By Emily Stehle
Tell Me a Story, 66 Years Later. . .
Batman and Grandma
I used to read a story to my little sister Tina every night at bedtime. She was four, I was 17. It was a ritual we started when she was old enough to talk.
Today I have a story for her that she can read for herself. It’s a story that is based on a true event that happened 65 years ago. A childhood memory that I treasured and used in a 2019 sculpture titled My Nest and Its Treasures.
I’ve been a communicator all my professional life and had just started taking myself seriously as a contemporary art basketmaker. Creating different shapes and forms with strips of recycled postcards was interesting (one of my signature shapes was a bird’s nest) but I needed to do more. I challenged myself to find a way to tell a story through my art like most other fine artists.
Then it hit me.
My bird nest theme became literal. As birds had eggs, I would, too. The eggs would be the stories, the childhood memories that I’d never written down, much less told anyone.
I wrote three short stories, cut the paper in strips and then “wove the stories” into three eggs.
The first short story that you’ll read today is about my Grandmother, my brother and his favorite television show. Every reading makes me laugh.
Batman and My Grandmother
A Bird Nest Story
July 7, 2019
CUE THE MUSIC: DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH,
DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH, DUH…
My nine-year-old brother Rich loved to watch TV after school. This only happened after he did his homework, so he would hurry to get it done early.
Twice a week, he happily anticipated and talked about his favorite show, Batman with (of course) Adam West and Robin (Burt Ward). Batman not only was an action superhero, he told kids they should do their homework, eat their vegetables and drink milk!
It was kind of goofy, what with the action words coming across the screen in comic book fonts but Richard loved it. He was always ready to convert more family members to fans and watch the caped crusader’s adventures with him.
He’d settle down at the beginning of the show and we would sing loud “duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh” and yell “Batman, Batman, Batman!” We laughed and then followed the crime capers of The Riddler, The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze and other arch villains for the next half hour. We watched the fearless duo alerted on the Batphone, slide down the Batpole, race to the Batcave to the Batmobile to eventually land (BAM!) in the Commissioner’s office.
Batman and Robin picked up the clues left by bad guys, got captured by the bad guy’s henchmen, got into more fights and then were recaptured and placed in a deathtrap. The cliffhanger ended the first episode and was the beginning of the next day’s show. Ultimately, Holy Batman (!) the caped guy and his ward had more fights and captured the villains, making Gotham City once again, safe, for all of its citizens.
How could anyone NOT like and admire The Batman?
Enter our grandmother. Literally straight off the plane from China, Rich’s next Batman recruit. She had come to live with us. Grandma was a little old lady, about 4 ft. 8″, who dressed always in black – a padded black Nehru-style jacket, black pants, black flat Mary Jane-style cloth shoes and a sweet black velvet beret. We didn’t really know how small she was as she wore layers upon layers of clothing.
We didn’t know how old she was either. She had wrinkles all over her face and bobby-pinned her ear-length grey and white hair behind her ears. She could speak only Chinese.
On the big day, Richard went up to Grandma. I decided to eavesdrop.
“Do you want to watch TV? Watch TV with me?” he said.
I tried hard not to laugh. Grandma had a puzzled look on her face. She had not understood one word.
“Would you like to watch TV?” Rich repeated. “Watch Batman and Robin? It’s a good show.”
He took her hand and motioned for her to sit on the couch. Silently and politely she watched Gotham City’s super guys battle the bad guys for the next 30 minutes.
Later, that night, Richard asked Dad to talk to Grandma about Batman.
“Tell her how good it is,” he said. “Ask her if she wants to see it again.”
My dad spoke Chinese. We didn’t understand every word but the gist of his conversation with his mother was this – it was nice of Richard to share the TV with her.
But, she said, she didn’t quite get Batman. Thank you very much!
TALKING ABOUT MEMORIES
Growing up Chinese
I am the third daughter in my family of six kids. My dad, born in Canton, China, grew Chinese vegetables in New Jersey. All my life I felt (like Amy Tan and other Asian American authors who later described these feeling in books of fiction based on their backgrounds) that I grew up in two worlds – one American, one Chinese. Never quite comfortable in either one as I didn’t speak Chinese (although I did as a young child) and because I looked very different from my classmates.
There weren’t many outright signs of discrimination but, at times, I felt awkward. You don’t know discrimination until you feel it and then again, you’re not sure. So as a child growing up in the ’50s I wasn’t sure if I was truly treated differently by classmates and my teachers or if it was my imagination.
I remember most adults and teachers were kind. The kids? Some name-calling and perhaps a few who used their fingers to slant their eyes at me. I never responded. Kept quiet. Didn’t make waves. The inscrutable Asian.
I’ve had a relatively happy, safe life. In recent discussions with friends about racism, they were surprised to learn about my experiences and how as a young adult I was concerned about my safety as a woman and an Asian.
It pains me to hear and see the recent reports of Asian American hate crimes. A video of a 65-year-old woman knocked to the ground, kicked and slapped multiple times and ignored by at least two men who witnessed the assault, was shocking.
Anti-Asian American hate crimes reported to police rose 149 percent between 2019 and 2020 during this pandemic. Why is this happening? Researchers faulted negative stereotyping of Asian during the early rise of COVID-19 cases last spring. What’s more, the spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans occurred when overall hate crimes dropped seven percent.
It is a strange new world we’re witnessing. I’m relieved that woman’s attacker was arrested. I only hope we as a society can overcome our differences, fix this underlying problem of hate, and be the people we should be.
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