Still Life

If Dad was usually on bad terms with cars, Mom had little to do with them. She never drove, never learned to drive a car, was never licensed, never carried any kind of personal identification – more remarkable since we lived in a suburban Los Angeles area, one of the beach cities, but west of the sand dunes, and there was no public transportation to speak of, one bus, LA Line 51, as I recall, that passed through town on its way through the beach cities once or twice a day, usually empty if and when you happened to catch a glimpse of it. And the city was located within boundaries that in effect created a small town atmosphere: to the west, the sand dunes and ocean, with no houses built on the west slope of the dunes or near the water like you found in Venice to the north and El Porto to the south; to the north, the airport; to the south, an industrial area of small manufacturing and local taverns and the monstrous and secretive and mysterious Standard Oil refinery; to the east, strawberry fields, a stable for keeping horses and trails for riding, later with motocross trails where we rode bikes, and a small-industry area, and the westside little league baseball park. Now of course, the town is not recognizable for what it was, and I’ve no desire to go back, except maybe to walk along the beach, or out on the jetty, from which I might toss a few Toads posts into the water.

We lived on a busy 4-way stop corner, catty corner from an elementary school with a large open field where we played capture the flag, football, baseball, and rode the swings. And across from our corner lot, sat what was then called “The Village,” a small shopping center, anchored by a local grocery store standing separate on the corner, and behind it a one story line of shops with wood shake roof and with covered sidewalk, which included a hairdresser, a laundromat, a small gift shop that included a post office window, a small cafe with booths and a bar-counter where lonely people sat and ate their burgers with fries and drank their milkshakes, a barber shop, and a liquor store where you could buy comic books. With the market and village shops across the street, and since she never had a job outside the house, and given Dad’s lack of affinity for cars, I suppose Mom had even less motivation or reason to learn to drive.

In any case, Mom got rides when necessary from church friends, and from my sisters and me when we learned to drive and got cars. But my sisters moved away soon after high school, and I often took Mom to appointments, to the doctor or dentist, for her or one of the kids. But one day, though I happened to be home, Mom was getting a ride up to the church from a friend up the block. I was in my little room in the garage Dad and I had built for me when I got back from the Army and found my digs in the main house usurped by siblings. Someone came through the yard calling for me. Mom got run over by a car, was the gist of the message. I ran out to the street and there was Mom laid out under the rear of a car, behind the rear wheel. She was ok, though. We got her up and dusted her off. The driver of course was distraught.

The car had pulled over to pick up Mom who was standing on the sidewalk, waiting. As she was getting into the car via the back door, the car lurched, Mom fell, her legs sliding under the car, and the rear right tire drove over her legs. That was her story, even if the evidence didn’t seem to support it. Rather than argue for or against the evidence, and given that she appeared unhurt, it was quickly decided that the event was clearly a miracle. Folks stopped by for days after, to see her legs, to celebrate the miracle.

Photo: Kids playing in the treehouse-fort on the side of the house across from the market and Village, mid70’s.