For my mom’s “March 25th” birthday this year I went to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale to do some sketching. I thought it would be nice to commemorate her birthday in the exact spot where she and my dad were married August 30, 1952. They often spoke of their wedding at the Little Church of the Flowers near the front entrance of Forest Lawn, Glendale. It was a beautiful spring day and the grounds around the church were lovely. So, in fact this sketch represents two special dates in my mom’s life, as well as very special “life altering” dates for my brothers and me. Seeing the church for the first time in my life, I was reminded of how in love my parents were when they first met. My mom was head over heels for my very handsome dad. OK, I kind of jumped ahead to the beginning of their life together without mentioning the actual funny part of them being married at the Little Church of the Flowers. It was always the family joke that my parents were married in a place where most people go to be buried. And even though they were married at Forest Lawn, neither of them was buried there. As you may have read in last week’s blog equal parts of my mom are buried in Mariposa and Cayucos, while my entire dad is in the cemetery in Cayucos.
I already mentioned that it was a beautiful southern California day, with fluffy white clouds hovering in a perfectly blue sky. I imagine there were no such clouds when my parents were married there in the afternoon at the end of a hot August. My mom had spent the summer tending kids in the Grizzly Club in Yosemite and I am not really sure what my dad was doing earlier that summer. But they were young college students and this was the perfect time of year to get married, as it would give them time to also honeymoon in Point Lobos before UCLA started its fall 1952 semester.
When I go on a sketching adventure I normally look for a bench to sit on or I roll out a sheet of bubble wrap on the ground and start to work. There was no bench to sit on in front of this church. I found the almost perfect spot on the ground (at “gutter level”) to sketch. But after a few minutes of sitting there I realized I couldn’t get all the parts of the church I wanted for this horizontal view. That steeple was just too tall and it would have been a literal pain in the neck to try looking way up to its tip-top and then down to the watercolor paper over and over. So, I positioned my car so I could sit in the back with the hatchback open, thereby seeing what I wanted and working without neck pain. I started with a quick pencil sketch, and then I inked in the hard edges of the building. I mentioned in last week’s blog that I seem to reach for my ink pen these days when doing hard edges, like when I am outlining/detailing a church and/or cemetery. What you see here is actually a second attempt, as I just couldn’t get the brickwork to look right the first time. I also struggled with the green patina of the roof shingles and copper flashing. I like the way this one turned out much better.
I have mentioned in previous posts that sometimes people stop by to see what I am doing and sometimes not. But on that day a very official looking man in a suit walked by. And when I told him that it was my mom’s birthday and my parent’s had been married in the Little Church of the Flowers he stopped to chat. He said that it was not really uncommon for people to get married there as it’s a lovely place and can be rented for a fairly reasonable price. (I knew that’s why my parent’s were married there.). But he went on to say that Ronald Reagan had married his first wife, Jane Wyman, at the Little Church of the Flowers in 1940. Neither one of them was buried there. Ronald Reagan and his second wife, Nancy Reagan, were buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. That’s actually kind of weird. I wonder if anyone else can be buried there. Could other family members be laid to rest at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library? I guess first wives would not be allowed. Jane Wyman remarried (somewhere else) and was buried in another Forest Lawn Mortuary and Memorial Park in Cathedral City.
I mentioned that my parents got married at this church because it was cheap. Throughout my mother’s life she had a way of picking out unpleasant details of even the most special events, and that included her wedding day. First, she frequently talked about not feeling well the day they got married and that she spent the morning in bed. Then, I guess the best man was to be the photographer for their special event, but it appears he was having such a great time that he forgot to take many pictures. He took three at the church—one was a fuzzy shot of my mom way off in the distance in front of the altar. My mom had made her dress and she was tiny and cute. I am sure she looked pretty that day. Sadly, I never got to see her dress because after the wedding she gave it to her father to store at his house in Mariposa. He put it in the “brooder house” (where chickens had once lived) and somehow rats got in and ate her dress. (I am not making this up. No kidding.) There were no pictures of my dad at the church. Mom said he had a suit dyed blue, but it turned out to be a shade of blue that defied description and it did not look good according to my mom. Of course, if the best man had actually taken my dad’s picture you would never have noticed the color because I think he only had black and white film in his Brownie camera. But I must end this strange wedding tale with a fun memory of their reception that was held at the YWCA co-op just off the UCLA campus. Mom and dad met there and refreshments included a sheet cake and cool aid. (Cool aid was served, as alcohol was not allowed at the Young Women’s Christian Association.) Somewhere, I think there is a cute picture of them eating cake with all their college friends. But maybe there isn’t and I have invented in my mind this very attractive and happy couple toasting each other with paper cups of grape cool aid. And in my mind this picture is in living color, ugly suit and all.