"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kiki and the Mann

When we were children, living in Southern California, my mother used to drive us at least once a year to visit my grandparents - her parents, Irwin and Florenia Robinson - in Phoenix, Arizona.  Back then, in the late 70's and 80's, it was not a straight shot on the I-10 between L. A. and Phoenix.  That is, the freeway only went so far and then you had to drive surface streets to get to the outskirts - what is now the central part - of Phoenix.

There was no tape deck - not even an 8-track - in our car back then.  Mom drove a brown Toyota Corolla, probably 2-door, that seemed like it was constantly breaking down.  We had no air conditioning, which was unfortunate because most trips were made in the summertime.  Of course, we didn't really know what we were missing.

Mom usually woke us up sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning to get a start.  Sometimes, once the sun was up, we would stop at a rest stop and she would use the barbecues available to make breakfast.  Using aluminum foil - or maybe she brought a skillet? - she made scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage.  Quite resourceful, my mom was - still is actually.  Maybe it was growing up poor or Mormon or the child of a once farm girl, but my mom could really make the best of any situation.  Logistically, that is.

We always stopped at some farmer's market or fruit stand along the way and bought cherries with the pits in them and ate them the rest of the way to Grandma and Grandpa's house.  Sometimes, if we begged she would pull over and find a piece of cotton from the cotton plants that lined the highway.  That's how I learned that cotton grew from plants.  "What are these things in the cotton?" I asked.  "They're cotton seeds," she explained.  My child's brain was fascinated.

Because eventually the radio wouldn't pick up any stations, we spent a lot of time entertaining ourselves by talking.  Remember that?  When families would actually talk to each other?  Nowadays, I imagine everyone in the car (except hopefully the driver) engrossed in whatever electronic device they have, playing games, texting, watching videos.

My mom was fun back then.  I liked it best when it was just the four of us - Mom, me, Matt and Julie.  No boyfriends or evil stepfathers to come between us.  We could bask in her love and attention.  And she did - still does - love us very much, as much as a mother could love her children.

One trip home from our visit in Phoenix, my sister realized that her little stuffed monkey, Kiki, was suddenly missing from the car.  Julie adored Kiki, who was partner to my stuffed pink elephant, Effie.  One day, maybe I'll write a children's book all about our young lives and the imaginary world we made up with our blankets (Akies, we called them) and Kiki and Effie.  I think, being able to retreat into that world, helped keep us sane during the difficult times.  Our Akies weren't just security blankets; they were survival blankets.  Anyway, we determined that a few miles back when we pulled over to pee, Kiki must have fallen out of the Toyota.  She got off at the next exit and went back to where we thought we had stopped, got out of the car and searched up and down the side of the highway to try to find Kiki.  She couldn't find him, and even I could tell how distressed she was for Julie.  We all tried to make Julie feel better, and eventually were able to talk about Kiki living out in the desert somewhere between L. A. and Phoenix.

I'm sure most parents would have done the same thing.  Or maybe not.  But that's a memory that has stuck with me all these 30 plus years later; and it's not the losing of Kiki that captures my heart.  It's what my mom did to try to fix it for my sister.

There are other examples between that time and now that I remember my mom doing similar things, just to make us happy, but the other memory I have that touches me and even chokes me up a little happened when I was 17.  We were living in a crappy apartment on Clark Street in Tarzana, during a particularly bad drug time for Direll.  This was 1988, the year that Matt called the police, the neighbors started calling the police, Direll wasn't trying to hide his violent temper anymore, the year he gave my mom a black eye.

It was a weekend, probably a Saturday night.  Direll was gone with the car.  That was his routine.  He slept all day and then went out to conduct his business at nighttime, usually all night.  Clark street is conveniently located just east of Reseda Boulevard and a block north of Ventura Boulevard, putting us almost across the street from the popular Mann Theater.  Next door to the Mann was a record store that also rented videos, so we would walk there occasionally and rent a movie.  That night it was just me and my mom, so we walked over to rent a movie.  I don't remember what it was.  What I remember was that, on this bustling Saturday evening, as we walked past the Mann, the intoxicating aroma of movie popcorn was impossible to ignore on the sidewalk outside.  I told my mom how I wished we could buy popcorn from the theater to take home with our movie.  I didn't really mean anything by it.  Surely it was an impossible wish, but the next thing I knew, Mom was approaching the ticket taker at the door, a manager likely, and he let her in just to buy popcorn.  I was shocked.  Not embarrassed, just amazed that she would go to that kind of trouble just because it sounded good, because I wished it.  My heart melts at this memory; it bonded me to her in a way that nothing had before.  It sounds trite, trivial, stupid.  But in my world where everything was about Direll and our lives were run by chaos and fear, she chose love.  I would have been too shy to ask the man at the door, but she wasn't.  She still had spirit, after all the years of being beaten and worn down.  Maybe it was her resourcefulness coming to surface again, but she came out triumphant, and we went home and watched our movie with our special popcorn.  It was a great night.

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