MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 56 – Southern Hospitality
Tuesday morning brought more of the same unbelievably miserable hot weather. It was almost instinctive, upon opening the door to that small room, to slam it immediately to keep out the heat and the noxious, stale air. Neither of us had ever seen anything like this, and surely, no one could live here, by the sea, where the air was absolutely still and there was no sun, no moon, and no stars. Billy was most anxious for Margie and simply did not want to take her outside the coolness of our room, so once again he and Michael left to buy the doughnuts, juice, milk, and cereal for breakfast. Michael especially liked making a bowl out of his cereal box by opening the back of the box down the perforated lines, so anything ‘new’ was a great adventure for him. Much of this was new to Billy and me too, but as adults, we did not show the wonder of discovery, as did our young son.
We had to turn the car in on Thursday, and we had thought that we would do some ‘touring’ beforehand, but without air-conditioning, we were virtually prisoners in this small, but cool, room. At least Michael had a bed to jump on, a television to watch, and a tiny bit of room to run around, which was better than being cooped up in the back seat of a hot car all day, but his energy was boundless, and I did not know who would go crazy first, Billy or me! However, as long as this heat persisted, except for the planned excursions to see my great uncles, Billy intended for us to stay right in this room, and I had to agree with him, but had a feeling that sooner or later we both would go ‘stir crazy’ if we did not remove ourselves from these four plain walls.
Fortunately, I had a good supply of paperback novels and Michael had a pack with cars, books, and other small toys. Billy had some books and the television with endless channels, and much to my consternation; he looked forward to watching Darby’s Rangers every day! While the movie was on, Michael was usually napping, if we could get him to nap at all, but otherwise, by late afternoon he was usually bouncing off the walls having watched more cartoons than any child should have to absorb during one day. This active little boy needed a yard where he could run and play, and this motel did not have a yard, only a hot asphalt parking lot that seemed to stick to our shoes when we walked on it. Of course, there definitely was not a pool, although I am not sure that Billy would have allowed us to brave the fetid air even for a quick dip.
At lunchtime, Billy and Michael, once again, went out to buy hamburgers, but around five that evening, just as Darby’s Rangers was over, we were ready to see if we could find Rosemead, and the home of my Great Uncle Kendall and his family. Billy had studied the map, and of course, it did not look like a long drive, but this was Los Angeles, and it was ‘rush hour’, although after the traffic we had seen at three on a Monday morning, I could not imagine it being any worse. Now Billy was an aggressive driver, but he too felt intimidated by the speed of the other vehicles, and how closely behind they followed, even enough so that we had missed our turn that first morning and had been lost for hours. However, tonight, he told me that he could drive just as if he was from L.A., and I was not so sure that I wanted to get in the car with him or to allow my children to ride with him. Frankly I could not imagine my soft-spoken Southern boy faring well with these seemingly fearless, frantic drivers, while in reality, I need not have worried.
Steeling ourselves, we braved the heat and stale air, beneath a sky still yellow in color, and we set off for Rosemead. When we reached one of the numerous highways, what we found was a parking lot! Nothing was moving despite the yelled curses, the honking horns, and the gunning of engines. Billy became worried that at this snail’s pace, the car would overheat, so the next exit he came to, he got off the highway, pulling to the curb to study the map. He carefully marked the roads for me to watch for as he set off again, this time avoiding the unmoving ribbon of cars below us on the highway, he headed west towards a distant mountain range. He twisted and turned and ran into dead-end roads, one-way streets, and missing signs, but finally after about an hour we came to small sign that said, ‘Welcome to Rosemead’. We had made it! Moreover, I am sure, far more quickly than if we had stayed on the highway.
As we pulled into the driveway of my uncle’s home, a neat light colored stucco house with refreshing green grass and a fenced in backyard, the family all came out to the car to greet us. We were rumpled and wrinkled, but Uncle Kendall said that he would have recognized me anywhere since he thought that I looked like my mother, and they greeted Billy as if he was family, which, of course, he was. While I went inside with Dorothy, Kendall’s wife, and their three daughters, Uncle Kendall, Billy and Michael stayed out in the yard where the family dog performed his tricks for our admiring son. It was so nice to see my little boy running and playing in their lush green yard, and even the air seemed less fetid out here, although the sun was still not visible. At least there were trees, which seemed to absorb some of the heat, and a swing set that Kendall’s girls had not long outgrown.
Inside the house, it was cool with air-conditioning and all the girls just ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed over the baby. ‘Dot’, as she asked me to call her, heated Margie’s food while the girls passed her around among themselves, and after I fed her, I asked if there was somewhere private where I could nurse her. I thought that Dot would show me a quiet bedroom, but she just told me to sit in the living room while she and the girls put the meal on the table, and by the time I finished, she planned to call the men inside. Normally I would have felt awkward nursing in front of ‘strangers’ even though they were related, but Dot was so outgoing, so non-judgmental, and so welcoming, that I never thought once about not being in a private room.
Of course, I was terribly worried about Billy’s reaction to the meal, recalling that awful day when we drove to Bowman to have the five-generation picture taken, and I hoped that he would at least be appreciative enough to try to eat some of it. It was only fair that I warn Dot before the men came in that my husband was the world’s pickiest eater, but I need not have worried, he ate every bite on his plate and then went back for seconds. I wish that I could remember what they served, but the absence of a vegetable was obvious, and I wondered if my Aunt Helen in Atlanta had called them to explain my handsome husband’s strange eating habits. Instead of a vegetable, there was a refreshing molded cherry gelatin salad with cream cheese balls rolled in chopped nuts, and that dish was a big hit with both Michael and his father. I just remember that the meal was delicious, my family could not have been more hospitable, and the conversation around the dinner table was interesting and amusing.
The strange weather we discussed at length and my uncle explained to us about an ‘inversion’ front and how the mountains made a ‘bowl’ out of the Los Angeles area, thus blocking the prevailing winds from the sea from blowing off the cover of smog, a word we were hearing for the first time. He continued and said that there had been serious talk about drilling huge tunnels thorough the tops of the mountains and putting massive fans in them to draw the smog out of the ‘bowl’, but of course, this was not realistic and never done, at least to my knowledge. He also explained that this weather was unpredictable and could occur any time of the year if the conditions were right, and it had even happened over the Christmas holidays once. I decided that I certainly never wanted to live in southern California or anywhere that the air was not clean and the sky visible. I would not trade a cold winter for this ‘smog’ and heat ever!
After we finished our meal, I offered to help clean up, but Dot insisted that her daughters could handle it while we visited, so the adults, with Margie in my arms and Michael following, all went outside to the patio, where it did seem a bit cooler, although the sky was still yellow. Obviously, Kendall had talked to Charles, his brother, and told of our plans to visit Disneyland, although I was not especially looking forward to a day outside. Billy explained that he planned to take a drive down to El Toro Marine Base to stock up on baby food and other essentials for the voyage, but after Thursday, we would no longer have a car. Kendall asked how we would get to the ship and Billy told him that was why we had stayed in San Pedro since it would not cost us much to take a taxi to the port. Dot and Kendall said that they had never been aboard a ‘luxury’ liner, and then asked if they could take us to the ship. Of course, we were delighted with their kind offer, knowing that it might take more than our four hands to maintain a firm grip on Michael, carry Margie and our various essentials aboard. We knew we had to tip any and everyone who did anything at all for us, so the less help we needed, the better off we would be.
We made plans to meet again on Saturday evening at the motel in San Pedro, and after we thanked Dot and Kendall for their gracious Southern (California) hospitality, we took our sleepy son and drove back to the motel. This time we were able to take the highway since at least the traffic was moving, albeit slowly.
Michael had not had that much exercise since we left Atlanta, so he went right to sleep just as soon as we pulled onto the highway. Billy carried him inside while I followed with Margie, and since we had all had baths before we left for Rosemead, Billy just pulled our tired little boy’s shoes and pants off and tucked him under the covers. I changed and nursed Margie while Billy looked at the map again for his trip to El Toro, which he planned to take alone. He did not want to have to deal with Michael in the commissary, for which I certainly did not blame him, but more he did not want to take the baby out in the heat anymore than we had to. By now, we had simply accepted that there would be no change in the weather, so we made our plans around that fact, and as much as I would have liked to see the sights in and around LA, particularly Hollywood, we knew that we would not even be able to see the famous Hollywood sign. The homes of the stars, and even the ocean would be covered with the noxious sulfurous yellow smog, as in fact was the entire LA area, and now it was enough worse that we could no longer see the port at San Pedro, just the side of the bridge closest to the motel.
After I quietly laid our sleeping daughter in her car bed, Billy called me over to him, and once again, he had turned out all but the bathroom light, which we left on all night just in case either of the children should awaken. Slowly he began to undress me just as he had the night before, and this time I was not frightened since the pain had not been as bad as I had imagined. Sure, it had not been comfortable, but was that not common after the birth of such a large baby? Little did I realize that it definitely was not normal, even though I remembered that I had not felt this way after Michael’s birth. Of course, I knew what Billy wanted, after six weeks of abstinence, he was not to be denied, and I certainly could not disappoint him, or myself, since I had missed him almost as much as he had missed me. Ever so gently, he made love to me, and took me to the moon more than once. Again, I was eager to be with him, as husband and wife, and I knew that as the time came closer for him to leave for Vietnam, his lovemaking would become more frequent and more frantic, and I was ready to please him almost any way that I could – I said, almost. He had long given up the hope that I would perform oral sex, and rightly, since, as much as I loved him, I simply could not, so he no longer even asked. When he was finally exhausted and satisfied, I curled up in his arms and we both fell asleep dreaming of making love on the ocean with the moonlight streaming through the portholes of our cabin, and I slept like a baby that night, safe and secure in my Billy’s arms.