Monday, April 27, 2015

Hallie: Time traveling to the people if not the places...

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HALLIE EPHRON: It's WHAT WE'RE WRITING WEEK, and I have not been writing. Instead I’ve been traveling and talking about about Night Night, Sleep Tight.

The book takes place in Beverly Hills, and I just got back from the nicest ever trip to Southern California. I almost wrote “trip back in time” but it really can’t be back in time, because while we New Englanders like to preserve our landmarks, those Southern Californians are all about making it bigger and better and adding parking garages.

When I grew up there (BEFORE there were zip codes), I never thought about whether the houses were big or not.  I loved the whitewashed stucco walls, the orange tile roofs, the enclosed courtyards with their lush tropical green, a showy orange and blue bird of paradise tucked in here and there.  Each house ended only a few feet of a wall or densely planted hedge that separated it from its neighbor.

In Beverly Hills, latitude equated to status.
There was really a right and wrong side of the railroad tracks that ran right through town. 

Above Sunset, way north in the canyons, houses were big sleekly modern in the gated estates.  That’s where big stars like Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra and Charleton Heston lived. Just above Sunset lived TV greats like Lucille Ball and Jack Benny. 

Our house in 1967
Below Sunset, in the “flats” where we lived, the houses were more modest. My parents were screenwriters and our neighbors were Carl Reiner (he was writing for Your Show of Shows) and David Janssen (TV actor: The Fugitive). 
Our house in 2013Add caption

South of Wilshire the houses grew smaller still until there were multi-family apartment complexes surrounding concrete courtyards.  It was almost like some force of nature was at work, siphoning away anything
organic and replacing it with dust and cement.  Looking at them now, those less wealthy neighborhoods look cozy and the houses and apartments go for millions.

The house my parents sold in 1967 for $100K and sold in 2014 for $7M. Yes, SEVEN MILLION, a number I can barely wrap my head around.  And the house isn't an inch bigger than when we moved out.

Almost nothing I remember from growing up in Beverly Hills remains. No Robinsons or Bullocks or Lanz where I spent hours trying on clothes I didn’t buy. Or Jax, the fancy women’s clothing boutique that I was too timid to walk into. The old Beverly Hills Library in the north wing of the city hall is gone; the new library where I spoke is gigantic, gorgeous, and new

No Hamburger Hamlet (for Those Potatoes or an Oak Plank) with its wonderfully hokie dioramas hanging over each booth with "scenes" from Hamlet, as in "Get thee to a bunnery!" No Bifs where I spun around on a stool at its one counter and sipped chocolate malteds.

No Wil Wrights ice cream on south Beverly Drive or C. C.
Brown’s hot fudge on Hollywood Boulevard. I wonder what happened to the cow mural on the wall of 31 Flavors.

I tried to pay a nighttime visit to the Electric Fountain which figures prominently in my book and is still there! But it was walled off and being renovated. And "the witch's
house" which was just down the block from us was still standing, though much more buffed and polished than I remember it.

Only DuPars at the Farmer's Market looked exactly like it once did, and though parking isn't the breeze it once was, their pancakes with real maple syrup are still delicious.

Still there, though, were some cherished friends.
Leonora who became a torch singer and then a Rolfer; or Christie who was the world’s best elementary school teacher and now volunteers at the school she retired from; or Jodyne, an attorney who manages the shopping centers her dad opened when we were kids; or Tony who wrote for the high school newspaper with me and is now a judge and a writer.

I was glad to get back to Boston where, like Beverly Hills, it’s the people not the places that make it feel like home.

Can you go back and visit the places from your childhood, or like me, do those exist only in photographs and memories?

36 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

It sounds as if you had an amazing trip; I think it's nice to be able to visit those "used to be" places. But it's been my experience that when you go back it's always different. Sometimes the changes are so huge, sometimes not, but I've never found it to be the same as it used to be . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

I love this, Hallie. When I drove by my childhood home a couple dozen miles to the east of yours about ten years ago, I hated what I saw - they had cut down the tall sycamore and silver maples in the front yard and added an ugly addition. I don't need to go back there any more. But through the magic of Facebook I have reconnected with a dozen high school friends, and visited with three of them in person a couple of years ago when I was in Pasadena for the California Crime Writers conf. Delightful to pick up right where we'd left off, with much laughing and storytelling.

Ramona said...

Excellent timing, as I am going back to my childhood home tomorrow. Visiting the folks in their natural habitat...which means lunch at 11 a.m and dinner at 5 p.m., constant TV blaring, no Internet, drop-in visits anytime of the day, and sitting on the front porch swing with my dad and watching traffic go by for entertainment. It will be fun!

This year, my Aunt Claudette (dad's sister) is finally seeing a longtime wish realized. She invited all of the girl cousins and nieces to her house for a DeFelice Diva Day. We're all supposed to bring photos and stories from when we were young. I'll be sharing my story about surviving (barely) Hurricane Betsy. I'm sure I'll have LOTS of new material over the next two weeks.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Oh Ramona, you WILL have stories! Is this Louisiana? I thought of you last week at my sister's book launch where all the wonderful food was Cajun.

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, so it hasn't changed as much as LA I'm sure. Wonderful essay Hallie!

Kaye Barley said...

Oh, Hallie - this was wonderful. I've been following your tour on Facebook and enjoying each stop.

Hallie Ephron said...

So true, Joan. But in most places it's the details that changes.

Edith, YES, Facebook is a kind of social glue.

Ramona, laughed out loud reading yours! It WILL be fun. But TWO WEEKS? Yikes.

Hallie Ephron said...

Thanks, Lucy! The town I live in NOW is like that.

Kaye - :-)

Ramona said...

Roberta, yes, south Louisiana. My mother has already promised to make her special shrimp boulettes, which requires her old Keystone food grinder. Well worth the elbow grease.

Margaret Turkevich said...

We pack up our memories and move on to make the next place "home."

Mary Sutton said...

The street I grew up on hasn't changed much, except the maple tree at the corner of the driveway died and the VFW post across the street took out the wrought-iron fence in the front. But my grandparents' houses? Yikes. I hate looking at them. Doesn't mesh with my memories at all.

Ellen K said...

A few years ago, the congregation my great grandfather helped found over a century ago held a tour of its original permanent synagogue (now a Baptist church). I took my mom. We visited the ornate building with its steep front stairs, and climbed up to the balcony to which the women had been banished, and although I hadn't been there since I was six, I remembered exactly where the marble drinking fountain was hidden. What it must have taken for that immigrant community to afford the construction of that building! I was always in awe when we went there (only on the High Holy Days). I was still in awe when I saw it as an adult.


Deb Romano said...

It's been years since my siblings and I each left the city where we were born. A few years ago two of my sisters and I were there for the funeral of a favorite aunt. One of my sisters had to take the train home later in the day, and the three of us decided to drive through our old neighborhood to kill time before dropping her off at the train station.

We wanted to drive to the back of the parking lot for the apartment building where we lived, so we could see the back of the building. However, the entrance was blocked by three police cars. Hmm. When we lived there, the neighborhood was not unknown to the police but we didn't remember seeing more than one police car at a time. The week before last, one of those sisters sent me the link to a newspaper article about ongoing problems on that street with shootings. I do remember crimes happening when we lived there, but most of them did not involve violence.

Oh, and the parochial school we went to was torn down decades ago to make room for apartment buildings - which are now apparently slated to be torn down themselves! My high school no longer exists, the hospital where I was born and where I worked after school when I was in high school was closed and torn down, the hometown bank where I worked when I graduated from college was taken over by a very large bank which was taken over by another very large bank which was taken over by another very large bank...It's almost as though my past has been erased!

Karen in Ohio said...

Hallie, what a great house you lived in. Too bad about the trees, though. It would have been a lot nicer if they'd replaced them, no?

My mom still lives in Hamilton, Ohio, where I grew up, so I've driven past our various homes there over the years. Nothing is the same. Neighborhoods that had nice old homes back in the 50's and 60's are now rundown and decrepit. It just depresses me.

One big change, and I would not have noticed if it hadn't been for old photos superimposed onto new ones, is that there used to be little mom & pop grocery stores every few blocks. It's too bad that we need to rely on cars today, compared to back when we could "run to the corner" for something.

Hallie Ephron said...

Ellen: that's so lovely! Amazing indeed what people can do when they put their resources and energy together.

Rhys said...

I loved this piece, Hallie. I think going home is bitter sweet for most people. My childhood village is unrecognisable these days. My big old house and it's orchard pulled down for the M 25 motorway. Houses where there were only fields. A huge new shopping center where the old Regal cinema gave me many happy hours. But my school is still as it was and still amid lovely country.

Hallie Ephron said...

Deb, my husband's Brooklyn neighborhood used to be like that... run down and dangerous. And now it's made a U-turn and is coming back. Fortunately Robert Moses didn't bulldoze all the brownstones... or "tenements" as he liked to call them.

Hallie Ephron said...

Karen, I've BEEN to Hamilton Ohio - love the Mad Anthony statue in the middle of town. I could see it's been through some tough times.

We picked our neighborhood because we can "run to the corner" - still can, though the movie theater, bowling alley, and library you used to be able to run to have closed.

Hallie Ephron said...

Rhys, how nice when you find a place, even if it's small, that is preserved.

Karen in Ohio said...

Hallie, you probably don't remember, but we met at the Write Like Mad day at Miami University, the last time you were there.

Some things about Hamilton are massively better than they were when I was a child: the amazing Fitton Center for the arts, and some of the other art-related events. There's an ice sculpture competition in the winter, in conjunction with a book festival, and it's gotten wildly popular. And now there are loft apartments for artists, right uptown, a new program that is getting a lot of attention.

Deborah Crombie said...

Hallie, lovely essay. Would you believe that my mother-in-law and sister-in-law still live next door to the house I grew up in? (Which my parents built in 1947. My dad sold the surrounding acreage in the 60s; our front pasture became a street. My mother-in-law was the second owner of the house next door.

My parents sold the house when I was in my late twenties to go and live on a golf course--I never forgave them:-) But I do get to see it every time we visit my in-laws.

kk said...

Night Night, Sleep Tight was a superb read, Hallie. I loved the exact feeling of being back decades, back to clothes brands and styles I wore, back to places I'd read about like Bullock's.

It is bittersweet to return to one's childhood places in real life. My maternal grandparents' stone home in small town Kansas where I grew up hasn't changed a bit. That's comforting somehow.

My paternal grandparents' home in a great part of Dallas, however, has been updated and added to. By a miracle I got invited inside it ten years ago. My husband and I were standing on the curb, staring at the house my grandfather Pop designed and built in 1943, when the owner drove up. She was suspicious and asked what was going on. When she heard my story, she invited us in and showed us around. I was able to explain some archeology of her home that they could not understand. I was so thrilled that I sent her flowers later.

As for me, I've spent four years conjuring mysteries set in the late sixties and so my dreams are tie-dyed!

kk said...

Night Night, Sleep Tight was a superb read, Hallie. I loved the exact feeling of being back decades, back to clothes brands and styles I wore, back to places I'd read about like Bullock's.

It is bittersweet to return to one's childhood places in real life. My maternal grandparents' stone home in small town Kansas where I grew up hasn't changed a bit. That's comforting somehow.

My paternal grandparents' home in a great part of Dallas, however, has been updated and added to. By a miracle I got invited inside it ten years ago. My husband and I were standing on the curb, staring at the house my grandfather Pop designed and built in 1943, when the owner drove up. She was suspicious and asked what was going on. When she heard my story, she invited us in and showed us around. I was able to explain some archeology of her home that they could not understand. I was so thrilled that I sent her flowers later.

As for me, I've spent four years conjuring mysteries set in the late sixties and so my dreams are tie-dyed!

storytellermary said...

Nice trip back in time. I will often detour through the neighborhood in Overland where I grew up, just because I can.
Lately I've been thinking about the years I lived in Minneapolis and wanting to revisit some of the places there. Teleporting time machines could be fun . . .

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

I think it's great you can go back to Beverly Hills and still have it feel like home, Hallie. While it's not as glam as 90210, I do love going back to Buffalo, NY.

Hallie Ephron said...

Karen, Love Miami University and love that it's in Ohio.

Debs: so you really can 'go home' sort of

kk: mine are too old to be tie-dyed. And it sounds like the opening of a mystery novel: woman arrives and says she used to live there 30 years ago and talks her way in...

Hallie Ephron said...

Storytellermary: Go! Before it's too late.

Susan: Buffalo?! Really you've got to tell us more about that at some point.

Kathy Reel said...

I'm a big fan of going back home to revisit places of my youth, and although much has changed, there are some places that remain wonderfully familiar. So, you really can go home again, Thomas, but there will be some transformations to deal with. Since I come from a small town, there is much that remains as I remember it, with the churches still the same, the row of New Orleans style ironwork houses downtown, the downtown buildings pretty much intact, and the neighborhood in which I grew up looking much the same. However, downtown Maysville, KY, while still maintaing its charm, has suffered in part the same fate as many downtowns, with empty stores and most of the old merchants gone. My childhood neighborhood has not changed drastically, but the houses look smaller than when I was young (so often the case). There is a new library, which replaced the old one with pillars on an old brick street, and I do lament that change, although it really was necessary.

My hometown of Maysville, KY was recently chosen by "Country Living" as one of the 18 most charming towns across America. Here's the link. http://www.countryliving.com/life/travel/g2294/must-visit-small-towns-across-america/?src=spr_FBPAGE&spr_id=1453_162853279

Reine said...

I am very lucky to be able to go home and find little changed in the areas of Salem and Marblehead where I was born and grew up. Some things, of course, have changed. But the candy store around the corner, the one across from the House of Seven Gables, is still there. Houses where two sets of great-grandparents are nearby. The Common where I played, the wharf and Hawthorne's Custom House are there. My great-grandparent's houses. The views are much the same. Even where there are changes, I know what is different or missing, and it makes sense. It's home.

Kathy Reel said...

Ramona, your upcoming visit home sounds like it's going to be a memory of the best kind. Hallie, your home was and is beautiful. Edith, FB has kept my hometown in touch with one another, and for that I am most grateful for FB. Karen, I grew up east on the Ohio River from you. We always called the large area, including all the burbs around Cincinnati, Cincinnati. Of course, even northern Kentucky borrows from Cincinnati with the naming of the airport, which is actually in Kentucky. I have great memories of Cincinnati as a child. My pediatrician, Dr. Wagner, was in Cinci.

Susan, I'd love to hear more about Buffalo, too. When my friend and I went to Bouchercon in Albany in 2013, we took an extended trip and drove up to the wonderful Adirondacks that Julia's books have made me fall in love with, and on the return trip came down through Buffalo and other surrounding areas. One of my favorite places on the trip was 60 miles south of Buffalo on US-219, the town of Ellicottville.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

SO fascinating! ANd Ramona, whoa. We want a full report..

I haven't been back to see my childhood home. I've been back to Indianapolis. but just couldn't go. It was --beautiful, and probably still is, but I just want to leave it that way.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hallie and Kathy, Buffalo is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful place (despite the snow) — one of my new characters for MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE is a Washington, D.C. journalist from Buffalo -- maybe I should take a page from Hallie and do a post!

Mary Sutton said...

I did my student teaching in college in Ellicottville. Cute town.

Kathy Reel said...

Mary, how cool that you did your student teaching in Ellicottville. I thought it was so charming.

Hallie Ephron said...

Goodness but it's a small world.

And YES Susan! Absolutely write post about it!

And now it feels like when we read Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante we'll have the inside scoop!

Reine said...

Ramona, I look forward to your tales from the porch in south Louisiana. And DeFelice Diva Day, of course.

Mary Sutton said...

The entire area is one of those hidden gems that if you aren't from Western New York or a huge ski fan, you just don't know it exists.