Letter to My Children
was home for many years after the war. I rented the third floor of a private residence
in a beautiful area lit by gas lamps on Reading Road. While living there I earned
a degree in broadcasting at the Media Division of the College of Music of the
University of Cincinnati. I found my first job writing scripts at the great Midwestern
radio station WLW. All Ohio girls are beautiful and I fell in love with every
one I met. Fortunately, they and I realized I wasn't ready to settle down and
they sent me packing. Good step, because if I had married one of those Ohio beauties
I would never have met your mother. Cincinnati was good to me, but it was a time
and place of transition. It probably is not the home I may be looking for when
I am in my dotage and lost in the world.
I left Cincinnati to devote full
time to the writing of a novel. Home was a cottage four miles outside of Mena,
Arkansas in the Ouachita Mountains. The building was a small stone cottage that
had been built by a Belgian artist named Benti. I found the place through an ad
in "The Writer's Digest" (Paradise on Five Dollars a Day). I rented
it sight unseen. It was one of the most productive writing locations I have ever
known and while there I wrote the best stuff I have written before or after. There
was no electricity, no telephone, no radio, no running water, no kitchen. My only
companion was a six foot long black snake that ventured from under the house and
into the living room when the sun went down and scared the hell out of me. There
was one other drawback to such High Living. You have never known thirst until
you live in a dry county, and that part of Arkansas in those days was DRY! I had
to walk four miles to the Oklahoma border for a beer. I wrote well that summer,
but when the leaves began to fall and the first frost came to Rich Mountain I
packed my beat up old portable Royal, caught a ride to Mena with the rural mail
carrier, took a bus to Hot Springs, and then went by train to Virginia. If you
are looking to take me home, don't take me to Arkansas. I might get thirsty and
I don't think I could make that hike to the Oklahoma border any more.
York was my spiritual home. It was where I had always known God intended me to
be. Ever since I had read the E. B. White essay "Here is New York" I
knew that I had to go there. When I eventually arrived there it was with the elation
of achieving a long sought after goal. It mattered not at all that I had only
two dollars left after I paid my first month's rent for a room off of 96th Street
and Riverside Drive. I passed the Christmas holidays enjoying any diversion that
was free, mostly they were concerts of Christmas music that ranged from Bach cantatas
in the Episcopalian Churches to Russian folk songs in a Ukrainian Chapel not far
from where I lived.
New York was generous from the day I arrived. In a
short time I found a job at NBC and could hardly believe that my office was on
the second floor (Room 211) of the RCA Building. My window (yes, window in an
office in the RCA Building we have come a long way from the back woods of Virginia
here!) looked out over the Radio City Music Hall sign which in time would advertise
the premiere of a movie based on one of my books! With a steady income I was able
to move to 546 West 87th Street in an apartment that was advertised in The New
York Times: "For the Discerning Few!" I managed to convince the owner
that I was "discerning" and moved in! It was actually one large room
stripped down to its original brick walls, now painted white. You entered on a
landing and a stairway led down into the "sunken living room." The kitchen
was hidden behind folding doors and the bed disappeared under the stairway. I
bought my first car, an ancient Ford Convertible!
were to become even headier when I met and married your mother. We had two apartments
in The Village and I will still accept either of them as "home" because
we were happy in both places.
The first apartment, right after we were
married, was a loft in a professional building on 13th Street. There was an upstairs
bedroom with a view of the downtown New York skyline that, in the words of my
jazz worshipping friend, Jack Wilson, claimed was "too good for white people."
There was no stove so your mother cooked on a hot plate and a portable electric
oven and frying pan, which had been wedding gifts. We had Clementine, the first
of our neurotic Cocker Spaniels. We went to the theater to see plays and musicals.
We even had a place in the country - a cottage on a small lake up in Westchester.
We knew lots of other young people, writers, actors, musicians, artists. It was
a party! We could not have been happier.
The second Village apartment was
at 44 West 12th street. It was a "garden" apartment. It had all sorts
of wonders including an actual garden where I planted wild flowers which I collected
along back roads up in Westchester Country. It had a fireplace and the first night
we moved in, not knowing that it was inoperable, we started an enormous fire and
smoked everybody out of the apartments above us. It had a glassed-in back porch
which we called the "Ice Palace." It became our bedroom after you people
were born and when we would wake sometimes on a winter morning, snow would have
fallen during the night and the entire room would be encased in snow and ice.
The apartment had an interesting history. The last tenant had been a composer
and the song "When the Red, Red Robin, Comes Bob Bob Bobbin Along" was
supposed to have been written in our living room. We left New York reluctantly
because television had moved to the West Coast and we chose to move with it. And
because of the responsibilities of parenthood and the fact that the city was changing,
it had become a party that we could no longer attend. But even now when we are
in New York we walk past 44 West 12the Street and wonder who lives in "our
In Los Angeles we rented a house for a brief time and
then one weekend after I had started selling scripts work, we were driving around,
lost in the hills above Studio City, and came upon a house for sale. It is the
same house where we now live, a wood and glass structure with a sweeping view
of the valley and the San Gabriel's on beyond. You know the house. You grew up
here and the house still echoes with the sounds of your voices and the memories
of you as children, your growing up and the mixed emotions we felt upon seeing
you leave for college knowing that whenever you came home again it would be to
visit. It was our dream house when we found it and it still is today.
and if I become cloudy minded as my mother was toward the end, when I am unable
to drive, yearning for some home that I can't even identify, I will probably ask
you to "take me home." When that happens, humor me as we did my mother.
Drive me around the block and back again and tell me that I am "home."
It should satisfy my longing to be back in a place and time where I have enjoyed
the happiest years of my life. That place is still here where my fondest memories
live, where I am growing old and crotchety, where in spite of the passing years,
your mother still manages to be an anchor and to keep me in touch with some shreds
of reality. The old place looks nice. We've rebuilt the deck around the pool and
put down a new floor in the kitchen. A family of rabbits found their way into
the back yard recently. How lucky we were to be lost that day we came upon this
old house on this winding street in the rolling hills below Mullholland Drive
in Studio City, California.
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