Writer or not, if you’re like me, there’s always been a story rattling around in your head you’ve told to your family or friends, but haven’t written down. Mine was about my grandmother, an unhappily married woman, who travelled from Detroit to Los Angeles, leaving behind a husband and four children, including my dad. According to family stories, her health was suffering and a doctor recommend she go to California for a month. But a few years ago I learned from a family friend she’d wanted to visit a male friend who’d recently moved there.
Six weeks later, on the way home to Detroit, her train derailed in Arizona. She considered it a sign that God wanted her to stay in California, so she caught a train back to LA.
Over the years, she played bit parts in several movies, co-owned “Moon Over Miami,’ a dining, dancing, polo club frequented by movie stars, and played housemother to UCLA students in one of the mansions she somehow managed to acquire.
When I was seven, I met her for the first time. My parents piled my sister and me into our Buick Special and drove Route 66 to California. I still remember walking into her house the day we arrived, astounded by the largest and most beautiful house I’d ever seen in my short life. In the party-size foyer, a marble powder room nestled under the grand staircase. There were rooms I’d never heard of: conservatory, maids’ sleeping rooms, a nanny’s suite, a butler’s pantry. The children’s nursery, where my sister and I slept was larger than the living room at home. Three of the six bedrooms had fireplaces, as did the living room.
I spent my twelfth summer with her and she fascinated me with stories of growing up on an estate in Russian Poland, where my grandfather would ride his horse to the balcony off her bedroom and toss roses to her. But she also scared me. She always thought someone was trying to kill her and before bed she’d padlock the refrigerator, and lock every exterior and interior door in the house. Twice while I stayed with her, she’d wander from room to room, waving a smoking sage bundle and chanting under her breath to clear away evil spirits. After two months I was ready to go home to parents I’d grown to appreciate much more than I had before.
Still, she, her stories, and her home continue to tickle my imagination. Two years ago, I drafted a mystery staring my grandmother and her granddaughter (loosely based on me). It’s fiction and flips between her crazy flapper days and me exploring the house after her death. The unedited novel is stagnating in a computer file for now, but next year I plan to resurrect it. It’s the story I’ve always wanted to write–and this time finish.
What is the story you’ve always wanted to write down in a journal so you wouldn’t forget, for your children to understand you or your family better, for others in the form of a memoir? Why haven’t you written it yet?
Terrific article post. Thanks a lot for writing.
Wow! I never knew you got to spend time with her in California. I have heard all the stories (didn’t know she was visiting a male friend) about the train derailing and the nightclub. I did meet her in Michigan one time and have a picture with her- my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mom and me. Thanks for the story.