la crescenta

April 14, 1978

April 14, 1978

The house today - it didn't look like this when we lived there.
The house today – it didn’t look like this when we lived there.
Our front yard - it didn't usually look like this, it's decorated for a Halloween party.
Our front yard – it didn’t usually look like this, it’s decorated for a Halloween party.

J and I bought our first house on impulse. I’d seen and rejected thirty houses before we walked into this one and fell in love. The fact it was a little eclectic – or, to put it another way, weird – made it irresistible. It never occurred to us that such an unconventional floor plan, not to mention the fact it was on a flag lot, might make it hard to sell. Of course, we didn’t intend to sell it, ever. Why part with perfect?

Our faux-wood paneled family room, decked out for a prom party.
Our faux-wood paneled family room, decked out for a prom party.

The money part terrified us. Millennials, avert your eyes. These numbers might make you weep. Instead of paying $225 per month for our two-bedroom apartment, we were on the hook for $596 and change in monthly mortgage payments (for a slightly odd but large three-bedroom, two-bath house, half in Glendale, half in La Crescenta.)

Our living room - note adobe walls and weird cabinet built into wall on the left.
Our living room – note adobe walls and weird cabinet built into wall on the left.

Had we gone too far, were we in over our heads? The sum sounded insurmountable when we bought it, but every one of the mostly happy ten years we lived there, our house payments seemed less daunting. Knowing what I know now, if a time machine took me back to 1978, fear wouldn’t slow me down. I’d spend every last cent and then some to snap up real estate at those prices.

Another shot of the family room, like it usually looked. Built-in bar in rear.
Another shot of the family room, like it usually looked. Built-in bar in rear.

 

 

 

January 29, 1986

January 29, 1986

J and I had CD when we were (relatively) young. None of our friends had children (yet) so we had no frame of reference. In retrospect, we assumed CD would be like us – that he’d want the same things, behave the same way. He was and is a lot like us – sometimes I read him so clearly, it’s as if we have mental telepathy. More often, though, he baffled us, especially when it came to education.

CD & me at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco
CD & me at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

I walked into my very first parent-teacher conference fully expecting to hear he was the smartest kid in the class.  His kindergarten teacher said, “I don’t know any other way to put this. He’s a space cadet.” Her exact words. J and I never doubted CD’s intellect but he refused to show it at school.

CD & me on the Golden Gate Bridge
CD & me on the Golden Gate Bridge

The Hillside Learning Center was one of many attempts to figure out what was going on. They confirmed he was gifted, particularly in verbal ability. This was a relief because I feared I might be over-estimating his brilliance due to maternal bias. And yes, I probably did, because what parent doesn’t? Still, he did “blow the top” off one of their tests.

Hillside 1

But he wasn’t the eager-to-please student I was at nine and never would be. He gripped his pencil in an unwieldy way and reversed d’s and b’s. We found solutions for those problems, but not the deeper issues that stopped him from fulfilling his “potential.”  I vividly recall him angrily telling me, “I hate the word potential!”

CD & me overlooking San Francisco Bay - perhaps from Alcatraz Island
CD & me overlooking San Francisco Bay – perhaps from Alcatraz Island

This story has a happy ending. Despite dropping out of high school as a sophomore, eventually he graduated valedictorian of his class as a film student at UCLA. Bottom line, he performed when he wanted to perform – J and I couldn’t force him. Our efforts had the opposite effect.

Another shot of us on the bridge during our 1986 San Francisco trip
Another shot of us on the bridge during our 1986 San Francisco trip

These were difficult times but we learned a lot. CD wasn’t – and never will be – a mini-me or mini-J and that’s great. Learning to lighten up and let go of expectations was excellent practice for parenting our other two children.

 

March 29, 1989

March 29, 1989

Joyce and Judith Russell
Joyce and Judith Russell

John talks to Martin in b.g.

Me with my boys; John talks to Martin in b.g.
Me with my boys; John talks to Martin in b.g.

Almost thirty years later, I can answer that question with some authority. Yes, I was definitely losing interest in movies, a trend that would continue. Today, IMHO, the most innovative, exciting and inspirational writing can be seen on cable television or a streaming service.  In 1989, I couldn’t imagine the myriad entertainment options we take for granted now. To illustrate just how different things were, check out our eighties pride and joy – the gigantic rear-projection television that consumed half the family room. The yellow velveteen sofa is another eighties winner.

Rear-projection TV

Anne Kurrasch, Aviva, and rear-projection TV
Anne Kurrasch, Aviva, and rear-projection TV

Joyce and John Salter

Joyce and John Salter
Joyce and John Salter

A couple people who were there that night – Ed Cutter and Jake Jacobson to name two – have died. I lost touch with JoAnn Hill and even with the full resources of the internet, I haven’t been able to find her due to the sheer volume of JoAnn Hills.

JoAnn Hill and young Thomas Dadourian
JoAnn Hill and young Thomas Dadourian
Martin and Roberta Gundersen
Martin and Roberta Gundersen

My adorable little blond boy in the white faux tuxedo jacket is in his thirties now, living in his own condo and too busy with his job and girlfriend to see us more than every other weekend. The other day he laughingly told me I couldn’t guilt him anymore. We’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?

Me and Alex again
Me and Alex again
JoAnn Hill and John on classic eighties sofa
JoAnn Hill and John on classic eighties sofa

Enjoy these pictures and take lots of photos of your life as you know it now. Before you know it, everything will change and you’ll want to remember how it used to be. In the immortal words of the great Paul Simon in “Bookends”:

Ed Cutter and John Salter
Ed Cutter and John Salter
Sam and Roberta
Sam and Roberta

Memories from March 29, 1989

March 25, 1970

March 25, 1970

Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.
Janet and I in our Santa Clara neighborhood shortly after we moved there.

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.

My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage - the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
My sisters and I in front of our Santa Clara parsonage – the girl on the far right in the bathing suit is Alana (Lennie), a neighbor and early friend.
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957
The three Knutsen sisters in August of 1957

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.

Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.
Janet, Joyce and I in front of Santa Clara parsonage a little later.

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.

March 21, 1994

March 21, 1994

Roberta Gundersen, Sam, Bree Salter Rieber
Roberta Gundersen, Sam, Bree Salter Rieber

 For those of you who (like me) do not have photographic memories, here are the major winners that year.

Anne Kurrasch and Jake Jacobson - long-time friends - enjoy chatting.
Anne Kurrasch and Jake Jacobson – long-time friends – enjoy chatting.

Best Picture Best Director  

 

Rob Huddy and Deborah Amelon
Rob Huddy and Deborah Amelon

Best Actor

Best Actress_edited-1

Anne Kurrasch and Joyce Knutsen Salter
Anne Kurrasch and Joyce Knutsen Salter

Best Supporting ACtor

Best Supporting Actress

William Atherton thinks the program is running a little long. Bree Salter Rieber in bg, smiling at camera.
William Atherton thinks the program is running a little long. Bree Salter Rieber in bg, smiling at camera.

Best Screenplays

Bree Salter Rieber with childhood buddy Thomas Dadourian
Bree Salter Rieber with childhood buddy Thomas Dadourian

Best Foreign Film

John with future law partners Jack and Mary Denove
John with future law partners Jack and Mary Denove

 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.

Stefanni Graham, Jazz, Mary Bennett
Stefanni Graham, Jazz, Mary Bennett

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!)

Thomas and Marva Fucci, Bobbi Goldin, Moi
Thomas and Marva Fucci, Bobbi Goldin, Moi

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.)

Anne with Dr. Patti Akopianz (Cavender)
Anne with Dr. Patti Akopianz (Cavender)

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.)

The hosts.
The hosts.
By the end of the evening, Anne Kurrasch and Jake Jacobson appear to take their friendship to the next level. They will marry within the next couple years.
By the end of the evening, Anne Kurrasch and Jake Jacobson appear to take their friendship to the next level. They will marry within the next couple years.

February 1, 1981

February 1, 1981

 

Wearing our "Whale Groupie" t-shirts
Wearing our “Whale Groupie” t-shirts
Whale Groupie party with Robert
Whale Groupie party with Robert

Naturally, the charter members of the “Whale Groupies” fan club (See August 12,1980 Blog) celebrated the TV premiere of Robert Lovenheim’s  movie “A Whale for the Killing” with a screening party.  Robert himself – at that time, the only one in our group gainfully employed in the entertainment business – couldn’t be there, he was out of the country on his next project.

I pour something for Bennett Traub after the "Whale for the Killing" screening.
I pour something for Bennett Traub after the “Whale for the Killing” screening.

Looking back, I wonder why we had so much more time to socialize and hang out in the seventies and eighties. Or did we just have more energy?  In those days, J and I entertained different mixes of friends almost every night. This evening fell on a Sunday, so most people needed to rise for work the next day, hence the 11 PM departure.  Some Friday or Saturday nights lasted till dawn. Very few evenings ended before 3 AM.

Whale Groupies at later event with Robert
Whale Groupies at later event with Robert

I had no idea how much the digital revolution would change things. If I’d understood what computers and smartphones could eventually do, I would’ve expected them to simply my life, reduce the time required to take care of life’s business, thereby freeing up vast frontiers of time.

Hey everybody! Look this way!
Hey everybody! Look this way!

My experience has been quite the contrary and – as far as I can tell – so has that of most people I know.  Somehow social media replaced our active social lives. Before personal computers, J and I entertained ourselves with games of Scrabble when we were home alone. I can’t remember the last time we did that – I doubt it was more recent than thirty years ago.  He plays on-line bridge or chess, I transcribe old diaries, write these blogs, cruise through Facebook to see what my friends are up to and sometimes work on my novel, the ostensible purpose for getting a computer in the first place.

That's better!
That’s better!

There’s no point wondering if our world changed for better or worse. It changed forever. I’m sure it will continue to change in ways I can’t imagine – and equally certain it will never change back to the way things used to be.

December 11, 1993

december-11-1993 

Alex demonstrates an early interest in high finance.
Alex demonstrates an early interest in high finance.

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.

Alex playing with the bank he got for Christmas.
Alex playing with the bank he got for Christmas.
Bree, Carly and Sam dance "The Chicken". Connor, in walker, doesn't know what to think.
Bree, Carly and Sam dance “The Chicken”. Connor, in walker, doesn’t know what to think.

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.

All of the Knutsen cousins grouped together.
All of the Knutsen cousins grouped together.

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.)

The cousins love this "Arm in the Air" salute; it shows up in a LOT of photos. I still don't know what it means. From left to right Sam, Bree, Alex and Carly.
The cousins love this “Arm in the Air” salute; it shows up in a LOT of photos. I still don’t know what it means. From left to right Sam, Bree, Alex and Carly.

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.)

Not likely to be on the cover of VOGUE anytime soon.
Not likely to be on the cover of VOGUE anytime soon.

December 2, 1985

december-2-1985I’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.

Griffin, Amy and myself with right hand in cast at my house.
Griffin, Amy and myself with right hand in cast at my house.

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-book-image

 

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.

neglectedbooks-com_edited-1

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.

3 Knutsen Sisters (just like 3 Soames sisters in the novel!)
3 Knutsen Sisters (just like 3 Soames sisters in the novel!)

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.

 

November 13, 1985

november-13-1985

CD with Nicky
CD with Nicky
Nicky guards me and Samantha
Nicky guards me and Samantha

 I dimly recall a Louis CK routine about how getting a pet is like putting down a deposit on heartbreak. (His version is funnier.)  Odds are high you will suffer through the loss of several pets in your lifetime if you’re an animal lover like me.  Losing Nicky was a heartbreaker.

Nicky between me and Joyce Salter
Nicky between me and Joyce Salter

Nicky was a golden retriever mix, around 4, when we took him home from the Glendale Humane Society. I can’t imagine why anyone would give him up. His nickname was Nick Mellow. He used to plunk his rear on the sofa like a person while keeping his paws on the floor. I’ve never seen another dog do that.

John and Nicky
John and Nicky

Then he stopped eating and we began the round of vets. Their best guess was that something or someone poisoned him (apparently antifreeze tastes sweet and is fatal to dogs). He kept getting worse. Finally, we hospitalized him in West Los Angeles, hoping a definitive diagnosis might lead to a cure.  He spent two full weeks there.

Every day, either John or I drove 45 minutes each way to visit Nicky. We coaxed him to eat with chicken strips or treats and hoped our presence reassured him he’d be coming home.  After a series of tests and surgeries, racking up a bill of almost 2K (not a bad deal today, but a fortune in 1985), they sent him home on November 12, no clearer about what the problem was than when he was admitted. They said maybe he’d get better. The next day he crawled down our stairs to be with us again. Less than 8 hours later he died.

Everybody's best friend
Everybody’s best friend

As a result of this experience, I promised myself I’d never take extreme measures to save another pet. The tests and surgery only caused him more pain. Nicky was miserable caged away from us in a hospital; we should’ve kept him comfortable at home.  If we hoped by spending a lot of money, we’d increase his odds of survival – we were wrong. In retrospect, we should have accepted the inevitable and made his last two weeks at home as comfortable as possible.

 

 

November 3, 1989

november-3-1989

Sam post operation
Sam post operation

 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.

With cousin Carly Salter
With cousin Carly Salter
With her brothers Chris and Alex (both a little jealous of the attention she was getting - see below)
With her brothers Chris and Alex (both a little jealous of the attention she was getting – see below)
She got a lot of balloons and gifts in the hospital.
She got a lot of balloons and gifts in the hospital.

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.

With her Daddy
With her Daddy

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.

She bounced back fast! (walking attached to IV on Day 2)
She bounced back fast! (walking attached to IV on Day 2)
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