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Then Againby Diane Keaton
Dorothy's commitment to writing began with a letter to Ensign Jack Hall, who was stationed with the Navy in Boston. It was just after the end of World War II. She was resting in the Queen of Angels Hospital after having given birth to me. All alone with a seven-pound, seven-ounce baby, she began a correspondence that would develop into a different kind of passion. At that time, Mom's words were influenced by the few movies Beulah had allowed her to see, like 1938's Broadway Melody. Harmless fluff pieces with dialogue out of the mouth of Judy Garland. Mom's "I sure do love you more than anything in the world" and her use of "swell" and "No one could ever make me happier than you" mirrored the American worldview of life and its expectations during the 1940s. For Dorothy, more than anything, it was love. It was Jack. It was Diane, and it was swell.
Mom wrote her first "Hello, Honey" letter when I was eight days old. Fifty years later I met my daughter, Dexter, and held her in my arms when she was eight days old. She was a cheerful baby. Contrary to my long-held belief, I was not a cheerful baby or even very cute. Mother's concern about my appearance was defined by a bad photograph. Photography was already telling people how to see me. I didn't pass Dad's pretty-picture test, or Mom's for that matter. Holed up in Grammy Keaton's little bungalow on Monterey Road in Highland Park, Dorothy had no choice. Through her twenty-four-year-old eyes she wanted to believe I was extraordinary. I had to be. She passed this kind of hope on to a baby girl who got caught up in its force. Our six months alone together sealed the deal. Everything for Dorothy became heightened because she was exploding with the joy, pain, fear, and empathy of being a first-time mother.
January 13, 1946
You should be just about getting into Boston, and I'll bet you are pretty worn out from the trip. It's hard to realize it could be so cold there when it's so nice here. I'm sorry I acted the way I did when you left. I sure didn't want to, but the thought of you leaving got me so upset. I tried awfully hard to stop crying, because I knew it wasn't good for Diane.
It's 8:00 o'clock p.m., and your daughter's asleep. She's getting prettier every day and by the time you see her you may decide to have her for your "favorite dish." That's not fair, honey-I saw you first, so I should be first choice in your harem, don't you think? Chiquita and Lois came over today. They agreed she was swell, even though she has one bad habit-whenever anyone comes to look at her she looks back at them cross-eyed.
Well, honey, I think I'll wake little "Angel Face" up. We've certainly got a prize, no fooling. Every time I look at her I think I can't wait until you can see her, and we can be by ourselves.
Good night, my love,
January 18, 1946
I wish I wasn't such a crybaby. I don't understand me. Until I was married you couldn't make me cry over anything. I thought I couldn't cry-but now all I have to do is think of you and how swell you are and I miss you so much before I know it I'm bawling just like Diane. I sure do love you more than you could know, honey. Even if I don't tell you very often when I see you, I'm always thinking it.
Diane & I had our picture taken-just small cheap ones. I'm afraid they can't be too good of her-she's so tiny-and naturally they won't be good of me, but that's to be expected. I hope you can at least see what she looks like a little bit. The photographer said she was very good for a baby her size & age. She's not fat like her mother used to be. Incidentally I'm still on the plump side = darn it. She weighs over 9 lbs. and, as I say in every letter-gets cuter everyday. I think that's a nice idea of yours, sending her $2.00 bills. I'm putting them away for her. It's adding up. Maybe pretty soon we could start a savings account for her. Good night, my Honey.
February 21, 1946
I'm so disappointed. Those pictures are just as I expected-awful. Diane looks kind of funny. I'm not going to send them cause you'll think I've been kidding you about how cute she is.
You said in your letter today that you wish we could relive those good old days again. I sure look back and dream about how swell they were. We don't want to ever change, do we? Even though we have a family and more responsibilities, I don't think that's any reason to act older and not have the fun we used to. Right?!
Good night, Darling Jack,
March 31, 1946
Right now I'm so mad at you I could really tell you off if you were here. I don't know whatever gave you the crazy idea that I might have changed and "start liking someone else." You aren't the only person that believes in making a success of their marriage-it means just as much to me as it does you, and if you think I go around looking for someone that might suit me a little better, you don't think too much of me. Don't you think I take being married seriously? You ought to know how much I love you-so why in the world would I try and find someone else? You said you wanted me to be happy-well, believe me, you couldn't make me any more unhappy if you tried. If you would just have a little confidence in me and trust me more you wouldn't think such things. You don't have to keep reminding me of the fact that we promised to tell each other first if things had changed. That applies to you too. Would you like it if I kept telling you I didn't think it would last long and you would soon find someone else? Well, I sure don't like it one bit so please don't write like that again.
I probably shouldn't send this but the more I think about it the madder I get! But no matter how mad I get, honey-I love you as much as I can and if I looked the whole world over I couldn't see anyone but you because no one could ever make me any happier than you always have and always will. I feel better now-not mad anymore, but I'll be really mad if you ever write that way again-don't forget.
P.S. I've decided to send you our photographs after all.
April 25, 1946
So you didn't like the pictures, huh? Please don't think your daughter looks like that because I assure you she doesn't. And even if she wasn't cute, she would be darling just from her personality alone. She has one already-very definitely. I think I'll wait awhile before I have her picture taken again.
You know, of course, that we have a very remarkable and intelligent daughter. I was reading my baby book about what a 4-month-old baby should be doing and she was doing everything they mentioned when she was 2 months, really. She tries her hardest to sit up, and they don't do that until they are 5 or 6 months. She really does take after you in every way-looks, smartness, and personality. Don't worry, she will surely be a beauty.
Well, honey, only 38 more days until that wonderful day when I see you again. Diane said, "Whoopee!" Well, anyway, she smiled-
My first memory is of shadows creating patterns on a wall. Inside my crib, I saw the silhouette of a woman with long hair move across the bars. Even as she picked me up and held me, my mother was a mystery. It was almost as if I knew the world, and life in it, would be unfamiliar yet charged with an alluring, permanent, and questioning romance. As if I would spend the rest of my life trying to understand her. Is this memory real? I don't know.
Certain things stand out: the snowstorm in Los Angeles when I was three; the Quonset hut we lived in until I was five. It had a wonderful shape. I've loved arches ever since. One night, Mr. Eigner, our next-door neighbor, caught me singing "Over the Rainbow" on Daddy's newly paved driveway.
I thought I was going to get into trouble. Instead, he told me I was a "mighty talented young lady." Daddy worked at the Department of Water and Power in downtown Los Angeles. I'd go visit him at his office when I was five. There was something about looking west from the Angels Flight trolley car that mesmerized me. Tall buildings like City Hall peeked over the hill. I loved Clifton's Cafeteria and the Broadway department store. Everything was condensed and concrete and angled and bustling with activity. Downtown was perfect. I thought heaven must look like Los Angeles. But nothing compared to the joy of tugging on Mom's arm, telling her to "Look! Look, Mom." We both loved looking.
It was hard to know what Mom loved more, looking or writing. Her scrapbooks, at least when I was a little girl, were ruined by endless explanations underneath the photographs. As I got older, I avoided the unwanted envelopes with her "Letters to Diane" like the plague. Who cared about letters? I just wanted pictures. After my incident in the darkroom with Mother's journal, that was it for me. But when I made the decision to write a memoir at age sixty-three, I began to read Mother's journals in no particular order. In the middle of this process, I came across what must have been an attempt at her own memoir. Embossed in gold at the top of the cover was 1980. That meant she began to write it when she was fifty-nine. Each entry was dated. Sometimes Mom would start an excerpt, then stop, leaving dozens of pages empty. Or she would write a paragraph on an incident one year, only to return to it a couple of years later, only to restart with yet another approach months after. Over the course of five years, she skipped in and out of her childhood events almost as if she was free-associating. For the most part Dorothy's tone was forgiving, sweet, and sometimes elegiac. But sometimes it wasn't. She must have been taking stock of her life by dredging up memories of those days in the thirties when she was sandwiched between the harsh rules laid down by the Free Methodist church and the lure of life outside Beulah's constraints. I hate to believe it's true, but life threw Dorothy some punches she didn't recover from.
My father, Roy Keaton, nicknamed me Perkins when I was very young, maybe three or four years old. He used it when he had "family feelings." When he felt estranged, he called me Dorothy. Daddy made it clear with all three of Mother's pregnancies that he wanted a boy. As we girls grew, it became obvious that I was the one he wished had been the boy of his dreams. I was the tomboy, a quiet girl who gave no one trouble. I don't know why Dad favored me over my sisters. Sometimes he confided thoughts he didn't even share with Mother. I always listened wordlessly. When he finished he would say, "Isn't that right, Perkins, huh? Huh?" He knew I would always agree. I think he also knew I always agreed with Mother too.
We moved a lot. When I was 4 we lived in an old two-story frame house on Walnut St. in Pasadena. The house sat right on the sidewalk. But we had a huge yard that backed up to the railroad tracks, which carried the new Super Chief Santa Fe train. No fence, or wall, or anything separated our yard from the track. I saw passengers' faces as they looked into our kitchen. Today this would not be permissible but no one cared back then. Dad's German shepherd, Grumpy, would sleep on the tracks, but he always ambled off just in time.
We always had cats. I was still just a kid when we moved to a cheaper rental house on top of a hill in Highland Park. It was set on a half acre of loose dirt, with a small patch of grass. We didn't have neighbors. Very few people cared to climb the steep public stairway from the street. It was a perfect setting for cats. Mom let me have all I wanted. 13. Dad couldn't have cared less. He was seldom there anyway. Money was scarce. Somehow these little furry creatures got fed every day along with the five of us. I found Pretty Boy, Cakes, Yeller, and Alex in one week. One particular cat though dominates my memory. Her name was Baby. She was a dull gray thing, with skinny legs, and eyes that made up most of her head, and a broken tail that hung crooked. The strangest thing was she made no sounds; no meows; no hisses and no purrs. Baby was a genetic failure to everyone but me. I loved her. One day, she gave birth to a litter of four kittens. To my great sorrow, though, Baby was never the same. She died not long after. Orpha didn't care that much. She already had boyfriends she didn't tell Mother about, so she was constantly sneaking out in the middle of the night. Marti was just a little girl, so she didn't pay attention to them, but to me, the cats were the dearest things in the whole wide world. Mother always said being the middle sister made me the most sensitive. I don't know about that, but it made me sad we couldn't share how special they were. I never told them about my dream of owning a big cat farm where I could save every orphan cat I ever saw, broken down or not.
Being firstborn had its advantages. I had Mom and Dad all to myself. Then Randy arrived, my junior by a couple of years. Randy was sensitive-too sensitive. As president and creator of the Beaver Club, I made Randy, the treasurer, come with me to the public stairway near the arroyo to look for money. Our number-one mission was to buy coonskin caps like Davy Crockett's. They cost a dollar and ninety-eight cents apiece. We were beside ourselves when Randy spotted an actual honest-to-God fifty-cent piece.
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