We spent the summer of 1964 in Shaler Lane once again. Robert’s
mother invited Marisol and Alfredo, the two oldest children of the four
he'd fathered in Costa Rica, to visit her in Cambridge. They stayed three
weeks, sleeping at the apartment and coming over for dinner most evenings,
so I had five people at the table plus our three children. I think it
was good for them to visit the States, and we did a few outings together.
Robert grumbled about their showing up for dinner (he could have
offered to help), and looking back on it perhaps it was an imposition,
but I had to cook anyway. Robert was always protective of me in this way.
I have never figured out his motives, but he was loath to let anyone else,
even our kids, to take advantage of me.
and Laura at the Cambridge apartment, 1964
We flew to Santa Barbara late summer. California has a special mystique
among foreigners, probably thanks to Hollywood, and I was itching to finally
see the golden state. Los Angeles looked wonderful from the window of
our descending flight, with palm trees, the sparkling Pacific stretching
out to the west. The beach would turn out to be a disappointment, nothing
like the endless white sands and blue water of Brazil, but I didn't know
it then. The chairman of the political science department, Henry Turner,
and his wife Mary greeted us at the Toonerville terminal in Santa Barbara.
They waited in the car while I bought a few provisions in the supermarket
before dropping us off at Caleta Avenue in Goleta, a house belonging to
Peter Merkl who was away on sabbatical. I probably overbought of the cheap
fruit at the market. Mary Turner donated a homemade lasagna for our dinner
that night. Driving over to return her dish next day, Robert stepped hard
on the brake of our rental car, mistaking it for a clutch, and sent everything
hurling forward. We were all right, but the dish was not. We made a detour
to buy Mary a replacement.
The Merkl house would be our home for the next four months, until December
when they were due to return and we would move into a place of our own.
I’m afraid werather neglected their manicured yard, oblivious to
how California gardens gobbled up water. The children splashed around
in the Merkls’ reflecting pond and watched Outer Limits on TV. Laura
started kindergarten in the fall and reportedly stood alone in a corner
while the other children played during recess. We were called for a parent-teacher
conference in which they recommended Laura see a psychologist. Robert
and I agreed that it was a preposterous idea.
The reflecting pool
In order for Robert
to be within walking distance of the campus, we gave up on a one-acre
property in Rancho Embarcadero and settled for the little four-bedroom
ranch house on Newport Drive, all of $20K. I think our lodgings were the
humblest of any faculty family. This would be our home for five years.
It was brand-new, with fresh paint and new carpeting, as well as the new
furniture we acquired in one grand shopping trip to the store on Fairview
Avenue. But the developers only planted minimal landscaping, a few bushes
in the front. The back would remain dusty (or muddy) adobe for several
years. With not even a concrete landing, the kids stepped on dirt right
outside the dining room door, played in dirt, and constantly tracked dirt
back in. I made a practice of repainting the dining room wall every couple
of months, but the beautiful white drapes soon became adobe colored. I
bugged Robert to get us a patio until he yelled at me—a rare thing
for him—but he eventually relented and called in a contractor to
pour two concrete patios. Grass (or what passed for grass in our backyard)
would come much later.
Newport Drive, Goleta
Robert went into
a crisis that summer, before classes began at UCSB. He had set himself
the goal of writing, by the end of the year, a trilogy called States and
Empires, overlooking the fact that he had to prepare three new courses
as well. One afternoon I heard howls coming from the bedroom. The children
asked what that noise was—surely they knew it was their Dad crying—but
I brushed them off. His cries brought up frightening memories of Mother’s
screaming sessions when I was a child, and I dealt with it as I did then—by
doing nothing. Robert wanted comfort, no doubt, but I was in no position
to offer it. He was supposed to be the strong one, anyway.
I was five months pregnant with Eric at Thanksgiving, before our move
to Newport Drive. Robert chided me for gaining too much weight (he had
a horror of fat women), and I told him, You want me to lose weight, you’ve
got it. This was diet as defiance, and if it damaged my health, so much
the better: he'd have something to feel guilty about. The Metrecal label
suggested a 900-calorie diet, and that’s how little I ate for six
weeks. I lost weight through Thanksgiving and Christmas and weighed in
at 113 pounds after Eric’s birth. I don’t suppose many doctors
would recommend it, but that pregnancy turned out much easier from my
losing every last scrap of fat. I would weigh under 120 until I started
sedentary work in 1982.
Eric was compelled to make his appearance by induced labor, 5:30 pm on
March 25, 1965. His birth was heralded by the famous burned leg of lamb.
I had readied several meals so the family wouldn't starve while I was
out of commission, including a lamb roast. Robert put the roast in the
oven to warm it up a bit before going to visit Eric and me in the hospital.
However, he left the oven on broil at 550 degrees. An hour later, they
drove up to a house with smoke coming out in tendrils around every window
and door. The creepy smell of burned flesh permeated carpet, drapes and
furniture for weeks.
Little Eric, two months and six months of age
Elizabeth, El Capitan Park
Elizabeth flew in from Boston, ostensibly to help out, really to visit.
Her bad back, she said, made it impossible to babysit the children for
even an hour. She stayed in a rented furnished apartment in Isla Vista
for three weeks. She had adjusted well to widowhood, after the initial
shock, and did more traveling after losing Laurence than in her whole
life prior to his death: to California several times, and foreign places
like Bogota and Geneva to pave the way for us.
street gang, with Cathy Huff
Deborah with Richard, El Capitan Park
Laura out front
Cathy Huff and Laura on The Logs
A pile of tree carcasses in the field
behind our house, known as The Logs, the kids' favorite playground despite
spiders and king snakes. The Logs dated back to the bulldozing of the
area, the crews having felled and partially burned a number of mature
eucalyptus. Cathy Huff, the children's usual playmate, lived across the
street from us. She always looked terribly sad to me, but maybe it was
physical, because a year or so later she was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.
Her little brother was retarded and a behavior problem. The mother would
chase him up and down the street, a piece of fence board in hand. She
used it, too. She explained that hand spanking wasn't strong enough.