EXCERPT: Rosanne Cash's 'Composed'

Two years after Kathy's birth, my sister Cindy was born, and soon after that we moved from Memphis to Southern California. My sister Tara was born shortly after we settled in Encino, in the San Fernando Valley. My mother's fourth pregnancy and delivery were difficult for her. She carried Tara for ten months and endured a hard sixteen-hour labor. After the birth of her fourth daughter, my mother, in tears, informed my father that she was finished with childbearing, even though she had initially said she wanted six children. My father agreed, although he harbored a secret desire for a son, which he finally got when I was fifteen and he was married to June, not my mother.

My parents bought Johnny Carson's house on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino. My most vivid memory of the three years we lived there was of the day a film crew showed up in our living room to tape a show called Here's Hollywood. My mother was extremely nervous, and we children were made to dress up in poufy dresses, white ankle socks, and black patent leather shoes, with our hair pulled tightly back into bows. We had to sit absolutely still and silent on the sofa next to my parents while the camera was trained on us and the interviewer spoke to them. Then we were sent outside while Mom and Dad were interviewed alone.

The whole experience was profoundly unsettling to me. It may have been the first time that I registered – at age five – how it felt to be truly angry. I didn't like how my mother changed for the camera, showing only a social veneer that didn't represent her true self at all, and I didn't like it that my dad had even allowed them in our house. I recognized the falsity, and silently rebelled against the intrusion. Thus began a lifelong wariness of journalists.

But I loved the house.

It had a pool and a big yard, and the room I shared with my sisters had Alice in Wonderland murals on the wall behind the twin beds. We lived on the corner, with a school crossing in front of our house. Every morning and afternoon a crossing guard showed up in her car and waited for the school bus. As it arrived, she got out, slipped her plastic orange neon vest over her clothes, picked up her little stop sign, and positioned herself at the crosswalk to guide the children across the street.

This was the most fascinating ritual in the world to me, and the first few times I saw her I ran out to speak to her. She was very kind to me, but after several days, when my mother saw me actually get into the crossing guard's car to talk to her, she forbade me to pay her any more visits. At age four, seriously disappointed and with great longing, I stationed myself in the picture window at the front of the house twice a day to observe her and the children from afar. Part of the romance for me was the older children, for I badly wanted to go to school.

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