Chapter One: Born in a Blender
When people refer to my family's life as a tragedy, they completely miss the point. My life has been filled with exhilarating highs, terrifying lows, and more than its share of farce. But if I've learned anything along the way, it's that everyone's show must go on, and it's up to us to make it a good one.
Born in a trunk? No, that was my mother. I was three years old before my mother packed me up and took the family on the road.
Me? I was born in a blender.
My aunt Jimmy (my Mama's sister Virginia) used to tell a great story about my ancestors. She said that after church one day when she was about eleven, she asked my grandfather, "Dad, what are your 'forefathers'?" (That had been the topic of the sermon that day.) Before my grandfather could answer, my mother, who was only about five at the time, piped up with an answer. Interrupting her father, Mama proudly told her sister, "I know. The 'four fathers' are the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and the real one." Everyone laughed, but Mama couldn't understand why. It made perfect sense to her.
To understand how I've gotten to this place in my life, I have to go back into the past, back two generations to a couple of stagestruck kids -- my grandparents.
From the day my grandfather ran off to join the circus, my family on Mama's side has been in show business. A talent for singing and dancing ties together four generations of us, from my grandmother and grandfather Gumm to my seven-year-old daughter, Vanessa. Everyone has always said that my mother would sing if the refrigerator light came on. So will my daughter. And so would my grandparents.
I guess you could say my grandparents were destined to meet. My maternal grandfather, Frank Gumm, seems to have been born loving music. He sang everywhere -- at home, at school, as a soloist in the church choir. By the time his parents died, he already knew what he wanted to do. So when a minstrel troupe passed through his hometown near Nashville, Tennessee, Grandpa ran away with them for a while. After that he and his brother earned some money singing on the trains that ran from Murfreesboro to Chattanooga, my grandpa passing a hat among the passengers at the end of the act. There's a snapshot of Grandpa in blackface at thirteen dressed like Al Jolson, holding a ukulele and wearing a bowler hat, vest, and black string tie. In 1899 you couldn't get more dapper than that.
A summer or two later Grandpa returned home and went back to the life of a proper young southern gentleman. He enrolled as a scholarship student at Sewanee Military Academy, a private prep school near home. A rich suitor of his sister Mary (a young woman with a sweet soprano who eventually caused a family scandal by killing herself) paid for his tuition, and Grandpa's warm, mellow tenor voice made up for his mediocre grades. He led the choir as a soloist, enjoyed the leisurely southern way of life, and developed the powerful Irish charm and sense of style that stayed with him for the rest of his life. My family has sometimes survived on charm alone.
Four years later he moved on to the University of the South, where he again made a name for himself with his musical talent and his way with the ladies. He left the university two years before graduation to go back to his career in vaudeville, this time for real. He loved his school, but he loved show business more. I know how he felt. I spent most of my childhood hoping show business would get me out of school.
Several hundred miles later, he arrived in Superior, Wisconsin. It was there, on a cold winter day in 1914, that he met my grandmother Ethel.
Somehow it seems fitting that my grandparents met in a movie theater -- the Parlor Theater, as a matter of fact. Grandpa had gotten a job there as an "illustrator." Grandma was his accompanist. The rage during those years was the sing-along, where the audience would sing with the performers during the breaks between films. The lyrics were projected on the movie screen, and an "illustrator" would be hired to point at the lyrics with a long stick as he led the audience in singing. If the audience liked the song, they would buy the sheet music on the way out. It was tough to keep the audience's attention, but my grandfather, with his beautiful tenor and handsome good looks, was a natural. He also got a chance to show off his talents with a song or two of his own choice.
Since this was many years before the arrival of recorded background music, a pianist had to be hired to accompany not only the performers but also the silent films that were the main draw. As fate would have it, the accompanist the day my grandfather rolled into town was my grandmother, Ethel Marion Milne. She was twenty years old (though she later claimed, in a burst of vanity, that she was really only seventeen!). Grandma Ethel looked up from the orchestra pit with those piercing black eyes of hers, and my grandpa promptly fell head over heels in love. The song he was singing, according to family legend, was "You Made Me Love You."
Grandma Ethel came from a musical tradition of her own. One of seven children of a railroad engineer and his wife, she'd dropped out of school by the fifth grade to help the family make ends meet. Even so, she managed to get the musical education she'd always longed for. She played the piano by ear as a child and eventually took lessons, at a quarter a lesson, with money she earned herself. By the time she was a teenager, she was good enough to get a job in a five-and-dime store singing and playing sheet music for the customers, as her daughter (my mom) would someday do in In the Good Old Summertime, with Van Johnson. Grandma Ethel had only an average contralto voice, which most people described as "pleasant" but my mother described as "terrible." Her brother John also sang, in later years performing as a soloist in my grandfather Gumm's act, and her little sister Norma was a singer and dancer too. My great-grandmother Eva spent years accompanying Aunt Norma on the road, even to Hollywood, as Norma tried unsuccessfully to dance and sing her way to fame. For a while she performed in Los Angeles as part of what was nicknamed "the beef trust," a chorus line of pudgy woman dancers.
Yes, along with musical talent, a tendency to put on weight also runs in my family.
Once married, Grandma and Grandpa Gumm put together an act and called themselves Jack and Virginia Lee, Sweet Southern Singers. I'm not sure which was the biggest stretch of the truth, calling Grandma's voice "sweet" or calling her southern (fifty years later my Gumm relatives still called Grandma Ethel "that northern girl"). Anyhow, "Jack and Virginia" did pretty well. As my mother later remembered it, the act always opened the same way. When the curtain came up, Grandma would be sitting at a piano and Grandpa would be standing next to her. After introducing both of them in that southern drawl of his, he would ask Grandma to show the audience how tiny her hands were. Straightening her small body, she would hold her hands up to the audience so they could see how tiny her fingers were. Then, turning back to the piano, she would launch into "Alexander's Ragtime Band," her fingers racing over the keys. The bit always got a huge burst of applause.
A year later Grandma Ethel got sick on tour, and they had to stay over with relatives for a while. The flu turned out to be my aunt Suzy, born in September 1915. Two years later my aunt Jimmy was born. With two babies to take care of, my grandparents decided that their traveling days were over.
So they settled down. After looking around a little, they decided to work in the only thing they knew much about: a theater. To raise cash Grandpa sold his "flasher," the big diamond ring he wore on his fourth finger when he played his ukulele onstage; and they eventually invested everything they had in the New Grand, a motion picture house in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Grandpa managed the theater and Grandma played the piano for the films, and they both performed between pictures as "Jack and Virginia Lee" when Grandma wasn't too busy taking care of babies. All in all, they did well. The theater prospered along with the family, and soon they were directing the church choir (Grandma played the organ), running the local amateur show, and hosting a big percentage of the parties in town.
Loving a good party runs in my family too.
It wasn't long before "Jack and Virginia" became a family act -- the Four Gumms. As soon as my aunts were old enough, my grandmother began putting together an act for them. Suzy and Jimmy had been singing along with their parents at home for as long as they could remember, and when guests came to the house, as they frequently did, the girls would sing for them, too. So it was only natural that they soon joined their parents onstage. They'd grown up sitting in the New Grand every night while their parents performed, so the stage there was already a familiar part of their second home. By the time my aunt Suzy (Mary Jane) was five, she and Aunt Jimmy (Virginia) were practicing along with the Duncan Sisters on their wind-up Victrola. Grandma Ethel coached their singing, taught them simple dance steps, and sewed them fancy costumes. What they lacked in harmony they made up for in volume and enthusiasm, and soon they were a popular part of the Friday night entertainments at the New Grand.
The Gumm family act seemed complete. My grandparents were happy with their little family and didn't plan to have any more children. Lucky for me, though, things didn't go as planned. Four years after my aunt Jimmy was born, Grandma Ethel discovered there'd been an accident. That little accident was Mama.
Once she came along, nothing was ever the same.
Mama always loved to make an entrance. When she did arrive, at dawn on June 10, 1922, she looked like a tiny version of Grandma Ethel. They named her Frances, after her father -- Frances Ethel Gumm -- but nobody ever called her Frances. They just called her Baby. Once my grandfather got a look at her big dark eyes, be forgot that he'd been wanting a boy and fell hopelessly in love with Baby.
Mama would have that effect on people for the rest of her life.
The truth is, whatever Mama might say about it years later, everybody loved her. Even her big sisters, jealous as they were at times, found her irresistible. Every picture I have of her as a child shows this pixielike creature with big black eyes, skinny legs, a tiny body, and enough life in her face for any ten people. Even in her baby pictures, her eyes draw you. And now, except for the color of her eyes, my daughter, Vanessa, looks exactly like her.
Mama's stage debut came at the tender age of two. She had grown up watching her family sing at home and in her parents' theater, and from the time she could toddle, she was running out onstage to try to join them. At home she would stand behind her sisters when they practiced their numbers and try to imitate them. At the theater on Friday nights she'd stand backstage in the wings, peeking out at Suzy and Jimmy as they sang and danced. As soon as she could talk, she began begging to join them. When her parents said no, she'd scream and cry. Then one day, when she was just two, her father decided to teach her the words to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", and to his amazement, she sang it right through to the end. Her father was her only audience at that first performance, and he was amazed. As Grandpa told Grandma when she got home, "Baby Gumm is good, she is." Years later Mama told me she still remembered those words of praise from Grandpa.
The time had clearly come to let Baby Gumm make her debut. As she sat in Great-grandma Eva's lap at her sisters' Christmas Eve performance that year, she did her best to sing along with her sisters. After the performance, urged on by Grandma Eva, she edged up to her mother and whispered, "Mama, can I sing, too?" Grandma Ethel told her no, not that day, but promised she could sing two days later. "Not today, Baby -- but soon."
Grandma kept her promise. Mama already knew some of the words to "Jingle Bells," so Grandma Ethel coached her until she knew it perfectly, complete with a small bell to ring at the appropriate moment. Grandma also made her a little sleeveless dress out of white netting, with a white bodice underneath and sprigs of holly pinned on by Suzy and Jimmy. With soft bangs and her hair curled into shoulder-length ringlets, Mama couldn't have looked sweeter. When her turn came and her father gently pushed her onstage, she strode confidently downstage center. She was so tiny that she looked even younger than the two-year-old she was. The audience couldn't believe she was going to sing.
If my grandparents were worried about Mama as she stood there that night, they didn't need to be. As Grandma Ethel began the first notes of "Jingle Bells" on the piano in the pit below, Mama launched into her number on perfect pitch, with astonishing volume, keeping time with her little bell. When she finished her song, to wildly enthusiastic applause, she looked down at Grandma Ethel and announced, "I wanna sing some more." And she did. Grandma hurried to catch up on the piano, doubled up with laughter the whole time, while Grandpa hissed to Mama from the wings, "Baby, come off! Come off!" Mama, of course, ignored him and kept on singing. (She'd be doing that the rest of her life!)
Each time she got to the end of the song, she'd pause, take a bow, and start all over again. By then the audience was applauding and cheering, and Grandma was too busy playing the piano to stop her. Finally, after the fifth chorus, Grandpa went onstage, picked Mama up, threw her over his shoulder, and carried her off -- still singing and ringing her little bell as he took her into the wings. Friends in the audience that night swear they could still her hear when she got backstage.
The love affair between Mama and her audience started that night.
There were now three singing Gumm Sisters. If they'd stuck to Friday night performances in my grandfather Gumm's theater, nobody but me and my family would even remember them. But they didn't stay in Grand Rapids. When my mom was four years old, the whole family went to California on vacation and then decided to move there permanently. The Grand Rapids newspaper lists at least six going-away parties in their honor, one a big banquet at the Episcopal church where my grandfather was choirmaster. That move would change our family forever.
My grandparents needed money for the long trip, so they decided to touch up their old vaudeville act and take it on the road. They must have stopped in nearly every little town from Minnesota to Los Angeles. Whenever they passed through a town with a movie theater and a stage, they stopped and made their pitch to the manager. Most of the time, the manager made a deal for a percentage of the house. The whole family would run around town putting up posters on fences and posts, then go get dressed in the restroom at the nearest gas station. "Jack and Virginia" would perform that night, with the three girls sitting in the front row, applauding as loudly as possible. If they were lucky, they got offered a second night. Sometimes, to sweeten the pot, my grandparents would offer to let the Gumm Sisters perform, too. Since it was pretty hard to resist three little girls, especially my mother with her big black eyes, the managers usually went for it. By the end of the evening the family usually had enough gas and food money to move on. It wasn't a good way to get rich, but it was a lot of fun, and it paid enough to get them the two thousand miles to California.
My mother never forgot that trip. Even though she was only four years old at the time, it remained one of her best childhood memories. And even then, Mama was a little clown. There's a very funny scene at the beginning of Easter Parade where my mother walks down Fifth Avenue making faces at the passing men so they'll turn around and look at her as she goes by. Well, Aunt Jimmy said that as they were driving to California all those years ago, cars would sometimes swerve dangerously close to their car as they passed. Every time it happened, they'd notice that the people in the passing car would turn around to look at them, laughing and smiling. Finally my grandfather happened to glance in the rearview mirror at just the right time and saw my mother kneeling on the backseat with her face against the rear window, making faces at passing cars, having the time of her life, crossing her eyes and pulling up the lids, sucking in her cheeks, wiggling her tongue. When Grandpa shouted at her, she stopped, but not for long. Nothing could keep my mother from her audience -- except my mother.
Eventually, the family settled down in the little desert town of Lancaster, a place my mother would eventually come to hate as much as she'd loved Grand Rapids. Lancaster isn't exactly the entertainment capital of the world, but it didn't matter to my grandfather. There was a beautiful five-hundred-seat movie theater for him to run, and Los Angeles was only a three-hour drive away. With Baby Gumm transplanted from Minnesota to the movie mecca, her performing opportunities soon skyrocketed. Besides, she was getting older, and the time had come to train in earnest for the profession her family -- and her talent -- had chosen for her.
Looking back on it, my mother always said that the move from Grand Rapids to Lancaster was the turning point in her life.
In Grand Rapids, they were happy. In Lancaster, they weren't. In Grand Rapids, performing was a joy. In California it became a job, one that would consume my mother's entire life and eventually control mine. Mama used to say she started working at five and never got a chance to quit.
For a while performing was still fun. At first my grandparents sang together at the new theater in Lancaster, and the girls performed with them. Their first notices were good. According to a review in the Antelope Valley Ledger-Gazette, my grandparents were "accomplished musicians" whose "little daughters completely won the hearts of the audience with their songs and dances."
Slowly, though, things began to go downhill. As my grandparents' marriage began falling apart, they stopped performing together and began to go their separate ways. For my grandfather, running the theater and struggling to make a go of it began taking up most of his time. My grandmother coped with the stress by throwing herself heart and soul into her children, especially her children's careers. Every day after school now the girls had to come home and practice singing and dancing for at least an hour with their mother. Several afternoons a week they also went to dance lessons at the local studio. When things got really bad between my grandparents, my grandmother started taking the girls into Los Angeles every weekend for lessons and auditions. Eventually she would take an apartment there and live separate from her husband for long periods of time, keeping my mother with her most of the time.
My mother always blamed my grandmother for the strain in her parents' marriage. According to family friends, my mother believed that my grandmother was having an affair all that time with Will Gilmore, a family friend who became her second husband after my grandfather died.
There are other rumors, too, rumors that have been widely circulated since my grandfather's death. According to these rumors, Frank Gumm was a "latent homosexual," and the marriage collapsed when my grandmother found out. I don't know whether or not these rumors are true. My mother certainly never said anything to confirm this, even to my father, though she did once tell him she'd heard the stories. Dr. Marc Rabwin, a close family friend, believed the rumors. I respect his opinion, but since he wasn't speaking from direct knowledge, I take it as opinion, not fact. I'm suspicious of the widespread stories about my grandfather's "orientation" because none of them appeared in print until after his, his wife's, and his children's deaths, when it was too late to verify them. Since everyone in my immediate family (including me) has been labeled "gay" in print at some point, I'm skeptical about the rumors surrounding my grandfather. As far as I know, the only gay member of my family was Peter Allen, my beloved brother-in-law, who died of AIDS a few years ago. But it doesn't matter to me anyway. I have friends who are gay and friends who are straight, and I love them all.
One thing is certain: stories of my grandfather having trouble with the authorities in Minnesota because of "unwelcome advances" to young men are false. A detective hired by the Children's Museum in Grand Rapids (formerly the Judy Garland Museum) spent months going through newspapers and public records in Minnesota for the twelve years my grandparents lived in Grand Rapids, and he found no official complaints about Frank Gumm. If the police had ever been called about my grandfather, there would be a record buried somewhere. There isn't.
No one but my grandfather, and any men he may have had contact with, could possibly know the truth about the rumors. It's not for me to say what happened, because I don't know. I don't really care, either. What matters to me is that Frank Gumm was a great father, and my mother adored him. I wish he could have been there for us when I was growing up.
Whatever the reasons for the rift, the tensions in my grandparents' marriage created an atmosphere of anger and resentment at home. The result was that the family was together less and less. In a show business family, life on the road is the perfect cover-up for a dysfunctional, disintegrating family. It is a pattern that repeated itself in my own marriage.
So the Gumm family went back on the road again, this time on a part-time basis. Only now, instead of "Jack and Virginia" and the Gumm Sisters, it was just Grandma Ethel and the girls. Grandpa stayed in Lancaster, and Grandma took the girls to Los Angeles, where they enrolled in the famous Meglin School of Dance, which eventually produced Shirley Temple and a whole host of other child stars. The girls worked on their singing and dancing there and were soon appearing regularly in the Meglin Kiddies Show at Loew's State Theater in downtown Los Angeles. They also played an occasional booking at small theaters outside of town. As their popularity grew, they began doing bookings from Long Beach to San Francisco, eventually going out of state to Seattle. They also did radio appearances. They even made four film shorts, and after the first couple of years, they actually got paid for all this. It would be a crazy way to grow up for most kids, but for a vaudeville family, it was no more unusual than a kid working in his parents' grocery store after school. It was just what they did.
Sometimes it was a lot of fun. Years later, after my mother's death, Aunt Jimmy told me stories about life as a child performer. On Saturday nights my grandmother would take the girls to see performances at all the best theaters in town -- the Loew's State, the Paramount, or Warner's Hollywood. It was exciting and even glamorous. And although there were lots of long drives, the three girls would pass the time singing in the car together, everything from childhood favorites like "The Old Gray Mare" to the latest hits.
Even the performances could be great fun, especially when things didn't go as planned. My mother sometimes told us about the ridiculous things that happened to them on the road. One time when they were performing at a small rundown theater near L.A., the audience was filled with bored teenagers who had hidden cloves of garlic in the footlights before the show. When the footlights were turned on and Mama and my aunts came out to sing, the garlic started cooking. A few minutes into their act, the girls were overwhelmed with the odor of cooking garlic. Giggling and choking on the fumes, they struggled on, but then a sandwich sailed onto the stage, hitting Aunt Suzy in the stomach and strewing salami and cheese across the stage floor. Totally losing control, the girls looked at each other, linked arms, and danced sideways offstage, where they fell down laughing.
Another time, when Mama was still very small, she got caught in the bangles on the pants of her harem costume while trying to do a quick costume change in the wings. When my aunts, who were right in the middle of a number onstage, glanced into the wings, there was Baby, stark naked, rolling around on the floor trying to kick the harem pants loose. It wasn't the only time the Gumm Sisters finished their number shaking with laughter and beat a fast retreat offstage.
But mostly, there was a lot of hard work. Being on the road meant living out of a suitcase, missing play time and school events, and leaving their friends behind. While other children slept or played, my mother and her sisters worked. Every weekday there was practice after school. Weekends were taken up with lessons and performances. On Saturday mornings my mother had to get up at seven A.M. and have her hair washed and set in tight curlers, then get in the car for a two-hour drive to the city. Lunch was often a quick sandwich between practice sessions. When the girls went on the road, they often had to perform in dirty little dives for next to no money. They were attending to business at a time when most children are busy just being children. That was something my mother tried hard to protect me from.
But worst of all, somewhere along the line, Mama stopped feeling like a child and starting feeling like a commodity. She began to feel as if her only value was her ability to sing. As an adult she told friends that when she was a child, everyone was always "winding me up to sing, and then putting me back in the closet when they were finished with me." Even family friends introduced her as "Frances who can sing." Singing was her job, and she rarely got time off, even as a child.
The whole situation was complicated by the fact that my grandmother was her manager, and often her agent. My grandmother's motives in becoming Mama's manager were good ones -- she wanted to protect Mama, to carefully watch over her -- but the fact remains that managers and agents promote "talent." And in Hollywood, talent is a product, not a person. When a child has a career, it's almost impossible for her parents to be parents first and managers second. And even if they find a way, it becomes impossible for their children to know whether they're loved for themselves or for what they can do.
The saving grace for Mama was my grandfather. Whatever the chaos of their daily lives, Mama and her sisters always went back home to their dad. The family album shows a picture of a handsome, stylish young man with a mustache, a derby, a jaunty suit, and a diamond ring on his fourth finger. My grandfather was very handsome, and very charming, too, but that wasn't why my mother loved him so much. She loved him because he was such a good father. He played with his girls, tossing them in the air, carrying them on his shoulders, playing in the snow with them. He sang and laughed with them. He held them on his lap at night and helped care for them when they were sick. Most of all, he was their advocate with their mother. He tried his best to give his girls a normal childhood, to see that they had time for school and play, time to just be kids. God knows he spoiled them, too.
Although the strife in my grandparents' marriage caused a breach between Mama and my grandmother, it seemed to bring Mama and my grandfather closer. She loved him so much that she once listed her birthplace as Murfreesboro, Tennessee, because my grandfather was born there. The song she sang to close her TV show when I was a kid was one she said my grandfather wrote. I never met my grandfather Gumm. He died years before I was born, yet in many ways he was one of the most important people in my life. He lived with us every day of my mother's life, in her memory and in her heart.
I wonder if she ever looked at my father without comparing him to hers.
When I drive with Jesse and Vanessa, my son and daughter, through the old Los Angeles theater district today, Baby Gumm and the Meglin Kiddie Shows she was featured in seem like part of another century to me. What was once one of the most glamorous sections of Los Angeles is now a rundown street filled with seedy stores displaying gawdy gowns that my mother's most ardent crossdressing fans wouldn't be caught dead in. One five-block section of Broadway still houses the remains of the theaters my mother once performed in or went to on Saturday afternoons with her mother: The Orpheus is still in pretty decent shape, its battered old marquee advertising Madonna in Evita. The Rialto is now a discount store (five shirts for $10), and the letters that announce the Loew's State barely cling to the old brick building -- its facade crumbled away under the shock of too many earthquakes.
Our parents' lives always seem so long ago, so far removed from our own. It's impossible to really comprehend that they were ever children, too. When I show Vanessa pictures of myself as a child, she smiles sweetly but uncomprehendingly. What does the little girl twirling in a television studio have to do with her mommy? The child in the picture is light-years away from Vanessa's world. But our parents were children, not so long ago, and their lives continue to interlock with ours until the day we die, as my life will always be a part of my son's and my daughter's. I am aware of this every time I look at my little girl and see my mother's face peering back at me, every time I see a picture from The Wizard Of Oz or hear my mother's young voice on an MGM recording. It's remarkable, really, how much of our life begins before we're even born. When I look at my mother's family, I'm amazed at the patterns that have been repeated in my life.
Generation after generation, we all seem to be born singing, to one degree or another. Childhood friends of my grandfather's say he was always whistling or singing. As for me, I could always sing better than my friends, and I could always follow the line of a melody and reproduce it on my own. Both of my children have the same innate musical talent, my daughter to a remarkable degree. It's strange indeed to consider bow many of my mother's best-known moments in film were a replay of her parents' real-life experiences, from vaudeville to broken hearts.
Yet, in direct contradiction of each generation's advice, we all seem to be wedded to show business. My grandfather fought long and hard to keep my mother from becoming a "professional kid." Mama, in turn, always tried to talk us out of going into show business.
"You'll break my heart," she'd tell us. "I don't want to watch you go through what I went through." Yet Liza and I both make our living singing, and as my mother did with me, I tell my own kids not to go into show business. But blessing or curse, we all seem driven to perform, in part because it's all we really know how to do. When I was a little girl, the only TV show I could relate to was I Love Lucy because Ricky was a performer. The "normal" families might as well have been from Mars. I used to ask myself what on earth I would do if I couldn't make a living in show business. I still don't have an answer.
I see other patterns, too: the women in our family can't seem to stay away from musicians. My sister married one; I married two. My grandmother Ethel married a musician. So did both my maternal aunts, twice. So did my mother, the first time. I'm no different. My first great love as an adult was singer Barry Manilow, and I fell in love with him as much for his music as anything else. My ex-husband, Jake Hooker, was a rock guitarist. My husband, Colin Freeman, is an arranger-conductor.
There's also the pattern of one family member serving as manager for another. just as my grandmother managed her children's careers, and my father managed my mother's career, Jake managed mine. And just as it destroyed my grandmother's and parents' relationships, it caused problems for Jake and me too. Somehow none of us seems able to keep family and business separate.
Luckily, some good things got passed down, too. Just as my grandfather Frank was there for Mama, my father was always there for me, the port in every storm. Whether she realized it or not, my mother did just as well in picking a father for me as Grandma Ethel did picking a father for Mama.
Most important of all, my family passed on a lot of love. Whatever marital struggles we may have, we love our children fiercely. My grandparents had a hard time later in their marriage, just as my parents did, but they gave their kids a lot of love. They may not always have done the right thing for their kids, but it wasn't because they didn't love them. I always knew my mother loved me, loved us, more than anything else in life. Everything I know about being a good mother to my children I learned from her.
Did our parents love us? Damn right they did. That's another family tradition.
I wonder sometimes what would have happened to us all if Mama had just stayed Baby Frances Gumm, daughter of Frank and Ethel Gumm of Lancaster. But she didn't. She became Judy Garland. She became a legend.
Copyright © 1998 by Lorna Luft