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The Double Life of a Little Girl
LIVING IN TWO PLACES AT ONE TIME
The story of how one child learned to live separate lives at the same time throughout life.
Since very early childhood, my most vivid memories recall a lifestyle which varied greatly from that of my friends. I didn’t know it at the time; I thought my family was just like that of every one else. In fact, I remember thinking how sorry I felt for my pals because they only had ONE home. Only one bedroom. Knowing nothing different, I grew up thinking that my parents were; my life was, normal.
My parents had an extremely tumultuous relationship. Based on attraction, it held no real foundation. Once the heat began to cool, my father looked elsewhere, my mother tried to “fix it.” What followed were many years of disillusionment for her, absence for my father.
MY FATHER'S HOTEL AND BAR
He owned the most active downtown hotel in our small town. Within the walls of his business was a bar; the most popular gathering spot in our little city. All the locals, high rollers, low lifers and everyone in between, frequented my father’s place. Father not only owned this successful venture, he also “role played” all day and night as host and bar tender. This was perfect for him, not so great for my mother.
The bar was in it’s prime during the 1940’s to mid ‘60’s. Active and lively, it continued to be the hub of social life for the denizens of our little pond. Beautifully designed, the bar was not only popular but “classy,” too. Long, curved oaken bar ran the width of the big room, turning on the right side to meet the wall. Huge, acid etched, mirror followed the same path, subtlety encouraging customers to gaze at themselves and others in the smoky, filtered light.. To the left of this long, polished surface was the waitress and bar tender entry to the backside of the bar. . Dim light emanated from crystal chandeliers, casting dancing rays of light on shadowy faces. Soft music played from the ‘juke box” located just left of the bar. There were two entrances; one from the lobby of the hotel, the other from the street. This one consisted of double swinging doors of heavy wood and round windows…allowing passersby a peak at the festivity just behind those doors. Of course, everyone seemed to have a special appreciation for my father; bartender extraordinaire! He was an icon and a celebrity in their eyes.
Locals and visitors came to know and adore him and, when entering the cocktail lounge, much ‘glad handing,’ back slapping and jocular activity was seen. Laughter, smiles and nods; all were excitedly anticipating another evening of socializing.
My mother remained at home except during those times (and there were quite a few) when she and a close friend would conspire ways in which to spy on my father’s activities; his exploits and her suspicions of him. They would “dress to the nines,” in hopes that, if seen by my father, there would be many ‘suitors’ in their midst; vying for the attention of two attractive ladies out for an evening on the town which just so happened to take place at my father’s establishment.
MY MOTHER'S PLACE OF REFUGE AND ANTICIPATION
My mother’s dressing table was typical for the time; kidney shaped with a large mirror along the entire back of the dresser. On either side were little enameled boxes which opened up to reveal layers of jewelry. My mother had several of these; one holding “costume” bangles, bright and shiny and borderline gaudy. There were a number of dangle earrings in teardrop shapes, broaches with cameo like profiles, classic strings of pearls, and large, heavy “choker” necklaces with many rows of dazzling rhinestones. A small chair in front of this ensemble is where my mother sat, choosing which bauble to wear on a particular evening. She had constructed a multi level earring “tree” made of coat hangers attached to one another (hooks removed from all but the top one), creating as many rows of surface on which to hang pairs of rings. The earring tree hung from a hook placed on the wall, using the intact top hanger. On this clever device were attached dozens of these flirty, pretty ornaments. I particularly remember the long, silver set; covered in tiny stones which shone like hundreds of the small Christmas lights which would become commonplace several decades later. Beautiful, extravagant, and dramatic yet tasteful; these were my mother’s favorite pair.
She loved perfumes, specially Emeraude, Shalimar and White shoulders. To me, her little girl, these were magic elixirs. I’d sit on her bed and watch as she prepared for the evening out. This ritual was repeated weekly, monthly and yearly for quite a while. I found it exciting as well as mysterious. Where was my mother going? What were she and Doris going to do; where were they going? In my child’s mind, of course, I had no idea of the psychological melodrama playing out before me. I only knew that my father was rarely home; almost never for dinner and that, when he did return home mid day, he’d shower, change and rush out the door again. My mother bathed in the sunshine, tended gardens and paid extraordinary attention to her appearance. There was tension in the air but my naïve and young eyes and ears did not know what it was.
DISAPPOINTMENT OVERTAKES THE GRAND ILLUSION
To the eyes of the everyday world, my parents were the perfect couple. He, a young “upwardly mobile” man, she could pass for a double of the lovely actress Maureen O’Hara. The two women could have been twins. Fourteen years between father and mother; their marriage was often compared to that of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, tense and combative yet seemingly indestructible to the undiscerning eye.
It didn’t take long for the charade to fade, the glamour to dissipate and the disharmony to become overt.
When I was six, my parents divorced….for the first time! Thus began the saga of abnormal formative years being shaped by two homes; living in two places at one time.
My older brother and I remained with my mother in our childhood home; a large, sprawling brick Tudor on the outskirts of town. Ours was the biggest and most beautiful home in the area, at the time, resting on 10 acres of orchard, rolling hills with a small seasonal stream which bubbled merrily during the months of December to June. We had a 4 car garage with a second story big enough to be a small home, well water as well as “city” water and a long, winding driveway lined with Redwood trees. A childhood wonderland complete with play area consisting of large sand box, swing set, teeter-totter, slide and more. For a while, we lived a very charmed life.
My father took up a room in his hotel; Room 207. I’ll never forget that number. Ever.
RUNNING AMOK THROUGH THE HALLOWED HALLS
At first, brother and I would visit my father on the weekends and stay in his room. Hours at a time, we'd stare out the second story window of his room; awestruck at being so high with the ability to see everyone down below! We Loved running up and down the beautiful staircase from floor to floor (there were 4!) The hotel seemed enormous to us. There was the large entryway to the hotel; double glass doors that swung inward and were so heavy that we couldn’t open them by ourselves. We would stand on the outside looking through the beveled glass as we knocked and knocked until some kind adult would pull or push them open for us to enter. Then, we would run to the ‘check in’ cubicle on the first floor to the left of the entryway. There was always a very nice lady stationed there, taking reservations, answering the phone and directing floor personnel one way or the other. There was a swinging door into this area which opened either way through which we’d run back and forth, back and forth until told to “slow down, children!” Being the proprietor’s kids, we were never harshly disciplined; just ushered this way or that…pointed in one direction or the other. So, up the stairs we’d run or, even better, into the Otis Elevator we’d hop. This wonderful carriage had a double door system; first, the accordian like metal gate closed, keeping everyone inside then, the big, heavy outer door slowly glided shut. And our ride bagan as we gleefully pushed buttons, riding up and down. Anything above my father’s floor was strange; the imagination stimulating “unknown.” To a child’s limited scope of experience, each and every encounter with the unfamiliar was fascinating…and our curiosity always got the best of us. Sometimes, we'd go to the top floor and out the protective doors of Mr. Otis's contraption. Ohhhh, how 'different' it seemed; how strange and eerie! We'd explore just a little bit and then run like the wind back to the awaiting elevator.
Our 'hands down' favorite area of my father's hotel was the 1950's style cafe which also boasted a long countertop, much like that of the cocktail lounge, with swivel stools placed evenly apart along the entire length. We would always enter using the first floor hallway . We felt special, like we were VIP guests using the access only those staying in the hotel could pass through. We walked in, heads held high, expecting all eyes to focus on us! There were tables and chairs as well as several booths along two walls, the kitchen entrance, again with double swinging "French half doors," on the right side. Waitresses hurried through these doors carrying plates piled high with delicious food and huge coffee cups with the ease of an acrobatic illusionist. We could spy the chef working feverishly away, perspiration on his brow as he labored over the hot stove. The street access was located on the left wall. Large windows covered this wall from floor to ceiling, making the diner feel as if sitting outside. Pedestrians strolled past, gazing in at tables filled with people engrossed in conversation while steaming plates of '50's fare sat before them. We'd always wander in, at some point during our day, to savor milk shakes, fries and other earthly delights...more than we could possibly eat in one meal!
So, my brother and I whiled away our very young years being ferried from mother’s house; domestic and tranquil, to father’s hotel; bustling and exciting…back and forth, back and forth.
THE ADVANTAGES OF HAVING TWO HOMES!
This fantasy continued for several years until, when I was nine years old, my parents decided to try again. A second marriage was planned! Floral arrangements, guests and lots of good food was spread about the house….the ceremony to take place in my childhood home.
Once again, we were one big family! Not going to say “happy family” because, well….that’s another story. It lasted a year. Then, back to a double life for my brother and me.
Through the years, my father eventually remarried. He kept room 207 and the hotel, but moved into the home of his new wife; a large house with more than enough room to accomodate two 'rag-a-muffins' such as we. To ease us into this change, enormous steps were taken to soften the blow.
Although ours was a schizoid childhood, there were definite advantages! We always had two of everything. Two complete bedrooms, two very different areas to explore and, best yet! TWO CHRISTMASSES! Being somewhat spoiled (probably by overcompensating, guilty parents), we each had our own Christmas tree in our rooms with the Manger Scene, ‘snow covered lake’ (made by using a small mirror laying flat and sprinkling plastic ‘white flakes’ over it to look as if the frozen lake was covered with newly fallen snow) and Santa Claus in his sleigh being pulled by 8 Reindeer. A complete Christmas ensemble in each bedroom as well as the family tree and decorations in the living room of my mother’s house and in the lobby of my father’s hotel.
We were, indeed, oddly privileged kids!
Check back to see how this unique childhood experience influenced a child’s adult life…such as:
WHY I HAVE ALWAYS HAD MORE THAN ONE APARTMENT, MORE THAN ONE HOME AND MORE THAN ONE HOMETOWN IN MORE THAN ONE STATE….YIKES!!!