My father remembered that night well. In the darkness of our tent, one by one he heard sniffles from the surrounding sleeping bags. Marion Voxland was the parish worker for Hope Lutheran, my father’s church. She took care of our pets while we were in Iowa. We had a Pekinese dog, Lady, and a cat, Princess, who recently had kittens. Abner was my kitten.
These were our first pets because my parents, having grown up on Iowa farms, viewed cats and dogs as animals that belonged outside. Veterinary expenses for a pet were an unnecessary expense. Spaying and neutering wasn’t a thing yet, so canines and felines (like Princess) were constantly over-populating. My parents weren’t cruel to cats or dogs. They just didn’t consider them people.
My sisters and I felt differently, and still do. Our pets are part of the family. Science might say different, but I attribute human thoughts and feelings to them. Jealousy, joy, disdain, outrage. I see these emotions and more in my pets.
Over the years, my mother became a co-conspirator with my sisters and my efforts to welcome more animals into the house. Occasionally, she’d even drive us to the pound so we could visit them. My father couldn’t help getting attached to our pets, once he got to know them – which meant we all cried when one of them crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
My father founded the parish in Elgin. We lived in the parsonage, flanked by a huge asparagus field, within easy walking distance of the church. My sister Joyce was born there.
Sometimes, my father tape recorded our dinner conversations, to mine them for potential sermon illustrations. Some of those reel-to-reel tapes survived half a century. On one, I insist I want a dog because the boy next door, PF, has a dog. My dad asks me what color of dog I want. “Blue” I reply because I’m 4 years old. Janet requested a pink dog, but she was only two.
On the tapes, Janet, my dad, and I erupt in applause every time my mother lays food on the table. My father wanted to show appreciation – and teach us to do the same – for even mundane tasks like food preparation. Looking back, it was more about appreciating my mother, something he showed in so many ways, it leaves me breathless. Suffice to say, although I believe my husband and children love me, I’ve never received a standing ovation for dinner.
Children of parents deeply in love all their lives are lucky indeed. My parents treated each other with respect and kindness, no matter the circumstances. Their love wasn’t wild and dramatic, like what I saw in the movies. It was deeper and more profound. It was real. It went the distance. My sisters and I were blessed enough to bear witness.
Many people mistakenly believe they had the best dad or mom in the world. I’m one of three girls who did. My father was tall, dark, and handsome, charismatic, kind, and wise. My mother was gentle and beautiful, understanding, and insightful. They found each other and held on for 66 years of marriage. I’m sad but not surprised my mother died within a year of my father. They belong together, forever.
What made these particular incidents so traumatic was feeling publicly humiliated. I didn’t realize nobody paid the slightest attention to me or my embarrassment. I took myself far too seriously. I still do, but not to this deranged degree.
The other thing that anchors this entry in 1964 is the reference to a “Jonah” day. Growing up PK, we play-acted Bible stories like the Good Samaritan or the Israelites discovering “manna” (cookie dough). Biblical names were part of our language. “Jonah day” isn’t a term I’d use today but it’s familiar – I know what I meant even though some details are hazy. It involved Jonah in the belly of a whale which – I learned much later – is one of many universal myths, variations on Carl Jung’s “dark night of the soul.” The symbolism in many Bible stories ran deeper than my adolescent imagination could comprehend. I was lucky to be exposed to them.
As so often happens when I review old diary entries, events I considered tragic in 1964 seem merely amusing today. This gives me hope that today’s disasters will – someday – be revealed as trivial, forgettable.
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.
Some of you may remember Judith Russell, a guest at some of our outrageous 80s and Oscar parties. I’m sad to report she died earlier this week, alone, in her apartment; her body wasn’t discovered for two or three days. When I knew her, Judith was pretty, vibrant and funny. Two industry heavyweights – Terry Semel and Sherry Lansing – hired her to be their personal secretary – she had the perfect voice, face and sassy attitude to charm the public.
Judith’s life was anything but enchanted, though. In the 80s, a fall on the Warner’s lot dislodged a brain tumor that could not be 100% removed – sooner or later, it would grow back, and she’d face surgery again. Hospitalized at UCLA, she was inundated with flowers and get-well wishes from almost every A-list celebrity. Her hair grew back and she recovered.
She couldn’t recover from alcoholism, though. Employers paid for pricey inpatient rehabs because they wanted her sober. Judith had no interest whatsoever in life without alcohol. After one Oscar party, I took her car keys because she was far too drunk to drive home. In the morning, she was gone. Turns out she traveled with a second set in her purse, “just in case” something like that happened. That’s alcoholic thinking in action.
She lost the high-profile jobs and lacked the high-tech skills required to land an equally impressive gig. She withdrew from her friends. My sister Joyce hung in there the longest. She and Judith went to Saturday matinees in Burbank for years until it interrupted Judith’s drinking so she declined.
For the last ten years, Judith woke up and went straight to her local bar, where she spent the day and part of evening, until she staggered home or close to it – sometimes, she passed out in the parking garage or vestibule. Her landlady was concerned. We all were, but she no longer talked to people that knew her before.
I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.
Rest in peace, old friend. I pray you’re in a better place.
This debacle – I truly tanked the GREs – was due to my own hubris. I hadn’t spent a minute in a math class since high school. For that matter, I avoided hard core English classes too, choosing to specialize in courses like Ibsen and Tolstoy in lieu of grammatical structure. I never did like diagramming sentences.
So, sure, my hard-core academics were rusty, but all my life, I tested high on standardized tests. Why should today be any exception? I sailed into the GRE exam without so much as a cursory glance at a GRE preparation guide. Why bother? How much can a person forget in four years?
News flash. In four years, you can forget more math than you ever knew. Granted, I could still nail basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but guess what? They don’t ask that kind of question. Algebra and geometry were center stage. I suspect calculus and trig played starring roles, too, but I can’t verify because I didn’t take either one in high school.
So, how badly did I choke on the GREs? Suffice to stay, none of the Ivy’s competed to recruit me.
The one-bedroom Sharon and I shared near the VA cemetery was my first apartment but I had years of practice co-existing in small spaces with others. Growing up in a Santa Clara parsonage, then sharing UCLA dorm rooms, taught me a little about compromise but apparently not enough. Things had been testy between Sharon and me from the start, but it was still devastating when she wanted me gone.
After that, I avoided her on campus. We lost touch after graduation. Decades passed and I still felt badly about how our friendship imploded. I wondered what she did with her life. When the internet arrived, I googled her but “Sharon Richards” produced so many hits it was hopeless– until UCLA published a student directory.
Imagine my surprise to discover Sharon lived less than five miles away – we actually shopped at the same Ralph’s market. It took courage to call her. I’m not sure if I was scared she wouldn’t remember me or that she would. We met for lunch and I apologized for being the roommate from Hell.
She explained that regardless of what she might’ve said (I wrote it down, so I knew), she was in the throes of her own anxieties – what I read as brutal rejection wasn’t much about me at all. As it turns out, very few things actually are “all about me.” This insight was healing and, as a bonus, Sharon and I became better friends than we were before we became roommates.
I don’t know what I expected when I walked into Student Counseling – I’d seen psychologists and psychiatrists before but never felt helped by any of them. Maybe because I was so emotionally defenseless, this woman got to me.
I knew I was falling apart and I felt terrible about it because I shouldn’t be. I’d just graduated from UCLA and – on the outside – it looked like good things were about to transpire for my writing career. Unfortunately, instead of giving me confidence, this made me feel under pressure which was compounded by my efforts to escape an extremely toxic relationship with L, a much older man who manipulated me with threats of self-harm and other histrionics. (On the plus side, I’m grateful to L for illustrating – by example – how unattractive and unpleasant drama queens can be.)
The counselor said I was lucky to have a supportive family and I shouldn’t feel guilty about moving home. San Diego wasn’t that far from LA – I could make the drive in under three hours if I needed to take a meeting.
I took her advice and moved home. I left L behind, leaving it up to him whether he committed suicide. (Spoiler alert – he did not kill himself.) It was the right course and I might not have found my way if that counselor hadn’t extended her compassion. I’m not sure I ever knew her name – I know I never thanked her personally because I never saw her again – something I regret because, looking back, I feel like she saved my life
When Luke and I met in 1969, I was the depressive and he was calm and smiling. At some point during our three years together, he absorbed my darkness and I took his light. I didn’t consciously steal it – it just happened.
We’d broken up for the final time a year before this entry but we remained friends like many couples promise but few actually do. (Spoiler alert – it’s not easy.) He never called me, I always called him, which under ordinary circumstances I would’ve read as cease and desist. I didn’t because I was profoundly worried about him. Slim to start with, he now looked skeletal (due to macrobiotic diet, not drugs). He’d withdrawn from everyone and everything, including painting which he once loved. I was afraid he’d die. He was only 22 years old.
I knew we could never get back together. We were travelling in diverging directions. Soon we’d move on without each other, not even as friends, but that didn’t mean I’d stop caring. I’d always wonder about his life – did he find what he was looking for? Was he happy? In the unlikely event our paths crossed again in this lifetime, I’d be happy to see him and eager to hear his voice. I’d always want to know what would happen next – and then, after that. They say love never dies. In my case, neither does the power of curiosity.
Luke isn’t the only one who arouses my intense (obsessive is such a harsh word) interest– I feel that way about anyone I cared about and I suspect I always will. Maybe that’s why the Bible story about Lot’s wife struck me as tragic. As she and her family fled Sodom, she turned to look back – in my view, because she couldn’t bear not to know what happened to the people she left behind. For that, God turned her into a pillar of salt. I know, the sin was disobedience, not curiosity but the punishment seems a tad Draconian. I’d look back too – so there’d be at least two pillars of salt outside where Sodom and Gomorrah once stood.
I think this is the only photo taken at this party but it’s such a classic assemblage of sixties hair and fashion I couldn’t resist. Note my own perennial bad hair day, slacks color-keyed to my sweater, hemmed at that oh-so-chic high-water mark to allow a peek of ankle above thick white socks and shoes. Compare and contrast to my sister, who overthrew my reign as favored child when she chose to be born two years and two days after me. (See photo galleries When I was an Only Child (2 years 2 days of Bliss) and Kathy vs. the Alien Baby for the gory details.) Not only is she blessed with straight, easy to manage blonde hair that looks classy and somehow “right” no matter what decade you’re in, her fashion sense is noticeably less terrible than mine. And she takes a cuter picture.
A bowling party wouldn’t be my first (or second, third, hundredth) choice today even though there’s a cool fifties style bowling alley (Montrose Bowl) less than a mile away that other people rent for fun parties. Our Moonlight Bowl party in ’64 was the last time I had fun bowling.
At a subsequent bowling party – my last, given the humiliation – I scored a total of three points. I’ve repressed the rules of play but I’m guessing I threw nineteen gutter balls and for someone as competitive as me, that’s “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” time. When I’m so successfully challenged by a sport, I don’t climb back on the horse – I quit.
During the fifty-four years that followed this party, I lost touch with Donna Duncan and Susan Tanaka – if either of them chances upon this blog, please message me. I’d love to know what you’ve been doing for the past half a century. Susan and I walked to school when the Lawrence Expressway was still Lawrence Station Road. Donna lived on the other side of Del Monte and we spent many a summer day playing endless games of Lie Detector or Monopoly.
You might’ve thought all those hours of board games would’ve taught me to be a good loser. You’d be wrong. Neither game required strength or coordination, making it highly unlikely I’d suffer nineteen consecutive losses.