This is a picture of my grandfather, Pierson Mitchell Hall. I almost never talk about him. I don't think I've ever written in public about him.
He was a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In his hey day, he was one of the most powerful and influential men in California. So much so, that when the war with Japan ended, General Mc Carther called him to, in his words, "keep the reds out of Japan". For the last thirty or more years of his life, he was a Federal District Court Judge.
And he was my grandfather.? No one, living or dead, knows more about this man than I do.
He left an imprint on everyone who knew him.? But he destroyed the women in his life.? He drank nine wives to an early grave.? His two children bear his mark.
I loved him. And refused to bear his stamp.? I think that's why he liked me so much.
Why am I telling you this?
Because his oldest daughter, my Aunt Mary Ellen, died this year.? Prior to her death, I promised Aunt Mary Ellen that I would care for her life's work - researching her father's heritage.
My Aunt Mary Ellen was a hoarder.? Besides the stacks of items and paper, every drawer, box, and cupboard was stuffed with: papers, stocks, jewelry, and on and on.? Five dedicated people cleaned the house for almost a month. They rid the house of 37 dumpsters of garbage.
I was told by the trustee to retrieve letters and papers before my mother destroyed them. I drove to Los Angeles and spent three days scanning documents and photos in a hotel room. I slept about three hours a night. I took breaks only to retrieve more documents or share a meal with the trustees.
Over the course of three long days, I read, and scanned, letters from Pierson to my grandmother. I read letters where my twenty-year-old mother hurled the same insult at her mother that my family banters back and forth (selfish). I saw my first photo of my grandmother, Gertrude. I learned that their divorce, instigated by Gertrude, was considered to be the 'divorce of the century' going to the California Supreme Court a number of times before it was settled. I learned that Gertrude was not beaten to death as my mother said. She died of alcoholism. I learned that my Aunt Mary Ellen was the Paris Hilton of her crowd. Among Gertrude's stuff, abandoned in a box for over forty years, I found two Kewpie dolls with their arms intentionally broken off. Inside was a little sticker that said, 'Ain't Love Grand'.
I saw and read so much that I can barely keep my head on straight. How can so much beauty, and insanity, reside in these people?? How can so much pain just be buried in stacks of papers? How can so many generations allow their emotions to fester until they are putrid and stuck?
Overwhelmed by the toxicity of these people, I left California at 4 am and drove back to Denver. I returned late Thursday night.
I've been trying to recover ever since.
And that's where I was.