It’s not terribly surprising I was adamant about Santa Clara being my home considering my family left Santa Clara for San Diego a mere six months before I wrote this entry. In contrast, it astonishes me that 47 years later, I still regard Santa Clara as my home – despite the fact I never lived there again. Realistically, hasn’t LA – where I’ve lived the last 47 years – earned the right to be called home?
Yeah, objectively, no doubt about it. Emotionally, not so fast. I grew up in Santa Clara, it will forever be where I spent my childhood, it’s the backdrop for all my highly formative memories and experiences.
Unfortunately, the Santa Clara I regard as home ceased to exist shortly after I left. I’ve covered this in other blogs (July 18, 1969, August 26, 1969) and I’m loathe to repeat myself. Still, Santa Clara’s metamorphoses into Silicon Valley fascinates me.
Someday I’d love to write a historical novel about Santa Clara. I’d approach it as a multi-generational saga about a family who own an apricot orchard, tracing family members and the city itself as it evolves to Silicon Valley. I’ve been warned family sagas are out of fashion but by the time I finish, they might be all the rage again.
For those of you who (like me) do not have photographic memories, here are the major winners that year.
This was a fun, easy party to throw. I ask guests to dress in formal regalia, as if they were really attending the Oscars. Slightly more than half usually follow through, not a bad average at our age.
The house-cleaning, such as it is, is on me, but not the food. I let people know it’s pot luck but do not specify what type of food they should bring. For those who prefer a conventional dinner, this adds to the night’s suspense. (We might wind up with 15 desserts, 15 appetizers or nothing but wine!)
I issue ballots and everybody puts $2 into the kitty. One year we upped it to $5 per person which was just enough to jack everyone’s competitive drive to an obnoxious level so the following year we brought it back down to $2 – not really enough money to come to blows over. (Neither was $5 a head but go figure.)
Just for the record, I have never won an Oscar pool, which seems a tad unfair since I host the party (apparently, that doesn’t make me any smarter.)
I’m not a geneticist, just the mother of three, but watching three distinct personalities emerge straight out of the womb convinced me nature matters more than nurture. Based on my empirical evidence (Chris, Sam and Alex, to be specific) I believe we’re born with most, if not all, of our personalities intact. As the above entry illustrates, from an early age Alex appreciated the value of money and paid attention to it. To this day, Chris and Sam barely give it a second thought.
For a while, Alex and Sam (born 14 months apart) shared the same crib, sometimes in shifts. Sam needed to be surrounded by all of her plush animals. As soon as I placed Alex in the crib, he methodically hurled them out – he preferred a more pristine, austere environment.
Sam and Chris bear a strong physical resemblance – some people mistakenly assume they’re twins – although she’s much closer in age to Alex. While Chris is close to his siblings and cousins, the seven-year plus age gap between him and them kept him out of most of their fantasy games. Of course, I’m prejudiced, but IMHO all three of my children are brilliant and beautiful, as are their cousins Caitlin, Connor, Bree and Carly. (This is not to dismiss their Fresno cousins Jeffrey, Michael, Martin, Mark and Aida – but since my sisters and I live within a five-mile radius, they see a great deal more of their cousins on the Knutsen side.)
This little coterie of cousins shares a strong creative streak. Tucking scarves in back of their jeans to serve as tails for a game of cats provided hours of entertainment. One year, Sam flew home from college with a scarf-tail tucked in back of her pants. It delighted her when little kids in the airport spotted her with excitement. “Look, Mom, that girl has a tail!” She’s more concerned with looking interesting than she is afraid of looking weird. (And by now it should go without saying, looking “interesting” does not mean fashionista-interesting. Quite the contrary.)
I’d spoken to Griffin and Amy on the phone, but this was our first face-to-face. I was slightly awed by both of them. Long before I fell in love with Griffin’s performance in the sensational film After Hours, I enjoyed his father Dominick’s books starting with The Users. As for Amy, I was a huge fan of Baby, It’s You, an indie film she produced. The fact it was based, in part, on her high school and college life made her that much more fascinating. Not only were they a hot young producing duo, they were classy and smart with superlative taste in literature. They fell in love with the same obscure novel I did. They intended to option the book and produce the movie. I would adapt it for the screen.
The Moonflower Vine, Jetta Carleton’s first and only novel, became an overnight sensation upon publication in 1962. I don’t recall how it wound up in my hands in high school. It didn’t look like the kind of book I gravitated toward. To be blunt, it looked boring – like a plotless description-heavy feel-good tale of a rural family. It looked like hundreds of similar books I failed to finish after a quick perusal of the first and last chapter. (Yes, I read the end of most books as soon as I finish the beginning. I have my reasons.)
The Moonflower Vine wasn’t one of those books. I was so engrossed I read to the last page without peeking. It blew me away. Critics raved about the grace and beauty of her writing. While exquisite language is far from the first thing I seek in a novel, it doesn’t hurt. Equally if not more important than the prose, Carleton’s characters were full-bodied and three-dimensional, bursting with life and the weight of their secrets.
Despite four months on the New York’s Times best-seller list and its selection by major book clubs, the book fell out of print. The lack of a follow-up didn’t help. Aside from two paperback reissues in the 70s and 80s, it was all but forgotten.
A couple factors led to its recent renaissance. It was featured on the “Neglected Books” website which included an endorsement by Jane Smiley. Smiley cited The Moonflower Vine in her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. Perhaps most important of all, voracious fans like myself read and re-read it, and recommended it to others.
I, for instance, persuaded my sisters they had to read it. They did and they fell in love too. Since the book tells the stories of a Missouri family with three living daughters, it’s not so surprising an Iowa family with three daughters related rather strongly. Jetta’s fictional family bore enough similarities to her real family that her two older sisters felt tainted and infuriated. Was that part of the reason she didn’t write another book? They forgave her before she died in 1999.
Carleton left a draft of another novel – Claire de Lune – behind which was published posthumously. Meanwhile – in part because so many fans consider it unforgettable – The Moonflower Vine was republished to some fanfare in 2009 by HarperCollins.
I know, it looks a little dull, but it’s not. It ranks high on my personal list of “Books that Mattered” and I highly recommend it.
More than 25 years later, the details of this day stand out in my mind with startling clarity. Something about life and death situations has that effect. Five days earlier Sam saw the same doctor – he said she had the flu but every day after that she got worse. For the first time, she was too weak to trick or treat.
Although I’m married to a trial attorney who does some medical malpractice, we never considered suing the doctor for his failure to diagnose her correctly. This dermoid cyst thing was so unusual that no doctor would jump to that conclusion first – or even second. It wasn’t what they expected to find when they started surgery. They were after a bad appendix (even though the problem was on her right side.) What they found shocked us all.
I feel so blessed to live in this century, in this country, where medicine was advanced enough to save her. A hundred years earlier, the gangrene would’ve killed her and no one would’ve ever known why. Although this was a a horrible harrowing experience, I feel nothing but gratitude she came through it safe and sound.