|A blog about family.||
Excerpt from "The Wicked Witch" 1976
“There’s where the wicked witch lives,” my dad said, pointing to the same old, white house, with the slumping roof as we whizzed down the 110 Freeway. We were usually on our way home from downtown LA. My dad kept one hand on the glittery steering wheel of our dull blue Dodge Dart, his other arm stretched across the front seat to indicate the house with the American flag hanging across the porch. My dad had the longest arms in the world, as far as I was concerned, and when he pointed at something, his outstretched hand looked like the hand of God, commanding us to follow his deadpan interest in the very peculiar house off the freeway. He smiled slightly, and his steel blue eyes glanced at us to see our reaction, while my three siblings and I leapt up in our seats and leaned over to get a good look at the house.
“Where is she?” I’d ask. “Do you see her? Does she ride on a broomstick, what does she look like? Does she wear a pointy hat, does she have a black cat?” I rattled off the questions like an adding machine, given the fact that we were driving and trying to get a good look at the house. We were familiar with the stretch between Exposition Park and the Manchester exit, where our necks craned to locate the house. For some reason I always stared at the chimney, waiting for a witch to shoot out on a broomstick. The front lawn was dead and there were a few haggard-looking bushes on either side of the porch. We sped by too quickly to see the green-skinned hag inside. Just like every other time, all we saw was the same craftsman house, dwarfed by the towering rows of palm trees that swayed over the flat south-central Los Angeles neighborhood.
Not long after the Wicked Witch’s house we passed Gardena Memorial Hospital where my dad worked as an orthopedic surgeon. He pulled off the freeway, parking in the garage so we could go to the cafeteria. We grabbed a few Eskimo Pie ice cream bars for desert after our long day of exploring Los Angeles. He left my siblings and me in the doctors’ dining room and headed upstairs to the fifth floor to check on a couple of patients. He didn’t take long, just asked them how they were doing, looked at their file, came back and piled us back into the Dart. We headed home, continuing down the 110 Freeway. Finally we turned the corner off Sepulveda Boulevard towards our house. The car stopped abruptly right in front of the Nelson’s driveway. They lived on the corner down the street from us.
“Oh no,” my dad said. “Looks like we can’t quite make it home.”
“But we’re almost there.” My older sister Jill said. She was eleven. She turned to my brother in the back seat. “Mark, you can push the car the rest of the way.” My brother made to get out and start pushing.
“No Mark, stay in the car,” My dad commanded. “Let’s see if we can make the car go forward if we rock back and forth really hard like this.” My dad demonstrated how we should all be moving forward and backward with our shoulders, bending at the waist as if the motion would help the car move. “No, Claire, forward, not side to side.” My dad instructed through the rearview mirror. We all started doing it, at first, not in unison. Cars peeled around the curve and drove around us, the drivers looking at us bobbing our heads back and forth with completely confused looks on their faces. “All together, all together, that’s better.” Suddenly the car lurched forward and we slowly drifted down our little street, past the house with the basketball hoop in the driveway, the old lady pruning her roses, the young liquid amber trees and the house with the dead lawn. We slowed a bit near the tree that had broken in half when a drunk driver hit it. My dad had mended the tree with a cast as if he was fixing a broken arm. The neighbors thought he was completely mad, but three years later the tree was still alive. Our car squeaked past the fire hydrant, all the while my siblings and I lunging back and forth all the while, taking our job seriously. We spotted the standard poodle named Jacques that always crapped on our lawn. My dad swerved as if he was going to hit the neighbor’s dog, but corrected and angled into our slick driveway.
Excerpt 1976- Anne Kroeger
My mom knocked on the metal screen door. I was scared at who might answer the door. When we went to a relative’s house it was usually my tall gruff-voiced Aunt Irene’s house in Hacienda Heights, or Aunt Millie’s small condominium in Corona del Mar. By the age of six, I had never been to this old dilapidated house, which seemed spidery and haunted. What would Aunt Lyn look like? I could hear voices and laughter inside the house when the door swung open.
“Welcome,” she hollered, “to my bicentennial film debut broo-ha-ha. Here, have a flag.” She jammed a flag in my hand, while she pushed up the sleeves of her button-up shirt. Her straight peppered brown hair jutted down from her red white and blue Styrofoam parlor hat. She smiled and moved around quickly, giving my older sister a flag too. She was excited and ushered us in.
“Jill, you’re getting tall,” she commented. “Look at your long beautiful hair, and Mark, how old are you now?”
“Eight.” Mark was laconic during family gatherings, overwhelmed by the high energy of my aunts. We all had a deer in the headlights reaction when we hadn’t seen them for a long time, and they doted, like most aunts do.
“This must be Claire?”
“No, it’s Anne,” my mom corrected. Claire and I were only two years apart. I was six and she was four, but we were close enough in age to confuse all my aunts.
At Aunt Lyn's house in 1976. My mom, Aunt Eve and her orange perm, Millie kneeling in pink dress and me in my jumpsuit (I looked like a boy).
Excerpt from “Best Behavior” 1977 – Anne Kroeger (2014)
Every now and then my Aunt Millie thought maybe she should have had kids with her ex-husband Frank. She was forty-seven and living alone in her condominium in Corona del Mar. After twelve years of marriage, she and Frank had failed to conceive, and despite their other problems, this seemed to be the clincher. It became apparent that Millie was not able to get pregnant.
My mom was more than willing to give Millie the chance to experience the joys of child rearing when my parents went to Bermuda. I was seven when Millie watched us for a whole week. She showed up at our house, eager to make us waffles and her special chicken dinners. She planned out games we could play at the dining table like, “Go Fish,” or matching games where we’d flip cards and try to match pictures to test our short-term memories. Claire was very good at that game. Our cat Pumpkin jumped on the table and walked through the games, lying down on top of our cards
“One of you move the cat,” Millie said, “I can’t touch that thing, it will put me in my grave.”
After a few days, Millie’s eyes developed red lines like mini lightning bolts traveling across a watery sky. Longhaired Pumpkin scratched and kicked her hair around the living room, indifferent to Millie’s extreme allergies.
“I do so love cats,” she reminded me as she sat on the sofa looking at Pumpkin from a safe distance. “I had half hoped I had grown out of my allergy to cats, but my nose is runny, my eyes are itchy. I guess I’ll have to survive the tempest of dander that this cat produces.” I listened to her, more absorbed with my Fisher Price action figures on the living room floor. Millie opened the curtains covering the sliding glass doors to the backyard before getting comfortable on the couch again. The small TV was playing commercials when suddenly it was announced that “The Yellow Submarine” was coming on.
“Yay,” I jumped up from the camping excursion my action figures were enjoying and turned up the volume on the TV. My younger sister Claire came in after hearing my excitement and sat on the couch next to Millie.
Millie in our kitchen 1977.
Excerpt from “Hungry Lions” 1976 – Anne Kroeger – (2014)
I remember searching through the clover early in summer. I had this idea that if I looked hard enough I could find a four-leaf clover. I must have spent hours sifting through the small patch outside the side gate to our backyard. Pill bugs and spiders ran for cover, but I wasn’t looking for them. I was on a campaign to find a tiny relic to bring me luck. Did I need luck when I was six years old? My dad was probably mowing the front lawn and my mom spent most of her time indoors. Sometimes she sat at our modest dining table sketching her favorite characters that she’d been perfecting over the years. I watched intently while she drew clowns and princesses. I asked her about the little girl holding matchsticks and she described the character from a Hans Christian Anderson story who sold matchsticks as a way to survive cold winters. I couldn’t figure out how she learned to draw so well. I watched her, amazed, and tried to emulate her natural talent. Sometimes my younger sister Claire sat at the table too. She ogled the princess and then went back to scribbling in her four-year-old way.
My mom had bought me a drawing book demonstrating how to create pictures by utilizing a series of simple shapes. She pulled the slim book from the shelf in the living room and showed me the step-by-step process that could help me learn how to draw an elephant for example. I practiced drawing circles. A circle could be transformed into a frog, or the head of a cat if I drew in a triangle for the nose. Two triangles made ears. I was getting proficient with my pencil as long as I had a good eraser to correct my mistakes. But usually my mom had a lot to do, and quickly got up from the table to start preparing dinner. She hated cooking and complained as she went into the kitchen. I pleaded for her to stay and continue drawing with me.
Excerpt from Big Bubbles – Anne Kroeger 2014
Aunt Irene was the one who talked about my grandfather John Luis the most. She made him out to be a fantastic super dad, who never did anything wrong except marrying Elsie. She loved to share her stories about her dad with my siblings and me.
“He gave anyone a handout when they came to the door during the Depression,” Irene said.
“Tell them about the speak-easy,” Marguerite piped in from the end of the table. I thought she had fallen asleep. My aunt told me about how my grandfather had grown up on a strawberry farm in what would become south-central Los Angeles. He and his brothers opened a bar in the basement of a building downtown. They served alcohol during prohibition and ran a crooked roulette table with a magnet fixed underneath. From the stories Irene told of her father I dredged up the image of the few photos I had seen of him as a tall, striking, dandy well dressed in a suit and a fedora hat. His eyes were piercing and gray. He was a socialite. He enjoyed gambling on houseboats anchored out in Santa Monica Bay and lived the good life clinking homemade bottles of gin with acquaintances as he beat them at poker. I could see where my aunts got their love of drinking. Finally, according to Irene, “Dad felt bad about taking people’s money. He started doing plumbing jobs with his brothers.” She explained that they walked around downtown LA with their tools on their backs until they could afford a horse. John Luis tried his best to protect her but he was busy running his plumbing business.
“John Luis was a good man,” Marguerite mumbled as often as she got the chance.
“Your grandfather,” Aunt Irene continued, “worked hard and enjoyed himself. He gambled, drank and socialized, but everybody liked him unlike Elsie, who was a pain of a woman.”
“My mother was a wonderful woman,” Millie retaliated. “Don’t listen to Irene. We grew up in different families.”
“Oh, shut up Millie,” Irene said gruffly.
I liked hearing the stories about old Los Angeles. The city was smaller then, and it sounded like the Wild West, when Hollywood was just beginning to grow and the entertainment business was still small compared to the mammoth industry it was becoming in the seventies. Large swaths of land lay vacant and untouched by developers. Tumbleweeds still bumbled down the streets on a windy day and people had chickens in their front yards. They had feed stores, which made way for small gas stations that sold ice cream, and they had a modest rail system to shuttle people to the beach, towards downtown, or to Hollywood to see a black and white movie. And during Marguerite’s time, it was all silent movies.
“Don’t Quit Your Day Job” 1983 – Anne Kroeger (2014)
Aunt Lyn showed up to the Easter party last. She bellowed her Tarzan cry as she entered the sliding glass doors from Aunt Millie’s balcony. She had just graduated from comedy school ready to deliver the polished routine that she had developed with her comedic classmates. She wasn’t wearing her usual buxom button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up at the elbows. Instead she wore a tweed pants suit thickly weaved in an orange and brown design. Her steel cut bangs looked freshly chopped.
“What do you call that useless piece of skin on the end of a man’s penis?” Lyn hollered to the crowded room.
“What?” My mom asked, holding her glass of champagne.
“A man,” Lyn responded as she put her bags down on the floor. Everyone laughed, including our family friends Cliff and Bea. My siblings and I didn’t laugh. We had confused looks on our faces.
“Oh Lyn,” my mom chimed. “You are so funny. Are you still making art? Anne has been drawing so much in her sketchbooks lately. She’s taking an art class at school and has started painting. She’s getting good at depicting horses.” My mom looked at me approvingly. “You should talk to her about that animation job you have.”
“I quit that job,” Lyn said. “I’m dedicating my life to my art and my comedy. That’s it!”
“Wow Lyn,” Bea said, “that’s a big step. Are you still going to draw? Cliff and I still have that little pencil drawing you sent of us. We just love it.”
“No,” Lyn said abruptly, “your trash is my flash nowadays. I find trash and turn it into art.” My siblings and I sat awkwardly on whatever chairs we could find. My brother rolled his eyes and leaned over.
“Weird,” he said under his breath. “They’re not even drunk yet.” I laughed. I could see why my dad didn’t want to have much to do with his sisters sometimes. He probably hated their man-bashing jokes. I wondered how Lyn could quit her job. How would she make money? Lyn poured herself a glass of Korbel while Aunt Millie wrestled the turkey out of the oven. She plunked it down on the long table that dominated her living room.
“For dessert,” Lyn exclaimed, when Millie started carving the turkey, “I will do my routine.”
“Oh, no one wants to hear your jokes,” Millie said sarcastically.
“Come on Millie,” my mom said, “that’s not the right attitude. You should be more supportive.”
“Yeah Millie,” Bea said, “let her do her routine, me and Cliff have been hearing about it for months.” Millie was outnumbered, so after dinner Lyn arranged her props: a collection of bottles and some small boxes.
Excerpt from “Water on the Brain” New Mexico 1999 – Anne Kroeger 2014
When the shuttle finally arrived in Las Cruces, the sun had sunk beyond the horizon, and I was happy to find that I would be dropped off first, in the small residential neighborhood of my Aunt’s off the highway. The light of day was barely visible as the shuttle approached the long, one-story house of my Aunt Eve. When I got out of the shuttle I was surprised to notice that the air was incredibly humid. I could see the dogs peering over the fence and the RV parked in the driveway. She had two Golden Retrievers and a German Pointer. As I approached the house, the dogs began barking and leaping, sounding the alarm of my arrival. I went to the front door, which was painted with a heavy coat of brown paint that bubbled due to sun exposure. I tapped on the thick door - there was no doorbell. The dogs continued to bark, and my knuckles only created a thick dull thud against the heavy door. One of the neighbors stared at me from his driveway as I made another attempt to knock. Finally, I saw my Aunt Eve. She greeted me from the side door, as I stood waiting at the front.
“Come in this way,” she shouted. I could see a tiny woman with the same perm, which now stood like a white dandelion halo around her head. As I approached, Eve proudly displayed her toothy smile in the way I had remembered as a kid.
“Wow, your hair’s white as snow,” I said.
“I just can’t be bothered with dying it anymore.” She hugged me with her wiry, yet muscular arms.
“Come inside.” She said. “I like to enter through the kitchen. It’s just me in this big house, so I don’t use the front room anymore. The main entryway just remains shut all the time.”
Aunt Eve was strong in ways that transcended her frail frame. Like my other aunts, she lived alone and pretty much did everything for herself. Although she had a boyfriend for fifteen years, she never married, nor did she want to marry. She proudly expressed her independence from marriage as a convenient way for a woman to stay sane with the dignity of being financially solvent. She was no Oprah Winfrey, but her sprawling home demonstrated that she had done well for herself. Like everyone else on my dad’s side of the family, Eve was somewhat frugal. Great bargains were a subject only secondary to the bashing of men, which my dad’s sisters could agree upon as a primary subject for conversation.