Did I choose my birthdate and time to come into this life on Earth? Or did someone or something else? Or was it an accident, without meaning except whatever I or someone else assign it?
The date was July 7, 1952 − 52 adding up to 7, July the 7th month, making three 7’s if you like number games as I do. Maybe it’s meaningless. It was also a full moon. And a Monday. And it was smack in the middle of Cancer, also known as Moon Child, ruled by the Moon. I didn’t realize all these moons and sevens until I was in my 50s, dabbling in astrology for about a month before tiring of it. A moon phase chart on a NASA or Navy website shows that the Moon was precisely “full” at 4:33 that morning, and I was born at 4:25, just 8 minutes earlier. With 1,440 minutes in a day, eight minutes is about 5/1,000ths of that, 5/1,000ths of a degree of perfection, pretty dang close. (And I wonder if the full moon times on that site are when the Moon is most perfectly opposite the Sun relative to Earth, or if it’s when it appears that way from Earth, which is actually 8 minutes later, since that’s the time it takes for the Sun’s light to strike the Earth – in which case I was born with even more eerie precision during the absolute fullness – for whatever that’s worth. Of course, there were children born all over the planet at that time, so I know it doesn’t make me special. But it’s interesting.
Not long after that discovery, I learned that July and August that year were the two highest months of UFO activity ever recorded in world history; it was 5 days after my birth that UFO’s cruised over the White House and made that cover of LIFE Magazine a classic. When I learned of this, not long after I learned of the 3 sevens and 3 moons, my friends and I locked eyes together and said, “Oooo-eeee-ooooh.”
My father’s father was a veterinarian when my father grew up in Hollywood, California. My grandfather took care of the pets of many of the stars, and was the veterinarian of Rin Tin Tin. And people like Jack Webb (Sgt. Joe Friday [“Just the facts, Ma’am”] on Dragnet) was a fine cartoonist before he became an actor, and was a regular guest at my father’s home, leaving behind a few large, colored cartoons about times in my father’s family’s home, especially around the pool table. The family home had a large atrium in the center looking up to a second-story balustrade that circled the atrium with access to the many bedrooms. When my father was in high school, he bought a car identical to the school principal’s, one of the nicest cars in town. My grandfather was a 33rd degree Mason.
My mother’s mother had been an itinerant farm worker alongside her itinerant construction worker husband during the Great Depression. When he was killed in a construction accident, she had two young daughters, age 8 and 9 to raise. With help from her Mormon family, she rented an ice cream kiosk on the streets of Phoenix and later Riverside, California, and then Van Nuys, California. Her great success in this business was attributed to her baking: she woke early every morning to bake pies and fresh bread, then offered, besides just ice cream, pie and sandwiches on fresh bread – which sold out every day. Soon she was offered another business proposition. Local bankers had an empty building and a vision they asked her to fulfill: To create a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, a conference room, and a walk-up window for selling pies. For the next 25 years, she managed almost the same staff from the day she opened until the day she closed, and I remember the line out the door at lunchtime, and the line down the sidewalk for the pies.
Her restaurant was the meeting place for the Chamber of Commerce and all the movers and shakers. I remember a man, Mr. Hyman, who came every single day at lunch – very interesting, because that’s a time few restaurant owners leave if they can avoid it – but he came every day, and she would break off her words mid-sentence as soon as he appeared in the door, and immediately rise to go take a walk with him. One day while visiting on vacation, my mother hauled me up quickly to walk with my grandmother to meet him, but he was totally uninterested and simply walked away with my grandmother. “Every day,” my mother told me, “he walks with her, and she has never told anyone what he says. I assume it’s about business, but he sure has a brusque manner, and they never miss a day.” Today I believe that my grandmother might have been a very early mind control subject – yes, mind control was being practiced even before the late 40’s – but I’m getting ahead of my story.
My first memory is of our apartment in student housing on the campus of UC Davis. The memory I should never have told anyone, as it is of my mother expressing extreme frustration, throwing down her spatula beside the stove and walking out the door with the words, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back!” Lots of young mothers, isolated in America’s nuclear family, were frustrated and would become addicted to Valium, soap operas, and such. I remember my mother taking lots of naps and my being responsible for keeping younger siblings out of trouble. Quite the job for a five year old, and I grew up with an authoritative speaking voice and strong sense of responsibility. The evening I couldn’t stop my sister from jumping off the bathtub edge into the tub, slipping, of course, and hitting her eyebrow on the metal soap dish protruding from the wall, from which she arose screaming with blood pouring down her face, I was terrified that I was going to be serious trouble. I remember no trouble to me personally, though my sister was taken to the hospital for stitches, but I remember the terror of thinking I’d face it for having failed terribly at my duty. I was ever after vigilant about fulfilling my duties completely, still today part of my neuroses. A decade or so ago, I learned that UC Davis was one of the sites of CIA experiments in mind control, under the guise of Human Ecology – where I lived the first 14 months of my life.
From the time I was old enough to say my name, I’ve been asked if I was related to “the President.” When I was a child, he was The President, but even afterward, he was still “The President” when the name Eisenhower was mentioned. I used to say Yes, and people would ask what the relation was, and when I said he was my father’s second cousin, people would clearly show their disappointment that second cousin wasn’t all that close. So I learned to say, “Not close,” and they’d ask, “How close?” or “Do you know the relation?” and I’d answer, “He’s my father’s second cousin,” and they’d respond with delight, “Oh, that’s close!” Whatever. One day someone told me that Ike and Mamie “always” visit Scottsdale, where we lived from the time I was 9 till 18, and they were visiting that very weekend, so this person wanted to know if our families ever got together. It was a shock to realize that this somewhat close relation had never, to my knowledge, ever acknowledged us; I tried not to be hurt by this information, justifying that a President must limit how many people can get close to him.
Every child thinks that their life is normal, so I never questioned that, at age 5, I had to have my straight hair permed like Shirley Temple’s, and my nails filed into perfect arcs – long enough to “see them on the other side!” the other little girls on the preschool playground noticed. I thought that was the only way I was different until the day a little boy jumped up in preschool at the announcement that we’d have tomato juice at break time: “I don’t like tomato juice!” he shouted, gleeful at the attention he’d attracted. With those words, my whole worldview was struck by lightning, and I fully expected God or at least the teachers to respond to this child who had an opinion contrary to whatever the adults had decided. I’d never known a child could assert himself about things like this. I stared, frozen, waiting for the terrible reaction I was certain must come, but there was none. This stuck in my memory as one of the most shocking events of my young life – at least those I remember.
There’s a lot I remember of my childhood – hundreds of events, I estimate, from my early years: caring for siblings, learning to embroider and crochet before kindergarten, learning to read, relatives visiting, holidays, different homes, yards, driveways, flower beds, preschool events, neighbors, entertaining myself alone, the escapades and fights of my siblings, watching and envying the children who walked to school outside our picture window, and finally a dozen or more memories of kindergarten, where all the work was easy, even though I was one of the youngest in class, and I was asked by the teacher to help the other children who were slower, and I enjoyed that.
After kindergarten, I remember almost nothing until 3rd grade. And one of those memories is weird – about painting a tree blown over at 45 degrees, edged with black, with black storm clouds, black wind and black leaves blowing by. I suspect it’s related to a train trip I took with my mother at about that age. It was just we two, leaving my father alone with three children between 0 and 3 – I can’t explain that, unless it was a very special event which no one has ever talked about. I asked my mother recently why we took that train trip and where; she answered as if lying: her voice went high as if it was totally insignificant that we went to see my aunt in New Mexico. Why, she never said. By then I’d learned not to ask too many questions about my childhood, because most of the time, I’d be asked in return, “Why do you ask?” I gathered that it was something my mother didn’t want to talk about. (My father almost never spoke to me that I recall, except to say “Smile!” while taking holiday photos.) I felt fortunate to glean as much as I did.
Other disturbing things I recall might be related to my two years of amnesia, or maybe they’re not: nightmares and weird sexual dreams, even at a very young age. One nightmare had my father dressed all in black with a black top hat, sitting atop a black carriage, whipping the black horses as we bounced along in the night, pulling behind us a circus caravan of train cars filled with wild animals. He whipped the horses to go faster and faster, even though the road was bumpy and it was night. Suddenly, the cars all bounced apart and some tipped over, and I found myself alone in the dark woods, in danger of being eaten alive. Another memorable dream was of Porky Pig on stage at the end of the cartoon, and just before the curtain closed, he pulled down his pants and showed his female naked pudendum – and I was mortified and woke in a panic.
One day, I found myself in the back seat of a sedan between two men, with two more in front, all in khaki uniforms with short military haircuts, which I stared at for awhile. The car had a “two-tone aqua-marine” interior (why do I even remember that phrase?), and I was nearly out of my body with emotions I could not name, but I tried and said things to myself like, “They lied. It wasn’t what they told me.” But I wasn’t just confused; I was enraged, almost out of my body, with a sense of betrayal, for which I had no words. Someone had given me a wind-up toy, a pressed-tin beagle dog, painted brown, black, and white, with sad eyes, and a crank on the side and a music box inside that played, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” When the men dropped me off in front of my home, it was another disorienting experience. I’d never been dropped off there; until then, friends and family had always come in the driveway, and we all entered the kitchen door. But here I was, being dropped off alone at the front. It felt surreal to climb out the car alone with my dog while one man held open the door; then I stepped up onto the curb, then into the squishy grass of the easement, then to the sturdy sidewalk again and up the front walk to open the front door. Later my mother would say this never happened. “I’ve always said you have a vivid imagination, and you mix up your dreams with memory,” she would say – a few key times in my life. I never heard her say it of my siblings. But she would say it to me at strange times, even when I had evidence, and even when the thing I remembered seemed insignificant, or easily provable, so that I didn’t know why she would choose to assert that I was wrong.
One of those times was when I remembered the student housing apartment at UC Davis. I had drawn a floor plan, and told her there was a clouded glass window next to the front door, right opposite the tiny kitchen. Between the kitchen and the living room, the line between the linoleum and carpet was at an angle, and a red chair stood at an angle against the nearest wall, leaving a crevice on one side where a small child could squeeze in. I got this far in my description when I saw my mother’s face had fallen into an expression of distress, when she stubbornly and with finality said, “You couldn’t remember that – you were only 14 months old when we moved from there.” She hadn’t said the apartment wasn’t like that, only that I couldn’t remember. “But, Mom,” I responded, “you just pointed to my floor plan and implied I’d drawn it correctly.” With that, her face trembled, and she looked into the space above my head and rose from the table and stood looking out the window. Then, in a sing-song voice she said words that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck: “I’ve always said you had a vivid imagination, and you mixed up your dreams with memories.” That sing-song voice, I realized, I heard only a few times in my life, and always in a situation like this, and those same words.
When I was seven, right in the middle of my two years of amnesia, I remember driving to Van Nuys with the entire family and being left “for awhile” with my grandmother and aunt, even though they both worked full-time in the restaurant. I “helped” my aunt, and watched her type up the daily specials, four groupings of words, all centered in one quarter of the page, each line centered according to a formula she explained to me, of counting the letters in a line and backspacing from a particular point half that number (I loved it!). She used a brown typewriter ribbon and two sheets of brown carbon paper to get three copies of each page of four, which she cut into twelve quarters before starting on another twelve – and did that every day. I’d only seen black ribbon and black carbon paper before, and I asked about the brown, to which my aunt responded proudly that they always did things special at the restaurant. Indeed they did. It was known for home-cooked food, “not just whatever can be thrown on a grill” as my mother put it, with a tone of pride. My favorite lunch was the “finger sandwiches” with fruit salad. The staff made egg salad, tuna salad and chicken salad sandwiches, on fresh-baked white bread, trimmed off the crust, and cut them into thirds, serving one of each on a large plate. On the side was the beautifully dramatic fruit salad – fresh fruit tossed with whipped cream, heaped fluffy and high on the plate with a wedge of pineapple standing up from the center like a feather on a fancy lady’s hat. It was the most elegant meal, and I was always proud to order it.
I watched my aunt change out the bar of soap that went into the grinding dispenser in the restroom. I was very happy attending my aunt that summer and intrigued by all the inventions of the world and all the things there were to learn, liking counting letters to center typing. I also learned that summer how to use the cash register and make change, so when the restaurant wasn’t busy, my aunt stood beside me while I punched the beautiful cash register keys: each with a clear bold number on top inside a silver circle frame, ten in a column, from 9 down to 0, repeated in five perfect columns, the dollars in brown and the cents in cream, for tallying numbers from $.01 to $999.99, easy to understand. It was easy to punch in the customer’s totals from their receipt, punch in the tax, hit Total, and announce the amount almost as quickly as the adult could. I also learned to make change: starting with the total, take pennies to add up to the nearest number that ends with a five or zero, add nickels or dimes to get to the nearest quarter, and add quarters to get to the nearest dollar, and add dollars to get to whatever bills they’d given me. Then repeat the counting in the customer’s hand. Customers never failed to exclaim their surprise and ask me how old I was. “Seven,” I said proudly.
I have no memory of my family returning to get me that summer. Maybe I was returned by the men in the sedan. Or may it was later when I remember waking up at home, absolutely thrilled, and feeling as though I’d been sleeping “for a very long time!” – which is exactly what I told my mother when I ran to her in the kitchen. “I’m awake! I’m awake! And I’ve been asleep for a long, long time!” I saw the look on her face, and felt she was as surprised and happy as I was, but I could also see she was startled by my exclamation, and immediately denied it. I saw again the thing I was trained to ignore, and I said nothing about it: her lying. “No, you were only asleep for the night,” she said, but she said it with “that voice” I knew, and she wasn’t looking at me. I didn’t understand it, but at least I was home again.
Within a few months, we’d move from our tiny pink stucco bungalow into a large custom home in an exclusive neighborhood where Stuart Udall, Secretary of the Interior of the United States, and a Mormon, had a “second home,” on a lot that abutted our lot, or very nearly. His cousin, Addison Udall, was my pediatrician. They would both come to our Christmas party that year, and when I told my doctor at the party that my father gave me “my boosters” (very unlikely, so the question remains: what was he giving me?), the doctor and my father exchanged silent glances I’ve never forgotten, my doctor’s surprise, my father’s dread, my doctor’s evil stare toward my father. I could be reading something into this entirely wrong, but I think that moment abruptly changed our family life. By the end of the school year, when we’d been in the house less than eight months, and I know my mother loved it, we’d sell it and move to Paradise Valley, Arizona, by way of Phoenix, which seemed like the worst place in the world to live.