Original writings by Adrienne Nater

Moving Mother

The daughter waits for her mother to leave the house. There they are, three people together but in different worlds: The Mother, Gerry; the daughter, Adrienne; the friend, Beverly. Each in the same moments in time close to the same place in space: Mother in her house, preparing to depart; daughter outside the house, standing next to a van; friend in the van, sitting behind the wheel — moving truck parked at the curb.

Mother stands in her upstairs hallway enclosed in a chaos of silence. What else is there to do? It is over, done with. She sees, hears, feels only that which is directly in her path. There is no one, no sound, no movement, because this is the last time. Walk down the spiral staircase, step across the purple carpet, turn off the crystal chandelier, open the front door, step across the threshold, close it, insert the key, lock it. She touches, then pats the surface, strokes the heavy grained, varnished wood; it is warm. She remembers, it could have happened five minutes ago — I threw Stuart’s mother, Elsie, out this door, grabbed her by the back of the neck and the seat of her pants, out she went, crazy bitch, trying to break up our marriage.

Now, Mother walks through the patio filled with the dying camellias, her high heels clicking against the porch tiles. She pulls open the gate, warped and twisted with age and neglect, the latch is broken, closes it as best she can, making a mental note:

Stuart will have to hire someone to fix it.

She turns, her back to the house, sees her —oh — so familiar street, the parkway lined with messy purple flowering trees: why can’t I ever remember what those trees are called? The traffic is howling by. Years ago, no traffic, no sirens, no helicopters; a quiet street: pregnant. Richard, the sought after son.

The daughter, Adrienne, watchful of her mother as she fusses with the gate latch, thinking, "As though latching it matters now." The reflection from the overhead glare of the sun on the white cement driveway makes her shade her eyes. She shifts from one foot to the other; edgy, impatient, forced immobility seeps out and spills over her feet to form a naked, minute shadow. Her back is killing her. She continues to watch as her mother stands there, back to the gate, lingering, staring up and then down the street. And then as though she is writing one of her research papers she deliberately revisits events of the years gone by, gathering her materials, organizing the scenario: of what had brought them to this final day: her eyes narrow, fingers tapping her thighs, she begins:

Learned, as I grew up that this architecturally styled Spanish house was one of three built next to one another in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.

This two storied, four bedroom, three bath, two balcony house with vaulted and beamed front room ceiling, formal dining room, maid’s quarters, spacious kitchen, den, breakfast nook, huge front and back yards, front patio, front and back balconies, cedar lined closets, built in cupboards lining the walls, a spiral staircase, a great basement.

The $17,000 price to be an extravagance.

Dad’s law practice was flourishing.

Another baby was expected.

There was room for each one of us, at least for a while

That was then. Dad died.

It was the 1994 Northridge earthquake that foreshadowed, set the stage, and began the beginning of the last act.

W .C. Fields was right when he said: "There is no proof that earthquakes aren’t all bad."

Adrienne’s concentration was broken by a flutter of movement, the scent of tobacco. She looks up — the driveway. Mother’s still there, now smoking a cigarette — she will be patient; she returns to her thinking:

Mother should have left — years ago, Albert died — Albert, her last companion: ashes in the garden. It was too much for her. Fifty years — her house is exhibiting all the symptoms of age as well as was the occupant: eighty-three, alone. Mother and the house both are now shattered by time and events. For the house is a chimney pulling away from the walls, windows that would no longer close, roof tiles broken, ceiling leaking, pipes leaking, the walls mildewing. Everything of what was in and what was out so utterly destabilized by age and then add the trauma associated with movements of the earth. For the Mother it was also time and neglect plus loneliness that was stealing away her youthful vitality: dental losses, sight impairments, unsteady mobility, judgment and memory failure.

A familiar clicking sound interrupts Adrienne’s concentration. The Mother is moving down the last thirty feet, maintaining her balance from step to step, with the daughter poised, ready, almost sneaking behind her, in case — muttering, if I hear about dancing and balance and her legs again I’ll choke, but there is such dignity, such pride and vanity in one little body. And she won’t want help getting into the van, but I have to do it anyhow.

Little by little, step-by-step, tottering down the sloping driveway, to the vehicle parked curbside. Then into it and then the ride to Adrienne’s ranch an hour away, to stay there the night before the longer three-day journey north. And, no, she doesn’t want help getting into the rented van, Adrienne insists:

"Place your left foot and leg in first, put your left hand on the front grab bar, pull and swing your body, fanny first, onto the seat. I’ll fasten your belt."

Mother is seated, belted in. The door closes decisively. Her two dogs on their rugs in the third seat: no, no, no, I told them, not my dogs on an airplane; too hard on them, even for a two hour flight.

Her body is rigid, feet on the floor, hands folded in her lap, statue like, head positioned to the front; a painted smile on her lips, but hidden behind the darkening of her transitional lenses her eyes are fixed, sightless; she closes them, but still she is looking, trying to open them to the closed window within.

No, no, no. I’ll never, no never give up my high heels — "Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep" — my legs, my strongest feature, won’t function today.

Her hands clammy and rigid, gripped her upper legs, then she crosses her right leg over her left, feeling the ankle straps of her four-inch high heel shoes, her whole body shuddering, this time not with cold but with fright. She reaches over to her left, wraps her arms around her foundling dog, Laurie, takes in a great breath, reaches once more, into her unconditional self — makes contact, her memory… she had danced with the then renowned Ted Lewis Band, 1926, her first theatrical job in America; danced with her sister Willa — the New York newspapers headlined her, Belgium Beauty; before that in Europe; her Mother the café entertainer, World War I.

Willa, Willa, poor Willa, Did I put my jewels in the purse? Stuart and I danced. We won contests. He loved my dancing, and the rest of me, too. Dinner at 5:00, he insisted, Prime Rib every Wednesday. Could that be true? No, no, that isn’t what I did? Never!

She drags her bag across the floor, pulls it onto the seat; the house keys are still in her hand. I can throw away the keys, no, not yet. "Life can be so sweet, on the sunny side of the street." Did I turn off the heat? She drops the keys into her bag, into obscurity; pats her dogs, gives them each a cookie, gets slobbery kisses in return. She isn’t really ready to be ready.

And what is the weather like this day? Is it sunny? Yes, but it could be anything, windy, raining, with thunder and lightening, hail, snow; Mother wouldn’t notice, it doesn’t matter: she is cold; she was always cold, and now she has the bitter taste of bile in her mouth, painful knots in her stomach force her to stretch, straighten her body, she fumbles around in her bag, her quivering

hands find, grasp, pull out her cigarettes, she shakes the pack, cigarettes spill out, she grabs at one, fumbles around in her bag again, finds her matches, pulls off one, strikes it, holds it, lights her cigarette; cigarettes scattered across her lap, unseen. She sits there bitterly detached, shivering, even though the sun’s heat is radiating through the roof of the van, through the clouds of smoke that swirl around her head.

Something’s not right — me — Scared? "I used to walk in the shade with those blues on parade. But I’m not afraid …this rover’s crossed over"…

Frightened? I feel…damn, I feel — empty, hollow, alone — no man in my life— old? No — not this chick— it’s the car. Yes, the damn car, the drive, the bitchin drive: She has always told herself and others of her dread of going in an automobile. Once or was it twice she had tried to learn how to drive, was that 60 years ago?

In her last spouseless years it was taxis and buses or walking to the Farmer’s Market and Gilmore Bank, Good-bye Farmers Market, good-bye Gilmore Bank, good-bye Third Street walks, good-bye dinners at El Coyote, "On the sunny side of the street". Mmm…ta, ta, ta, "the pitter-pat and that happy tune in your step…Is anybody happy? No, It’s… Is everybody happy?"… But her first husband, her stage door Johnnie, had been such a grand driver, so handsome, so chivalrous. He came home one day driving a new 1933 luxury Cord. No job, no prospects, owes money to friends and family; I’m in a $ 1.98 Mode-o-Day dress, Adrienne isn’t paid for. That was it, the end of our marriage. When she developed her fear-of-driving she could not remember, but it lasted through two more husbands.

To regain her stability, her poise, she leans back and inhales. She has cupped her left hand under her right and holding firm, lifts the cigarette to her lips, takes a second drag. Even, deep, soothing, thinking, Smoking is not going to be the cause of my premature death, I mean, after all, how premature can premature be at my age?

Her dogs are curled up on their blanketed seat. Her eldest daughter is seated in front of her. Beverly, the friend, is at the wheel. Without turning back, Adrienne says, "It’s OK to look back, mom. Say your final goodbye." Beverly says, "Close your eyes Gerry, we’re ready to move out."

She has to do it, take that one last look. She turns, extends her arm out the window, her cigarette falls into the wet gutter — she turns back, fumbles in her purse, sees the cigarettes all over her lap, grabs one, pulls off a match, lights another. Smoke coils and drifts out the window. Bev reaches for the key already waiting in the ignition switch.

Again, Mother twists her body around, this time keeping her hand in. As she turns, time turns with her; her eyes clench shut, she does not struggle to open them. She is inadvertantly delving into her long gone private world knowing who will not be there: the children, Richard and Cynthia, the grandchildren; and all her friends, her neighbors: no one will be there waving their good-byes. No one. No Edith, no Sally, no Frances, no Frankie, no Pauline, Bernice, Francine, no Chris and Nancy, Todd and Kyle, the Heckler boys, Jerry and Ronnie, Patty, the Cherrys, the Bruckners, Mrs. Muckler, the Millers, the Pastel boys: they all had either moved, died or were in nursing homes. Strangers, now unfriendly Hassidic Jews with countless unfriendly children occupy the houses on both sides of the street.

Mother looks back: the street more than empty — barren. "Stuart…my God…Stuart. Without opening her eyes she caresses her ample wealth filled breasts, nods, money’s all there. Then she stabs her hand into the depths of her purse, twists it around, pulls out her cosmetic bag, feels for her lipstick, finds the familiar shape, pulls off the interlocking cover of the long cylinder, twists the tube, raises the red stick, she paints her trembling lips, flecks of red stain her front teeth, she runs her tongue over them; sucks in saliva, the stain spreads.

Her eyes open, she drinks in the images as she would drink a cup of tea.

She sees a white stucco two story Spanish style house with red roof tiles, a low garden wall of peeling white painted bricks that enclose the patio, the front balcony, a flower garden she has always planted with Zinnias, Snapdragons, Pansies, and the Iris, the ginger, the Coral tree, the one remaining palm tree of the three that once marked the south side of the property. Adrienne looks and sees what Mother doesn’t: a dying grass covered slope, broken cement flower beds, the leaky sprinklers making their moss covered marks on the sidewalk, the wrought iron gate hanging from crumbling adobe posts, the rusted entrance bell, the twisted mail box, the broken address stone, 140 South, the cement driveway, now cracked with age, shifting down the incline.

Something flashes through Mother’s memory, unexplainable: riding in the trunk of a car — it’s gone. Thinking: I never even handled the finances until Stuart died, I gave him a son, he gave me a sable coat, my furs, are they safe? I think I did well, for what I wanted to be, a kept woman. I promised, I was promised that I could die in this house; my promise to him, my beloved Stuart, his shrine, his castle. She chokes back a deep sob, the corners of her mouth quiver .  Mmm, these last years, empty, lonely years. Albert, dear, devoted, Albert did his best. "And If I never have a cent, I’d be rich as Rockefeller."

This last morning she had labored, struggled to dream on, resisted wakefulness. Her bed was empty, cold, the room was cold, everything, everywhere was cold. She had punched the furnace button to ON, full blast, her last hurrah! — her husband had disapproved of the heat on high.

As usual, she had gone downstairs to the kitchen; made herself a cup of tea, a bowl of oatmeal, a bite or two, at the sink to have a cigarette. What will happen to my beautiful stove? She washed her dishes, stacked them to dry for later, padded back up the stairs, threading her way around, between, and past all the pieces of her life, now labeled, enclosed in cardboard.

For almost a month Adrienne and Beverly had been sorting, packing, stacking, tagging boxes for the movers. Every room was stripped. Adrienne had innocently asked, "What do you want us to pack?" "Everything!"

And this very morning, as she prepared herself before the movers and carriers arrival to finish up the last of what she termed "their dirty work," she mused on the fact that: It’s been twenty-seven days of preparation, hmm, Stuart and I were married on the 27th of April.

Standing there, wearing a silken purple robe, in her ornate Roman style bathroom with the vanity lights framing the entire mirrored wall, she put herself together: lavish, theatrical makeup applied to skin, eyes, lips (it took her longer these days, glaucoma slowed down the artistic application). Curlers dropped into her hands, hair combed out, sprayed into place (she had been a blond for more than sixty years) nails polished a favorite bright red (she had been a manicurist at Yalmer’s Barber Shop at Paramount Studios in the early

1930’s). Thinking but not thinking: now, my nails are not as strong and long as they once were; I have my father’s beautiful hands. Hair formula Mark, wrote it down. Purse, yes, he put it in my purs.

Absent-mindedly she lets her robe slip off of her shoulders to the floor; reaches for her elaborate lingerie, leans against the shower door that encloses the enormous sunken tub.

For the journey, she has selected her most appropriate traveling clothes, a one-piece safari jump suit, which she smoothes out over her petite, beautifully proportioned figure, (the 1962 implants had restored her breasts to their original fullness). Next in the sequence, her sparkling gold four inch spiked high heels, she sits on the commode to do this, then comes the dangling diamond earrings, jeweled rings on her fingers and bracelets to match.

A cigarette is lit, inhaled, placed on the edge of the sink; she lifts her colossal purse up to the tiled sink apron and begins to check the contents and as she inventories she adds whatever is left within her reach: in drops a bag of jewels, a bag of money (the big bills are slipped into her brassiere). Next in, her wallet, pictures, folding umbrella, tissues, matches, lighters, six packs of cigarettes, a box of dog biscuits. She is all set: her journey to a new house, close to her number two daughter’s house in Oregon. Stuart’s first born when he was thirty-eight. I knew that he had to have a family to round out, fill in his lonely life. I couldn’t save him — Elsie, evil, controlling, lying, bitch, she finally took her son back. I’ll never get to visit his grave again, but I left my words there:

Loved One

He Lived With Honor

Loved Deeply

Understood Much

"Gold dust at my feet, on the sunny side of the street".

Bev checks on the dogs, they are calm. She smiles as she thinks, by now they should be relaxed, quiet, with the soothing effect of the tranquilizers I gave them. But, Adrienne is not smiling, her eyes shift from her mother to the old house, she glares at it, the old house glares back.

I will never fucking ever again have to see, hear, smell, stay under your fucking roof, walk up your fucking long, narrow driveway, the very one, you’ll remember, that was witness to my dog Ginger being torn from my arms, witness to the screaming of "If you don’t like it here, go live with your father." How many times did I wash your damn cement surface? It was never enough to clean away the pain. Never again will I open your fucking gate, see your fucking garden, sit in your fucking rooms full of the fucking display of gaud, of gold and purple, climb your fucking spiral staircase; enter the fucking room that was once mine, decorated by a fucking stranger for a stranger: fucking Early American maple, frills, do dads, a canopy bed, ugly. Never fucking again to be fearful about being late! Never will I have to remember the sneaking in your fucking giant front door; pressing down hard to prevent the squeak; never fucking ever again.

Her left hand races up to her mouth; covers it, just for a second, then she passes her tongue, front teeth over her thumbnail. No, I won’t begin that childhood habit, not now, not ever again. I have strong, well-manicured nails now, like Mother’s.

She turns, 180°, her back to the house, looks up the street, down the street, across the street. I can never remember the name of those trees, messy purple flowers, Eddie Gonick lived in that house, great pal, lovely mother, mean father, the Dietz’s lived there, the Silks, there …the umm, what was their name, the father owned a glass company, and over there, Mrs. Muckler, grew enviable Camellias, and the crazy Bruckners, next door. She shouted day in and day out, "Raymond, Raymond, get in here." There’re all gone now. She bent down, a fleeting look into the van, smiled, nodded, Beverly smiled, nodded back. Adrienne straightened her body, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, turned back to face the house. She couldn’t stop the continuing procession of intruding thoughts: and I won’t have to travel down the 405, veer left to the 10 to Fairfax, to Hauser, to 140. Thank God, I’ll never have to swallow the anger, the pain; shit, I couldn’t do that very well, could I. And then that horrible, distorted portrait on the wall in the living room, Mother and her three children, she has four. She had it painted for their father. I knew that. It still hurts.

But finally, a smile, she remembers her impressive Step-dad: their Saturday afternoons at the tennis club, Sundays the tennis courts at the Doheny Estate, the shopping trips, days at his office at the Subway Terminal Building in Los Angeles, and most of all their long walks together. They could talk away from the house with its ears in every room. God, he was so honest and knowing, he understood so much, died too soon.

Bev knows that soon the doors will be locked, seat belts secured. The engine will quietly come to life — She watches in the side view mirror as Adrienne stretches out her hand to her Mother.

The Mother of 140 South Martel has left the house.