By Pete Moss
FAMILY (Part VIII)
(Click here for Part VII )
"So you don't mind if Dee comes to LA and stays here?" I said.
Elizabeth sat in her chair in the library, sipping a Whiskey Sour.
"Certainly not. Perhaps the two of you can live in this house after I'm gone."
"The house has been in the family for almost a century."
Now here was a concept. I puzzled over it for a bit in my head. Truth is, it had never occured to me that I might have dynastic obligations, or even opportunities.
Then I realized Elizabeth wasn't done talking to me. She wanted some heavy old leather bound photo albums.
Elizabeth got out of her chair and carried her cocktail over to a large reading table. I set the photo albums on the table.
Elizabeth opened them. For the next hour we poured over photos.
There was quite a bit of history to absorb. There were photos of all types, from crumbly sepia snaps that had to be almost a 100 years old, to glaring Polaroids from just the year before.
In the end Elizabeth and I picked three pictures of the mansion. One a full frontal, another from three quarters and finally one of the two story balconied main entrance hall.
"That ought to impress your sweetie," said Elizabeth, working on her 3rd Whiskey Sour. "This will be much better than a cheap phone call."
Next I wrote a note describing the house and Elizabeth to Dee, and a little about LA, asking if she thought she might like to come out and stay.
Elizabeth got a manila envelope out of a desk drawer and I put the photos and the note in the envelope. We drove down to a Post Office on Silver Lake and mailed it.
3 days later the phone rang. It was Dee. She sounded out of breath.
"Oh...My....God! That's your Great Aunt's house?!"
"It is indeed."
"Are you sure? It looks like the Addams Family. Are you sure you didn't take those pictures on one of those movie lots they have out there?"
"Come on out and see for yourself."
"I'll send you a plane ticket right now."
"Oh My God! Oh My God! Oh My God!....When I was waving goodbye to you as you went away on the bus I was sure I would never hear from you again."
"I guess you were wrong about that."
"Well now what am I gonna do?"
"You still got that city job?"
"Actually I work for the County...I mean, yeah..I'm still at the Hall of Records...."
"And obviously you're staying at the same apartment, cause you got the pix."
"Well give your job 2 weeks notice and tell your landlord you're moving out and pack your stuff and come on out."
"Oh no....that's such a big....change..."
Elizabeth, sitting nearby, spoke up sotto voce: "Tell her just to come for a visit. Don't pressure her."
"Tell you what, I'll get you a round trip plane ticket. Come visit for a week or 10 days. You don't have to quit your job or give up your place."
"Oh....well...I could do that..."
"Of course you could and you'll be glad you did. I'm telling you, this place is cool."
"It is a pretty impressive old house," said Dee.
"And LA is something else. I can't wait to take you for a drive in Auntie's Packard, along Mulholland Drive."
"OK, OK, let's do it. Go ahead and send me a ticket. I'll need to give my boss a couple weeks notice for the time off."
"No problem," I said.
"Oh God!! this is so exciting. I can't wait to see you, Holister."
"I can't wait to see you either, Dee." I said.
I gained confidence quickly at driving the Pacakard. Not long after mailing off plane tickets to Dee, Elizabeth decided it was time for a longer drive.
"Let's drive to Long Beach," she said. "Go all the way down Western and turn left on Sepulveda."
"Not on the freeway?" I said somewhat disappointed.
"No I like to see Los Angeles from street level."
"Isn't Long Beach kind of depressing?"
"I don't know, I loved it when I was young. You know, before there was Disneyland there was the Pike, in Long Beach, much more fun than phoney old Disneyland."
Elizabeth came out of the house wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses, Dodgers warm up jacket and jeans, turned up at the ankle. On her feat she had vintage Keds. She looked pretty sporty for an octogenarian.
All the way down Western she watched the endless little houses and strip malls go by. Only mentioning that when she was a girl, Western, south of USC, was a two lane dirt road between huge Euclyptus and that there were bean fields and farms.
Anyway, every light we stopped at the Packard caused a comotion. At least three drivers leaned out their windows asking if the beast was for sale.
Elizabeth smiled and shook her head.
And Western went on forever. Block after block after block. I stopped looking at the signs somewhere around 120th street.
At 228th another Packard pulled up next to us. Elizabeth and the driver, an elderly gent, exchanged dignified nods.
A few blocks later we turned onto Sepulveda.
"Father had a beach house in Long Beach for years," said Elizabeth as we glided along Sepulveda. "He kept a boat at the Downtown Marina. I loved the beach house and the boat. We used to cruise over to Catalina half a dozen times a season."
"What happened to the house and the boat?"
"I sold them not long after Father passed away. Betsy hated the ocean. She hated the beach house and she flat out refused to set foot on the boat."
"That's too bad."
"Your mother, Carmen, visited Los Angeles."
"The 1st time she was about 19. I guess not too long after you were born. She only stayed a week or so. Carmen and Betsy did not hit it off. I'd heard that Carmen and Ana didn't get along."
"Yeah? Ana, Granny, says it was Mom and Granpa who didn't get along. So when was the second time Carmen showed up?"
"O...let's see, maybe at least 10 years ago. After Father died. I don't know about Carmen and Joseph. Joseph really wasn't around that much, you know, he was very wrapped up in his career. It must have been rather claustraphobic for Carmen in that little house with Ana always hovering about."
"So what happened the second time Carmen came around? How did she look?"
"Oh she looked fine, really. I found it hard to beleive some of the things I'd heard about her. I guess she was getting her life together, as the kids put it now. She wanted to enroll at UCLA. She planned to go to City College first. Of course Betsy threw a terrible fit. Took one look at Carmen and called her a jailbird. Wouldn't hear of having her stay. So I took Carmen down to the beach house, told her she could stay there. When Betsy found out she got more angry than I'd ever known her, she even moved out for a week."
"Wow! Then what happened?"
"I went down to the beach house to talk to Carmen. I guess Betsy had called on the phone and had a few things to say. Anyway, Carmen had cleared out."
"You know, Elizabeth, I have to say, Betsy seems like kind of a bossy...well....
"Bitch? Yes, you're not the first to say that. But her attitude came from insecurity. She was terrified of losing me, honestly. I always felt it was endearing."
Then, right at that minute the song 'Love is Strange' came on the oldies station the Packard radio was tuned to.
Elizabeth and I both had to smile.
"And you have no idea where Carmen went from LA?"
"No, I'm sorry. At the time I hoped she went back to San Francisco."
"You never heard from her again? Or called and talked to Ana?"
"No I never heard from Carmen. I did talk to Ana and I got the impression that Ana wouldn't have let Carmen stay at her house in SF either. Carmen probably knew that and that's why she didn't head that way."
"Elizabeth, Granny would too have let Carmen come home!" I said.
Elizabeth looked at me. "Well you would have been about 8 or 9. Carmen might have been coming to take you away. I doubt Ana would stand for that."
I remembered Granny saying something like that once in the cold early morning in her moldy kitchen, while we sipped coffee and ate day old donuts.
I couldn't think of anything to say. I concentrated on driving as we rumbled by an enormous refinery almost in Long Beach by then.
The phone rang. I was half awake and came the rest of the way quick.
I hadn't heard from Dee since I mailed off the plane tickets and at least a week was gone by.
"Dee?" I said. The sun wasn't up yet but the birds were starting their morning racket.
"You got the tickets?"
"Are you sure it's OK if I come to your great aunts house for a week?"
"Of course it is."
"Can I talk to her?"
"She's asleep Dee. It's 4:30 in the morning here."
"O....I forgot, LA is three hours behind."
"Or 21 hours ahead. I guess you were on your way to work?"
"Well, if you like I can have Elizabeth call you on your lunch hour."
"O...could you? That would be reassuring. I just don't hate to impose."
"Trust me Dee, you won't be imposing." I almost went on and told Dee about Elizabeth's wish to have a younger generation keep the manison in the family. But I recalled Elizabeths injunction against applying pressure and stopped my tongue. "Just give me a number where you can be reached."
Dee told me the number and I wrote it down. When Elizabeth woke up I made her usual breakfast then handed her the number and told her Dee needed a personal invite.
I never learned exactly what Elizabeth said to Dee. I was out of the house when the call was made.
But Dee called me back that night and seemed releived. I assumed Elizabeth extended a welcome invite.
"I can't wait to see you," said Dee.
"I'll meet you at the airport," I said.
And 10 days after that I was at LAX waiting for Dee. It was my first solo run in the Packard, having spent the morning washing and waxing the car until it glittered. I vacuumed every square inch of carpet, applied polish to all the chrome, and there was allot of chrome.
I waited for an hour after the plane landed but Dee never got off. I drove the Packard back to Angelino Heights.
When I went into the house Elizabeth looked up from the movie she was watching. But she didn't say a word. I went to my room. Spent the next few days as if nothing happened.
Finally a letter arrived from Dee. She tried to explain why she couldn't go through with the visit. I tore up the letter.
I didn't see Dee again for almost 3 decades.