Samurai Yenta

Award-Winning Journalist, Author, Poet & Inspirational Writer

Francesca Biller

Francesca Biller
San Francisco, California, United States
February 02
Author, Award-Winning Journalist, Poet, Short Stories, Humor and Art Culture
Award Winning Investigative Journalist, Edward R. Murrow recipient, Author, Essayist, Humorist, Poet ____________________________________ Art & Culture, Politics, Multicultural Issues & Identity, Philosophy of Parenting, Humor & Happiness, Inspiration, Female Empowerment, Food & Family, Japanese, Hapa & Multiracial History, Poetry _____________________________________ Published: The Japanese American National Museum, The Huffington Post, My Jewish Learning, The Chicago Sun Times,, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Be'schol Lashon,, Empowering, Lakeview House International Journal- Poetry, The Jewish News Weekly ofSan Francisco, USA on, Discover, Senses Magazine,, The Syndicated News,, and others _____________________________________ Current & Latest: Speaker at "Mixed-Remixed Festival" for Discussion: "Global v. Universal: Otherness & Writing the Female Writer of Color" held at Japanese American National Museum __________________________________ "Samurai Yenta" a Blog about Japanese & Jewish Culture, food and humor for My Jewish ___________________________________ Books to be published book for Ithaca Press, a compilation of authobiographically-based inspirational-themed essays and stories, and a collection of Poetry _____________________________________ Essays published in a series of Textbooks about multiculturalism called "Multiculturalism in America: Opposing Viewpoints." I am writing a book of poetry, as well as a compilation of short stories and essays ______________________________________ Radio & T.V. includes appearances on syndicated national talk radio programs, including for CBS Radio and others wherein I have discussed politics, parenting, anti-aging/health as well as comedy appearances about pop culture. _____________________________________ Journalism Awards: The Edward R. Murrow Award, 2 Golden Mike awards, 4 Society of Professional Journalists First awards and The Los Angeles Press Club. Awards were granted for Excellence in Reporting for both print and broadcast reporting. ______________________________________ Blogs & Sites : Open I've Got Issues ---  The Elephant Journal The Huffington Post Samurai Yenta ____________________________________ Social Media Website: Twitter @francescabiller  Facebook @francesca biller Facebook Writer/Fan Page - @francescabiller-humorist-writer-author

Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 5, 2012 3:05PM

When the Teenagers mowed lawns

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Freshly cut grass was the smell I most remember from my childhood neighborhood, mowed and manicured by young dimpled boys before and after school, but mostly on weekends in between wide-eyed bike rides and stick ball-playing in the street.


We were considered a Middle Class community not because we had lawns; a few with painted fences and a few without, but because we all knew the care of those small parcels of green-grassed privilege was the revered responsibility of us all.


On any given day you might see Chris, Brent or Phillip wipe sweat from their brows with their youth-calloused hands as they whistled and mowed the lawns of the Anderson family, the Portner's or the Wood bunch, with their sprawling yellow house and seven lapping dogs.


"See you at the Pier after I get done," Chris would yell to Phillip, whom we all called Philly.


Philly would not answer, but only raise up one of his hands as he was a particularly good mower and wanted to earn his two dollars and fifty cents an hour to save up for a new Schwinn bicycle. 


These boys were about thirteen and fourteen at most, still not yet men but no longer young-heeled babes who ran tirelessly after the ice cream truck for the cold comforts of childhood.


Whether or not kids were expected to do their fair share was not an idea that occurred to anyone on the streets where we lived.


We all pitched in, some of us more than others; and as kids, we all knew we were part of something larger than ourselves; and that made us feel safe and strong; spirited and calm, and personally empowered, although we did not even know it at the time.


My father often recalled his first job as a paper boy and then as a gas station attendant. He told us there was no greater feeling than working and getting "that first tip", his first paycheck and buying a soda pop or comic book on his own dime.


My mother worked on her family farm beginning at the age of four and picked ripened coffee beans  under the vast, widening skies of Hawaii during World War II. She worked with her four siblings while they sang made-up songs about school, their friends and the dreams they shared.


Philly eventually bought that bike and couldn't help but ride it in front of my house at least twice a day while he jumped curbs and mussed up his hair on purpose just to make me look.


Brent was saving up to put himself through college as his father told him that "an education had to be earned if it was to be learned at all."


As for Chris, he spent all of his earnings on a 1969 Blue Dodge Dart as soon as he was allowed to drive. When he got that car, all the girls in the neighborhood lined up each morning to get rides to school. Chris was smart.


No one I knew was given a car because they got good grades, because they behaved, or because 'they simply existed as children.' And we were much happier for it.


We all had chores, were expected to have respect without rewards, and our parents ruled the roost. 


This meant that my sisters, brother and I were physically active. When we weren't cutting grass, walking to the corner store to buy a gallon of milk for mom, or taking turns cleaning the bathrooms or sweeping out the shed, we played outside.


We knew it was time for dinner when the sun had nearly set, and that meant setting the table was in tall order as we scurried home sweaty and tired from a couple of hours playing dodge ball, hopscotch, tag and baseball games that we played without cheering by our dads, because all of our dads worked.


All this work and play meant obesity was not a childhood epidemic. 


Neither was ADHD, suicides due to bullying over the Internet, or permanently curved spines because of over-texting and over-sexting.


We didn't have time for all that.


On some evenings we played board games like Scrabble, Monopoly, Chinese Checkers and Parcheezi.


On other nights we might have watched shows like Mary Tyler Moore, The Jeffersons, I Love Lucy, Monty Python's Flying Circus, a PBS documentary or two, and on the weekends, Saturday Night Live.


And we watched most of these shows 'together as a family', strange as that may sound.


There were no debates between children and their parents about buying the latest cell phone that parents could not even afford.


We didn't talk back for "fear of our fathers" and we ate dinner each night at the same time, usually with our Black and White rabbit-eared television airing The Evening News with Walter Cronkite.


We didn't have a lot in the way of material things, but we were beter for it. 


As a kid, I still remember my annual trip to Sears to get my one pair of 'back-to-school' shoes I was told had to last through the Holidays.


My girlfriends also showed off our two new Marcia Brady dresses we were so proud of each fall, along with ribbons that decorated our braided hair we wore well through the second year of middle school.


Boys used to smirk at us with their striped short-sleeved shirts, corduroy pants, sun-kissed hair and shy-flirted glances.


The kids at my school weren't mean and we weren't angry.


There was a feeling of optimism in the air; a kind of solid and steady cadence that followed us because we allowed it to, and because our parents treated us as their children, not as their friends.


My kids are at that magical age now. 


You know . . .  that brief and oh-so fleeting time somewhere between childhood and full-blown adolescence.


Their minds are still clear, their curiosity intact, and there is no inkling of apathy or ungrounded angst.


They say they want to work; that they want to do something meaningful when they get older, and that they believe that "almost anything" is possible.


I believe them, and that's the best thing I can do as their parent.


But what's important is that they know they must believe in themselves if anything worthwhile is going to happen.


On the streets where we live now . . .  there are not so many lawns to mow, safe streets to play in, or open-ended hours to enjoy the sweat-filled days of youth until dusk.


Somehow, the days of youth are shorter because we have allowed them to. Our new techno-fevered and furious pitch that we have decided is a normal and healthy culture has robbed the living daylights right out of our children.


But however long their childhood lasts, it is theirs, not mine, and I know they will find their own way, just like Chris, Brent and Phillip did; my three siblings and I, and my parents and their parents before them who were part of The Greatest Generation.


The greatest gifts I can give my children is the freedom and learned joys of physical and emotional autonomy, peppered with hard-fought work, personal responsibility and the sweat-filled days that only come with being young, bare-faced and naive. 


"Put your phones away, it is time to eat," I said to my daughters one night as the aroma of homemade spaghetti sauce blanketed our senses.


During dinner, sometimes I ask them what they learned in school; if they have any new friends, or if anything particularly interesting had happened they might want to share.


But usually we just sit in each other's company in the quiet and stillness of a family meal, enjoying the fleeting moments that I know they will remember together one day in concerted yearning and sweet melancholy.


As I kissed one daughter on her wind-swept forehead after school yesterday, my heart swelled and my eyes teared as I knew my sleepless parented nights had not been in vain.


"I can't wait until college because I'll be able to choose the classes I want," she said, with her heavy backpack in her arms and shoes naturally untied.


"That will be the best day of my life, and it's only seven years away."


As she continued to go on about college, and all of her innocence-filled life plans, all I could focus on were the words "only seven years away."


Seven years away I thought.


Seven more glorious years to bask in the glow and the magic that is childhood.


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rather exquisite stuff.
love this:
"The greatest gifts I can give my children is the freedom and learned joys of physical and emotional autonomy, peppered with hard-fought work, personal responsibility and the sweat-filled days that only come with being young, bare-faced and naive. "
James M. Emmerling,
This piece was written from a deep, dark and yet comfortable place. My greatest appreciation for your reading it.
Your ability to express yourself is extraordinary!

(But your one sentence paragraphs drive the editor in me catatonic!)

Well, I suppose that is just the kind of effect that I have on people :) Perhaps I have been reading too much John Steinbeck. I am pleased you enjoyed my post. Peace
You really have a refined passion for kids, knowing this rather strange world. I want to understand them, if for no other reason that they tell us what is in the heart of this dark jungle of our hyper wound culture, one that takes you by your immediate moment and kicks one to the curb of truth, for they are lambasted with the illusion of what is real through this membrane of nuanced meaning.
Kids have instincts for what we tell them, yet they react quite differently than we do. How this is worth examining, coming to terms with, may tell us who we are. Pretty cool, I feel. You are close to this path. Felt it strongly in your recent piece on Cutting.
Yeah, love the '7 years', kind of like its 7 days in camp. Must be exciting for you, as I sense that you want to help them see, know -- yet not be hovering ... You're a wonderful mom and writer. R>>>>>>>
There is no greater opportunity and blessing than being a parent, as well as a child.
And as a parent, if you can remember the magic of your own childhood with its wonderments of innocence, raptured youth and optimism . . . and bestow those gifts to your own children, than there lies an even greater treasure for the loving, adventurous relationship that is the parent and child bond.
As I raise my daughters, I am continually amazed by their wisdom, fearlessness, bravery, big-heartedness and love and lust for whatever moment they happen to be in.
I only hope I can continue to be a "good mom" as you so kindly called me, for that is everything.

I appreciate full well your kind words, thoughts and comments about this sentimental
I must agree, you have a captivating, smooth, lively and clever style, Francesca. I enjoyed this read much. R
This piece I know was quote sentimental, but good practice for a book of short stories I am writing about the American experience from the perspective of a young multi-ethnic and interfaith family.
I am pleased that you liked it.
Please note the comments below where there was an editing mistake made towards the end of the piece.
Thank you again and Peace :)
Wondering: what percentage of the world are children.
Thinking: a twelve year old will be 88 in the year 3,000.
Reviewing: Eisenhower's Military Industrial Cautionary Epic
Cyber fist bump: more, please
Random words: endorphin, rem sleep, levitation, radiation,
Salvation Army, joy, beaches, permafrost, optimism
Cyber fist bump redux: more, please
Luck wishing: Pleased to meet you!
I loved this post, as I was pretty "old-fashioned" when I raised my children to have respect and the fact that they had to give back of themselves to society. And I really like your one sentence paragraphs./r
Enjoyed this -- you do make it sound as if no one lives like this today, and many do! My kids have a very similar life today. We did turn our lives upside down to find the right community where our kids could walk to school, play outside all afternoon, earn money by mowing lawns in the neighborhood -- the older ones had their first rattle-trap cars, paid for by their own work....I wasn't going to take away all their future nostalgia by spoiling them : )
On a similar vein to your story, our 24 year old was already talking about his childhood at dinner last week as if it had happened 50 years ago, while Husband and I quietly and simultaneously cracked up and got teary-eyed in the corner.
Life's phases can go so quickly.
Enjoyed this -- you do make it sound as if no one lives like this today, and many do! My kids have a very similar life today. We did turn our lives upside down to find the right community where our kids could walk to school, play outside all afternoon, earn money by mowing lawns in the neighborhood -- the older ones had their first rattle-trap cars, paid for by their own work....I wasn't going to take away all their future nostalgia by spoiling them : )
On a similar vein to your story, our 24 year old was already talking about his childhood at dinner last week as if it had happened 50 years ago, while Husband and I quietly and simultaneously cracked up and got teary-eyed in the corner.
Life's phases can go so quickly.
...and this being OS, those steps are all hopefully working. They usually do...
I feel we grew up in the same neighborhood. I started mowing my neighbors houses at 12. I also shoveled snow every morning before school in winter and made good money doing it. Of course, that meant I had to pay for my own school clothes, but I got to pick out what I wanted. Back then it was bell bottom jeans and weird looking shirts. I bought my trusty army jacket at a thrift store and all us "wanna-be -hippy's" had to have one. "Great memories. Congrats on the EP~~
J.P. Hart
It is my honor to meet you my friend.
We are all here for such a short glimmer of time, here and there
Under moonlit afternoons and sun-kissed evenings
All breathing and waiting, watching and echoing
This earth-scented hand that I grasp my friend with
All along the coastline as we talk about this or that
Or simply hum the sounds of our own stories
We are yet to discover
"That child is mine," I said
And I love the way she kicks her feet about as she reads
"That's cool" my friend says
And we walk an walk until we are home again.
Peace to you J.P.
Christine Geery
Isn't it odd and a bit blue that we refer to the once-common decencies of respect as 'old-fashioned'? I believe that really says it all my friend. There are many parents like you and I who love our children enough to give them the gift of assured responsibilities, simple kindness as a given and the chutzpah to "call them out" when they are going adrift. Thank you for reading, as appreciating my "one-sentence paragraphs." :)
Just Thinking,
There are still some of us out there who lay down our lives so that our children can live happy, decent, home-grounded and community-rich lives with family-centered love and personal responsibility.
I try and raise my daughters in the best way that I know and that I able, which often just means saying "Hey, how are you doing kid?" as I give them a bear hug.
On other days, I may be up until midnight researching a a subject for a book report because I am interested in what one daughter is learning about; while on another day I may be teaching another daughter my grandfather's recipe of Chicken soup from the old country.
I too moved from Los Angeles to a quiet small Norman Rockwell-esque town in Northern California where the kids mow lawns, wash cars and drive around their parent's old VW bugs and rattled minivans as they take their younger siblings to school.
Thank you for reading my piece.
I believe we are kindred spirits . . . and that is not such a bad thing.
Scanner's Blog,
Weren't we so blessed and enriched to have grown up in those days? We were free, we were adventurous and we knew the decisions that we made by ourselves would have consequences either way, which helped us to go forward, and without apathy or disdain.
I knew many boys like you, and I look back on my old school pictures and somehow know they are all doing pretty well-- not necessarily financially or driving sports cars they drive home to mansions-- but doing well as free thinkers, hard workers; decent men with hard-fought work in their veins and still with that boyish and now manly charm they already possessed at 12 and thirteen.
Thank you for reading my friend.
And congrats back to you on your EP.

Good thinking and well said. I like sentimental.
And now, the Democratic response.

I was one of those boys who had to mow the lawn, not only for myself, but for a neighbor who paid a small amount. I suffered through the cutting of every blade of grass, because I was (and am) biologically inferior and cursed, and have allergies.

All that mowing didn't lose the weight I carried through childhood. It didn't make me as healthy as the athletes in school, who had killer bods developed through esoteric exercises with weights and machines, not through work that accomplished anything. They were the ones who were admired, applauded and drooled-after by the attractive girls. Who, by the way, performed their own exercises not attached to actual work.

They had the tape recorders that allowed them to save recorded moments of fun and music from television. They had the era's high-tech toys. With my pennies I saved up and got a tape recorder mechanism, without the electronics that actually saved the audio to tape. I tried to hack together the amplifiers, bias circuits and high-frequency oscillators to make it work. I failed. It would be a decade later before I bought a working tape recorder, and by then the world had moved on.

They had the fancy clothes and looked good in them, and whether or not they had sex (the occasional pregnancies suggested that they had) they certainly had companionship. The few people I knew - none of them girls - had to resort to porn, and the certainty taught by our religions that we should be ashamed of our sexual impulses. Every glance at a printed copy of a naked breast would shove us closer to Hell, and we couldn't stop looking, and that eventually made us feel worse.

The environment in which they prospered, and in which we suffered, eventually ended. The football stars, who got by in classes, found out they couldn't make it in college. I did well in college and in tech careers afterwards. But it didn't matter. Because in high school, they got to know the first blush - and thrust - of love, and I never did.

And so, when I heard about what Harris and Klebold did at Columbine High, I wasn't so much shocked as vindicated. Two other kids who were as much a loser as I was found another way to get back at the handsome kids, and become known for something they did. Their only problem was that they didn't live to enjoy it or to bring the good news to the many others others like them. You know, the broken, miserable kids cutting grass and sniffling from more than just allergies.
The words you expressed are filled with understandable pain, anguish and remorse for a childhood that still haunts your every sense of being.
I am sorry that you suffered so-- no one deserves to feel "less than", and we unfortunately live in a world wherein people are cruel, savaged-mouthed and even malicious.
I was popular, but not in the way that you may think, or in a way that anyone would like to be.
As a good girl, I was somehow ridiculed and made fun of for being easy, just because of the way that I looked. Boys whom I turned down would start rumors about me that spread like the worst of wildfires.
There was nothing I could do; as it seemed merely a second when I was a ballet dancer and then the next a curvy young woman who was tormented simply because of my physical appearance.
I made it through those years, and stayed somehow innocent enough but I still feel the scars- as you do-- from my early and even later adolescents.
Thank you neutron for sharing your personal story with all of us.
I hope that you know there are many people who are not quite as horrible as those you experienced in high school.
Nailed it. I grew up in your world. Play took place outside (after homework) and ended at dark. We did chores (not for an allowance) and were expecting to carry our weight. I didn't get my own car until I was 23 because I spent all my money on college. We washed dishes, took out the garbage, trimmed around the trees with hand clippers, raked leaves with rakes, and enjoyed honest-to-God fires in the fireplace that we started with wadded-up newspaper, kindling, and splits of wood we created by using a sledge to drive a wedge of iron through a 4-foot segment of tree trunk. We listened to radio shows, made our own Christmas decorations and rewired the socket when the lamp crapped out. I don't feel deprived in any way; just the opposite. I feel blessed to have experienced that kind of life and feel sorry for today's kids, who are handicapped at birth by this overprotective, throw-away society we have today.
Del Stone,
Indeed it appears as if we lived the same lives but only in different communities; but what we shared is a priceless commodity that can never be bought but only experienced as we did.
We experienced childhood in a gentle, hard-fought and magical way that paved the way for our solace, well-spirited space and gentle, hard work ethic.
And we are proud of our childhoods, and grateful as well, for even the angst and suffering we may have endured . . . for that is what has made us the people we are. People who are complex, empathetic, calloused-handed and grateful for the time they were allowed to experience such a sweet time and feel present in it.
Thank you for reading and I truly appreciate your story as well.
I look forward to reading your posts as well.
I'm still missing my little kids, even though it's been a decade since they left home. My grown-up kids are nifty -- but they're so big now it's hard to get my arms around them.
Barbara Falconer Newhall,
I still miss my kids too, even though they are still here at home with me. I already long for their younger days and already miss who they are now for my future days . . . that is the true love of we parents feel for our children, "always our children", our breadth, our heart and our breath.
Wistful...and the pattern painted here speaks to memories I have also.
It must be natural to remember "what was" and miss it a bit, and so very human to trust that our kids will find their own ways and have their own memories to fall back upon.

This is a very fine write, and very deserving of an EP. Please do more.
This was very comforting on so many levels. Excellent rendition of what childhood is like when we let our children grow gracefully without worrying about keeping up with the Joneses. :)
J D Smith, It is indeed "natural" as you say to remember what once was, as well as miss the memories so seared and heart-bound.
The adventures of my children now fulfill that space where my own childhood lurked so deep and still, in so many of the moments that made each experience of youth last so long, and yet fleeted with bounty.
Thanks for reading, I shall write more-- look for a piece soon about the teen years and the magic that can continue to cascade from its yearnings.

This is a very fine write, and very deserving of an EP. Please do more.
J D Smith