Actually, she found Harold Carlisle, a James Dean look-alike whom she met while still a high school student. He was her dose of reality. He worked at a gas station near the school. Though he was twenty years older than her, she fell in love with him.
"I was so stupid," she told me. "He was a bum."
They married right after she graduated and on August 17, 1958, less than nine months after she accepted her diploma, she gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Belinda. C'est moi! I arrived in the world via special delivery, otherwise known as a C-section. According to my mom, I was too large for her to push out naturally. Apparently size was an issue for me from day one.
Two years later, my mom gave birth to a boy, Butch; and two years after him, she had my sister Hope.
Even now she doesn't talk much about those early years. From the little she has revealed, she was in over her head as both a wife and a new mother. She's described it as a time when she learned "the tricks of the trade." Translation: Barely out of her teens, she was juggling three small children in a cramped Hollywood apartment, making do without much money, and trying to figure out life with a much older man.
According to her, my father wasn't happy about having children. I can sort of understand his position as he was an older man who impregnated a high school girl, married her, and then found himself in a situation he may not have envisioned for himself. Why did two more children follow if he was against having a family? Good question. To this day, my mom is reluctant to speak about those early years. She has too many wounds that are still tender and raw.
When I was five and a half, we moved to Thousand Oaks, a fifty-mile drive northwest over the hills from our Hollywood apartment. It got us out of the city and into a fairly rural area with dairy farms and post-Korean War housing developments. Our neighborhood was the low end of working-class and we were among the poorest of the poor, though at my age I didn't know rich from poor.
We moved into a small, pink and brown 1950s tract home at the end of a cul-de-sac. The street was lined with trees; I thought it was beautiful. The backyard was a hardscrabble mix of grass and dirt with a cheap metal swing set lodged in the middle that was like an island of fun. The problem was getting to it. My dad had an extremely territorial pet rooster that roamed the yard with an ogrelike temper and threatened us kids whenever we went back there.
My dad had a similar temperament. He didn't threaten us, but he left no doubt that he ruled the roost. Even on good days, there was always an undercurrent of tension. I know my parents could barely afford the house, but that was only one of their problems. My mom didn't trust my dad, or his explosive temper. Sadly, I felt the same way after I was literally caught in the middle of one of their more physical arguments, with one of them pulling my legs and the other my arms until it seemed I might split into two pieces.
Our move into the Valley coincided with my dad working at the GM plant in Van Nuys, though he didn't last there long before he started a carpet- cleaning business. I don't know whether he left or was laid off. I remember my mom hand-painting a logo on the side of his van. It was like the christening of an ocean liner because after that he spent most of the time on the road.