Beatlemania!

English: Photograph of The Beatles as they arr...

English: Photograph of The Beatles as they arrive in New York City in 1964 Français : Photographie de The Beatles, lors de leur arrivée à New York City en 1964 Italiano: Fotografia dei Beatles al loro arrivo a New York City nel 1964 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My brother, sister, and I lie on the twin beds in my parent’s bedroom to watch the tiny television on the dresser.  It is 1964 and Paul, John, George, and Ringo are about to invade America.  We watch as each Beatle pops out the cabin door of Pam Am flight 101, shocked to find 5,000 American fans waiting for them at the newly named John F. Kennedy Airport.  Like any normal thirteen-year-old female, their mop head haircuts make my heart beat faster.

There were times when my mom did something really unexpected and rather cool.  One morning she sat at the kitchen table tucked into the breakfast nook reading the Sunday paper.

“Do you girls want to go see The Beatles in concert?” she asked, casually.

“Do we…what??…yeah!”

She carefully cut out the coupon in the Los Angeles Times and sent in the $4.95 for each of our tickets.  We waited a couple of weeks before we knew if we made it in, and one day when we arrived home from school, there on the  table sat two tickets to the Hollywood Bowl, in Row R, which means you could see the Beatles about as well as  one of our cockroaches across the room.

But we were ecstatic!  On the night of the concert, my sister and I got all dressed up.  I wore stockings and heels, since I was now one year into teenhood, and my sister, eleven-years-old, also wore her favorite dress.  No one thought, or cared, how we were going to get the twenty miles to downtown Hollywood, and my mother finally told us to take the bus.  There were several transfers involved, and although it wasn’t rocket science, I didn’t have much experience.  But hey…it was The Beatles!  So off we went.

Somehow we got on the right buses and made it down to Highland, near the Bowl.  Now what?  I looked around and saw hundreds of people, all walking across the street in the same direction.  Everywhere I looked were men with longer hair than me…much longer than Paul, John, George, or Ringo!  And the clothes!  Dirty bell-bottomed jeans, flowered shirts and beads.  Clearly, we were had entered another universe.  Oh well.  We followed the crowd.

The Beatles stepped on stage and the crowd went wild.  The screaming and cheering did not let up for three hours.  It was hard to even tell which of my favorites the Fab Four were singing. From our seats in the nose-bleed section, we got a glimpse or two when a friendly seat neighbor took pity on us and loaned us her binoculars.  I stared at the face of each one, my heroes.  A few times during the night I thought about what I was doing…sitting in the middle of a screaming mob with my baby sister in tow, all alone.  For her sake, I wore my brave face.

After the concert ended, the idea was to take the several buses back home and walk from the bus stop.  It never occurred to me that this was not something you asked of a thirteen-year-old girl and her eleven-year-old sister.  Thirteen then and thirteen now are two completely different ages.  I was still playing with Barbies.  But hey…it was The Beatles!

Somehow I got mixed up and we missed the last bus home.  It was the middle of the night, and the two of us stood on a street corner in downtown Hollywood after calling home and raising my Dad’s wrath.  As we waited for him to drive the twenty miles to get us, cars blew past, some honking their horns.  Guys leaned out their car windows shouting to us, only to laugh and stick their heads back inside when they saw we were children.  I felt responsible for the situation we were in, worried that I had messed up by missing the bus and getting my sister and me in a dangerous position and in trouble with Dad to boot.  Where was he anyway?  Didn’t he realize something could happen to us out here all alone by ourselves?

All You Need is Love.

- John Lennon

Freedom Comes With A Price

1000 United States two-dollar bills in shrink ...

1000 United States two-dollar bills in shrink wrap. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re born with a desire to be free.  Thankfully, we have parents.  Otherwise, we would not be long for this world.  There’s too many dangerous things around, like electric sockets and fast moving cars.  If we didn’t have adults to watch out for us, we just wouldn’t survive.  Parents are there to keep things in check.  They feed us, clothe us, make sure we take a bath, brush our teeth and get to school on time.  Someone, usually “mom,” keeps the house reasonably clean.  And if we started coming home out of our heads with Testor’s glue all over our mouths and hands, someone in our household would notice and maybe make a comment.

One night I awoke with a start.  One of the thousands of cockroaches that crawled around the floors of our house in the dark was crawling across my face.  I swiped it away, hearing the crackling of it’s shell as it flew off into the darkness.  Why didn’t someone do something about this?  I had to pee, and knowing I would have to walk across the top of my bed, turn on the light, and watch an army of them scatter in all directions before I could walk to the bathroom made me want to hold it in as long as possible.  I lie there in the dark, willing myself to go back to sleep.  I thought about my sister, lying in the other bed across the room, her unwashed hair full of fleas and her legs bitten from top to bottom.  I felt angry and afraid.

It was getting harder to make myself go to school.  But I showed up dutifully, still attempting to do my best.  On the long walk home I stayed lost in my thoughts, but the closer I got to our house, the relentless anxiety would take hold, starting in the pit of my stomach.   I wanted to race home and yet never arrive at the same time.  Once at the door, I would try the knob, and if it was locked, that familiar feeling of dread, the rush of adrenaline and fear of what I would find, kicked in. I knocked.  I rang the bell.  I knocked louder.  Then I walked around the side of the house to the kitchen door and tried that knob.  If it was locked I went through the gate and found a place to pee in the backyard, not able to hold it any longer.  I climbed up on the garbage cans and tried the kitchen window over the sink.  If I was lucky, it was unlatched.  I crawled in over the faucet and watched my mother sitting upright in the kitchen chair, unable to lift her head or open her eyes.  She was plastered again.  I seethed.

But absent, neglectful parents meant I got my first tastes of freedom early.  I was free to eat what I wanted for dinner as long as my mother had money in her wallet to steal.  I was free to sneak out of my bedroom in the middle of the night and go wake my brother so we could walk the streets for a couple of hours, smoking the cigarettes my father had bought for us the weekend before.  I was free to steal my parent’s alcohol and smoke marijuana, try my mother’s Darvons, sniff glue, and generally, come and go as I please.  But I really didn’t want all this freedom.  I wanted someone to take care of me, reign me in.  The neighborhood moms had stopped letting their children play with us long ago.  We were on our own.

A little neglect may breed great mischief.

-Ben Franklin

Jesus Had a British Accent

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Fear.  If I try to recall how I felt as a child, I would have to say that I felt the emotion of fear more than any other.  It was a boa constrictor that constantly attempted to squeeze the life out of me. I was afraid of adults, afraid of kids I did not know.  I remember being afraid of school.  In the records of my kindergarten year at Bennett Elementary, it’s recorded that I was so shy my teacher could not get me to play with another child the entire year.  I was afraid of the dark, afraid of the Russians, afraid of what we were going to have for dinner (it better not include peas).

One of my biggest fears was going into the garage at night.  There were rafters full of boxes filled with everything from Christmas decorations to old dishes and clothes, but I was absolutely sure there was a strange man hiding in one of them as well.  He was waiting there…waiting for me to come in the garage at night, cross the cement floor to the other side, shut the side door and turn off the light.  Then, he would jump down and strangle me or do who knows what.  He was always waiting.  And because I was afraid that he was always going to be there, my father made me the keeper of the garage at night.

Once I turned out the light and ran back into the house, fresh from my narrow escape from death, I had a hard time getting to sleep.  So I would imagine that Jesus and one of his angels was standing by my closet across the bedroom, keeping watch over me and my sister.  I wanted to go to church and find out more about Him, but my parents didn’t attend church and I didn’t know anyone else who did at that time.

When I passed my tenth birthday, I decided to take things into my own hands. I got up one Sunday morning and put on my fancy lavender dress with the white polka dots on the satin ribbon that tied in the back around my waist; the one we usually saved for eating dinner at my great-grandmother’s house.  I put on my nicest lace trimmed white socks and my black patent-leather “mary jane” shoes.

“Where do you think you’re going,” my mother asked from behind the Sunday comics.

“I’m going to church,” I answered.

My mother just gave a short laugh and told me she’d see me when I got home.

I walked four blocks up to the big white Presbyterian church on the corner near the edge of the housing tract.  I felt very important walking up the steep steps to the double doors.  I stepped into the foyer.  There was a lot of activity going on, people rushing around, towering over me.  No one seemed to notice me at all.  A table by the back of the room held carefully placed pamphlets and small Bibles.  I walked over and tried to act like I had every right to be there. I picked up one of everything.

I don’t remember much about the service, but I do remember how it made me feel.  I wanted to be “good.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, exactly, but I knew I wanted it.  Badly.  I tried to think of what I shouldn’t be doing.  Teasing my younger sister had to stop.  What else?  Maybe I should always, always believe that Jesus was really standing by my closet?  I wasn’t sure if that was enough. The minister had said something about becoming more like Him.

I thought about all this on the walk home, and by the time I arrived at our front door, I had it all figured out.  I knew that if I were to be more like Jesus, I was going to have to talk like Him.

“Hello Mother, I said, in the best English accent I could muster.  “How is your morning?”  I was sure that proper English had to be one of the things God would require if one were to become “good.”

“What?” my mother asked.  She looked rather incredulous for some reason.

“Church was simply wonderful,” I said. “The minister was extremely nice. You should really think about coming with me next Sunday morn.”

I left the kitchen and went to my bedroom, determined I should start reading my new Bible right away.  Within minutes the “thees” and “thous” had me stumped.  Oh well, so much for trying to be “good.”  I ran outside to find my sister and didn’t darken the doorway of church of any kind for another five years.  And fear continued to motivate most of what I did.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

-C.S. Lewis

Martinis and Frank Sinatra

Vodka Martini

Vodka Martini (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband and I went out for dinner the other night, and although I usually order a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, I began to peruse the drink menu, fascinated with all the flavored martinis.  I have always had a love affair with the  fifties era, especially since I experienced it first hand.  I loved Frank Sinatra and would give almost anything to have seen him in person.  His Palm Springs, California home backed up to the golf course at the country club, and once I rented a golf cart and drove slowly past, trying to act uninterested while hoping for a glimpse. Frankie was nowhere to be found.

I would have loved to have kept my mother’s beautiful Danish Modern tables and turquoise, orange, and cream Naugahyde couch and chairs. They would be so cool right now!  Martini making was a big part of that era.  So I ordered a martini; my nod to the past.  I thought it looked so glamorous on the table too, next to my husband’s Bud Light.

When it arrived, the smell of Vodka was repugnant to me, and I realized I could probably still distinguish fresh Vodka from stale, that smell that comes from drinks left out on the end tables all night after a party.  I can actually recall the steps it took my parents to become full-blown alcoholics.  It didn’t take long.  As a small child, I remember the beer cans spread around the coffee table, Hamm’s or Coors.  My Dad would let me take sips and my parents and their friends thought it hilarious that I loved the taste so much.

When we went on short vacations, usually to the Motel Fresno in California (they had a great bar), they packed the ice chest and drank beers while they drove the highway up the middle of California cow country.  I thought all adults did this.  But I can remember my first anxiety attack taking place in the backseat of our car.  I would always sit on the left, so I could peek over my Dad’s shoulder to see how fast he was going.  As the speedometer crept past 60-miles-per hour, I was sure we would all die in some horrendous car accident, our bodies and suitcases strewn all over the highway. I felt so frightened, I couldn’t speak.

As we got older, my parents’ drinking habits became more sophisticated.  When I heard Frank crooning “Love and Marriage” on the “hi fi,” I knew my Dad was undoubtedly standing in our tiny kitchen carefully blending martinis with the latest gadgets and good ingredients.  Eventually though, it didn’t matter to them if they ran out of Vermouth.  If no one bought the onion stuffed green olives, “oh well.”  Finally the water went out with the ice cubes, and they were on their way. Straight Vodka became their drink of choice…for years.

With the drinking came the arguing.  After awhile, my Dad rarely came home by dinner time.  That didn’t bother us kids at all.  We were all scared of Dad.  Dad was the one who never talked to us unless he was mad.  Then he’d yell at us and end every tirade with, “Savvy?”  I assumed that was the way it was with most families.  The mom was the nice, gentle one who took care of the kids and the dad was the quiet, gruff one who went out and made the money.

Sometimes we can look back at our lives and we know when it all started to unravel.  I have divided my own life into the “before,” and “after” of this time. Before, things were “ok.”  After, it quickly spiraled.  I think of this time as “the beginning of  tragic events.

Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

-Frank Sinatra

Those Were The Days

-Happier times.

I was born in 1951. A lot can happen in sixty years and a woman can grow older in what feels like a flash. One minute you are thirty-five and have your whole life ahead of you.  Then, in a New York minute, you’re sixty, and convincing yourself you still have a good twenty-five, thirty years left.  Mainly you think, “how did my butt get so close to my knees?”

But the 1950′s  was a great time to be a kid. My family bought a brand new home in a new development in Inglewood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. The homes on the block were square and tiny, with little patches of yard in the front and an incinerator to burn trash in the back. Two-parent families were all the rage back then. And almost all families had at least 2.2 children. I could never figure that one out.  But we knew just about everyone “on the block.”  Kids were safe to run free, from dawn until dark in the summer months, ending play for the dinner bell or the bathtub.

We had milk delivery on our front porch, an ice cream man who toured the neighborhood daily, ringing his chimes and tooting his horn.  A yellow Helms Bakery truck drove up the street each afternoon, the truck’s whistle signaling the arrival of fresh baked donuts, cakes, pies, and the best potato chips on the planet.  We walked directly behind the truck so the driver could not see us in his side mirrors, and stole rides home by jumping up onto the back bumper.

We didn’t have video games or even a color television at first.  We spent our days setting up makeshift curtains across the open garage door to hold plays for the neighborhood kids.  We served saltine crackers so kids would buy our lemonade…a trick we learned on an episode of “The Little Rascals.”  A favorite game for the whole neighborhood was nighttime hide-and-go seek.  It seemed to be an idyllic time to raise a family if you didn’t count the air raid drills. I told myself that my bed was low enough to the ground that any atomic ray from Russia would pass right over.  I was way more worried about spontaneous combustion.

I considered our family life to be just as ordinary as the next kid’s.  In the early years, my mother was very involved in our elementary school activities and was secretary of the PTA.  My older brother, younger sister, and I walked to school together.  Our family gathered around the dinner table in the evening to share our days, eat home cooked meals, and listen to “Gunsmoke” or “The Shadow,” on the radio.  Many Sundays we drove out to West Los Angeles to visit my great-grandmother.  She made the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted.

Some years passed and things started to change.  I kind of got a clue that our family was more normal than most when I stopped by a friend’s on the way to school.  I had grabbed my usual breakfast out of the freezer…a Fudgesicle. I jumped on my skateboard and headed down the street.  Halfway down the block I thought,  “why not stop by my friend Andrea’s and see if she wants to walk with me.” I had never really spent much time in her house. We didn’t really hang in the same circles. I knocked on the door.

“Come on in, Linda…Andrea will be done with breakfast in a minute or two,” said her mother.  I stood right inside the back door, wishing I was on my skateboard and half-way down the block.  There in front of me was the weirdest scene I had ever laid eyes on.  The table was spread with platters of food. Real food. There was scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, and orange juice.  And the entire family was there, eating! Together!  Even the father!!  I thought, “Wow, poor Andrea! I had no idea she went through this every day!”

A child miseducated is a child lost.

-John F. Kennedy

Family Legacy

The third quarto of Hamlet (1605). A straight ...

Every family has a legacy.  Passed down through ancestors and on to us are continuations of family trusts, heirloom furnishings, or even good solid surnames. My own family legacy left me none of those things. It left the legacy of suicide.

Long before I was born my grandmother stumbled upon the lifeless body of her eighteen-year-old son, Bobby. He had somehow managed to pull the trigger of a rifle and kill himself in the small confines of the bathroom of their home. My mother named her own first born son after the brother she had lost.  But within both my mother’s and father’s family line, suicide was to continue.  Uncles of both my mother and father ended their lives within a few years of each other.  And within my own immediate family, the legacy would continue.  But let me start at the beginning…(to be continued).

To be or not to be, that is the question..
― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

Neurosurgery

Neurosurgery (Photo credit: BWJones)

When I awoke from brain surgery on October 16, 2006, I could hear my breath twice for each one breath I drew.  And it was loud, like the roaring of a waterfall. The first time I heard it, I was actually taking a breath. A couple of seconds later, I could hear it again…in between breaths. I thought, “that’s odd.”

My optic, auditory, and facial nerves had been damaged in surgery and everything looked and seemed weird.  For one thing, I saw two of everything, and each image seemed four feet apart and a little up to the left. The pupil of my left eye had moved over towards my nose.  My perception made everything seem strange, and it would take several years before the feeling of everything being “off-kilter” would pass.

I had steroids pumping through my IV in order to keep swelling of my brain to a minimum. I was hyped to the max. All I could think was, “I’ve got to tell people about this!!” I pictured myself before vast audiences of people, regaling them all with the story of the miracle God had wrought.  Actually, I have wanted to tell the story of my life for almost as long as I can remember. I have experienced so much sorrow, and yet I am so amazed at my own sense of joy in living. This blog is my attempt at creating hope, sharing what God has done in one life. If one person latches on to it, it is worth it to me.  Because what God would do for me, he would most certainly do for you.  Enjoy! And please comment or ask questions whenever you wish.