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By Sheila Zanghi
contributing writer 

A character who enriched my life


October 14, 2023

Sheila Zanghi.

I met one of my favorite relatives when we moved to California from Minnesota when I was 6.

Audrey, my dad's first cousin, had platinum blond hair, twinkling blue eyes and a warm smile. She and her sister had left our hometown as young women to arrive in glamorous Los Angeles in the 1930s. I always admired their independence and courage to make that move. She and her sister were independent, as most Finnish women are, but they were surprisingly bold in their speech and exuberance. I always thought of them as characters from the 1940s "His Gal Friday" movie with snappy dialog, but with one eyebrow raised to show they did not take things at face value.

Audrey addressed most people as "kid." When she got excited, she would say "Kid, kid, guess what?" and then she would talk with animation.

In my 6-year-old view she was the most exciting and fun person I had ever met. The first thing that struck me was the way she swore. Her favorite swear word was "Sacramento!" I didn't know what it meant but she said it with the same gusto my dad would say, "Perkele," a Finnish expletive. Sacramento just sounded bad. I didn't know it was the capital of our new state. When Audrey would get extremely upset, she would up the ante and say with vehemence, stressing the first syllable Finnish style, "SACramento CALIfornia!"

Audrey and my mom ended up being best friends. Audrey would come over and as she walked through the door it was, "Kid. Guess what?" and she would pull out the clipped article from a magazine for their next project. When I was about 9, Audrey decided that she should be able to cut hair. She didn't need lessons because she had found everything she needed to know in a magazine. She decided to practice her new skill on me. May I mention both my mom and Audrey had three daughters, but I was the chosen one. Audrey cut off my ponytail as my mom gave Audrey helpful advice. I ended up with a haircut that was about one inch long. Mom was so impressed she had her cut my 4-year-old sister's hair as well. After that I would hide in the hallway when Audrey arrived and only come out when the scissors didn't appear.

Audrey's husband was a reporter, and he would get tickets to places. Every few months we would get into their family's station wagon. Two of my cousins, my sister and I would lay down in the back of the wagon and ride in style all the way to Disneyland. We would go to a little building by the entrance, and say, "Norman sent us'" and like magic the person would hand over tons of ticket books.

The funniest thing was when Norman got tickets for the premier of a movie in Hollywood around 1959. Mom and Audrey were so excited they bought new shiny purses for the occasion. That evening Audrey drove the old beat-up station wagon and got into the line of new and exotic cars entering the VIP valet parking area. The panicked parking lot attendant, seeing what he thought was certainly a huge mistake coming at him, frantically waved his two flashlights sideways, the universal signal of "Go Away!" Audrey plowed on and flashed the parking pass. The attendant looked incredulous but let them through.

The best part was when they walked down the red carpet toward the entrance. Floodlights made the scene as bright as midday. The crowd, anxious to see the stars, lined up along the red carpet and reporters holding microphones caught the actors to broadcast the interview on live TV. Audrey and mom joined the line of tuxedoed, sequined, bejeweled and mink covered actors. I'm sure it was a "what does not belong here?" moment for the onlookers. Murmurs could be heard as the crowd tried to figure out who the middle-aged ladies were with their cloth coats and shiny purses grasped tightly in front of them.

Were they famous but incognito? Was this a Lucy and Ethel moment? Reporters and onlookers were confused. I'm sure the reporters were concerned that not interviewing them might be a lost opportunity. Audrey and mom just marched past them to their assigned seats leaving the confusion behind.

I can't remember the title of the movie, but I was impressed by Audrey's and mom's boldness to attend such an event. Years later I wanted to know, weren't they embarrassed to have such a difference in appearance? Didn't they feel uncomfortable? Both said it was a moment they enjoyed and then Audrey looked at me and said, "Kid, they're just people. And the movie wasn't so swell."


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