18, No Time to Waste

Chapter Three

   MICHIGAN WAS NEVER THE SAME for us after that trip to California. We had become completely dazzled by the beauty of the coastal town of Pacific Palisades. Going to the beach in April, mowing the lawn in December, and saying good-by to boots and mittens just seemed too good to be true.

   So when Vern was offered a job, we left immediately. We bought a tiny house just a few blocks from my parents and settled down to a new way of life.

   When Christmas rolled around that year, we all swallowed a lump in our throats, thinking of snowmen, tobogganing, and cozy nights by the fireplace. It took us time to become acclimated to the new "life style" that was California living — but not too long.

   Soon we were learning how to "live outdoors," barbecuing in the backyard, and shopping for Christmas presents in summer clothes. Sunglasses were as necessary as the car keys — it seemed a land of perpetual sunshine.

   It didn't take us long to accustom ourselves to the bustling, traffic-packed freeways, either. A place was never miles away; it was minutes or hours. We had Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and occasionally a glimpse of a famous personality.

   Our fourth child, David, was born the same year we made our home in California, and our prayer for a brother for Richard was answered.

   "Just what we ordered." Vern and I were elated. "Two girls and two boys."

   I was a little premature in my smugness, however, for David was only nine months old when I felt the old familiar nausea. Rushing to the doctor, I heard the, by now, routine words. "Why yes, Mrs. Johnson, you are going to have a baby."

   It was too much, too soon, I thought angrily as I drove home. How in the world would we ever care for five children. Our house was small, our finances smaller, and my strength even smaller.

   "I can't believe it," I said for nine months. And even on the way to the hospital, I felt the tiniest resentment that this baby had ruined our best-laid plans.

   But when they laid Danny in my arms, all resentment vanished. He was a beautiful, perfect boy. I was sure God had sent him for a special purpose.

   However, the "fun" days with the girls were over. Life became a constant routine of baby bottles, diapers, heads to wash, hair to comb, shoes to polish, and endless nights with crying babies. And always I seemed to be saying, "No, no, don't touch . . . don't spill your milk . . . take your nap . . ."

   "These are the best years of your life," people would tell me, and I would nod wearily, never believing it. With three boys just under three, every ounce of energy seemed drained from my body.

   The girls were rushed out of the door to school in the morning, their questions left unanswered. In the afternoon after school Cindy found solace in curling up with a book, but Kathi spent more and more time with her friends at their homes. The lines of communication to her were already becoming shaky.

   I wanted with all of my heart to keep Kathi close to me, but there seemed to be no time or way. She was independent and found compensation with friends outside our home, which was bulging at the seams with children.

   "Let's face it, mom," she told me once, "you had too many kids."

   I didn't answer her, but a heavy depression settled on me. Prosperity was everywhere in Pacific Palisades, except at our house. We were badly needing more room for our growing children.

   Los Angeles, with its many suburbs, was sprawling over a large area of Southern California, and places which were once filled with productive orange groves now gave way to tracts of homes or apartment houses. Ranch areas were converted into self-sufficient communities centered around large, complete shopping centers.

   Away from the ocean and over the hills lay the San Fernando Valley, one of the fastest growing suburban areas adjacent to Los Angeles. On Sunday afternoons we would take the children for a drive through Topanga Canyon out to the valley, in search of a more adequate house for our family, but within our means.

   As we topped the mountain road and headed down into the valley, it was like gazing down upon a vast ocean of houses. We drove through tract after tract, street after street. After looking at many of them, we stepped into one ranch-type house and both said, "This is it." We moved in late summer with our little brood.

   It was a long, hot summer in the San Fernando Valley. Crisis after crisis faced our family. I went into the hospital for a routine operation, complications set in, and I found myself back in the hospital for the better part of the summer.

   An enormous hospital bill came as a result of that illness. There seemed to be only one solution. I would have to go to work as soon as I regained my strength.

   Spring found Cindy seriously ill and in the hospital. Then under doctors' orders she was put to bed for six months. Cindy and I shared a unique closeness because of her illness, and Kathi was beginning to feel left out of things.

   We often teased Kathi that she was always the one to hold open the front door while we rushed one of the other children to the doctor.

   To me, Kathi seemed indestructible.

   I felt that we must make it up to her some way because I had to spend so much time with Cindy and the boys, so Vern and I decided to buy her a puppy she had longed to own.

   "I'll take care of her; I'll feed her; I'll clean up after her." Kathi was so excited.

   And so Queenie came to live with us — a little black and white bundle of sheer energy that matched Kathi's. They chased each other in the backyard. Queenie snuggled up next to Kathi in the evening, and all the love and affection she had bottled up, she lavished on that little puppy.

   Wherever Kathi was, Queenie would be. Often at night I would find Queenie cuddled up in bed with her, hiding under the blankets at the foot of the bed.

   One day when a truck turned recklessly down our street and hit the helpless Queenie, killing her instantly, Kathi could not be comforted.

   "Do puppies go to heaven, mommy," she asked me, the tears streaming down her face.

   I cried with her as we put away Queenie's things. And though I promised to buy her a puppy real soon, Kathi, so sensitive, so tender, was deeply hurt when she lost Queenie. 

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