Because of a Wishing Well
It was dark when Linda and I arrived at our host’s apartment. We were in an older section of Los Angeles called the Silverlake District, an area that had been known as a showcase for the houses designed by the noted Viennese architect, Richard Neutra. But we were blocks away from any Neutra houses, on a street, where the recent gentrification that had begun on Sunset Blvd. years earlier, was only just now reaching it.
The apartment was on the street where I’d lived decades earlier, when I was still a small child. The name of it was Lucile Ave. and the year was 2000.
I was taking a class called “What’s the Story”, which was designed to help us genealogy buffs dig into our family histories and develop interesting ways of presenting our findings. Our teacher had invited my wife and me, along with my classmates to a small Christmas/Hanukah gathering for Latkes.
I enrolled in the class to help me figure out what I wanted to do with the hundreds of pictures in my mother’s photo albums – the ones I discovered when she passed away.
I had no problem locating our host’s six unit apartment. That was easy. After a quick U-turn on her quiet street, I found a parking place a few houses away. As I was bringing out food and gifts from the back seat, I noticed that we had parked in front of what looked like an old abandoned house.
Then I got a glimpse of a crumbling rock wall around it, similar to the one I remembered from my early childhood. But I wouldn’t have given it a second thought until my wife noticed what appeared to be the remains of a wishing well in the front yard – something you don’t see very often in Southern California.
That’s when I realized we had parked right in front of our old Lucile Ave. house, where I had lived with my parents from 1936 to 1939 – from the time I was two until I was four, when we moved to the San Fernando Valley. My parents had immigrated from Germany in 1933, a year before I was born.
What a stroke of luck! And what a wonderful opportunity to help me dig into my past!
I wanted to return the next day to see what remained of that old relic in broad daylight. But it was the middle of the Holiday Season. So I wasn’t able to return for more than a week, until the very last day of the year – New Year’s Eve day.
But when I saw our old house in broad day light, I was shocked. It was worse than I thought. It was so sad to see the terrible neglect it had suffered over the decades and how run down it had become. The house held such memories for me, yet no-one seemed to care about it anymore.
The house was so derelict that it made it very tough to rekindle any of those old memories because it looked and felt so different from what I remembered as a small child. Still, it didn’t stop me from going around the yard, searching and taking snapshots in an attempt to locate as many spots as I could remember, where those old family photos had been taken. I wanted to match up the “then & now” pictures as best I could, which was the only way I could think of to connect the desolation I was currently seeing with the happy memories that came from those old photos, taken so many years ago.
As 2001 began, I was already a year into my family research. But from that experience I thought maybe I’d write a book about my family’s history, and include a chapter dedicated to this old house. I could call it “Lucile Ave. Then and Now.”
I never did write the book, but decided to make a documentary instead. Nine years later we had our first screening of it, at the International Conference of Jewish Genealogical Societies, which was held that year in Los Angeles, at the new Marriott Hotel in “L.A. Live”.
We named my documentary, “For the Life of Me”.
Much has happened since then including the many blogs that I’ve written as a result of all the information that came out of my many years of family research, which I continue to do, plus other stories from people who’ve discovered their own Jewish heritage, as I did…late in life.
Many readers have asked me if I’m going to compile and publish them in a book. I hadn’t considered it. But maybe there’s a book in there after all.