Stuart and Others
He was named Stuart. No one knew why. Relatives were
appalled. There was not another Stuart in the maternal
family tree of male ancestry: The Lederers: Franks,
Henrys, Hugos, Ralphs, Julians, Edwards, Maxs, Ottos,
Victors, Pauls, Ludwigs, Geralds, Leonards, Ulrichs, but
not a Stuart, not in the two hundred years since this
family that emanated from Germany and Czechoslovakia to
America. Children would be named after an ancestor only
after death in the Jewish tradition, the name Stuart
became a maternal family anomaly.
The family; always successful, always educated,
always secure, always in commerce, always city people
never doubting, always in their dreams and hopes a life
of prosperity. However, in the years after the French
Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, Crimean Wars, the
Bismarchian/Wilheiminian Kaiserís rule, the
industrializing of most European countries, all
engendered the escalating conflicts throughout Europe;
then came the drafting of all young men, the Pogroms in
the east. These frantic times brought instability to
business and frightening personal threats; they left:
ten family units, carrying themselves to America in the
waning years of the 19th century, group by
group by group, to settle in New York City. Their wealth
conveyed in the jewels they cleverly concealed in their
clothing, their education and business acumen intact.
That is all but one son, Max; he and his family
remained in Europe, functioning as the overseas liaison
for the transplanted family business. They prospered
through half of the Holocaust years. Even being a
Catholic convert and a member of the Nazi Party did not
spare them death at Dachau.
Stuartís father Albert Edward Fischer, mother Elsie
Charlotte Lederer; Albert an only child; Elsie from a
family of eleven. Albertís father, Julius S. Fischer,
was the foremost real estate broker in New York City,
Attis Realty. Affluent, handsome, tall slender, blond
hair, blue eyes, a gentleman much admired; devoted to
his wife, Sitta, a gorgeous red head, barely tolerant of
his sonís flamboyant way with young women, caring for
his widowed sister-in-law her entire life. He lived
seventy-eight years, a long and prosperous life;
forty-five of those years in New York City.
Six year old Albert and his family emigrated from
Germany in 1885; their capital converted into jewels.
Since they were all well educated they quickly learned
English settling in Manhattan on Madison Avenue in a
well appointed apartment.
The eight Lederer men, save for Henry, were big men
in height and breadth; not handsome but expensively
dressed, imposing. The eldest, Hugo, was so well known
in the city that if he left his gold handled cane in any
establishment it would be returned to him post haste.
The two surviving girls in the family were certainly
full-sized, but plain and uninteresting, somewhat
peculiar with quirky habits and ideas. But still, well
By 1900 when he was twenty-one Albert was employed as
a traveling salesman for the leading importer of womenís
silk garments. His company was located in New York City.
Although he could have gone into the Real Estate
business with his father, he was well versed in the
business; he could not bring himself to work under his
fatherís personal radiance. He met the Lederer family
who were also in the import business and sales, they
imported toys, dolls, candies assorted trinkets for use
in the advertising business.
Now, Albert was bored but ambitious. He decided to
sacrifice his freedom to romantically engage a woman of
his selection. He had many; money making its
accumulation, power paramount in his plans.
He was introduced to the eldest two Lederer brothers,
Hugo and Ralph at a gathering at the Astoria Hotel,
hosted by the New York Jewish Business Association. He
was invited to their large home where he was introduced
to the sisters Elsie and Olga. Of the two, Elsie seemed
to be the less objectionable. He really couldnít fall in
love with her; but he was a respectable suitor, she had
had none before, he could anticipate financial gain from
this marriage, begin a family of his own, become a
Elsie was not a beauty: a finicky dresser, in the
latest fashions, colors dreary, fabric bulky, designed
to be unrevealing from neck to ankles; expensive,
voguish hats worn continually, in or outside. Always a
matching purse and gloves, the purse which seldom left
her arm, never out of her sight. Her hair was thin in
texture, dark in color, coiffure precisely. Her coloring
pale, eyes a watery characterless faded blue. She met
people politely seldom focusing her gaze.
It was as though she was looking past them;
suspicious of the most casual comment made by her family
or friends; "How well you look today," "How lovely a
dress." She thought, "What do they mean by that?" OrÖ
"Why are you bringing that up?" Other than her
parents, one or two of her brothers, her only
affirmative relationship was with her later to be born
She really did not want to marry. She did not want to
endure all the nasty habits that she knew about men,
living with seven brothers, expected by a husband. Her
family of brothers knew she was going to be difficult to
marry off. Suitors for her hand in marriage noticeably
absent. But in the Jewish tradition they did their duty
she would do hers.
Her father opposed the marriage. He finally
acquiesced to his wife and sons. The couple married
March 22nd, 1903 moved into a pleasant
apartment at 259 W. 114th Street.
After a year of marriage, devoid of passion, a fair
haired son was born. Stuart Paul. Elsie kept this boy
all for herself. Albert compelled to keep his distance
from his wife and therefore his son, felt isolated when
home so he decided to spend even more time on the road,
enjoying all the charmings he encountered in every city,
in every hotel and home he visited. The profits from his
sales were astounding. His contact with the Lederer
family their fame in the business world would increase
his income to astounding levels.
Stuartís relationship with his motherís family was
close and enduring although he went east only once
following high school. Stuart would only see his
fatherís father once after leaving New York; he kept up
correspondence with him until his death in 1940. A
picture of this man always present wherever he settled.
Business as Usual
It was not Albertís lack of business success that led
to his move from New York City and his well established
Eastern coast business connections. Word came to the
Lederer family of his distaff social contacts. They in
turn, through their business associates notified his
employer; the Ledererís vast influence in the business
world powerful. Whatever they did, whomever they
associated with, whether it was in their business or
social activities it was conducted with skillful
discretion; Albertís was not discrete. Elsie, not
pleased when they were moved to another state did what
the family demanded. She was to go with her husband. She
had her son; she would have him there without
distractions. There was no thought in her plans of
having any more children, one was fine, especially this
one, her Stuuddee.
Albert was shipped to Kansas City, MO in 1910. His
selling successes continued as did his other
accomplishments. He had broadened his skills, his
discretion. He disliked his location in this primitive
territory, but made the best of it. After several years,
the home office was in the mood to expand further west.
Always impressed with Albertís successes; decided he was
their choice. The company transferred him to Los Angeles
1918, ending his quasi exile; there to establish new
routes, new customers, and yes, andÖmore.
The little Albert knew about Los Angeles, was from
the newspapers, clients who were telling tales, raving
about opportunities on the west coast. He was excited,
writing to his parents: "Itís the land of opportunity.
And the location; couldnít be better, 3000 miles from
the prying Ledererís.
You must know that their large family is so clannish
that I feel like a stranger in their company. It is not
a question of dislike just a matter of my independence.
"This move will take me to a pristine field of
prospective clients and new contacts. The demand for
silk goods is so great that the Orientals have set up an
area near the harbor to manufacture items made of silk.
What a place! Iíll be liberated! Iíll achieve greater
heights, get into real estate investments.0 Father, you
have always encouraged me to get into real properties,
and I shall. The town has endless possibilities."
He went on to describe what he knew of Los Angeles.
The city of his hopes; there was much he didnít know:
Los Angeles would become a significant influence in both
his life and the life of his son. Stuart would make Los
Angeles his personal and professional home. He would
Early Los Angeles
In 1918 Albert and his family arrived in Los Angeles.
This city by Eastern standards was considered a frontier
municipality, spreading out not up. More bars than
churches, more burlesques houses than synagogues. The
movie industry was in its infancy; movie houses opening
throughout the city center. In the outlying residential
developments only the major streets were paved. Drainage
and sewer systems existed only in neighborhoods
inhabited by the more affluent.
Garbage and cans picked up by truck, once a week;
trash was burned in backyard incinerators. The heart of
the city boasted three Eastern Department Stores,
Germaineís Garden and Feed Store, one luxurious hotel,
the Biltmore opening in 1923. There were buildings
housing professionals, businesses, public services. A
sizable park, Pershing Square, became the gathering
place for soap-box orators and old men who played
checkers and chess.
In 1919 the newly formed Philharmonic Orchestra was
housed in the Subway Terminal Building at 5th and Grand
Avenue in the space rented to them by the Baptist
Church. Stuart set up his law practice in this building
in 1928 and remained there for twenty years. It wasnít
until 1967 that cultural events moved to the current
location at the Dorothy Chandler Center for the
Performing Arts. The cityís Chamber of Commerce boasted
nationwide about clean air, attracting vast numbers of
ailing people from across the country.
Sanatoriums abounded in the dry, warm climate. Los
Angeles County Hospital, opened in 1878, Kaspare Cohn
Hospital, 1902, which became Cedars of Lebanon all built
just outside the city center. Private religious schools
and public schools were hurriedly constructed to meet
the demands of the emerging young population. The
earthquake of 1933 led to a revision of building
standards, the Fisher Act. Vast agricultural communities
surrounded the sprawling city, supplying fresh fruits
and vegetables to stores and street venders. Just east
of the city were slaughter houses meat packing plants,
Japanese and Chinese commercial districts, and great
There were two major train stations, the Santa Fe and
Union Stations. Horse drawn conveyance was still
prevalent. The Red Car trolley line stretched for
thousands of miles connecting workers to their jobs.
Water for this increasing population, a major
problem, would be solved by the city taking water from
the nearby Mono Lake in the Owens Valley, politically
engineered by the controversial James Mulholland.
This city was an entrepreneurial magnet for success
and full employment; a city where people such as Albert
could begin to reinvent themselves where Stuart would
begin his career in law, marry, have three children and
at fifty-six die.
The Beat goes On
How Albert sold fancy womenís hosiery, attracting
sales to celebrated businesses, bought and sold real
estate, earned a substantial income is not in question.
How he managed to sell himself attract women is: a bit
taller then most, with no more than average good looks,
but his striking head of blond hair and flashing blue
eyes, his well dressed being and charm was good enough
to attract some very delightful ladies, but attraction
that did not extend to his wife at home; she to him and
he to her. It hadnít been and never would be.
Stuartís mother agreed with the purchase of a modest
spacious Craftsman styled house in what was then
referred to as the West side at 936 W 51st
Street. It was between Vermont and Slauson. There had to
be remodeling, especially in the kitchen, to bring it
into Elsieís standard of living. She handled all the
family business, banking, paying bills, buying clothes,
furniture, selection of workmen, the hiring/firing of
Stuart was 14 years old, slight in structure, plain
in appearance, large Lederer ears, glasses perched upon
a prominent nose, framing his slender face; his
attention to his clothing nonchalant; interested in neat
and clean only, not in audacious or faddish fashions.
Enrolled at Manual Arts High School, he excelled in his
studies, entered the world of tennis, joined societies
both social and professional, established lifelong
friends. It was said of this young man: "no matter the
situation, the problem, he listens only when asked will
he offer his thoughts; his humor clever, never at the
expense of anyone else."
This school was then an educational center of highest
esteem in a respectable neighborhood. University of
Southern California just blocks away, the University of
California Los Angeles in a remote region called
Westwood. He would attend both schools, his graduate
studies in Law at USC. He was convinced that Civil law
was his forte.
Often saying, "In Criminal Law you canít trust your
clients to be truthful, your enemies would include all
elements of the prosecutorial world, lawyers, law
He defended just two criminal cases in his lifetime,
one his mechanic who in a drunken state kidnapped and
beat-up one of his employees, the other a business
client on retainer who after his building burned down
was accused of arson. He defended them well enough that
they were found not guilty.
So, what happened to this family of three that makes
a story worth relating?
Mildred Josephine Gutierrez Leyva happened.
Born into a very poor Mexican workers family in Santa
Barbara, California, one of eight children orphaned in
1910 and sent to St. Vincentís, the orphanage on De La
Vina Street in Santa Barbara operated by the Daughters
of Charity; Born in 1904, confirmed in 1911 and sent out
to work in 1916. She was hired by Elsie as their
housekeeper in 1922. This was her third family. She
began making plans when she entered the household. She
did not want to be poor. She wanted a home of her own, a
family of her own. Somehow she knew that this obviously
unstable situation was her opportunity.
Stuart came home one day to the sound of adult voices
shouting: He had heard it before and like before
shuttered and began his retreat.
Motherís voice, "If you do that again out, out she
goes and you with her. No, it wonít be a next time for
her; I want that slut gone now."
Fatherís voice, "She has no one and no place to go."
The pleading sound of "Elsie, let her stay. I didnít Ö"
"Your looks say differently!"
"Looks are not Ö"
"Thereíre enough, looks are enough to be leading to Ö
if you havenít already, you dirty, lecherous old man."
"I know that you have women in every state, in every
city you visit. I should have never consented to
marrying you; my father was right, my mother, brothers
wrong. Sheís a child Albert, your sonís age."
"But, Elsie, you have a good life, comfortableÖI
donít bother youÖ"
"Living in this horrid town, no family, no friends,
just a bunch of hawkers lining the downtown streets, no
decent shopping close by, no convenient transportation.
Get me a car, teach me to drive Ö."
Stuart escaped into his room; shut the door, turning
on the radio, raising the volume to drown-out the
voices, thinking, "They hardly ever even speak to one
another, less than when in New York; when they do itís
with the terrible profanities, screaming. They have
their own separate rooms, and now this repeated Ö this
yelling Ö about Ďsheí Ö The only Ďsheí I know in the
house, Mildred. What are the looks that are so, so Ö
He spun his desk chair around, took off his glasses,
pulled off his sweater, threw it on the bed, took his
shoes off left where he had been standing. Mother would
put everything away. He put his glasses back on, his
vision was so poor. His focus, his comfort was sitting
at his desk, how he loathed looking any further, so he
His room had been furnished by his mother. They went
to a furniture store. Why she had him accompany her
always puzzled him. Within five minutes, she pointed out
a complete bedroom set that was on display, bought, paid
and arranged delivery.
The flowered upholstery, the clumsy looking heavy
dark wood of his dresser and desk, the overstuffed
chairs, the ugly figurine lamps atop the bedside night
stands the matching bedspread and drapes, even to the
lamp on his desk, not to his taste but he would never
confront his mother with objections. She overwhelmed him
with so many good things seemed so dependent on his love
Ö "Iíll take care of her, I have since father is out of
town most of the time on his route. Almost like a
stranger in the house when he is home. He is good to me,
makes sure that I have my needs satisfied, but we
scarcely know one another. Mother tells me that he is a
philanderer, I had to ask my school buddies, they
explained, philanthropic, ĎLoving or helping mankindí
that seems ok with me; she probably means that he is
spending too much money. Mother keeps a close watch on
where the money goes."
Out of the mother-selected briefcase came his books,
he had to study, his future was to be at the university;
his mother wanted him to be a doctor. He would give it a
try. He hated the sight of blood, ghastly. When he later
attended his first dissection class at UCLA he vomited
all the way to the lavatory changed his major to law
that very afternoon. His mother saying, "What do I need
with a lawyer son, a doctor, yes." She was wrong.
The sound of the voices persisted throughout the
house, more muffled now but Ö.
At the back, in the maidís room was Mildred. "I may
have to leave but not to more poverty. And if I leave I
wonít be alone for long; Iíll make sure of this, damn
sure, I know what he wants, what he doesnít get,
something that crazy bitch of a wife denies him. Not me!
He is so kind and loving, so financially secure and
Her physical person barely reflected her heritage:
taller than average, quite slim, light in complexion,
with silky, long, rich, flowing black hair, deep
expressive brown eyes, so dark that the pupil blended
into the iris. Her body of the most desirable
proportions, full breasts, narrow waist, not too wide in
the hips, beautiful legs that she enjoyed showing off
under her maidís costume. She was learning to cook in a
more Jewish style, without the kosher element. Keeping a
clean house for the family was no problem. The Sisters
at the Orphanage prepared her well for this kind of
work. She put away any hope of being with her brothers
"Iíll have my own family, I wonít be poor, I wonít be
cleaning and keeping house for others, my own home, my
own children, cook for my own, clean for my ownÖall for
us. Family must have family; Iím young, attractive, me,
The battle of words had ceased. Elsie, storming off
to her own room, Albert thundering out the door, into
his car, a 1920 Chevrolet Touring car, driving away,
heading down Vermont Boulevard, then west on Slauson. He
knew. It was time.
He had to put the last touches on his plans.
"She wonít relent this time, circumvent, canít stand
sight of her, fawning over Stuart; prissy ways, false
modesties; Lederer madnessís. Over twenty years, work my
salvation, not this marriage. Shame on me so money
hungry, so impressed with position, family ties; women,
should have known better. Turn here on Vermont. Not too
hot today, rather overcast. And Mildred my love, thrown
out, pregnant, but not abandoned, not to be shamed, not
by a long shot. Iíve got money, property, lucrative
"Iíve found her a place to live, not like that damn
house; having to wait until Elsie goes shopping,
Stuartís at school. My Mildred, real woman, no ties,
mine to love, devoted to her, only her. No more extra
women, sheís the one."
This is what he thought, but old established
behaviors donít change and they wouldnít. What would
change dramatically were his financial circumstances:
the divorce was approaching at high-speed with a
ferocity he could not begin to imagine. He thought he
knew Elsie, he didnít, nor did he know his son.
"Damn that whole family of Elsieís, so clannish and
crazy, no; Iíll be kinder, call them eccentric, some
more than others; and Stuart. Nice youngster, our son,
no, her son. Heíll understand when he is a man and has
He pulled up in front of a small bungalow at 1482 E.
64th Street. The For Rent sign was gone. He
would manage the juggling act of here and home. Only a
little under four miles from hate to happiness, it would
do for now.
It wasnít the slamming door, or his leaving that
froze Elsieís feet to the floor, "what if Stuart heard?"
She listens. The thought produced a faint cry in her
throat. She had put up with Albertís cheating their
entire married life, better than the alternative, but in
her own home, never. She hears her heartís pounding,
feels her legs collapsing beneath her, breathing
rapidly, she begins to faint; her mouth is parched, the
perspiration stands on her forehead, her ears ring, the
sounds are hollow. Her clammy hands move up, she cups
them over her mouth. She licks her lips, her upper jaw
bringing her teeth hard over her lower lip. Inhales,
"Canít faint." Grabbing the edge of the table she
steadies herself, lowers her body into the kitchen
chair; more deep breathing. "My room, my room, go there.
Stuart canít see me like this. Iím not even dressed for
The trembling of her entire body persists. She stands
up slowly, carefully so not to fall, reaches for, grasps
the purse strap, puts out her one foot then the other,
checking, struggling to maintain her balance,
momentarily, one hand resting on the edge of the table,
taking minute shuffling steps toward the door way. Her
entire body is still quivering so much so that when she
gets to the doorway, she has to lean against the door
jamb, inhaling, exhaling.
Then with her purse hanging from her wrist, head
down, watching her feet move, at first holding her hands
together, rubbing them, she forces herself to walk,
staggers down the hallway right foot, left foot, right,
left, she extends her arms, reaching out with each step
to find balance with the support of the walls. The
doorway to her room is the light at the end of a long,
dark, narrow tunnel.
Her efforts get her to the safety, seclusion of her
room. Although her hands are still shaking, she manages
to close the latch quietly, leans on the door, covers
her face with her hands, shielding her eyes from the
abrupt change in lighting. Opening her eyes to only a
squint, she lurches to the closed window, levers it
open, breathes in the cool air. "I did it, and Stuart,
heís safe, he doesnít know a thing." Bit by bit she
turns around to face the lavishly furnished room, taking
an inventory, her eyes darting from place to place,
She vaguely notes the imported Persian rug, expensive
matching oak pieces: bedstead, dresser, elaborately
framed mirror, side tables, the silk bed coverings in a
hand embroidered flower design with matching draperies.
A soft, cool breeze moves the fabric at the window; "My
things; my good things." She has to compose herself,
think, carefully craft her next action.
Her outstretched hands grope in the air, finds the
back of a chair at her dressing table facing the large
rectangular mirror, she sits down, taking a piece of
chocolate candy from a crystal dish doesnít notice that
she is without lipstick, makeup, her hair disheveled.
She sets her eyes on Stuartís graduation picture.
"I can call the orphanage to complain, tell them
about her dishonesty, no . . . Iíll request a
replacement, yes, no, IĎll tell them about her behavior
with my husband. She may go after my son. Better still;
Ďget outí, Iíll tell that woman to Ďget outí.
Have to change my clothes." She turns away from her
dressing table, vacantly stares out the open window
hears lawn mowing sounds. "Stuart will never do low
manual labor. He has to study. Must remember to tell
that boy again, to clean up thoroughly; heís so
careless, says he isnít. Better still Iíll tell his
She turns back to her mirror, she misses New York
City, her family, familiar surroundings, but here the
sun shines, no snow, no freezing cold, no unbearable
humidity, the air clean, labor cheap, the real estate
easy to get at great prices. Stuart is with her. The
telephone rings. It interrupts her thoughts. She steps
into her slippers, grabs her purse, stuffs it under her
arm, rushes down the hallway. The ringing stops. She
stops. "Yes, Iíll have it out with Ö right now."
Sheís standing in front of a door, the maidís room.
Curling her fingers into a fist she raises her arm; then
in her haste inexplicably releases her purse. She makes
a lunge towards it, hits it with her outstretched
grasping hand. It flies across and down the hallway,
springs open as it collides with the wall Ďthwackí; the
impact substantial enough to cause an explosive
The contents fly in all directions, scattering from
wall to wall, corner to corner down the polished floor.
There are her keys, cosmetics, bottles of nail polish,
lipsticks, dirty hankies, Kleenex, gloves, combs, hair
pins, tooth picks, scraps of paper, old shopping lists,
loose change, driverís license, folding money and
checks; bits and pieces of old candy and empty wrappers,
carefully wrapped secreted unmentionable items, and
crumbs that had fallen to the deep recesses and folds on
the silk lined bottom. "Damn, itís all her fault. Itís
his fault." Her body is trembling. The empty purse is
resting against the opposite wall. She leans close
enough to retrieve her purse, for a moment shelters it
close to her body, rocking to and fro before she once
again crouches down to begin the gathering process,
grabbing at whatever is there, dropping some, having to
pick them up again; jamming the lot into the barren
cavity; an old piece of hard candy finds its way into
her mouth; she licks her fingers, wiping the saliva on
her sleeve then wrapping her housecoat more securely
over the front of her body and between her legs she
continues crawling along the floor. A shiver run through
her body, it is only then that she realizes that the
house is cold, she is cold. Even her anger has not
served to warm her. She has difficulty locating all the
items in the gloom. She stands and steps over to the
light switch, turns it on, pushes her glasses up higher
on her nose, there are fingerprints on the light plate
"Damn, careless, girl." She can now see that there are
more of her things scattered along the length of the
hallway, several in front Stuartís closed door.
She inches along, creeping silently, collecting
items, stuffing her purse, thinking almost saying
audibly, "Iíll go in to see Stuart, no, I canít heíll be
working on his studies. Yes, I need to talk to him, see
him, no, I wonít! He canít be disturbed. But, he could
help me, just seeing him would help me. Thank God he
looks like the Lederer side of the family.
"No, Iíll disturb him, he might get annoyed. I wonít
take the chance to irritate him." She gathers herself,
checking, assuring herself that each button on the front
of her housecoat is in its proper place, tries to snap
the purse clasp closed, it makes a brassy tick, doesnít
close "Oh, did he hear that?" embraces it against her
chest then shelters it under her arm. "Iíll do what I
intended to do in the first place." She repositions
herself, stands straight, flips off the light. Her arm
extended, hand outreached, she sees that she has chipped
several nails, "Iíll see the manicurist tomorrow."
She shuffles down the hall, steps, muffled by her
slippers. She reaches the targeted door. She will
besiege it as planned. "Wonít bother changing, what do I
care about her, I must get this done right now.
Confrontation, my liberation, Mildredís initiation to
future hardships in the world begins, but not in my
The angry pounding on the door; the door thrust open,
slamming back against the wall, ricocheting, slapping
Elsieís posterior as she enters, she lurches forward her
dignity momentarily wounded. "The Bitch!" Mildred
was startled, more than startled, astonished at what
appeared before her, not the well put together person of
her employer, but a worn out middle-aged woman. "Jesus,
Iíve never seen her like this, her hair hanging around
her neck and face wet with perspiration, face contorted
and lined, mouth shaped in a manner that was like it
contained a bitter herb, lips drawn back, spittle on her
chin, nails split and cracked, wearing a soiled
housecoat over her scantly clad body, she looks as
though she is breathing her last breath. She smells,
God, she smells: old people stench, she usually is
heavily doused in some sickening fragrance, if I were to
strike a match in this room right now, the air would
The only familiar, identifying part of her is that
damned purse and even this; itís weird, hanging on her
wrist, open and with bit and pieces of stuff bulging out
at the top. I had better keep my mouth shut."
Mildred recognized that Elsie still presented the
familiar dreadful overseer image. Elsie was not a small
woman but at this moment even in this state of disarray,
she seemed to tower larger then ever as she leaned over
her adversary. Mildred leaned back, stared innocently
into Elsieís glaring eyes. She didnít flinch. "Damn her
who does she think she is? Vieja loca!? Quien se cree
que es? Puta!
Elsie raised her left hand, index finger pointing,
stabbing into the space between them; the purse swinging
wildly, her voice shrill; the screaming sound of The
Furies. Or it may have been more like the shriek of the
Peacock, a sound that resonances throughout the
surrounding areas, the sound of a woman in severe
"She crazy, stay calm; sheís trembling all over, her
face contorted, so what. I donít care, Iíll be rid of
her no matter what she does or says, Iím leaving one day
anyway but when I am good and ready to leave. Albert
says so. Heís making plans for us. And her son is so
nice, how does that happen. Iíll have a son soon, I know
itís a boy, I can feel it; I hope he will be as smart as
Stuart, strong, determined, loving, like their father."
Mildred stood up took one step forward turned to reach
for her sweater, "Donít you turn your back to me."
Mildred sat back down on the bed; moved several library
books that were in her way. Elsie bent down to face
level, nose to nose, shouted venomously:
"One week to get out you ungrateful little whore;
consider yourself lucky, you have a moment of grace.
Come near to my husband againÖand, and," she was waving
her arms around wildly, "Iíll throw you and your paltry
possessions out into the street that very instant; call
the damn orphanage and let them know that you are going
to be homeless in seven days. Iíll deduct the cost of
the call from your pay. And donít pretend to get sick
again thereís work here you are paid to do. I know all
about Mexicans, stupid and lazy! But youíre at least
clean. Now you get yourself into the kitchen scrub the
floors, scour the stove, and Iíll have plenty of tasks
for you when thatís done. And the switch plate in the
hallway is festooned with fingerprints, scrub them off.
You will work and toil during the next week, like
never before. Then youíre gone! And good riddance!" As
she turned away to leave she hurled a final, "Thereís
plenty more where you came from." Out she stormed;
triumphant. Her hand missed grabbing the doorknob;
leaving the door open in her haste; the sound of her
slippers slapping the floor. There was a welcome
silence. The air seemed to have been sucked out of the
Mildred, still seated on her narrow steel-framed bed,
folded her slender, well proportioned legs beneath her.
Even as she looked around at the sparsely furnished
space with its small dresser, cracked mirror, worn
throw-rug, and the floor lamp, the base rusted, the pole
bent, with the torn faded shade, she couldnít help
herself, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. This was her
current world ― there was to be another. The air was
still, Elsieís stink was fading, the silence soothing,
"Clean not lazy, not stupid", mused Mildred, "not
dim-witted you crazy bitch. But youíll pay! The cost is
going to be Albert, his support, his love, his kindness,
his desires, his own children to adore who will adore
him, his own life with me. I give him something you
donít know anything about; the pleasures of loving.
Well, you must have known something, you have your
Stuart, a pleasure or not."
She stood up, stepped into her scuffed leather work
shoes, pulled the laces firmly, tied them into a neat
bow. She straightened herself with all the dignity she
could muster, shaking her shoulders, commanding her body
to gain its full height, smoothed down the stiff gray
broadcloth of her uniform, ran her fingers through her
hair patting it down as she pushed it back away from her
face, glanced into the good half of the cracked mirror.
In her own home there would be no mirrors that only
reflected half a face, nodded in approval. This place,
this dependency was not to be in her future. She was
ready for the challenge from these earlier unfulfilled
worlds to that of a world complete and inclusive of her
desires, her needs, her wants. She was to have a family.
The last act before she headed out of her room was to
erase the smile from her face, replacing it with a
subservient vacant expression; then head held high,
imitating the posture of the Sisters, she stepped across
the threshold, reached back to grasp the handle of the
door, calmly, quietly, until she heard the familiar
click as it closed, and then strolled to the kitchen.
Stuart liked Mildred: "Smart, articulate, one good
looking broad. Great breasts under that drab uniform,
and wow the legs, smells so good. Wouldnít mind dating
her, but thatís not what Mother could tolerate. Wouldnít
she be shocked if I dated the maid? She already has
misgivings when I date anyone."
He knew that she was an orphan. He could identify
with part of the equation. "Loneliness" was what she had
once told him, "I am so lonely for family." Remembering
how desolate he had felt in Kansas City away from all of
the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, lifetime
friends. "At least I have my mother, she is my family."
At that time he didnít know that nothing good ever came
from Kansas except the Hallmark greeting cards and
He always tried to erase the Kansas memory, never
ever spoke about those forlorn years. He refused to
delve into the memory even now, grateful that he no
longer had to endure the dust, grim, searing heat, and
the ugly sound of the voices that spoke to him of
poverty, poor education and the slangy, slovenly usage
of good English words: the wanta, shoulda, coulda, gonna,
yea, tu, fur, ona, da, paws, maws, ya knows, never would
he speak in this manner nor hear it from his children.
"Donít preface your comments with you know, if I know
why do you tell me, ask me? And there is no such word as
you are using it Ďcauseí it is Ďbecauseí."
When he first arrived in Los Angeles his initial
loneliness was supplanted by his studies, his new
friends, his gin rummy games, chess competitions, his
love of tennis, acclimating to the temperate climate,
blue skies, relative quiet that surrounded him as he
went about his day at school. "And my mother always here
to care for my needs. This poor girl, she has no one,
how will she ever have family?" Little did he know.
He remembered when he and his mother went to New York
in 1917 for Uncle Otto and Aunt Essieís 15th
Wedding Anniversary, it was to the familiar world he
remembered loving so thoroughly: the expansive family,
and then there were the tall buildings, the wide
streets, Central Park, the activity, intensity, sounds,
the clamor of vehicles,: taxies, busses, the newsboys on
the corners, the fantastic subways that could take you
everywhere, it was the every one and every part of all
he knew. But, remember, he had the resources to adjust
to enjoy his life and living in this new city.
Yes, he understood Mildred when she said lonely for a
Stuart ate his breakfast and lunch in the kitchen.
The dark uninviting dining room was for dinner, his
father away most of the time so it was as often as not
with only his mother. He enjoyed the kitchenís
personality; itís charm, bright, friendly. A room that
made him smile; a smile always awaited him.
This was the only room in the house that had
undergone a complete remodeling: It had been dark,
dreary, dirty, intimidating: up came the greasy
flooring, out went the cast iron sink, the ice-box, the
stove. Painted white. Down went linoleum flooring of
innovative geometric designs.
In came a new model porcelain sink, modern faucets,
all placed under the newly installed and curtained
windows, the General Electric refrigerator, a most
recent invention, the latest model OíKeefe and Merritt
gas stove, white, long black legs, a shelf for the
coffee maker, with four burners, an oven and broiler. No
more were there the clanking noises of the stove, the
smoke filling the air, the delivery of ice, the rattle
and banging of the pipes as the water flowed into the
sink, now the room smelled unsoiled, it was quiet. This
transformation, this new room glowed, sparkled with a
welcoming tranquility, radiance.
Mildred was always there. They seldom spoke more than
a word or two; he studying; head down, eyes focused on
his books, or the Los Angeles Examiner that was propped
up against the always present flower vase. At his other
residences he had been oblivious to his meal taking
surroundings, considering a kitchen just that, a
kitchen, a place to prepare meals, yes, a place in which
to eat, yes; except the other kitchens did not have this
sparkle of light nor did they have the delightful
Mildred, she making lunch for him, placing the meal on
the table to his right so he would not be disturbed;
then either cleaning the stove, washing dishes, wiping
down the countertop or ironing.
Stuart couldnít help himself, he often sneaked a
quick look up at Mildred, placed his hand
surreptitiously in his lap, looked down, adjusting his
trousers, repositioning his body on the chair, pushing
his glasses back on up his nose, his face and ears
flushed. Mildred paid no attention to his youthful
But, this day in addition to the usual smiles and
polite greetings, she astounded him, sharing a little
more of herself: she wiped her hands on the towel she
was holding, then brushed the strands of her long black
hair back, pulled out a chair and started talking before
she was seated; absent mindedly wiping the table top
with her towel.
Stuart was so astonished that the hand holding his
rare roast beef sandwich paused mid-way to his open
mouth. "This is a first. What an event, Mildred and I
and Motherís not home, wow, I mean, it would scare her
off. She keeps her distance from Mother. Mother reserves
her comments to orders of work to be done. "
The kitchen was the brightest room in the
house, even on this overcast day. From the open windows
over the sink there was a partial view of the tree lined
street. Except for a few cars driven by the neighbors,
or children out playing in the street, it was quiet.
"Stuart, you are so fortunate, no, no, no, but
please, donít misunderstand me; what I want to say; more
fortunate than many. Like me." She broke off.
"Mildred, donít stop, go on, Iím listening. I want
hear what you have to say, to know about you, more than
I know now. Come on. Spill it!"
"Stuart, I donít even know why Iím telling you this
now. Iíll be gone in a few more days."
"Mildred, I am so sorry that youíre leaving, I will
miss you, youíve been good to
me. And itís been nice to have you here. I wish I
could help you. I donít have any money." He wanted to
reach into his pocket, pull out some bills, hand them
over; they were empty except for a few coins.
As an adult they would always contain folding money;
this would be his long-established lifetime custom.
Ready cash for a friend, to give with no strings
She raised her hand, "Iíll be OK." She smiled reached
across the table, patted his hand, "So will you." But
then: she withdrew her hand to clasp it to the other,
weaving her fingers together, placing them in front of
Stuart started to put his partly eaten sandwich down,
the food sitting there in his mouth, when he looked up
again, their eyes met. He swallowed his half chewed
food, pushed his books and plate to one side. He had a
great desire to reach out, to touch her folded hands as
she had reached out to him.
The ceiling light cast shadows across the table,
possibility of rain; Motherís rule, "keep the
electricity off in a sunlit room or if the room is
vacant." She continued:
"I think that you know that I come from a Catholic
orphanage. I am a Catholic."
She paused, listening, "itís beginning to rain"― got
up, walked to the windows, reached under the curtains
closed them; glancing out she saw a woman walking with
her two children and pushing a carriage― she smiled,
looked back, he had said nothing; leaning forward,
watching her graceful moves, depositing the half-eaten
sandwich back on his plate, then without looking down,
picked up the napkin, wiped his hands, his mouth, took a
drink of milk, straightened his glasses ― she resumed
her place in the chair, thinking: "He is interested, if
I could only tell him the entire truth. Couldnít.
Wouldnít. Not ever! He will find out on his own soon
Returning to the table; sits;
"The Sisters at St. Vincentís Orphan Asylum were good
to us, my Mother and Father dying within a year of one
another. Before they died living was especially
horrible. We were so many, so poor, always hungry, cold,
so few clothes, living in a primitive one room mud shed
called home. Work for my father, in the fields, whipped
by the American overseers, slavery with a pittance of
pay from the rich land-owners. We the Mexicans, the
Indios, used up and discarded like trash."
Stuart was listening intently, thinking, "How can
this be true, happening to people just like me? This is
cruel, the violence, my God, how I hate violence." He
became conscious that his mouth was hanging open, closed
it. He smiled in a reassuring manner, nodded his head,
she went on:
"That was in 1910-11. Iíve told you how all of us
were taken in by the Sister at St. Vincentís Orphan
Asylum in Santa Barbara. There were eight of us to begin
with. Only me, and two of my sisters remained there, the
rest, sent away, I donít know where or what happened to
them. One of my sisters, Magdalena, was sent to work
with a Mrs. Cumana in Santa Inez. I donít know where she
is anymore. Eloisa, I lost track of too.
We were sheltered, fed and clothed, taught to read
and write, to speak good English without sounding
Mexican; that was pounded into us every day, every
moment, but trained to be employed as servants, which
was all they could do for us.
All thatÖand Ö" She paused, bit her lip, took a deep
breath, "you donít know this, no one knows, my name is
not Mildred, I was baptized Josepha Maria Gutierrez
Leyva. But, I donít want a Mexican identity; I donít
look Mexican, I donít sound Mexican, so best to be more
American in name."
Stuart noticed not for the first time that Mildred
wore no make-up she didnít need make-up, her skin soft
and smooth, eyes large and reflective, absolutely
stunning, and that she spoke so well, using English as
though it were her native language. He liked what he
heard what he saw. Sometimes in the evening when he
walked to his room he caught a glimpse of her reading.
And she went on tell him about the other homes she
had been sent to, the ongoing poverty, the bleak future
she had to face, the shame, the dependency she felt with
her status as a maid for the rest of her life.
"Someday you will have your own family, love, family
is the best that there is in life. I want my own family
so badly. No more poverty no more subservience. I want
to be my own person, in my own home."
Stuart understood her needs: assimilation,
acceptance, family. Being a Jew, although not a
religious Jew, only observing the high holidays, when
his mother prepared for the Passover or Hanukah. Now
they lived in a city founded by the Catholic Church. He
was a Jew but not. So, he empathized.
"Mildred, I know youíre a Catholic. So, Iím a Jew.
Iím an outsider, youíre Mexican, youíre an outsider; we
both have to find our own way in the world. And you are
so right, family is everything. Love means a lot." He
had always had his Motherís love.
As young as he was he knew that someday he would have
someone else to love who would love him in return, and a
family; yes, he could have that too, and be educated in
the law, secure financially. What had she to look
Mildred continued to speak to him about her life
after the orphanage years. The other homes she had been
sent to. Stuart watched intently, listened intently. He
was a born mediator."If there was something that I could
do, help her, but no." He knew that he was too young to
arbitrate this particular situation; throughout his
lifetime, always reminding himself, "There always has to
be a way to intercede in conflicts no matter how
insignificant they may be to me. Discretion, always be
discreet. Find the best modus operandi. I hope I can do
this, all the time."
The familiar sound; Elsieís car pulling into the
Mildred stopped talking, got up quickly, pushed in
the chair, it slipped silently back under the table,
turned her back, rushed to the pantry to get out the
vacuum; he pushed his plate aside that still contained
his half eaten sandwich, quickly got up, dashed out the
door; a momentary blush of guilt on his face.
Back to Elsie
The predicted rain was beginning to fall. Elsie waved
for him to come help with the groceries, "Stuuddee" she
screech in her high pitched wheedling voice, "Stuuddee
hurry", holding a newspaper above her head, standing by
the car, dropping her keys into her purse, posture
stiff, she wore a tight fitting corset, her slight smile
suggesting a hint of self-satisfaction. She had her car,
she could drive, and she was ridding herself of "that
damn woman." Sheíd have her son all to herself. Stuart
gave her a brief brush of a kiss on her upraised face,
careful not to bump into her hat, didnít take in his
motherís fluttering eyelids but he did observe that
there were a few strands of grey hairs overlooked by the
beautician; Stuuddee dutifully picked up the several
bags from the front seat and followed her into the now
vacant kitchen. Elsie dropped the wet newspaper at the
door, marched in regally. She placed her purse on the
counter where she could see it and where it was well
within her reach; Stuart left the bags on the floor.
"Stuuddee, you didnít finish your sandwich. Are you
feeling well? I bought the best roast beef. I donít want
it wasted. The lights are on in here, turn them off,
donít waste electricity."
"Mother, I am not too hungry. Iíll finish it later."
Elsie began to wrap the sandwich in wax paper. A fly
landed on the rim of the glass of milk, wiped its mouth
with its front legs; Elsie snapped a dish towel the fly
The vacuum could be heard working in the front of the
Elsie was good to her word. A week later Mildred
packed her few possessions in one tattered suitcase,
walked out the back door, down the street, and around
the corner. Albert was there as planned in his 1923
Chevrolet Touring car. "Oh, she is so beautiful!" She
hurriedly opened the car door, threw the suitcase in the
back; leaned over to give him a quick kiss. "Take care
of me, Alberto, Yo te quiero."
They were down the street, around the corner in
moments. Fading into their own future. Elsie did not
watch her leave, or which way she went, just happy to be
alone with her son.
So the Mildred was gone. Stuartís mother and father
escalated their animosity; his father more of a phantom
than before, his mother, absent time and again. Where to
she would not specify, probably shopping. Stuart would
never inquire. She had her car, a 1923 Cleveland Sedan.
Stuart came home from school. It was early March,
spring break. As he entered the front room, he could
smell the tension like the stink of his fellow
classmates during finals. Before he could put down his
briefcase, take off his jacket, his mother thrust into
his hands what he recognized, blue wrapped legal papers:
"you can read this yourself; Iíve had enough from your
His mother turned on the floor lamp, placed herself
in the big brown and green flowered wing back chair. She
crossed her legs and then her arms, leaned back, peering
at him from under half closed eyes; the light from the
lamp bright enough to read by.
Stuart put his briefcase and jacket down, sat down in
the matching chair opposite his mother:
He reads: "In the Superior Court of the State of
California in and for the County of Los Angeles ****
Elsie Charlotte Fischer, Plaintiff, vs Albert E.
Fischer, Defendant. Complaint: Divorce (Cruelty). 14th
He thinks, "Well, Sheís finally divesting herself of
that cheat." But, the details: he scans the document
turning one page after another quickly:
Paragraphs 1 ,2 & 3 the usual legal terms, "The
plaintiff is a resident; the plaintiff alleges for
statistical purposes . . .That from and since their said
marriage without any reason or provocation therefore on
the part of the plaintiff, the defendant has treated
plaintiff in a cruel and inhuman mannerÖ during the last
two yearsÖ staying away from homeÖ the defendant was
associating with women other that the plaintiffÖspending
his money freely upon women other than the defendantÖhas
refused to give plaintiff any money with which to
support herselfÖ withdrawn his money from banks,
Öwithout any provocation Ö cursed and swore at her,
calling her vile and indecent names such as " God damn
fool" and upon such occasions swore and cursed her in
such a loud voice that it attracted the attention of
neighborsÖ That duringÖthe defendant began nagging,
cursing and swearingÖ endeavored to pull the rings from
plaintiff fingers; that he dragged plaintiff from the
house into the backyard Ö compelled to call for
helpÖthat at that time grabbed her around the wrists in
such a manner that it left black and blue marks thereonÖ
All this caused Ö great humiliation and embarrassmentÖ
" Stuart reaches for his briefcase, snaps it open,
pulls out the yellow legal pad and his fountain pen,
uncrosses his legs to make a lap and begins to take
notes from the papers, "Bastard! Mother assaulted. Damn
him. Iíll get him by the balls, he wonít have much to
take from this marriage. All the years I couldnít
intercede, I will intercede now!" From this moment on he
took charge of his mother affairs and would from there
"Mother, you have to have your lawyer re-file listing
all your joint ownerships, assets." He wasnít a lawyer
yet butÖ His voice was firm and demanding. "Mother, get
me all the papers in Dadís desk that relate to your real
properties, bank accounts, cash, life insurance,
personal properties, jewelry, anything that is of
Elsie rushed out of the room returning with a stack
of papers; carefully handed them to her son, although
she wanted to sit next to him on the arm of the chair,
she restrained herself. But before she went back to her
chair she patted Stuart on the shoulder. Pretending to
not notice his mother Stuart focused on the collection
of papers; he quickly arranged them in various stacks on
the floor and began to list an inventory on his legal
The house and lot they lived in $19,000, with the
mortgage of $4,000 plus $7,500 in furniture, a four flat
building located at 1124-1130 West 42nd
Street, value $15,000, subject to a mortgage of $5500,
Two double bungalows located at 5911-5917 South Van Ness
Avenue, the Cleveland Sedan, 1923, $350.00, Chevrolet
Touring car, $500.00, the moneys in the checking
account, the savings account, the life insurance policy,
the money in the possession of defendant, the exact
He was absorbed, scanning papers, organizing. Elsie
rose, walked across the room, walked back to stand
before him. Body straight and stiff, hands on hips, feet
apart, teeth clenched, eyes narrowed to a glare. Stuart,
without raising his head spied up over his glasses,
waved his hand in her direction, "Mother, donít bother
me right now, just go sit down and be quiet. I need to
concentrate. If you want me to be of assistance Ö" His
voice, the words, sounded foreign to him.
Elsieís face dropped, her body went limp; she went
back to the chair. "Stuart, I need to ―"
"Shh, later mother. You can tell me later, Iím sure
it can wait."
"Stuart, please, I must ―"
"OK, just go ahead, Iíll listen while I am sorting
out the community property."
Mumbling to himself, "this pile motherís this pile
fatherís; add up the values so theyíre close to equal."
His mother had always handled the family affairs.
"Your father came home from one of his trips. He was
removing his clothes from the traveling bag. I saw a
number of checks. After he went in to clean up, I
looked. They were issued and endorsed by Mrs. A.E.
Fischer, but it wasnít me."
"What? What did you say? Not you? Then who?"
"Stuuddee, Iíve been trying to tell you. Checks made
payable to a Mr. Hinton for rent at an address other
then here and other checks for furniture, clothing,
items for an infant."
"What infant and who is Mrs. A.E. Fischer if itís not
"That last maid, Mildred, the one I threw out. Your
father has had a child with her."
Stuart couldnít help it; he flashed a smile in his
motherís direction. "And now how do you know that?" His
mother was a harmless exaggerator, he loved that in her.
"Stuuddee, this is not funny." The trembling in her
voice was noticeable. Her body leaned forward in the
chair. Her chin was quivering. Her hands gripped the
front edge of the cushion as she struggled to continue.
"Mildred, umm, boy do I remember that piece of Ö"
"Ok, Ok, now, tell me the rest of the story.
"I drove myself over to the address listed on the
back of the check."
"Mother, thatís not __"
"Out in front of the property was a man, I asked him
if he was Mr. Hinton. He said yes. I asked him if a Mr.
and Mrs. Albert Fischer lived here. Yes― with their son.
"Iíll tell them youíre here."
Elsieís breathing irregular, voice trembling, tears
began to flood her eyes; she stopped long enough to
reach into her purse for a hanky and dabbed her eyes
dramatically, then held the hanky in her hand that
remained tucked under her chin.
"Mother, go aheadÖtalk."
"I could hear your father shouting Ďdonít let these
two women meet, and Iím divorced from that crazy woman,
Mildred is my wife.í I couldnít bear it, I left. I drove
"What can I do now? I canít be married to this man
any longer. Think of the shame, the financial burden,
you need to finish school; I need to rid myself of this
man who is spending our money on a full time mistress
and their bastard son. "Stuuddee our checking account
shows that he is spending large sums of money on
Mildred, paying for doctor bills, rentals, furniture,
and clothing for that woman and that bastard child. Our
account is being drained so much that I have little left
to support myself and you."
She paused in her recitation, got to her feet,
watching her sonís reaction. Stuart was on his feet as
well, his left hand hanging onto the legal pad; his
mother pacing up and down the room, pounding her right
fist into her left; wringing her hands. Her mouth was
moving still, lips taut, momentarily not uttering an
additional sound. Tears flowed streaking her make-up,
she retreated to her chair; the only sound was from the
"Stuuddee, please help me, get me a good lawyer, take
me to the lawyer; take care of me. Donít let him ruin
our lives any more."
Stuart wanted to do something, say something,
anything Ö This was a mother he did not recognize. He
reached for his cigarettes, thought better of lighting
up in his Motherís presence, he thought of having a
stiff drink, but liquor was not his thing, never would
be. He wanted to go to his mother, hold her hands, dry
her tears, but he couldnít.
And there were no words. He collapsed into his chair,
his feet scattering the stacks of papers. He looked at
this poor woman all crumpled up, so shockingly old so
"She needs me, I have always needed her; this is so
scary. Well, I have to do something." Stuart looked down
on the scattered paper, glanced at the note on his pad,
smiled to himself. He could do something! Heíll show
Suddenly it was clear, "I can take care of my mother.
I can do this."
A thought flashed, "A manís needs." Thatís what his
father had said. The thought vanished.
"Aahhh." He began to rearrange the papers into only
one stack, his motherís. He put all of the papers, the
legal pad and his pen back into his briefcase, snapped
it shut, and walked to the phone.
"Information, operator, give me the number of the
attorney Milton M. Cohen, on South Broadway, or it may
be listed under Frank Rouse, yes, Los Angeles. . . . Not
to worry mother, that man will get nothing. If I
remember correctly, the grounds for your divorce,
adultery, all community property will not be divided.
Youíll get it all. Iíll see to that."
The drive to the lawyerís offices was a silent
affair. Stuart had all of the papers in his briefcase.
His mother stared ahead; hands in her lap, they
exchanged not one comment about the upcoming interview,
he in a reassuring voice just a few polite words of good
morning, donít worry, Iíll take care of you. She,
Stuart, drive carefully, slow down, the signal says
stop, park here, get the door. Stuart did the driving,
this was a first, unusual but his mother had insisted
that she would be the passenger.
He liked the in command position at the
driverís wheel. He didnít like the orders but complied
in his silent dutiful manner.
They met with the lawyers, offices located near the
under construction Subway Terminal building on Hill
Street and 5th; he in his only suit and tie,
briefcase in hand, she in a somber gray suit, with hat
that included a veil, matching gloves and a purse which
was held in her lap; that purse and all others
thereafter never left her person; they arranged:
separate maintenance, the final divorce decree: support
of $250.00 a month, the awarding of all the community
property, control of the checking account, savings
account, jewelry, furniture, to mother, payment of
attorneysí fees, court fees, by his father.
He was a competent advocate before he was a lawyer,
completing his degree and passing the bar in 1928. The
next thirty-two years he was a successfully practicing
civil law attorney.
Albert never responded to the lawfully served papers.
Then he and his young family vanished, disappearing from
their lives, almost forever. In 1945 a young man in
uniform came to Stuartís office, introduced himself as
Norman Fischer, his half-brother. Stuart rejected the
offer to become friends and family, almost throwing him
out of the office. Now it was forever.
The interlocutory judgment signed in the Superior
Court of the State of California November 6th
1926; the divorce was final. Elsie had it all except for
the $250.00 a month in support, payment of court costs
and Attorney fees. Adultery was cited. Papers were
issued for the enforcement of payment but the elusive
Albert stayed one step ahead of the process servers,
finally moving out of California in 1929, thus evading
the long arm of the law. Stuart would be able to
continue his studies; she could afford to send him to
law school at USC. No more work at the law library in
the late evenings; he could live at home with her when
he came home from Berkley.
Stuartís first cousin, Lillian Lederer, had journeyed
out from the East coast, after receiving a scholarship
at UC Berkley; Stuart was there for his freshman year.
They became reacquainted, dated, became very close. He
was far away from his motherís domination. The family
privately gossiped about this relationship; they would
talk, laugh about Elsie insisting that his laundry be
sent home for her to wash and sent back, to save money,
of course. His mother, not aware of the romantic
liaison, couldnít object to the friendship and didnít,
convinced that there was no threat to her relationship
with her son. Lillian was family. He and Lillian
eventually married but were divorced April 16, 1940 the
final decree granted April 18th the following
year. They remained close friends until death.
There was no issue from this marriage, which was
legal only in the State of California. Adoption was
considered during the years of their union. This event
took place after their divorce, Stuart then a lawyer,
had remarried on April 27, 1941, but still he brokered
an adoption for Lillian and her new husband. His new
wife was not threatened by this past family
relationship. But to his mother, his new wife her
daughter Adrienne were.
Albert and Mildred
Youíll probably want to know: What happened to
Mildred and Albert?
Elsie drove off into the setting sun, and . . .
Albert was left standing in the center of the living
room; Mildred had collapsed onto the sofa. Mr. Hinton
was standing rigid as a stone statue in the open
doorway, the rake he had been using still in his hand,
poised, handle down, tines up pointing to the heavens.
The 64th Street bungalow was no longer
reverberating with shouting. The only discernible sound
was the flapping of clean laundry, stirred by a gentle
breeze hung in the little side yard.
After the initial explosive confrontation, Albert was
finally standing still, breathing rapidly, sweating
profusely; his at home shirt and trousers sticking to
his body, his shoes off. He had wanted to get to Elsie
to smack her down and shut her mouth. He reached for his
cigarettes, managed to take one out, then he couldnít
find his matches so he gave up, threw the cigarette to
the floor. Took a deep breath, reached down, tightened
his belt with his shaking hands. He scratched his head,
ran fingers through his thinning hair. He took the few
steps needed to reach Mildredís prone figure. Then
kneeling by her side, touching her shoulder, putting his
head next to hers, whispering softly into her ear, "Now,
Mildred donít be frightened, sheís gone. Youíre safe.
Get up and make sure the baby is not in need of
changing, that heís sleeping."
She gave him a reassuring kiss on his cheek; wiped
the tears away. Stretched out her arms, wrapped them
around him, patted him on the back. "Yo te quiero."
Albert didnít move for a moment, then gradually stood
up, held out his hand, helped her up and with his arms
around her, turned her toward the doorway and patted her
on the fanny, "I love you, too. Now, go." She smoothed
out her dress, felt the swelling of her body, brushed
back her hair, took a deep breath, and step by measured
step left the room.
In the back of the bungalow Mildred picked up her
still sleeping baby and held him tightly against her
breast. Oh, how she had wanted to go after Elsie, her
fists had been clenched, ready to do damage. She wanted
to show off her prize, Albertís son, to thrust him right
into that Bitchís face. But she had just stood there
listening to that familiar shrieking voice. It all had
happened too quickly.
Albert still stood in the living room arms hanging.
The air seemed to have been sucked out of his body,
leaving him smaller. He peered out the front window to
see Elsieís car move away, faster than he had ever seen
her drive. He turned around to face the open front door,
saw that he was not alone. Elevating his shoulders,
shaking his head, "I certainly do apologize for this
commotion, Mr. Hinton, but that woman is --- "
Mr. Hinton from his position in the doorway, the rake
leaned against the wall shouted, "Is it true that
Mildred is your kept women and the child is your
He advanced across the room situating himself so that
he was face to face, nose to nose, glaring at Albert,
"Iím a good Christian man ― Plan on moving within the
next thirty days or sooner."
He turned, stomped to the still open door, turned
around, shaking his fists wildly, backed out wiping his
hands across his shirt: grabbed his rake and left
leaving the piles of leaves to the fierce Santa Ana
winds that were starting to blow.
Albert picked up the morning newspaper, sat down at
the table, checked his rolled up sleeves, adjusted his
glasses, unfolded the newspaper, thumbed through to the
classified. Mildred had made her way back to the front
room; "get me a cup of coffee," he picked up the
cigarette that he had thrown onto the floor, found his
matches, lit it, inhaled deeply, pulled over the ash
tray, took out his pen and began to circle For Rent ads
in the newspaper. "My God, my hands are still shaking."
Mildred, wrapped her arms around his shoulders,
rested her chin on his head, a gleam of satisfaction
crossing her face. He would be forced into a legal union
now, no more excuses, no more his mistress. Now they
would live together all of the time without those trips
to his old house. The jugada was over.
But, the jugada, the game, wasnít over; it was
just beginning, never to end. Albert and Mildred
both children of minorities, immigrant families,
believed that the great American dream was authentic,
that one could start over, make ones self over and
better; They would find that we carry ourselves with us
no matter where we are and who we are, becoming
something else was against the current of cultureís
demands. What has been is what is and will be. Runaway,
yes. Escape, no. There is no bottom line.
After the confrontation with Elsie the couple began a
seven year odyssey. They moved, not once but three
times, Manhattan Beach, Long Beach, Santa Ana, before
their cross country getaway to New Orleans, away from
the wrath of Elsie, Stuart, the hounding of process
servers, the lawyers.
There were three more children, a series of birth
record surname falsifications: Alfred Friedman, Norman
Fisher, Irene Freeman. And the grinding financial
distress; finally fleeing from the State to settle
briefly in Biloxi, Mississippi and then to New Orleans,
Louisiana in 1930.
A second daughter was born in August of 1930 after
their marriage in San Antonio, Texas, 1929 Dolores
Fischer. Although the first children were raised in the
Jewish faith, the boys duly Bar Mitzvah, this final
child was baptized Catholic and steadfastly denied any
connection to Jewishness.
In 1932 Albert returned to New York to settle his
fatherís estate and moved his family there in 1937 after
his motherís death. Until WWII Albert operated his
fatherís real estate business. The war effort required
that he work in the shipyards; he is listed as a welder.
In 1944, he contracted meningitis, lingered fifteen days
in a Harlem Hospital and died; he is interred at
Mildred remarried in 1946 after the birth of a
daughter, Barbara, in 1945, had the marriage annulled as
this man, Maletti, lied about a previous marriage and
confinement in a psychiatric hospital. Then she
disappeared. Her children never saw her again.
The complications for the children, now grown began.
It was not easy to correct the trail of paper that
For the military draft board, Alfred Raymond Friedman
did not exist. But they researched his birth records
willingly, placed him in the U.S. Army as Fischer.
Norman Fisher had to establish his authenticity as
Norman Paul Fischer for his social security application;
Irene Anita Freeman also had to establish her identity
as Fischer with her brother Norman verifying and
assisting in the corroboration of her identity. Without
this she could not find work or establish the lawful
Social Security number.
The revelations were to haunt the family forever.
Stuartís New Family
Back to the 1940ís and our other story:
The first time Adrienne thought she was presented to
Stuart was at a wedding, her motherís wedding. "This is
your new father," her mother said after a ceremony.
"But, I already have a father, I donít need another
one." "Well, that may be the case but your own father
does not care enough about you to matter. This is your
Daddy!" Mother spoke in her firm, controlled anger
voice, the voice Adriana knew so well. She stood
motionless petrified with fear. Mouth dry, breathing
rapid, eyes lowered, clenched hands hidden.
Stuart, bent down awkwardly, reached out and tried to
take her hand. She moved back a step, her clenched hands
firmly down by her side still concealed behind the folds
of her dress; she first sensed, then glanced up to see
her motherís recognizable glare, she obediently reached
out, allowed him to shake her hand but in a most formal
She thought; "he does has a nice smile, a gentle
voice" when he spoke a simple, "happy to meet you" and
"weíre going to get along just fine." That was all he
said. She watched as he and her mother walked back to
the wedding guests, Stuart was smiling broadly taking
his lovely bride in his arms. She, unable to move.
Didnít want to watch, unable to move forward, she turned
away, not looking back again, thinkingÖ
"You keep thinking that. And my own father does too
care about me, you just wonít let him see me" she
reasoned in her nine year old combative mind finally
able to move away, keeping her distance from the happy
couple, the strange gray haired lady and the crowds of
She loved the dress that she was wearing it was
beautiful. The most beautiful dress she could remember
wearing. The body of the outfit a gentle beige silk
covered with lace. There were tiny hand embroidered
flowers around the neckline, the hem, the waist band,
the short sleeves; new shoes to match with a lovely
shiny finish, straps across the top of the matching
socks. She hadnít had such a fine outfit since before
she had been placed in that hateful boarding school,
Select Academy, over two years ago. That was a horrible
time to forget, she wouldnít, couldnít: unwilling, but
still remembering that first day, "words going on in the
space above my head. Youíre going to live here; only a
few months. Youíll be happy here," and I cried, "Donít
leave me, Iíll be good" and ó then the hammering of the
withdrawing high heels. "You promise only a few months?"
"Only a month or two, sixty days, thatís all, promise."
The door pounded shut.
What she couldnít remember, she was not there: her
motherís crying as she ran to the car, smoothing down
her skirt, slamming the door. Her best friend, Jean, is
waiting. She looks into the rear view mirror, gets out
her lipstick, her comb, runs her fingers through her
hair, looks down, her stocking seams, shakes her head,
sighs; takes a deep drag from the offered cigarette.
"What other choice? What have I done?" "Sheíll survive.
Are you hearing me? Jerry! Listen to me, my own son is
there, Shelleyís fine." "Get us out of here!" The car
started, left the curb and disappeared into traffic.
"I have to keep clean", she restrained herself from
fingering the tiny flowers or stroking the silk fabric,
keeping her arms folded or hanging loosely by her sides.
There wasnít any place to sit down, unless she went to
the patio, and there were too many grown-up people
there, no other children.
They made her uncomfortable. So she resigned herself
with wandering around the garden, thinking her own
thoughts, shade trees offering coolness as the bright
April sun radiated welcomed warmth. And flowers, she
loved the flowers, she didnít know their names, someday
she would grow flowers of her own, they had so many
colors, fragrances good enough to eat. She was hungry;
the food was on the patio; the beautiful tall cake, "I
wonít go there." But, no matter where she strolled,
people, complete strangers, kept interrupting her
solitude, walking over to her, greeting her, "so youíre
Stuartís daughter." Or "What a pretty child" or "Youíre
a lucky kid." Even the comment, "Youíre going to just
love him." She didnít shake her head but Ö "Uh, uh, no,
She played her polite part, smiling sweetly anger
blazing out from her diverted eyes. There was fear and
sadness there too, but she didnít know about this yet.
These unfamiliar persons commented on her long dark
curls, stroked her hair and as far as she was concerned,
bad-mannered; how dare they touch her; these people. She
allowed the touching, escaping as soon as she could. She
was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar. She didnít know what
to do. Even the serious looking man wearing a drab black
suit and the odd black beanie meant nothing to her; he
was what she considered a funny looking stranger. She
retreated into her own thoughts her own world of
comfort. There was always Snow White and The
"And this other man; not my father and thatís that!"
He was no one she knew well enough to even be a new
friend. "Happy to meet you and we will get along just
fine wonít make you a friend or a Daddy." She embraced
her own body holding on as tight as she could.
"Now Uncle Barney, was a friend, he came over all of
the time and took us out, took us to all sorts of
places, I loved him; if I needed an additional father
then he should have been the one, not this nameless guy.
And there was an Uncle Saul, when he came over to pick
up mother he brought me great toys, one was a Pinocchio
puppet. Not the Daddy sort." Years later, she found out
the Uncle Saul was taking mother over to rendezvous with
She kept up her wanderings all the rest of the
afternoon. She felt like an extra thing, belonging
nowhere, to no one. It had been this way since as long
as she wanted to remember. The belonging days were gone.
After the party was over she was driven back to her
motherís old apartment building. Not to go up to the
eighth floor but to be left with an older woman who
lived in a two story building across the street. She was
introduced as Oma, "this is your new grandmother" said
her new Daddy, her new, rather peculiar grandmother she
thought, remembering her as the gray haired lady at the
wedding. "She didnít look very thrilled to be there. In
fact, she walked around with a weird smile on her face,
phony. I saw her narrowing her eyes when she looked at
my mother, not nice, not nice at all. And always hanging
onto this man who thought he was to be my daddy. Fat
And Stuart would never forget his very first direct
encounter with his soon-to-be step-daughter; she did not
recognize him at the wedding because all she ever had
seen of him was his upraised bare behind, in bed with
her mother. "My God, how Jerry was able to leap out of
bed, throw on her robe, grab her daughter, rush her into
the kitchen. And there I am, passion quelled, dressing
fast, stealing out while they were having something to
eat. I could barely walk! We had very carefully, for
four years, kept me hidden. I was still married. We did
not want any complications with the pending divorce.
"I rented this apartment across the street from my
motherís so that my parked car would be associated with
my daily visit to her and not to Jerry. My mother did
not know a thing, no one did for a long while, that is
until after the divorce from Lillian was final.
"How well I remember the first time that I met Jerry.
A dark haired, slender, glamorous woman who looked at me
with intense suspicion, after all I was the attorney for
her husbandís firm. He had convinced her that money
could be saved by using the same attorney. We would both
feel a great draw of attraction, nothing spoken, but it
was there. I need to get to know this sexy woman but
how?" What he did was to send her a bouquet of flower
with an attached note, Ďhowís about us?í The us
They began a torrid love affair, placing her daughter
in a boarding school for safe keeping, renting an
apartment for their rendezvous, he was married, although
unhappily, but hadnít realized that he was ready to
break free, ready for change, for passion, for a new
life of his own choice and no one elseís.
"Our apartment was small, brightly lit, no drawn
blinds on the windows, not at the eighth floor with no
one to peek in. The kid had a key to the apartment; she
wasnít supposed to come for a visit so early in the
afternoon. She walked quite a distance from her boarding
school at Third and Normandy to the apartment on Eighth
and Oxford Street. I wondered if she will remember the
scene at all as she grows up."
"Our wedding was a lovely affair at the home of best
friend Max Strasburg, owner of a very exclusive jewelry
store off of Highland on Hollywood Blvd. It was a
catered affair; the Rabbi Dubin, from the Wilshire
Temple officiated. I introduced myself to my new
"I canít say that she was too thrilled. I knew that
it was not going to be a happy transition. I understood
her attitude her mother did not. But I had a lot to
learn, being thirty-eight and never had I been around
children, an only child myself."
"After the wedding the step-daughter was dropped off
at my motherís and we left for our honeymoon at Marietta
"While we were gone, the real daddy picked up his
daughter; ĎTo show her his new daughter.í I found out
later how crushed she was, telling his new wife that ĎI
hate you; you took my daddy away from me.í What a way to
begin a new life with me and her mother.
"I had a client who owned a Military School. He
organized a summer camp at Yosemite; he would take my
step-daughter with the boys for the next three month,
"We went house hunting so that we would be settled
when she came home. The one we bought at 6440 West 5th
Street was in a perfect location near Fairfax and
Wilshire. The price was within my financial means to pay
cash. My drive to my office on 5th and Hill
would be direct. It was a charming two bedroom, one
bath, with fireplace; comfortable kitchen and den. Front
room and dining room, with a big yard, patio, large
garage; the entire front area was enclosed by a white
picket fence. I took my lovely bride to a large
furniture store, client owned, and I furnished the
entire house by the end of that afternoon. Jerry wanted
a dog, but we would wait until all three of us could go
to the pound to pick one out."
"So my son marries this x-showgirl, a low life type,
uneducated, a foreigner, a manicurist, a Goya, a
divorcee, not even a naturalized citizen, with this
child who is so disgustingly head strong. Heíll be mine
again, someday, somehow all mine again. This shameful
bleached blond will find out just how miserable she will
be. Iíll find ways as the opportunities present
And Elsie would bide her time over the next 18 years,
interjecting herself, creating disharmony when ever she
could. The task would be more difficult then she could
have anticipated. Jerry was a formidable foe. She did
win the final battle, she got, took her son back.
But, this is yet another story for later:
Stuart was a very precise person. This precision
served him well in his professional life; it was a bit
difficult in his domestic life. He was orderly in his
habits, pleasantly demanding in the maintenance of his
needs. Modification was not his middle name; his routine
was his routine and therefore the routine for all. This
is not a bad note but it was a note to be observed: as
an example, dinner was at 5:00PM. Not a minute before or
a minute after. It mattered not that hunger was an
issue; he had his life to keep in order. So, about six
month into his marriage the following took place:
Stuart came home at 4:30 exactly, changed into his
robe and took his routine twenty-five minute nap. He was
a man who could close his eyes, sleep soundly, and get
up refreshed for the rest of the evening. Dinner was at
5:00. No one minute before or after. Hungry or not, you
ate your meal, all of it.
Stuart entered the dining room, cleaning his glasses
with his handkerchief, his body clothed in his bathrobe,
he sat down at the table, put his glasses back on,
placed his napkin in his lap. Looks up!
"Whereís my mother and Adrienne? Jerry, did you hear
me?" He shoved his chair back, got up and marched into
the kitchen, brushed by his wife to the window. No sign
of Motherís car. Jerry was leaning over basting the
roast. "I donít know, they were supposed to be here
"Well damn" was all he could utter. He marched to the
phone dialed his motherís number. No answer. The
distance in travel from his motherís was thirty minutes;
surely he reasoned they are on their way. And they were;
arriving past 5:30PM. Stuart was out the door and
shouting into his motherís face, his arms waving around
wildly, quite unusual for the calm, Mr. District
Attorney. "Why are you so damn late?" Elsie, without a
momentís hesitation responded, "Adrienne, sheís the
reason." Stuartís eyes flashed with an incredulous look,
And the tall tale of a convincing story unfolds:
Elsie standing on the lower back step, her eyes steady,
looking up into her sonís eyes, her arms partially
extended, hands turned upward, her purse hanging there
as always, she pitifully whined these words:
"Stuuddee, I was ready to leave before 4:30. I told
Jerryís daughter to be back from playing at 4:15 so she
could clean up and we could leave on time." She didnít
show up until after 5:00. I called and called for her,
she didnít answer. I was frantic knowing that you insist
on dinner being punctual. It was all her fault. I
wouldnít be late except for her disobedience."
Stuart glared at his step-daughter. She was ashen;
standing there her face displaying an expression of
disbelief, eyes wide, face pale. Her mother went to grab
her; she knew what was coming next. She began to scream,
to cry, her body withering into a pool of fear, her
voice spitting out words. Her fear was so great that she
bypassed the adult to child expectations of silence,
"That not true. Sheís lying. I was so back on time."
"Donít you call my mother a liar, how dare you, why
would she say what she did? You, youíre the one whoís
Now the scene was becoming hot. Jerry stopped all the
action screaming and grabbing her daughter by the arm,
drawing her nose to nose. "What happened? I want to know
my daughterís story. If she is lying, Iíll take care of
her! Iím going to hear her story. And I had better hear
it right now; my roast is going to be ruined. Adriana?"
Adrienne was close to hysterical, her body shaking,
face pale, her lips quivering; she was so faint with
fear she had to lean against the bird aviary to maintain
her balance. Her fingers intertwined with the wire mesh;
"Right now! Her mother screamed, "Tell me right now."
She sobbed out: "I got back to Omaís apartment; she
was standing there in her bathrobe. She said that she
had taken a nap. She had to change into her clothes, get
her hair straight and make-up on. I sat down and waited
for so long. Then she hurried us to her car. Mommy,
honest, Iím not lying."
Stuart was silently gasping, incredulous. First he
looked at his mother then, his step-daughter, at his
wife. A grave conflict. Dare he reach out to defend his
mother or support his wife? He stood there on the back
porch steps frozen to the spot. He couldnít say a thing
so he said nothing. He just stood there hanging useless
as a man cut off from hisÖmanhood.
Jerry turned to her husband; then turned stared
angrily into her daughterís eyes, she turned, moved into
Elsieís space, her eyes were flashing, her body
positioned in such a manner of a boxer, ready to fight.
"I know when my daughter is lying, this is no lie.
You son of a bitch, how dare you! I know you and I know
your intentions, so beware. Stuart, I donít trust your
mother, never have, but we love one another donít ever
forget that. But, I will take care of my daughter, she
is my daughter and donít forget that either.
Stuart moved down the steps, reached out, grasped his
mother by her purse less arm led her into the front
room, sat her down, placed himself in the chair facing
her. He leaned back, relaxed his face.
Elsieís lips were clenched shut. Her body positioned
in a regal manner, hands folded in her lap, shoulders
straight, body held tall. She placed her purse by her
side, got out a handkerchief, dabbed her lips.
"Stuuddee, please believe me, have I ever lied to
you? Itís that child sheís the liar. Her mother can
defend her all she wants, but sheís a troublemaker. I
was waiting for her; she did not wait for me."
"What can I do?" He starts to get up from his chair,
sits back down, takes a deep breath, looks at his
mother; "My mother vs my wife and her child me in the
middle. I must find a balance."
His wifeís irritable voice sounded from the kitchen.
"Stuart, enough, dinner is ready, past ready, we can
finish this later." It wasnít a big house.
The conflicted Stuart his satisfied Mother moved to
the dining room. They sat in their assigned chairs,
Adrienne closest to the kitchen door to get whatever was
needed on the table, her mother facing Stuart at the
head of the table, Elsie facing Adrienne on the inside
length. Adrienne kept her eyes down, Elsie looked at her
son, smiling; Stuartís eyes attending to the plate in
front of him; Jerryís eyes down cast but stealthily
flickering from one individual then to another; she knew
she had to gain the upper hand, now and forever. The
expected baby would be a deciding factor, she hoped.
The silence, the indirect glances, the tension, the
tasteless meal choked down.
This was the first of many Elsie contrived conflicts
that would agitate the marriage; Never able to mar the
deep passion, love, devotion, husband to wife, wife to
Dear reader I ask you to bound over the next twenty
years of repetitive events as children grow older and
their parents struggle with everyday life, there was a
world war, rationing, the shortages, the hate of the
Japanese, the scrap iron drives, the War bonds, the
stamps, going to school, dating, movies, adventures into
the fine art theaters, the all that goes on in the time
we spend living through events and maintaining our
balance in lifeís trials. So I venture to move ahead.
Throughout the next years Adrienne never would ask
for anything, better that than the noís she
didnít want to risk hearing: "may I go with you, or
Daddy, will you help me with my homework, will you teach
me to play tennis? But if he asked for example, "Do you
want to go with me to Ö your mother says your chores are
done, itís OK." It was yes, yes, yes.
So on one yes, a visit to the San Fernando Valley her
Daddy, after his client interview, she waited in the
car, ventured to the Dupars for lunch, and then a walk
down the Boulevard. They often walked together, even
just around the neighborhood block, they could talk.
This day they stopped in front of a clothing store,
Leeds. There was an outfit on a mannequin. White long
sleeved button up blouse, red vest, pencil line navy
skirt. It was so right. "Do you want that outfit?" It
was perfect to her taste. It was tried on and bought;
then the homecoming.
Mother furious: "If there are clothes that my
daughter needs I will do the buying." He understood her
style needs, not the sexy womanís styles that her mother
preferred. No more shopping for them ever.
They were together in so many activities but with
great risk to the equilibrium that had to be maintained
in very sensitive relationships: Daddy to daughter,
daughter to mother, mother to husband, mother to son,
mother to wife.
So the common events kept happening, the lives kept
getting older; the actions happened. The child now grown
moves into her own sphere, the younger children matured,
until life took a strange, unexpected turn. This is that
Dying to Live:
Heís at home. Bedridden.
"Jerry, canít breathe! Help me."
"Adrienne call an ambulance" Jerry grabbed the phone,
shoved it into her daughterís
hands. "Be useful once in a while."
"Jerry, no hospital."
"I canít help you, they can."
"Oh please not there, hospitals are for the dying."
"You have to go to the hospital."
"Call Saul! Iím so Ö"
"Heíll meet us there."
The ambulance. Stuart lifted onto the stretcher.
Down the Spanish style spiral staircase shoved into
the vehicle. Jerry rode with him. Adrienne followed in
He was wheeled up to the fourth floor, lifted into
bed; Jerry and Adrienne back against the cold wall. His
doctor arrived, ordered IV nutrients a transfusion,
instructions to the nurses, left.
He was in the Cedarís of Lebanon Hospital. His wife
and three of his good friends business associates were
in the waiting room down the hallway, discussing
Stuartís will. He wasnít even dead yet. A lone person in
his room, standing at the foot of his bed, Adrienne. The
late afternoon sun was the only ingredient to brighten
the room. It was December 18, 1960. He was fifty-six.
At the Cedars
We are here together, Daddy #2 and I:
Daddy: Heís calm, lucid no long in pain, stabilized:
"I never thought that being a first time father was
going to be so damn difficult. I could feel the
antagonism, the cold shoulder, when we met formally at
the Wedding. Oh, itís so cold in this bed; I knew that
as an only child and an indulged one at that, and being
thirty-eight, would present me with a trial by a jury of
one." He was shivering, his entire body was trembling he
didnít know how to get warm. "What did I know of
children; the only experience with children was with my
friends who had family and my observations of their
interactions. I canít see; must find my glasses, where
did I put my glasses? Living with a nine year old who
considered me the stranger, who pined for her own
father, and who was so smart but distant, so stubborn,
so independent, resentful, was some task.
"I did all I could to love and protect her. Jerry
will keep me warm. At every opportunity I took her with
me, advised, she didnít listen, but I still advised. I
told her once that she only seemed to learn by making
her own mistakes, which she did on a regular basis; all
except her educational endeavors.
Her mother was a formidable disciplinarian with her."
He could hear a P.A. announcement, so loud, so
interrupting; "Dr. Silverman report to room Ö "he tried
to muffle the shouts by pushing his head deeper into the
pillow, up closer to his ears. "Jerry yelled at her,
slapped her, more than I ever experienced in my life.
I wanted to intercede but dared not unless asked. And
when I did it could be so wrong." He was so thirsty, his
mouth dry and sore, never had an alcoholic drink in his
entire life, thinking about his two cups of coffee in
the morning with his juices, a little water would be
helpful, but he couldnít find his way to the glass on
the table next to his bed. His joints were so stiff that
he couldnít straighten them out. He felt so alone but
every so often he caught a glimpse of an indistinct
figure moving around his bed.
"You there, who are you, Come here, I need some help.
Why am I so weak, so helpless? Why am I here, where am I
exactly?" His mouth was moving, he was speaking, he
thought, but he uttered not a sound. He never
acknowledged that he was dying. For the past year he had
bared it from his thoughts. His will as it turned out
was a legal mess not what an attorney of his stature
would ever design for his clients. He was far too
intelligent for that. "If I donít up-date my will then I
wonít die." His thinking continued despite the
interruptions of sounds and place. He knew the room was
white and cold and stark. He reached back into his
thoughts, why he was so focused on the step-daughter
theme was something akin to telepathy. "What I could do
well and was allowed to do was to direct her education.
"It would be nine years: ups and downs, of distance
and efforts and reaching out, before we became good
friends. I know I made prodigious blunders; I was
tolerated so there was a level of partial appreciation
but nothing more. My own first daughter was so
different, fun, loving, a bouncy open kid; she was born
in April of 1942, seven days short of our first year of
marriage. Jerry felt that having my own children and
right away, was very important for us. I wasnít a kid
Making love for a baby was so wonderful. I havenít
been able to demonstrate my passion for over a year. We
had so much, so continuous. I told Adrienne on one of
our walks that I could never cheat since I was too busy
at home. "I know. I knowÖI know. My son was born three
years later and then a second daughter nine years later;
unplanned but so welcome.
By that time I had learned so much and although brief
the time with her was so joyous; but I am somehow
compelled to get on with my step-daughter. Adriana. I
must think; I have to get my thoughts in order. I am so
frightened." He let his head sink into the pillow.
He stared up attempting to focus, to vaguely
understand what the bottles hanging above him were,
better not to know, the sight of blood was his fear, it
would make him panic. He could not identify the sound of
wheels along the corridor outside of his room or detect
the delightful fragrances that accompanied this sound;
most of the time the smells that he couldnít detect were
abominable, making the lining of his nostrils burn. The
lining of his nose was as dry and rock-hard as the rest
of his body.
He knew he was in the Cedarís of Lebanon Hospital.
His wife and three of his good friends and business
associates were in the waiting room down the hallway.
They were discussing Stuartís will. He wasnít even dead
yet. A lone person was in his room, standing at the foot
of his bed, Adrienne. The late afternoon sun the only
ingredient to brighten the room. It was December 18,
1960. He was fifty-six. The bottles are hanging
alongside his bed, one dripping in blood and the other
nutrients. When the blood bottles were brought in he
screamed and fainted.
As the day passed into late afternoon his breathing
became rapid, shallow and irregular, Cheyenne-Stokes.
His awareness of this difficult breathing pattern was
not part of his consciousness. He was doing all that his
weakened body would allow. He moved by bits and pieces
as though he were trying to escape pain or the
discomfort of the mattress. His thrashing around made it
difficult to keep his modesty covered. His strong
athletic body had wasted away in the fourteen months he
had been sick. He hadnít been well since his motherís
death October 23 of the previous year. Her death at
seventy-eight in a nursing home for those suffering from
dementia left him in a state of guilt and lingering
For over two years she did not recognize him and when
he visited she would be sitting in a chair, looking into
her lap; her fingers busy tearing apart pieces of cloth.
It tore him apart.
A month later after he and his wife vacationed in
Mexico, he began his decline from being a robust man to
feeling unwell, sores developed on his legs. Never
trusting doctors he refused to go until months later.
His dermatologist sent him for treatment at the Medical
Center at UCLA. It wouldnít have mattered.
His thinking was fading.
"I know, and Iíll understand even more later; I know
even now what a salvation you were in my life. No matter
how I tried to reject you, it was you who set my life
into one of continuity, courage and love. When I think,
how you took me into the protective elements of your
life, a shadow hovering around me, that I didnít realize
You were so subtle matching my motherís harshness
with your indirect ways of evasive actions."
She stood there, walked back and forth along the foot
of the bed, stopping, turning looking "youíre
suffering"; she is bent with grief and confusion. Her
natural and guarded response was to be stoic, no tears;
she knew her second prince was doomed. She remembered
that for the last year her mother had had to insist
quite forcibly for him to visit the leading physicians
at UCLA, and later on even as the disease was taking
over, she had pushed him out the door every morning to
get to his office.
After months and months of evaluations and tests, he
was diagnosed with the incurable Scleroderma; he was
turning into stone. His immune system had crashed.
"Daddy, try to be still, donít fight so." As Adriana
watched she felt she had to speak to him of all the
memories that she could conjure up. Maybe he would hear
her, but she could at least hear herself.
"Our first battle was a test of the strength of
wills. It was a draw. I didnít move the cardboard box of
grass cuttings off of the lawn before I turned on the
sprinklers you were furious; you had to help with the
manual job of transferring the mess into the trash can.
I pleaded that it had been too heavy, then that I
forgot, I hadnít; you didnít believe either story but
you had to get in there and work.
"Then the next calamity was when you sold my best
friend, baby bike, and although you got me a new and
wonderful Schwinn. I remember being hysterical, I donít
remember why but what I do remember saying Ďyou didnít
let me say good-by and you didnít ask me.í That second
bike became my companion for so many years until it was
stolen from the Wilshire May Company bike rack.
I was there having lunch with Aunt Willa. I never
locked my bike. Months later, I saw my stripped down
bike in a bike shop on La Brea. I could identify it by
the scored bolts under the seat, my clumsy attempt at
mechanics; I ran home and told you.
"In a flash we were in the car, to the shop where you
confronted the owner, got the name and address of the
man who had brought it in. God, you went there, demanded
the return or the cops. I rode my bike home. You bought
me a lock."
And the late afternoon faded to early evening. The
light becoming dim.
Her tone of voice was soft it continued to relate one
story after the other. He was calmer. She moved to the
side of the bed and covered him, still talking. His
breathing seemed more regular, his coloring not as pale
as it had been several hours before; her hands resting
on the bed very close to his left shoulder. She told him
about the time when he asked during dinner one evening,
"What did you do in school today?" She hated that
question but related her good times with the building of
miniature railroad cars. He countered with what about
reading and writing and arithmetic?
She had no answer for this inquiry, best tell him
"We are building a train station in our room. Last
month we built an American Indian village." He said no
more. The next day he visited the school, Hancock Park,
was shocked to learn that it was a hands-on progressive
school. The very next day he went to the Los Angeles
School District Offices, secured an intra-district
transfer to the fundamental Carthy Center School. "You
know Daddy; you never drove me there no matter the
It was a long and lonely walk." And on an on
recalling: going with him to the Subway Terminal
Building, given fifty-cents to spend turned loose until
lunch time, being paid five cents each for addressing
his business Christmas Card envelopes in his office,
shopping together in the San Fernando Valley, Mother was
really angry when I came home with a new outfit: navy
blue pencil line skirt, white tailored blouse, red vest
"Iíll buy my daughter her clothes."
"Or going to Dupars coffee shop, the Beverly Hills
Tennis Club on Wednesday afternoons, there meeting
Hollywood stars like Larry Adler, John Garfield, Joan
Crawford, tennis at the Doheny Estates on Sunday
mornings, Friday nights at the Hollywood Legion to watch
boxing, the trips to the theater that had only the news
reel of the week, the trip to Sacramento when he was
making a legislative presentation, the allowance, their
private walks away from the house, the one and only
spanking with the brush and how he apologized, it did
hurt him more than it hurt her; mother had insisted that
he do the dirty deed."
"Did you know that not adopting me when I asked, I
think I was sixteen, was so hurtful; I wanted to be one
in your family; you patiently explained that you never
wanted my own father to be relieved of his
responsibility. I understand now butÖ I wanted it so."
"I need to apologize for not learning all the street
names as fast as you wanted, remembering how to say, La
Jolla with the H sound, and blocking out the answer to
the every evening question at the dinner table, "What do
you call the houses that the Swiss live in? Itís funny
now but it paralyzed me then.
"You directed me in my studies, paid me a dollar for
every ĎAí. You wisely disallowed my attending Bennington
College even on a complete scholarship; you knew I
wouldnít fit into that rarified crowd. You sent me to
UCLA thatís another story to tell you later"
She talked of his being a man of great predictable
habits. The morning weigh in, his frugal nature:
re-sharpening his razor blades in a small hand held
device, dinner at exactly five oíclock, his fifteen
minute naps when he returned from the office, daily
morning calls to his stock broker, the grocery shopping
only buying items on sale, and then his great sense of
"I wanted to smoke a cigar like you did. I must have
been ten years old. We made a deal, yes, I could smoke
one of your cigars but I had to smoke it all, finish it
to the very end. I began by biting off the end, and with
you holding the match I took a big drag. Puff, puff,
puff. I was sitting at the breakfast nook bench. The
more I puffed the prouder I became and then the sicker.
Pretty soon I was lying down on the bench determined to
win the contest. You sat with me, cheering me on and
then I had to get to the bathroom. When I returned you
were smiling, I couldnít help myself, I laughed too,
especially when you told me that inhaling was not part
of the art, Ďyou didnít tell me, you didnít ask.í
"And remember when Richard was taken back to the
hospital for his circumcision? The procedure was not
done at birth since Richard had broken out in a terrible
full body rash as a reaction to the drops put into his
That evening you cut off a piece of chicken skin and
with a great flourish presented it to Grandma, ĎThis is
youíre your grandson.í And always winning the
competition with Grandma as to who got the best price on
She remembered the horrendous disharmony that her
mother and his mother had and all the hateful,
possessiveness that his mother demonstrated, her lies
and cunning. She remembered but did not, could not talk
about any of those events.
She needed to walk; down the hallway and around the
corner. Red Skelton was a patient just two doors down.
But the walk was brief and she retuned to her Daddyís
side. Before she could collect herself to resume her
talking to him his body rose in a frightful arc, began
terrible thrashing around, there were gasps and cries,
and he stretched out the full length of the bed. He was
quiet again. His eyes closed; there was a slight
fluttering beneath his eyelids.
"The relationship so acriÖ acriÖ acriÖ um... monious
my mother, my wife; loved them both. Jerry was
ahÖahÖpatient. Then enough, I canít remember, what was
itÖwhat triggered this final schÖschÖsch,..ism, we had a
row over it, out of our home bodily couldnít come back.
No return. Breathing so difficult. Stock market must
call. call. What is the number, where is the phone? The
kids, her apartment to visit with them. Mother, fell,
broke her arm. Stupid doctors. Mother in the den allowed
visits later. Stealing from me, supported her, gave her
money, maintained. Care home, her purse; uncashed
checks, rolls of cash, trash jammed inÖ unbelieving
devastatedÖ call from landlordÖ neglecting my mother,
was wandering, picking up men, to the apartmentÖ
Couldnít believe. ApartmentÖ bottles, cans, trash,
bed, her clothes everywhere. Lights. Mother a sight; a
mess. Dirty. Hardly knew me. My God! Itís so dim in
here, turn on the lights. Called her doctor, had to
confine her. I couldnít go alone that place; Adriana,
mother didnít know me, she waited in the car; needed
Her grandchildren disliked her; hid out, avoided,
Richard raided her purse for candy. Joanie, Grandson, I
must Ötennis tomorrow, gin rummy on Ödinner at five.
"My mother difficult times; she needed me. Marriage,
my father a hideousÖmisÖmis taÖ ah dreadful man; fucking
Ö maid abandonÖing us. He was old. Told Ö me Ö good
partÖ me. Daily visiting my way home married to Lillian.
WelÖwelÖumÖco.., liked Lillian, family. Not Jerry. A
threatÖ Mother love romantic love, smoke, mirrors of the
psych...psychoÖpsychoÖuh, logical crap.
Mother poÖpoÖssess..sss..ive not sick. Oh! miss her;
need. Mother, Mother, come. Know me. Jerry love, oh, oh.
ForÖ.forÖiveÖleaving so soon."
His swollen hands were not moving; he was taking deep
irregular breaths, more exhales than inhales. Is this
how it is to die? Then he raised his arms, despite the
restraining tubes and needles; saw his hand, "Where Ö my
ring?" rolled over on one side, leaned on the bed rails,
struggled, pushed himself to a sitting position,
struggled with his covers, dropped his arms to the side
of his body, became rigid, uttered a discordant
heartbreaking cry, fell back, his head dropped onto the
pillow, then he seemed to take a deep soft breath of
relief, exhaled loudly, licked his upper lip. His eyes
opened, he looked surprised then delighted, smiled, his
face relaxed. His body relaxed. He was motionless.
Adrienne covered his body. She reached out one last
time to stroke his forehead, moved to the foot of the
bed; grasp the metal rail, one last look. He had
She ran to the waiting room, they rushed to his room.
There was no need for haste.
Mother struggled on, Adrienne went on with living.
The other children, then grandchildren who would never
have the joy of his company, grew up lived on. We all
continued living with our memories.
1920 Ė 1960 New York, Kansas, Los Angeles, California
Jerry: Passion - security
Albert: Success & affection
Mildred: Home and family
Adriana: Step-Daughter: Love & understanding