Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pasadena, California; Daisy Gumm Majesty; and Me


SPIRITS REVIVED, Daisy Gumm Majesty’s seventh adventure, is being published this month, which makes me very happy. As I’m sure I’ve said before, Daisy Gumm Majesty is my all-time favorite character of those who have showed up in my brain. What’s more, she lives in Pasadena, California, where I was born in the Pasadena Women’s Hospital (Mrs. Pinkerton dithers on the hospital’s board of directors). Shortly after I was born there, the place burned down. I had nothing to do with it, being too young for arson at the time. My parents then moved to Maine, where I spent my first four or so years. The only thing I remember about Maine is my mother telling me never to eat yellow snow. But Pasadena and Altadena (where I spent my childhood) have always been special to me. In fact, I’ve used a lot of my own personal . . . what? Not experiences. Places, I guess, and even people, in my Daisy books.

For one thing, I grew up in Mrs. Bissel’s house. Honest. It belonged to my aunt (my mother’s older sister) Maren Fulton, and it still sits today on the corner of Altadena Drive (in Daisy’s day, it was Foothill Boulevard) and Maiden Lane. Wrennie (my aunt) used to own all the property from Maiden Lane to Lake Avenue on the west, and from Foothill Blvd. to Rubio Street on the north. Her children, my cousins, had horses that lived in the meadow to the west of the huge house. I loved that house. I loved my aunt. But it’s the house that still haunts my dreams. I’d always thought people were supposed to haunt houses, but in my case the situation is reversed. An artist and his consultant wife live there now, and they’ve restored the house to pristine condition. Alan Cate, younger brother of my friend Dr. Mary Ray Cate, tunes their piano before the big parties they often host. Go figure. The house was built in 1904 by a fashion designer named, believe it or not, Duncan (not a relation). The breakfast room in that house is where the séance in SPIRITS REVIVED takes place. Wrennie gradually sold all the extraneous property. I remember when Homepark Avenue was built. Shoot, I’m old. My aunt and my favorite cousin, Joan, are buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, where Daisy buried Billy, only I call it Morningside Cemetery in the books.

Also, Daisy and her family live in a house in which I used to live myself. It’s a bungalow in what’s now known as Bungalow Heaven, only my house was on Michigan Avenue and not Marengo. The kitchen in that house is gigantic, and it was a sore trial to fix Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in it, because I’d have to walk for miles in order to prepare anything. The woman who lived there after I moved out had the good sense to stick a table in the middle of the room to make her life easier. Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, well.

When I was a little girl, my mom used to take me shopping at Nash’s Department Store on the corner of Fair Oaks Ave. and Colorado Blvd. At that time, stores were only open until 6:00 p.m. except on Fridays, when they stayed open until 9:00 p.m. It was a big deal to go shopping on Friday nights!

During my sewing days, I bought many, many yards of material at Maxime’s Fabrics on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Miyako’s was the very first Japanese Restaurant I’d ever heard of. I ate there several times, although it’s since closed its doors. I call it Miyaki’s in SPIRITS REVIVED. Mijare’s Mexican Restaurant (which opened in 1920) is still there, and still serves fabulous Mexican food. The Crown Chop Suey Parlor was gone when I came along, but it was there on Fair Oaks in Daisy’s day. The Crown Theater was still around when I was a kid. My friend Lauren Fiedler and I used to go to the movies there all the time when we were teenagers.

When my kids were very young (actually, Robin hadn’t come along yet) I worked at the Lamanda Park Branch of the Pasadena Public Library. At that time, the Lamanda Park library was an old, old building. In fact, it used to be the Pasadena Public Library’s Children’s Library and was moved to Lamanda Park in some long-ago year. It’s since been torn down and replaced by a modern building. By the way, the entrance to the old library, where Daisy spent many happy hours, is still there, although the rest of the building is gone, on the corner of Raymond Ave. and Walnut Street. I visited it once before its ultimate demise. It was just an old abandoned place then, but it was still interesting.

The First Methodist-Episcopal Church Daisy and her family attended is no longer extant; however, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Altadena, which is directly across the street from Mrs. Bissel’s house, is. My family used to attend church there when we lived with my aunt.

Then there are the people. Across the street from my aunt lived Dr. Doehring and his family (I called him Dr. Dearing in one of the books). Keiji, who shows up in this present book, was the name of my late son-in-law, who died far, far too young. Riki (the name of my younger grandson) will show up in THANKSGIVING ANGELS (a Mercy Allcutt book in which Daisy appears to, natch, conduct a séance). Marshall Armistead, who is a character in the Daisy book I’m writing right now, was a dear friend of mine in high school. He was a photographer when we were in high school, and he went on to become a photographer for the L.A. Times. Alas Marshall, too, is now deceased. It’s downright depressing when youngish people die, isn’t it?

And, of course, there’s Dr. Benjamin. I took my daughters to Dr. Benjamin when they were little. He didn’t make appointments. You showed up in his office and it was first come, first served. Dr. Benjamin was a great friend of my aunt’s and came to many Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. He smoked like a chimney and was a very kind man. His office still survives, although he’s long gone. It’s there on Beverly Drive and Lake Avenue in Altadena.

Um . . . what else? The Huntington Hospital and the Huntington Hotel (now the Huntington Ritz Carlton) are still around, although I named them the Castleton Hospital and Hotel in my Daisy books. And you can take tea at the Huntington Library (where Miss Emmaline Castleton lived when it was a private residence) if you make reservations in plenty of time. And, of course, there’s the Tournament of Roses Parade (we just called it the Rose Parade) and Brookside Park, where both Daisy and I took our very first dachshunds to obedience classes offered by the Pasanita Dog Obedience Club. I cheated in the books, though. Pasanita began in 1940, and I had Daisy take Spike there in the early twenties.

The red cars were defunct by the time I entered this world, although when I was little a trolley line still ran from the top of Altadena to Los Angeles. I rode it once with my cousins. The trolley tracks lasted for decades after the trolleys stopped running and made driving up and down Lake Avenue quite interesting. Oh, and Honeycutt’s Market, where Daisy bought some peanut butter once, was on Foothill Boulevard a little east of Lake Avenue when I was a kid. A fire station was there beside it, and every Halloween the firemen would give us kids candy and let us climb onto the fire trucks.

Vroman’s Books (which I renamed Grenville’s Books for FINE SPIRITS) is still a great bookstore on Colorado Boulevard. And Hull Automotive is still there on Allan Ave. and Villa St. In the 1920s it was called the Hull Motor Works, and Billy had planned to work there after the war. The peacocking Kaiser and his mustard gas put paid to those happy dreams. By the way, a couple of people have mentioned Daisy’s seemingly irrational hatred of Germans. Daisy’s sentiments, however, prevailed pretty much everywhere after the Great War. Heck, people called sauerkraut liberty cabbage, and they even renamed dachshunds liberty hounds! I have a whole herd of liberty hounds right this very minute. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m extremely happy to be able to write Daisy’s stories set in my own hometown, Pasadena, California. In fact, I’ll be giving away copies of SPIRITS REVIVED in my March contest. So if you’d like to enter, please e-mail me ( your name and home address. And don’t forget that all of Daisy’s past adventures are still available (link below). Thanks!