We’re pleased to present this month’s story by Charlie Chin.
Contrary to what most people think, Terri and The Rose are not Lesbians. Sure, The Kokuho Rose is very athletic and works in a pet grooming place. So what? Terri wears spikey haircuts and often uses the Men’s Restroom, but that’s just to freak guys out. Hey, a blow for feminism, right? The fact that they hug and kiss on the lips is just a European thing that The Rose picked up in France when she studied there.
Terri does dance. Not just the leotard on a black stage with bandaged toes thing, but she actually had training in ballet. And The Rose paints pictures. I’m no expert on art, but they look pretty good to me. She had a few showings in North Beach but generally she didn’t show her work to just anybody.
Victorian houses by Alamo Square, SF.
I met them at the Tofu Festival when it used to be held in J-town. They were in a booth with a banner that read “Society for the Promotion of Canine Behavior in Humans.” Their flyers claimed it would be a better world if human acted more like dogs, I assume they meant loyal, faithful, no judgements, and not pooping in the street.
Anyway, to draw attention to their booth, The Rose played the guitar and sang while Terri banged on a tambourine. They sang a song that caught my interest. The refrain was, “Let’s not eat our animal friends, let’s not eat their fronts, hey let’s not eat their ends.” It appealed to me in a perverse way. I had my guitar with me so I asked if I could join them. The Rose looked hesitant but Terri smiled and said,
“Cool.” We ended jamming for the rest of the afternoon. When the sun went down, we swapped numbers and promised to stay in touch.
Over the next year, we did. I hung out with them at a lot of things like the Mushroom Festival, the Save the Geoducks Event, and the Vegetarian Fair in Berkeley. I got to know them better. Some folks whispered to me that Terri and the Rose were both Gay, others that they were Bi, but I didn’t care, playing music with them was fun. The Kokuho Rose was a fourth generation Japanese American with a nice vocal range. She loved dogs but she had bad luck with them. All the pouches she ever owned either died or ran away. I suspect it might have been the strict Vegetarian diet she forced them to eat.
Terri Burger was from New York City. With light brown hair and Asian eyes, she had the famous Hapa good looks. She grew up half Cantonese and half Jewish in the Big Apple. All of us enjoyed just being together. I had to be careful though, I noticed that if I spent too much attention on Terri, The Rose used to glare at me as if I was stepping over the line. Girl partners can get protective and jealous I guess.
Photo by Efren Moradi, courtesy of Unsplash.
We ended up doing so many Festivals and fundraisers, people started calling us the “Three volunteers.” We did the shows, not for the money, because there wasn’t any, but mostly for the post-gig parties. The Rose didn’t drink but she loved good weed, and Terri drank like an off-duty cop. If there was dancing, I used to make sure I danced an equal amount of times with either one of them, or it was just better if we did the Hippy “free form” thing and all three of us danced together. No need to start trouble.
The Rose called me last February and asked a simple question.
“You got time to help me clean out my grandma’s place?”
“How about this coming weekend?”
“Sure, what’s the address?” It was a small one story, two bedroom house in the city. I rang the bell and The Rose opened the door. We embraced and I got a whiff of her perfume. She smelled like cinnamon and roses. We walked down the hall and The Rose filled me in. A grandmother she hardly knew, had died. Granny was a recluse and she had filled her home with bizarre odds and ends. She had two pedal organs in the living room, a collection of Civil War drum sticks, children’s toys, little girl playthings, just a bunch of spooky stuff. The old lady had stopped talking to the rest of the family decades ago. But she always liked The Rose.
Nobody noticed when the mail started to pile up by the door but when her front lawn became unruly, the neighbors complained and a social worker came by to do a wellness check on the old gal. The front door wasn’t locked and when nobody answered her shouts or the door bell, the social worker became concerned and called the police. They found what was left of granny in the living room. There wasn’t much of a will, just a piece of notarized paper that said the house went to the Rose. Once the coroner’s office had cleared away the corpse, a mob of cousins and aunts from Walnut Creek and Concord showed up.
The family took some floor lamps and a set of Blue Willow plates from the old ladies home, they didn’t want anything else. They told The Rose if there was anything left that she wanted, it was hers.
I walked around and notice that some of the floor boards were had been pulled up, a few of the walls had holes where sledge hammers were used to break the sheet rock, and everything in the kitchen shelfs had been taken down and emptied on the floor, four, salt, spices, everything. I looked at The Rose for an explanation and she commented,
“My cousins were convinced granny had hidden money somewhere in the house. Grandpa was a farmer down in San Jose. It used to be mostly farms down there before World War Two. His Issei father started it, and then my Nisei grand dad took over. When he retired, he put the land on the market just as the tech boom started. People didn’t want farms any more, they wanted land to build office buildings on. He got more money for the farm than he ever made growing Bell peppers and apricots. Grandpa invested in the market and just sat around the house. After a lifetime of hard work, maybe that’s what killed him. Anyway, as time when by, granny got tired of family members asking where grandpa’s portfolio of stocks was, so she cashed them in and she didn’t tell them where she put the money. They figured sooner or later, once she was put in a home, they would search the place. But as you know, she passed away alone. The coroner thinks it might have been a stroke.
My cousins have been through here looking but they didn’t find anything. They gave up, so I’m planning to spruce it up, and then Terri and I can live here.”
It took a couple of days to deal with the dust and cobwebs, the forgotten magazines and newspapers that were all over the place. We used brooms, vacuum cleaners, soap and rags, window cleaner and disinfectant to make it livable again.
After we cleared the place, The Rose dug into a cardboard box filled with old dolls and their clothes, she said,
“I guess granny was going through her second childhood. There are trunks full of dolls and teddy bears. Why don’t you take a couple, there’s dozens.” I waved off the offer and we made a promise to meet for coffee in North Beach.
When I came back from a gig in Sacramento three weeks later, I bounced into Terri in Chinatown. Amid the fist-bumping and hugs, I asked,
“How’s The Rose? What have you guys been doing?” She beamed at me and explained,
“Wow, this is such great Karma. We have been so busy. It’s been great. Ever since we got the money, everything has changed. The Rose is going to get her own Pet Grooming Place and I’m.” I interrupted her,
“What money? Did you find the hidden money?”
“The money wasn’t hidden, it was right there in front of us.”
“Those old dolls! The Rose went to an antique shop and the guy told her that they’re antique French Jumeau dolls from the 1800’s. They’re collectables. The Teddy bears are German Stief, and worth a bundle.
We contacted an auction house, they evaluated them and held a sale. All told, the Teddy bears, the dolls and the clothes went for about $150, 000. It’s wonderful. The place is livable again, and there’s enough money for us to party for years. And you know, it must be fate, The Rose was just saying that she’s been missing you. I guess you know she always liked you but she felt that something was holding you back. Well, if you can handle living with a couple of women artists, you should come and hang with us for a while. Maybe move in. We got lots of room.”
“I said yes, because there’s at least one foolish decision in even a wise man.”
Author’s Bio: Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).