Gone To California

Aunt Cass went to California just before Christmas in 2000

I was thinking about some of my family members who have died, and what we have to remember them.

(Mousing over the pictures will tell you who they are.)

Aunt Helen and I share a morbid little joke about dying. It’s funny how in my family, nobody “dies”. They don’t “pass on” or “pass away”. They just “go”.

“What’s she going to do when her mother goes?”

“When Uncle Ed went, Auntie Jo was a wreck.”

Y’know, that sort of thing. Everybody just “goes”.

So Aunt Helen and I were talking once on the phone, and she was relating how some of the family was placing “dibs” on her stuff “when she goes”. So we’re laughing about it, and she asked, “Where the heck am I going? California?”

So that’s what we call it now. “Goin’ to California.”

Grandmom Helen went to California in 2005

I once spent several hours at her house putting post-it notes all over everything I could find with no value to anyone. There were little yellow pieces of paper on extension cords, bags of paper napkins, spare cabinet screws, anything nobody would want. There must have been about 200 of them, all through the house.

Grandmom Janie went to California in August of 2006

They all said, “When Aunt Helen goes to California, this is mine -LBIII”.

That’s sort of my nickname in the family now. There are five of us who homonymically share my name in my immediate family. If someone hollers “Lou”, it’s a bit confusing, so we’ve had to be nicknamed for family get-togethers and such. My grandfather went to California in ’85, so that lightened the load a bit, but there’s still my Dad, me, Uncle Luis (Aunt Helen’s ex-husband), and my cousin Luis (their oldest son). “Uncle Lou” is still a bit of a challenge, as is “Pop”, but we can usually figure it out. So my cousin is often “The Admiral” because he owns a small boat. I’m the youngest of the five Lous, so when I was very young I was Nuie Nuie (apparently I had a bit of trouble pronouncing my name), but later graduated to “Little Louie”. My grandmother called me “Louie da Turd”, but most of the rest of the family bristled at that appellation.

Grandmom Helen's Mom Louisa went to California in 1960 and Dad Harry went to California in 1923

So eventually everyone began to settle on LBIII (el bee three). One thing I guess I’m glad my grandmother didn’t leave me was “Louie da Turd”.

There are some good things she left me, though. Lots of them. Not much in the way of stuff, because our family hasn’t really owned much of anything in a few generations.

Mostly she left me with a lot of good memories. I confess I was her favorite, and I reveled in the glory of that, such as it was. She spoiled me, it’s true.

Grandmom Helen and Her Dad Harry

It’s my grandfather’s fault, though. He was a miserable bastard who hated the very sight of me, no matter how much I tried to show him I loved him and just wanted to be loved by him.

It wasn’t just me, he mostly hated all the grandsons. But I got the worst of it, being the closest at hand, and the eldest son of his hated eldest son.

He handed out shit to the Admiral, too. I think he was second on the target list, but he mostly lived down here in North Carolina and only came to visit once or twice a year.

My Wife and her Mom Bea, who went to California in 2004

There was one time my grandfather was on a drunken tirade while my sister, my brother, and I were all there. He was totally wigging out on me for breaking the organ bench leg, which I didn’t do. (Thirty years later, I’m not ratting out the guilty party. It was an accident, and it wasn’t me. That’s all you need to know. 🙂 )

Grandmom Helen was standing up for me, and trying to tell him that I didn’t do it, but the old drunk wasn’t listening. He started hollering and screaming about how a wife should honor and obey her husband and shut her mouth. Turns out, he was quoting from the bible, from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, chapter 5.

Grandpop Lou in 1943

This totally floored me. In all my ten years of existence, I would never have guessed that the drunk had ever cracked a bible once. When I recognized the KJV word for word quote from memory, I think I just stood there with my mouth hanging open.

What I didn’t know at the time was that my grandfather had attended seminary way back in the day when he was young. Who’d a thunk it?

Grandmom was up to the task, though. She quoted the passages he was conveniently leaving out, about husbands loving their wives and such. Now, I knew Grandmom read the bible, but knew it by heart?

Grandpop Lou just before he went to California in 1985

This wasn’t as amazing as the old buzzard on the other side of the kitchen table quoting the bible, but still.

Well, anyway, my drunken grandfather said something about taking a belt to me and lining Grandmom up to be next.

Dude. Totally bad idea. Grandmom was never a field lilly.

And she owned all cast iron pans.

Grand Aunt Elaine who went to California in September of 2006

She jumped up, grabbed one, and hustled herself around the table in a flash, and was brandishing it in his face before I could even begin to absorb what was happening.

Drunks are never thinking very clearly, by definition, y’know. But alcohol being the great bottle of courage that it is, Grandpop just couldn’t sit there and not make one more threat.

Well, my Pop came home from work several hours later and we had dinner at Grandmom and Grandpop’s. We had fried meat cakes and fried spaghetti, two of Grandmom’s specialties. She let us have cream soda with dinner and we sat around the table and chatted for a while after dinner.

We lived directly across the street, so we just took our baths at Grandmom’s, which was pretty typical, and then Pop took us home and tucked us into bed.

Grandpop Pete went to California in 2001

On the way out, Pop asked Grandmom if she wanted him to call an ambulance or take Grandpop to the hospital or something. Grandmom seemed a little worried about him for about one second, and then declined Pop’s offer.

Pop just shrugged, and we all tried not to step on Grandpop on the way out the kitchen door, which was pretty hard because her kitchen was so small and he was laying right in the walkway.

I suppose that might not be a “good” memory for most folks, but in our family you take what you can get.

And after all is said and done, what do we really leave behind when we have gone to California? Memories, mostly. Photographs, sometimes.

It’s funny how incongruous the two can be. Such messed up memories brought to mind by such beautiful photographs.

I hope that when I pack up my stuff and start the three thousand mile journey to California, that the photograph by which I am remembered is this one, and I hope the memories brought to mind with it are as wonderful for my children as this moment in time was for me.

Not quite ready for California

13 Responses to “Gone To California”

  1. Robyn Says:

    “goes,” huh? It’s similiar in my family–“when I’m gone, I don’t want you girls to fight over what’s left behind,” my mother says. Over Christmas while visiting my mother, which only happens once a year, my sisters and I looked at stacks and stacks of old family photos and thought about the memories they envoked. People leave good and bad tastes in your mouth when they’re “gone,” and the pictures bring it all to mind. Very thoughtful post!

  2. Lou FCD Says:

    Thanks, Robyn. I was just chatting with my daughter, and was reminded of the irony of the current location of that organ bench and organ.

    Just before my grandmother went to California last year, she gave the organ to The Admiral. It had sat in her living room neglected since my grandfather went to California in ’85. It’s currently sitting in my cousin’s living room, restored and working again. I don’t play keyboard, but I like to fiddle with it, just for fun.

    I’m sure my grandfather would be spinning in his grave over that, but there’s a perverse sense of pleasure The Admiral and I share about it, especially when I walk over to his house to visit.

  3. Arden Chatfield Says:

    What a cute photo of you and your kids!

    Isn’t ‘Going to California’ a Led Zeppelin song? Hmmm. It’s all starting to connect up!

    I live in California. Are you guys sending all your dead people here?

    [old man mode here] You’re still young. Wait’ll the people one or two generations above you all start dying off, and you start becoming one of the ‘elders’, and start knowing more about your family than most of your relatives. Very surreal — makes you feel old as hell.

  4. Lou FCD Says:

    I live in California. Are you guys sending all your dead people here?

    Do you see dead people?


    With the exception of two grand aunts, all my family from two generations ahead of me have gone to California.

    Ditto my wife’s family. She’s still got her Dad, and two of her mother’s sisters, the rest have packed up and went.

    Of my parents’ generation, I’ve only lost one aunt so far. Most of us are too damned onery to die young.


  5. Arden Chatfield Says:

    I think I have no one 2 generations above me left, and only a couple aunts &* uncles in the generation immediately above. And I’m only 5 years older than you.

    But I’m still confused — what does Led Zeppelin have to do with this? Are you related to Jimmy Page or something? 🙂

  6. Lou FCD Says:

    Kind of puts a new spin on the Eagles, too.

    “Relax” said the night man,
    “We are programmed to receive.
    You can check out any time you like,
    but you can never leave…”

    Welcome to the Hotel California…

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