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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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”:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.