There are so many words I can use to describe my mom, beautiful/vain/loving/selfish/preoccupied/drunk/flirt/man hater/man lover/inappropriate. Oh, there are so many more but I will stop there.
A little background on Etta – by the way, never call her that! She went by Louise, she did not like her first name and didn’t even use it as a middle name. If you wanted to piss her off just say “Hey Etta” needless to say I did that once or twice! She was born March 10, 1916 to my gay grandma Elma Etta Fairman and a tubercular young man named Leonard Ledger that grandma married in 1913. Now, I don’t know if grandma knew she was gay when she married Leonard, but after he died of that horrible disease in 1918 and she began a relationship with her friend Amy Hoag it became pretty obvious. Of course in the 1920’s nobody spoke of being gay, or homosexual.
My grandmother was a bookbinder and Leonard worked in the printing business so I think that is how they met. Of course my mom didn’t remember her father, as he died when she was 2, but she did tell me a couple of things her mother shared with her. 1. He was mean. He pushed her down stairs once and caused her to lose a baby. 2. He was a racist. He was born in Louisiana and came to the Los Angeles area with his family somewhere around 1910 – he had told my grandma that he didn’t like black people and if they were walking on the same side of the street as he was he would cross the street. 3. He got angry that my grandmother had gained weight while pregnant with my mom and didn’t lose it right away. Already I don’t like the guy. It is interesting that when he died in 1918, no one in his family attended his funeral, only my grandma’s family. And no one put a headstone on his grave. He is buried in Hollywood Forever cemetery and I went there once and found where he was buried, no headstone. More about my grandfather in this post here.
So, my mom was now 2 years old in 1918 and my grandmother was widowed and she had to work. From what I can tell from about 1918 to 1921 my grandmother Elma moved in with her mother Elllen Fairman and that is who watched my mom. My great grandmother Ellen was separated and not living with great grandpa Charles (history of his mental illness will be another post) but then great grandma died in Sept. 29, 1921.
So according to my mom, and backed up by pictures and some existing records,on Sept. 4th, 1921 my mother was put in the Boys and Girls Children’s Aid Society in Pasadena.
Grandma paid for my mom’s board there (20% of her $72.00 a month salary) and I am sure my mom went home as much as grandma could arrange – I have many pictures of Elma, my mom Louise, and Amy Hoag on outings during the 1920’s. Mom only told me one orphanage story, I think it was a traumatic time for her as she never spoke of it. One time she and other children got lice in their hair and the staff poured gasoline on the kids heads to get rid of it. I can only imagine how horrible that must have been for a little girl.
By about 1928 when mom was 12 she got to move back in with her mother as grandma Elma felt that mom could take care of herself while grandma worked. This is where my mom would get a bit odd when talking of those days, you see, she lived with her mother Elma and her mother’s girlfriend Amy. I definitely feel that mom was uncomfortable but had no choice. Or maybe just didn’t want me to know. I speak of one incident that occurred during this time in a previous post here. Mom also told me that she would spend some time in the summers with some of her father’s family. She did not speak of them much, and did not stay in contact with them, but did tell me that one of her uncles offered her a quarter if she would let him “touch” her. She told me that story more than once, I know it affected her greatly.
Mom meets my dad in 1932 or 33 while they are still in high school – well, he is my birth certificate father, not biological, but I didn’t know that until 2015. Elma died in late 1933 while my mom was living as a nanny with a family.
Mom got pregnant the same month her mother died. She and dad, Dexter, get married in March 1934 and my brother Dexter was born on July 4th, 1934. Mom was 18 and dad was 19. For years and years my parents pretended that they got married in 1933 just so my brother would not know the circumstances of his birth – when he found out I am told he was PISSED. He was my brother and I loved him but I find it ironic that he was even surprised. They move in with my dad’s parents, Swedish immigrants, in their boarding house on Magnolia Street in Los Angeles. They called it the Big House. It was very big, 3 floors, lots of rooms.
Grandma was not happy with my mother, called her names according to mom and did not want my dad to marry her – but they did – I mean, it was 1934! In 1936 my sister came along and by 1940 my grandmother had enough and told my folks they needed their own house and I am sure she helped them but they also saved. Mom even worked as an elevator operator in the May Company department store downtown. She told me that she had to lie and say she wasn’t married in order to get the job, in those days married women couldn’t work certain jobs – I guess elevator operator was one of them.
In 1941 they built their own home on Westside Drive in East Los Angeles. 3 bedrooms with a garage, right across the street from gigantic electrical towers, and just down the road from railroad tracks. I am sure that my dad chose the lot because it was cheaper because of those drawbacks. My dad was so tight with a buck! I grew up playing in the fields of those power lines, right under them, I could hear them crackle, I could sometimes feel an electrical pulse from them….Hey, it was the 50’s, what did we know???
Here is where we come to a very important part of Louise’s story. I wasn’t born yet, but my sister tells me (and my brother did too) of both my parents drinking, partying, flirting, hangovers, arguments, you get the drift. The whole Halldin family drank, my dad was an alcoholic and so were his 2 brothers, that was no secret, but my mom drank to silence her demons. I didn’t know how bad it was until much later – but all of the drinking makes sense when I look back on it. Also my mother’s need for male approval. She was the lady who flirted with all the men and was very inappropriate around them. Was that because she had no male figure in her life growing up, or at least not a father figure? I don’t know, I am no psychologist. But I know she was an episodic drunk, not drinking every day, but when she did she was in it to win it. She would not stop until she passed out!
I was born in 1953, my sister got married the following month, my brother was in the Marine Corps. According to my sister, my mother had some abortions between her and me, we are 17 years apart. Why did she keep me? I always wondered until I did my DNA test in 2015 and discovered that I was another man’s child – but that is covered in my beginning posts on this blog so if you are interested, you can click here. And I am pretty sure that alcohol payed a big factor in her life decisions.
Mom drank sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, almost always on the weekends. She and dad had friends that would come over or we would go to their houses and they drank, sometimes they played cards and I would be left to my own. Sometimes there were other kids so at least I had someone to play with but sometimes not.
When I was in junior high my mother and father began fighting almost every night. My father was a daily drinker, he would go to work (owned a plating business with partners and they kept it going when he would go on a bender some days). He would go to a bar, he had many he liked, and he would drink after work and mom would call the bars and look for him and tell him to come home. I never understood that logic. He was in the bar because he didn’t want to come home, duh! My mom was drinking quite a bit, I found vodka bottles stashed around the house and would pour them out if I found them, which really pissed her off. I was so unhappy and started acting out at school. The vice principal called me in and asked me why I was behaving so disrespectfully to the teachers, especially my English teacher. I started to tell her that things at home were bad, parents fighting and instead of listening she told me to stop, it wasn’t her business and to go back to class. No sympathetic school counselors in those days! She called my mom into the school, she told her they had to stop fighting in front of me or when I could hear them and that was it. I heard mom telling dad they had to stop fighting because of the school calling her in. He pretty much didn’t care, it was her that started the fights anyway. But she continued to drink for many years – until sometime in the 1970’s she joined AA. She told me she scared herself as she almost fell in the pool or something while drunk. If she said that, then the truth was much worse I am sure!
A bad thing about AA is that mom no longer had alcohol to deaden the demons, to keep them at bay. So after a couple of years of not drinking, she tried to commit suicide. She would be committed, come home and awhile later, tried again. During the late 70’s and late 80’s I can’t tell you how many times she broke down and we would have an emergency with her. Once she started seeing bugs and ran out into a busy street. The cops picked her up and I had to go identify her at the police station, then they hospitalized her…it was rough. After that she pretty much stayed hospitalized. I believe the demons were winning. She did counseling, she did whatever prescription they gave her, but it didn’t seem to help. She lived to be 87, almost 88 and she was in a nursing home for her last 15 years of her life. Her health suffered, she had a colostomy and she refused to walk after that. She developed leukemia and after treating it for so long with blood transfusions it was just time to let her go.
It was so hard to have a mom that was tortured. It made our lives so chaotic. Time marches on no matter what though. She lost my dad while she was in the nursing home in 1995, my brother in 2002. She died in 2004. I moved to Colorado when she died, I just couldn’t take it around my family any more. We were all dysfunctional because of our crazy upbringing. My brother was an alcoholic and died because of it. My sister lived so many lies all through her life, still does. I used sex as my relief, I was afraid of booze and drugs. My sister married 4 times, I married 3 times. But actually I feel like we were lucky compared to some families. Our father was able to keep his business until his partners wanted to sell and he had a good retirement and investments. He never understood that Mom had to stay in the hospital/nursing home or she would hurt herself or maybe even him. He went to visit her almost every day until he died. Years of therapy didn’t help. I feel like my mom ceased to exist in the late 80’s and never really came back. The fact I was another man’s daughter may have been why she kept me, why she let me do as I pleased, why my father was not engaged with me or my life at all. Then again, I don’t even know if they knew for sure. I am the result of an affair mom had with an unmarried younger man. Were they in love? Was it just sex? Hell, who knows.
So after all of this analyzing and going over my mother’s life what are my conclusions? I honestly don’t have any. I do think my grandmother had a screwed up life, which affected my mother and screwed up her life which in turn screwed up my life and I have probably screwed up my kids lives. But in all of this there was one constant: love. Grandma loved my mom, my mom loved me and I love my kids. I try to remember it was different times my ancestors grew up in, and their decisions were affected by the era they lived in. Etta Louise Ledger tried, but her demons were so strong. I hope she was able to lose them wherever she may be.
Today is August 17, it is the day I should be calling my nephew Guy and wishing him a happy birthday and then making some goofy wisecracks about our ages – we were only about 4 years apart. But Guy is gone, he died in 2010. We were always close as kids, I think it was because he was so wimpy and sweet and easy to get along with, where I was demanding, domineering and oh so hard to like. He would do my bidding and I would cut him some slack when it came time for my temper – we always did get along like that.
As we grew older and I had my oldest son, Guy was my go-to babysitter. While I was out partying the 1970’s away, Guy was taking care of my son and forming a very close bond with him that was more like a brother relationship than a cousin one. When Guy died of a stroke at age 52 my poor son was more devastated than I could imagine.
Guy’s last years were not easy for him….he had divorced, lived with his mom (my sister) and had been forcefully retired by the telephone company – financially it was very hard on him. He had gained alot of weight and wasn’t making wise choices with his health – he seemed to be terrified of doctors – he was in Las Vegas with his girlfriend when he had a massive stroke – he never regained consciousness and within a month he was gone. I think of him so often, and especially today – I want to call him and sing to him in my horrible voice and crack some jokes!
Happy birthday Guyo, I love you.