Monday, September 7, 2015

"If you don't make mistakes, you aren't really trying."  ~  Coleman Hawkins

My Nana is another story, and a much different story than that of my Grandfather-I-never-knew.

Nana always prided herself on looking "just like the Duchess of Windsor." I've only ever seen photographs of that American lady who tempted the Duke of Windsor into abdicating his throne as King Edward VIII and going back to being Prince Edward, instead. You know, my Nana actually DID look a lot like her! Every time I've seen a photo of Wallis Simpson, though, I've always been glad that I don't look a thing like her… such cold eyes. Of course, I never told Nana that.

Now, Nana wasn't fond of people under the age of 21. She told me that when I reached the age of 21 myself, so it's an actual statement from her very mouth! Maybe Mrs. Simpson didn't like kids, either… dunno… But Nana sent Jack and I Christmas presents every year, and birthday presents, too. Once in a while we even went to her house in the Pacific Palisades years after her one-of-a-kind, manly-man, John Rogge had already drown in the Caribbean Sea. I have pictures of myself as a 2-or 3-year-old standing in front of that house with my Mom holding on to me while my Dad snapped the picture. The house was the home of Nana and her newest husband whose name I don't remember… or maybe never knew. I was only a baby, after all.

Nana never had trouble finding other husbands, but she could never, ever find a John Rogge, again. So, one day, with the backing of her new husband Roy, she opened a radio and TV repair shop on Wilshire Boulevard, right on the block now known as Los Angeles' " Miracle Mile." Why she chose that is a mystery to me. I just remember visiting there when I was very little and when TV's were a new invention. TV screens were about as big as iPad screens in those days, and only wealthy people owned them. Most folks had radios, not TV's, and they couldn't live without their radios. If something happened to them, they wanted them fixed as soon as possible. What a great business to have! If Nana had kept that shop long enough on "The Miracle Mile," that property would have been worth an absolute fortune...

I remember as a tiny girl sitting in her huge living room full of over-stuffed, comfortable sofas and chairs. Then she'd turn off all the lights in the room, and she'd turn on the television set. After a while, a blazing white light would shine from that 8-inch screen.  Images would finally appear on it and would flicker, roll around, rise up-and-down, then flicker diagonally, impossible to really see.

When a fuzzy picture would finally appear, Nana would say, "It's snowing! Just a minute and I'll fix it." She'd disappear behind that large set with the tiny screen, and fidget with "tubes" or something while the box buzzed with electricity. Several minutes later an actual picture would appear. It was usually a black-and-white drawing of an American Indian's profile. There was no movement. It was a drawing made of black-and-white-and-light! Everyone in the living room would hunch up closer to the box and stare at that Native American's profile as though they'd never seen a drawing before. Who knows… maybe that's what made me grow up, determined to be an artist… dunno… Sometimes there would be a picture of the earth revolving in its circle with some kind of an airplane flying around and behind and in front of the earth. It was mesmerizing to me!

Nana owned that business because her latest husband, Roy, had bought the little repair shop for her. She learned the business, and all was well for a while. Nana was truly a business woman! If she'd have kept that shop longer, instead of getting married some more times, she would have been as rich as the Duchess of Windsor, too! It was on "The Miracle Mile," for heavens sake!

The radio-and-TV repair shop was situated on a large lot with a grassy yard behind it. A little, tiny house was perched on the back edge of the grassy yard with a disconnected wooden garage behind it. A year or so after Nana had settled into being a radio-and-TV repair shop owner, my aunt and her two daughters moved into that house. It wasn't fancy, but Susan and Pam, my cousins, had an actual television set! That was something that I wouldn't see for several more years in our house. Now that I think of it, that TV of theirs never worked most of the time. Their radio always did. But, as far as the TV was concerned, it was even worth looking at the blank screen. After all, we had no idea how it operated, and I could only climb the small tree in their yard so many times before my legs were bleeding or I'd step barefooted on a rock in the grass. And who knew… that magic box called a TV might decide to make pictures appear all at once! Well, that's what my aunt told us. It even kept my little brother quiet most of the time!

Later, after two more husbands, one who loved to dance, and one who she married for only 2 weeks before she filed for divorce or whatever it's called after a mere two weeks of matrimony, Nana finally moved to the "high desert" of California. I was married and had moved to California with my husband, and I got to visit her there and bring her down to our house to stay with us periodically.

Nana lived to be 96 years old. But before she left California for North Carolina to live near my Mom and Dad in her last years, she gave me her best treasure. No, not the Amazon bow-and-arrows. And not the Russian artist's painting of Boa Vista. Not even the cigar box of precious stones from Brazil that she'd collected. She gave me all those, and other things, too. But there was one thing that was the dearest thing to her in all of life.

"Terry, here… this is for you." There were tears in her eyes! My Nana wasn't the type of person to cry… Those tears were real, though… sadly, sadly real. "This is for you!"

She handed me the 4-inch thick photograph album of the Henry Ford rubber plantation, the one composed of 8" X 12" individual photographs of all phases of its progression. From the original Amazon jungle, to the cleared land, to the planted seedlings, to 6-7 foot high rubber trees, it was all there. But scattered through the album are photos here and there of John Rogge, my grandfather, and the only man Nana ever loved.