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Johnston (Roller Coasters, 1990, etc.) cuts through an amazingly tangled web of recovered memories and warring therapists to bring to life the story of the Ramona family. Gary and Stephanie Ramona were enjoying the American Dream in Napa Valley, where Gary had a top sales job at Mondavi. But their daughter Holly developed bulimia in high school. A random choice led her to Marche Isabella, a newly minted therapist with no training in eating disorders or depression. She first met Holly in 1989, just as a tidal wave of recovered memories—visual images purported by some therapists to be repressed memories of childhood abuse—began. Soon Holly was taking sodium amytal, a questionable form of therapy, and declared she had been raped repeatedly by Gary. The stunning lack of proof (including the fact that Hollys hymen was practically intact) was no obstacle to what became a Job-like turn of events for Gary: His wife and three daughters left him, his newly constructed dream house was sold for legal fees, and he was fired from Mondavi. Holly filed suit against her father, and he, devastated, filed a malpractice lawsuit agains her therapists. His suit was ultimately successful, and Johnston offers high drama in her account of jury selection, competing expert witnesses, and courtroom testimony. Her research into memory science is meticulous, and she does a brilliant job of presenting both sides to this story, presenting Gary as not the best of fathers, but no rapist, and Stephanie as a weak-willed trophy wife whose long-brewing anger at Gary found its expression in incest accusations.
Johnston is a bit thin on some of the legal context for this case. Still, a frightening look into what happens when pop psychology is mistaken for therapy, and when the dubious fruits of that therapy are mistaken for truth.
|PROLOGUE: The Memory Wars||1|
|A PERFECT FAMILY|
|1 A World of Women||13|
|2 The Birth of a Salesman||34|
|3 The Family Table||51|
|6 A Family Falls Apart||107|
|7 A Mother Knows||122|
|8 The Christmas Present||141|
|9 This Thing Called Repression||155|
|10 The Gathering of Evidence||172|
|11 The Gathering of Witnesses||189|
|12 The Memory Lesson||210|
|13 Courtroom B||235|
|14 The Great Recovered Memory Debate||256|
|15 The Power of Suggestion||270|
|16 Holly's Day in Court||290|
|17 The T-graph||317|
|18 The Debate Continues||333|
|EPILOGUE: The Impact||379|
A World of Women
Until she was seven, Stephanie Ramona was raised in a world of women. "Maybe that's why I'm funny about men. I never know how they feel," she says from the shattered landscape of her marriage. Her father had died in the fiery skies over Indochina in June 1945--six weeks after her birth, ten thousand miles from her crib in California--as Japanese bullets found the skin of a slow-flying amphibious PBY and brought down a spirited young California Icarus. Red-haired and boyishly handsome, Walt Vogelsang had dreamed of returning home to train as a football coach and of seeing his new daughter. In a terrible irony, he was on his last bombing mission before being furloughed home, just two months before the end of World War II.
Six weeks premature, Stephanie Joan weighed just three and a half pounds at birth. Placed in an incubator, she was kept from her mother's ample breasts and warm arms for six weeks. But Betty Vogelsang would "put a bow in my hair, dress up, and go see her." Stevie, as she called the infant, had eyes so big they called her Betty Boop, and under the jaundiced skin she had her father's fine-boned face. At just twenty-two, Betty had become both mother and father. She had few resources, but she was determined to protect little Stevie from harm, from need, and from life's pain. As she watched her daughter's exposure by the trial as a helpless trophy wife, Betty worried, "I think I overprotected Stevie, did too much for her." If so, it was circumstance and the best of intentions that led Betty to forge a ring of security around Stephanie, which may have screened her from some of life's lessons, and a bond between mother and daughter no man could ever fully breach.
Armed with California's peacetime optimism, a high school diploma, and a shorthand course, Betty got a job as a secretary at C. F. Braun, an engineering firm in Alhambra. She moved into her mother's small house in Monterey Park, one of the towns that had grown up to serve the citrus groves that still carpeted the idyllic San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles.
The orange groves became Stephanie's playground. The abandoned Victorian homes, replaced by subdivisions after the war, were her haunted houses. From the shade of the groves the child watched the black smoke of the smudge pots, lit to fight killing frosts in late winter, darken the sky. She scarcely noticed a new kind of cloud blowing in from Los Angeles, choking the trees, beginning to hide the view of the San Gabriels. It was called smog. Stephanie witnessed the transformation of one of the most beautiful and productive agricultural regions on earth into the sun-kissed consumer culture that still defines America abroad. When Covina's Eastland Mall opened, she saw the birth of the American shopping mall.
Stephanie's first memory is of the beach, of a tiny girl chasing pigeons and trying to shake salt on their tails. She loved to head down the freeways with her mother, aunts, and cousins to the broad, tawny beaches of Orange County. They'd drive to Huntington Beach and farther south through the farms of Anaheim, where Walt Disney was building his Magic Kingdom, to Newport and Balboa. For Stephanie, the beach has "always, always been where I can walk ... and put both feet on the ground, and think ... and get my head together. Standing on the beach with the sand and the sky and the ocean, it looks so simple."
Her aunts were not career role models, but they schooled Stephanie in loyalty, practical jokes, and the family stories. Her mother was "the life of the party. A Pollyanna, she was always happy," says Stephanie. But Betty had moral lessons to teach. She sent her daughter to the Presbyterian church. And, catching her in a lie, sent her to her room trailed by what Stephanie recalls as "the most horrible words I've ever heard: `I'm so disappointed in you,'" and left her to sit in silence with her guilt.
Distressed when an aunt gave Stephanie a loose Hawaiian muu-muu, Betty taught her the classic look that would become her style for life. A tailor's daughter, Betty knew the quiet worth of beautifully made clothes and passed on to her daughter the maxim: Buy few items, buy the best, and they'll always be in style. Being perfectly turned out in clothes of quality and structure may also have been a kind of moral armor against the tenuousness of life for a widowed mother--and against a humiliating difference Betty had felt as a child. Stephanie loved the fact that her grandmother was quarter-Cherokee, the matriarch who had come to Pasadena from Kansas in the 1920s. She could still see her grandmother drying her hair in the sun, her hands working the waist-length dark fall, combing it, braiding it, wrapping it around her head. But for Stephanie's mother "it was hard to be part Indian. Kids thought Indians were the enemy. They were bad." At seven, Betty had screamed at her mother, "You're a savage!" as she wrung the necks of chickens and turkeys.
Betty married Walt Nye, an engineer and fellow employee, when Stevie was seven, and they moved to a house in a new subdivision carved from the fields of Covina. "You remember The Donna Reed Show? That's what my mother was. Before my father would come home, she'd take the baths, she'd fix up." Betty quit work but, addicted to self-improvement, kept taking courses.
Stephanie yearned for Walt's attention, but her new father would closet himself in his dark den and drink. Stephanie, who so loved the buzz of big family gatherings that she still turns on the TV just for the noise, found herself in a house that was hushed: "He was very silent. A loner." She chalked it up to Walt's experiences in the war, where he had been in Darby's Rangers, a commando group like the Green Berets. "I used to figure he'd seen a lot and ... that it had affected him." He tried to be a father, took her fishing, riding, and hunting for the biggest Christmas tree in the world. "But I would never go up to him. Except once, when he ... gave me a spanking ... and I got on his lap and said, `Now you're my real father.' But he didn't respond. I stopped reaching for hugs."
Walt stayed home when the women went to the beach. As surfing gripped California's young, Stephanie began to go off with her friends. In a bedroom papered with pictures of Sandra Dee, Stephanie pulled on her two-piece bathing suit and joined the surge to the beach in a "woody," the wood-paneled station wagon that was the surfer's status symbol. At Huntington Beach, home of the modern surfboard, she loved to carry her board down to the water; it was a small, fast board the boys put together for her from a $50 kit.
"But I was not good ... and have the scars to show ... I'm not coordinated ... I was very shy and extremely small. I was always the last one that everybody picked on the team," says Stephanie, revealing the self-criticism that pervades her sense of herself as a child. School did little to bolster her self-esteem. "He could spot the weak ones," she says of the eighth-grade teacher who caught her passing a note between two girls and tore her apart in front of the class. "From then on, he would humiliate me in front of everybody, even when I knew the answer. I stopped raising my hand." Contracting mononucleosis in high school, she fell behind in math and dropped it. In English class, however, she got the scrap of praise that remains a highlight of her high school years. "But I was going down in English. It was probably boys," she says on reflection.
As boys were entering Stephanie's life, Betty's ten-year marriage to Walt ended in divorce.
Named for the snowy peak that looms over the valley, Mt. San Antonio College opened in 1946 in Pomona to accommodate the flood of families moving to the area. Stephanie entered "Mt. SAC" in 1963 with vague dreams of being an architect. She had read Ayn Rand's Fountainhead and admired its architect-hero, Howard Roark. How great it would be "to be able to build your dream house on a hill." She didn't talk about ambitions, though. People might think she couldn't do it. There was only one goal she would admit to as she entered college: "I just wanted to have kids." She signed up to major in psychology.
Stephanie still felt backward and shy, but boys saw a fragile beauty, a tiny-waisted body, a head of curly dark hair. She loved to laugh and was genuinely sweet and ladylike. An entire fraternity came over one night and toilet-papered her house, a tribute to her popularity. The Toastmasters Club talked her into running for Homecoming Queen and coached her to perform as Snow White in front of the school. The crowd went hysterical when she forgot her lines, but she didn't like it: "I didn't win. I had no business being there. I'm sure they regret it now!"
She has an image of Gary Ramona walking down a hill at school: "He was with a group of girls, and I remember watching him. He seemed very carefree, and I liked that." But her very first sight of Gary was at the library. "I was running for Homecoming Queen and I remember going through the library doors and there was Gary and his friend Joe Strader just waiting for me. They'd open up both doors and bow. They'd bow!"
Gary began picking her up after classes. They'd sit on her steps at home and talk. "At first he was just a good friend ... I thought he was kind of a silly guy, kind of a pest." But the man who would become a master salesman made the sale with his smile. Gary always had a smile on his face. He made her laugh, and he gave her attention. "Gary was the opposite of my father. Gary had a zest for life. He gave me excitement. Maybe it was something that I didn't think I was capable of doing myself ... I needed someone to do it for me."
Gary was "the absolute opposite of what my mother wanted for me," Stephanie says now. Betty found him "rough. He'd do things all wrong. He had a great smile, but he laughed too loud." But Betty could see how her daughter, so quiet, would be attracted to Gary's outgoing personality, how she might like his dark Italian looks. Opposites attract. And, clearly, Stephanie was very attracted to him. "At first he pursued me. He was jealous." Then the tables turned. She was jealous of another girl he'd taken to the hills. "I think he was sexually active. I thought he was a normal, healthy boy ... until it came to me. He never tried anything with me." She was known as "Nye-eve" in those days. "However, if Gary had tried, I probably would have," says Stephanie.
Her virginity was very important to him; they talked about it in the car one night. "It was important that I had never `done anything.' He didn't just mean intercourse; he didn't want anybody to have even touched me." At the time, a lot of men were that way about the girls they married. She and Gary petted some, but technically Stephanie remained a virgin. A virgin who had never had a drink. Disbelieving, Gary took her to the home of his friends Scott and Mickey Evans and fixed her a 7-Up and vodka. Stephanie had a few sips and thought, "Oh, my God, what's going to happen to me?" She didn't like the taste, and he didn't push it. He was protective and respectful. "That was it," Stephanie reflects. She had fallen in love.
But her mother was perturbed as she listened to Gary and Stephanie doing their homework together in the kitchen. Gary would say, "I see that people could fall in love with several people--there's not just one person out there." Betty would shake her head. "He was saying, `You better marry me or I'll find somebody else.'" This could manipulate a girl who was not as confident as she could be. "Stevie always thought Gary was right. Always did what he said."
This extended to her appearance early on. Even before he knew her well, Gary started buying her clothes, which her mother made her return. He had a generous streak. But Stephanie suspects now that it had more to do with his wanting to control her, to remake her into his image. "He wasn't wealthy at all. He had this thing about class--the word `class' would just infuriate him. Yet I think he wanted certain things in life." And he wanted Stephanie to be a reflection of those things. "I didn't wear hose. I was kind of a tomboy. He would tell me that young ladies should wear hose. I'd say back at him, `Well, no one else does.' But it's interesting that later, you saw me wearing hose." When Stephanie jumped in the car one day without any makeup, going to see some friends, Gary was furious. When they got home, he ordered, "`Don't you ever go out of the house again without makeup ... ever--it's unacceptable.' I admit it, I don't think I was ever natural looking. But how bad can you look at twenty?"
Gary started pressing Stephanie to marry him. Vietnam hung over them, and she suspected that he wanted to marry now so that he could avoid being drafted. "He was so scared to go into the service. And at that point I thought I loved him. I didn't want him going any more than he wanted to go. But I wasn't ready ... I was having fun." She said no. They'd argue. "And Gary kept getting angry." But she wasn't prepared for two scenes he would later deny--along with most of her other stories of lies and violence. Reconstructing her confused memories, Stephanie says, "We were sitting in his car," talking about the Vietnam War, "and he'd asked me to get married. He was nervous, and I remember he kept hitting his hand against the window. I think it shattered ... I was scared. The next time, his hand was taped, and he told me--I don't know if it's true--he'd fractured his hand by doing that ... We had the same argument, and he did it again, the same hand." This time he didn't break the window. But the violence shocked her.
Yet she capitulated. They planned to elope to Las Vegas. They would keep it quiet, Gary promised. "We'd tell our parents later and have a regular wedding to make my mother happy." Why did she decide to marry him? "I'd like to say I was doing it as a favor to him, but I don't think anybody's that good. I didn't want anything to happen to him. But these feelings were for me, not for him. I didn't want to lose him."
Stephanie had to sneak her turquoise wedding dress out of the house. Scott and Mickey joined them for the elopement and would be their witnesses. Stephanie told her mother she was going hunting. They left for Las Vegas at six in the morning. "Just outside of Las Vegas, we stopped at a gas station. I went in to change my clothes. When I came out, Gary was in a daze ... I said, `Look, if you don't want to do it ...'" She'd offered him an out, but he still seemed dazed. "Let's not do it. I don't want to," Stephanie snapped.
Gary was galvanized into action, and he went into the gas station and changed. Stephanie can't remember the name of the wedding chapel, Cupid something. They had a license but no rings, so they borrowed Scott and Mickey's. Stephanie felt panic yet went through the motions, giggling and crying "during the whole thing." Gary still seemed dazed as they heard the formal words: "I now pronounce you man and wife." They went to Denny's for dinner, and Gary had her back home at her mother's by six that night.
She tells of catching him in his first lie the day after they got married: "It was the first time ... He made it sound like I was crazy and didn't know what I was talking about." He had agreed they'd keep the marriage secret; they'd live apart at first, then have a proper wedding. "And then it changed. The day after we got married, he showed up on the front porch telling me, no, I was going to move in with him then and we were going to tell our parents." It was as if the agreement didn't exist. "I'm a wimp and you can take advantage of me--unfortunately, that's the way I am ... But I don't like to be lied to." She confronted him: "You said we were going to keep this quiet so nobody would get hurt." They had a terrible argument, and she declared, "I'm not going. I'm not going."
"That's when he hauled off and hit me ... On the side of my face with the back of his hand. He cut my face with his school ring." No one had ever struck her like that. "I was devastated. I ran into the house and covered my face. My mother came into the hall as I was walking through, and I hid my face and went into the bathroom to clean up. I couldn't tell her."
Stephanie wanted an annulment, but she also wanted to help Gary stay out of the service. Her ambivalence became moot when an aunt spotted the listing of their marriage in the Vital Statistics column in the newspaper, and word raced through the family. But Stephanie stayed with her mother for several more months, the marriage unconsummated. Gary would take her to the local hangout, In-N-Out, for hamburgers and pressure her to move in with him. Gary had ceased showing affection the day they married; he seemed a different person since that day. "But I loved being with him," and she succumbed. She knew Gary would look after her as her mother had from birth.
The Ramonas started their life together in an upstairs apartment in Glendora. A few months after they got married, Stephanie quit school to get a job. They needed the money, but it wasn't a sacrifice, for Stephanie lacked her mother's impulse for learning. She got a job as a receptionist and mail room and teletype clerk at C. F. Braun, where Walt Nye worked. After her mother's divorce, he had dropped out of her life, but she had never stopped wanting his love. When she suddenly saw him in the hall one day, he walked right past her. "He just said `Hi' like I was just anybody." He had treated her like a stranger, and she broke down, crying.
Nor was marriage bringing the affection and security she craved. Gary had been "a great kisser," but the kissing had stopped. Both of them tried awkwardly to discuss the issue during the first months of marriage. But having sex was a bigger problem. They had tried once before living together and it hadn't worked. Stephanie thought that in time it would just come naturally. She couldn't be the first bride to face this. "I mean, those were times when there were more virgins."
But intercourse had become a huge issue. Six months after they eloped, the marriage was still not, technically, consummated. "Gary was gentle. He was too gentle," Stephanie recalls. "He had no problem with an erection. We'd get to the point where he would put his penis right to my vagina, but he wouldn't go any further. He didn't push. He didn't do anything. He kept saying, `It's not time. You're not ready.' And I remember thinking, `God, what time's the right time?' I remember so vividly making a comment, `Shouldn't we be doing something?' And I wanted to ... He was a sexy man.
"I always thought it was me ... Maybe I'm not big enough--this is how stupid I was ... I think I was nervous with Gary. But I have to say that I was more curious than anything. I think if he'd tried, we could have." A few weeks later she went to a gynecologist, who gave her a pelvic exam and said, "There's no problem. Go home and have a drink. Tell Gary to have a drink, too." For a girl who didn't drink, it was a formidable order. "That night, I had a drink--I don't know if Gary did. And it worked!"
Once they had crossed the threshold of penetration, "he was good. I enjoyed myself ... I always had orgasms. Throughout the whole marriage until, of course, the end, I will say--and it's tough because it's just complimenting Gary. I'd love to tell you he was selfish--but he always took care of me first ... Maybe I'm crazy, but I loved it."
Her daughter's confidante, Betty was relieved there was nothing wrong. But what bothered her about the incident with the doctor was the passive obedience it revealed in her daughter. "Gary let her go to a doctor--let her! Imagine, he had to give her permission."
The first year or two of life together were stormy. Stephanie recalls eight to ten incidents of violence. Once Gary hit her because a hair appointment had made them late for a party. In another rage, she remembers, he kicked his foot through a door. The decisive event was when Gary socked her in the stomach so hard she had to go to a doctor.
She had felt insecure about Gary's staying out late and feared he'd found someone else. He admitted he sometimes played pool with Scotty and the guys, but he would laugh off her fears, melt down her anger. He was working hard, studying and taking classes after doing construction all day. But a few times she'd fitfully protested the late nights; she'd called Scotty to move her back to her mother's, loaded up his truck, then changed her mind.
With the fist in her stomach, however, Stephanie had had enough. "I turned around and piled everything I owned, which wasn't much, and put it in the car and left him and filed for divorce." She took the dog with her, went back to her mother's, and, she reports, got a restraining order against Gary--an order Gary claims never to have received. Stephanie most feared for Prince, the mutt they'd got free at a gas station, for Gary seemed to have a love-hate relationship with him. "Gary called my mother's, threatening to come and get the dog--not me." That hurt.
This was their longest separation, several months. "I didn't want her to go back to Gary," says Betty, "but Stevie said she had to because `I'd be a failure.'" The couple reconciled when Gary promised he would never hit her again. Stephanie arrived back at their apartment, expecting Gary to greet her, and found that he'd moved to a smaller place. With Gary, she was always being caught off guard.
Once they were back together, Betty was supportive of the marriage. She never forgave Gary for a crude comment he made about her large, and Stephanie's small, breasts. Laughing, as always, he'd said that Betty was a Jersey cow while Stephanie was evaporated milk. "But he had improved so much. He was a learner, he worked at it. I admired him for that."
Gary's parents were supportive, too. Tony Ramona, Gary's father, had a wonderful laugh and a tender heart. When Stephanie and Gary first got married and didn't have any money, he'd sneak twenty dollars to Stephanie and make sure his wife didn't know. Stephanie always felt a chill from Gary's mother, Garnet Ramona--partly jealousy, she guessed. When she was dating Gary, and was at his house before they went out, Garnet would yell at Gary to go and get his jacket, then pull Stephanie aside and tell her she'd gotten lipstick on his collar. "She'd say, very quietly, `How shameful.' What was I doing with her son? Then Gary would come out and everything was fine."
In 1967, two years after their marriage, Gary began his career as a salesman, taking a full-time job with a citrus juice distributor, Vita-Pakt. He was a natural. After all, he had always been able to sell Stephanie on forgiving him. The violence seemed to have passed. Stephanie loved him. And, Betty knew, "no family's perfect."
Stephanie started to think about getting pregnant. She had tried to ask Gary about having a baby but doesn't remember his ever saying yes or no. "I was ready. I was excited. I was pregnant the second month I stopped the Pill." If Gary shared her joy, he didn't show it. "It wasn't like you see on TV." Several months later, Stephanie quit her job at Braun.
When labor pains began on August 15, 1970, Gary was visiting his mother in Costa Mesa. The pains weren't as grabbing as she had expected, but Stephanie timed them and knew that she should think about getting to the hospital. She was in San Dimas, forty minutes from Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena. Gary was over an hour's drive south. She called Gary and urged him to come home. He recalls being home in about an hour. But Stephanie says that after two hours, she called again. The pains were getting stronger, closer. "You're overreacting," he kept saying. Baffled, she called her own mother to take her in.
When Gary arrived, after her second call, he was furious to find Betty there. Stephanie thought, "This is crazy," and pleaded, "Gary, we have to leave." "I'm not going until your mother leaves. She's not going to the hospital with us," said Gary. "But couldn't she go--she's here anyway?" Stephanie begged, seized by growing contractions. "No, absolutely not," he snapped. Stephanie "was livid" as Betty left; then Gary took a shower. "A forty-five-minute shower--I watched the clock." This was a ritual cleansing, like the showers he always took before they were going to make love. It was strange, like the episode early in their marriage--which Gary denies--when he told her she should douche every three or four days, as his mother did, and took her to the drugstore to get supplies.
"As he came out of the shower, I said, `Gary, we're going.' And, you know, he got out his camera first ... He kept taking a picture every time I had a pain." The pains were now hard and getting closer. "He had to stop at McDonald's and get a Coke. He had to buy more film ... To this day, I don't know what that was."
After twenty-four hours of labor, Holly Ramona was born.
Holly gave Stephanie someone she could safely hug. Holly was cuddly and soon hugged back. Physically, she was all Gary, and she had his great smile. Gary also had a new preoccupation: a possible job with a little winery in Napa Valley, Robert Mondavi.
The carpet of vineyards had turned to a harvest patchwork of red, rust, and yellow when Stephanie drove through Napa Valley with Gary for the first time. He had insisted that she join him on the trip to the interview. "I don't know why, because I just sat there like a bump on a log." Yet Mondavi did everything he could to put them at ease. He took them to lunch, applying no pressure. "You don't have to move up right away. Just take your time," he offered. Gary loved the challenge of the big Southern California market and didn't want to move north any more than Stephanie wanted to leave her mother and the beaches. Mondavi put them up at the Silverado Country Club, the area's only world-class resort in the calm before the storm of tourists found Napa Valley, when the best restaurants were still in the homes of a handful of winemakers.
Stephanie had no objection to Gary's selling wine. She didn't personally like to drink, but wine was just another product, like orange juice. What was important was that the job would let them stay in Southern California. Within three days of their visit to Napa, Gary was hired.
Pregnant with her second child, Stephanie wore a bright red dress for courage when the Mondavis flew her north with Gary for the winery's Christmas dinner at the Copper Kettle in St. Helena two months later. Seated at a long table, she met the family that would become as important to Gary as his own. What was she doing here, she wondered, if she couldn't even drink the product? It hurt her throat and stomach as it went down, and her heart started doing funny things. Moreover, wine didn't fascinate her the way it did the Mondavis. But Robert's younger son, Tim, put her at ease. Still in college, with long hair and unmarried, he was, she thought, so cute, so nice. He talked to her.
She met the elder son, Michael, and his wife, Isabel, who had installed the Ramonas at the private Meadowood Club in the hills east of St. Helena and invited them to drop by their apartment in Yountville to pick up some wine and wineglasses. Stephanie was particularly taken with the graciousness of Marj, Mondavi's wife. It was a nice family. And yet she thought she sensed something between Mondavi and his sparkly special events director, Margrit Biever, who attended the dinner with the husband who had brought her to Napa from Switzerland as a military bride years earlier. On the drive back to Meadowood, Stephanie felt pleased with her first Christmas party as a Mondavi winery wife.
Early in 1972, the Ramonas moved to Diamond Bar, a new community in the hills twenty minutes south of the valley towns where they'd grown up. Kelli was born that spring. Stephanie was twenty-seven and Gary twenty-eight. They had caught the wave of the longest unbroken economic boom in California's history. With a loan from Betty, from the sale of her house in Covina, they had the down payment on a brand-new house. Diamond Bar was the Promised Land to its residents. Built above the brown carpet of smog that lay over San Gabriel Valley in the rolling hills of an eight-thousand-acre ranch, it promised the mystique of the old Spanish rancho era with modern suburban amenities.
What Stephanie wanted was a safe street with neighboring playmates for Holly and Kelli. Number 2107 Holly Leaf Way was on a cul-de-sac, a one-story white stucco ranch house with a shingle roof and a garage on the left, its yard still raw. But Stephanie knew Gary would fix it up and build a pool.
The living room had a cathedral ceiling and wall-to-wall carpet. Its sunken conversation pit had built-in plush velour sofas in an L shape around the fireplace, which you could see from the kitchen and family room, like a fire in the middle of a cave. A step led up to a dining room, which looked out on the backyard. Beyond a tiny room that would be Gary's office were the bedrooms, off a long hall. With the master bedroom at the back, Holly and Kelli would share the one closest to Gary's office. Stephanie could see the bunk beds.
On the day of the run-through with the real estate agent before moving in, Gary and Stephanie were in the house by themselves and he hugged her--the first time she ever remembers him doing this when no one else was around. Then he told her that this day he was the happiest he'd ever been in his life.
"Am I shallow because I think of that as the best time of my life?" Stephanie wonders now. A friend she'd worked with at Braun, Shary Quick, lived just a few doors away. Good friends bonded by children close in age, the two women shared the years. They helped each other as their children were born. They played tennis, went shopping, drank coffee at each other's houses. They went to the beach and the club, walked the kids to the bus stop, and stood there to chat every morning and again in the afternoon. With money still tight, they babysat for each other's kids. They traded recipes from Betty Crocker and The Joy of Cooking. Shary shared her recipe for cheddar cheese pinwheels with Stephanie.