My Dear Aunt Bonnie,
I have been feeling nostalgic lately about my life as a child and many of my greatest memories come from the time we lived in your home with your family. I do not recall exactly how many years we lived there with you but it seems like there were so many memories packed into the short time we shared a home. I am not sure what order these memories actually occurred in, but here they are, nonetheless.
The first thing that comes to mind is your address – ever etched into my memory in a rhyming, sing-songy sort of way: 27-32, Gramercy Avenue.
On our flight from Des Moines to LAX I was filled with anticipation. An anxious, giddy, nervous, excitement for what we would find. I was certain that the airport would be filled with celebrities and that movies would be filmed on the street we would live on. Although neither of these were true, I was not disappointed. I remember that the first thing you asked my mom was how she was feeling and when she signed the word for 'tired' you asked if that meant that her bra straps had broken. I laughed right out loud and knew then that I was going to love being around you – you always made us laugh.
I remember that your house was surrounded by other houses with kids. Across the street there was one house with a tire swing and another with a tree house and next door there was a girl my age whose name was common but spelled in a unique way (was it Aimee?) and she had a playhouse in her backyard. We could walk in one direction and get to a grocery store where candy bars were 5 for $1 but I only ever had enough money to buy a pack of Sixlets for a dime. If we walked another way we could browse the Hello Kitty store where I loved to admire the pencil boxes but could only afford erasers and pencils. I loved that there was a park and our school (Torrance Elementary) within walking distance as well.
So many small recollections come to mind. Jami played us her My Turn On Earth record and Chip and I still have every song from that musical memorized. Dana introduced us to Dr. Demento and we still have a good number of those songs committed to memory as well – including the one she helped Chip and I write about our dog, Tiffany, that we left behind in Iowa when we made the move to California. I will never forget when a man, wanted for robbery or some such thing, had escaped into our neighborhood and was found in the shed in your backyard. I was scared to sleep on the couch by the front window after this happened so Dana and Jami let me sleep on the floor in their room. Once, when our families went to Denny’s for dinner, the waitress accidentally spilled a drink (it was either very hot or very cold) on you (or was it my mom?) and we all ate for free because of it.
I have so many crazy memories of Uncle Dick. Chocolate ice cream will put hair on your chest. Don’t swallow watermelon seeds or you’ll grow a whole one in your stomach. I always believed these things he would tell us. It took a good, long time for me to eat watermelon or chocolate ice cream again. I didn’t care for either one until I was well into my twenties – and chocolate ice cream is still a little iffy. I remember how Chip and I made Indian costumes from paper bags one Thanksgiving and Uncle Dick pretended not to recognize us all day long. We loved that.
Torrance Elementary was, by far, my favorite school of my childhood. I remember singing “Choosing” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” at the talent show. We went on field trips to Chinatown, Griffith Park Observatory, Olvera Street, the La Brea Tar Pits and the Queen Mary. I will never forget that my first friend at the school was a boy who tried to stump everyone with story riddles which he would share on the playground. No one ever knew the answers and thought he was quite clever until I came along. I quickly recognized these as mysteries from the Encyclopedia Brown series of books and could answer every one. I think he befriended me so I wouldn’t give away his secret.
I remember the day I was at school and thought I was experiencing my first California earthquake but it turned out I was just very, very sick and was sent to the hospital for quite some time. (My mom still doesn’t recall the exact reason why I was hospitalized, only that it had to do with my white blood cell count. So that is what I remember, too.) When I finally returned home my room was completely dust-free – even my stuffed animals had been washed.
My best memory of all was the day that the missionaries came to your house to find our family. (If I remember correctly, Jami had referred them to us while she was in the MTC.) Chip and I were playing out front and saw them coming to the door, signing to each other. They asked if our parents were home and that was the beginning of our family’s conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We took the missionary discussions in your home and started attending the Deaf ward while living there, too. The missionaries taught us to pray and hold Family Home Evening there in your front room. We were eventually baptized and my life was changed from there. I remember realizing right away, as I came out of the water on my baptism day, that I was the same Gerberta yet also somehow completely different.
I remember returning to Gramercy Avenue as a teenager, wanting to show some friends the place where I first lived when we moved to California, and feeling almost empty when I saw that the house was no longer there but had been replaced by condos or townhouses or some such thing. I felt like something had been taken from me without my permission – but eventually I realized that the memories are what we carry with us. The memories are what matter.
At the time, as a child, I did not give much thought to the sacrifice involved when your family opened up your home for our family to come and live there with you. However, now I understand that it could not have been an easy thing to do. I want you to know how much I appreciate what you did for our family then – taking us in when times were difficult, giving dad a job when he could find none in Iowa. Thank you for loving us and welcoming us and making us feel at home.
Your family and your home will forever remain in my mind as a place filled with happiness and love. I will forever be grateful to you and your family for the years that we shared on Gramercy Avenue.