or “Lisa Ben”
by Paul D. Cain
edited by C. Todd White
This interview with Edythe Eyde was conducted by Paul D. Cain on April 15, 1995.
Tangents is grateful to Rev. Flo Fleischman for helping us to secure official permission to use Edythe Eyde’s true name, in July, 2015.
Childhood and Youth
What date were you born?
I was born November 7, 1921. I was supposed to be born on Halloween, but I came seven days late. Got lost.
And that was in San Francisco?
Yeah—up at Children’s Hospital, and I was a Caesarean section baby. That’s why, in one of my poems, I said they compelled me.
Where in northern California did you grow up?
I never did grow up. [Laughs]
All right… Where did you spend your childhood years?
My childhood years were in Los Altos, California.
My parents owned a 33-acre fruit ranch and, when I was three years old, they moved from San Francisco to this fruit ranch in Los Altos. So I spent my childhood years from age three to 21 at the ranch. So I grew up with lots of animals. Not very many friends, but lots of animals. We had a nanny goat, and I had my own riding pony, lots of chickens and ducks, and there were turkeys. And I think at one time Mother even had some guinea hens, and mallard ducks, and of course lots and lots of different kinds of fruit, except the kind of fruit that I would have enjoyed associating with.
The forbidden fruit. [Laughs]
Yeah. We had apricots mainly—pears, peaches, quince, figs, almonds, walnuts, plums. And we even had an olive tree, and Mother would pick the olives and pickle ’em in brine and fix black olives, and Mother did an awful lot of canning. So we had lots of nice home-canned fruit, things like that. It was a real country life, which was nice—I’m glad, in retrospect, that I grew up there rather than growing up in San Francisco or San Jose or some other place, you know.
But you spent most of the rest of your life since then in larger cities, right?
Well, just—first, I—they got rid of me, and I lived in Palo Alto for 2-1/2 years. And then from there I moved down to L. A. because I wanted to kind of get away from them. Not that—it wasn’t because of gay life, it was a… Well, anyway, that’s another whole different story, and I don’t think maybe you’d want to include that in your book. But, suffice it to say, it was sort of a fight over power. They wanted to keep me at home and rent me out as an office girl, and then take a third of my salary in gratitude.
Well, that was one of things that I had read was that you had spent two years in college, then your parents kind of forced you to go into business school, and that you always hated office work.
That’s true; I did. I hated it with a passion.
And I guess what I wonder is: being such an adventurous spirit, if you hated to do it so much, why did you continue to do it for the rest of your life?
I wasn’t an adventurous spirit! I was very cowed, very passive. I didn’t do anything—I mean, if I spoke back to my mother, she’d slap me across the face so hard! My dad never raised a hand to me, but he could make feel about two inches high with his putdowns. So I was—and I was the only child.
I would have stayed with them if they hadn’t said, “Well, because of the war, we’ve decided that you might be safer in Palo Alto because there’s going to be a food shortage.” Well, I believed them. And this wasn’t true at all. I didn’t want to cooperate with them in contributing my salary to them because I hated the work so much, and my dad got angry and quit my music lessons because of that, which was terrible. I had always supposed I would be playing in a symphony orchestra.
What did you play?
Violin. And I worked hard at that violin.
But when he did that, he lost all my love for him. I didn’t have much love for him in the first place, but that did it. So when they said we think you should move to Palo Alto, I thought, “Aha! At least there I can read the books I want to read from the library, and go to a mystery movie once in a while if I want to.” They frowned on mystery movies, and you’d think that the books I brought home from the library were pornographic, the way they reacted. I would bring home a mystery story or a ghost story or something, and I liked to read it for fun—it didn’t affect me with nightmares, or anything. And Mother at the dinner table would say, “Show Daddy what kind of book you brought home from the library today.” And here I was 18 or 19 years old! You know, I mean—It wasn’t as though I were 5 or 6 years old.
Was there any kind of a religious background, or anything?
No—Mother used to force me to go to church—Daddy never went to church. But I didn’t want to go to church because—I mean, for that reason. I told Mother, “Well, I like the devil.” Because, you know, it was the opposite, and she was horrified. [Laughs] Of course, there were no cults around, or anything like that, but I just took the opposite tack. Well, when I got a chance to move to Palo Alto, at their suggestion, I said, “Oh!,” and I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “If that’s what you want—”
Well, Mother drove me over there and got me a room to live in. And they were so careful about what I read, or what I saw in the movies, that I was just astonished they would do this. And they thought nothing of my hopping on the bicycle in my little shorts and halter, riding around the country roads alone, and it was lonely in those places—they never objected to that, nor to my riding my pony alone—but you’d think they would worry about! But they didn’t.
Parents are funny that way.
But reading and movies—oh, my. So, anyway, I just—I think—I remember my father saying, “I think you’ll find that it’s more expensive to live away from home—you should stay here.” And I thought, “That’s why they’re doing this! They’re going to expect me to come back and say, ‘Please take me back,’ or ‘Daddy, can I borrow some money?’ or something.” Well, I never borrowed a cent from that person—from the day they put me out to Palo Alto. I starved to death, but I didn’t borrow from them—I didn’t ask them for anything. And I was permitted to come home for Sunday dinner every Sunday. I could take the bus to Los Altos, and they would drive me back—wasn’t that nice of them?
So, being short of money, I used to hitchhike to Los Altos, and that horrified my mother.
Right. I heard about that.
When I showed up at the ranch house, she’d say, “How’d you get here?” “Well, I hitchhiked.” They didn’t like that, but they couldn’t forbid it.
So, anyway, they finally sold the ranch and moved to Menlo Park, close by. And I still lived in my—oh, I finally got a room where I took care of children at night, and I got a free room. Well, they didn’t like that very much either. But what could they do? By that time, when I had a free room in someone else’s house, Mother couldn’t come up to the room and look around, or look in my closet and see if I had anything to eat, and all that. So that worked out real fine. And I’d be walking home from work, and I’d see Mother’s old blue DeSoto trailing along, and she’d say, “You want a ride home?,” meaning where I lived, and I’d say yes. By that time I was down to 99 pounds—I mean, I was skinny. (You wouldn’t believe it now, would you!?)
So she’d take me home, and one day—I’ll never forget this—she said, “Have you had your dinner yet?” And I said no. And she said, “Aren’t you hungry? Wouldn’t you like to take Mother out to dinner?” And I said no, and I expected a slap across the face when I said that, but she didn’t say anything. But what cruel things to say!
Parents can do the wrong thing.
So [I went through] about two and a half years of that. And I knew some people from the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society here, and one of the guys had a grandma who owned this flat, and I could stay there. He was in the service, so I—I just went and I told my parents what was going to happen; I didn’t run off. And oh, my mother thought that was terrible, you know, and my dad—they saw me off at the train—I bought my own train ticket. And my father said, “Oh, you’re making a big mistake—you’re making a big mistake.” And I thought, well, maybe I am, but I’ve gotta get out of this situation. And I knew I could find work down here that paid a hell of a lot more than I was making up there—I think I was making about $31 a week up there for an 8-hour day and half-days Saturday. I mean, so I came down here and I lived in rented rooms for a while, and then I bought my own little house, finally. I realized if I didn’t buy a house, I’d still be working at my age, you know. So I would go up to visit them on my summer vacation because I felt that it was my duty, you know—I was their only child, and I should do this for them, but I sure didn’t enjoy it.
How old were you when you remember first identifying your attraction to members of the same sex?
Well—I know I loved my mother’s dear housewife friend, who was—she had four children herself, and she was always so nice to me. I was about five or six at the time, and I always used to call her Mary My Angel, because when we’d visit, she’d fix me a little glass of cold chocolate. Anyway, I loved her because she was nice to me because she loved children—that kind of thing. So then later on, when I was nine years old, I fell madly in love with my fifth grade teacher, and I wrote her a perfectly horrible love song, and sang it to her, and after that, she didn’t like me. And of course, I was just a little girl—I looked about six—I was nine, but I was small for my age—and she never returned this affection I felt for her.
Has it ever occurred to you that it might have been that she was a lesbian, and she was afraid you were just coming too close?
No, no, no, no. She never was, because later on—they didn’t know of such things in my little country school, I’m sure. But I was just such a pest. I would walk by her door and I’d look at her, and I’d just think she was—well, she was very beautiful. And at about age nine, I was beginning to need somebody to love, because I sure wasn’t getting it at home from my father, or too much from my mother, because she used to slap me around a bit. She was nice in many, many ways—she sewed my little clothes, and she was a wonderful mother in many ways, but there were other ways she wasn’t. And I needed someone to love, you see, so that’s why I turned to this straight teacher.
And then, after about age ten, I grew out of that, and nothing happened again until I went to high school. And even then I sort of envied the girls who were popular and wore pretty clothes and were popular with boys. I used to think, “Gee, I wish one of those fellas would ask me if I wanted a candy bar during lunch time, or something—that would be nice.” But that‘s as far as it went; I didn’t want to get cozy with them.
And then in my sophomore year, I got acquainted with a girl that played in the orchestra where I did, and we used to have overnight stays once in a while—not too often, but one time, I think—I sent—did I send you my poem, “The Night Helen Taught Me to Dance”?
Oh, I didn’t—oh, well, anyway, Helen was the one that introduced me to hugging and kissing.
Oh, OK. Yes, I read a little bit about that.
And, uh—oh, I just adored her, and I made no bones about it to Mother either, you know. “Oh, goody, can Helen come over?,” or “Can I go over there? Oh, goody!” And we were all—She and I had never done anything sexual except just hug and kiss and dance together at her house. And that, to me, was just a lot of fun!
And finally I wrote this song to her, and I sang it to my mother as my mother was combing my hair one time—my mother always arranged my hair. I didn‘t know how to arrange it. So, as I finished, she said, “You and Helen never did anything wrong together, did you?” And right then and there, it dawned on me that this was different. You know, I never thought of it before. And I looked at Mother, and I said, “No!” I said, “What do you mean?” Because wrong to me was telling dirty jokes, or looking through the boys’ lavatory or something—you know. That would be wrong.
And I never would do things like that! And then, after that, I didn’t mention very much about this any more. But when it came time for graduation from high school, I had always envisioned that she and I would march down the aisle together at graduation. Of course, she marched down the aisle with this other girl, and I marched down the aisle with I don’t know who, and it just broke my heart, but I didn’t tell Mother this. And at the time, Mother said, “Well, Daddy can’t come to your graduation—it‘s his lodge night.” And you’d think that would have crushed me, but it didn’t. I said, “Oh? All right.” You know—I didn’t give a darn. But what hurt me was that—but I didn’t mention it to Mother. And after that, they kept me at home two years after high school—they didn’t send me on to college. And I really didn’t care, because I had lost out with Helen, and to me, there was no reason for me to go on living. I just felt that desolate. And about that time I started to take violin lessons from a very wonderful teacher, and I devoted all my thoughts to that and practiced four and five hours a day—oh, I was diligent! And I lost track of Helen, of course, and I thought, well, that’s it. You know, I never thought of getting another girl—well, there weren’t any other girls, in the country. So then, later on, Mother asked me if I‘d like to go to college. And I never pushed for it, because it didn’t occur to me—I was always a very compliant “yes girl” in those days.
Well, and you were also content to—you were going to be a housewife, as it were, like your mother. Sure.
So—well, I didn’t think I would ever be a housewife. But I thought of staying with my parents and playing in the symphony. So I ended up going to a girls’ college, which was all right with me because my teacher taught there, and I didn’t want to go to another college and have to study—
Was that Mills College?
Okay, sure. I have had friends who have gone to Mills.
Oh. So anyway, I went to college, but I didn’t look around for girls particularly. There was one girl that I kind of took a shine to, but I knew she wasn’t—she wouldn’t reciprocate.
She was kind of a studious, loner-type too. But I never entered into any other liaisons with girls at college. And finally, after two years, my folks didn’t send me back to college. And I really didn’t feel that I belonged there anyway, because I didn’t think I had the brains for it, frankly. I didn’t enjoy the other subjects I was required to take. It was just something I did because they wanted me to do it. The only thing I was interested in was music.
So after that, all of a sudden, Mother said, “Well, Daddy’s going to take you to business college today.” He commuted to San Francisco every day to his office, and I said, “All right—I don’t care.” And I never asked them why I never got back to college; I didn’t really care. And I went to business college, and he took me up there, and he said, “You wait in the hall,” and he went into the head honcho there, a woman, and closed the door. And I stood out in the hall, and I waited and waited and waited, and then finally, the door opened, and he said, “Come in,” and I was enrolled in the business college. I mean, that‘s the way I was treated—he didn’t have me in there with him or anything—just wait out in the hall. So I went to business college. And I was all right at it—I mean, I was pretty quick on words and language and things like that, and the typing I picked up, so I thought, well, what the hey, it’s not too hard.
But when it came time that I was going to be sent out to work, that was another thing! I didn’t think that much ahead, you know. It was just something I was doing because my parents wanted me to do it. I didn’t think; I just did. It was, with them, “Shut up and obey—don’t think!” And that‘s the way I was brought up. It was an awful way to bring up a child.