MY FRIEND CONNIE
I met Connie Egan in 1965 when I needed a babysitter. I had a woman named Doreen doing my weekly ironing (I had a full time job at Weber Aircraft) and we ‘fired’ a babysitter called Grandma when my 2 year old son Steve turned up with bruises on his body. We took him to the doctor who said it looked like he had been beaten, but he couldn’t be sure. This was long before we had any laws protecting children from situations like this. At the same time, Steve developed a fear of the bathtub and I had to sponge bathe him for a long time. All we could get out of his five year old brother was “Grandma drowned Stevie”. We think she had been punishing him for not being toilet trained.
At any rate, Doreen said her neighbor Connie sometimes babysat for people. I went downstairs and knocked on the door. I met Connie. She was a stay at home mom at the time and the most laid back person I had ever met. She agreed to become my babysitter and her youngest son, Sean, and my older son Michael started kindergarten together.
Connie and I quickly discovered we were kindred spirits. We both loved books and poetry. We loved American history. One time we bought – sight unseen – a box of American history biographies and autobiographies from a woman, probably someone I connected with on Women’s Circle. When the books, for which we paid about $100.00, arrived in the mail, we sat on the floor and divvied them up.
It was not unusual for us to get hare-brained ideas, such as taking her children, mine, and half a dozen of the neighborhood children, to Disneyland for the day. One time when we were planning to celebrate my son Chris’ birthday at Travel Town in Griffith Park, we had a caravan of cars heading for the park and despite the fact that you drive right passed Travel Town getting into Griffith Park, we drove around in circles, taking turns leading the caravan, ending up near the observatory, while the ice cream melted. Somehow we ended up at Travel Town. I think that was the time I discovered I had a flat tire when we were preparing to leave. I wonder now what we did. There were no cell phones. None of us had Triple A. It’s quite possible we begged a stranger to change a tire for us.
Another time I came home from work to find Connie in the alley behind the apartment building, attempting to put back together half a dozen tricycles and bicycles. Michael and Sean had taken all the children’s riding toys apart (no doubt to see how they worked) but they thoughtfully kept everything in one big pile so they wouldn’t lose any pieces. Another time they painted polka dots all over everything.
If Steve was sick (and he was prone to bronchitis in those days) I might come home from work and find Connie sitting in a rocking chair, rocking the baby.
Sometime in 1965 I quit my job at Weber Aircraft, in a fit of pique because we had to take Jim’s mother to the airport and the manager in charge, not my regular boss, said I couldn’t go. So I quit and we bought a house in Simi Valley. I never thought about leaving Connie in the lurch at the time but that’s what we did – but perhaps it was prophetic and destined because before long she had gotten a job with the Screen Actors Guild and then soon was working for the SAG health plan, which had offices above the KBIG building on Sunset.
We lived in Simi Valley a couple of years; I hated it. We were so far from our friends and the neighbors weren’t friendly. So, we moved back to the valley, this time to a rented house in Arleta. I think about a dozen friends came to help us move. I was pregnant with Chris at the time and unable to do any heavy lifting. My friend Doreen – the one who had introduced me to Connie – had bought a house in Arleta and for weeks had come out to Simi Valley, packed boxes, and moved them to her garage. When it came to actually moving, Connie and Doreen and Connie’s brother Chris and a bunch of other friends were all there to lend a hand. And a year or so later, when the house we were renting was sold, we had the opportunity to move into the house next door- again all our friends came and moved us, lock, stock and barrel. (I had just begun collecting cookbooks and we didn’t have near the amount of stuff we have today—still. Girlfriends set up the kitchen; the men put beds together; girlfriends made the beds. We moved right in. I think I was pregnant with Kelly by this time.
The pregnancy with Kelly was unexpected – none were ever planned but Jim had said if I got pregnant again, he’d leave me. So there I was, pregnant (after a New Year’s Eve party) and moving furniture around trying to get my period to start. I began spotting. I called Connie. She rushed over. Jim said “What’s the matter with her?” and Connie told him “She’s pregnant, you dumb ox, and afraid to tell you”. I asked him if he wanted me to get an abortion. He replied “No, I don’t what you to do anything we might regret later on” (I often wondered if he thought of those remarks years later when Kelly went to live with his father, when we split up, because “you have so many people and he doesn’t have anyone”).
The day I went into labor I was laying on the sofa talking to Connie. “Oops” I said. “I think my water just broke”. I heard later that Connie was in a dither about what to do until someone said “Oh, Connie – she will call her husband and he will take her to the hospital”. Which is exactly what happened. Kelly was born less than a half hour after we reached West Hills hospital. When we were released from the hospital I came home to find Jim and three other children down with the flu. I called my doctor who asked if I could get out of the house. Not a chance, I told him.
So I called Connie. She came and took care of Jim and the three sick children while I stayed in our bedroom with the baby on the other side of the house.
Connie and our friend Roger became Kelly’s godparents. It was a good godmother match for my youngest, quietest left-handed son, and his left-handed godmother.
Connie and her brother, and their mother, along with her children, rented a house not far from us in Arleta. Connie’s brother Chris and my ex were working at the same place for a while. On Wednesdays they’d get paid so Mrs. Glass, Connie’s mother, and I would go pick up their checks and take them to the bank to be deposited. We drove out Sherman Way every week and were constantly getting tangled up in road closures and repair work. I think Sherman Way was always being worked on.
There were Christmas parties and my whimsical suggestions such as we make bread dough ornaments (with six children underfoot!) – whatever I suggested, Connie went along with it. We had bread dough in our hair, on our clothing, on the floor and the table and the kitchen counters and the children were covered with it. Oh, but we made those bread dough ornaments and some of them survived to this day. Whatever we did, we laughed about it.
I’ve forgotten some of the many things we did with the kids but as they grew older and we grew older, we kind of went our separate ways for a while—until Connie called one day in 1977 and asked me to come to work, part time, for about 5 or 6 weeks until they could get caught up in Claims. (What I didn’t know at the time – we never got caught up in Claims, in all the years I worked there). I started working from 5 to 10 pm at night with Connie and was the phantom claims adjuster. We wrote claims payments out in longhand at that time. Right away Mr. Cline and Patty Lowe began badgering me to come to work full time. (Jim didn’t want me to work – he liked having me on hand to wait on him 24/7). But life was particularly difficult at that time with my oldest son Michael, and I really needed that break. And I loved, loved, loved my job.
Claims Department that year consisted of one manager (Connie) and a few claims adjusters – Mary Jo, Barri, Yvonne (known as Bonnie), Liza – and myself. We all became great friends. My friend Rosalia soon joined our department and sat behind Connie, learning how to pay claims. That office was unlike any place I’d ever worked at – more like a mom and pop grocery store atmosphere than a health plan office. We’d take off to celebrate someone’s birthday and make the time up later. There were no time clocks. Patti kept track of everybody’s accrued vacation and/or sick time and gave you little slips of paper once a month to let you know what you had coming. One time I broke my denture and Patty had the office mail lady drive me to my dentist in Burbank. Where else but this office?
Members would come in off the street and want to see their claims adjuster; they might pour a pile of unpaid medical bills on her desk and sit back waiting for her to figure everything out. And she would. The cardinal rule back in those days was “The member comes first” and we all obeyed it.
Connie was an ideal manager; she never raised her voice and I never knew her to lose her temper. I don’t think she walked; she sort of floated.
In all of our years of friendship, we only had one falling out that lasted three months. It was over her daughter, Dawn, and it wasn’t until years later (when I became a grandmother, actually) that I realized – she was right and I was wrong. I never had the opportunity to tell her so. But I remember the two of us sitting in a restaurant, one day – when Dawn was pregnant with Sean – and talking about Connie’s problems with her relationship with Dawn.
“When she goes to have that baby” I promised, “She won’t want me, she will want her mother”.
“I hope you are right” she said. I was. I had just been a stand in, for a few months, helping Dawn get to and from the doctor’s office. And make no mistake, Connie loved being a grandmother.
When we moved to Florida, Connie arranged for me to be able to fly back to California in the summer months, to work – and keep my medical insurance and pension – intact. When we moved BACK to California in 1983, our camper was parked in her driveway for about 6 weeks while we found a house to buy. The best months between 1980 and 1983, though, were the summer months I worked and visited different friends from work, a few weeks with one and a few weeks with another. We did so many great things together, as a group! We went to the Hollywood Bowl, we went to see A.T. when it opened downtown. We went to Lawry’s for dinners; we went to Ernie’s or Acapulco, a Mexican restaurant, several nights a week. (it was walking distance. No one had to worry about driving after having a couple of Margaritas). I went to a play, for the first time in my life, with Connie and Mary Jo and saw “On a Clear Day”. It was the best times. When I was staying at Connie’s, the girls and I would make salsa and impossible pies. There was a lot of laughter. I remember Connie running all over Burbank one day trying to find cilantro and finally finding some at a nursery (it was unknown back then). If you told Connie to go find something, she wasn’t going to give up until she found it! I think a couple of times we substituted parsley in the salsa recipe.
In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking at the same time. I never went back to cigarettes; a year later, she did. “Why?” I asked her, “Why would you take up smoking again after an entire year of getting RID of the habit?”
She said she didn’t know. She was at a party and someone handed her a cigarette. She smoked it.
Connie died from lung cancer in 1999.
I was not Connie’s only girlfriend nor was she the
only girlfriend I had; I have been blessed all my entire life with girlfriends….but I have to say, when it came to having a best friend, someone who was always there for you, someone who would go the extra mile and help you in any way possible – Connie was that friend. She bought a home in Burbank – I don’t remember what year that was – and her daughter Dawn lives there today. Of all the places I have ever visited, whenever I needed a place to stay or to spend a night – this is my favorite place of all. Connie’s presence is still there, inside the house. No doubt her spirit is still looking out for her children and grandchildren.
–Sandra Lee Smith