The 1980s was an era filled with glamour as Hollywood took over the White House—a period of fluffy hairdos, and red outfits à la Nancy Reagan, outsized wealth, and popular TV soap operas that subsidized the idea of affluence. As a single mother raising two sons on top ramen because much of my salary as a newspaper reporter went to day care and babysitters, I fell under the radar of an older, wealthy businessman. I came to love and marry him because I believed he would be kind to my kids and we would have a good life together. But when I arrived at John’s home after the Maui honeymoon, I found my step-daughter had fired the housekeeper, my two young sons were subdued after a week in her care, and the personal belongings of my husband’s late wife filled the master bedroom. It was the beginning of a tumultuous decade, as I found my way among a deceptive family filled with the pretense only a founding dynasty could have in a small agricultural community fifty miles north of Los Angeles. While my children and I enjoyed the benefits of living in a seemingly wealthy household, I came to realize my life was no different than the soap operas of Dynasty or Dallas that gratuitously filled the national passion for greed, guile, and deception. If one’s life can be a duplication of a decade, then I was the perfect example.
Geraldine Birch has been a newspaper reporter most of her life, having worked for various community newspapers in Southern California and Arizona. Her work included a ten-year stint as a free-lance writer for the Los Angeles Times.
In 1991, she moved to Sedona, Arizona, where she worked as a reporter, editor, and political columnist for the Sedona Red Rock News. Birch’s political column “Gerrymandering,” was awarded a first place national award by the National Newspaper Association.
Her writing has also appeared in the Arizona Republic, the Christian Science Monitor, Opium, Six Hens, and Fiction Attic Press. She is the author of three books, The Swastika Tattoo, a historical fiction; Vision of a Happy Life: A Memoir; and Sedona: City of Refugees, a fictional romance set in Sedona, Arizona.
When I married John, it was the beginning of the Reagan era, where fluffy hair and puffy sleeves and "Dallas" was the talk around the water cooler. Nancy Reagan and her Hollywood pals were the prime example for the American woman.
I wanted what they had. The ease of the credit card became an addiction of sorts.
Vision of a Happy Life A Memoir
While in Lahaina Town, I wandered into the various stores. I was entranced by the bold Hawaiian print shirts and dresses, and the many variations of jewelry that celebrated the flowers of the islands—plumeria, orchids, and birds of paradise. A striking ring caught my eye. It had three beautiful elongated white pearls nestled together like a flower sitting next to a piece of smooth black coral. The pearls and coral were embraced by a gold flowering vine. I tried it on. It fit my finger perfectly and its uniqueness captivated me. Without a second thought, I pulled out the credit card John gave me that morning. He told me to buy anything my heart desired, and so I did. In those days, almost forty-years ago, the clerk didn’t hesitate to take the prestigious American Express Credit Card with a man’s name on it, assuming I was using my husband’s credit card. I simply signed Mrs. John Stewart, Jr., and the $400 ring was mine. That was the beginning of a bad habit, but it was a heady time for me. I had married a wealthy man—an entrepreneur who owned a large home on several acres of land, a thriving grocery store and wholesale meat business, rental properties along the Southern Pacific Railroad, and a beach house near Santa Barbara—and I wanted the trapping that went with that wealth. I desired the jewelry, clothing and furs that I’d seen on the wives of his friends. My pedestrian clothing from J.C. Penney and Sears wouldn’t do now with my new life—I wanted things, beautiful things from I. Magnin and J.W. Robinson’s.