There is not a cloud in the sky on another sunny day in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley where I live with my Gram. When I hear the low and slow drone of a small airplane overhead, I believe it is a sound the sky makes on a sunny day. I am 7 years old and the proud owner of a vivid imagination.
I am the only child of Tom and Lana and they are divorced. This doesn’t really bother me one way or the other because I have been with Gram ever since I can remember. The apartment complex where we live has many buildings, maybe twenty, arranged kind of like a square within a square. There are four units in each building, two upstairs and two down. We are upstairs in Apt. C’. There are meandering walking paths throughout the complex which all lead eventually to a beautiful center courtyard lined with rose bushes of every color. The great pine and eucalyptus trees are home to lots of squirrel and bird families, who chastise and chase, and sing us sweet songs. The lawns are perfectly manicured for playing or having a picnic. This is my very own little world, safe for exploring and letting my imagination run wild. Gram has taught me to notice the little things in nature that most people pass by every day and never see.
Our apartment has two bedrooms and a big room that Gram calls the “front room”, which is sort of a combination living room/dining area. There is a big bay window on one side looking out into the courtyard. On the small square coffee table in front of the sectional couch, there are neatly arranged National Geographic magazines, a few books, the current TV guide and a deck of cards. Gram plays a lot of solitaire and has taught me to play too. The slipcovers she made for the couch out of light green and yellow sheets are pinned in strategically hidden places and then topped with a green and white coverlet. It is the coziest, most wonderful piece of furniture I have ever known. This is home sweet home.
To say that Gram loves the color yellow is an understatement. Our kitchen is painted a happy shade of yellow. She also painted the sink and tub in our bathroom yellow once, but it peeled off pretty quickly. The wallpaper in there is black and white with old-fashioned toilets printed all over it. It is not a big bathroom, but Gram has managed to squeeze a little bureau in – also painted yellow. It is filled with all sorts of fun things, like hair coloring solution, clips, combs, lotions and potions. I am not exactly sure why, but when I am in there alone, I imagine what it might be like if I lived in this little room. I imagine making a bed in the tub and putting my dolls and drawing things in the bureau, etc. I am sure that in some grave situation I could definitely survive in the bathroom.
One of my favorite things to do is to stand on the coffee table and sing along to Gram’s Charlie Rich records. I know all of the words to “Behind Closed Doors” and “If You Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl in the World” Sometimes I have a beach party with my Barbie dolls. We “swim” in the tub and then lie on beach towels and soak up the afternoon sun that comes in through the big window in the front room. I am also a great explorer of the outdoors, especially on the rare day that it might be rainy or gray.
I have plenty of friends in the complex and I don’t seem to notice or mind that they are a bit older than me. They don’t seem to mind either. Most everyone who lives at the Knolls is over fifty and I am one of the only children. I can usually find a cool glass of lemonade and a game of Chinese checkers with the Goldmans, and Mrs. Martinez is teaching me how to crochet.
I have a pretty nice life here with Gram. Sometimes she’ll take off from her job as a bank teller and we’ll go on little adventures with my Grandpa, or “Gramps” as I like to call him. Although Gramps does not live with us, and by the way, this also seems perfectly normal to me, we see him often and it’s always a good time. There are brunches and dinners at very grown-up restaurants where everyone seems to know him and they take very good care of us. There are car trips and sometimes even airplane trips. He takes me to the track to see the horses being exercised in the early morning. Some of them are his and Anne’s, the nice lady he lives with. It is very exciting to see a race. One morning as we were walking around saying hello to all of the horses, Gramps shared his coffee with me. It had lots of milk in it and I felt very special. On the way home, once we were in the alley in front of Gram’s he let me sit on his lap and take the wheel! I’m sure Gram would not have approved, but he was so fun and carefree like that.
I will never forget a trip the three of us took to San Diego. On the way down, Gramps was going on and on about his horse ‘Irish Mafia’ having a chance to run in the 4th race at Hollywood Park. He was very excited about her chances.
“We’ll have to think 4th race girls” he said.
That night on the way back, we stopped at a restaurant in Laguna for dinner. There was a line and while we were waiting, I noticed a boy behind me standing with his parents. I thought to myself I’ve got to let this kid know about Irish Mafia. Somehow I felt this was important information that needed to be shared. After careful consideration, I walked up to him and said in a low voice and kind of sideways out of my mouth,
“Irish Mafia runs in the 4th.”
Whew, I did it. I was quite pleased with myself and my grandparents were laughing out loud. That was one of our best times together, just the three of us.
Most Fridays my Dad picks me up from school for the weekend. We usually visit my other Grandparents for dinner at their house and then go back to Dad’s apartment. It’s not quite as cozy as Gram’s. For example: his bed is a mattress on the floor and he regularly heats soup in a glass coffee pot on the stove. We don’t spend a lot of time there.
Saturday mornings we go to breakfast at King’s where Dad always orders a pancake sandwich and a large tomato juice with lemon. This amazing creation is two pancakes with two sausages and two fried eggs (over easy) in between. He lives for it. I stick with the short stack. After breakfast we go model airplane flying, usually with one of his buddies. Dad is very serious about this hobby. He builds his own planes and everything.
Dad is a man of few words unless he is talking about his work. He loves to work, but I think he might also be in love with a lady name Patty who I’ve been hearing about. Supposedly I will get to meet her soon. She is divorced with three kids. I wonder if they will get married… and if this means I will have new brothers and maybe even a sister. The idea of this is very exciting to me.
Mom comes to visit me at Gram’s occasionally and sometimes she spends the night. I worry about her though because she often doesn’t feel well. One time Gram woke me up in the middle of the night because we had to take her to the hospital. Gram drove and I sat in Mom’s lap. I’m not sure what was happening but she was breathing in and out of a paper bag. She was crying and telling me not to be afraid.
I don’t see much of Mom, but I talk to her on the phone and I know that she wants to be with me, but for some reasons that I don’t fully understand, she just can’t. What I do know for sure though is that she loves me. She calls me her little monkey and when we are together we go shopping and out to lunch. When she picks me up in her little red VW Beetle she says,
“Ready for take-off?”
We put the windows down and play the radio loud. Looking over at her I think she is the most beautiful lady in the whole world.