My Hero and the Big Sea Shell

My father was a huge influence in my life.  I can not imagine who I would have turned out to be without him.  And, much later in life, standing up to him made it possible to stand up to men, and for myself, in general.  

Even though I made poor choices, and I have allowed myself to be put in negative situations, what others end up learning, once I’ve had enough, is mistaking my kindness for weakness.  Dad hated when I was bullied. He would try to hold back, but often times he couldn’t stand it and would go out of his way to make it better.

Our home in West Covina, moving there when I was just in diapers, was the first home I recall. I even remember the address; 1334 Glendora Ave. With that first home came my first friend, Ricky. We lived next door to the Fox family. I Loved his parents, Helen and her husband. They had two much older children than Ricky, a son and a daughter, who didn’t pay much attention to their younger brother, or me. They were Jewish and owned a deli. To this day I have never had such crisp and tasty pickles as from their family owned restaurant. I would make paper ring chains with Ricky at Hanukkah, and remember fondly their menorah. We rarely displayed candles in our home, so I found this to be very pretty, and different from our traditions.

Ricky came over to our house daily asking if he could play with me, and when he did my Father dreaded it. More often than not, Ricky would hurt, and make me cry. Everything from bite marks on my hands and arms, to bouncing my hand in the car door. Not sure why my fingers weren’t broken. I just recall a huge bandage on my thumb. Once he got the brilliant idea that he would get the baseball that was stuck on his roof down by hitting another ball up on the roof to knock it loose. He wanted me to watch his know-how so he instructed me to stand directly behind him while he swung his wooden bat, tossing a ball into the air as he aimed to hit it. Well, he smacked me in the head instead, knocking me out cold.

Helen was a responsible, responsive parent. When my sister and I tattled on Ricky for swearing, his mother promptly grabbed Ricky by his ear pulling him into her bathroom, telling us “you stay right here and watch”! She then literally washed Ricky’s mouth out with white bar soap as he struggled and wailed. My sister and my eye’s were the size of saucers!

My childhood recollection of our backyard was an expansive green lawn. Ricky and I were playing as usually, and as usually, he made me cry. As I turned to run into the house, my Father was standing right behind me in an angered Jolly Green Giant stance. Scanning up from his knees, to his 6′ 1″ height, he was indeed a giant in stature. He pointed at Ricky and said “hit him”. I looked down, shook my head no. “If you don’t hit him, I’m going to hit you”. Gulp… as I turned to Ricky, his distance, and the backyard itself, instantaneously grew further away from me as if a warp speed burst just occurred. Ricky was frozen as I slowly approached him. With all my courage, I slapped him across the face. I couldn’t believe I did it! He went running and screaming to his home. I turned to look at my Dad, still stern, he said, “how did it feel”? I said good, and then he affirmed what I’ve been learning my entire life, “sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself.”

The most tender of his rescues was when our family went to Balboa Island Crystal Cove beach. My parents and toddler sister were under the umbrella, and I spent what felt like hours collecting sea shells. I was in my own world, completely content, gathering beautiful treasures. An older boy than me, came up to me, seeming friendly at first, then he stole my entire day’s beach combing. Returning to my parents blanket quietly suffering, my Father abruptly left. He was gone for a long time. I thought perhaps he had gone looking for the young thief and worried for my Dad. When Dad returned, he brought me out from under the umbrella and told me to dig in the sand. I didn’t understand, but he was smiling, and pointing to a specific spot. Low and behold, what I dug up was a huge, gorgeous abalone shell. As young as I was I figured out what he had done. Walking Balboa Island to find a shell shop to buy me the biggest shell he could find, and then hiding it for me to discover. I stayed under the umbrella the rest of the day relishing, and protecting, my grand treasure, not letting it out of my sight, not letting on to my Father that I suspected I didn’t really find and earn this one on my own. Knowing in my entire being, the most important thing that happened that day. Love heals.

Dad Called Him JD

When I first returned home from Hawaii in the 70’s, damaged from being raped, I started working the counter at a Bob’s Big Boy in Hacienda Heights. My father would come in for a cup of coffee, stay awhile and when he left he’d leave 50cents on the counter, but bills under his plate. I was shy and apprehensive interacting with the customers, hating to be touched in anyway, claustrophobic in tight quarters, which continued for many years.

One day this really nice, pleasant looking young fellow came in and sat in my station. We became friendly, with many chats and soon I introduced him to my sister Julie. He became my sister’s boyfriend, and even more interestingly, one of my Father’s dearest friends. My Father became John’s musical mentor, which influenced John’s entire life, becoming a saxaphone player himself.

John got himself an older VW Bug. He was driving, Julie was in the passenger seat and my Dad in the back. When Dad told the story he said, “I don’t know if John was showing off”… But John took the corner of the street too fast, spinning out and crashing into the parked car in the tract housing near our home. Dad knew John didn’t have car insurance, as he hired John as one of his journeyman house painters. They car pooled to many jobs together, sharing stories, and life. In this predicament, my Father said “quick, change places!” I could just see my 6’1″ father crawling over the front seat of a Bug while John clearly over 5’10” nose diving into the back seat, before witnesses or police arrived.

John Loved our family, my Mother’s cooking, and even after he knew the relationship with my sister had run it’s course, he didn’t want to break up with the Kicielinskis. We were all so unique to him. He once called us Hacienda Height’s Adams Family. John was the brother-in-law I wish I had, and when he and Julie did in fact grow apart, my Dad & John continued to hang out. Julie didn’t like this at all and told my Father he couldn’t see John anymore. Dad stubbornly said no, he and John were friends and she was going to have to understand.

When my father passed away in 1998, I called John who was now living in Oregon, and asked him if he would come down to the service and play Dad’s Tenor sax. He said of course, and Gary picked John up at the airport a couple of days before the service. We had our own mini “Big Chill” as we gathered at my parent’s home in Victorville. Julie and John shared many touching stories with the wisdom of time on their side, a closure of sorts for my stubborn Scorpian grudge holding sister. John played Amazing Grace on Dad’s horn, and it made the service all the more perfect.

John and I continue to have long distance phone conversations. He brings to life my Father recalling stories and imitating my Dad to perfection. John has taken on some of my Father’s cadence, and even when he calls him by his name Joe it’s endearing. He soaked up my parents living Love story and recalls things about them together that I forgot. He knows me well, and he knew me then, sometimes calling me the Catholic matriarch picking up the torch, and unjustly being denied recognition. His words, not mine.

J.D.'s band 1995

J.D.’s band 1995

Thanksgiving 2012 we received a call from John wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving and he played the piano for us over the phone with the message that his life, his Love of music, and all his talent & musical therory is from my Father. Forty-two years later we continue on with an enduring friendship, always appreciated and valued by him. My Father living on in our recollections and hearts.

I Thought it Was an Ulcer, Turns Out it Was a Gift

When I choose to marry Grant I did so knowing we would be childless, and I would grow old with this young man. Grant had gone through Nephritis during puberty, a serious medical condition which is the eighth highest cause of human death. The doctors told him it was very likely he would be sterile. We were so young. I didn’t even know who I was yet, let alone my needs. Grant had a sense of humor, handsome, and although he went through periods of being estranged from his family, they were wonderful, and I Love them to this day, very much.

My father woke me up the morning of November 29th with “God sent you a rainbow for your wedding day”. He was always so sweet like that. My parents over extended themselves with an upscale coastal venue reception, around the corner from where we were married at the SB Mission, the Santa Barbara Women’s Club Rockwood. The night we returned from our Cyucas honeymoon to our cottage on Bates Road, we were woken by a phone call from my parents. They said that the concierge of the SBWCR had called. That someone, or persons from our wedding party had stolen antiques from the venue. The SBWCR wanted to call the police and investigate our entire wedding guest list. Once I heard “antique” I knew it was Grant’s best man Juan. I said his name out loud. I recalled seeing and commenting on a beautiful antique bench at their apartment, he and his girlfriend recently acquired. Stunned, as they were struggling, no way could they afford such a beautiful piece of furniture that she claimed they bought at a yard sale. I was mortified. My parents were amazing. They talked the concierge down from outrage and requested that if everything was returned could the incident be dropped, no charges pressed on Grants friends. My Father said to me “honey, I remember what it was like to be young. I made mistakes too. Grant’s friends just need to return everything and none of the guests will be investigated. If they make good, we won’t be held responsible to reimburse the Women’s Club for the loss.” It took about a month, with long distance phone charges we too couldn’t afford, to wrangle the two other groomsmen who lived out of town.

We were hippies, I worked in a Mexican restaurant in Carpinteria, Grant surfed. On our way home from a party in Gobernador Canyon in our VW Bus, with our dog Buddy, two friends, a surfboard & fully loaded tool chest, we rounded a corner a bit too fast and rolled the van 3 times before settling on it’s side in a ditch of the most powdery soft dirt. I remember bracing myself as I watched stars, black, stars, black, stars, hearing the metal scrap the asphalt, and thinking I have to stay alive to make sure everyone else makes it. I was stuck & couldn’t get out at first. It was bad, could have been a whole lot worse, thankfully we all survived, especially Terri as it looked as though the entire bus was resting on her head. Grant and his friend Adam flagged down a car, asking if they would take me & my girlfriend Terri to the hospital. My Mother always said (in a New York accent), “make sure you wear clean underwear because you’ll never know when you’ll be in an accident”. Thanks Mom. Should have listened. I was wearing the biggest high waisted old lady choners. My good friends showed up in support and proceeded to watch as I was stitched up from a horizontal two-inch cut on my right mid back. All I could think of is they were seeing me in granny panties.

Within a couple months I started getting sick, loosing my cookies almost daily. Shouldering the economic responsibility was taking it’s toll. Honestly, I thought I had an ulcer. Grant suggested I see a doctor, but I dismissed it as I was still having my periods, and because of his childhood illness. Finally he convinced me. On our way up to my gynecologist he said “they have a pill now and it makes the pregnancy go away” Circa 1976, this sounded dubious to me. When we got to Dr. Horton’s office and after testing, the doctor brought us into his private office. He said to us “you have company”. I was stunned. Grant asked about the pill he invented and the doctor said no, there is no pill. Grant expressed that knowing now he can have children he’d like to wait. Dr. Horton replied, “If you want to terminate your pregnancy you’ll need to decide right away because you are already 2 1/2 months along.” He proceeded to tell us a story, tenderly, about when he was a medical intern and his wife got pregnant. They just couldn’t afford to have a child so they planned to drive to Mexico to get an abortion. Then he turned this beautifully framed 8 X 10″ picture on his desk around so we could see it. He said “this is my son”. “I’m going to leave you two alone for while”, and he walked out of his office and closed the door. I knew as soon as I heard I was pregnant I wanted to keep this child. I fell to my knees at Grant’s side and said “I have to have this baby”. I was so relieved when he agreed. Grateful I never indulged in drugs or hardly drank any liquor at that time in my life, my negative imagination would have been increased. For the most part I felt I should have a healthy baby. And, I’ll never forget Dr. Horton for, without judgement, taking the time to share his heart with this very young “deer in headlights” couple.

Time to call my parents. When my Father answered and I announced I was pregnant, there was complete silence on the other side of the line. Finally I said, Dad? He responded with “I thought he was sterile”. Well, “obviously not”. We hung up and I burst into tears. Then he called back apologizing. My Mother had reminded him how his mother reacted when they told her they were pregnant with me. How she gushed. He was ashamed and asked if I would ever forgive him. “I Love you Dad” My parents helped me paint the baby room, bought all the furniture, and paid for a year of diaper service.

My baby shower was overshadowed by the untimely death of my 18 year old brother-in-law killed by a drunk driver. My father-in-law signed the papers to take Guy off life support the day of the shower. I wish we had cancelled. It was too difficult to pretend for the sake of my mother’s friends and family. Maybe my Mother thought the celebration would lift my spirits, and my in-laws, it didn’t.

The day I went into labor was the day we were scheduled to go to the doctor to assess inducing as I had gone into my 10th month. I was 185lbs, and not a healthy 50 pounds extra weight. I had to quit my waitressing job after looking “too pregnant” so we sustained ourselves on WIC government stamps, which was mostly dairy. This was helpful since I craved a gallon of milk a day. A small stipend of Food Stamps helped purchase a few vegetable for the midnight cups of salsa I would drink as if tea. I also use to hitch hike to my check ups at the clinic in Goleta, which was terrifying. I never told my parent about that.  It would of made them angry at Grant. Determined to look glamorous, I planned to wash, and straighten my extremely curly hair at the first couple of contractions. I heard it takes hours before going into hard labor. My labor amped up within a half hour and we were off to Santa Barbara in mid-week morning traffic. Grant was so excited he kept pointing to his writhing wife to the other work bound drivers.

10 months I had my baby girl on March 15th, 1977 at 2:04 in the afternoon, all 9lbs. 12.5oz of her. I was 22 years old, a baby myself with a freak show for a body. Terribly ill-prepared, I formed opinions by rebelling against what others tried to suggest to me. Pregnant during the car accident, interestingly, she imprinted, as my baby was born with a birth mark on her right mid-back that looked just like my scar from the accident. I was so in Love with my child. So much so, that I believed she was a sacred gift from God (indeed she was), and her thoughts and feelings were superior to my own, leaving her to be in charge much of her young years. My biggest, just one of many, parenting mistakes; not valuing and trusting my own good sense.  That being said, I was still her parent. Parenting, Motherhood, an act of selfless Love.

Grant and I both had our hearts cracked open with this new life. If he had any reservations, they melted away as he bounded with his daughter. More often than not when a young couple comes together before they are ready to share life’s obligations and responsibilities they unravel. We grew apart. More accurately, I grew past him. It took me a long time to get over Grant, and being thwarted into the workforce as sole provider. Even longer to forgive him. What do you call someone who is immature, flawed, and abandoned his own daughter….human.