Our House

that's no lady, that's my mother

I was driving past my childhood home, my architectural symbol of security.

At the time, I didn’t own a house and had only purchased my first condo a year or so before. It was dark and depressing. Living in it was like living in Portland or Seattle – one of those places where it rains too much. I not only was sad, I had SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s a condition that puts you in a bleak mood during the winter months when there isn’t enough sunlight. Only mine wasn’t seasonal. In this apartment, I had it all the time.

I’d just lost both my parents, a year apart. I shed so many tears while living in this condo I should have had flood insurance. But I really wanted to enjoy my first place with my first mortgage, even though the word mortgage was still so grown up and confusing. I hired the tile guy all my friends were using to hip the place up. Saltillo tiles. Trying to make it Spanish because this is the style I knew and loved, the style I grew up with.

340 South Roxbury Drive

340 South Roxbury Drive

So I made my husband pull the car over in front of 340 South Roxbury. Staring at it, I began to sob. Through tears, I blubbered, “I want my own Spanish home to raise my kids in.” Though it came out: “I-AHHH-wann-AHHH-myown–AHHH-shpanish-home-AHHH-to raishe-AHH–my kidshhin!!”

Luckily, my husband speaks Fredde and said, “Okay, let’s get you your own Spanish home.”

My brother had warned me against buying a condo. He said there were too many rules and close neighbors, and resale was risky. I knew better. I said there was little risk in the crazy real estate market in my hood. Everyone wanted to move there. Buyers were buying fixer-uppers. Buyers were buying teardowns. Buyers were buying vacant lots and pitching tents. But as it turned out, the only place there that nobody wanted to buy was the dark, dingy apartment I owned.

Finally, I got lucky, really lucky. I found my buyers. And this is true, because you can’t make it up. Well, you can, but I’m not. My buyers were a brother and sister – both blind. They either didn’t know or didn’t care that the apartment was forever dark, I never found out which. The first thing they planned to do was gut the fancy Saltillo tiles, which were unsafe for them, and put in carpeting. But they were happy, and I was over the moon. I had bought my place for next to nothing and sold at a big enough profit to make a down payment on a real home.

We found a small Spanish house two blocks away and moved in. By we, I mean me and my kids. My husband stayed living in his own house across town. But, that’s a future story for another blog. My kids each had their own bedrooms and bathroom. I was content. Finally.

Finally my own charming, small Spanish home.

Finally my own charming, small Spanish home.

Our house is a very, very fine house
With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard…

Looking around at my own place, I couldn’t help but think about my mother and the Spanish home that had been her pride and joy in Beverly Hills. After my parents split, she held onto that house she loved for as long as she could. But she would have given it up in a heartbeat had she landed the job she spent a few years trying out for – as the wife to a lawyer who lived in Bel Air. His home was a midcentury modern masterpiece way up in the hills. It had a pool.

I hadn’t seen or spoken to this man in easily 40 years, more like 50 years, but wtf — I dialed 411. Ha, remember those days? Landlines and calling information? Bingo, his number was listed. I had an old score to settle.

“Hello!” I said with much aggression. He had no idea what was coming his way. “This is Fredde Duke, Evelyn Duke’s daughter – do you remember me?” I barked it more than said it. He assured me that of course he remembered me. I told him my mother had died. And here is my speech, give or take a few words: “My mother auditioned pretty hard for the job of marrying you, you know. She picked your kids up from school. She cooked for you and both of your kids, and us. I liked swimming in that very groovy pool of yours. I envisioned living in that extra bitchin’ home. But you screwed my mom over by never marrying her.”

What did I have to lose? I needed to say all of this and I wanted an explanation. He gave me one. “I never remarried. It wasn’t personal with your mom”.

“Oh? How so?”

“My ex was mentally ill. I’m not sure you knew that.”

Yes, I kind of remembered something about his kids having a crazy mother. That’s why my mom stepped in, playing stepparent. But he never put a ring on it. And it wasn’t too late to hold him accountable.

So, then he turns the table on me, or should I say house?

“I’ve done a lot of work on the place. I still live here. It’s great. I think you’d like my house a lot.” Then in his sexiest come-on voice: “I really want to have you over. You can swim in my pool. What are you doing tomorrow night?“


He was making a move on his old girlfriend’s daughter. (cough) Soon Yi!!

And I could have landed him if I wasn’t already married. It would have been like some ancient Greek tragedy. The one based on the myth of Fredrica, daughter of the god Maurice, Aphrodite’s half sister, who avenges the murder of her mother by marrying her mother’s lover — and then slaying him. Or is it a “48 Hours” mystery? Well, you get the idea.

Anyway, as that Greek philosopher Dionne Warwick once said, “A house is not a home.”

Maurice and Evelyn Duke.  Married each other twice.

Maurice and Evelyn Duke. Married each other twice.


My mother, Evelyn Duke did get remarried.  To my dad.  But you probably already know that story.  Here is a recipe for chocolate pudding.  I remember my mother making this for us when I was a kid.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
2 ounces chocolate curls
In a nonreactive saucepan, combine 2 cups milk and sugar. Bring the liquid up to a boil to dissolve the sugar, reduce to a simmer. Whisk in the chocolate pieces and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. In a small bowl, whisk the yolks together.

Temper the yolks into the chocolate mixture. In another small bowl, whisk the remaining milk and cornstarch together for a slurry. Slowly add the slurry into hot chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly. Bring the liquid up to a boil and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.

Pour the pudding into a glass bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the pudding to prevent a film from building. Place the pudding in the refrigerator and cool the pudding completely. Whisk the pudding until light and fluffy. Pour the pudding into 4 wine glasses and place in the refrigerator. Top each pudding with the whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings.


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8 Responses to “Our House”

  1. Pauli says:

    WOW! Talk about confronting your demons…I can’t figure out the chocolate pudding connection. But of course I did read this twice to make sure I didn’t miss it. You have balls and great opening lines.

  2. jennifer dudley arbaugh says:

    Blind buyers? I am enchanted and terribly amused… ONLY YOU Fred.
    Safe in childhood BHILLS home.. Good memories.. Hmm.. over all not as warm and fuzzy as you.. BUT. There was a period of time when I rented a garage apt (I mean GARAGE INCLUDING FUMES!) one room, DARK, NO SUN, the piece de resistance…. MOVIE STAR MAKEUP LIGHTS over the mirror in the bathroom where I did my dishes in the tub… on North Beverly Drive.. Gotta have a good address! Keep em comin.. as for the comment you have balls… sets!

  3. Carol Dudley says:

    Well, thats one heck of a story – and I guess as your friend Pauli says it was confronting your demons – this is fascinating and not exactly like your other stories – I am really overwhelmed by this one – talk about things some of us don’t know – that horrible but liveable garage apartment Jennifer lived in was the garage of the house Mere and Duke lived in when I was born – BH – a small world. Much love C

  4. robin says:

    well, of course I love the story. and of course I love your HAYUGE balls.
    and then my favorite part is where all of a sudden we get a great chocolate pudding recipe. you are my favorite writer of all time….xxxxx

  5. jody says:

    I love your house, and I love YOUR pool!!

  6. Laura Plotkin says:

    You never fail to amaze me–yet another great story I never heard! Thanks for the laugh–and the cry–all at once–again!

  7. Kitty says:

    Good story.

  8. Laura Plotkin says:

    I read it again–as I always do when you post them. I love your mixture of humor and pathos–it always gets me. Thanks (again)!

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