Welcome to Judi's blog
The Mantel Fell
by Judi Calhoun
(All names have been changed)
A short time after the Northridge earthquake in 1994 that devastated parts of Los Angeles– I was invited, of all things, to attend a Lace workshop in a private home near the epicenter. I was the only one present from the Mariposa Guild riding with strangers from other guilds. I jokingly tell people, it wasn’t my trip to Bountiful, but perhaps more like a tour into The Twilight Zone.
Christine, our driver, was a high-strung redhead, who informed me she was diagnosed ADHD and I believed her! Why? Because, God help me, she talked incessantly about her infirmities. She only stopped once we arrived in Diamond Bar to pick up another gal a Lacer like us, Betty. While Betty loaded the trunk with her stuff, Christine rushed inside to grab a soda and I saw my chance and I frantically shifted my belongings into the back seat.
Betty took the front passenger seat (located in Perdition) She accepted her fate graciously, yet once I thought I saw her eyes narrow when she glanced in my direction. The woman had black fuzzy hair, styled quite adorable. Yet, the longer Christine spoke, the more Betty’s hair wilted and fell sideways until it was almost straight.
On this sun-bright morning it felt almost surreal, and foolish to be arriving in the chaos of devastation to attend a Lace Workshop when only a week earlier some 9,000 people had been injured and or displaced, while many more lost their lives. It was odd… as if a bunch of frumpy ladies on Harley Davidsons arrived in the heat of hell to teach demons how to knit mittens for kittens. Yet, here we were, ladies with our lace making tools and pillows.
We passed scenes I’d viewed on the news––the devastation was real … a three-story apartment building collapsed into the parking garage. The only thing keeping it standing, was the cement structure next door that it leaned into and that building suffered a wide fissure cutting the structure completely in half with many walls crumbling exposing bedrooms, where lamps were still lit days after the quake.
People strolled past wearing masks, some carrying personal items in designer tote bags and backpacks or pushing shopping carts carrying everything they had left in this world.
Christine turned in her seat to inform us we should be aware our host’s husband was a famous, respected science-fiction author, and that we were not allowed to go inside his office, or ask any questions about his identity.
She was eyeballing me specifically. Why? Yes, why indeed? Perhaps, my reputation for being a bit rebellious preceded me. I wondered if my name traveled around California lace groups. It was nothing on such a grand scale that I made the FBI most wanted list. Of course, it brought to mind the famous Laurel Ulrich slogan? ‘Well behaved women seldom make history’.
Perhaps someone told her about my desire to become a writer. Everyone in my circle knew I created stories to accompany my artwork. Friends were often asking for writing advice… yes, this was the real reason for her concern. As my father liked to say on road trips, “I want to hear very little from you, and not too much of that.” “Wise advice,” was my brother’s response. Obviously, he actually hadn’t pondered on those words very long. And yet, just for fun, I thought about answering my friends in this manner, but never did.
Although, I worked for the college newspaper and magazine, my only claim to notoriety in those days was a piece of writing published in a local newspaper around Christmas.
We had arrived at the house and the moment we stepped inside the living room, with high vaulted ceiling, we were immediately greeted by a life-sized sculptured alien Astronaut – so very cool. Christine cringed in horror… or was that disgust on her face?
I giggled. I would’ve taken a selfie with the wonderful creation had cellphones existed for work-class citizens back then. I ran my fingers over the amazing sculpture, enjoying its masterful craftmanship. I figured I was breaking more than a few house-rules. Hey, nobody stopped me, so why not?
Our hostess the author’s wife Marg or Maggie I wasn’t sure which was right, introduced us to our instructor, Lia Baumeister-Jonker, an expert on crafting Chantilly lace. She’d just arrived that morning from Russia and she spoke with a wonderfully thick accent and began instructing on Chantilly lace, silk, black boudoir style lace. After meeting her, Marg took us on a quick tour of the house, point out the bathroom and the author’s private office, with stern warning to stay out. Nobody was interested – except me. T
The group settled in the combination dining room and living-room area by a fireplace, with two tall windows and a modern hanging light fixture.
Prior to coming, we had filled our bobbins with silk thread and pinned the pricking onto our pillows, so now we began to hang sets of bobbins on the first pin and worked the cross-twist- cross-twist method.
Bobbin lace, also known as Pillow lace, is often mistaken for tatting, (lace made with a shuttle) but it is different, as the method consists of weaving fine threads around many pins on a pricking pattern.
The origins of pillow lace date back before the 17th century, when women throughout Europe engaged in the textile arts. Its popularity increased and men, like Napoleon Bonaparte, wore more lace than women, because it was a status symbol of great wealth.
Setting up my tray-table, I made the mistake of sitting close to Christine. It was, after all, the best spot offering the greatest amount of light streaming in from those tall windows. Although Christine was quiet (a miracle from the gods), her hands flew in a blur, like a Belgium master artisan. I scooted my chair away, turning until I was gazing at the alien astronaut. It consumed me, I could not stop thinking about it. I had to know what great author lived in this house. I was making a mess of my work, and didn’t care. I was thinking Ray Bradbury lived her. That creature that greeted us at the door was one of his characters.
As I pondered all this, I heard a buzzing sound and glanced up toward the ceiling, where the earthquake damage had separated the chimney from the roof, you could clearly see the blue sky outside the crack. The bees had built a nest at the pinnacle, and they were inside the house – hundreds of them. Christine asked Marge about the ceiling
She apologized.“It’s kind of comforting,” I said.
Her eyes met mine and she gave me the weirdest expression. “My husband says exactly the same thing.”Three hours into the workshop Lia rousted the group to follow her into the galley where she had prepared a demonstration on the kitchen table and all the Lacemakers excitedly abandoned their pillows and tables to rush off squealing. But I lingered behind.
This was it! My chance to explore. It was too easy to slip past everyone unnoticed. I quickly headed down the darkened hallway. Making as little noise as possible, Feeling like a spy, I turned the handle and opened the office door and slipped inside the secretive ingress. I leaned breathlessly against the wood, listening to the sound of my racing heart. I had pulled it off. I was inside his office.
It smelled of leather and success. Many bookshelves lined the walls and were filled to overflowing. I approached his desk and chair thinking this was something more than an office.I felt different calm all fear melted away. Yes, it was so wrong to invade the privacy of another author, and yet there was something so right about it. As if I were meant to be there.
An old typewriter sat in the middle of the mahogany desk, and I ran my fingers over the keys, watching the metal rods yawning forward.
I dropped down into his chair, letting my hands run over the leather material, my head leaning back. Whatever magic existed in the stagnant air hit me between the eyes… a preponderant supernatural unseen force took me by surprise, something I cannot easily explain. Perhaps I will never be able to understand the magic that seized the muse inside of me and shook her senseless. I can only say, up until this point, I had merely existed – waltzing through life with a crowd of strangers, hearing a million voices shouting directions from off-stage.
Yet, at this moment, I sat feeling perplexed, the offstage voices falling silent and the veil over my eyes lifted. I felt almost levitated, almost transcended to a higher level of wisdom than I’d ever known before. It was all so clear, seeing with new eyes of mine, and I understood. I comprehended what I was to do with the rest of my life! I am a writer. Damn it! I am a Writer. This was my calling – what I must do. What I should have been doing all along.
Making lace was fun, but never satisfied the hunger, the yearning to create something truly amazing. Sitting now alone in the dark this new insight, so great was the urge to grab the well-used notebook on the desk next the typewriter and just let the words flow fast, it was compulsion.
As I watched my fingers reaching out I heard footfalls coming down the hall. I jumped from the chair. My heart racing with my feet toward the door, I stood breathless, then turned to take in one last long look.
Across the room my eyes caught sight of a Nebula award, and there was Hugo over on the shelf. Oh my God, oh sweet Lord, whose sanctuary had I invaded? It took all my resolve to keep from rushing across the room to read the name.
The footfalls came louder, stopping somewhere near. I waited, frozen in place, a full three minutes before gingerly opening the door a crack. My eyes scanned the empty hall. Seeing it abandoned, I didn’t hesitate, I rushed out, not as careful to close the door quietly this time. It made a loud thud, but I had scurried down the hall and came to stand with the group before the sound made it very far. Glancing over my shoulder, feeling hopeful and successful at not being caught in my little adventure, still reeling with purpose, I no longer cared if I finished my lace project. All I wanted was paper and pen to sit quietly.
Our hostess knew. She must have seen me! For the next two hours she was my shadow. She radiated pride in knowing him, and benign suspicion of this invader. She would not let me out of her sight. Which gave me opportunity to ask questions.
“Have I read any of your husband’s books?”
She smiled and asked if I would like some tea, then rushed off into the kitchen for only a few seconds. When I asked the name of the life-sized alien astronaut, she said she didn’t pay much attention to any of that stuff. Ah, yes, the lady was very clever indeed, for I knew she wasn’t speaking the truth.
As we drove home, my thoughts were still inside that room. Who was it that sat in that soft leather chair and created masterpieces: Ray Bradbury, or David Gerrold, the Star Trek writer? I knew that both resided in the same area.
I never did find out for sure. And now, as a full-time published writer, some twenty-five years later, having abandoned my lace pillow, I am still learning, still growing, still aspiring to reach for those lofty new heights. And I will always be grateful to my old rebellious nature, because of it, my life has changed forever. I will never regret that defining day when I sat in the seat of greatness and felt the mantle fall. -