. Then he and my grandmother discussed what to do with it. Cook it? Cut it? Peel it? Fortunately a friend showed up, who cut it open for them and showed them how to eat it. My grandfather always liked watermelon on a hot summer day, and I always cringed when he told that story. How could anyone be that dumb, I wondered.

My son and I still like to tell the story of how we nearly closed a Marie Calendar’s with an exotic fruit, but I’m beginning to wonder if the joke’s on us–a couple of unsophisticated bumpkins in a world that’s gone global.

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Filed under Family Stories, Funny story, Story Motif, Travel Story

Ghost Stories: Every Family Has Them

Picture of ghosts paying ping pong

My mother collects things that once belonged to members of the family, pictures, keepsakes, her mother’s china, her mother’s mother’s china . . .. That includes ghosts.

Every family has them. If you’ve haven’t heard the stories, then you haven’t asked.
A common motif is the clock that stopped, the pet that died, or the mirror that cracked at the precise moment when someone passed between the worlds. A stranger crashed his car into my neighbor’s front porch the same moment her mother died. Coincidence? She believes it was her mother getting her final revenge.

One time, Anna, an elderly friend of the family, was staying with us. She wasn’t feeling well, so my mother changed bedrooms with her, putting her closer to the bathroom. Next morning, my mother told me Anna “wouldn’t make it through the week.” The “ancestors” had come for her that night, but, because she wasn’t in the usual bedroom, they hadn’t found her.

As far as I know, this was not something my mother shared with Anna. My mother doesn’t seem to think you need to “prepare to die.” When “they” come, you go. Simple as that. It was just something she mentioned to me as I was leaving for school, and I immediately shrugged it off. Teenagers have trouble with anything weird.
At the same time, I wasn’t surprised. My mother has had a number of such experiences, and, when she tells you about them, it’s almost always in an off-hand manner as if it’s no big deal. Keep in mind that my mother has no use for deep breathing, tarot cards, scented oils, or any of the other trappings of new age mysticism. She just happens to know when some people are going to die and occasionally talks to a dead relative.

Once, shortly after he died, my father appeared, leaning against her bedroom dresser, where, when living, he used to stir her jewelry box to annoy her.

Anna passed peacefully in her sleep two nights later.
Have a ghost story that you’d liked to share? Post it in the comments.
The friendly ghosts playing ping pong was done in Brazil and can be found on YouTube. I don’t know how else to credit it, but think it should be seen. Very clever.

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Filed under Family Stories, Ghost Stories, Story Motif

Airbrush that Minivan, Please

OK, since the last photo got lots of comment, I can’t resist adding this one. Again, it’s my son and his daughter in a museum. Right after the photo was taken, they were told “you can’t do that” by a guard. Ethan, my son, puzzled a moment and asked why not. “This is a museum, not a playground,” was the answer.

“In our family we ________(fill in the blank).

We can fill in the blank, because we’ve all been told that in our family we do certain things in certain ways. I’m assuming the guard’s family only has fun in appropriate places like playgrounds. The danger is that once we’ve decided what it is that we do, as a family or an individual, we resist other choices.

I have a good friend who never-ever thought of herself as the tan-minivan-type. When she had three kids under the age of seven and the only car she could afford was a used tan-minivan, she seriously thought about not leaving her house for the next five years. Her solution?

She scraped together enough cash to have flames airbrushed on the sides of the minivan and then drove it until it had to be towed to the junkyard because, by that time, she had become known as the cool mom with the flaming van.

Story has a powerful hold on us. We expect our lives to turn out like the stories we’ve heard. If those stories don’t include clowning in museum or driving a dull car, we won’t.

How do you______ (fill in the blank)? Is the result freeing or restrictive?

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Filed under Family Stories, Funny story, Story Motif, Story pegs, Why Stories?

Finding Wisdom

I have a frieChinese word wisdomnd who got a PhD based on a thesis about wisdom. Where do you find it? Can it be taught? She traveled worldwide, Lapland, Kenya, Japan, deep south of US, etc. asking who was considered wise in varying cultures and then interviewing those people. She was looking for a commonality. What made people wise? What made others call someone wise?

No surprise, none of the people she interviewed considered himself/herself wise, not even Wangari Maathai, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize that same week. Most were surprised that they’d been nominated for her study. None were too busy to talk. All gave full attention to the questions being asked. The commonality? Without exception, they had all lived through difficult times, suffered enormous personal losses, and somehow risen above their own suffering to assume a life-affirming role in the lives of others.

For example, Wangari Maathai’s husband sued her for divorce in 1979 saying she was too strong-willed for a woman and he couldn’t control her. When she protested, saying it was a ruse to get her to quit her leadership of the Green Belt Movement, the judge sent her to jail for six months and told never to use her husband’s name again. It was assumed that without her husband’s income, she would be unable to continue her efforts against corrupt land practices in Kenya. In one of the hardest decisions of her life, when she was released from prison, she left her children in her husband’s care, and continued her efforts.

Chinese word wisdomWhat wisdom did my friend find? The interviews ended without great nuggets of knowledge. Her candidates had no answers, claimed no special powers, most advocated no particular religion or lifestyle. Many, like Maathai, had causes, but felt no need to force their agenda on anyone. Most felt that right would prevail without resorting to hate or arms. Although they were not naive about the difficulty they had faced or would continue to face. Above all, they told stories. Lots and lots of wonderfully moving stories about themselves and others. Hard questions, it seems, don’t have answers. They have stories.

Oh, and they all laughed easily and often.

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Filed under Definition, Life Story, Old Storytelling Traditions, stories, Story Motif

My Dictionary Definition!

Keep Boulder Weird LogoOk, I’ve spent way too much time trying to tell my story. I should have looked myself up in the Urban Dictionary!!!

1. Boulderite

A general class of people similar to the Hippie, who live on a diet of fruits, nuts, granola and other organic foods. Often liberal in thinking and very much into outdoor activities. They can be distinguished by their economical yet functional vehicles and their equally functional attire. Name is derived from the “all natural” town of Boulder, CO. (CLOSE ENOUGH TO BE SCARY)

You see that girl in the riding shorts and hiking boots with sunglasses on her head snacking on trail mix? That is one fine Boulderite.

2. Boulderite

One who:
1. Trains for a marathon before work.
2. Spends more than 10 hours a week in spandex. (I Wish!)
3. Eats out at fine establishments, wearing a fleece vest and expensive outdoor shoes. (ME!)
4. Carries plastic bags for picking up dog poop. (YES, ME)
5. Drinks 2oz. of espresso for breakfast, 2 oz. wheatgrass for lunch, and 24 oz. Microbrew with dinner.
6. Drives a Subaru Outback with some clever form of an anti-Bush bumper sticker. (Mostly Me!)
7. Buys groceries on a commuter bike, or cross country skis.(KINDA ME)
8. Owns Bikerack and Bike that costs more than the price of Subaru. (SORTA ME)
9. Lives within walking distance of a yoga studio. (ME!)
10. Wonders how CO can still be a Red State?! (ME!)

Spandex on by 6am, Cycling through Martin Acres, mildly hung- over, and completely stoned the Boulderite rode to Whole Foods for a Powerbar and a Matte Latte with soy.

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Filed under Definition, Funny story, History, Story Motif, Why Stories?

Stella Goes Out for Coffee

Larger than life is a term applied to heroes. They leave an impression. Stella, our three-legged Great Dane, does that. She can go out for coffee and come home immortalized as a cartoon by Boulder’s Shoney Sien.

Stella’s big, but gentle. She has a brown eye and a blue eye–not common in Great Danes. She likes to be petted but still manages to give the impression that she’s aloof, not needy.

Treats?–her highness needs a tester. The owner of a highbrow dog boutique offered Stella the house specialty–a liver brownie. She took it politely; then set it on the floor. It was only after another dog tried it that she decide to give the goodie another chance.

Every culture has made-up stories of clever animals. It is said that we project human characteristics onto the animals when we tell those stories. I’m more inclined to think animals draw out our better qualities.


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Filed under Animal Stories, Funny story, Legend, Story Motif, The Little Folk, Uncategorized