opinions

December 18, 1966

December 18, 1966

With sisters during construction of Hope Lutheran in 1966.
With sisters during construction of Hope Lutheran in 1966.

This is one of my most vivid memories. My father’s caustic criticism was the angriest thing he ever said to me – which says a lot, because I gave my parents plenty of reasons to be angry. They tended to be “disappointed” instead, which more effectively motivated me to change my behavior.

My father and I on my Confirmation Day.
My father and I on my Confirmation Day.

Most parents would respond to my obnoxious attitude somewhere between irritation and fury. I suspect very few would have the grace to apologize when he was in the right.  (At worst, he tried to manipulate me into being more generous. Hardly child abuse.)

Me with my dad and mom
Me with my dad and mom

Unfortunately, this was neither the first nor the last time I behaved like a selfish brat. I’m the one who should’ve apologized to him and my sisters. At most, it would’ve cost me a couple hours to do the right thing but I was fifteen, stubborn and intent on doing “my thing.”

My family
My family

I don’t remember if I said I was sorry but I think he knew I was (the tears were a give-away.)  My father taught me all I know about how to act with integrity in this world – simply by being himself. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t measure up to his example – I haven’t known many people who could – but growing up with him made me a better person than I could’ve been otherwise.

The Knutsens

All of my life, I’ve been lucky – blessed. My father and mother were the biggest blessings of all.

December 14, 1964

 

December 14, 1964

Perhaps what Chamberlain Castle would have looked like
Perhaps what “Chamberlain Castle” would have looked like

I suspect the reason I didn’t have imaginary friends was my two sisters. (That said, the youngest – Joyce – had a a deep long-lasting friendship with an imaginary boy named Keith – and for all I know, Janet had one too but she never told me.)  Sandy was an only child with an oversized imagination so naturally she created a cast of companions.

With sisters instead of imaginary friends
With sisters instead of imaginary friends

The characters in my story took the place of imaginary friends. My favorite part was naming them. I was – and still am – obsessed with names. I used to go through the fashion section of the huge Sears catalog that arrived every year and name the models. Selecting the perfect moniker was a challenge in 1964 because all the names in the baby books – and all the kids I knew – got stuck with traditional names (Kathy being particularly popular in the early fifties – see link to blog).

Sandy and me on the beach in 1964
Sandy and me on the beach in 1964

The era of exotic names – Apple, Charisma, Karma, Carlisle, Kipling (many unisex) – was at least a decade in the future, maybe more. In 1964, the top five names for girls were Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen and Patricia. For boys, Michael, John, David, James and Robert.

My non-imaginary friend, Sandy
My non-imaginary friend, Sandy

The less said about the story described above, the better. At thirteen, I cornered the market on terrible hackneyed ideas. A surprising number survive, although recently I realized I might not need to save everything.  If “Chamberlain Castle” never escapes the slush pile (in this case, a file cabinet in the garage) the literary world will not suffer.

 

December 12, 1979

December 12, 1979

CD on his 3rd birthday - prior to the big hurl.
CD on his 3rd birthday – prior to the big hurl.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago although – mercifully –it’s been eons since I swabbed another human’s barf. (Dogs and cats on the other hand – yesterday or the day before. One of our seniors has a delicate stomach.)

Earlier in the day - he loved his Superman sweater (and his Superman costume)
Earlier in the day – he loved his Superman sweater (and his Superman costume)

We still celebrate our children’s birthdays, but rarely on the actual day. They usually make plans with their friends. I don’t begrudge them, after college I did the same thing – partied with my peers instead of my parents. As wonderful as my parents were, party animals they weren’t.

A long restless night.
A long restless night.

Celebrating on the correct day – and emphasizing the birthday person’s precise age – seems less important every year, at least to me. Besides, if we want the extended family to celebrate together – aunts, uncles and cousins – the logistics become more manageable if we select an adjacent weekend instead of a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

CD feels much better!
CD feels much better!

As challenging as this particular birthday was – and it was far from the only time the birthday child hurled over a birthday cake – my memories are warm, now that the vomit isn’t.

December 9, 1980

December 9, 1980

When the music died

He wasn’t even my favorite Beatle. That would be McCartney, by far. Lennon’s death erased any lingering hope the Beatles might play together again, as unlikely as that hope might have been. I stayed up all night, poring over my collection of Beatles memorabilia – old magazines, biographies. I didn’t want to let him go.

4-year-old CD mourns the passing of a star
4-year-old CD mourns the passing of a star
So do I.
So do I.

What interests me about crime (murder) isn’t the gore or mechanics – it’s the motivation and in this case, that was sad and senseless. Jared Leto gave a brilliant performance as the assassin in a small film called “Chapter 27” about the oh-so-ordinary but deranged kid who killed him. It doesn’t glorify the killer (who doesn’t deserve to be named) – it dramatizes his essential emptiness, which gave me a queasy feeling. While I didn’t identify with him, there weren’t as many miles between us as I might’ve hoped. I do know how it feels to be an obsessed fan, with no hope of breathing in my idol’s rarified air. I just didn’t take it to that love/hate dichotomy the guy doing time in the  Wende Correctional Facility did.

Chapter 27

 

December 7, 1977

December 7, 1977

David Ward (copied from imdb)
David Ward (copied from imdb)

 When I read that Best Screenplay Oscar-winning David Ward (for “The Sting”; nominated again for “Sleepless in Seattle”) wrote a spec script about  Sontag and Evans – the California outlaws I was contemplating writing a non-fiction book about – it gave me pause, but not for long. Something I learned quickly – which all aspiring writers should learn – is don’t worry if you find out another writer is working on a script that sounds strikingly familiar to yours. You won’t tell the same story. When I can give ten writing students the same writing prompt, no two of them will approach it the same way.

In 77, I was far away from a writing career and membership in the WGA.
In 77, I was far away from a writing career and membership in the WGA.

As it turned out, I never finished my non-fiction book anyway so stressing about a potential overlap would’ve been an exercise in futility. Still, I was curious about how David Ward approached the subject matter. As luck would have it, I met him at a small screening of a friend’s film (that he’d written) a year ago and got my chance to ask. I told him I’d asked similar questions years ago when he was a guest speaker at a USC writing class. Not surprisingly, he did not recall the evening with the same crystal clarity I did (read, not at all.)

Writing in "the hamburger" - which is what CD called our oh-so-seventies trendy bean-bag chair.
Writing in “the hamburger” – which is what CD called our oh-so-seventies trendy bean-bag chair.

What I should have asked him but didn’t – then and now – is, did you ever feel like you arrived? In 1977, my impression was he radiated confidence. It’s possible he did – I’d radiate confidence if I wrote “The Sting” –but now that I’m older and wiser I wonder. Based on the highly successful people I know well enough to ask personal questions, none feel like they’ve “arrived”. And maybe that’s for the best. Isn’t the journey the point?

 

December 4, 1973

December 4, 1973

Lost on Larrabee Restaurant

My parents didn’t allow me to date until I turned sixteen and waiting for it probably built my anticipation. It was thrilling at first – I loved going out to restaurants (fast food qualified as restaurant to my untutored taste buds) and feeling so grown up. The rules were clear and easy in the sixties. Boys always paid. Boys placed the phone calls, boys asked for the date. Girls had it easy. All we had to do was say yes or no and follow the advice in magazines such as Seventeen let him do the talking and act interested. Find little things to compliment him about – his driving, for instance.

I had better conversations with my dog.
I had better conversations with my dog.

Six years later, the rules hadn’t changed much but I had. Dating felt more like a torturous death march than a thrill. I was sick of pretending to be interested when I was bored. Somehow, my dates were both dull and stressful, a bad combination.  I was sick of exchanging resumes over dinner, worried about that sprig of arugula stuck between my teeth.

Go on, tell me more. I'm fascinated._edited-1It’s no coincidence I didn’t get to know the two guys I could talk to in a genuine way on a date – my college boyfriend Luke lived in my first undergraduate dorm, my future husband John lived in Law House (grad school lodging). Proximity eliminated the artificial structure of a date while we got to know each other. I recently read Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance and learned that  until  recently the biggest common denominator in romantic pairings was proximity. People married people they met in their neighborhood or at work.

Modern Romance

That’s no longer the case, thanks to the internet and various match-up apps. I was married long before any of that happened, so I can’t speak from personal experience.  Does it feel more like a date or like getting to know somebody who lives nearby, now that we’re all only a modem away from each other?

Just a modem away
Just a modem away

 

 

December 2, 1976

December 2, 1976

My mom
My mom

 It’s typical that my mother and father asked about me before dropping their terrible news. If the situation had been reversed – if I’d been mugged – they wouldn’t have gotten a word out edgewise before I recounted every last detail. This particular episode shocked me on so many levels. Even though I know better, it stuns me when bad things happen around churches. As a child, I believed they were sacrosanct, safe.  (That’s why I didn’t lock my first bike when I stopped by to visit my dad at his church office when I was 10. Of course it got stolen. I couldn’t believe it.)

My wonderful parents when they were young.
My wonderful parents when they were young.

It’s also typical of them that instead of crying about the injustice of it all, my father expressed gratitude it wasn’t worse. I couldn’t find much gratitude in my own heart. Forty years later, I’m grateful that this is one of few – if any – episodes of random violence to impact my family. Writing those words is a little scary – by calling attention to our good fortune, am I jinxing us? (That’s a silly, childish superstition. I hope.)

My parents, around 1976.
My parents, around 1976.

November 29, 1968

November 29, 1968

Royce Hall, UCLA
Royce Hall, UCLA

I’ve written elsewhere about how right UCLA was for me (link) but I knew little more than its four initials when I applied. For all I knew, it could’ve been located in the dregs of downtown LA. (Except then it would’ve been called USC. Whoops, my snark is showing.)

The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.
The article where I found this picture called it the Ugliest Law School in America. Their words, not mine.

My parents were equally ill-informed – their now-void plan had been to send me to a Lutheran college where I’d meet and marry a guy at least half-Scandinavian. To their credit, they hid their disappointment well and didn’t try to change my mind.

Life was paradise as an adored only child.
Life was paradise as an adored only child.

Consequently, on Friday after Thanksgiving in 1968, my parents and I left my sisters in Santa Clara and drove to LA. It wasn’t often I spent significant time with them without my sisters as buffer. It was exhilarating to reclaim their undivided attention but also unnerving. Too much focus on me risked revealing defects I sought to hide, especially from them. Based on the most formative experience, which took place when I was two years and two days old, imperfections – the failure to entertain, for example – were cause for replacement. Either one of my younger sisters – both less flawed than me – could easily take my place.

The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart
The day they brought a new baby home and my world fell apart

It wouldn’t be the first time. They’d done it before and could do it again.

From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.
From this point forward, every photo depicts Janet being held and me in a state of acute distress.

Click this link to view family photo albums illustrating the inner torment of a highly sensitive recently displaced first-born child.  You’re not being disloyal to Janet or Joyce. They signed off on my weird obsession decades ago. I’ll add new photos and captions in the near future.

 

November 27, 2016

November 27, 2016

After such a rocky start, the last thing I expected was a magical wedding – but then, all of my expectations were wrong. I figured spotty attendance, at best. Aside from John, how many lunatics would brave freezing roads and icy wives to witness nuptials?

Sharon & Phil Wedding

A whole lot, it turned out. When two people as well-loved as Phil and Sharon wed, their collective iPhone contacts show up en masse. When Sharon walked down the aisle in a gorgeous traditional white gown, I was moved to tears. There was something so unique and poignant about two people (in my own demographic yet!)  who got lucky and found love again.

The Newlyweds

Phil & Sharon Wedding

And how about the Tenaya Lodge, dusted with snow as the sun flickered toward twilight? I can’t imagine a more stunning site for a winter wedding. Surrounded by so much beauty, I felt compelled to  snap a selfie or two while waiting for the reception to start.

Selfie at the wedding

The hits kept on coming.  The bride and groom’s adult children were all ecstatic about the union because it made their parents so happy. The DJ played music I loved and and adorable grandchildren danced in wedding attire. John and I were seated at a table packed with fascinating people and lively conversation. Even the food was good!
Our table

Last but not least, in a rare moment of clarity I conceded most likely I wouldn’t have finished  the great American novel if I’d stayed home instead of attending the wedding.  John refrained from saying “I told you so” in words.

Phil & Sharon's family
Phil & Sharon’s family
The Bride & Groom
The Bride & Groom

November 25, 1993

November 25, 1993

John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.
John and Michael challenge Jimmy at chess.

In the early years of our marriage, John and I alternated holidays between my family and his – Thanksgiving in Fresno, Christmas in San Diego, reversed in the following year. Gradually we spent more holidays with my family because my parents and sisters all moved within five miles of my home.

Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell
Cindy, Aunt Mary and Flo Rowell

I don’t recall when both of our mothers stopped volunteering to host Thanksgiving but they powered through longer than I could’ve. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve hosted Thanksgiving at our house, largely because when the question arises – “where are we doing Thanksgiving this year?” – I’m hiding in the bathroom.

CD and cousin Jeff Rowell
CD and cousin Jeff Rowell

Fortunately, my failings as a cook and hostess are compensated by my sister Janet and her husband Jim McCann, who do Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas ninety percent of the time. They are an indefatigable team, toiling from dawn till dusk to present the perfect meal without complaint (not entirely without complaint – but within civilized limits.) My contribution? Diet Coke and sparkling water.

Sam, John, and Evie Rowell
Sam, John, and Evie Rowell

Their house is well-suited to entertaining, with its vast rolling dog-friendly lawn. Singles and stragglers are always welcome.  A good time is had by all.

Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Jimmy and Alex Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell
Richard and Chester (Chet) Rowell

Although I have a thousand photos of Thanksgiving at Jani’s, this blog is ostensibly about Thanksgiving in 1993, the first and last time I hosted the Rowell clan at our house.  I’m posting those photos today to prove it.

Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton
Chet Rowell and Mary Lawton

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