A non-fiction narrative about growing up in the post-World War II world, raised by a recently widowed mother who used her own mother's 18th century technique of vanity-avoidance emotional abuse to raise her precocious and always rebellious brat of a daughter, and the inevitable conflicts that ensued.
There are stories about successes and positive adventures, with the 'angst' an underlying theme throughout--the author is a survivor and a perpetual optimist who is always able to see the humor and irony in even the worst situations.
Included are some family history; the joys of growing up in southern and central California in the mid-twentieth century; four marriages for all the wrong reasons; and Sunny's many years in the performing arts.
The best part, from the author's perspective: she has come to understand so much, has shed the majority of her emotional baggage, and is excited and optimistic about her next adventure.
Many of us are curious about those who came before us. We hang on to emotional baggage while we try to understand why mommy didn't love us or why Aunt Betty told the terrible lie that caused the rift in the family. We want to discover who we are and why we're here. And we like to read about other people's lives, maybe because they make our own seem better by comparison, or maybe just to escape and vicariously share the experiences of others.
Living on the Sunny Side started as both a legacy for my family, and as entertainment for those who found my stories fascinating enough to encourage me write a book—usually after a drink or two at cast parties.
Stories written by long-gone relatives provide a bit family history from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. A look back at my life growing up in California in the 1940s and '50s should make nostalgia junkies happy. My life-long attempt to understand why I believed my mother hated me and how her archaic approach to raising a girl-child affected my life is an undercurrent throughout the narrative, as are stories of my adventures, successes, and happiest times. And I have shared my musings and attitude-changing insights as they led me to greater understanding and ultimately, allowed me to shed much of my own emotional baggage.
Chapter 1: In the Beginning, excerpt
Just over sixty-eight years ago, Nora typed an irate letter to her doctor when she determined that she was undeniably pregnant. It took sixty-five years to find this confirmation of what I'd always known: I was definitely and absolutely an unwanted child. Seriously unwanted.
Throughout most of my life, I believed she hated me. Throughout most of my life, I believed she thought her life after Frank's death would have been ideal had she not been burdened with an unexpected child. And for most of my life, I believed she thought I was fat, ugly, and hopelessly stupid. I believed that because she reminded me of it as often as possible.
Nora's childrearing method, she eventually told me, was intended to keep me from becoming vain. Evidently, she believed the best way to do so was to constantly insult me, something she learned from her mother. I was a beautiful child; she told me I was not. Once the baby fat was gone and after I started ballet (and through all the years of studying and teaching it), she told me I was fat, and too big to wear ruffles, ribbons, or anything too 'girlie'. I had the fit and firm body of a dancer, but a dancer with a chest and a few curves--flat chests and anorexic-looking bodies were not required for all dancers in the 1950s and 60s, and were never required for ballet teachers. Based on feedback from everyone from family and friends to costume designers, my mother was the only one who was aware of my many flaws.
She told me I was stupid. After the family had my high school administer IQ tests, Nora refused to tell me my score: it would, she said, make me too vain if I thought I was intelligent. She would go only so far as to say that while my IQ was above average, it wasn't as high as my sister Bebe's. Years later, Bebe told me that was pure bull.
Nora's lies worked. I grew up with serious doubts about myself, and even my right to exist. But at an early age, I noticed that nobody else seemed to share her opinions. Most seemed to think I was a beautiful baby, a cute--if chubby--little girl, and beautiful young woman. They actually thought I was smart, clever, and well-behaved too.
The upshot? My mother, in her efforts to make sure I didn't become vain, raised a very confused (and vain) child. I was fat and ugly, and beautiful and built like a brick shithouse. I was stupid, and a genius. I was, however, consistently well-behaved in public, at least when she was around. I was also an absolutely brilliant liar and a master manipulator. The only times Nora refused to believe me was when I told her the absolute truth.
And the irony? Nora, having been raised under the same 'vanity-avoidance' theory, was one of the most vain people I've ever known. The only difference between us is that I am able to admit I am, and have always been, much more attractive than she ever wanted me to believe I was. And after many years of college, and with GPAs consistently at or above 3.5 and a Phi Beta Kappa key, I began to realize that I am significantly more intelligent than she gave me credit for. Reality had begun to reveal Nora's deceptions.