October 21, 2017

sketch of mom's house
Spanish revival stucco house in Glendale, 10/14/17 (pen and ink on smooth surface drawing paper)

OK, so this is the first post that I had a story in mind before I had actually done the art for it. The house I have sketched here is not particularly significant to me except it looks very similar to the house my mom lived in as a girl on South Fetterly Avenue, Los Angeles. My grandfather built the house in the late 20s and my mom and her family lived there until the mid 1940s. I never actually saw this house, but there were a number of pictures taken of it. Sadly, one of my brothers said it had been torn down, so all we now have are pictures.

I have been thinking a lot about this house and one particular event that occurred in my mother’s life when she lived there. Telling this particular story is important. I hope I get it right.

Mom often told us that in her particular California neighborhood they were the only non-Spanish speaking white family for many blocks in all directions. Hispanic families inhabited the houses to her right, left and every other house you could see up and down the block. And one of the houses next door to them (don’t know if she ever said on the right or the left side) there was a family that consisted of a grandfather, his granddaughter and grandson, and one other boy that the grandfather had adopted as his son. He had found this baby boy in a small box at the dump. He brought the infant home and raised him along side his own grandchildren. Mom had shown us a black and white photo of the granddaughter—she was absolutely lovely. My mom often spoke of her as her only friend growing up there. If fact she said that the granddaughter had told her that she hidden a razor blade in her hair (pompadour), as a kind of weapon that could be pulled out should anyone want to hurt her. She told mom that she would come to her rescue with that razor blade if she ever needed that kind of help. Mom added that her friend’s brothers kept knives in their boots, in case they were attacked. I guess they would come to mom’s rescue as well, if she needed it.

So, the story really begins one afternoon when my mom and her friend were around 14 or 15 years old. (It was sometime right after this that my grandfather pulled up stakes and moved his family to Mariposa.) Anyway, I guess a rather large and impressive car, with a chauffeur, came to pick up mom’s friend. He was to take her to the house of a very famous movie star who had been a swashbuckling sensation in a bunch movies in the late thirties and early 40s. Mom said this car’s appearance to that house on South Fetterly Avenue was a somewhat regular occurrence. But this particular time my mom was invited along. It always seemed a bit strange to me that mom went with her. She had said that her mom (my grandmother) was very protective of her children. So, my mom must have just gone along and never told my grandma about it. Once they got to the movie stars house mom’s friend took her on a tour of the downstairs, but mom never got a glimpse of the famous man who lived there. She said that the house was just like you would imagine—huge and impressive, but with giant mirrors everywhere. And this is where the story gets even more interesting. I guess mom’s friend was the movie star’s date and my mom was supposed to be the chauffeur’s date. As you may have already guessed, mom’s underage young and beautiful neighbor was actually a mistress of the famous movie star. And as you might imagine, this is when things could have gone terribly wrong for my mother. But I guess mom said, “No thank you” to the chauffeur’s unwanted attention and he drove her home—nothing happened. However, mom’s friend didn’t leave with her. Instead, she disappeared upstairs and reappeared on South Fetterly Avenue sometime in the night.

Of course there is so much wrong with this story for mom’s lovely young neighbor, but I am so thankful that the chauffeur did the right thing for my mom. And whenever I think back on this story I am left with so many questions, like is there really such a thing as consensual sex between a 14 or 15-year old girl and a man twice her age. I wonder if he was married at the time, or between wives…? (Of course in today’s world that would be statutory rape, but only if someone reported it and then someone pressed charges.) Where was the girl’s kindly grandfather, the one who had taken a baby from the dump to raise as his? I am certain he knew what was going on with his granddaughter. Why didn’t he stop it? Why didn’t one of her brothers step up? They always seemed so brave, with knives in their boots and all. And of course, what was my mother thinking? Why did she get into that car? Why did her friend invite her along in the first place? Does a friend do that? Was my mom really that naïve? There are so many questions that will never be answered.

But the bottom line for me is that when my mom said no to a man’s advances he listened and stopped. If I imagine the worst that could have happened that day, my mom may have had to deal with an unimaginable early life trauma (like rape) that may have affected her for the rest of her life. And for that, my family is grateful.

However, none of this kind of potential or real sexual exploitation was OK then, nor should it be tolerated now. With all the recent news about women being sexually harassed or assaulted by men in Hollywood or by men of power this story seems particularly important to share today. And I think it important to continue to stand up and say such behavior is and was never OK, even if you are famous or powerful.

So, I am standing up today as a woman who has been sexually harassed and assaulted. This conversation is not over. #MeToo

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