Why write a comic when there’s already an infinite sea of comics, ashcans and ‘zines in existence? Why tell this story? Why should you read it?
Well, I can tell you how it started. About 10 years ago, I was at my sister’s house for dinner, which usually consists of catching up on all the latest happenings in our lives. I got to practice my Albanian with my brother-in-law and we’d all watch a movie or something on TV. The best part of these visits though was getting to hang out with my niece and nephew. I felt as though It’s my job to be the cool uncle and make them laugh and let them know how much I love them.
One night, my mother and I visited my sisters for dinner and my niece and nephew we’re curious about her backpack. Yes, my mother wears a backpack like a middle schooler would. She’s disabled and it helps to carry her pills, wallet and “papers” while evenly distributing the weight on her back. A pocketbook or purse wouldn’t work because it would weigh her down to one side causing more pain.
Long story short, my mother and father immigrated to America in the early 1970s. They both worked very hard, as immigrants overwhelmingly tend to do. The Milk and Honey American Dream was very much real for them and they shared it with open hearts.
Fast forward some years, my Father worked as a building superintendent, while my Mother worked as a cleaning lady. She became disabled while pregnant with me – overworked and taken advantage of by employers that didn’t care about the needs of an immigrant who barely spoke English.
Shortly after I turned 5, my Father passed away of a heart attack. My mother, with multiple spinal fractures was widowed with four children, raised us with the help of food stamps and school lunches in the late 1980s into the 90s of Flatbush Brooklyn. It was a grind to say the least.
So, when my niece and nephew asked about her backpack, I just came up with “The Legend of The Night Owl.”
“You know why your grandmother walks with a cane?”
They both shake their heads no.
“You can’t tell anyone… but she was a superhero for a long time and would fight bad guys at night. That’s why she has a backpack. It’s filled with her supplies.”
“NOOOOooo,” they both exclaimed.
“No really,” I replied. “You see her cane? She used to have a folding one that she’d open and use as nunchuks. You know how she’s always looking out the window on the fourth floor? That’s why they called her The Night Owl. Look at her huge glasses.”
“Really Daja (Uncle in Albanian)?,” they both asked.
“She got hurt and stopped fighting after your grandfather passed away,” I said. “She just couldn’t do it anymore.”
They were in awe.
That was true, she did have a folding cane, but I was the one using it as nunchuks in the living room when I was a kid.
There was that moment when my niece and nephew looked at their grandmother and absolutely believed it was all true. That look will forever be in my memory.
Though the story I told them was funny and oddly connected to the truth, I eventually told them the real story. The more compelling, imperfect, beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking origin story of their grandmother, so that they may understand her struggles and hardships are the shoulders which they stand on as they choose their own path in life.
To this day we still jokingly call her “The Night Owl” and she’ll smirk and play along making us all second guess if she did in fact fight crime all those years ago… either way, The Legend of The Night Owl continues and my mother remains a real life superhero.
So, why should you read it?
My mom said you should.