Iris Street, Oxnard, California 1964-1966
We purchased our home on Iris Street in Oxnard, California from a Hawaiian couple. The house was a four bedroom rambler with a double garage at a right angle to the house in front. The stucco walls had been painted dull gold and there was taupe paint covering the wooden siding of the entry area. The yard was overflowing with lush tropical plants. My favorites were the large white calla lilies, but I was impressed by the tall poinsettias. The rear yard was shallow, but it was planted with a deep border with a myriad of different plants.
I wanted to plant a vegetable garden in one corner of the yard and I decided we should weed the verdant plot. As we started working from the west, I told Richard we should pull any plant I didn't recognize. After about fifteen feet of clearing away
most of the foliage I realized the error I had made and changed my tactics. From that point on I told my husband that we should only pull the plants I recognized as weeds. We planted vegetables in the first ten feet of the cleared area and waited for sun and moisture to work.
Soon we had rows of tender seedlings poking up through the soil. One morning when I went out to check on the progress of our plants I saw a strange sight. Every tiny seedling had been mowed off at the root. Strangely, claw marks could be seen throughout the plot. I jumped to the conclusion that some strange California style vegetarian cat or dog was responsible for the damage. Not long after I discovered the culprit when I found a six inch wide turtle mowing down the tender young
weeds around my palm tree. The vegetable garden was a loss, but as the days proceeded I saw a great difference in the area in which I had cleared away everything I didn't recognize, and the rest of the garden where I had only pulled known weeds. Birds of Paradise, artichokes, and a hundred other specimens of exotic plants were thriving in the border. I learned an important lesson. I also should have taken note of my utter lack of fortune when it comes to planting gardens. In the decades since I have never had success with growing vegetables although wild and established domestic plants seem to thrive under my neglect.
We moved to Iris Street in March of 1984 and not long afterward I discovered I was pregnant with my second child. My weight had been stable at about 160 pounds for the past year, but once again pregnancy brought weight loss, but not fast enough for Richard who nagged me frequently to diet. Richard was under a lot of financial stress. He had entered an agreement with the owners of the house that we would pay the down payment of three thousand dollars by installments and acquire their low interest mortgage for the remaining $10,000. They gave us six months to pay the down payment. In addition, Richard's family in Taiwan wrote with pleas for aid. His younger brother, Mark, wanted to continue his education by coming to the US and studying at BYU. Richard would need to put up a bond of several thousand dollars. Our household budget was caught in a pincher between the two obligations and there was barely enough to cover utilities and food.
When our second anniversary approached in May, I suggested that we could at least go out and celebrate with burgers and a shake, which at that time would total under a dollar for the two of us. He started yelling that he had nothing to celebrate. Then he rolled up a magazine and hit me, driving me out of the back door and slamming it. He lay down on the front room rug and started to mourn the mistake he had made, whimpering with self pity and regret.
My baby, Meg, was crying in her room and I returned through the front door and went to comfort her. When I carried her into the front room I saw my husband laying on the floor bemoaning the awful mistake he had made when he married me and whining that he was left with nothing.
I coldly considered what he really had; a lovely child and the promise of another, a good job, health, and someone who was a good cook and enthusiastic partner, and willing to move from one place to another to support his career. It would be several years before Nancy Sinatra would bring out the song: "These Boots Are Made For Walking," and the shoes I was wearing were not boots but only white pumps with inch wide cuban heels, but I must have been channeling the song as I walked across the room and right over my husband.
The feel of my foot planted on his chest broke his concentration on his misery and he rose up roaring. I ran to the bedroom and locked the door. His anger quickly cooled and he soon asked me to fix his supper. I think he was shocked by my rebellion, but it was the last time he indulged in an extended whine. Even so, his emotions ranged widely from praise and shared confidences to angry criticism. One day when in a rage he punched a hole in an interior door. At that time I had no
idea of the pattern of an abusive spouse. Years later when the symptoms were widely publicized, I recognized it all too well. Richard's eagerness to control my behavior, specifically my eating, the times of scary rage followed by abject apology and seeming repentance, his ability to present a public face that completely concealed his willingness to use both physical and verbal violence on those nearest to him, his attempts to isolate me from support systems including family and friends, were evident early in our marriage.
Nowadays someone like me would rightly receive criticism for staying with an abusive spouse, but this was in the
early sixties when society preserved the careful fiction that men who beat women were surly drunks who could be easily detected by everyone around them, and the women and children who were hit by a sober man usually deserved the punishment.
My daughter,Meg, had unusual strength and athleticism from the beginning of her life. When she was still not yet walking I put her in her crib one night with the railings raised to full extend and the mattress at its lowest. Not many minutes later she crawled into the front room. After that, I lowered the railings and simply shut
the bedroom door. Somehow she got hold of a marker and made swooping marks on the walls that extended far beyond what could be reasonably expected. She loved to pull herself up using whatever was handy. One day she grabbed the tablecloth and before I could react, some of my wedding gifts had been pulled off the table and shattered on the floor. I stopped using table-cloths.
I had been called to be a member of the leadership of the YWMIA not long after we moved to California, but Richard soon approached the bishop of our ward with a story that portrayed me as a neglectful wife. He requested that I be released from my calling and that no others should be extended. He couldn't keep me from attending church or accepting the private appeals of friends. Soon I was happily helping the Relief Society work meeting director as we prepared crafts and food for
the annual bazaar. I agreed to act as substitute for teachers in Primary and other organizations. I helped the cub scout leader, taking the boys on a hike in the hills above Ojai. I accepted a plea to supervise the yearly Roadshow, a brief musical skit that was usually almost completely original in script and music.
Members of the King Family, a noted musical family, lived in our stake and the bar for scripts and performance levels would be high. Richard decided I had a 'crush' on a member of the Stake High Council, although in truth the man made me cringe. He was a middle-aged hugger, approaching relative strangers with over-warm enthusiasm.
Refusing to heed my earnest denials of interest in the other man, Richard became sullen and suspicious. Ironically his
unjust jealousy set the stage for folly. I had been spending quite a bit of time working on lyrics and music for the Roadshow with the teenaged son of a close friend. I was twenty one, he was a mature , intelligent seventeen year-old who shared most of my interests. I found myself becoming infatuated with him. Fortunately I never gave him any hint of the emotional turmoil his presence caused and I quickly brought an end to the time we spent working on the score for our tiny musical. It was the first and last time I ever wandered from my marriage vows, even if only in my emotional commitment. I made a determined effort to put my husband central in my life, whatever his behavior.
Like many spouses who are in abusive relationships, I took the blame for any problems. I was not skinny enough. I didn't scrub my grout to suitable shade of gleaming whiteness. I couldn't control my early pregnancy nausea at his demand. I couldn't seem to reduce my food budget past a certain minimum. The one thing I would not try to do was give up going to church and associating with my friends. They were all excellent women, most of them several years older than me and rich
with the wisdom of experience.
Carol, in her mid thirties, was the mother of five children and she was still very attractive. One day we were driving together to a meeting. Some men passed in a car and made appreciative noises. Carol was shocked. "What are they doing?" she asked.
"All they see is two pretty blondes in a Thunderbird, they don't see that I am six months pregnant and that you have five kids," I said.
"I can see there is a difference between a Thunderbird and a station wagon," she acknowledged.
We put on our roadshow at an outdoor stage in a park in Ojai. I had written a romance with catchy songs. We didn't win the main prize. That went to the ward with the most Kings, but we enjoyed ourselves. I was in the middle phase of pregnancy when nausea was not a problem and I was not yet overburdened by my swelling belly.
Richard was asked to make a trip through the Pacific area to check first hand on wind experiments he had designed months before. I kept busy by planning and painting a special mural for my friend Carol to give to her husband. It was a scene taken from Bonampak in Central America, depicting a Mayan court. The mural was six feet wide and two feet deep and was meant to go over the head of their bed.
Before he left on the trip someone gave Richard a pound box of Whitman's Sampler chocolate. He put it in our refrigerator and warned me not to touch it. I left it there for nearly a week, but the temptation grew daily. Finally I succumbed. I
carefully pried open the cellophane that covered the box and removed one chocolate. The tiny plastic pockets that mark every piece had not yet come into use and it
was simple to reshuffle the other pieces to conceal the missing piece. I carefully restored the wrapping. The next day I gave into my urges for a taste of chocolate once again. It was the third chocolate that made me realize that my theft of chocolate would be discovered. I feared the results when Richard came home. Finally I completed my deception by going out and purchasing another box of chocolates and rationing the opened box over the following days. I felt like a complete villain for the subterfuge.
I felt even worse when he returned from his trip with a lovely string of graduated pearls that he had purchased for me in Japan. He checked the box and complimented me for my restraint. It was September and my weight had dropped to 140 pounds. On a trip to visit my parents in Salt Lake we went to watch "My Fair Lady" at the Center Theater. As we left the theater Richard commented on the ethereal Audrey Hepburn. "I think she's putting on a lot of weight."
I was stunned at his opinion. He thought the wraith-like star was getting fat?!. It struck me then. He had defined the way I looked as being overweight. When I grew almost painfully thin, thin people began to look fat to him. Although in years to come my weight would continue to be a contentious issue, this insight lifted a great burden. In no longer felt I had to purge after a meal. I had hovered on the edge of anorexia/bulimia, but 'My Fair Lady' had saved me from real damage to my body.
Still working with a strained budget, we went shopping for a Christmas tree, but none of those we could afford were in any way appealing. I resigned myself to getting a tiny, weedy tree after visiting one more store. As we pulled out of the parking lot our headlights lit the vacant field beyond the parking lot barrier and the lovely plumes of several weeds inspired me with an idea. I asked Richard to cut down one of the larger conical weeds and we took it home and decorated it with artificial snow and pale blue glass balls. It was very pretty. I made a cloth doll for Meg, one of the few gifts she received, but she was happy with it.
David was born earlier than my obstetrician had predicted. I went to see my doctor for an appointment on Christmas Eve and he said it would be several weeks before the birth occurred. I think he was misled by the way I carry and give birth. In time, after a number of births, I knew that what took other women weeks to work through could happen with me in a day or so. My babies seemed to drop quickly and the onset of labor could be difficult to predict to someone unfamiliar with
my pattern. David was born that evening only a few hours after I saw the doctor. I was given spinal anesthetic for the birth. I believe the medication had an effect on my first son. Unlike Meg who had been bright-eyed and alert from the beginning, David seemed to take a while to fully wake up.
He was born on Christmas Eve in a Catholic hospital. A rosary hung on the wall of the room and I considered what his future might be, confronted by the evidence of the life my Savior had led and given for all of us. My tiny son was snuggled into a big red flannel Christmas stocking for the trip home a couple of days later.
Richard dropped me off at home. Meg, less than two years old, approached the baby and touched him with gentle fingers. She didn't even look at me. Richard then left the three of us alone while he hurried off to play ping-pong with some friends from work. The remnants of the anesthesia still affected me and I soon began to lose track of reality. When my new infant started crying, I picked up my little girl and tried to comfort her. "Baby cry, baby cry," Meg kept insisted as she tried to struggle away from me. I realized I shouldn't be alone. I called Richard's friends and asked to speak to him. The woman answering the phone asked me when I planned to come home from the hospital.
"I came home an hour ago," I said.
She immediately put Richard on the phone, but he thought I was being foolish and he said he would be embarrassed if he left the gathering right then. I heard the voice of his hostess in the background. She was urging him to leave. He came home angry and tried to pick a fight, but I handed Meg to him and retreated to our room to nurse and sleep with my infant son.
I had learned to cuddle myself around my newborn, both physically and emotionally. With whatever stress that might be going on around me, I felt like a fruit protecting a seed. If I wasn't rested and relaxed, I would lose my milk supply. This was particularly important with David. He was the only baby in the pediatrician's practice who was being breast fed. The doctor gave me instructions to weigh the baby every day and call him with the results. He didn't trust this new-fangled trend of using nature's equipment. He wanted something concrete that could be measured. I stopped calling him after the second day at home. Why impose yet another layer of artificial measurement to a process proved throughout the mammalian world. I decided that the best way to determine a healthy child was vitality and the look in my baby's eyes. Meg's long bout of nightly colic had taught me that amount of noise was not an effective indicator of health.
My mother came to visit almost as soon as I returned home. I was still recuperating from the birth, but she was full of plans and projects. The air in Oxnard was permanently humid and I always used an electric clothes dryer for my laundry. My mother insisted that nothing was better that diapers hung to dry out in the sun and she insisted that I should use the clothesline in the back yard. After several hours the diapers were as wet as they had been right out of the washer spin cycle. Undeterred by the failure of that experience, she decided to wash my wooden parquet floor. I was shocked when I walked into the living room and saw her splashing soapy water over the floor. I was still a little giddy and faint from the aftereffects of the spinal.
"You will have to wash the floors and wipe the water up," she said. "Since my varicose veins were stripped out, I can't get on my knees."
I almost turned around and returned to my bedroom, but the hot soapy water on my wooden floors would ruin them. I had no mop and Richard had the car so there was no way I could purchase one. I had no choice but to crawl around the room rinsing the suds off the floor blotting it dry with a towel to prevent any further damage to the surface. That done, I stumbled into my room to rest, but her ambition was still high. As soon as Richard returned home she suggested that we make a trip up to visit the old church of Santa Buena Ventura Mission, thirty miles north near Santa Barbara. She wouldn't take a negative answer to her demand that I join them on the outing. Richard had allied himself with her and I ended up going along to keep from wasting my breath. I sat in the back with the babies. When we arrived in the parking lot of the church, I finally prevailed, refusing to climb the long ascent to the church. Mom accused me of being a spoilsport as she headed off with my little daughter and my husband. I relaxed and fed my baby boy. When my mother returned from visiting the church she kept telling me what I had missed.
It seemed that she had finally run out of ideas to disrupt the household and destroy my rest and I looked forward to spending a day or so of relaxed visiting. Instead, she announced that she had to cut her visit short and hurry back to Utah. Jane would have her birthday the next day and although my own birthday would occur a few days later, Mother asserted that Jane's tender heart would break if her mother weren't there to celebrate her birthday.
A few days later my father's sister Jean, came to visit. Although she was an accomplished woman, she knew how to relax and tend a new mother. We visited together and made simple meals. She tatted a lovely edging for a wide collar on a blouse I had made for my little girl. We sat quietly and read. When vacuuming or washing dishes were called for, one of us would simply get up and take care of it without a lot of discussion. My mother's three day visit had seemed endless and chaotic. Aunt Jean's three day visit seemed like a nice vacation.
I had often escaped from my critical, demanding grandmother as a child by finding a place to hide and read. The same escape offered relief from the tension of my marriage. I was interested in everything from archeology to cooking. I also read a lot of fiction. I would select a topic and pursue it in the books and magazines available in our local library until I had exhausted the material. I loved being home with my children, but I could never meet my husband's expectations of perfection in everything from my appearance to my housekeeping. When the necessary tasks were finished I didn't bother with spending time and energy on efficiency and excellence. I played with my children, worked on crafts, or read. I recognize now that I had fallen into passive aggressive behavior toward my husband. I could perform exactly, even brilliantly when rewarded with trust and praise, but when paired with a critical authority figure I reacted by slowing down and falling below the level of performance I easily maintained when I was in a positive atmosphere. As a result, I only sporadically made serious efforts to meet my husband's stated expectations. My weight rose back to around 160 pounds again as I nursed David, and it didn't change once he was weaned. I outwardly made an attempt to become a better housewife by reading various books about home efficiency and organization, but even when I kept the house in order and made delicious and timely meals, Richard always found something to criticize and gave himself permission to explode in anger. He said it was my job to make him happy, and I had failed.
This paints a picture of misery, but in fact I was usually quite happy. My children were a constant source of amusement and pleasure. The lovely yard with its verdant garden was a joy. I found a lot of gratification in projects that brought positive feedback from members of the church and community. My relationship with my husband also offered a lot of satisfaction. In the periods between his bouts of anger, he was affectionate. I felt that it was like eating an apple with a bad core. The outside layer could be quite delicious, but now and then I would taste the musty decay of the core. We would spend hours talking about our lives, mostly his plans and hopes for the future. He asked my advice and often took my counsel, but he had no patience hearing about my hopes and plans. Even so, he was an intelligent adult with whom I could converse. My wide ranging interests made me receptive to his discussions of his work and at times he even consulted me about the research he was doing.
David loved his older sister and from the time he was very small he tried to imitate her. She drank from a cup and ate from and plate and David weaned himself to a cup when he was only a little more than six months old. Instead of placing him in a baby seat where he could watch me as I had done with Meg, I let him rest in the deep,slanted seat of an old rocker my mother had found. He soon learned that when he flexed his body he could make the rocker move. He rapidly got better at the game until one day when he was about four months old and he rocked himself so strongly that he shot out of the chair. From then on I made certain that he was belted in before he started rocking.
My husband's moods at home often reflected his frustration or satisfaction with his job. One day he received a report of the wind research he had conducted throughout the pacific rim and found that it was classified at such a level that under security rules, he wasn't allowed to read it. He applied for citizenship and not long after being sworn in in L. A., he was able to gain the security clearance he needed to read his own reports. The Viet Nam war was heating up and Richard was selected for special assignment to the central office of his government division in Arlington, Virginia where his training as a structural engineer was needed. I looked forward to his six month absence. His trip to the Pacific Rim had taught me that I was able to plan and budget without his oversight. His explosive anger was not constant, but the threat always remained.
I planned to spend a few weeks visiting with my parents in Utah after sending Richard on his way. David was beginning to toddle and he and Meg loved my parents' little Boston Bull Terrier that was always eager for a game of tag.
My mother warned me that I had made a dire mistake in letting my husband go to Virginia. In her youth she had worked in the nation's capitol and she told me stories about hordes of man-hungry secretaries who were as lacking in morals as domestic cats. At every opportunity she continued to tell me that I had made a big mistake to stay behind in California while my husband was tempted by a horde of sexy secretaries. She also suggested that it might be my one chance to visit the museums and parks of Washington. I think I was far more convinced by this argument than her urgent caution that my husband would be seduced away from me.
In addition to hounding me with visions of an unfaithful husband, my mother insisted it was time for me to renew my wardrobe. I had been married for three years but in that time I had only purchased or made a few pregnancy dresses and a few new pairs of shoes when the others were worn to shreds. Almost all of my clothing had been purchased or selected by my mother when I was a student. Perhaps she didn't realize the irony of her insistence that my husband wasn't taking proper care of me. She said he should have taken me shopping and helped me find new clothing. My own ignorance is revealed by the fact that I didn't see anything wrong with her reasoning. As an adult I should have long since been taking care of clothing purchases for myself. After all, I was the one who dressed my children. Richard didn't even spend time or money on his own clothing and most of the good clothing he wore had come as a gift from me.
One day I found that most of my favorite dresses and the good coat that I had brought to Utah to wear to church had disappeared from the closet in the room where I had been staying. My mother told me she had claimed them since it was she who had paid for them originally. I recognized the justice of her claim, and I was ready to add some variety to my wardrobe.
We went shopping and I made the choices and paid the bills. The clothes I bought were coordinated to make mix and match outfits. The dominant colors were butternut and vanilla. I spent several hundred dollars but I liked the results of my shopping. I acquired a butternut suede coat with a matching mink collar, a plaid coat in shades of pale brown, cream and yellow, a pair of pale brown snakeskin printed leather pumps with a matching purse, a knit suit of beige wool, and to top it all, a new hairdo that featured an excellent cut and paler color. My mother had often counseled me that as a larger woman I should wear dark colors and unfitted garments, but this was not true of any of my selections. By getting rid of most of my previous wardrobe my mother had provided me with an excuse to buy the new clothing.
I wrote to Richard and told him I was planning to join him in a couple of weeks. He was banking most of his per diem pay by living with five other men in an apartment in the Latino section near Columbia Road and Sixteenth Street in D.C. After initial resistance, he agreed to find a small apartment that would still leave him a profit on the venture. I flew from Salt Lake to California and prepared to leave my home for six months. Just as I put the house up for rent, the water pipe in the front yard burst and I had to deal with a plumber, the city inspector, and sorting out and storing my furnishings except for clothing and toys for the children and a folding travel crib that would fit in the rear seat of the Thunderbird. I found a renter and packed my car, then headed to Utah. My car rode low with all that I had packed in the trunk and backseat beneath the crib and I was talked into getting load levelers in St. George.
I picked up my father who would fly back from D.C. after helping me with the move. I am religious, my father was agnostic. There could have been a lot to argue about, but instead we seemed to agree on almost everything that mattered. He was patient and sweet with the children and had the kind of male knowledge that set my mind at ease when there was a problem with the car. The several days we spent on the road were one of the best things about the idea of joining my husband in Virginia.