Friday, July 29, 2005

First grade at Raymond Avenue is mostly a blur. I could already read, and the teacher put me in charge of one group of students while she concentrated on the other group who were having more problems reading. Her singling me out was very uncomfortable to me, and I didn’t like being put in charge of other children. I’m told that when my parents would read me stories, I would memorize them and would complain if they tried to skip anything to speed up the reading. I loved being read to, and it is still one of my most favorite things.

The Youngs had a set of the World Book Encyclopedia, and I would often sit in their family room and read from the encyclopedia. I loved the annual Year Books that they bought, because I could recognize some of the current stuff they talked about. Very early, I enjoyed learning for its own sake. The Youngs also had a set of the old dark red McGuffey Readers, which were organized into six volumes of increasing difficulty. They were intended as text books for the one-room schools of the prairies. Emily, the Youngs’ oldest daughter, once remarked on my being able to read from the Sixth Grade volume when I was only seven or eight years old, and that made me feel proud.

Momma began working in the back workroom of the library as a cataloguer, but later was promoted to Head Librarian, and she held that position until she was sixty-five and managing five libraries all over Los Angeles. I don’t know how old I was when Momma first walked me into the depths of the Pepperdine Library. This would become my most important resource. She took me back in the stacks, way back to almost the end of all those dozens of shelves of books, and showed me the Children’s books. Since Pepperdine had an Education Department, the library offered a selection of good children’s literature for the student teachers.

Many afternoons after school, I walked down that long, dim, dusty corridor, past that sea of books, and turned right near the back. There was a window there which shed a warm and welcome light on the book titles. I wasn’t systematic at all, but over the next few years I read nearly everything in the Children’s section. I wasn’t even aware of why at the time, but I did skip the books about war, and I never read anything that was specifically for boys, like the Hardy Boys mystery series.

Of course I read all of the Nancy Drew series (and Trixie Belden too, although I thought that Trixie’s world was not as classy as Nancy’s), but I didn’t find Nancy Drew at Pepperdine. That series of green speckled books was in the little library at the Lockhaven Christian School where I attended later on. No, mostly at Pepperdine the books were Caldecott and Newberry Medal winners and the like.

After its exciting start, my career in the theater seemed to be immediately foiled. Pepperdine’s musical when I was in first grade was Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific and Marilyn Young’s dark beauty made her perfect for the part of Ngana, Emile DeBecque’s Polynesian daughter. But Marilyn needed coaching on her duet with her brother in the play, Jerome. They had to sing, in French no less. Picture me, six years old, coaching Marilyn in how to sing “Dites moi, pour quois, la vie e belle? “ (“Tell me why, please, life is so beautiful? “) . . .” phonetically. I had no idea what the French syllables meant at the time, but I could help Marilyn memorize them anyhow.

The next year, 1960, there was a thrilling musical on TV, Mary Martin starring in Peter Pan. Chip gave me the set of three 45 rpm records for a Christmas present, and I memorized every word, reliving every detail of the stage action that went with the songs. So now I had memorized every word and every note of three musicals, I was six years old and I was hooked on musicals and hooked on singing. And displaying a precocious ability to memorize lyrics. That particular ability has never earned me anything tangible, but it has given me a lot of pleasure throughout the years. I’ve comforted and encouraged myself with hymns and energized myself with popular music all my life.

Between first and second grade, my teacher chose me to be the child honored with the responsibility of keeping the class guppies over the summer. This was not a happy task. I had to clean their tank regularly, and in the process of removing them from the tank I know I lost one or two down the sink drain. This was extremely upsetting to me. I couldn’t verbalize it, but I wanted some grown-up to say, “This is too big a job for you, you don’t have to be responsible for these tiny little lives.” I felt terribly guilty about my inability to do the job I had been given.

In second grade, some of my memories are very clear and precise, as if I’m watching a movie of myself. I walked home from school alone, down the street from Raymond Avenue to where it dead ended at the Pepperdine campus. I think I cut through people’s yards on 78th Street. I would find myself somewhere between the Home Economics building and the girls’ dorm, and then I would walk crosswise across the campus, maybe stopping off at the library to see my mom, or at the Ad Building to see my dad.

There was a bookstore between the tennis courts next to Marilyn Hall (the girls’ dorm, named after the Pepperdines’ daughter) and the Cafeteria. I loved to wander through the bookstore and look at the office supplies. What was the attraction? I didn’t have a clue that these would become tools of my trade: pens, paper, ink, books, erasers, index cards. I just loved the feeling of having “supplies”. Maybe it was Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans on TV in the mornings, encouraging us to make a work box with our supplies in it. Maybe it had to do with both my parents working in offices, and I wanted to use these adult things. Once I fell to the temptation of stealing something, and my conscience bothered me so much that I had to take it back and tell the manager, Gary Mitten, what I had done. I don’t recall my folks making me confess, so I doubt they ever knew I had done it.

This is Daddy, Gary Mitten and me, ripping up old carpet

(probably a photo op for the campus newspaper).

As I walked home, I usually remembered to sing loudly. I really hoped that someone who might be working inside the Fine Arts Building could hear me and “discover me”. In my fantasy, they would come rushing out of the building and say, “Kid! You’re so talented! We’ve got to have you in our next play!” But that particular fantasy never came to pass. At home I would watch cartoons (Casper the Friendly Ghost and Felix the Cat and Popeye) and be alone until my parents got off work.

Children’s TV in Los Angeles at that time was pretty wild and varied. There was a local show with Engineer Bill, where he wore a striped conductor’s cap. One of his shticks was his drinking game with the kids. “Green light” meant drink you milk, “Red light” meant to stop. (I read on the internet that he walked off the show really angry one day during a “Red light, green light” game, and got himself canceled. As last posted on the internet, he was 90 years old and living in the San Fernando Valley.)

We had a guy named Sherriff John whose show I had forgotten until I saw his picture on the internet. He used to sing happy birthday to “all his little deputies out there.” (Boomers in L.A. are pretty serious about their nostalgia, it seems, trying to recapture their TV Land childhood.) I loved Miss Frances’ Ding-Dong School, and I recently found out that she had her Ph.D. and was trying to bring some educational value to her kids’ morning show. She died in 2001, but I hadn’t heard anything of her since the 1950s and ‘60s.

Captain Kangaroo was such a great show. He and his friend Mr. Green Jeans were so comforting to me. There was a stability and kindness and quietness that I loved about them. Soupy Sales’ slapstick was funny, but I needed this feeling that grownups were solid and dependable. He designed his show to teach kids about literature, science and music, making learning delightful. His big pockets always had surprises in them. I was listening the morning he read Make Way for Ducklings, which became a favorite children’s book of mine.

I was so excited to meet Bob Keeshan, the actor who played Capt. Kangaroo, at the airport in Nashville a few years ago. I walked up to him and said, “Mr. Keeshan, would you mind if my friend and I take your picture?” He asked me to wait until he’d finished in line, of course, and then he patiently accommodated us. He still had his bushy white mustache and those cut straight across bangs.

Somebody’s parent got a bunch of us tiny kids onto the Bozo the Clown Show. I can still feel those bleachers under me and the bright lights and the confusion of not knowing what was going on. Apparently, the guy who played Bozo in L.A. was named Vance Colvig, whose brother, Pinto Colvig, was the original voice of Disney’s Goofy. Illustrious theatrical family, that.

Sometimes Chip was home from school, but by the time I was in first grade, he was already in seventh, and he rode to his school, Horace Mann Junior High, on his bike. He would sometimes stop off at the Dairy Queen on Normandy Avenue, two or three blocks away from our house, and get a hamburger on his ride home. Or he would stay late for band practice. He played clarinet in a jazz band and in the marching band.

Chip and I both had occasional trouble getting home from school in the big city. There was a little girl who either enjoyed being mean or didn’t like me, or maybe some of both. I recall her chasing me part of the way home with a big stick more than once. And Chip was beat up more than once by gang members while riding home on his bike.

Five Years in the Pink House

I believe I was in second grade when we moved from the yellow and white house on 80th Street to a house one block nearer to the Pepperdine campus, 1034 West 79th Street. The new house faced the campus, and across the street to the right was the back yard of our church, the Vermont Avenue Church of Christ. Much more about the church later. The house had pink wood siding, and I remember it in much greater detail than any previous home.

When you walked up to the front door, you stepped up a couple of steps and on your right was a front porch the length of the house that was enclosed by a brick walk about waist high. In addition to the brick wall, there were lots of tall trees, so the long, narrow patio felt private. It was my job to unwind the green hose from its circular pile, and wash off that porch when it got dirty or full of leaves, especially when company was coming. I loved the feeling of the cold water rushing, and the metallic smell of it, and the power I felt when I learned to hold my thumb over the nozzle and make the water into a spray. I loved washing off that porch. I loved having wet bare feet. It was a very satisfying sensual experience. I didn’t often get messy, but that was one time I could.

The lawn was not grass, but something else, very Californian. It was called dichondra, and it looked like tiny miniature plants. It was darker green than grass, held water better than grass and didn’t require much mowing. That lawn had sprinklers set into it, and I used a metal rod with prongs to turn on the sprinklers. When Daddy and I worked in the yard, he would wear these disproportionately small, red sunglasses that he’d found in some Woolworth’s 5 & 10¢ store or drugstore. As I grew older, I was mortified, imagining that the college guys would walk past and see us, and think we were the Nerd Family.

The side of the house that faced New Hampshire Avenue had huge blue-violet and white hydrangea bushes that were so tall they reached up to the roof and part of the chimney. In the front yard, in front of the brick wall on the right, and in front of the living room windows on the left, there were some amazing flowers I had never seen before.

There were calla lilies. The white flower wrapped around itself like a cone, and the petal felt like a marshmallow. In the middle was a long, rounded yellow stamen like a narrow tongue. There were several Birds of Paradise. The flowers from these plants reminded me of a beach bird’s head, with its mouth open. They were orange and purple, and I loved them in spite of their spikiness and wild look. There were fuchsias. These were magical to me because they looked like bells hanging down. They were deep bright pink and purple. The blossoms on those plants grew very lush and big.

Over on the right side of the house, there was a little area that was very secluded, like a little garden room. Mom named that area her Meditation Garden, although the only time she meditated in it was probably when she was gardening. She put down some white gravel to make tiny paths between the plants, and there were bushes and plants with large leaves that made it feel very full of cool, green life. Just in front of it, in the grass, would spring up wild violets. They would appear overnight and they felt like little fairy flowers to me, they were so small and delicate. I would lie on my stomach and look at the tiny plants and dichondra and violets and try to imagine myself their size, an inch or two tall. I could almost do it.

At the back of the Meditation Garden, on the right side of the house, was an enormous avocado tree, probably twice the height of the house. We would be sitting at the supper table and hear a “thunk” on the roof. It felt so luxurious to know that we could walk outside and pick up a ripe avocado from our own tree. The story goes that early in our California years my parents sent a box of California produce back to Nashville as a Christmas present. Our relatives, being unaccustomed to such exotic fruit, wrote in their thank you note, “It was a shame that when the box arrived, some of the contents were already rotten and we had to throw them away.” They didn’t know that those avocados were at the peak of perfection when their knobby skins turned black.

When you walked up the sidewalk to the front door of the Pink House (as we referred to it when we had moved elsewhere), inset in the door was a stained glass window which my brother still owns. It was a self-portrait of the young Albrecht Dürer sitting beneath a tree and sketching. It intrigued me, the many layered idea of someone creating a stained glass picture of the artist painting a picture of himself drawing a picture, which small sketch the viewer can also enjoy.

Inside the front door, on the left, was the living room, which we used mostly for company, and a connecting dining room where the TV stood in the corner and where we sometimes ate Sunday night suppers after church. We didn’t have many family traditions, but one we did enjoy came from my parents’ six months in Zurich in 1947. As they waited to be admitted into Germany, for a time they lived in a hotel. The Swiss hotel owners thought that these “rich Americans” would want to be fed well at each meal, but after a short while the Americans asked the restaurant staff if they could please have something lighter for supper.

“Ah,” they replied, “you prefer it our way.” And they began to bring their guests more typical fare for their late meal, which they called Abendbrot or “evening bread”. They fixed one dish which they called Birchermüesli, named after its inventor, a Dr. Bircher who was a health nut. Birchermüesli was all raw, and the ingredients were determined by what was available in the days so near the end of World War II. You took raw oatmeal, uncooked, and added canned milk to make it creamy. Then you grated an apple, added chopped nuts, and whatever fruit was available, generally a chopped banana and a small can of fruit cocktail. You might throw in a few raisins.

So this became a favorite family meal when I was young. Sunday nights after church, we would have Birchermüesli with a triangle of Swiss cheese (wrapped in foil, it came in a circular cardboard box, the individual pieces fitting like slices of a pie). There were different flavors to select from. With that we might have a slice of bread and butter. And we would sit in front of the TV together, watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and maybe even Bonanza.

Next to the dining room there was a breakfast room, where Mom’s violets sat on the built-in cabinets beneath the windows, and next was the kitchen. I remember Chip sitting at the breakfast room table and consuming his favorite college lunch: two scrambled egg sandwiches, a quart of milk and a whole bag of Oreo cookies. How could he stay so thin? He taught me how to make perfect scrambled eggs, not too dry, not too gooey, and never brown.

There’s a story about Chip that was often told, but I think I was too young to be aware of it happening at the time it did. One morning he was discovered with all the makings for a sandwich on a table by the side of his bed. He had not actually made the sandwich, just collected everything he needed from the kitchen and brought it to his room. He had no memory of getting up in the middle of the night and doing that.

Next to the kitchen was a laundry room, where the back door was. Out the back door and a few steps down to the yard, the water softener tank was on the left, an innovation we hadn’t heard of before. Daddy tried to explain the concept of “hard water” to me and I helped him add salt to the water softener from time to time.

There against the house, the faucet dripped and my mother grew mint. The backyard contained a clothes line and Momma had a large rose bush which she tenderly cared for with sprays and powders and which grew tall, blooming past the clothesline pole. The back wall of the back yard was covered with dark ivy that might have been eight to ten feet high. In the left corner was a free-standing garage that opened onto the alley. Around the house to the right was a narrow passage that was blocked by some kind of fence. That’s where we put a cardboard playhouse for me, and later on when we got a dog, Manfred the Wonder Dog, that’s where we put his doghouse.

Back to the front door for a tour of the other side of the Pink House. First room on the right was my bedroom. I think it had brown walls – were they knotty pine? – and for sure I remember brown wooden slatted window shades. Those were kept open at night, and sometimes I would get scared when I saw the shadows of the leaves outside dancing, and lights flashing as cars turned our corner. The closet of that room passed through to my parents’ room, so my dad and I shared that closet.

My parents room was blue, and there was a small dressing room off the right corner of the bedroom and parallel with the pass-through closet. My mom would sit there and fix her hair. She had long hair with lots of gray in it, and she wore in a “French roll” all pinned up. She had a lot of jewelry (inexpensive, but I didn’t know that) in her jewelry box and I thought that she was very elegant. There was a long black lacquered table in front of the windows that stood next to their chest of drawers, and she had more African violets on that table. Behind it, the windows were covered with ivory colored full-length drapes, and those extended around to the left a little as well, next to their bed.

In my mom’s dressing room, when I was little, I would sit and let her comb out my hair after washing it. It grew fast, after my self-barbering, and in those days no one used cream rinse or conditioner. So I, like many other little tender headed girls, cried while Momma combed out the snarls. She was not very patient about it, and I was not very cooperative. I think I was convinced she was trying to hurt me on purpose. What a miracle it was when conditioner entered our lives!

Many evenings my dad would come home from work, have supper, and go immediately to bed. He wouldn’t go to sleep, he would just lie there in the dark and “rest”. We went to the mountains, to Big Bear Lake around this time and he sprained his ankle at the skating rink. It never really quit bothering him after that, so he would stick that left foot out from under the covers because the weight of them hurt it.

Next came the bathroom with the bathtub. (There was another, smaller bathroom off Chip’s room with a shower. This house was the first time we had two, a “girls” bathroom and a “boys” bathroom.) I vaguely remember Daddy giving me baths, but I have no idea what age I was when that ended. The room was all tiled, an ugly rose color with matching sink and tub, and burgundy tile trim. Narrow windows were on either side of the sink, but they were frosted so you couldn’t see through them.

Around the corner was Chip’s room, another blue room with two closets and windows on three sides. When he left home, we were still living in that house and I took his room. While he was there, I remember the room did not smell good. Underwear, socks, dishes he had eaten from…He paid me fifty cents to clean his room from time to time. Boys’ rooms, I guessed, were not supposed to smell good. His room connected to the small bathroom with shower, and that connected to the laundry room, which made the circle of the house complete.
It was fun, while we lived at the Pink House, to walk by myself to the grocery store. The campus was an oblong. If I walked from my house straight ahead along the short end of it, at the opposite corner would be Ralph’s Market. Mom sent me to buy milk, and when it got close to a dollar a gallon, she commented on how expensive it was becoming. I could also walk the other direction from our house, down New Hampshire and over to the left just one block to Vermont Avenue, and then I’d be out in the big world beyond the Pepperdine campus.

There were stores on Vermont, and the two I shopped in the most were J. C. Penney’s and Woolworth’s 5 & 10¢ store. (Some people called it the Five & Dime.) As Sara and Marilyn and I got older, the sales ladies started watching us to see if we were shoplifting, and we resented that. Once when we were still little there was a birthday party for one of us girls (Susan Teague? Beth Ross?). First we had a slumber party, and the next day the birthday girl’s mom took us all to Woolworth’s and gave us some money – probably a quarter or fifty cents – and let us buy whatever we liked with it. What luxury! What freedom, being trusted to make our own decisions.

Woolworth’s had a small pet section in the back and that’s where we bought our goldfish in a plastic bag of water and carried it home. I hated cleaning the goldfish bowl, when it would get all green and stinky, so my goldfish period didn’t last too long. And it was too distressing when the little turtle I bought got a soft shell and died. I had loved his little turtle dish with its island in the middle and plastic palm tree. At that point in my pet life, I decided it was either dogs for me or nothing.

There was also a bowling alley on Vermont Avenue. At some point when we were little, we heard that a man had run into the bowling alley and shot someone. That was scary. I had also heard that a dead body was found under a car on one of the streets I walked home on from Raymond Avenue school. And there was that time that one of the ladies halfway down our block shot her husband. I figured that’s how the world was. Later, when I moved to a smaller city in Tennessee, I could hardly believe that people actually left their houses and cars unlocked.

One of my recurring dreams for years was running all around our Pink House, or the Youngs’ house, trying to make sure all the doors and windows were locked, and sometimes the dream included trying so hard and not being able to get one of them locked. In the dreams, bad guys were trying to get in. Given the neighborhood we were living in, this makes lots of sense. But I realized later that the frantic attempt to make sure everything was locked had a more internal significance as well.

When the Youngs moved from the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock to be the President of Pepperdine, the church gave them a gift of a yellow station wagon, the kind where those who sat in the back seat were facing backward. I thought that was neat. It was fun piling into the station wagon to go somewhere, so many of us, and so much family energy. Norvel would almost always say, as we got into the car, “Isn’t this a GREAT day to be alive? Aren’t we thankful?”

I can still feel the night air and smell the popcorn from the time when we little girls lay on top of the station wagon at the drive-in movie theater and watched Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People. I believed in fairies and gnomes and leprechauns for a long time after that. It was Sean Connery’s first movie, I think.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sunny Southern California
When we arrived in Los Angeles, I was introduced to Pepperdine College for the first time. In the middle of a residential area with strange looking little houses lining the streets all side by side, there was this one huge expanse of grass. We were used to houses having yards around them, but in this neighborhood, there weren’t many feet between the side windows of your house and those of your neighbor’s. Because of the crowded streets, it felt lush and rich and free to run in that Pepperdine grass. The campus was like an oasis in the middle of a big, bustling city. And that was the name they chose for their annual publication, The Oasis.

In the center of the campus was a circular fountain with a little naked girl, holding a towel for modesty, a white statue made out of plaster. She was named “Dolores” – I never found out why – and was the campus mascot and symbol. (In later years she would be stolen, defaced, and otherwise abused as part of pledge projects for the fraternities. But she got more respect when I was little.) All the buildings were painted light blue (Mrs. Pepperdine’s favorite color) and all the corners of the buildings were rounded, which when they were built was apparently a very hip architectural choice.

That first afternoon in 1958, the sun was shining but it wasn’t hot like Arkansas. Later on I came to learn that it was always cooler there on the coast than inland in the valleys, because of the ocean breezes. It was a little windy that day, the sky was very blue, and my dad was showing us some of the campus. The large expanse of lawn near us was filled with all these college girls jumping around and yelling. My dad said they were called “cheerleaders” and they were practicing. I had my first taste of campus glamour. They looked like actresses in a movie to me. It was exciting to be in such a beautiful, exotic place.

When we first arrived, we stayed for awhile at the Youngs’ house. “House” is not an accurate description of their home. It was enormous, compared to any building I had seen before. I didn’t know the words “mansion” or “estate” but that’s what it was. Years and years before, there was a big ranch that ran west from there toward the Pacific Ocean, and this white house belonged to that ranch.

This photo is of me (on right) and Barbara Buchi (visiting with her parents from Nashville) in the Youngs' driveway the week we arrived.

I remember being put to bed for a nap in Sara and Marilyn’s room, and touching the slanted ceiling above me, wondering why it was so prickly and not smooth. (The white stucco was texturized.) I remember being put to bed when it was still light outside, and complaining that it was not fair because the sun hadn’t gone down. This was the first time that I had heard of “daylight savings time”. We stayed in the guest bedrooms on the far side of the enormous living room, and Chip and I were in the back bedroom of the two.

I think the Youngs were away on vacation when we arrived, because I have no memory of meeting them at first. Their house was later to become my second home. When they finally moved out in 1971, I sat one afternoon in the emptied rooms and wrote a long blank-verse meditation of all my memories of it.. So much life happened in those fourteen years! It doesn’t seem possible that so much joy and pain could be crammed into that space. Helen Young says she still has that “poem” about the house, which I gave them as a gift. I hope someday I can retrieve it, because theirs is the only copy.

Our first home at Pepperdine was an apartment on New Hampshire Avenue. It was a Pepto Bismol- pink two story building, with two apartments on each level. Ours was downstairs on the right, if memory serves. I began to notice new California plants I’d never seen before. I remember calla lilies growing at that apartment building. The huge palm trees that lined the Promenade (the “main street” on Pepperdine’s campus) amazed me. They were the kind of date palms that have spiky brown trunks and only a few palm branches up at the top.

I liked New Hampshire Avenue. It had a lot of apartment buildings in the old Los Angeles style, twin sets of buildings narrow on the front side and running long back to an alley, with a walkway in between all the front doors. Ruthie Hamilton lived in an apartment on New Hampshire. She was my dad’s secretary for awhile, and I would drop in to visit her. She told me once, “Your daddy is so proud of you, why he tells everybody how smart you are.” I responded angrily, “Why does he tell everybody else but he won’t tell me?” My dad didn’t speak to me much after we moved to California, and I never understood it. I just took it as rejection. I would hug him, and he wouldn’t hug me back.

We didn’t stay long in the pink apartment, only until we found a house, but I do have a memory there that proved significant. My parents went somewhere and left Chip to baby sit me one evening, and he wanted to watch a scary show on the TV. I didn’t want to see it, but I had the option to stay in the living room with him, or go into our bunk bed room and be alone. So I stayed with him, and the show scared me as much as I was afraid it would. Was it a horror movie, or an episode of the Twilight Zone? I’m not sure. I was mad at Chip for not caring that I was frightened.

While we were still new to California, we took our first trip to the beach. We went to Playa Del Rey, which would figure significantly in my life until I left that beach for Malibu and Zuma. We parked the car and started to walk to the ocean. I was so little that I could hardly see it from where we were. The beach seemed to stretch for miles from the parking lot to the water. It felt like miles to my dad, too, who had not worn shoes and whose sensitive, thin-skinned feet were getting blistered, the sand was so hot. He was jumping around, trying to spend as little time with his feet getting burnt as possible.

My mom was never pharmaceutically sophisticated. She didn’t like to give any kind of illness the time of day. We never had medicines or creams or remedies in the house, and it amazed me when I started to spend time with people who did. She didn’t know, I guess, to bring anything to protect our skin, so naturally I got sunburnt. When we got home that afternoon, the water in the shower stung my skin and I cried. It hurt to put clothes on. We were going to Youngs for supper that night, and when we showed up, Emily recognized my plight. She went to get a bottle of vinegar and some cotton balls, and she soothed my burning skin with those. I thought she was an angel. She was the Youngs’ oldest daughter and now she was my hero.

Our families decided to take a beach vacation together while we three were still little girls. We drove down to Oceanside and rented bungalows right by the beach, and I was shocked that my mom had brought Spam with her to cook for supper. We never ate that before or since, that I recall, but this once she had bought a can, and she broiled the slices in butter and brown sugar and we had fried Spam sandwiches. I loved them, of course.

That beach was just packed with the tiny bivalves that I called periwinkles. (I guess I loved that word, because there were also some flowers I insisted on calling periwinkles, and it’s one of my favorite colors as well.) They were actually Coquinas. I loved them because they were so many different colors, and Sara and Marilyn and I ran around collecting cups full to take back to our bungalows. We sat them on the edge of the tub, and ran out to play some more.

That evening, when it was time to come in and take our baths and clean up, we were so little we already had our clothes off and were running around the house naked. We went into the bathroom, and those cups had come alive. I thought they were just shells that we had collected, but they were living creatures, and all the slimy little bodies had come partly out of the shells and were waving around aimlessly in the air. This sight really freaked me out, and Sara and Marilyn took great delight in throwing them at me and chasing me with the waving, slimy bouquets in their cups. Imagine the screaming that ensued.

Oddly enough, I tried to read Alice in Wonderland on the trip, and there was something about it that scared me. I really hated it, and I never read the book again until I was an adult. At the time, I had no idea what I was feeling, but looking back I decided it was because there was such a sense of insanity about the dialogue between Alice and all the other characters, funny to a grown-up but scary to me as a child. It reminded me too much of the craziness I felt sometimes in my own life.

School Begins: Raymond Avenue

It was in that first pink apartment that I turned five. We had just arrived in July, so I didn’t know anybody by August 5th, and the pictures of my birthday party show that I was still a bit bewildered. I was a stranger in an exceedingly strange land. I first went to Kindergarten riding in front of my dad on his bike, to the Raymond Avenue Elementary School. Sara Young was also five and was in my Kindergarten class. I don’t know why, but we seemed to fight a lot, or at least not behave ourselves when together. One day we were punished by being made to sit back to back on the floor in the empty classroom while everyone else went out for recess.

I have one wonderful memory of Kindergarten. Our teacher told us to bring one of our dad’s old shirts to school the next day. We were going to paint, and she didn’t want us to mess up our school clothes. I remember the feeling of the finger paint on my hands, and the smooth squish of the paint on the big white paper, and the sense of freedom it gave me to do whatever I wanted to with it. I also loved standing in front of the easel and painting with a brush on the paper. I learned the word “tempera” and was amazed that you could mix powder with water to make the paint.

My dad was responsible for getting me to school. I guess my mom started immediately to work in Pepperdine’s library, and as Comptroller of the college, my dad had a little more flexibility in his schedule. There was a problem, though. My dad loved to watch Amos ‘n Andy on TV, and the show ended just when I was supposed to be at school. So we were often late. I remember the teacher scolding my dad for getting me there late, but I don’t remember him reforming to satisfy her. Not exactly the best role model for respecting authority…and I would soon develop a problem in that area.

We rented a little house at 1050 West 80th Street. It was on the corner of 80th and New Hampshire, just down the block from where our apartment had been, and only one block away from the Pepperdine campus. My dad’s first office was in the Administration Building, which was a huge building that faced 79th Street. I liked our little white house. I remember it had an arch over the front porch, and a high fence with a gate into the back yard.

Once we were moved into the house, we started having visitors. I remember my dad’s mother, Nannie, came on the train from Tennessee. We went to the train station downtown, near Olvera Street, to pick her up. It was then I made my first big social blunder. I asked her, “Nannie, when are you going home?” She turned and quoted me to my dad, and I could tell she was upset. I really believe I innocently meant to ask how long her visit would last, but she took offense at my question, and never visited California again. It wasn’t a fear of travel, because she did make a tour of Europe and another of Israel years later.

This episode frustrated me. I didn’t like it that something I said could upset a grown-up so much. I didn’t like it that my explanation didn’t fix things. And I didn’t like it that something I said could change the course of history like it did. Never come to visit again because a five-year-old misspoke? I thought it revealed something very disconcerting and unpleasant about my family and grown-ups in general.

It was 1958, and Disneyland had only been opened three summers before (on July 17, 1955). People from my parents’ past, from Tennessee, Germany, Texas and Arkansas started to “visit the Moores in California” and so at least twice a year for my entire childhood we made trips with guests to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. It was fun to feel like those places were in my “back yard” when other people found them so exciting and special. I learned something about how visually sensitive I am after an early visit to Disneyland. We had gone on the Jungle Cruise, where lots of wild animals screech and jump at you as you pass through a Congo-like jungle in an “African Queen” type boat. When we got home, I was supposed to lie down and take a nap, and I dreamed of all kinds of little animals and insects coming at me, crawling over me, and woke up crying.

One of our earliest visits to Disneyland including staying late enough to see the fireworks show. They had a huge fireworks display every summer night around nine o’clock. A love for fireworks was born in me that night that has continued all my life. Fireworks have gone off in the sky at some special personal moments. My first summer in Heidelberg, Germany when they did the Schloβbeleuchtung and we sat on the riverbank and watched them shoot toward us. (Each summer they reenacted the destruction of the castle from some other century’s warfare. They had fireworks and also fires in the boats stationed in the river near the bridge.). That was the night I tried my first beer. The night my college boyfriend and I talked about marriage, there were those mysterious fireworks going off over the ocean. (It wasn’t even a holiday.) The night two friends and I were in Chicago celebrating my fiftieth birthday, there were fireworks over the lake.

After we saw that first Disneyland fireworks extravaganza, it was very late for a five year old and I was very tired. As we walked through the park on the way to the car, we came to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and Jiminy Cricket was singing, “When you wish upon a star…” I started crying. “I don’t want to leave! I don’t want to leave!” The music broke my heart and reminded me of all the wonderment I had felt that day. I didn’t want to put it behind me.

When I got a bit older, I started to understand something about prestige and reflected glory, and I would tell people, “My dad has met with Mr. Disney and Mr. Knott.” I don’t know if that was because my dad used his position to learn something about “how they operated” (he did that a lot) or if he had any official Pepperdine business to discuss. I do know that Mr. Walter Knott’s daughter, who owned one of the shops at Knott’s Berry Farm, donated a house in the La Costa resort north of San Diego to Pepperdine, and the Youngs used to take me with them when they went there to get away for a weekend.

The La Costa house was furnished with all the luxurious decorations the lady sold in her store. One symbol of luxury that house held for me was that there were extra brand-new sheets, bedspreads, and towels stored in the hall closets. I remember sitting in the La Costa house one day, at an expensive table topped with beautiful rainbow-colored abalone, and reflecting that it was not worth what it took to seek after money and possessions. I determined that wealth would not be my life’s goal. By that time I was fourteen or so.

We’ll return to five years old and 1958. I’ve already indicated that my mother and I had a difficult relationship. I had just had a bad day with her, and now my dad was home from work. I was sent to bed without supper, and I was lying there in the dark, very upset because I was feeling so cut off, so alone. So I got back up out of bed and went into the living room, where they were sitting side by side on the brown couch, reading the paper or magazines or something. I said, “God has forgiven me, I need you to forgive me too.”

One of them – I don’t remember which one – answered, “We’re sorry, we don’t know how to do that.” I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do with that horrible feeling of being cut off from my parents. I went back to my room miserable and horribly lonely. I wonder if that’s when I started being afraid of the dark.

Soon I became convinced that there was something under my bed that would grab at me if I let any part of my body come outside the covers or over the edge of the bed. It didn’t matter that no one could see it. It was invisible but it was real, like a shadow you see out of the corner of your eye that’s not there when you look at it full on. Even today, I have to tell myself that it’s okay to be uncovered, or to let my hand droop over the side of the mattress, because that habit ran so deep. I would take a running jump to get into bed, so nothing could grab my ankles. And I would hold the sheet tight up around my face, no matter how hot it was.

One summer we visited the relatives in Nashville, and it was oppressively hot and humid. My grandmother Whitesell (my mother’s mother) didn’t have air conditioning, and I was in one of the guest bedrooms upstairs by myself. Grandmommie slept across the hall, but she always had her door closed, and the bedroom next to hers was never used. It was my grandfather’s bedroom, and it was where he died. This was very creepy to me, and I was feeling very alone. I was lying there with the sheet covering everything but my nose, and I heard footsteps on the stairs and in the hallway. I lay paralyzed for hours, sweating and dripping under that sheet, somehow believing that if I could be perfectly still, nothing bad would happen. But the adrenaline from the fear was keeping me awake. The next day everyone promised they had not gotten up during the night.

I know 1958 was the Christmas that I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I was sleeping on the brown couch’s hide-a-bed in the living room, because we had company staying with us for Christmas. It was very early morning, but there was enough light to see my dad creeping into the living room to put some present around the Christmas tree. I was barely awake, but I understood what was happening, and that my Daddy was playing Santa Claus. I felt disillusioned. A layer of innocence was gone.

That was also the fall that I cut my hair. I had long blond curls, and all the little girls in my Kindergarten class had short hair. I don’t know if I felt out of place with my long hair, or if I was just curious and wanted to know what it was like to have it short. I must have known it was not okay with my parents for me to cut my hair, because I went out in the back yard with the scissors one morning to do it. One whole side of our yard and garden wall was covered with ivy, and I stashed my hair in the ivy, as if hiding it could improve the situation. Then I went back in the house through the back door. It was just before school, and there was no time to punish me, just time for Daddy to make one little snip to even up the excellent haircut I had given myself. Years later, he commented on that haircut: “That was your first sign of open rebellion.”. That struck me as a very dramatic thing to say about a five year old girl.

I had a huge formative experience that fifth year of my life. I had gone to nursery school at Harding in Searcy, but this was the first time being connected with a college benefited my life in a way I could appreciate. Each year, Lewis Fulks, the theater director, had the students put on a musical. It happened that when I was five, he selected Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I for that year’s performance. Of course they needed lots of real children to fill the court of the King of Siam and his many wives and concubines. I was chosen, and then I was especially honored to present a rose to “Mrs. Anna” and get a pat on the head as she sang, “Getting to Know You.” Not only this, but I was brought to rehearsals, put into a costume (an open black vest that strained my sense of modesty, and some purple satin pants), painted with body makeup, and given black hair from a spray can. One day I was even allowed to go to school with my makeup and hair still on, for Show and Tell.

This whole experience of the theater was magical to me: the excitement of the performances; watching people I knew transform into characters in a story (Matt Young played Prince Chulalongkorn, and really touched my heart in the scene where he watches his father die); the smell of grease paint and sweat as I entered the hallways to the dressing rooms. I had a powerful feeling of disappointment the night of the cast party, when I wanted so much to go and my parents didn’t allow it. I remember crying with frustration as I sat in the bathtub washing off the makeup and black hairspray. It must have seemed ridiculous to my parents, but as a five year old I already felt like I belonged with those people and I should be at the party.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard have both encouraged me (not personally, of course, but through their books) that if I want to practice writing, one of the best places to start is with what I know best, my own story. I'm making some of the first chapters available in this way because I do want to share what I'm writing, but the ephemeral nature of a blog is about the level of permanence this first draft deserves.

As we begin, I'll share a couple of quotes from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life that express so well how I'm feeling about this enterprise.

“Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself. In the democracies, you may even write and publish anything you please about any governments or institutions, even if what you write is demonstrably false.

“The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever. You are free to make several thousand close judgment calls a day. Your freedom is a by-product of your days’ triviality…Your manuscript, on which you lavish such care, has no needs or wishes; it knows you not. Nor does anyone need your manuscript; everyone needs shoes more. There are many manuscripts already – worthy ones, most edifying and moving ones, intelligent and powerful ones…Why not shoot yourself, actually, rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?” (p. 11,12)

“Much has been written about the life of the mind. I find the phrase itself markedly dreamy. The mind of the writer does indeed do something before it dies, and so does its owner, but I would be hard put to call it living. It should surprise no one that the life of the writer – such as it is – is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author’s childhood. A writer’s childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience.” (p. 44)

Why Write?

No one else can tell this story. There are several reasons for that. The most obvious is that I am the only person who lived the story as I saw and felt it. But there are other factors that compel me to tell it. Neither of my parents is still living, but even when they were alive, ours was not a family that told many family stories. We didn’t hear much about our parents’ childhood, and as we grew older, we didn’t hear much about our own childhoods. In my twenties, or maybe thirties, I realized what a void I felt and I bought a “grandmother” book and gave it to my mom one Christmas. I asked her please to fill it with her memories of our family. It was all laid out with questions and brief, doable doses of information requested, but she still refused, saying, “I don’t like to remember the past, I like to look forward.”

Another reason this story is mine to tell is that my brother Chip is seven years older, was a compliant child (I was not), and is a male person (I am not), and therefore experienced our family very differently than I did. My parents were in a very different place, literally and emotionally, when he was little (Europe) and when I was little (West Texas and Arkansas). His memories sometimes coincide with mine, when I ask directly and he’s feeling verbal, but most of the time he follows the family tradition and does not talk much about the past.

My cousins and I grew up in such different parts of the country, they in Nashville, Tennessee and I mostly in Los Angeles, so although we share all the same relatives, we did not have the same relationships with them or memories of them. My cousin Bonnie Kay is a genealogist and archivist by inclination, and I’m grateful that she shares the products of her labors with me, but her history does not feel like mine.

My childhood was largely spent with two sisters who became my sisters as well. The one I was closest to, Marilyn, has been dead now for three years. Her sister Sara, though thirteen days younger than me, born in the same Texas hospital and still my friend, is not a journal keeper or diarist, though she did write articles and speeches quite often in her work as a marriage and family counselor. (She became a full-time fundraiser last year, and I doubt she has any time to write at all these days.) So, although Sara and Marilyn and I shared fifteen of my first twenty years on earth, I am the only one of us three that will tell that part of the story.

And it’s still more than that. I have slowly learned that no one else feels or sees or hears or remembers even one day of this life in the same way as another person does. Each of us has our own unique, passionate and incomplete take on life as we lived it. We’ve all missed events, mistaken comments, avoided facing realities, misunderstood meanings, and misremembered facts as we have created our own memories. They are nevertheless important because they are ours. Because they shaped us. Because they motivated us to act, or refrain from acting, in a million choices down the days. And because, ultimately, they are what we carry with us when we die. It is my conviction that the relationships we have formed and nourished throughout our lives will await us in the next world, the place we call Heaven. Relationships are built upon shared memories. I want to remember it all, as best I can, for my own sake. And if anybody else has the patience to read these words, and if they can benefit anyone in any way, I’ll be glad of it.

From Birth to School

I am lying on an Army cot, the kind made of canvas that folded up, and seeing a brown paper barrel as tall as the cot next to me, where my toys were kept. This is the first place I can remember. I don’t think that was my room. We must have been in the process of moving from Lubbock, Texas, where I was born, to Searcy, Arkansas, where I was three and four years old. I’ve heard a lot about Lubbock, about dusty West Texas, the heat, the sand storms, the flatness, the dearth of education and culture.

I met a woman in Nashville many years later named Mrs. Mann. She told me, “I drove with your mother to a baby shower in Lubbock when she was pregnant with you and I was pregnant with my daughter, Marita. So you two have known each other since before birth!” That’s one of two stories I know about my mother’s pregnancy with me. The other was told when I asked my mother if she and Daddy ever prayed out loud together, other than at meal time. She answered, “Just once. They were wheeling me into the delivery room and he prayed out loud for me then.” Later on I learned that two years before my birth, my mother had delivered a still-born boy, with the cord wrapped around his neck. They were both probably very frightened that another devastating disappointment could occur at my birth.

I’ve gone back to dusty West Texas just once, for the wedding of Nita Bovarie and Russ DiNapoli. They were students with me in the summer of 1972 in Heidelberg, Germany. They fell in love and decided to be married in Lubbock, her home town, at her parents’ church where I too was on the “Cradle Roll” as an infant. (I still have the certificate.) It was the Broadway Church of Christ, where Norvel Young, my second father, was the preacher while my parents were missionaries in Germany. That church was the chief financial support for the missionary group that followed Otis Gatewood to Germany in 1947.

When my parents’ five years in Germany were complete, and they didn’t know what to do next, Brother Paul Sherrod, an elder at the Broadway church, offered my dad a job in his hardware store in Lubbock. That’s how I came to be born there in 1953 (in Lubbock, not in the hardware store). There’s a photograph of me as a baby almost five months old, sitting in my brother’s lap in the hardware store window in front of a Christmas tree and abundant toys. (One of my dad’s jobs there was window dressing.) I remember a tale about my dad’s kneeling in the hardware store and getting a tack stuck in his knee. I’ve been picking up tacks and pins and discarded staples off floors ever since.

At any rate, that hot summer of ‘72 in Lubbock when we witnessed the marriage of Russ and Nita, we spent most of our time in the cool hotel bar, and I had long talks with Russ (a New York actor). He was so put off by the rigid, dull, judgmental, half-dead existence he had thus far witnessed among churchified people. I talked about living in the Spirit and how being a Christian actually makes life the most vibrant it can be. At their wedding I sang (a cappella, because it’s still a Church of Christ) the Beatles’ “In My Life,” which at the age of twenty already meant much to me.

Back to Texas in the ‘Fifties. I have a memory of being in a car with a young woman babysitter, and seeing a tornado twisting towards us. She drove us to a shelter, and there was no tornado damage afterward that I remember. I am not sure if that memory came from Lubbock or Searcy years, because tornadoes were certainly possible in both places.

I don’t recall it, but I do know of another significant event that happened in Lubbock. The story goes that I was on the kitchen counter when the phone rang and my mom turned to answer it. I fell off the counter and broke my collar bone and my leg. I’ve seen a photograph of me trying to ride a tricycle with a huge cast on my leg, but have no remembrance of that. Another sense memory I have could either be Lubbock or Searcy. I wore a thin, synthetic little dress that didn’t close in the back, but just tied at the neck. It was off white with tiny pink flowers, and had little cap sleeves barely there. I remember the feeling of wearing that dress, the texture of the material, and I remember getting old enough to worry about the back not closing. Modesty set in early with me.

Then came Searcy, Arkansas and more memories pile up. In Searcy, my dad worked for Brother George Benson, the president of Harding College, as his assistant. Many years later I read an article in The New Yorker by William F. Buckley describing his dealings with Benson and other ultra-conservatives who served on the board of a foundation which distributed the wealth of another deceased arch-conservative. I was amazed that my dad had apprenticed with such a character. In his own words, my dad reported that he asked that the position be created because he “wanted to see how Brother Benson operated.”

I have no recollection of how it felt to be adorable, but I met a lady in Nashville many years later who told me that I was. Marilyn Williams was in college at Harding while we lived there, and she worked part time as my dad’s secretary. She said that my mother would bring me to my dad’s office sometimes in the afternoon, and she would have me all dressed up to show off for him. When I hear about that, it sounds like something that happened to another child. Somehow that reality was stripped away by later feelings. I would have been three or four.

It was in Searcy that I had my first experience with extreme fear. My mother had a degree from Peabody College as a librarian, and she decided to go back to work at Harding College, where my dad worked. They hired a black lady to keep me, but I didn’t understand (or wasn’t told) what was happening. On that first morning that Mommy left me, I remember being frightened of the black lady, because she was the first black person I had ever seen. Then I realized that my mother was leaving and I couldn’t go with her. I went berserk, screaming and kicking against a closed door (I guess it was my bedroom?) while this was happening.

I feel so sorry for that lovely woman now, and I have a very sweet memory of her to balance the traumatic one. She and I were walking down a sidewalk, holding hands. I think we had been to a park. It was a hot day, and she had the courage to walk up to the front porch of a white person’s house and knock on the door. She said, “M’am, this child is thirsty. Could you give her some water?” She did not ask for any water for herself. (She probably knew that she would be denied.) I felt a warm rush of tenderness, because she cared about me and was trying to take good care of me. Could her name be Annie? I think it might have been.

Meet my parents, James Carlyn Moore, Jr. and Dorothy Long Whitesell Moore, and my brother Chip (James Carlyn Moore III), and me, Gwendolyn Moore. I have no middle name. Apparently when I was born, my father said, "Gwendolyn Moore - that's enough."

While we lived in Searcy, Norvel Young and his family came through town on their way to California. My only memory of the visit is an unhappy one. I had been enrolled in the Harding Academy nursery school (where I spent most of two years), and at school I had made a little cart with wheels out of cardboard. I had brought it home, and I remember being in the top bunk of a bunk bed and having the Young girls brought in my room for me to tell them goodbye. Sara had my cardboard cart! I wanted it back! My mom made me give it to her, since she was company and she wanted it. I felt betrayed and angry about that. It was mine, all the more because I made it! How could somebody else’s desires be more important than mine?

There’s a story I heard more than once and I think it may have happened on this visit. Apparently my dad was babysitting the kids one night. Emily, the oldest, called out from the bedroom, “Mr. Moore, I need to get a glass of water.” That was okay with him. Then it was “Mr. Moore, I need to go to the bathroom.” She got permission. But then a bit later, there was another stirring, and my dad found Emily in the bathroom again. “What are you doing this time?” he asked. “Mr. Moore, I have to wash out my slip to wear tomorrow.” That tells you a lot about little Emily Young.

In Searcy, we lived in a house that had windows on both sides of one corner. In that corner, my mother set up a table and hung shelves in the window, and filled them full of African violets. It was the first time our family had any extra money, and her mother had taught her to love gardening, so she went a little crazy. I think I heard that she accumulated at least fifty plants. She took such care not to get water on the leaves. Once in Searcy it rained for forty days and forty nights, and the grown-ups talked about Noah and the Flood. I watched the rain filling up the gray sky outside the African violets windows day after day.

There were summer days so hot that the grass burned my bare feet. I ran to get from place to place, the grass burned so hot. We lived on a street that ended in the woods, and at Easter our folks got Chip and me a baby duck. A neighbor boy told me he had taken the duck down to a snake pit in the woods and it had been eaten up by the snakes. Who knows if that really happened, but it was my first experience with a bully.

Another day, I was playing on a swing set in a neighbor’s yard, and suddenly the sky begin to darken and there was thunder and lightning. The loud crack startled me so that I hit my chin on the cross-bar of the swing set and bit through part of my tongue. I remember running home bleeding and being so scared by what I had done.

Our family was never quick to embrace new technology, and we were not the first on our block to buy a television. My brother would go to a neighbors’ house to watch TV, but it was in Searcy that I remember we bought our first set. My dad would sit and I would stand between his legs, and we would conduct together the Lawrence Welk orchestra, the Champagne Music Makers.

Chip and I watched the Howdy-Doody show, and we actually had a little plastic Howdy-Doody doll the size of my hand whose mouth moved when you pushed on a little plastic lever in back of his head. I’m not sure what age I was when I fell in love with the Mickey Mouse Club and just had to have those white cowgirl boots with the tassles, so I could participate in Roundup Day. (Was it Tuesdays? They had a regular schedule where special programs landed on the same day every week.) I would stand in front of the TV and imitate the dance the girls did in their white boots.

I had a doll named Tiny Tears. You would feed her real water in a bottle, and it would come out her eyes as tears. I loved that doll. We were at some big event like a church potluck or a college program at Harding, and I accidentally left that doll behind. I must have put up a big fuss, because we drove back to look for it, couldn’t find it, and I somehow convinced my folks that I would not be consoled until they bought me another Tiny Tears just like her.

Another physical memory was holding both my mom’s and dad’s hands and being swung between them down some big church steps. I don’t know which church had those big, long steps, so I can’t be sure what age I was or which city I was in. I felt secure and happy when I was between them at church, or being swung like that. It was when my mom and I were alone that I started to be miserable.

In the Searcy house, I was three or four years old. I was sitting in our green chair with the ottoman, curled up and crying. My mom was just across the room talking cheerfully on the phone, and then she spoke kindly to our fluffy white dog, Snowball. I said, “Momma, how come you can talk so nice to other people and to Snowball, but you can’t talk nice to me?” This feeling of not being safe with her, and not being treated kindly by her, characterized our relationship until she died at 82. What a sad, difficult and mutually painful relationship we had.

In Searcy, we had several animals. Tweety-Bird was a yellow parakeet who lived in a cage in the bathroom. (Or do I remember the cage in the bathroom because it was being cleaned? I’m not sure.) We had the big white dog named Snowball. We had the ill-fated Easter duck for awhile. Most special of all, though, was that my dad decided to buy a horse. We boarded her in someone’s stable further out in the country. Her name was Big Red, and I must have ridden on her, but that part I don’t recall.

What I do remember was sitting on her back one day in her stall. Another horse was able to nibble at her tail from the next stall, and she got irritated and bucked. I flew off and landed in her feed trough, hitting my arm on the side. The doctor said I had a “green twig fracture” which he explained meant the bone did not break but fractured when it bent on the edge of the feed trough. So I’m only four years old and have already broken two appendages and a broken collar bone. Before we left Searcy, Big Red had a foal, and it broke my heart to say goodbye to them when Daddy told us we were leaving for California.

We packed the car, sold Big Red and her colt, gave away Tweety-Bird, but took Snowball with us. He sat on the floorboards under my feet. I remember that car, a dark green Chevy with running boards. I was still little enough to sit on the pull-down armrest, and I called it “my seat”. So we headed out on the long drive to California, across the desert, and at one point we stopped for gas. Gathering us back to the car, my dad called out to Snowball who had wandered across the highway. Obediently, he started back toward us and was hit by an eighteen-wheeler.

It was my first experience with death (The duck doesn’t count – we hadn’t bonded.), and I remember the shocked feeling that Snowball was no longer with us. The floorboards kept feeling so empty without him under my feet. I know my dad must have been terribly upset by what had happened, but all I remember feeling was the shocked numbness. I didn’t grieve by crying or being angry or talking about the loss. This was my pattern for many years afterward.

We went to Carlsbad Caverns on our way, and I can still feel the damp cold and the majestic hugeness of the cave system. I was scared when they turned out the lights and everything was blacker than I had ever felt. I think that’s all I know about the trip until we started to approach Los Angeles. It was night, and my dad woke Chip and me up to look at a new sight. It was a river of red lights going one way and white lights coming the other. He said, “You won’t see this anywhere else, children. This is called a freeway, and it’s only here in California that you can see this kind of sight for miles and miles.”