1920 – 1960 New York,
Jerry: Passion - security
Albert: Success & affection
Mildred: Home and family
Adriana: Step-Daughter: Love & understanding
He was named Stuart. No one knew why. Relatives were appalled. There was not another Stuart in the maternal family tree of male ancestry: The Lederers: Franks, Henrys, Hugos, Ralphs, Julians, Edwards, Maxs, Ottos, Victors, Pauls, Ludwigs, Geralds, Leonards, Ulrichs, but not a Stuart, not in the two hundred years since this family that emanated from Germany and Czechoslovakia to America. Children would be named after an ancestor only after death in the Jewish tradition, the name Stuart became a maternal family anomaly.
always successful, always educated, always secure, always in commerce, always
city people never doubting, always in their dreams and hopes a life of
prosperity. However, in the years after the French Revolution, the Napoleonic
Wars, Crimean Wars, the Bismarchian/Wilheiminian Kaiser’s rule and the
industrializing of most European countries, all engendered the escalating
That is all but
one son, Max; he and his family remained in
father’s name was Albert Edward Fischer, the mother’s Elsie Charlotte
Lederer; Albert an only child; Elsie from a family of eleven.
Albert’s father, Julius S. Fischer, was the foremost real estate broker
Six year old
Albert and his family emigrated from
The eight Lederer men, save for Henry, were big men in height and breadth; not handsome but expensively dressed, imposing. The eldest, Hugo, was so well known in the city that if he left his gold handled cane in any establishment it would be returned to him post haste. The two surviving girls in the family were certainly full-sized, but plain and uninteresting, somewhat peculiar with quirky habits and ideas. But still, well off financially.
By 1900 when he
was twenty-one Albert was employed as a traveling salesman for the leading
importer of women’s silk garments. His company was located in
Now, Albert was bored but ambitious. He decided to sacrifice his freedom to romantically engage a woman of his selection. He had many. Money making was also paramount in his plans.
He was introduced to the eldest two Lederer brothers, Hugo and Ralph at a gathering at the Astoria Hotel during a banquet, hosted by the New York Jewish Business Association. He was invited to their large home where he was introduced to Elsie and Olga. Of the two, Elsie seemed to be the less objectionable, he thought. He really couldn’t fall in love with her; but he was a respectable suitor, she had had none before, he could anticipate financial gain from this marriage. He could begin a family of his own, become a father.
Now, Elsie was not a beauty. A finicky dresser, in the latest fashions, colors dreary, fabric bulky, designed to be unrevealing from neck to ankles; and expensive, voguish hats worn continually, in or outside. She always had a matching purse and gloves, the purse which seldom left her arm, was never out of her sight. Her hair was thin in texture, dark in color, coiffure precisely. Her coloring pale, eyes a watery characterless faded blue. She met people politely seldom focusing her gaze eye to eye. It was as though she was looking past them; suspicious of the most casual comment made by her family or friends; “How well you look today,” “How lovely a dress.” She thought, “What do they mean by that?” “Why are you bringing that up?” Other than her parents, one or two of her brothers, her only affirmative relationship was with her later to be born son, Stuart.
She really did not want to marry. She did not want to endure all the nasty habits that she knew about men, living with seven brothers, and expected from a husband. Her family of brothers knew she was going to be difficult to marry off. Suitors for her hand in marriage noticeably absent. But in the Jewish tradition they did their duty and she would do hers.
Only her father
opposed the marriage. But finally he acquiesced to his wife and sons. The couple
After a year of marriage, devoid of passion, a fair haired son was born. Stuart Paul. Elsie kept this boy all for herself. Albert compelled to keep his distance from his wife and therefore his son, felt isolated when home so he decided to spend even more time on the road, enjoying all the charmings he encountered in every city, in every hotel and home he visited. The profits from his sales were astounding. His contact with the Lederer family and their fame in the business world would increase his income to astounding levels.
relationship with his mother’s family was close and enduring although he went
east only once following high school. Stuart
would only see his father’s father once after leaving
It was not
Albert’s lack of business success that led to his move from
What Albert knew
This move will
take me to a pristine field of prospective clients and new contacts. The demand
for silk goods is so great that the Orientals have set up an area near the
harbor to manufacture items made of silk. What a place! I’ll be liberated!
I’ll achieve greater heights, get into real estate investments, Father, you
have always encouraged me to get into real properties, and I shall. The town has
endless possibilities.” He went on to describe what he knew of
In 1918 when
Albert and his family arrived in
Garbage and cans
picked up by truck, once a week; trash was burned in backyard incinerators. The
heart of the city boasted three Eastern Department Stores, Germaine’s Garden
and Feed Store, one luxurious hotel, the Biltmore opening in 1923. There were
buildings housing professionals, businesses, public services. A sizable park,
In 1919 the newly
formed Philharmonic Orchestra was housed in the
There were two
major train stations, the
Water for this
increasing population, a major problem would be solved by the city taking water
from the nearby
This city was an entrepreneurial magnet for success and full employment; a city where people such as Albert could begin to reinvent themselves where Stuart would begin his career in law, marry, have three children and at fifty-six die.
How Albert sold fancy women’s hosiery, attracting sales to celebrated businesses, bought and sold real estate, earned a substantial income is not in question here, how he managed to sell himself and attract women is: a bit taller then most, with no more than average good looks, but his striking head of blond hair and flashing blue eyes, his well dressed being and charm was good enough to attract some very delightful ladies, but attraction that did not extend to his wife at home; she to him and he to her. It hadn’t and never would.
agreed with the purchase of a modest but spacious Craftsman styled house in what
was then referred to as the West side at
Stuart was then
14 years old, slight in structure, plain in appearance, large Lederer ears,
glasses perched upon a prominent nose, framing his slender face; his attention
to his clothing nonchalant; interested in neat and clean only, not in audacious
or faddish fashions. Enrolled at
Often saying, “In Criminal Law you can’t trust your clients to be truthful, your enemies would include all elements of the prosecutorial world, lawyers, law enforcement.”
He defended just two criminal cases in his lifetime, one his mechanic who in a drunken state kidnapped and beat-up one of his employees, the other a business client on retainer who after his building burned down was accused of arson. He defended them well enough that they were found not guilty.
So, what happened to this family of three that makes a story worth relating?
Mildred Josephine Gutierrez Leyva happened.
Born into a very
poor Mexican workers family in Santa Barbara, California, one of eight children
orphaned in 1910 and sent to St. Vincent’s, the orphanage on De La Vina Street
in Santa Barbara operated by the Daughters of Charity; Born in 1904, confirmed
in 1911 and sent out to work in 1916. She was hired by Elsie as their
housekeeper in 1922. This was her third family. She began making plans when she
entered the household. She did not want to be poor. She wanted a home of her
own, a family of her own. Somehow she knew that this obviously unstable
situation was her opportunity.
Stuart came home one day to the sound of adult voices shouting: He had heard it before and like before shuttered and began his retreat.
Mother’s voice, “If you do that again out, out she goes and you with her. No, it won’t be a next time for her; I want that slut gone now.”
Father’s voice, “She has no one and no place to go.” The pleading sound of “Elsie, let her stay. I didn’t …”
“Your looks say differently!”
“Looks are not …”
“There’re enough, looks are enough to be leading to … if you have not already, you dirty, lecherous old man. I know that you have women in every state, in every city you visit. I should have never consented to marrying you; my father was right, my mother, brothers wrong. She’s a child Albert, your son’s age.”
“But, Elsie, you have a good life, comfortable…I don’t bother you…”
“Living in this horrid town, no family, no friends, just a bunch of hawkers lining the downtown streets, no decent shopping close by, no convenient transportation. Get me a car, teach me to drive ….
Stuart escaped into his room; shut the door, turning on the radio, raising the volume to drown-out the voices, thinking, “They hardly ever even speak to one another, less than when in New York; when they do it’s with the terrible profanities, screaming. They have their own separate rooms, and now this repeated … this yelling … about ‘she’ … The only ‘she’ I know in the house, Mildred. What are the looks that are so, so … what?”
He spun his desk chair around, took off his glasses, pulled off his sweater, threw it on the bed, took his shoes off and left where he had been standing. Mother would put everything away. He put his glasses back on, his vision was so poor. His focus, his comfort was sitting at his desk, how he loathed looking any further, so he didn’t.
His room had been furnished by his mother. They went to a furniture store. Why she had him accompany her always puzzled him. Within five minutes, she pointed out a complete bedroom set that was on display, bought, paid and arranged delivery.
The flowered upholstery, the clumsy looking heavy dark wood of his dresser and desk, the overstuffed chairs, the ugly figurine lamps atop the bedside night stands and the matching bedspread and drapes, even to the lamp on his desk, not to his taste but he would never confront his mother with objections. She overwhelmed him with so many good things and seemed so dependant on his love … “I’ll take care of her, I have since father is out of town most of the time on his route. Almost like a stranger in the house when he is home. He is good to me, makes sure that I have my needs satisfied, but we scarcely know one another. Mother tells me that he is a philanderer, I had to ask my school buddies, they explained, philanthropic, ‘Loving or helping mankind’ that seems ok with me; she probably means that he is spending too much money. Mother keeps a close watch on where the money goes.”
Out of the mother-selected briefcase came his books, he had to study, his future was to be at the university; his mother wanted him to be a doctor. He would give it a try. He hated the sight of blood, ghastly. When he later attended his first dissection class at UCLA he vomited all the way to the lavatory and changed his major to law that very afternoon. His mother saying, “What do I need with a lawyer son, a doctor, yes.” She was wrong.
The sound of the voices persisted throughout the house, more muffled now but ….
At the back, in the maid’s room was Mildred. “I may have to leave but not to more poverty. And if I leave I won’t be alone for long; I’ll make sure of this, damn sure, I know what he wants, what he doesn’t get, something that crazy bitch of a wife denies him. Not me! He is so kind and loving, so financially secure and generous.”
Her physical person only slightly reflected her heritage. A little taller than average, quite slim, a bit lighter in complexion, with silky, long, rich, flowing black hair, deep and expressive brown eyes, so dark that the pupil blended into the iris, and with the most desirable proportions, full in the breasts, narrow in the waist, not too wide in the hips, and beautiful legs that she enjoyed showing off under her maid’s costume. She was learning to cook in a more Jewish style, but without the kosher element. Keeping a clean house for the family was no problem. The Sisters at the Orphanage prepared her well for this kind of work. She put away any hope of being with her brothers and sisters.
“I’ll have my own family, I won’t be poor, I won’t be cleaning and keeping house for others, my own home, my own children, cook for my own, clean for my own…all for us. Family must have family; I’m young, attractive, me, my own.”
The battle of words had ceased. Elsie, storming off to her own room, Albert out the door, into his car, a 1920 Chevrolet Touring car, driving away, heading down Vermont Boulevard, then west on Slauson. He knew. It was time.
He had to put the last touches on his plans.
relent this time, circumvent, can’t stand sight of her, fawning over Stuart;
prissy ways, false modesties; Lederer madness’s. Over twenty years, work my
salvation, not this marriage. Shame on me so money hungry, so impressed with
position, family ties; women, should have known better. Turn
I’ve found her a place to live, not like that damn house; having to wait until Elsie goes shopping, Stuart’s at school. My Mildred, real woman, no ties, mine to love, devoted to her, only her. No more extra women, she’s the one.” This is what he thought, but old established behaviors don’t change and they wouldn’t. What would change dramatically were his financial circumstances: the divorce was approaching at high-speed with a ferocity he could not begin to imagine. He thought he knew Elsie, he didn’t, nor did he know his son.
“Damn that whole family of Elsie’s, so clannish and crazy, no. I’ll be kinder, eccentric, some more than others; and Stuart. Nice youngster, our son, no, her son. He’ll understand when he is a man and has men’s needs.”
He pulled up in
front of a small bungalow at
It wasn’t the slamming door, or his leaving that froze Elsie’s feet to the floor, “what if Stuart heard?” She listens. The thought produced a faint cry in her throat. She had put up with Albert’s cheating their entire married life, better than the alternative, but in her own home, never. She hears her heart’s pounding, feels her legs collapsing beneath her, breathing rapidly, she begins to faint; her mouth is parched, the perspiration stands on her forehead, her ears ring, the sounds are hollow. Her clammy hands move up, she cups them over her mouth. She licks her lips, her upper jaw bringing her teeth hard over her lower lip. Inhales, “Can’t faint.” Grabbing the edge of the table she steadies herself, then lowers her body into the kitchen chair; more deep breathing. “My room, my room, go there. Stuart can’t see me like this. I’m not even dressed for the day.”
The trembling of her entire body persists. She stands up slowly, carefully so not to fall, reaches for, grasps the purse strap, puts out her one foot then the other, checking, struggling to maintain her balance, momentarily, one hand resting on the edge of the table, taking minute shuffling steps toward the door way. Her entire body is still quivering so much so that when she gets to the doorway, she has to lean against the door jamb, inhaling, exhaling.
Then with her purse hanging from her wrist, her head down, watching her feet move, at first holding her hands together, rubbing them, she forces herself to walk, staggers down the hallway right foot, left foot, right, left, she extends her arms, reaching out with each step to find balance with the support of the walls. The doorway to her room is the light at the end of a long, dark, narrow tunnel. Her efforts get her to the safety, seclusion of her room. Although her hands are still shaking, she manages to close the latch quietly, leans on the door, covers her face with her hands, shielding her eyes from the abrupt change in lighting. Opening her eyes to only a squint, she lurches to the closed window, levers it open, breathes in the cool air. “I did it, and Stuart, he’s safe, he doesn’t know a thing.” Bit by bit she turns around to face the lavishly furnished room, taking an inventory, with her eyes darting from place to place, she’s not.
She vaguely notes the imported Persian rug, expensive matching oak pieces: bedstead, dresser, elaborately framed mirror, side tables, the silk bed coverings in a hand embroidered flower design with matching draperies. A soft, cool breeze moves the fabric at the window; “My things; my good things.” She has to compose herself, think, and carefully craft her next action.
Her outstretched hands grope in
the air, finds the back of a chair at her dressing table facing the large
rectangular mirror, she sits down, taking a piece of chocolate candy from a
crystal dish but doesn’t notice that she is without lipstick, makeup, her hair
disheveled. She sets her eyes on Stuart’s graduation picture. “I can call
the orphanage to complain, tell them about her dishonesty, no . . . I’ll
request a replacement, yes, no, I‘ll tell them about her behavior with my
husband. She may go after my son. Better still; ‘get
out’, I’ll tell that woman to ‘get
out’. Have to change my clothes.” She turns away from her dressing
table, vacantly stares out the open window hears lawn mowing sounds. “Stuart
will never do low manual labor. He has to study. Must remember to tell that boy
again, to clean up thoroughly; he’s so careless, says he isn’t. Better still
I’ll tell his mother.” She turns back to her mirror, she misses
She finds herself standing in front of a door, the maid’s room. Curling her fingers into a fist she raises her arm; then in her haste inexplicably releases her purse. She makes a lunge towards it, hits it with her outstretched grasping hand. It flies across and down the hallway, springs open as it collides with the wall ‘thwack’; the impact substantial enough to cause an explosive reaction.
The contents fly in all directions, scattering from wall to wall, corner to corner down the polished floor. There are her keys, cosmetics, bottles of nail polish, lipsticks, dirty hankies, Kleenex, gloves, combs, hair pins, tooth picks, scraps of paper, old shopping lists, loose change, driver’s license, folding money and checks; bits and pieces of old candy and empty wrappers, carefully wrapped secreted unmentionable items, and crumbs that had fallen to the deep recesses and folds on the silk lined bottom. “Damn, it’s all her fault. It’s his fault.” Her body is shaking with anger. The empty purse is resting against the opposite wall. She leans close enough to retrieve her purse, for a moment shelters it close to her body, rocking to and fro before she once again crouches down to begin the gathering process, grabbing at whatever is there, dropping some, having to pick them up again; jamming the lot into the barren cavity; an old piece of hard candy finds its way into her mouth; she licks her fingers, wiping the saliva on her sleeve then wrapping her housecoat more securely over the front of her body and between her legs she continues crawling along the floor. A shiver run through her body, it is only then that she realizes that the house is cold, she is cold. Even her anger has not served to warm her. She has difficulty locating all the items in the gloom. She stands and steps over to the light switch, turns it on, pushes her glasses up higher on her nose, there are fingerprints on the light plate “Damn, careless, girl.” She can now see that there are more of her things scattered along the length of the hallway, several in front Stuart’s closed door. She inches along, creeping silently, collecting items, stuffing her purse, then, thinking almost saying audibly, “I’ll go in to see Stuart, no, I can’t he’ll be working on his studies. Yes, I need to talk to him, see him, no, I won’t! He can’t be disturbed. But, he could help me, just seeing him would help me. Thank God he looks like the Lederer side of the family.
No, I’ll it will disturb him, he might get annoyed. I won’t take the chance to irritate him.” She gathers herself, checking, assuring herself that each button on the front of her housecoat is in its proper place, then snaps the purse clasp closed, it makes a brassy tick “Oh, did he hear that?” embraces it against her chest then shelters it under her arm. “I’ll do what I intended to do in the first place.” She repositions herself, stands straight, flips off the light. Her arm extended, hand outreached, she sees that she has chipped several nails, “I’ll see the manicurist tomorrow.”
She shuffles down the hall, steps, muffled by her slippers. She reaches the targeted door. She will besiege it as planned. “Won’t bother changing, what do I care about her, I must get this done and right now. Confrontation, my liberation, Mildred’s initiation to future hardships in the world begins, but not in my world.”
The angry pounding on the door; the door thrust open, slamming back against the wall, ricocheting, slapping Elsie’s posterior as she enters, she lurches forward her dignity momentarily wounded. “The Bitch!” Mildred was startled, more than startled, astonished at what appeared before her, not the well put together person of her employer, but a worn out middle-aged woman. “Jesus, I’ve never seen her like this, her hair hanging around her neck and face wet with perspiration, face contorted and lined, mouth shaped in a manner that was like it contained a bitter herb, lips drawn back, spittle on her chin, nails split and cracked, wearing a soiled housecoat over her scantly clad body, she looks as though she is breathing her last breath. She smells, God, she smells: old people stench, she usually is heavily doused in some sickening fragrance, if I were to strike a match in this room right now, the air would ignite.
The only familiar, identifying part of her is that damned purse and even this; it’s weird, hanging on her wrist, open and with bit and pieces of stuff bulging out at the top. I had better keep my mouth shut.”
Mildred recognized that Elsie still presented the familiar dreadful overseer image. Elsie was not a small woman but at this moment even in this state of disarray, she seemed to tower larger then ever as she leaned over her adversary. Mildred leaned back, stared innocently into Elsie’s glaring eyes. She didn’t flinch. “Damn her who does she think she is? Vieja loca!? Quien se cree que es? Puta! Elsie raised her left hand, index finger pointing, stabbing into the space between them; the purse swinging wildly, her voice shrill; the screaming sound of The Furies. Or it may have been more like the shriek of the Peacock, a sound that resonances throughout the surrounding areas, the sound of a woman in severe distress.
“She crazy, stay calm; she’s trembling all over, her face contorted, so what. I don’t care, I’ll be rid of her no matter what she does or says, I’m leaving one day anyway but when I am good and ready to leave. Albert says so. He’s making plans for us. And her son is so nice, how does that happen. I’ll have a son soon, I know it’s a boy, I can feel it; I hope he will be as smart as Stuart, strong, determined, loving, like their father.” Mildred stood up took one step forward turned to reach for her sweater, “Don’t you turn your back to me.” Mildred sat back down on the bed; moved several library books that were in her way. Elsie bent down to face level, nose to nose, shouted venomously:
“One week to get out you ungrateful little whore; consider yourself lucky, you have a moment of grace. Come near to my husband again…and, and,” she was waving her arms around wildly, “I’ll throw you and your paltry possessions out into the street that very instant. Call the damn orphanage and let them know that you are going to be homeless in seven days. I’ll deduct the cost of the call from your pay. And don’t pretend to get sick again there’s work here you are paid to do. I know all about Mexicans, stupid and lazy! But you’re at least clean. Now you get yourself into the kitchen and scrub the floors, scour the stove, and I’ll have plenty of tasks for you when that’s done. And the switch plate in the hallway is festooned with fingerprints, scrub them off.
You will work and toil during the next week, like never before. Then you’re gone! And good riddance!” As she turned away to leave she hurled a final, “There’s plenty more where you came from.” Out she stormed; triumphant. Her hand missed grabbing the doorknob; leaving the door open in her haste; the sound of her slippers slapping the floor. There was a welcome silence. The air seemed to have been sucked out of the windowless room.
Mildred, still seated on her narrow steel-framed bed, folded her slender, well proportioned legs beneath her. Even as she looked around at the sparsely furnished space with its small dresser, cracked mirror, worn throw-rug, and the floor lamp, the base rusted, the pole bent, with the torn faded shade, she couldn’t help herself, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. This was her current world ― there was to be another. The air was still, Elsie’s stink was fading, the silence soothing, relaxing.
“Clean but lazy”, mused Mildred, “but not dim-witted you crazy bitch. But you’ll pay! The cost is going to be Albert, his love, his kindness, his desires, his own children to adore who will adore him, his own life with me. I give him something you don’t know anything about; the pleasures of loving. Well, you must have known something, you have your Stuart, a pleasure or not.”
Then she stood up, stepped into her scuffed leather work shoes, pulled the laces firmly, tied them into a neat bow. Now she straightened herself with all the dignity she could muster, shaking her shoulders, commanding her body to gain its full height, smoothed down the stiff gray broadcloth of her uniform, ran her fingers through her hair patting it down as she pushed it back away from her face, glanced into the good half of the cracked mirror, in her own home there would be no mirrors that only reflected half a face, nodded in approval. This place, this dependency was not to be in her future. She was ready for the challenge from these earlier unfulfilled worlds to that of a world complete and inclusive of her desires, her needs and her wants. She was to have a family.
The last act before she headed out of her room was to erase the smile from her face, replacing it with a subservient vacant expression; then head held high, imitating the posture of the Sisters, she stepped across the threshold, reached back to grasp the handle of the door, calmly, quietly, until she heard the familiar click as it closed, and then strolled to the kitchen.
Stuart liked Mildred: “Smart, articulate, one good looking broad. Great breasts under that drab uniform, and wow the legs, smells so good. Wouldn’t mind dating her, but that’s not what Mother could tolerate. Wouldn’t she be shocked if I dated the maid? She already has misgivings when I date anyone.”
He knew that she
was an orphan. He could identify with part of the equation. “Loneliness” was
what she had once told him, “I am so lonely for family.” Remembering how
desolate he had felt in
When he first arrived in Los Angeles his initial loneliness was supplanted by his studies, his new friends, his gin rummy games, chess competitions, his love of tennis, acclimating to the temperate climate, blue skies, relative quiet that surrounded him as he went about his day at school. “And my mother always here to care for my needs. This poor girl, she has no one, how will she ever have family?” Little did he know.
when he and his mother went to New York in 1917 for Uncle Otto and Aunt
Essie’s 15th Wedding Anniversary, it was to the familiar world he
remembered loving so thoroughly: the expansive family, and then there were the
tall buildings, the wide streets, Central Park, the activity, intensity, sounds,
the clamor of vehicles,: taxies, busses, the newsboys on the corners, the
fantastic subways that could take you everywhere, it was the every one and every
part of all he knew. But, remember, he had the resources to adjust to enjoy his
life and living in this
Yes, he thought he understood Mildred when she said lonely for a family.
Stuart ate his breakfast and lunch in the kitchen. The dark uninviting dining room was for dinner, his father away most of the time so it was as often as not with only his mother. He enjoyed the kitchen’s personality; it’s charm, bright, friendly. A room that made him smile; a smile always awaited him.
This was the only room in the house that had undergone a complete remodeling: It had been dark, dreary, dirty, intimidating: up came the greasy flooring, out went the cast iron sink, the ice-box, the stove. Painted white. Down went linoleum flooring of innovative geometric designs. In came a new model porcelain sink, modern faucets, all placed under the newly installed and curtained windows, the General Electric refrigerator, a most recent invention, the latest model O’Keefe and Merritt gas stove, white, long black legs, a shelf for the coffee maker, with four burners, an oven and broiler. No more were there the clanking noises of the stove, the smoke filling the air, the delivery of ice, the rattle and banging of the pipes as the water flowed into the sink, now the room smelled unsoiled, it was quiet. This transformation, this new room glowed, sparkled with a welcoming tranquility, radiance.
Mildred was always there. They seldom spoke more than a word or two; he studying; head down, eyes focused on his books, or the Los Angeles Examiner that was propped up against the always present flower vase. At his other residences he had been oblivious to his meal taking surroundings, considering a kitchen just that, a kitchen, a place to prepare meals, yes, a place in which to eat, yes; except the other kitchens did not have this sparkle of light nor did they have the delightful Mildred, she making lunch for him, placing the meal on the table to his right so he would not be disturbed; then either cleaning the stove, washing dishes, wiping down the countertop or ironing.
Stuart couldn’t help himself, he often sneaked a quick look up at Mildred, placed his hand surreptitiously in his lap, looked down, adjusting his trousers, repositioning his body on the chair, pushing his glasses back on up his nose, his face and ears flushed. Mildred paid no attention to his youthful performances.
But, this day in addition to the usual smiles and polite greetings, she astounded him, sharing a little more of herself: she wiped her hands on the towel she was holding, then brushed the strands of her long black hair back, pulled out a chair and started talking before she was seated; absent mindedly wiping the table top with her towel.
Stuart was so astonished that the hand holding his rare roast beef sandwich paused mid-way to his open mouth. “This is a first. What an event, Mildred and I and mother’s not home, wow, I mean, it would scare her off. She keeps her distance from Mother. Mother reserves her comments to orders of work to be done. ”
The kitchen was the brightest room in the house, even on this overcast day. From the open windows over the sink there was a partial view of the tree lined street. Except for a few cars driven by the neighbors, or children out playing in the street, it was quiet.
“Stuart, you are so fortunate, no, no, no, but please, don’t misunderstand me; what I want to say; more fortunate than many. Like me.” She broke off.
“Mildred, don’t stop, go on, I’m listening. I want hear what you have to say, to know about you, more than I know now. Come on. Spill it!”
“Stuart, I don’t even know why I’m telling you this now. I’ll be gone in a few more days.”
“Mildred, I am so sorry that you’re leaving, I will miss you, you’ve been good to
me. And it’s been nice to have you here. I wish I could help you. I don’t have any money.” He wanted to reach into his pocket, pull out some bills, hand them over; they were empty except for a few coins. As an adult they would always contain folding money; this would be his long-established lifetime custom. Ready cash for a friend, to give with no strings attached.
She raised her hand, “I’ll be OK.” She smiled and reached over the table, patted his hand, “So will you.” But then: she withdrew her hand to clasp it to the other, weaving her fingers together, placing them in front of her. Stuart started to put his partly eaten sandwich down, the food sitting there in his mouth, when he looked up again, their eyes met. He swallowed his half chewed food, pushed his books and plate to one side. He had a great desire to reach out, to touch her folded hands as she had reached out to him.
The ceiling light cast shadows across the table, possibility of rain; Mother’s rule, “keep the electricity off in a sunlit room or if the room is vacant.” She continued:
“I think that you know that I come from a Catholic orphanage. I am a Catholic.”
She paused, listening, “it’s beginning to rain”― got up, walked to the windows, reached under the curtains closed them; glancing out she saw a woman walking with her two children and pushing a carriage― she smiled, looked back, he had said nothing; leaning forward, watching her graceful moves, depositing the half-eaten sandwich back on his plate, then without looking down, picked up the napkin, wiped his hands, his mouth, took a drink of milk, straightened his glasses ― she resumed her place in the chair, thinking: “He is interested, if I could only tell him the entire truth. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Not ever! He will find out on his own soon enough.” Returning to the table; sits; goes on:
“The Sisters at
Stuart was listening intently, thinking, “How can this be true, happening to people
just like me? This is cruel, the violence, my God, how I hate violence.” He became conscious that his mouth was hanging open, closed it. He smiled in a reassuring manner, nodded his head, she went on:
“That was in
1910-11. I’ve told you how all of us were taken in by the Sister at
We were sheltered, fed and clothed, taught to read and write, to speak good English without sounding Mexican; that was pounded into us every day, every moment, but trained to be employed as servants, which was all they could do for us. All that…and …” She paused, bit her lip, took a deep breath, “you don’t know this, no one knows, my name is not Mildred, I was baptized Josepha Maria Gutierrez Leyva. But, I don’t want a Mexican identity; I don’t look Mexican, I don’t sound Mexican, so best to be more American in name.”
Stuart noticed and not for the first time that Mildred wore no make-up she didn’t need make-up, her skin soft and smooth, eyes large and reflective, absolutely stunning, and that she spoke so well, using English as though it were her native language. He liked what he heard what he saw. Sometimes in the evening when he walked to his room he caught a glimpse of her reading.
And she went on tell him about the other homes she had been sent to, the ongoing poverty, the bleak future she had to face, the shame, the dependency she felt with her status as a maid for the rest of her life.
“Someday you will have your own family, love, family is the best that there is in life. I want my own family so badly. No more poverty no more subservience. I want to be my own person, in my own home.”
Stuart understood her needs: assimilation, acceptance, family. Being a Jew, although not a religious Jew, only observing the high holidays, when his mother prepared for the Passover or Hanukah. Now they lived in a city founded by the Catholic Church. He was a Jew but not. So, he empathized.
“Mildred, I know you’re a Catholic. So, I’m a Jew. I’m an outsider, you’re Mexican, you’re an outsider; we both have to find our own way in the world. And you are so right, family is everything. Love means a lot.” He had always had his Mother’s love. As young as he was he knew that someday he would have someone else to love who would love him in return, and a family; yes, he could have that too, and be educated in the law, secure financially. What had she to look forward to?
Mildred continued to speak to him about her life after the orphanage years. The other homes she had been sent to. Stuart watched intently, listened intently. He was a born mediator.”If there was something that I could do, help her, but no.” He knew that he was too young to arbitrate this particular situation; throughout his lifetime, always reminding himself, “There always has to be a way to intercede in conflicts no matter how insignificant they may be to me. Discretion, always be discreet. Find the best modus operandi. I hope I can do this, and all the time.”
The familiar sound; Elsie’s car pulling into the driveway.
Mildred stopped talking, got up quickly, pushed in the chair, it slipped silently back under the table, turned her back, rushed to the pantry to get out the vacuum; he pushed his plate aside that still contained his half eaten sandwich, quickly got up, dashed out the door; a momentary blush of guilt on his face.
The predicted rain was beginning to fall. Elsie waved for him to come help with the groceries, “Stuuddee” she screech in her high pitched wheedling voice, “Stuuddee hurry”, holding a newspaper above her head, standing by the car, dropping her keys into her purse, posture stiff, she wore a tight fitting corset, her slight smile suggesting a hint of self-satisfaction. She had her car, she could drive, and she was ridding herself of “that damn woman.” She’d have her son all to herself. Stuart gave her a brief brush of a kiss on her upraised face, careful not to bump into her hat, didn’t take in his mother’s fluttering eyelids but he did observe that there were a few strands of grey hairs overlooked by the beautician; Stuuddee dutifully picked up the several bags from the front seat and followed her into the now vacant kitchen. Elsie dropped the wet newspaper at the door, marched in regally. She placed her purse on the counter where she could see it and where it was well within her reach; Stuart left the bags on the floor.
“Stuuddee, you didn’t finish your sandwich. Are you feeling well? I bought the best roast beef. I don’t want it wasted. The lights are on in here, don’t waste electricity.”
“Mother, I am not too hungry. I’ll finish it later.”
Elsie began to wrap the sandwich in wax paper. A fly landed on the rim of the glass of milk, wiped its mouth with its front legs; Elsie snapped a dish towel the fly buzzed off.
They could hear the vacuum working in the front of the house.
Elsie was good to her word. A week later Mildred packed her few possessions in one tattered suitcase, walked out the back door, down the street, and around the corner. Albert was there as planned in his 1923 Chevrolet Touring car. “Oh, she is so beautiful!” She hurriedly opened the car door, threw the suitcase in the back; leaned over to give him a quick kiss. “Take care of me, Alberto, Yo te quiero.”
They were down the street, around the corner in moments. Fading into their own future. Elsie did not watch her leave, or which way she went, just happy to be alone with her son.
So the Mildred was gone. Stuart’s mother and father escalated their animosity; his father more of a phantom than before, his mother, absent time and again. Where to she would not specify, probably shopping. Stuart would never inquire. She had her car, a 1923 Cleveland Sedan.
Stuart came home from school. It was early March, spring break. As he entered the front room, he could smell the tension like the stink of his fellow classmates during finals. Before he could put down his briefcase, take off his jacket, his mother thrust into his hands what he recognized, blue wrapped legal papers: “you can read this yourself; I’ve had enough from your father.”
His mother turned on the floor lamp, placed herself in the big brown and green flowered wing back chair. She crossed her legs and then her arms, leaned back, peering at him from under half closed eyes; the light from the lamp bright enough to read by.
Stuart put his briefcase and jacket down, sat down in the matching chair opposite his mother:
“In the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Los
Angeles **** Elsie Charlotte Fischer, Plaintiff, vs Albert E. Fischer,
Defendant. Complaint: Divorce (Cruelty).
He thinks, “Well, She’s finally divesting herself of that cheat.” But, the details: he scans the document turning one page after another quickly:
Paragraphs 1 ,2 & 3 the usual legal terms, “The plaintiff is a resident; the plaintiff alleges for statistical purposes . . .That from and since their said marriage without any reason or provocation therefore on the part of the plaintiff, the defendant has treated plaintiff in a cruel and inhuman manner… during the last two years… staying away from home… the defendant was associating with women other that the plaintiff…spending his money freely upon women other than the defendant…has refused to give plaintiff any money with which to support herself… withdrawn his money from banks, …without any provocation … cursed and swore at her, calling her vile and indecent names such as “ God damn fool” and upon such occasions swore and cursed her in such a loud voice that it attracted the attention of neighbors… That during…the defendant began nagging, cursing and swearing… endeavored to pull the rings from plaintiff fingers; that he dragged plaintiff from the house into the backyard … compelled to call for help…that at that time grabbed her around the wrists in such a manner that it left black and blue marks thereon… All this caused … great humiliation and embarrassment…
” Stuart reaches for his briefcase, snaps it open, pulls out the yellow legal pad and his fountain pen, uncrosses his legs to make a lap and begins to take notes from the papers, “Bastard! Mother assaulted. Damn him. I’ll get him by the balls, he won’t have much to take from this marriage. All the years I couldn’t intercede, I will intercede now!” From this moment on he took charge of his mother affairs and would from there after.
“Mother, you have to have your lawyer re-file listing all your joint ownerships, assets.” He wasn’t a lawyer yet but… His voice was firm and demanding. “Mother, get me all the papers in Dad’s desk that relate to your real properties, bank accounts, cash, life insurance, personal properties, jewelry, anything that is of value.”
Elsie rushed out of the room returning with a stack of papers; carefully handed them to her son, although she wanted to sit next to him on the arm of the chair, she restrained herself. But before she went back to her chair she patted Stuart on the shoulder. Pretending to not notice his mother Stuart focused on the collection of papers; he quickly arranged them in various stacks on the floor and began to list an inventory on his legal pad:
The house and lot they lived in $ 19,000, with the mortgage of $4,000 plus $7,500 in furniture, a four flat building located at 1124-1130 West 42nd Street, value $15,000, subject to a mortgage of $5500, Two double bungalows located at 5911-5917 South Van Ness Avenue, the Cleveland Sedan, 1923, $350.00, Chevrolet Touring car, $500.00, the moneys in the checking account, the savings account, the life insurance policy, the money in the possession of defendant, the exact amount unknown.
He was absorbed, scanning papers, organizing. Elsie rose, walked across the room, walked back to stand before him. Body straight and stiff, hands on hips, feet apart, teeth clenched, eyes narrowed to a glare. Stuart, without raising his head spied up over his glasses, waved his hand in her direction, “Mother, don’t bother me right now, just go sit down and be quiet. I need to concentrate. If you want me to be of assistance …” His voice, the words, sounded foreign to him.
Elsie’s face dropped, her body went limp; she went back to the chair. “Stuart, I need to ―”
“Shh, later mother. You can tell me later, I’m sure it can wait.”
“Stuart, please, I must ―”
“OK, just go ahead, I’ll listen while I am sorting out the community property.”
Mumbling to himself, “this pile mother’s this pile father’s; add up the values so they’re close to equal.”
His mother had always handled the family affairs. “Your father came home from one of his trips. He was removing his clothes from the traveling bag. I saw a number of checks. After he went in to clean up, I looked. They were issued and endorsed by Mrs. A.E. Fischer, but it wasn’t me.”
“What? What did you say? Not you? Then who?”
“Stuuddee, I’m trying to tell you. Checks made payable to a Mr. Hinton for rent at an address other then here and other checks for furniture, clothing, items for an infant.”
“What infant and who is Mrs. A.E. Fischer if it’s not you?”
“That last maid, Mildred, the one I threw out. Your father has had a child with her.”
Stuart couldn’t help it; he flashed a smile in his mother’s direction. “And now how do you know that?” His mother was a harmless exaggerator, he loved that in her.
“Stuuddee, this is not funny.” The trembling in her voice was noticeable. Her body leaned forward in the chair. Her chin was quivering. Her hands gripped the front edge of the cushion as she struggled to continue.
“Mildred, umm, boy do I remember that piece of …”
“Ok, Ok, now, tell me the rest of the story.
“I drove myself over to the address listed on the back of the check.”
“Mother, that’s not __”
“Out in front of the property was a man, I asked him if he was Mr. Hinton. He said yes. I asked him if a Mr. and Mrs. Albert Fischer lived here. Yes― with their son. “I’ll tell them you’re here.”
Elsie’s breathing irregular, voice trembling, tears began to flood her eyes; she stopped long enough to reach into her purse for a hanky and dabbed her eyes dramatically, then held the hanky in her hand that remained tucked under her chin.
“Mom, go ahead…talk.”
“I could hear your father shouting ‘don’t let these two women meet, and I’m divorced from that crazy woman, Mildred is my wife.’ I couldn’t bear it, I left. I drove home.
“What can I do now? I can’t be married to this man any longer. Think of the shame, the financial burden, you need to finish school; I need to rid myself of this man who is spending our money on a full time mistress and their bastard son. “Stuuddee our checking account shows that he is spending large sums of money on Mildred, paying for doctor bills, rentals, furniture, and clothing for that woman and that bastard child. Our account is being drained so much that I have little left to support myself and you.”
She paused in her recitation, got to her feet, watching her son’s reaction. Stuart was on his feet as well, his left hand hanging onto the legal pad; his mother pacing up and down the room, pounding her right fist into her left; wringing her hands. Her mouth was moving still, lips taut, momentarily not uttering an additional sound. Tears flowed streaking her make-up, she retreated to her chair; the only sound was from the cushion exhaling.
“Stuuddee, please help me, get me a good lawyer, take me to the lawyer; take care of me. Don’t let him ruin our lives any more.”
Stuart wanted to do something, say something, anything … This was a mother he did not recognize. He reached for his cigarettes, thought better of lighting up in his Mother’s presence, he thought of having a stiff drink, but liquor was not his thing, never would be. He wanted to go to his mother, hold her hands, dry her tears, but he couldn’t. And there were no words. He collapsed into his chair, his feet scattering the stacks of papers. He looked at this poor woman all crumpled up, so shockingly old so suddenly helpless.
“She needs me, I have always needed her; this is so scary. Well, I have to do something.” Stuart looked down on the scattered paper, glanced at the note on his pad, smiled to himself. He could do something! He’ll show them both.
Suddenly it was clear, “I can take care of my mother. I can do this.”
A thought flashed, “A man’s needs.” That’s what his father had said. The thought vanished.
“Aahhh.” He began to rearrange the papers into only one stack, his mother’s. He put all of the papers, the legal pad and his pen back into his briefcase, snapped it shut, and walked to the phone.
“Information, operator, give me the number of the attorney Milton M. Cohen, on South Broadway, or it may be listed under Frank Rouse, yes, Los Angeles. . . . Not to worry mother, that man will get nothing. If I remember correctly, the grounds for your divorce, adultery, all community property will not be divided. You’ll get it all. I’ll see to that.”
The drive to the lawyer’s offices was a silent affair. Stuart had all of the papers in his briefcase. His mother stared ahead; hands in her lap, they exchanged not one comment about the upcoming interview, he in a reassuring voice just a few polite words of good morning, don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. She, Stuart, drive carefully, slow down, the signal says stop, park here, get the door. Stuart did the driving, this was a first, unusual but his mother had insisted that she would be the passenger. He liked the in command position at the driver’s wheel. He didn’t like the orders but complied in his silent dutiful manner.
They met with the lawyers, offices located near the under construction Subway Terminal building on Hill Street and 5th; he in his only suit and tie, briefcase in hand, she in a somber gray suit, with hat that included a veil, matching gloves and a purse which was held in her lap; that purse and all others thereafter never left her person; they arranged: separate maintenance, the final divorce decree: support of $250.00 a month, the awarding of all the community property, control of the checking account, savings account, jewelry, furniture, to mother, payment of attorneys’ fees, court fees, by his father.
He was a competent advocate before he was a lawyer, completing his degree and passing the bar in 1928. The next thirty-two years he was a successfully practicing civil law attorney.
Albert never responded to the lawfully served papers. Then he and his young family vanished, disappearing from their lives, almost forever. In 1945 a young man in uniform came to Stuart’s office, introduced himself as Norman Fischer, his half-brother. Stuart rejected the offer to become friends and family, almost throwing him out of the office. Now it was forever.
judgement signed in the Superior Court of the State of
Stuart’s first cousin, Lillian Lederer, had journeyed out from the East
coast, after receiving a scholarship at UC Berkley; Stuart was there for his
freshman year. They became reacquainted, dated, became very close. He was far
away from his mother’s domination. The family privately gossiped about this
relationship; they would talk, laugh about Elsie insisting that his laundry be
sent home for her to wash and sent back, to save money, of course. His mother,
not aware of the romantic liaison, couldn’t object to the friendship and
didn’t, convinced that there was no threat to her relationship with her son.
Lillian was family. He and Lillian eventually married but were divorced
You’ll probably want to know: What happened to Mildred and Albert?
Elsie drove off into the setting sun, and . . .
Albert was left standing in the center of the living room; Mildred had collapsed onto the sofa. Mr. Hinton was standing rigid as a stone statue in the open doorway, the rake he had been using still in his hand, poised, handle down, tines up pointing to the heavens.
After the initial explosive confrontation, Albert was finally standing still, breathing rapidly, sweating profusely; his at home shirt and trousers sticking to his body, his shoes off. He had wanted to get to Elsie to smack her down and shut her mouth. He reached for his cigarettes, managed to take one out, then he couldn’t find his matches so he gave up, threw the cigarette to the floor. Took a deep breath, reached down, tightened his belt with his shaking hands. He scratched his head, ran fingers through his thinning hair. He took the few steps needed to reach Mildred’s prone figure. Then kneeling by her side, touching her shoulder, putting his head next to hers, whispering softly into her ear, “Now, Mildred don’t be frightened, she’s gone. You’re safe. Get up and make sure the baby is not in need of changing, that he’s sleeping.”
She gave him a reassuring kiss on his cheek; wiped the tears away. Stretched out her arms, wrapped them around him, patted him on the back. “Yo te quiero.” Albert didn’t move for a moment, then gradually stood up, held out his hand, helped her up and with his arms around her, turned her toward the doorway and patted her on the fanny, “I love you, too. Now, go.” She smoothed out her dress, felt the swelling of her body, brushed back her hair, took a deep breath, and step by measured step left the room.
In the back of the bungalow Mildred picked up her still sleeping baby and held him tightly against her breast. Oh, how she had wanted to go after Elsie, her fists had been clenched, ready to do damage. She wanted to show off her prize, Albert’s son, to thrust him right into that Bitch’s face. But she had just stood there listening to that familiar shrieking voice. It all had happened too quickly.
Albert still stood in the living room arms hanging. The air seemed to have been sucked out of his body, leaving him smaller. He peered out the front window to see Elsie’s car move away, faster than he had ever seen her drive. He turned around to face the open front door, saw that he was not alone. Elevating his shoulders, shaking his head, “I certainly do apologize for this commotion, Mr. Hinton, but that woman is --- “
Mr. Hinton from his position in the doorway, the rake leaned against the wall shouted, “Is it true that Mildred is your kept women and the child is your bastard?”
across the room situating himself so that he was face to face, nose to nose,
glaring at Albert, “I’m a good Christian man ― Plan on moving within
the next thirty days or sooner.” He turned, stomped to the still open door,
turned around, shaking his fists wildly, and backed out wiping his hands across
his shirt: grabbed his rake and left leaving the piles of leaves to the fierce
Albert picked up the morning newspaper, sat down at the table, checked his rolled up sleeves, adjusted his glasses, unfolded the newspaper, thumbed through to the classified. Mildred had made her way back to the front room; “get me a cup of coffee,” he picked up the cigarette that he had thrown onto the floor, found his matches, lit it, inhaled deeply, pulled over the ash tray, took out his pen and began to circle For Rent ads in the newspaper. “My God, my hands are still shaking.”
Mildred, wrapped her arms around his shoulders, rested her chin on his head, a gleam of satisfaction crossing her face. He would be forced into a legal union now, no more excuses, no more his mistress. Now they would live together all of the time without those trips to his old house. The jugada was over.
But, the jugada, the game,
wasn’t over; it was just beginning, never to end.
Albert and Mildred both children of minorities, immigrant families, believed
that the great American dream was authentic, that one could start over, make
ones self over and better; They would find that we carry ourselves with us no
matter where we are and who we are, becoming something else was against the
current of culture’s demands. What has been is what is and will be. Runaway,
yes. Escape, no. There is no bottom line.
confrontation with Elsie the couple began a seven year odyssey. They moved, not
once but three times,
There were three
more children, a series of birth record surname falsifications: Alfred Friedman,
Norman Fisher, Irene Freeman. And the grinding financial distress; finally
fleeing from the State to settle briefly in
A second daughter
was born in August of 1930 after their marriage in
In 1932 Albert
Mildred remarried in 1946 after the birth of a daughter, Barbara, in 1945, had the marriage annulled as this man, Maletti, lied about a previous marriage and confinement in a psychiatric hospital. Then she disappeared. Her children never saw her again.
The complications for the children, now grown began. It was not easy to correct the trail of paper that followed them.
For the military draft board, Alfred Raymond Friedman did not exist. But they researched his birth records willingly, placed him in the U.S. Army as Fischer. Norman Fisher had to establish his authenticity as Norman Paul Fischer for his social security application; Irene Anita Freeman also had to establish her identity as Fischer with her brother Norman verifying and assisting in the corroboration of her identity. Without this she could not find work or establish the lawful Social Security number.
The revelations were to haunt the family forever.
Back to the 1940’s and our other story:
The first time Adriana thought she was presented to Stuart was at a wedding, her mother’s wedding. “This is your new father,” her mother said after a ceremony. “But, I already have a father, I don’t need another one.” “Well, that may be the case but your own father does not care enough about you to matter. This is your Daddy!” Mother spoke in her firm, controlled anger voice, the voice Adriana knew so well. She stood motionless petrified with fear. Mouth dry, breathing rapid, eyes lowered, clenched hands hidden.
Stuart, bent down awkwardly, reached out and tried to take her hand. She moved back a step, her clenched hands firmly down by her side still concealed behind the folds of her dress; she first sensed, then glanced up to see her mother’s recognizable glare, she obediently reached out, allowed him to shake her hand but in a most formal manner.
She thought; “he does has a nice smile, a gentle voice” when he spoke a simple, “happy to meet you” and “we’re going to get along just fine.” That was all he said. She watched as he and her mother walked back to the wedding guests, Stuart was smiling broadly taking his lovely bride in his arms. For a moment she was unable to move. She turned around, felt like the biblical pillar of salt, at first unable to move forward, but she had not looked back.
“You keep thinking that. And my own father does too care about me, you just won’t let him see me” she reasoned in her nine year old combative mind finally able to move away, keeping her distance from the happy couple, the strange gray haired lady and the crowds of people.
She loved the dress that she was wearing it was beautiful. The most
beautiful dress she could remember wearing. The body of the outfit a gentle
beige silk covered with lace. There were tiny hand embroidered flowers around
the neckline, the hem, the waist band, the short sleeves; new shoes to match
with a lovely shiny finish, straps across the top of the matching socks. She
hadn’t had such a fine outfit since before she had been placed in that hateful
What she couldn’t remember because she was not there: her mother’s crying as she ran to the car, smoothing down her skirt, slamming the door. Her best friend, Jean, is waiting. She looks into the rear view mirror, gets out her lipstick, her comb, runs her fingers through her hair, looks down, her stocking seams, shakes her head, sighs; takes a deep drag from the offered cigarette. “What other choice? What have I done?” “She’ll survive. Are you hearing me? Jerry! Listen to me, my own son is there, Shelley’s fine.” “Get us out of here!” The car started, left the curb and disappeared into traffic.
“I have to keep clean”, she restrained herself from fingering the tiny flowers or stroking the silk fabric, keeping her arms folded or hanging loosely by her sides. There wasn’t any place to sit down, unless she went to the patio, and there were too many grown-up people there, no other children.
They made her uncomfortable. So she resigned herself with wandering around the garden, thinking her own thoughts, shade trees offering coolness as the bright April sun radiated welcomed warmth. And flowers, she loved the flowers, she didn’t know their names, someday she would grow flowers of her own, they had so many colors, fragrances good enough to eat. She was hungry; the food was on the patio; the beautiful tall cake, “I won’t go there.” But, no matter where she strolled, people, complete strangers, kept interrupting her solitude, walking over to her, greeting her, “so you’re Stuart’s daughter.” Or “What a pretty child” or “You’re a lucky kid.” Even the comment, “You’re going to just love him.” She didn’t shake her head but … “Uh, uh, no, I’m not!”
She played her polite part, smiling sweetly anger blazing out from her diverted eyes. There was fear and sadness there too, but she didn’t know about this yet.
persons commented on her long dark curls, stroked her hair and as far as she was
concerned, bad-mannered; how dare they touch her; these people. She allowed the
touching, escaping as soon as she could. She was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar.
She didn’t know what to do. Even the serious looking man wearing a drab
black suit and the odd black beanie meant nothing to her; he was what she
considered a funny looking stranger. She retreated into her own thoughts her own
world of comfort. There was always Snow
White and The Wizard.
“And this other man; not my father and that’s that!” He was no one she knew well enough to even be a new friend. “Happy to meet you and we will get along just fine won’t make you a friend or a Daddy.” She embraced her own body holding on as tight as she could.
“Now Uncle Barney, was a friend, he came over all of the time and took us out, took us to all sorts of places, I loved him; if I needed an additional father then he should have been the one, not this nameless guy. And there was an Uncle Saul, when he came over to pick up mother he brought me great toys, one was a Pinocchio puppet. Not the Daddy sort.” Years later, she found out the Uncle Saul was taking mother over to rendezvous with Stuart.
She kept up her wanderings all the rest of the afternoon. She felt like an extra thing, belonging nowhere, to no one. It had been this way since as long as she wanted to remember. The belonging days were gone.
After the party was over she was driven back to her mother’s old apartment building. Not to go up to the eighth floor but to be left with an older woman who lived in a two story building across the street. She was introduced as Oma, “this is your new grandmother” said her new Daddy, her new, rather peculiar grandmother she thought, remembering her as the gray haired lady at the wedding. “She didn’t look very thrilled to be there. In fact, she walked around with a weird smile on her face, phony. I saw her narrowing her eyes when she looked at my mother, not nice, not nice at all. And always hanging onto this man who thought he was to be my daddy. Fat chance!”
And Stuart would never forget his very first direct encounter with his soon-to-be step-daughter; she did not recognize him at the wedding because all she ever had seen of him was his upraised bare behind, in bed with her mother. “My God, how Jerry was able to leap out of bed, throw on her robe, grab her daughter, rush her into the kitchen. And there I am, passion quelled, dressing fast, and getting out while they were having something to eat. I could barely walk! We had very carefully, for four years, kept me hidden. I was still married. We did not want any complications with the pending divorce.
“I rented this apartment across the street from my mother’s so that my parked car would be associated with my daily visit to her and not to Jerry. My mother did not know a thing, no one did for a long while, that is until after the divorce from Lillian was final.
“How well I remember the first time that I met Jerry. A dark haired, slender, glamorous woman who looked at me with intense suspicion, after all I was the attorney for her husband’s firm. He had convinced her that money could be saved by using the same attorney. We would both feel a great draw of attraction, nothing spoken, but it was there. I need to get to know this sexy woman but how?” What he did was to send her a bouquet of flower with an attached note, ‘how’s about us?’ The us happened. They began a torrid love affair, placing her daughter in a boarding school for safe keeping, renting an apartment for their rendezvous, he was married, although unhappily, but hadn’t realized that he was ready to break free, ready for change, for passion, for a new life of his own choice and no one else’s.
was small, brightly lit, no drawn blinds on the windows, not at the eighth floor
with no one to peek in. The kid had a key to the apartment; she wasn’t
supposed to come for a visit so early in the afternoon. She walked quite a
distance from her boarding school at Third and
was a lovely affair at the home of best friend Max Strasburg, owner of a very
exclusive jewelry store off of
“I can’t say that she was too thrilled. I knew that it was not going to be a happy transition. I understood her attitude her mother did not. But I had a lot to learn, being thirty-eight and never had I been around children, an only child myself.”
“After the wedding the step-daughter was dropped off at my mother’s and we left for our honeymoon at Marietta Hot Springs.
“While we were gone, the real daddy picked up his daughter; ‘To show her his new daughter.’ I found out later how crushed she was, telling his new wife that ‘I hate you; you took my daddy away from me.’ What a way to begin a new life with me and her mother.
“I had a client
who owned a
“We went house
hunting so that we would be settled when she came home. The one we bought at
“So my son marries this x-showgirl, a low life type, uneducated, a foreigner, a manicurist, a Goya, a divorcee, not even a naturalized citizen, with this child who is so disgustingly head strong. He’ll be mine again, someday, somehow all mine again. This shameful bleached blond will find out just how miserable she will be. I’ll find ways as the opportunities present themselves.”
And Elsie would bide her time over the next 18 years, interjecting herself, creating disharmony when ever she could. The task would be more difficult then she could have anticipated. Jerry was a formidable foe. She did win the final battle, she got, took her son back.
But, this is yet another story for later:
Stuart was a very precise person. This precision served him well in his professional life; it was a bit difficult in his domestic life. He was orderly in his habits, pleasantly demanding in the maintenance of his needs. Modification was not his middle name; his routine was his routine and therefore the routine of all. This is not a bad note but it was a note to be observed: as an example, dinner was at . Not a minute before or a minute after. It mattered not that hunger was an issue; he had his life to keep in order. So, about six month into his marriage the following took place:
Stuart came home at exactly, changed into his robe and took his routine twenty-five minute nap. He was a man who could close his eyes, sleep soundly, and get up refreshed for the rest of the evening. Dinner was at . No one minute before or after. Hungry or not, you ate your meal, all of it.
Stuart entered the dining room, cleaning his glasses with his handkerchief, his body clothed in his bathrobe, he sat down at the table, put his glasses back on, placed his napkin in his lap. Looks up!
“Where’s my mother and Adriana? Jerry, did you hear me?” He shoved his chair back, got up and marched into the kitchen, brushed by his wife to the window. No sign of Mother’s car. Jerry was leaning over basting the roast. “I don’t know, they were supposed to be here before .”
“Well damn” was all he could utter. He marched to the phone dialed his mother’s number. No answer. The distance in travel from his mother’s was thirty minutes; surely he reasoned they are on their way. And they were; arriving past . Stuart was out the door and shouting into his mother’s face, his arms waving around wildly, quite unusual for the calm, Mr. District Attorney. “Why are you so damn late?” Elsie, without a moment’s hesitation responded, “Adriana, she’s the reason.” Stuart’s eyes flashed with an incredulous look, “How’s that?”
And the tall tale of a convincing story unfolds: Elsie standing on the lower back step, her eyes steady, looking up into her son’s eyes, her arms partially extended, hands turned upward, her purse hanging there as always, she pitifully whined these words:
“Stuuddee, I was ready to leave before . I told Jerry’s daughter to be back from playing at so she could clean up and we could leave on time.” She didn’t show up until after . I called and called for her, she didn’t answer. I was frantic knowing that you insist on dinner being punctual. It was all her fault. I wouldn’t be late except for her disobedience.”
Stuart glared at his step-daughter. She was ashen. Standing there her face displaying an expression of disbelief, eyes wide, face pale. Her mother went to grab her; she knew what was coming next. She began to scream, to cry, her body withering into a pool of fear, her voice spitting out words. Her fear was so great that she bypassed the adult to child expectations of silence, blurted out:
“That not true. She’s lying. I was so back on time.”
“Don’t you call my mother a liar, how dare you, why would she say what she did? You, you’re the one who’s lying, again.”
Now the scene was becoming hot. Jerry stopped all the action screaming and grabbing her daughter by the arm, drawing her nose to nose. “What happened? I want to know my daughter’s story. If she is lying, I’ll take care of her! I’m going to hear her story. And I had better hear it right now; my roast is going to be ruined. Adriana?”
Adriana was close to hysterical, her body shaking, face pale, her lips quivering; she was so faint with fear she had to lean against the bird aviary to maintain her balance. Her fingers intertwined with the wire mesh; “Right now! Her mother screamed, “Tell me right now.”
She sobbed out: “I got back to Oma’s apartment; she was standing there in her bathrobe. She said that she had taken a nap. She had to change into her clothes, get her hair straight and make-up on. I sat down and waited for so long. Then she hurried us to her car. Mommy, honest, I’m not lying.”
Stuart was silently gasping, incredulous. First he looked at his mother then, his step-daughter, at his wife. A grave conflict. Dare he reach out to defend his mother or support his wife? He stood there on the back porch steps frozen to the spot. He couldn’t say a thing so he said nothing. He just stood there hanging useless as a man cut off from his…manhood.
Jerry turned to her husband; then turned stared angrily into her daughter’s eyes, then she turned, moved into Elsie’s space, her eyes were flashing, her body positioned in such a manner of a boxer, ready to fight, “I know when my daughter is lying, this is no lie. You son of a bitch, how dare you! I know you and I know your intentions, so beware. Stuart, I don’t trust your mother, never have, but we love one another don’t ever forget that. But, I will take care of my daughter, she is my daughter and don’t forget that either.
Stuart moved down the steps, reached out, grasped his mother by her purse less arm led her into the front room, sat her down, placed himself in the chair facing her. He leaned back, relaxed his face.
Elsie’s lips were clenched shut. Her body positioned in a regal manner, hands folded in her lap, shoulders straight, body held tall. She placed her purse by her side, got out a handkerchief, dabbed her lips.
“Stuuddee, please believe me, have I ever lied to you? It’s that child she’s the liar. Her mother can defend her all she wants, but she’s a troublemaker. I was waiting for her; she did not wait for me.”
“What can I do?” He starts to get up from his chair, sits back down, takes a deep breath, looks at his mother; “My mother vs my wife and her child and me in the middle. I must find a balance.”
His wife’s irritable voice sounded from the kitchen. “Stuart, enough, dinner is ready, past ready, we can finish this later.” It wasn’t a big house.
The conflicted Stuart and his satisfied Mother moved to the dining room. They sat in their assigned chairs, Adriana closest to the kitchen door to get whatever was needed on the table, her mother facing Stuart at the head of the table, Elsie facing Adriana on the inside length. Adriana kept her eyes down, Elsie looked at her son, smiling; Stuart’s eyes attending to the plate in front of him; Jerry’s eyes down cast but stealthily flickering from one individual then to another; she knew she had to gain the upper hand, now and forever. The expected baby would be a deciding factor, she hoped.
The silence, the indirect glances, the tension, the tasteless meal choked down.
This was the first of many Elsie contrived conflicts that would agitate the marriage but never would she be able to mar the deep passion, love, devotion, husband to wife, wife to husband.
Dear reader I ask you to bound over the next twenty years of
repetitive events as children grow older and their parents struggle with
everyday life, there was a world war, rationing, the shortages, the hate
of the Japanese, the scrap iron drives, the War bonds, the stamps, going to
school, dating, movies, adventures into the fine art theaters, the all that goes
on in the time we spend living through events and maintaining our balance in
life’s trials. So I venture to move ahead.
Throughout the next years Arianna never would ask for anything, better that than the no’s she didn’t want to risk hearing: “may I go with you, or Daddy, will you help me with my homework, will you teach me to play tennis? But if he asked for example, “Do you want to go with me to … your mother says your chores are done, it’s OK.” It was yes, yes, yes.
So on one yes, a
visit to the
They were together in so many activities but with great risk to the equilibrium that had to be maintained in very sensitive relationships: Daddy to daughter, daughter to mother, mother to husband, mother to son, mother to wife.
So the common events kept happening, the lives kept getting older; the actions happened. The child now grown move into her own sphere, the younger children matured, until life took a strange, unexpected turn. This is that turn:
We are thinking; we are here together, Daddy #2 and I:
“I never thought that being a first time father was going to be so damn difficult. I could feel the antagonism, the cold shoulder, when we met formally at the Wedding. Oh, it’s so cold in this bed; I knew that as an only child and an indulged one at that, and being thirty-eight, would present me with a trial by a jury of one.” He was shivering, his entire body was trembling he didn’t know how to get warm. “What did I know of children; the only experience with children was with my friends who had family and my observations of their interactions. “ I can’t see; must find my glasses, where did I put my glasses? Living with a nine year old who considered me the stranger, who pined for her own father, and who was so smart but distant, so stubborn, so independent, resentful, was some task.
I did all I could to love and protect her. “Jerry will keep me warm.” At every opportunity I took her with me, advised, she didn’t listen, but I still advised. I told her once that she only seemed to learn by making her own mistakes, which she did on a regular basis; all except her educational endeavors.
Her mother was a formidable disciplinarian with her.” He could hear a P.A. announcement, so loud, so interrupting; “Dr. Silverman report to room … “ he tried to muffle the shouts by pushing the pillow up closer to his ears. “Jerry yelled at her, slapped her, more than I ever experienced in my life. I wanted to intercede but dared not unless asked. And when I did it could be so wrong.” He was so thirsty, his mouth dry and sore, never had an alcoholic drink in his entire life, thinking about his two cups of coffee in the morning with his juices, a little water would be helpful, but he couldn’t find his way to the glass on the table next to his bed. His joints were so stiff that he couldn’t straighten them out. He felt so alone but every so often he caught a glimpse of an indistinct figure moving around his bed.
“You there, who are you, Come here, I need some help. Why am I so weak, so helpless? Why am I here, where am I exactly?” His mouth was moving, he was speaking, he thought, but he uttered not a sound. He never acknowledged that he was dying. For the past year he had bared it from his thoughts. His will as it turned out was a legal mess not what an attorney of his stature would ever design for his clients. He was far too intelligent for that. “If I don’t up-date my will then I won’t die.” His thinking continued despite the interruptions of sounds and place. He knew the room was white and cold and stark. He reached back into his thoughts, why he was so focused on the step-daughter theme was something akin to telepathy. “What I could do well and was allowed to do was to direct her education.
“It would be nine years: ups and downs, of distance and efforts and reaching out, before we became good friends. I know I made prodigious blunders; I was tolerated so there was a level of partial appreciation but nothing more. My own first daughter was so different, fun, loving, a bouncy open kid; she was born in April of 1942, seven days short of our first year of marriage. Jerry felt that having my own children and right away, was very important for us. I wasn’t a kid myself. Making love for a baby was so wonderful. I haven’t been able to demonstrate my passion for almost a year. We had so much, so continuous. I told Adriana on one of our walks that I could never cheat since I was too busy at home. “I know. I know…I know. My son was born three years later and then a second daughter nine years later; unplanned but so welcome.
By that time I had learned so much and although brief the time with her was so joyous; but I am somehow compelled to get on with my step-daughter. Adriana. I must think; I have to get my thoughts in order. I am so frightened.” He let his head sink into the pillow.
He stared up attempting to focus, to vaguely understand what the bottles hanging above him were, better not to know, the sight of blood was his fear, it would make him panic. He could not identify the sound of wheels along the corridor outside of his room or detect the delightful fragrances that accompanied this sound; most of the time the smells that he couldn’t detect were abominable, making the lining of his nostrils burn. The lining of his nose was as dry and rock-hard as the rest of his body.
He was in the
For over two years she did not recognize him and when he visited she would be sitting in a chair, looking into her lap; her fingers busy tearing apart pieces of cloth. It tore him apart.
A month later
after he and his wife vacationed in
“I know, and I’ll understand even more later; I know even now what a salvation you were in my life. No matter how I tried to reject you, it was you who set my life into one of continuity, courage and love. When I think, how you took me into the protective elements of your life, a shadow hovering around me, that I didn’t realize until now. You were so subtle matching my mother’s harshness with your indirect ways of evasive actions.”
She stood there, walked back and forth along the foot of the bed, stopping, turning looking “you’re suffering”; she is bent with grief and confusion. Her natural and guarded response was to be stoic, no tears; she knew her second prince was doomed. She remembered that for the last year her mother had had to insist quite forcibly for him to visit the leading physicians at UCLA, and later on even as the disease was taking over, she had pushed him out the door every morning to get to his office.
After months and months of evaluations and tests, he was diagnosed with the incurable Scleroderma; he was turning into stone. His immune system had crashed.
“Daddy, try to be still, don’t fight so.” As Adriana watched she felt she had to speak to him of all the memories that she could conjure up. Maybe he would hear her, but she could at least hear herself.
“Our first battle was a test of the strength of wills. It was a draw. I didn’t move the cardboard box of grass cuttings off of the lawn before I turned on the sprinklers and you were furious; you had to help with the manual job of transferring the mess into the trash can. I pleaded that it had been too heavy, then that I forgot, I hadn’t; you didn’t believe either story but you had to get in there and work.
“Then the next calamity was when you sold my best friend, baby bike, and although you got me a new and wonderful Schwinn. I remember being hysterical, I don’t remember why but what I do remember saying ‘you didn’t let me say good-by and you didn’t ask me.’ That second bike became my companion for so many years until it was stolen from the Wilshire May Company bike rack. I was there having lunch with Aunt Willa. I never locked my bike. Months later, I saw my stripped down bike in a bike shop on La Brea. I could identify it by the scored bolts under the seat, my clumsy attempt at mechanics; I ran home and told you.”
“In a flash we were in the car, to the shop where you confronted the owner, got the name and address of the man who had brought it in. God, you went there, demanded the return or the cops. I rode my bike home. You bought me a lock.”
And the early afternoon became late afternoon. The light was becoming dim.
Her tone of voice was soft and it continued to relate one story after the other. He was calmer. She moved to the side of the bed and covered him, still talking. His breathing was more regular, his coloring not as pale as it had been several hours before; her hands resting on the bed very close to his left shoulder. She told him about the time when he asked during dinner one evening, “What did you do in school today?” She hated that question but related her good times with the building of miniature railroad cars. He countered with what about reading and writing and arithmetic?
She had no answer for this inquiry, best tell him something:
building a train station in our room. Last month we built an American Indian
village.” He said no more. The next day he visited the school,
“Or going to Dupars coffee shop, the Beverly Hills Tennis Club on Wednesday afternoons, there meeting Hollywood stars like Larry Adler, John Garfield, Joan Crawford, tennis at the Doheny Estates on Sunday mornings, Friday nights at the Hollywood Legion to watch boxing, the trips to the theater that had only the news reel of the week, the trip to Sacramento when he was making a legislative presentation, the allowance, their private walks away from the house, the one and only spanking with the brush and how he apologized, it did hurt him more than it hurt her; mother had insisted that he do the dirty deed.”
“Did you know that not adopting me when I asked, I think I was sixteen, was so hurtful; I wanted to be one in your family; you patiently explained that you never wanted my own father to be relieved of his responsibility. I understand now but… I wanted it so.”
“I need to apologize for not learning all the street names as fast as you wanted, remembering how to say, La Jolla with the H sound, and blocking out the answer to the every evening question at the dinner table, “What do you call the houses that the Swiss live in? It’s funny now but it paralyzed me then.
me in my studies, paid me a dollar for every ‘A’. You wisely disallowed my
She talked of his being a man of great predictable habits. The morning weigh in, his frugal nature: re-sharpening his razor blades in a small hand held device, dinner at exactly , his fifteen minute naps when he returned from the office, daily morning calls to his stock broker, the grocery shopping only buying items on sale, and then his great sense of humor.
“I wanted to smoke a cigar like you did. I must have been ten years old. We made a deal, yes, I could smoke one of your cigars but I had to smoke it all, finish it to the very end. I began by biting off the end, and with you holding the match I took a big drag. Puff, puff, puff. I was sitting at the breakfast nook bench. The more I puffed the prouder I became and then the sicker. Pretty soon I was lying down on the bench determined to win the contest.
You sat with me, cheering me on and then I had to get to the bathroom. When I returned you were smiling, I couldn’t help myself, I laughed too, especially when you told me that inhaling was not part of the art, ‘you didn’t tell me, you didn’t ask.’
“And remember when Richard was taken back to the hospital for his circumcision? The procedure was not done at birth since Richard had broken out in a terrible full body rash as a reaction to the drops put into his eyes. That evening you cut off a piece of chicken skin and with a great flourish presented it to Grandma, ‘This is from your grandson.’ And always winning the competition with Grandma as to who got the best price on butter.”
She remembered the horrendous disharmony that her mother and his mother had and all the hateful, possessiveness that his mother demonstrated, her lies and cunning. She remembered but did not, could not talk about any of the events.
She needed to walk; down the hallway and around the corner. Red Skelton was a patient just two doors down. But the walk was brief and she retuned to her Daddy’s side. Before she could collect herself to resume her talking to him his body rose in a frightful arc, began terrible thrashing around, there were gasps and cries, and he stretched out the full length of the bed. He was quiet again. His eyes closed; there was a slight fluttering beneath his eyelids.
“The relationship so acri… acri… acri… um... monious my mother, my wife; loved them both. Jerry was ah…ah…patient. Then enough, I can’t remember, what was it…what triggered this final sch…sch…sch,..ism, we had a row over it, out of our home bodily couldn’t come back. No return. Breathing so difficult. Stock market must call. call. What is the number, where is the phone? The kids, her apartment to visit with them. Mother, fell, broke her arm. Stupid doctors. Mother in the den and allowed visits later.
Stealing from me, supported her, gave her money, maintained. Care home, her purse; uncashed checks, rolls of cash, trash jammed in… unbelieving devastated… call from landlord… neglecting my mother, was wandering, picking up men, to the apartment… drinking. Couldn’t believe. Apartment… bottles, cans, trash, bed, her clothes everywhere. Lights. Mother a sight; a mess. Dirty. Hardly knew me. My God! It’s so dim in here, turn on the lights. Called her doctor, had to confine her. I couldn’t go alone that place; Adriana, mother didn’t know me, she waited in the car; needed company.
Her grandchildren disliked her; hid out, avoided, Richard raided her purse for candy. Joanie, Grandson, I must …tennis tomorrow, gin rummy on …dinner at five. Richard, Cynthia.”
“My mother difficult times; she needed me. Marriage, my father a hideous…mis…mis ta… ah dreadful man; fucking … maid abandon…ing us. He was old. Told … me … good part… me. Daily visiting my way home married to Lillian. Wel…wel…um…co.., liked Lillian, family. Not Jerry. A threat… Mother love romantic love, smoke, mirrors of the psych...psycho…psycho…uh, logical crap.
Mother po…po…ssess..sss..ive not sick. Oh! miss her; need. Mother, Mother, come. Know me. Jerry love, oh, oh. forgive… leaving so soon.”
His swollen hands were not moving; he was taking deep irregular breaths, more exhales than inhales. Is this how it is to die? Then he raised his arms, despite the restraining tubes and needles; saw his hand, “Where … my ring?” rolled over on one side, pushed himself to a sitting position, struggled with his covers, put his arms across his body, became rigid, uttered a discordant heartbreaking cry, fell back, his head dropped onto the pillow, then he seemed to take a deep soft breath of relief, exhaled loudly, licked his upper lip. His eyes opened, he looked delighted, surprised, smiled, his face relaxed. His body relaxed. He was motionless. Adriana covered his body. She reached out one last time to stroke his forehead then moved to the foot of the bed; grasp the metal rail, one last look. He had departed.
She ran to the waiting room, they rushed to his room. There was no need for haste.
Mother struggled on, Adriana went on with living. The other children, then grandchildren who would never have the joy of his company, grew up lived on. We all continued living with our memories.