To this day, I think this is the only time John and I experienced Ren Faire so it’s kind of interesting (to me, anyway) how Ren Faire wove through my life anyway. Long after we broke up, my college boyfriend Luke became a weekend Ren Faire entrepreneur selling costumes and period weapons. I had no idea he was such a Renaissance buff.
It left a huge imprint on the four-year-old brain of our son, CD. For years, he and his girlfriend (and future wife) Serena spent every weekend with their network of friends at Ren Faire. (He’s a lot better at roughing it than I am.)
Later still, my screenwriter pal Art Everett and I collaborated on a spec script for the Practice (my sister Janet worked there at the time) which featured a comedic Ren Faire “B” story. Sadly, the Practice ended its run about the time we finished and our spec ended up in a desk drawer.
If I were going to do it again – and I’d like to, it’s only been 35 years since our last visit I’d spent a little more time and money (both of which I probably have more of now than we did then) and invest in an appropriate period costume, throw my inhibitions to the wind and enjoy a day of real-time role-play. Oddly enough, I think it’s also becoming easier to let loose and play as I get older.
If anyone’s up for an LA Ren Faire excursion soon, call me. Let’s meet up.
I was in charge of planning our cross-country road trip and booking our lodgings. Most of my selections came straight out of the pages of Eccentric America, a terrific resource. The Out ‘n’ About Treesort in Oregon and Ravenwood Castle in Ohio (exactly like it sounds like it should be – a replica of a Celtic castle) were the two most interesting places we stayed. I wanted to book a night at Sod House, so we could experience how early American settlers lived, but John drew the line at sleeping on sod.
There was a bag swing and rope ladders at the treehouse. I chided Sam and Alex when they were unable to climb up the rope and offered to demonstrate how easy it was. To my horror, apparently I’ve lost ALL of my upper arm strength over the decades – I couldn’t make an inch of progress. To explain my failure, I shouted “I have Fuchs!” and they responded with hysterical laughter. I do have a tendency to blame Fuchs (genetic cornea disintegration, basically – link to blog 9/4?/04) for everything, even though realistically it has no effect on anything but my corneas. This episode was videotaped but, alas, we lost the camera and all of the film well before anybody could post my humiliation on YouTube.
As one would expect, there was no television and no internet service in the treehouses so we spent an old-fashioned evening playing hearts and spades. I regret not taking more photos since each treehouse was unique. Ours had an upper adult unit connected to a smaller kid’s room by a swinging bridge. The only downside was showers, sinks and toilets were on ground level, about 75 feet away.
This was one of my favorite family vacations. Sam graduated from an upstate New York college the week before. John and I flew to Buffalo and rented a gigantic van. Our plan was to load four years’ worth of Sam’s worldly possessions plus ourselves in the van and drive it across the country to LA. None of us had done it before.
Aside from the fact our luggage didn’t travel with us to Buffalo and we weren’t able to reunite with it until we hit Philadelphia – aside from that snafu, everything went as smoothly as it possibly could for a sweaty family of four jammed into a hot (that’s hot as in sweltering, not Corvette).
We picked up Alex at the Columbus airport after he finished his finals. Regrettably, Chris and Serena couldn’t make it. Just as well, since two more riders would’ve meant strapping someone to the ski rack. Our van featured a DVD player to help the boring miles speed by. In between all the anime, we viewed the first season of Deadwood again to psych ourselves up for our visit to the same.
A brief review of Deadwood, the HBO series. The first season was brilliant. The second had its moments. The third jumped the shark. A traveling Shakespearean acting troupe planted themselves in Deadwood for the season and – like the big black hole of an idea this was – gulped airtime and sucked away all semblance of plot. A mercy killing would’ve been kinder. The Shakespearean acting troupe was tantamount to a Deadwood Talent Show.
You remember the dreaded Talent Show trope, you’ve seen it before – most egregiously in the final season of Showtime’s OZ, when inmates in a maximum-security prison sang and tap-danced for their fellow sadistic killers. Laverne and Shirley’s brewery threw a Talent Show. So did General Hospital. Suffice to say none of them have elevated the art form. IMHO, when a show stoops to the dreaded Talent Show, it deserves to die. No appeals, no reprieves. Everything must end someday; some should do it sooner.
Back to the Great Family Road Trip through Eccentric America in a few days.
This is one of those rare character flaws that – I think – diminishes with age. I made enough messes that eventually I learned from my mistakes. I suspect the impulse to talk too much, too indiscreetly – at least for me – sprang from insecurity. I’d blurt out something I shouldn’t in order to interest or impress somebody who intimidated me. It was never a particularly successful tactic, I’m surprised I persisted for so long.
My children don’t believe I’ve matured enough to be trusted with a secret. Any leak, anywhere, and they jump to the conclusion I’m responsible. In contrast, they’re capable of carrying secrets to their graves which makes it difficult – almost impossible – to ferret out info about their personal lives. This hardly seems fair, until I remember how many secrets I kept from my own mother.
I’ve become a huge fan of a site called Post Secrets. link http://postsecret.com/People mail their secrets on postcards, anonymously. Some are selected and posted on the web site (new ones every Sunday morning) and some appear in a series of Post Secret books. I check the site every Sunday. Usually, one or two secrets resonate with me. Almost always, at least one suggests an idea for a short story.
However, some aren’t really secrets at all. I’m referring to those in which someone brags and pretends it’s a secret. “I just want to be a good person.” What’s so secret about that? “I used to think the Sistine Chapel was called the 16th Chapel!” Cute story, but hardly a big secret.
This one is such a deep dark secret, someone cut out words from magazines and pasted them onto the postcard to avoid identification. Brace yourself! “Every time I accidentally wrong someone on the road, I wish I could apologize.” Really?? That’s your deep dark secret, you’re a sensitive, caring nice person?
You get the gist. IMHO, to qualify as a secret, it’s got to be something you genuinely don’t want anybody to know. I’ve got some. Do you?
This is one of those unexceptional days I wouldn’t remember if I hadn’t written it down – and that would be a shame. On the surface, it’s mundane – nothing of great significance happened, our lives didn’t turn in a new direction – but I love the easy rhythms it captures, the beat of daily life in a family.
Life can’t get much better than a day in which my husband helps me set up a computer, recommended by one of my smart sons, cozily viewing a movie together – so relaxed I actually doze off – followed by an invigorating night walk and stimulating wide-ranging conversation with my daughter and dog.
It’s hardly a news flash that what matters most in life (to most people, anyway) is family. There’s something delicious about an unremarkable April day like this one, a day in which nothing particularly special happened – a day I wouldn’t recall if not for my diary – a day I long to live again but never will.
There will be other golden days with my family but they’ll be different because time changes us, even though we don’t realize it – or appreciate what we once had – until much later. I’m going to try to appreciate sparkling moments in progress instead of waiting until I look back. In other words, to be fully present in the present. Because nothing lasts except in memory.
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.)
When I wrote this, I’d known my in-laws for less than a year but so far everything I knew was fabulous. They’d fit right in at one of Jay Gatsby’s wild parties or a formal meet-and-greet with a sitting US President. (No exaggeration – through them, J and I met Gerald Ford when he was in office.)
Other than J’s and my marriage and their own 40-plus year marriage, Chet and Flo had little in common with my parents. No value judgment is implied; they were different but neither one of them was superior to the other. Their strengths were in different areas.
John’s parents were more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than mine. They had more books in their house. They drank, they smoked, they went out to dinner and threw parties. They played a mean game of bridge. Florence was a joiner, an active voice in clubs and charities throughout Fresno. Born a privileged San Francisco socialite, she was confident with a strong sense of self but never a haughty snob. She could make anyone feel like her new best friend. She was so entertaining, so easy to talk to, even a deeply reserved introvert like myself stayed up till 4 AM because it was fun to hang out with her.
John’s father was the ultimate family man, a good thing for the father of seven to be. CD was the first grandchild for John’s parents and mine – consequently, he was deluged by love and attention from both sets of grandparents. Sam and Alex got their fair share, too.
Did CD favor the Rowells or the Knutsens? He looked a lot like John as a baby.
As he grew, so did his resemblance to my father.
But, then again, also the resemblance to J.
And perhaps a smidgen of a resemblance to me.
Which family had the more dominant genes? I call it a draw.
My sister Janet worked as an Assistant Director trainee on the movie 9 to 5. When they needed children – extras – for the day care scene near the end of the movie, she thought of her nephew CD. I suggested Marjorie’s daughter Jenny, about the same age. I’m guessing Marjorie’s sister Christine acted as guardian because Marjorie and I had both been around enough sets to know how dull they can be – especially if you’re there to chaperone a lowly extra. In retrospect, I wish I’d seized the chance to see iconic actresses like Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin at work even if it meant hours standing around.
Marjorie Arnold and I shared an apartment for a couple years while we were both at UCLA. She was an aspiring actress who landed commercials as well as parts on shows like “Room 222” and “Marcus Welby”. She was (and still is) a beautiful woman; some people described her as a “young Natalie Wood”. She was talented, too, and took her career very seriously.
Living with Marjorie, I grew grateful I wasn’t an actress. If you’ve seen La La Land, you’ve got some idea how brutal and demeaning auditions can be and how rarely people realize their dreams and become big stars.
While rejection is equally pervasive for fledging writers, it seems to me – and I could be wrong about this – rejection is less personal for writers. A producer says no to my script, not to me as a person – or so I tell myself. I’ve never auditioned as an actress, but I suspect rejection in that capacity would feel more personal – as if they rejected me – even though, in reality, it’s probably not personal. They’re just looking for a different type.
The night before – my 22nd birthday – the guy I was dating took me to see Rudi Nureyev in Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada at the Shrine Auditorium. Jani’s boyfriend from Irvine took her to the ballet too so we met them at intermission – Jani’s 20th birthday would be the following day. I don’t know about Janet, but this is the only professional ballet I’ve ever seen. The lavish fairyland sets were amazing, as was Rudi in his prime, but the truth is ballet doesn’t hold my interest. I pretend to be interested, because I feel like I should be, but I’m bored. I don’t blame ballet – I’m well aware it’s my own attention span that’s deficient. (Yet another reason I failed to realize my early dream of growing up to be a ballerina, see November 7, 1966)
Jani’s comment – “Did you try and do any of the ballet steps when you got home?” – got to me. It was so spontaneous, so in the moment. Obviously, she paid attention, so much so that she was moved and inspired to try to do the steps at home. I envied her enthusiasm then and I still do today. I’d love to be that kind of person but it’s impossible to be somebody I’m not.
The closest I’ve come to ballet since then is taking my kids to ballet lessons. CD and his BFF Geo Ackles took ballet as toddlers. It was a great excuse for the boys to get together and for me to chat with David Ackles but neither lad looked like a future Nureyev.
Sam was more interested in climbing than ballet although she did play a dead ballerina in one of my television movies, Friends to the End. She and a dead male ballet dancer haunt the villainess in the final scene. Her blue costume was the reason I wanted to be a ballet dancer in the first place – the gorgeous fantasy clothing.
Alex was spared ballet, to his great relief, so no embarrassing photo ops of him.
Yolanda moved in with us in 1984. She loved Chris, Sam and Alex with everything she had – especially Sam, although she never admitted favoritism. The tip-off? She always referred to Sam as “the princess.” Alex was Ahni and Chris was Goose because that’s how the princess pronounced their names. Yolanda balked at calling us John and Kathleen; we were forever Mr. John and Mrs. Kathleen.
She confided her cancer to the princess, who stepped up. She drove Yolanda to all of her doctor’s appointments, sat by Yolanda through every chemo, visited every day when Yolanda was hospitalized. The rest of us pitched in but the princess earned Yolanda’s second nickname for her – my angel.
On Friday February 10, Yolanda’s doctor estimated she’d live thirty days. She had thirty hours. When she drew her last breath at 1:30 AM, we all understood it was for the best. Her pain was excruciating, cancer terminal, death inevitable. No surprises. We knew where this road led.
Except we didn’t, not really. We’re in shock. All day I shushed our dogs so they wouldn’t awaken Yolanda – as if anything could. Three fat cats looked increasingly concerned – where’s our Fancy Feast? ‘Where’s the human who opens cans?
The light is on in Yolanda’s room. For a second, I think she’s there. I haven’t been in her room alone in years. Everywhere, pictures of our children – framed on her bureau, taped to the wall, stacked in photo albums. She carried their photos in her wallet. She loved it when strangers thought they were hers. Was I jealous, did I worry she’d spirit them off to El Salvador? No. If anything, it endeared her to me. If I couldn’t be there, who better than someone who loved them like they were her own?
On a sheet of paper tacked above her bed she drew a cross and scrawled, “Please god please god no cancer. Please god no cancer.” A purple spiral notebook was scribbled with recipes. She saved expired coupons for things she didn’t buy. A few of her clothes trailed price tags, waiting to be worn. Whoever clears my room when I’m dead will find comparable artifacts.
The photos we leave behind show what we did. Fragments of incomplete projects remind us of all left undone, bits and pieces of Yolanda. I should have known her better, more deeply, sooner. I don’t know her sister’s name or phone number in El Salvador and I don’t speak Spanish even if I did.
So what did I know about Yolanda? She made the LA Times her own personal illustrated blog. She drew devil’s horns on basketball players she hated, basically everyone but LeBron and the Clippers. She trapped a rattler outside our door by slamming a concrete slab down on its head. (I would’ve been dead from heart attack.) She didn’t drink, smoke or party. Her modesty did not permit her to wear shorts, swimwear or sleeveless blouses – ever.
She loved our forays to Costco – “the big store” – but recently I was too busy to take her until she was too weak to go. There are so many things I meant to say – should have said – but didn’t. I hope she knew – I think she knew – how much her kindness meant, how her patience and loyalty changed our lives, how many others – my sisters, parents and friends – grew to love her like we did and always will. How much we’ll miss her smile, her red coat, her curly hair, her commentary on current events (you thought she’d stop at sports?) in the LA Times, all part and parcel of the boundless heart and infinite capacity for love we knew as Yolanda Hernandez.
We’ll meet again, Yolanda.
(I’m not trying to make a political point about immigration. However, since Yolanda was an illegal immigrant when I hired her, here are the facts. She always worked, either caring for the elderly or children. She neither asked for nor received welfare. She became a US citizen in the early 90s. For the next twenty years plus, she paid taxes like everyone else. In other words, she writes checks to our government without cashing checks from them. Our country gave her something more valuable than food stamps – a chance at a better life. The way I see it, she was lucky to get into our great nation – but not as lucky as we were to get her into our family.)