Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tear down that wall, Lola

Why, Lola, are you so elusive? Why is it that you are the only one from your family that I was aware of, yet since my almost one year of rather intensive research, I have found your parents and siblings and the family of your siblings, but not you? How can it be that you were born, had a life, married, had children, had tragedy (your father abandoned your family when you were young, you were farmed out because your mother couldn't afford to take care of you and your siblings, your brother died, your baby brother was sent out of state, you married a "skirt chaser" that ultimately left you, your first born child died at 4 years old), shunned your maternal responsibilities, landed in a state hospital, and then just vanished?

Why is it that I cannot find any sign of you after your appearance in a 1932 city directory, living with Red? Why is it that my dad's long time friend was told you were sickly and died when he was young boy, yet my dad told me the last time he saw you was at the urging of his first wife?

I have so many questions that need to be answered. I have, with the help of others, found obituaries for Lola's mother, Effie; her sister, Bessie; and her brother, George. I know when her brother William passed and have seen his grave, but cannot yet find an obituary. I know more about William's life than the others and have been able to establish contact with living members of his wives' families. I am excited to know that I will finally get to see pictures of him, and that one of these family members who is still living, was a young fellow when William married his second wife. My fingers are crossed and I'll be contacting him soon.

There is something kind of scary, yet exciting about reaching out to total strangers. I compose my thoughts and have either made phone calls or sent email/messages, hoping for the best, while not knowing how this would be received. I have been lucky thus far, although I'm pretty sure my phone call must have been rather shocking!

My self-imposed job for this coming week is to re-establish contact with the California State Department of Mental Health. I did speak to an employee of this office about a month ago, asking if I really did need to obtain a court order (per the State Hospital) so that I could gain access to my grandmother's hospital records. This State employee suggested I follow the the direction of the hospital.

I have talked with attorneys I know, an employee of the Los Angeles County Registrar's office, and a few others, and all are in agreement that a court order is only required in cases of litigation and that I'm possibly being given bogus information. I have also called the Los Angeles County Superior Court two times for information and guidance, but to no avail. My first call was greeted by an operator that didn't know how to help so she suggested I call a number for the court archives. I did and got a voicemail. I left a message and have yet to hear back. I have called since, but got the same message and didn't see the point in leaving any more messages. The second time I called the court, the first operator didn't know how to help so she transferred me to another employee. This employee quickly offered zero help and told me to contact an attorney. I can't believe these employees are completely unable to offer guidance in the system they work for.

I have also been checking message board postings on Rootsweb for Metropolitan State Hospital, and have found that I'm not the only one experiencing such difficulty. I do know that there are privacy laws in place, but I feel that I have every right to know what happened to my grandmother - why she was in, how she landed there, what happened to her there, if she ever got out or if she died there and was then buried in some sort of potter's field. I know she was in the system during a time when it was rather common and easy for women (in particular) to be committed to "mental" hospitals by their husbands. Generally, this would happen because of a fight or because the hubby wanted to play without the hassle of a divorce. History shows that many women experiencing the "joys" of menopause were considered "insane" and institutionalized. Unruly women were as well. For an idea of this, one only needs to watch the movie The Changeling.

I have been told by the State Mental Health employee that the reasons for once being admitted to the hospitals and the types of treatments used back in the earlier part of the 20th century, would never be the case today. Leads me to believe my suspicions are correct - admittance by spouse or possibly anyone. Admittance could have been due to "irrational" behavior brought on by possibly "the change of life". Treatments for such "crazy" behavior could have been shock treatment or worse. It surprises me, really, when I consider the fact that it just wasn't all that long ago when this was the norm. My understanding is that this continued through the 1960s or 1970s.

While I was driving my mom home yesterday, we began to rehash what my dad told her about the day he came home from school and his mother was gone. She believes at the time, Red had left Lola and my dad. What she remembers is that he told her he came home from school and no one was there. Things were in disarray. Apparently, a neighbor saw him and paid him a visit. The neighbor told my dad that "they" took his mother away to a hospital. I asked my mom if "they" bothered to help my dad (he was probably only 14 or 15 at the time) and she didn't think so. Her feeling was that children weren't as "precious" back in the 30s as they are now. I'm not yet sure if this was the beginning of my dad's life living on his own, staying with the families of friends that were willing to take him in, no matter how brief or long. I do know that I am more determined than ever to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this. Stay tuned as this will surely being a bumpy and winding road.

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