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.
It’s weird to read an entry like this when photographs of the same day tell a different story. Several explanations spring to mind.
I’m a born curmudgeon and complainer.
I suffered a hormonal imbalance.
It takes me a while to acclimate to new places.
I lost at bridge, which always puts me in a terrible mood.
No matter where I find myself, I want to be somewhere else.
All of the above.
In 1989, the answer was “all of the above.” In the ensuing decades, I’d like to think I’ve matured to the extent that I no longer yearn to be someplace else. On the contrary, I’m grateful to be exactly where I am right now.
Why did it take me so long to realize the benefits of living here and now, something most people don’t need to “learn” at all? I believe I was born this way. If you know anything about the enneagram, I identify as a #4 – people prone to melancholy nostalgia over a lost, idealized past. Not exactly the life of any party (that might be a #7).
You can’t get over being a #4 (or any other number) – we are all who we are. That doesn’t mean we can’t be a better version of ourselves.
In this case, believe the pictures – not my words.
Alana was my first best friend in Santa Clara. She lived about five houses away from me on Del Monte Street. Her family moved to San Diego in 1960 and we lost touch – for nine years.
How on earth did we reconnect without the aid of FB or the internet? Probably the old-fashioned way – in person when her family passed through. As my diary details, she visited me at UCLA. In the mid-seventies, John and I had dinner with her and her husband. After that, we lost touch again. I don’t know when – I rarely realize it’s the last time I’ll see somebody until long after it’s happened.
I’d love to talk to Alana again. Maybe she’ll read this and reach out. If this post stirs thoughts of someone on the fringes of your own life – someone you haven’t seen or spoken to lately, even though you mean to – try to make time. I wish I had.
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.
I don’t need a personality test to tell me I’m a classic introvert. Reserved, reflective, check. Prefer observation to participation, check. Exhausted by too much social stimulation, check.
However, for a brief spell in my thirties, I passed as an extrovert. John and I threw outrageous parties and paid heavenly bills. Instead of waiting for invitations, I had to send them. I had to place calls (and risk having them not returned!) instead of waiting for people to call me. Hardest of all, I had to feign interest in other people’s lives instead of thinking about me, me, me all the time. It didn’t come naturally, that’s for sure.
Amazingly, 27 years ago, we made it to a birthday party in South Pasadena and a dinner party in Beverly Hills and had a fine time at both! Today, either one of those events would exhaust my reservoir of sociability for a week. I need my time alone to wonder what you think about me.
I suspect even extroverts socialize less as they age, despite theoretically having more time. A couple of F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes suggest depressing reasons why.
Beneath his party-boy facade, he must’ve been an introvert.
I’ve always looked to others, frequently male, for validation, especially when it came to my looks. My personal bar for beauty was Jean Shrimpton. I was tall, but she was taller and thinner. The Shrimp didn’t suffer bad hair days. She never over-plucked one eyebrow, dyed her hair an unfortunate shade of orange or popped a pimple, as far as I could tell.
When I was 17, all I saw in the mirror was my chipped front tooth, the scar on my lower lip, my nose. Time changes everything. I’m sure I’m not the only boomer babe who stumbles across a photo of her teen-age self and thinks, “Wow. I used to be something” – even if I wasn’t the prettiest girl in the room.
I’m not the girl in those photos anymore and I’ll never be the prettiest girl in the room, unless it’s an AARP meeting. So what? Dave gave me a much more important compliment that night. There’s no shelf life on being interesting. It’s possible I’ll be more interesting at 100 than I was at 28 – even as my skin and joints go downhill.
Every year it’s easier to recognize what holds its value. My family. My faculties. I’m no longer young and beautiful, but plenty of people love my “aching soul.” For me, today, that’s enough.
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.
Moving back in with my parents at age 23 was not part of my master plan, but there I was – stuck in my old bedroom in San Diego. I’d blown my first shot at the dream – being a professional screenwriter. I didn’t have a plan B.
I needed a new launching pad. Academia had been kind to me. I applied to USC’s grad school. In those days, UCLA ran roughly $250 a quarter. I don’t have figures for USC, but it’s safe to surmise you can add a couple zeros to that even in ’74 dollars. The only way I could swing it was if I moved in with my parents and saved my pennies.
San Diego is a beautiful city. Everyone says so. Unfortunately, my parents relocated there during my first year at UCLA. My life-long friends lived in Santa Clara. What’s an introvert like me to do? Make new friends? I don’t think so.
I clung to an old friend, the one who never (willingly) left my side – Inga, the dog I brought home from the LA pound. Even when I didn’t deserve it, she gave me limitless love and devotion. If you need a friend who won’t let you down, someone steadfast and loyal who quivers with bliss at the gentle touch of your hand………..
Please do check out your local animal shelter, as I did and continue to do. I’ve never been sorry. Let me know your story.
It’s not easy to reach Miles Copeland’s castle in France, where the Rocaberti Writer’s Retreat is held. First, you have to fly to Paris. Upon landing, you race to the train station, and catch the one that stops at the Angouleme Station.
There, you board a private coach that winds up narrow mountain roads to an isolated 14th century castle. On a journey like this, fluent French is a plus. I speak English and pigeon-Swedish. Every mile of the way, I worried. What if the website pictures lied, and all that awaited me was s a cheesy tourist trap? The photos did not lie.
When we rounded the corner and the castle came into view, it took my breath away.
From there, it only got better. Every step I took, every inch of every alcove or hallway, was a feast for the eyes and soul. I could almost inhale history. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t wait to repeat.
The brilliant Claire Elizabeth Terry and Gillian Pollock combined their talents to bring this dream to life. In addition to managing logistics, Gillian gave a hilarious pitch for her own script. Claire previewed an early cut of her soon-to-be-award winning short film “Thirty Minutes.” Claire’s intuition paired me with Martin Olson (Phineas and Ferb) for a mentor. He was passionate, insightful, inspiring, and hilarious. (Make him tell you his Metallica story).
Rocaberti is an intimate, elegant dinner party as opposed to an extravagant banquet. Only 18 – 20 writers attend a retreat. Everybody who’ s there gets to know all the mentors. Diane Drake and Jen Grisanti wore great clothes (casual/classy) and exuded cool sophistication, They were both of those things, but authentic and warm as well. By the time dessert was served, I felt like we were lifelong friends. How often does that happen? Never – to me, anyway – not until Rocaberti.
It wasn’t perfect. The internet sucked, a relatively small price to pay to forge lifelong friendships and resurrect my love of writing. I returned for another retreat in October, this time with my sisters. It was every bit as wonderful.
I expected to be back at Roberti right now, this time to serve as a floating mentor. Sadly, Covid upended those plans. I look forward to rescheduling; I can’t wait to see it on my calendar again.
My sisters and I loved these bi-annual trips to Iowa to see our relatives – we loved everything about it, except the. heat, humidity and mosquitos. We spent most of our time in the coolest part of everyone’s house – always, the basement. Even there, you could break a sweat lying still and reading in bed. In the sixties, everybody had fans but nobody had air-conditioning.
My grandfather wasn’t a man to disagree with. My sister Joyce didn’t like candy corn. On one of our Iowa visits, I noticed her eating it. “I thought you didn’t like candy corn,” I said. “If Grandpa says you like candy corn, you like candy corn,” she replied.
Grandpa said we’d like fishing, so there we were – not liking it, which he didn’t like. He didn’t like our queasiness about worms or how we squealed at the sight of a hooked fish flopping around the bottom of the boat. We might have been born Midwesterners, but by 1966 all three of us were California city girls, through and through.