From the beloved film star and best-selling author of Then Againa heartfelt memoir about Diane Keaton's relationship with her younger brother, and a poignant exploration of the divergent paths siblings' lives can take.
When they were children in the suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1950s, Diane Keaton and her younger brother, Randy, were best friends and companions: they shared stories at night in their bunk beds; they swam, laughed, dressed up for Halloween. Their mother captured their American-dream childhoods in her diaries, and on camera. But as they grew up, Randy became troubled, then reclusive. By the time he reached adulthood, he was divorced, an alcoholic, a man who couldn't hold on to full-time workhis life a world away from his sister's, and from the rest of their family.
Now Diane is delving into the nuances of their shared, and separate, pasts to confront the difficult question of why and how Randy ended up living his life on "the other side of normal." In beautiful and fearless prose that's intertwined with photographs, journal entries, letters, and poetrymany of them Randy's own writing and artthis insightful memoir contemplates the inner workings of a family, the ties that hold it together, and the special bond between siblings even when they are pulled far apart. Here is a story about love and responsibility: about how, when we choose to reach out to the people we feel closest toin moments of difficulty and losssurprising things can happen. A story with universal echoes, Brother & Sister speaks across generations to families whose lives have been touched by the fragility and "otherness" of loved onesand to brothers and sisters everywhere.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
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THE PROOF IS IN THE PICTURE
The simple, sturdy, and reliable Brownie Hawkeye camera manufactured by Kodak documented our family from 1949 through 1956. Mom and Dad learned how to look into its viewfinder while selecting the right pose by pushing the button with a click. The result? Hundreds of white-framed four-inch-square pictures including my six-year-old brother Randy and eight-year-old me standing next to a clown at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Another shot, a year later, features all four Hall kids in the Halloween costumes Mom made. I was a Gypsy. Randy was a clown. Robin was a princess, and little Dorrie was a bunny rabbit. And there’s the photograph our neighbor Ike must have taken, featuring the entire Hall family gathered on the front porch dressed in Easter Sunday outfits. Ever-ready smiles in the black-framed photographs solidified our place in history, just as the ubiquitous advertising promised. We were the stars of our very own Kodak Moments. All through these many years, Randy’s smile remained a carbon copy of those that preceded it: deceptive and faraway.
In spite of our camera’s all-too-ordinary results, imagery was a force to be reckoned with, especially for Mom. Thanks to her example, “looking” became a dedicated endeavor for all four of her kids. Cutting up pictures, collecting them, and making collages became a favorite form of escape and one of our primary means of expression. We weren’t alone. I can’t count how many times, at flea markets and antiques stores, I’ve come across abandoned scrapbooks packed with snapshots of long-gone families and friends on vacations, proudly displaying their new cars, holding their babies up to the lens. They were us, and we were them: another twentieth-century American family smiling into the future.
There is a photograph of Randy and me sitting at the top of a slide as a man walks our way. A young woman holds the hand of a toddler in front of a swing nearby. In the background, a power-line pole leans to the left. Behind the pole, sycamore trees stand as a barrier framing the image. Randy and I seem so undefined, so similar. Who could have known how different our lives would become, and within those differences how much would be the same.
Now, at seventy-one years of age, Randy is in the process of dying. I guess the same could be said of me, his seventy-three-year-old sister. Yet I’m the one who can still drive a car across town every weekend, sit for hours by his bed at Sunrise Villa, and watch his eyes scan the walls and ceiling until they find the window and he sets his gaze outside. I don’t know how much he registers from my cheerful reports of Dorrie and Robin, or how he experiences his bedridden days. But the truth is, I’ve never known how Randy experienced anything. I’ve only heard what little he chose to say, or read what he wrote in letters or poems.
Why was his life so fraught with fear and anxiety? Even though we shared the same parents, the same schools, why were we so different? Why did he live out his life without making even one good friend? Why couldn’t he stop drinking? How did he come to write with lightning-strike clarity and beauty, but also ominous violence?
For many years, when we were young, I saw Randy as an inexplicable burden. He was a nuisance, a scaredy-cat, and a crybaby. As we got older, he became an absent presence. I avoided him as my life got busier while his got smaller and more difficult.
Mother’s endless need to write and record the story of The Hall Family has helped me find a path back. With her daily journal entries, and her meticulous scrapbooks filled with photographs, clippings, and letters, I’ve been able to see Randy from a different perspective. Even though blurry snapshots hardly tell a viable story, they do stimulate speculation. I don’t know if my piecemeal version of Randy’s story is true, or if I’ve gotten any closer to who he is and what he means to me, but I do know that I wish I could have given him more love and attention sooner. “Dear, dear, Randy,” as my old friend Jean Stein would have said. Dear, dear, Randy, I do love you.
One of my favorite memories is of Randy holding Mom’s hand as we ventured to downtown Los Angeles, where we saw the Christmas window displays at the Broadway Department Store. We must have been no more than four and six years old. A giant replica of Santa Claus was engulfed by better-than-ever board games, including Candyland, Go to the Head of the Class, and even The Game of Life. Stuffed animals pressed against the Madame Alexander Queen Elizabeth Dolls, who were laid out in front of the brightly lit tree. Randy screamed when he saw a Lionel train zooming around a toy village covered in what looked like real snow. The city was hopping. A couple of blocks over, Mom took us to the famous theme-driven Clifton’s Cafeteria, where we picked out our favorite food and put it on our very own trays inside a giant sequoia forest as a band played on the balcony above. We were together. And Randy was happy. Mom took many photos of us as kids, but of course there is no snapshot to document my favorite outing, only a memory I can’t quite trust.
John Randolph Hall was born on Sunday, March 21, 1948, at 2:13 a.m. at P. and S. Hospital in the City of Glendale, State of California. The circumference of the perfect blue-eyed, blond-haired, nineteen-inch-long baby’s head measured twenty-one inches.
The first page of Mom’s official Randy Scrapbook features a large professional portrait of her one and only son. With his hair combed into a little peak at the top of his forehead, he has an unusually beguiling appeal. His eyes look off to the left, as if he’s seeing something special. His tiny fist clutched into a ball touches his little mouth as if he’s awestruck. Is he seeing shadows of light and dark, or the wonder of our mother’s face? The baby bundled in white with a matching background of creamy perfection, this eight-by-ten-inch picture oddly mirrors a photograph I recently took of Randy at seventy. He still looks out, struck by the mystery. With those blue eyes, and his long white hair and beard, he could pass for a modern-day Moses. Two portraits. One a beginning, the other an end. One looking out, as if spellbound by a miracle. The other acknowledging a life lived on the other side of normal.
Happy greeting cards to our parents, Jack and Dorothy Hall, welcomed Baby Randy to life. “A precious little bundle tucked in a tiny bed, a world of happy plans around baby’s resting head. Sincere congratulations and best of wishes too. May the world be very good to baby and to you.” Signed by the Watson family, our neighbors three houses down. Several pages into the scrapbook is a very special card from Grammie Keaton that read in typical Hallmark rhyme, “You know what I just heard okay? Goodness tell me right away. Well listen here’s what I was told, someone we know is two years old.” Inside the envelope she included a two-dollar bill. It’s still there.
More pages with more photographs gradually begin to feature Mom writing a caption below each picture as if she were Randy. “I’m three years old and the cake Grammie Hall brought was good. Our neighbors are enjoying my ice cream and cake, but it doesn’t look like I’m getting any. Oh Well.” “I sure do look cute in the hat mom bought at Woolworths Five and Ten Cent Store.” “Here’s a picture of Diane and me at the zoo looking at a monkey. I’m trying to be tough.” “This is the little frog I’m holding at the Arroyo Seco stream in Pasadena.” “Here I am Digging for worms on our way to Green Lake.”
I don’t remember a little frog at the Arroyo. I don’t remember digging for worms. I don’t remember Green Lake. Is there a Green Lake in Southern California? Just as I forgot we had the striped umbrella that is in the picture of Mom lying on a beach towel, shadows crossing over the back of her legs, at Huntington Beach. Were it not for the photograph of Dad, with his smiling white zinc’d face, holding the halibut he speared while skin-diving off Diver’s Cove in Laguna, I wouldn’t have remembered how handsome he was. I do recall his bow legs in shorts, but only because he looked like a flamingo. Years later, Grammie Hall told us it was from rickets. She chose not to go into detail. Perhaps being an abandoned single woman during the Depression had kept her uninformed of the nutritional importance of vitamin D.
Mom made sure Randy would never have to worry about rickets, but she was concerned about his fear of going outside. Perhaps the great outdoors was too expansive for him, she worried in one of her journals. But Randy was a contradiction, and eluded obvious analysis. She also noted that he loved splashing in the waves at the beach, and digging for sand crabs with his new shovel and bucket.
Underneath a photograph of a rose-covered sofa, in front of a wallpapered den, Mom, once again amusing her imaginary audience as if she were little Randy, wrote, “My first home was a Quonset Hut.” This is true. For three years, until I was five or so, Randy and I shared a bedroom inside a prefabricated galvanized steel structure in the hills of Highland Park set in a cluster of trees surrounded by a community of exact replicas set in a semicircle. Just like our neighbors, we lived in a twenty-by-forty-eight-foot triangular structure with 960 square feet of usable floor space. The interior consisted of two bedrooms, a bath, kitchen, and living room. Was there a window in our bedroom? Did we see the moon at night and the sun in the morning? Was there a closet? There must have been a chest of drawers. I don’t recall. The one object firmly implanted in my memory is our towering bunk bed. Every night my hands grasped the side of our ladder as my feet propelled me higher and higher, until I reached the top. In the dark, secured by my pillow, my blankie, and the quiet company of my little brother below, I was ready for sleep.
I remember glancing down from my top-bunk apartment in the sky and seeing Randy’s anxious bobbing head, his fear of the dark, and his sweet if hapless face. Why was he such a chicken? Why couldn’t he stop seeing ghosts that weren’t there lurking in shadows? Why didn’t he just drink his milk and go outside when Mom repeatedly begged him?
Somewhere around age two, Randy began calling me “Dan.” As “Dan the Man,” I must have enjoyed lying on my mattress in our room. Randy must have been bored with the endless details of my acquisitions. Pictured in one of Mom’s Christmas photographs, there was the hand-me-down Little Homemaker Cooking Set that Auntie Martha gave me, the very special Lady Lovely Beauty Kit from Grammie Hall. But most beloved was my Betsy Wetsy Baby Doll, who could pee real water. Randy had an unusual interest in Betsy. The day he took her in his arms and buried her in the Watsons’ backyard, I was so overwrought Mom forced him to go outdoors immediately, find her, and bring her back. When he returned, cradling her in his arms, she was so filthy and disheveled I threw her away. I didn’t want some trashed Betsy doll.
Looking through the Randy Scrapbook, I see that Mom’s Christmas and birthday letters are jam-packed with information. By three, Randy started drawing circles and talking real talk. In one of Mom’s yearly birthday letters, she recounts how I took it upon myself to help teach him the way to use a pair of scissors. In the back of McCall’s magazine, a paper doll also named Betsy became so popular they decided to include her mother, Mrs. McCall; her father, Mr. James McCall; and Nosy, a six-month-old dachshund. Betsy was my obsession. Apparently, I couldn’t stop cutting out pieces of her wardrobe, including playsuits, sundresses, slacks, hoodies, and PJs. Randy must have noticed adorable little Betsy. Perhaps I helped him learn how to cut a curved line with our Crayola Safety Scissors. After all, he was my little brother, and scissors were dangerous. You could hurt yourself. These days, I wonder if pretty Betsy was a prelude to Randy’s future fantasies.
Among the photographs of Randy making a sand castle, or standing under an oak tree holding my hand, or even leaning against our white picket fence in front of the Quonset hut in a ten-gallon hat, I’m reminded of the one snapshot that captures him defying the powers that be. In Grammie Hall’s backyard, Randy’s holding a wastepaper basket above my head. Instead of taking it to the incinerator, he’s dumping the trash on me. Perhaps Randy had caught on to the possibility that intimacy was a double-edged sword, bound together by conflict on one side and longing on the other.
In 1951, when I was five and Randy was three, Dad made a big announcement. We were going to move. He’d saved his hard-earned money and bought a house he was preparing to transport to a vacant lot on Redfield Avenue, only blocks away from all our Quonset-hut family friends. At the end of our new street was Bushnell Way Elementary School, where I would soon be attending kindergarten. We would have a lot more room to play outside. It would be fun. And since we were pretty much a family that liked to stick together, he had one more very important announcement to make. He and Mom thought we would be cheating ourselves out of much fun and happiness by not having at least one more child.
Dad’s announcement was upsetting. All too soon, our little log-shaped Quonset hut would house a new family. We would no longer live in a community of unassuming, identical, heavenly homes. I must have been in a panic, because the first thing I would have worried about was our bunk bed. Surely, we could take it with us. Surely, Randy and I would continue to share our secret schemes within its safe boundaries. Surely, I’d stay in my little space at the top, vigilantly protecting Randy down below. I’d even offer to spend a few nights on the bottom bunk if we could just keep our dream world intact.
One night, after dinner, Mom and Dad sat Randy and me down for another family talk. Yet again, Dad described the new turquoise-painted home with white-trimmed windows and the big backyard. He smiled at Randy while giving him the details of the garage he’d built, and the tetherball pole he put up on the cement driveway he’d paved. Alluding to the three bedrooms in our new home, he looked at Randy and said it would be a big treat, and a lesson in independence, to have separate bedrooms. There would be no more use for a bunk bed. In a generous gesture, he decided to give it to the new Quonset hut renters, who had two children of their own. It was a gift worth giving. That’s what Mom said. Or so I remember.
We didn’t handle the news well. A month before we waved goodbye to our Quonset hut neighbors, Randy woke up sobbing. When Mom ran into our room, she found me sitting on the bunk-bed ladder peeing onto the floor. Randy and I didn’t need more fun. We didn’t want another brother or sister. We wanted to stay where we were. I continued to lobby for saving my nightly climb into a better world until the day we moved.
Looking back, I have to question whether there actually was a bunk bed. Without a four-inch-square black-and-white photograph proving its existence in either Randy’s or my scrapbook, I wonder if my story of those days is a tall tale pieced together in hopes of some sort of redemption from being the bossy sister. If only Mom or Dad had taken at least one little picture to prove Randy and I really had shared such a bed. There is no such evidence, but I believe we did. I believe there was a sacred sleeping place we shared, where the dreams it encouraged overshadowed the sobering realities ahead. I can’t help but think leaving our bunk bed behind to face the rigors of 440 Redfield Avenue cut short the potential for a deeper connection that might have developed as we grew older. It’s hard to know, but I am certain of this: my most intimate relationship with any male took place in a pint-sized room underneath a crescent-shaped ceiling, where once upon a time I slept in a secondhand bunk bed overlooking my delicate, blond-haired brother below.