The reason Sam and I wound up at Dolly’s niece’s birthday party was that my sister Janet became very good friends with Dolly when she worked as an AD (Assistant Director) on a few of Dolly’s films (9 to 5, Rhinestone). Consequently, my family and I have had the privilege of interacting with Dolly on multiple occasions during the past few decades.
This episode in my diary illustrates this perfectly. Dolly, as host of this party, probably had a million things on her mind, yet she noticed a little girl’s tears and dried them by reaching out in a way that didn’t embarrass or hurt anyone (since the real birthday girl was too young to know it).
This degree of empathy would be impressive in any human being. In a star of Dolly Parton’s magnitude, it’s astonishing. I’ve met my share of celebrities and can truly attest that Dolly Parton is one of a kind – in the best possible way.
I wasn’t at this party, my sister Janet took the kids. When she got up to take photos, Dolly took her place and started to feed Alex. His and her expressions in response are priceless.
In the summer of ’76 I was pregnant, so we had to move out of our first apartment, within walking distance of USC (no babies allowed). To call our second apartment “gorgeous” is a gross exaggeration. It looked like every other apartment in the 70s. Outdoor stairs led to five or six apartments, ours included, on the second floor. Even though it was long ago and we lived there for only two years, I remember it in vivid detail.
I pity Los Angeles millennials – well, anybody who wants to rent in LA. One hundred and seventy-five dollars seemed like a fortune to us (our previous rent was $125) but it was do-able, even though John earned about $200 a week as a part-time law clerk (he was a full-time law student at USC). Imagine a couple renting a 2-bedroom LA apartment today on one partner’s part-time salary.
What we didn’t know was that we were within walking distance of Angelo Bueno’s auto upholstery shop – you know, the one where the Hillside Stranglers tortured and killed all those women with long brunette hair. One of the victims was abducted from the small hospital at the end of our block. The murders hadn’t started when we moved in, but it wasn’t long – October 1977 to be specific – and they lasted until February 78 (we moved out in the summer of 78). As the bodies piled up in Glendale and La Crescenta hillsides, it made for some jumpy times.
As for Inga, she lived a long and happy life with my parents in San Diego. I think she liked having a house and a yard to play in (as opposed to our apartment) plus my sister Joyce’s dog, Kuala, as a companion. My parents never particularly wanted dogs, but they fell in love with our dogs once they got to know them, and we all cried when Inga (and later Kuala) crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
This is one of those entries in which nothing significant happens – but I’m so glad I wrote it down! Thirty-five years later, these are the entries I love to discover – and I do mean discover – because I have no conscious memory of any of it.
Far too many of my diary entries describe phone calls I made or received, the writing I did or didn’t accomplish, the bill from a run to the Price Club (Costco), my weight and what I ate that I wish I hadn’t – all of it meaningless now. Instead, I should have documented those precious, fleeting moments with my children.
It all went by so quickly. Sure, I’ve got pictures – lots of them. They illustrate exactly what 2-almost-3-year-old Tata and one-year-old Anni looked like, but they’re only glimpses, frozen in time. The funny things they said and did, the emergence of their unique personalities, the way the two of them interacted – unless I wrote it down, all of that is lost forever. Videos could have preserved some of it, but home movies in 1986 were beyond my area of expertise – and my budget.
Anni tried to copy Tata, even when he hadn’t a clue what she was doing. She’d place one hand on her back, one on her tummy, and bow deeply to each corner of the room. Where did that come from? Tata copied Anni too, notably by joining what would become his signature arm-in-the-air salute (two-arms, for extra emphasis).
Still, even in infancy, distinct differences between their two personalities emerged. Tata mobbed her crib with plush animals. Anni methodically tossed every one of them out. Tata fearlessly jammed her mouth with marbles, pennies, anything handy and lethal. Nothing entered Anni’s mouth without scrutiny and informed consent. Tears streamed down his cheeks when I made him taste chicken.
I thought these day-to-day moments weren’t important. I thought I’d remember them all. How could I be so wrong? Thank God for the times I wrote these things down.
A spoiled 13-year-old wrote this. Reading it today, I realize how incredibly lucky I was to be my father’s daughter even though as a PK (Preacher’s Kid), I felt pressured to be an “example” to others. The pressure didn’t come from my father. If anything, he urged me to be exactly who I was. Don’t act religious to please him. Don’t go Satanic to rebel. Listen to your own voice.
I didn’t get any static when I chose UCLA instead of a Lutheran college. He made no effort to direct me toward a more practical major than film writing. He was even fine when I married a Catholic.
I think the idea that PK’s should be held to a higher standard is a commonly held, rarely challenged belief. That’s why a casual observer like Jane’s mother could say, “Somehow, we thought the pastor’s daughter would be different.” It’s why Dusty Springfield sang about being despoiled by “the son of a preacher man,” not “the son of a plumber.” It’s just the way it is.
Growing up PK was a challenge I didn’t choose but in retrospect it was a privilege. I wouldn’t trade a minute of being Pastor Vance’s daughter to be anyone else.
In retrospect, it’s ironic my youngest son “vanished” the day after Vanished aired on NBC. (I wrote the teleplay, based on the Danielle Steele novel.) It’s about “a man and woman faced with an almost unthinkable tragedy – the mysterious abduction of their son.”
My fascination with kidnapped children began with a Reader’s Digest condensed book, Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case by George Waller. Half a century later, I’ve read almost every book on the subject (and there are a lot). IMHO, Bruno Richard Hauptmann was innocent, but we’ll never know for sure. That enduring mystery is one of the reasons the case still captivates. Kidnappers Leopold and Loeb also inspired their share of films and books but in their case, the mystery wasn’t who did it, but why. More recently, the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann is a hot case and the subject of a new Netflix documentary.
Missing children – in fiction as well as true crime – capture public imagination because the stories speak to a primal parental fear. I suspect most parents survive at least one heart-stopping moment where their child appears to vanish and the previously unimaginable is agonizingly imminent. In a moment of clarity, you understand that one mistake – an instant of distraction – can shatter everything. Since all of us are human, all of us make mistakes. I made several. All my children terrified me with at least one disappearing act. Luckily, none of them were gone very long.
“I feel a little guilty – like I manipulated her” – seriously? Is there a manipulative tactic I didn’t employ? Easter was my father’s favorite holiday and one of the busiest days of his year. Monday was his day off and I stole this one without a second thought.
That said, part of me doesn’t feel guilty – because every minute my children spent with their grandparents was blessed – and I’m pretty sure my parents treasured those times too. They were young grandparents, age wise. I’m not sure I was ready to be a grandparent when I was their age.
However, more than a decade later, I am so ready I have baby fever. Facebook friends post adorable pictures of their grandchildren and I ache and think, “I want that!” I see cute babies in restaurants and think, “I want that!” I have quite the opposite reaction on airplanes, when an infant breaks the sound barrier for the entire flight. When that happens, I shudder and think, “Thank God that’s not my problem.”
I knew what I did not want to do – don a cap and gown and endure an excruciating graduation ceremony. My own Jr. High and high school extravaganzas were torture. What about those magical moments, watching my own children graduate? Don’t you just want to smile all over? Uh, no.
Slow-roasting in bleachers without shade, surrounded by delirious parents straining to spot their spawn in a sea of black-robes several zip codes to the south – made home schooling appear an attractive option. For the record, the only things I dread more than rituals like graduation are parades and colonoscopies.
Flash forward to my son CD, valedictorian for his UCLA film and television class. Two surprises awaited me, one pleasant and one not so much. The good news was, only film and TV students participated, making it more like a party than spectacle. Lulled into a false sense of security, I thought, “this is almost a perfect day.”
CD took the microphone. He singled out his wife and his father – 100% USC Trojan, undergrad and law school. He thanked them for their inspiration. No mention of his mother and fellow UCLA film and TV alum. You know, the one who introduced him to Melnitz hall and UCLA’s campus.
Amazingly, I recovered from this ego-shattering blow as well as a carrot that caused me to barf at the reception. Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit. So what if CD forgot to thank me? I could not have been any prouder of him. I still am.
While combing my diaries for a suitable blog entry, if I find a snippet about CD, I usually send it to the adult CD just to give him some idea of his life as a two-year-old. Since he has no conscious memories of his infancy, he can’t enlighten me about what actually ran through his mind.
A child psychiatrist might hazard an informed guess about which cognitive skills were in development but no one will ever know for sure. Odds are, my instincts were right and what amused him involved repetition.
As my diaries suggest, by nature I wrote down almost everything that happened, no matter how apparently trivial. I’m glad I did, now, since some of the things that seemed mundane – even then – acquired significance in the ensuing years. I forgot almost everything I failed to record for posterity.
As my firstborn, CD was the beneficiary – or the victim, depending on your point of view – of my meticulous record keeping. Sometimes, in bursts of energy, he’d run races with himself, up and down the family room, shouting “Go!” a few seconds after he started. We could guarantee a smile by throwing a towel over his head, asking “Where’s CD?” and yanking it off. Hilarious! Two-year-old’s – the best audience ever.
Growing up PK, I performed in dozens of holiday programs but this was my first in a parental role. I wasn’t embarrassed when CD abandoned the stage – who could expect more of a three-year-old? I hoped he’d enjoy the performance but I don’t think he did. A live audience flicks a switch in some kids – not CD, at least at age three.
I was a show-off at his age, desperate to drown out my younger sister Janet. After I belted all four verses of “Oh Come all Ye Faithful”, my father would gently suggest I let Janet take her turn. “No, Daddy, she’s too little, she doesn’t know the words, I’ll sing it! Joy to the World, the Lord is come…” All of this was recorded for posterity on reel-to-reel tape.
I’m not sure when I lost my taste for performing – probably when we moved to California and I was the uncomfortable new kid in kindergarten. My concern shifted from wanting to share my genius with the world to obsessing about how the world rated me (as yet unaware that most people weren’t paying that much attention.) My fear of not being good enough silenced the raging diva deep inside.
The Sea Cat might’ve been a problem even if I hadn’t forced a healthy breakfast down my family’s throats – but for sure, that decision turned merely disgusting to dire. Like my sister Joyce, I’m neurotically phobic about vomit – I get nauseous if I see or hear it in films and, yes, “Monty Python and the Meaning of Life” is completely out of the question. And that scene in “Bridesmaids” sent me running, too.
Consequently, even though a responsible parent and considerate traveler would’ve initiated clean-up, I couldn’t even look. When the kids lost it, one after the other like dominoes falling, I curled into a fetal position. Luckily, J had a stronger stomach and received aid from a compassionate stranger in military uniform. Nobody died. That’s the kindest review I can give our voyage.
Due to the above circumstances, no photos document this segment of our journey so I’m illustrating today’s blog with fun things we did in England before we boarded the Sea Cat.