My Great Grandmother and Los Angeles


Here I am at the threshold of a house that was painfully familiar to my great-grandmother.

This white strip on the floor was the very place she crossed over as she dropped her 4 year old daughter off, handing her over to be adopted by relatives.

She would stand at this threshold again, once a year, when she was allowed to come and collect her daughter for the day in a once-a-year visitation.

When my great-grandmother would walk away, leaving her child behind for another 364 days, the adopted mother of the child would shout at her as she walked away: Whore!

And the child would take it in.

All of the people who lived in this house, or crossed its threshold, are no longer alive.

I visited it today, and by a stroke of genealogical karma was allowed inside where the home is undergoing construction.

The wood panels at the top of the image are the original flooring, as well as the porch I am standing on.

The house is the same shape as it was in old photos I've seen, and the doors are original, too.

I wish these architectural witnesses could talk to me and tell me their side of the story.

I hold a longing deep in my cells to understand all sides of this story that has shaped my own life in profound ways.

What was it like for the 4 year old girl, who would grow up watching her mother walk away?

Did anything ache in the guts of my great-grandmother, as she walked away from her daughter while hearing herself called a whore, knowing her daughter was watching and listening?

What was in the heart of the woman who shouted after her?

It has been 94 years since Elsie dropped off her daughter and relinquished her rights as a mother.

The house still stands proud and silent, holding my lineage deep in its bones, while the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles thrust upward all around it.