Elder Stories

 ANITA

“I moved here in the early ‘60s from Louisiana, about 25 miles outside New Orleans. I stayed away from the protests and what not when I was younger. My friend did a lot of picketing and she got sprayed with hoses and they would stick the dogs on them. And I’m afraid of dogs. But even so, if you’ve been around prejudice long enough, [people who are prejudiced] don’t have to say nothin’. You could just pick it up. Back home, some folks said you could just smell it, but I don’t know about all that.

“I always taught my kids to never dislike anyone because of their color because the Lord made all of us. And that’s why when I lost my son, there was more Chinese, Caucasian, Filipino and other nationalities than black. He didn’t realize there was a difference; that he made an impact on that many people. When we went to the church for the funeral, the folks at the church said we should have rented a bigger one. There were people standing around the walls and there were lines of people outside.

“He was for real. You can’t find too many people that are for real. If he liked you, he liked you. He didn’t care if you were polka-dotted. That was my son.”  

 MILA

“In Russia, I was a speech therapist. I graduated from my first university as a Linguistics major, and then, some kind of force, maybe fate, moved me to become a speech therapist. I worked with adults after strokes and traumas, and with children who had difficulty speaking. I was the head of the Psychological Medical Linguistic Consultation.

“But I didn’t want to live in Russia. The system was bad. There was nothing about my country that I liked. I moved here alone and didn’t know a single word. My occupation was based on language, and so without English, I couldn’t do anything. It was risky. But my brother—his name was Anatoli—he lived here, and I was very close to him.

“He was exquisite. An unusual, very, very kind man. Very smart, much smarter than I am. We took care of each other. He visited me in Russia and brought all these suitcases that were full of lots of things—but nothing for him. He said he didn’t need anything. Such a kind man. He passed away last October. I miss him.”

JACK

“I was a tourist in San Francisco in the early ‘70s and fell in love with the city. I wanted to start fresh. I came out here in August of ’86 and then for three months, I spent my money partying and going to bars—and I lost everything. I was on the streets the day after Halloween.

“I was sitting at Civic Center feeling sorry for myself—oh, woe is me kind of stuff—and there was an angel, I guess, who told me about a men’s shelter. They took me in.

“It was the first time I had no money. The Salvation Army gave me a job as a bell ringer. I think they paid $3.30, minimum wage at the time, and I was grateful to get it. We had a counselor [at the shelter], a psychologist who told me I was an alcoholic. And I knew it. I went into a 28-day treatment program at SF General. Ever since then I never turned back. I’ll be celebrating 30 years of sobriety on December 30.

“People ask me where I’m from. After all this, I like to say that I was born in Chicago, raised hell in New York, and I’m mellowing out in San Francisco. It always gets a smile.”

 

 PRISCILLA & PATRICIO

“I won’t forget the first time we met. We met in the Philippines. I was 18 and he was 24. We were playing baseball, and he hit the ball. And it hit me. I didn’t like him.

“My mom liked him because he was a Boy Scout, a Scout Master. I was still young and I wasn’t ready to meet a boy. I was a tomboy after all. She’s the one who picked him out. My brother passed away and he was a Boy Scout, so my mom liked him. We’ve been married now for 57 years, and have 24 grandkids.

“But it hasn’t always been easy. Saying you love each other isn’t enough—marriage isn’t that easy. There are so many trials when you get married. Especially if you don’t have money. The thing I can tell you is, if you love each other, love from your heart, not from your mouth. Everyone can say I love you. But if you truly love me, how can you show me you love me?”

 GRACE

“Back home, I used to play with this fellow. Adel, like Ed. He used to call me his girlfriend. One summer, I told him we should make a swimming pool, so we started digging in his uncle’s garden. It was so dry! He kept telling me that we were digging in sand, and if we filled it with water, it would be muddy. And I said, I know, it’ll be muddy, but we can put cement there and work it out. Oh man I had crazy ideas. He said ‘You’re right.’ Everything I said he always said, ‘You’re right.’”

“His uncle came home and saw that big pit there, and had a bad feeling about it. So he covered it up. I went back with Adel the next day to finish our pool, and ahhhh! Adel said that his uncle didn’t want us to do it. He thought we were going to have someone die there.

“Adel ended up being a doctor. I wanted to be a nurse. Yeah, we’ll work together, he said. When he went to America, I cried. He was a good friend. I never saw him again. I miss him.”

 UNA

Funny, how I’ve stopped loving you / I can pass you in the street / and my heart don’t skip a beat.”

“I used to have a lot of fun going to the beach [in Jamaica]. It was warm, always warm. We could walk any time of the day up and down the beach. We drank rum and beer, eat curried goat and rice—everything spicy, everything hot. They had parties on Sunday evenings from 3 in the afternoon to 3 or 4 in the morning right there on the beach. We would feel so good and go into the club and go dancing until the morning. Girl, we had so much fun. Those were the days.”

    

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(Special thanks to Lena Park for elder stories as part of her 'This Never Gets Old' series.)