THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Older Son Jeb and his wife Sarah the Fantastic New Mother made me a grandfather again a couple of months ago.
Franny Owl Brody, who’s way too young to be embarrassed by all the attention she’s getting just for being herself, is my fourth grandchild. The other three, Isabel, Anna, and Sky Rewick, were born in London, England, to Oldest Daughter Jen and Mad Scotsman Husband Glenn.
I haven’t gotten to see Isabel, Anna, and Sky very much because of the logistics involved in such long trips, but that’s going to change. Oldest Daughter and her family have moved to Northern California, making visits just a mite more affordable and convenient now.
Franny Owl, meanwhile, was born and is being raised in my old stomping ground.
Now most people might consider that good news. “Oh, wow, Larry B,” Brannigan the Contractor said when I told him about Franny’s birth, “you get to go see her plus your old friends plus hang in all the great places you left behind when you came to Paradise.”
I understand Brannigan’s point, and probably would say the same thing to him if our positions were reversed. But the truth is that at the time the thought of going to L.A. filled me with dread.
On the one hand, it was the scene of my greatest professional successes.
On the other, it also was the scene of my biggest personal failures.
Two bad marriages. Two alienated children who—unlike Jeb and Jen—haven’t spoken to me in almost ten years.
For me, the Lala Land of Los Angeles is nothing more than a reminder of promises broken.
Promises I made to people who loved me…and also to myself.
Promises I was too young and/or ignorant and/or selfish and/or foolish to be able to keep.
Since I left L.A. six and a half years ago it’s existed as a dark, troubled sea on my mental map of the world. A sea covered by the old cartographer’s phrase, “Here There Be Dragons.”
The closest I’ve come to going back to L.A. since Gwen the Beautiful and I settled on The Mountain was when Gwen’s mother died and we went to her memorial service in Riverside, California, sixty miles from the epicenter of the ground I was convinced was waiting to stomp me.
When you get down to it, living in fear of the past really is living in fear of yourself. Of who you were. Of what you did. Of attitudes and deeds that are over. Gone. Nothing but ghosts. And living on a haunted mountain has taught me that ghosts can’t hurt you. They don’t even want to hurt you. Any pain you get from them is pain you’ve caused yourself.
So I had to face the past.
And see the future…my beautiful new granddaughter.
Blow off my self-indulgent self-torment and be free.
Carpe diem. I made myself seize the day, and Gwen and I flew to L.A.
Drove the freeways we once drove everyday.
Ate in the neighborhoods where we once ate everyday.
Felt the pulse of the city. Its arrogant indolence. Its laid-back ambition. Its anything for a price combination of sexuality and commerce.
“Psst…wanna make a deal? Sell your soul for fifteen minutes of fame? For the chance to walk behind Lindsay Lohan while the paparazzi click her way?”
And—wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles!—the pressure I thought I’d find…wasn’t there. The pain I’d tried to hide from didn’t hurt.
The demons I’d braced myself for never showed.
L.A. was just another city. Sprawling. Crowded. Obsessed.
And something else:
“I love you,” Los Angeles said to me as I drove from the airport to my son’s house. “Do you love me?”
I looked around.
Looked inside to see what I felt.
“Yes,” I said. “I love you.”
And then came another surprise. “I forgive you,” said the city. “Do you forgive me?”
This time I didn’t need to wait. I knew the answer. “I forgive you,” I said.
Our week with Franny Owl and family was wonderful. Her mother welcomed Gwen and me to their world. Her father treated us lovingly. I followed him everywhere, as once he’d followed me.
The biggest moment was the first time I held the baby. “How does it feel?” my son said.
“It feels wonderful,” I said. And I thought, at last without regret:
“It makes me wish I still could hold you.”