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September 12, 2013

Thursday Diary, missing LA

Before I lived in Echo Park, there was a tiny 1920s bungalow-cottage-standalone house on N. Occidental in Silver Lake. I loved that 850 square feet, which was tucked behind another, nearly identical bungalow, with an alleyway that had been vacated by the city--given back to the residents and owners--and gated off on both ends. There were about ten fruit trees in the tiny yard. I lived there for four years, but my husband and I decided it was time to move to a bigger place (among other considerations), and fate called my bluff when we stumbled onto a perfect rental in Echo Park.

I had a difficult time with the move, grieved it in advance. I filled two albums of photographs of the house we were leaving, and after we left I framed a couple of them and put them on the walls on the house on Sargent Place.

"Oh, honey," my grandmother, Florence, said to me. "Always look forward. Never look back."

Spoken truly like the energetic woman who had moved up in the world that she was. She was still fairly healthy and strong then, and she could not imagine why I was dragging my heels. Certainly, she was trying to help me. But she may also have been annoyed at my lack of forward momentum. It makes sense--if you're in your late 70s and looking forward, wouldn't a granddaughter be part of your viewfinder?

She died while I was living in the "new" house in Echo Park, four years later. But, before then, she showed me that she did, in fact, own a rearview mirror.

My grandfather had died, and I was planning a visit to Chicago to see Florence. She called a few days before I flew out to make sure I had rented a car. She said there was something she wanted me to do but wouldn't tell what. And when she did tell me, she made me swear to secrecy, and she was serious.

What Florence wanted was to drive to her old house from the assisted-living apartment where she had moved immediately after my grandfather's death. She and Henry had built the house (or had it built) and lived in it for about 45 years. They'd been the only residents--it had been featured in design magazines and was very lovely. And now she had heard that the new owners tore it down--they were on some kind of expedited schedule. It had only been a few months since she'd moved out. My uncle did not want her to see it.

But she wanted to look for herself, and so I drove her to Canterbury Court in my rented car. And there was the pure fact: thin air where there had once, solidly, been a house. It looked like a helicopter landing pad, orange dirt packed down with fat tire treads.

"Okay," she said. "Let's go."

For once, I didn't linger. I only linger when there's something to see. I turned the car around in the driveway, which had been left intact for the heavy equipment.

I wrote this because I have been thinking about moving -- or about having moved. In February I moved from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, Ohio. The plan is for a couple of years at least. Los Angeles is an incredible city. Every day I try to remind myself not to compare places that are so fundamentally different as Cincinnati and L.A.

But it's Thursday in September, and I find myself lingering before one of my favorite pictures of Kite Hill in Echo Park. Not visible in the picture--but there nonetheless--are the Baxter Steps. I took the picture in December 2012.


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