10.0 No Curls and No Hop Skotch Child! Big Brother is Watching You

by Elizabeth Stephens

Surveillance State, No Hop Skotch, and No Smiles!

As I said we were not allowed to go out and play at home, nor be seen to have fun even when we went to school. Selma was always around, it was the control issue. She would tell us not to participate in any of the games during recess. She wanted us to become outcasts on the playground as well. Selma intentionally passed by the school and caught me playing hop scotch one day. She came onto the school grounds and yelled at me. It was like having Big Brother in the 1950’s, she was always watching.

Selma would constantly tell us how ridiculous we looked and how everyone was laughing at us. Not only were Adrian and I told not to participate during any kind of games we were not even allowed to talk to anyone. On several occasions Selma told us that she drove past the school and saw us smiling.  How does a child answer a comment like that? The teachers and the other children would ask us why we did not join in and we would make up some excuse, but how could we have told them we were oppressed and we were not allowed to participate? We probably did not even know how to express our situation. Really we did not even know how or where to begin. This is what we were up against, how could a parent be that controlling? I would try hard to make her love me, but it just was not meant to be. When I would even look up at her she would often say to me ‘if looks could kill, she would be dead.’ What was I going to do?

Did anyone love us or was anyone concerned about us? According to Selma, she was the only one that defended us and everyone else just made fun of us. Selma would tell us that all of our teachers would call her up and tell her how stupid and funny looking we were.

She would also say that everyone talked about how strange we both were and that she was our only advocate. We were being set up and indoctrinated from an early age for failure.

The Aunts did have some contact through a teacher that would pass on information about our well-being or lack of it. That was our only contact with them, but even then we were under Selma’s oppressive thumb. Independent thinking was a challenge. We were always afraid we would get in trouble, but in reality, we were always in trouble.

The Aunts once got special permission and came on campus to visit us once. They took the following picture of Adrian and me at Emerson Junior High School in West Los Angeles, California. It looks like two little girls in the depression era.


My older sister Adrianna and I at Emerson Junior High, an upper middle class school in West Los Angeles. One of our only dresses.

Ugly Shoes and Pink Butch Wax on the Westside

I once showed an older lady this picture and she said how cute. I was shocked. How could she say that?

The following picture was taken at my graduation and one can see the comparison more clearly.

First Row on Left. Photo of me graduating from Westwood Elementary School when I was 12 years old.

The first time I saw this photo was many, many years later. This also came from my Aunt’s possessions. They cared enough to get a copy of my graduating picture; which was amazing to me.

I thought I looked very out of place at this upper class school in Westwood  which is located near UCLA in a very affluent neighborhood. It’s interesting that I was standing in full view, whereas if I was in the crowd you could not tell if I was a boy or a girl. How embarrassing it was that I had on saddle shoes as they were called back then, when all the other girls had knee high dresses and patent white shoes~no doubt patterned after the famous actress Audrey Hepburn who had just won an academy award for her leading role in My Fair Lady. As I remembered the dress Selma had chosen for me to wear, I must say it was the second ugliest dress I had ever seen.


Class photo. You can’t miss me in the front row at the far left.

Back in the 1950’s it was the time of Elvis and his slicked back hair. Like Elvis our hair was always done up with pink, greasy, butch wax~compliments of Selma. The butch wax was an unacceptable practice for girls, and Selma would even leave some uncombed in patches. She said it would make our hair soft. Our hair was routinely chopped off and it looked short and ugly, compliments of Selma.

Selma, in addition would always brush our hair very hard, almost like beating us. The brush would be dipped in water, so much so that our clothes were all wet. She made sure our clothing was dripping wet before we left for school. She would also accuse me of staying up all night and curling my hair. She did not want me to have any curls. How does a child understand this? I still do not know.

The first time I read Jane Eyre I identified with her situation perfectly. She too was raised in an orphanage and when the headmaster saw a girl that had curls and he commanded that those locks be cut off immediately. Often I would cry for I could feel Selma was doing these things intentionally, today I know she was, but then, after all, Selma kept saying she loved me.

Selma would make us wear the same dress for a week, and that was totally embarrassing in grammar school or in any school. This made us further outcasts as she planned. To make matters even worse they were the ugliest clothes you can image and they were oversized. Selma would go to the store and pick out about ten dresses and come home and make us try them on. We got to keep the worst of the worst. Then she would take the rest back. That is how we got all our clothing.

From time to time I would snap and would stand up to her. Before I entered High School, I could not take this kind of treatment any more. I told her that I wanted to wear my own clothes and pick them out by myself. It was a major victory for me and I got to do it. More often though,  she would achieve her objectives after wearing me down.

11.0 Toilet Talk and Bath Time Torchure

Once Selma had an informational talk with me about when I went to the bathroom. I was to use one or two pieces of toilet paper. Though I remember I was quite young, I knew in my bones she was telling me something she would not do. Every once and a while I had some level thoughts such as, she can’t really believe that herself, or can she. Maybe she was just delusional, but no, she was a normal mother to her own children. I was trying to make some sense out of this conflicting treatment.

Bath time was a particular stressful activity, usually when no one was around Selma would force us to take freezing, cold baths. Selma would even make us go as low as we could to get down under the freezing cold water. She would wash our hair by holding our heads under water until we would be gasping for air. Then she would accuse us of being overly sensitive, and then ridiculed us both for being so dramatic like there was something wrong with us that we could not breathe. We were made to lay there in the freezing cold water for hours. Adrian and I took baths together until we were too big to fit in the tub together. We were never allowed to have towels or to use hot water.

Of course Selma’s children took the traditional regular warm relaxing bath. Once I sneaked into their bathroom as the water was draining from one of my half-sister’s bath. It was really warm and I remember thinking, “How lucky they are to be able to take a warm bath.”

When we exited the bathtub we were made to wear wet t-shirts.  Selma would put our shirts in the sink and run cold water over them or even add ice cubs under the pretense that we were so hot blooded. It did not matter if it was summer, fall, winter, or spring. Imagine being told by Selma that she was doing you a favor, because it was so hot and she was cooling us off. In reality, we were always cold and shaking. Quite frankly, I’m surprised we didn’t catch pneumonia. In our room we had to sit under opened louvered windows even in the dead of winter. We never had blankets on our beds. When it rained we never had a jacket, we were told to run in between the drops and that we would not melt. After all Selma was once again doing us a favor by looking out for us.

12.0 Junior’s Deli It Was Not, Nasty Food It Was

by Elizabeth Stephens

Not Fit For Human Consumption

When mealtime arrived it was always a nasty experience. We never ate with the rest of the family, but always by ourselves in our room in front of the T.V where all our meals were delivered by Selma.  We ate rotten food not fit for humans, many times it was just fat and oil, and how we would gag. While we were gagging we were told there was something the matter with us. If the meal had any meat in it, it was either a hamburger or baloney. I can’t remember ever having any vegetables.

We were instructed to eat the ice cubes in our drinks. I know some people like doing this, but I took no pleasure in it at all. Even our drinks were mixed with a combination of beer and chocolate, also very nasty. Selma wanted to ruin our teeth. Speaking about our dental hygiene it was non-existent. We did not ever own a tooth brush and never brushed our teeth. Many years later David was sitting at my table and yelling at someone because they did not take care of their teeth. Again, the irony is so close.

Coke was one of our main drinks. Looking back on our diet, we never had anything that was healthy. For breakfast, we would have a burnt toasted cheese on white bread or two to three donuts and we would have to “wash it down” with the chocolate and beer combination.  For lunch, Selma would give us a bologna sandwich, cookies, and a coke with ice cubes. We would have to eat the food and the ice cubes as fast as we could. She would say “They’ll cool you off.”  I always hated to eat them because I’d get cold and would always be shivering.

When we were in grammar school we had to come home for lunch. We’d be told to run home. This wasn’t because we didn’t have enough time to walk home and to have lunch. This was simply because Selma wanted us to run so we would be uncomfortable. Selma would even make Adrian and I compete against each other by seeing who could run home the fastest.

We’d sit in front of the T.V. and eat as fast as we could, and then about five minutes before the late bell would ring we’d have to run ten blocks back to school. She planned for us to be late and was always putting us in difficult and trying situations, again all for “our benefit.”  So getting back to school we were always being marked late.

Selma, Junior’s Deli Pastry Chef Par Excellence


You may think that Selma was a rotten cook but that was not the case, she was a great cook. She would make cookies, pastries, and cakes from scratch, but rarely would we get any. They were amazing. Her family always raved about her cooking. She also did catering for a famous deli called Junior’s on Westwood Blvd.

As I grew older, I found myself getting into trouble more frequently and would get caught in the act doing something or other. I was known as the black sheep and was always one, according to Selma, because I was always ‘pushing the limits’ It wasn’t that I was a bad seed; I was just stifled in my growth and wanted to be challenged or even to have a kind word.

I will not go into much detail as I am not proud of some of what I did.

Because I had to stuff my food down my throat as fast as possible under Selma’s always disapproving eye, sometimes I would regurgitate it and eat it as my leisure. I know that probably sounds so awful and yet it was worth it to me to enjoy my food, especially the donuts.

Other things included, stealing money from Selma’s purse, which was the worst, reading books when she was out, trying to improve my mind and stealing food from the kitchen. When I was 16, I “stole” an orange. Prior to that, I never remember ever tasting one.


Since we were never allowed into the kitchen, I remember several times sneaking into the kitchen and raiding the icebox. I used to steal cans and eat the fruit or vegetables, whatever I could find. Once she discovered me with a can of pumpkin and she made me eat it raw. Most of the time she would just yell at me and I would attempt to block it out by thinking about other things, like playing a movie in my head. Each time she would make me more and more miserable whenever I gave her more ammunition to point out my long list of things wrong in my life.

I had tried to make her love me by saving coupons to buy her things as gifts. I would look at magazines and would envision the gifts I would lavish on my whole family so maybe they would accept me, but that never worked.

Every night before we went to bed, Selma would give us a big handful of candy or a thick slice of chocolate cake and ice cream. Adrian and I had become overweight with bad skin and teeth through her malicious design. Selma wanted us to be fat, ugly and gross for she did not want us to have any friends at all.

On a handful of occasions we were invited over to Selma’s successful, brother’s house. He had a split-level house with a fish pond that flowed through the interior and exterior in a very expensive part of Brentwood, California. Selma dearly loved to rub David’s nose in all her brother’s wealth every chance she had.

Prior to these visits, Adrian and I were fed dinner at home and instructed to eat very little. We were told to leave a lot of food on our plates so we would not embarrass ourselves, according to Selma. Our time there was always stressful as Selma watched us like a hawk. Rarely would I have any fun. Afterwards Selma would tell us all kinds of unkind comments were made about us and how she defended us.

When David and Selma would go away for the weekend Selma would leave us paper bags of food in the closet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course there were others at home that made their own breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, but this was our treatment.The food mostly consisted of donuts, Hi-C punch, and; baloney sandwiches, after all this could last without refrigeration. The bags were marked, e.g., “Thurs. Lunch.”  Imagine though, when the whole family went on vacation to Europe and left us with two weeks worth of bagged meals. Nasty food it was.

13.0 Outcastes at the Ice Show

by Elizabeth Stephens


Brave Souls, Birthdays and Ice Capades

Even though our appearance at school set us apart as outcastes there were those brave souls that wanted to be our friends. Some even dared to come up against Selma, but as the experienced spin-mistress she would not go down easily. When people attempted to invite Adrian and me to their birthday party, we were never allowed to attend. In one of my classes a boy had a crush on me, yes even with all my trauma. He was so intent on me being at his party he even made his mother call and talk to Selma. After that, the little boy was afraid to ever talk to me again. I always wondered what Selma told them, like we had the plague or something.

The older I became the more I recognized I wasn’t going to be a passive person. It was a mental change and I started thinking differently. I knew I didn’t have to be under Selma’s control even if my body was still in front of the TV; my mind was in a totally different dimension. Selma also realized she couldn’t control me in some areas and I think she was afraid of losing control.

On a couple of birthdays, we’d get to go to the Sports Arena to see the ice show or circus and Selma would act like a real mom, but it was only the three of us. It was as if she had to take us, but it was against her will and what she did with her own kids, we never knew why no one else came.

Only one time did I ever remember Adrian and I going to an outing in the park. Selma probably had to meet somebody or do something. I was extremely happy that day to be outside. I was on a public swing having a great time. She came over to me and told me to look down when I was on the swing and that I looked like a goon. She always put a damper on my good times. Who speaks to children like that? Not a loving mother, that is for sure.

14.0 TV Dinners, Sunday at the Movies and I Still Hate Baby Ruth Bars

by Elizabeth Stephens

Naked City & Couch Potatoes

tv pic

During the late 50’s there was a television series called the Naked City. Every episode opened with the tag-line, “There are nine million stories in the Naked City and this is one of them.”  Even from a young age, I recognized that everyone had their own story and set of circumstances and sincerely thought my experiences were not at all out of the ordinary. It was not until I found myself reflecting on my past that I was to discover that others were shocked about the mistreatment I had consistently faced during my childhood.

At first we were made to sit in front of the television in the living room for hours and hours a day. We were the first couch potatoes, before that term was fashionable.   This should have been every kids dream, but it was not mine. I wanted out. I wanted to run and jump and play. I did not want to waste me life in front of the TV, I wanted to make my life count for something but for what I did not know. We were made to watch TV all day and all night, into the wee hours mostly about 11 or 12pm. Adrian and I would sometimes doze off and if Selma caught us we were ridiculed.

When we got home from school, we were required to take up our posts in front of the TV until we went to bed. We even had pieces of carpet so we wouldn’t wear out the place where we sat. The timeframe was at the end of the 1950’s and the TV took a prominent position in the living room along with the sofas with the plastic covers.

When someone came in the front door there was a slight alcove with the living room off to the right that you looked into and there we were in plain sight. There was a family den that also had a TV where the rest of the family gathered together. Selma had worked out this separation early and the patterns were set.

You’ll Go Blind

During all of our time in front of the T.V. our legs had to be straight out and our feet would have to touch the T.V. Selma would say, so we could see. When David would get home from work, he’d come in the front door and he would always tell us, “You’ll go blind being so close to the T.V.” We dared not tell him that our stepmother, Selma, his lovely wife, told us exactly where and how to sit. This went on for a long time. I started closing one eye. If I did go blind, at least it would be in one eye and I could see with the other one.

Everyone was always comparing us to being bumps on a log. People entering the front door would see these two children in front of the TV. What would you think? Of course you would think they were lazy. When asked why we were always there, we were told by Selma to tell people to mind their own business and that we like to watch TV. What an evil woman Selma was. So we had to lie as there was no one to come to our defense.

After David had asked us once or twice about watching so much TV he then stopped asking. Selma would complain to him about ‘his children’ and eventually David must have had enough of Selma’s nagging because we got our own TV in our room.  Imagine that, we lived in a three TV house just like today with almost a TV in every room. That was really unheard of at the time. Now Adrian and I never had to come out of our room, we were now out of sight and out of most people’s mind.

Selma would tell us what channel to watch. For instance, she would say “watch two programs on this channel and then turn to Channel 9. When the family would go away on vacation or for a weekend or longer we were left with the TV guide with the channels circled.

It was so good to have some breathing room when Selma and the family were gone for even a short time.  I found myself looking forward to those times that Selma was not flying over us moment by moment.

We weren’t allowed to see any regular programs. We were made to watch movies about war, murder, crime or westerns, never comedies. We were not allowed to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings or anything we wanted. On Sunday nights the family would be gathered in the den around Walt Disney and the Jackie Gleason Show. I remember always wishing I could be there with them. They all seemed to be having fun and laughing and that was something Adrian and I were not allowed to do as we were confined to our room.




My one bit of commentary over the years from watching so much TV was that I found I learned manners and to have a good attitude later in life.  Nothing is perfect, but in the olden days of television there seemed to be more polite people with better attitudes and morals that didn’t reflect my current surroundings. There were more heroes to follow as role models than villains.  I guess it was easier to tell who the bad guy was because he had a black hat.






Sunday at the Movies, Downhill Racer and I Still Hate Baby Ruth Bars


On most Sundays, my sister and I would walk 2 miles from West Los Angeles to Culver City to go to the movies. Again you might be saying what a life. Every Sunday going to the movies, I hated it. I did not mind the walk but I had two major resentments. First, I knew I was being gotten rid of and second; the rest of the family was going out somewhere fun together without us. Selma probably told David, that we demanded to go to the movies. After all why would the family want us to be with them?


Selma also made sure to give us a big Baby Ruth bar to eat in the movies. Boy did I hate Baby Ruth bars. [I still hate them].

When you bought your movie ticket in the past you could stay as long as you wanted. For Selma, it did not matter when the movie started or stopped or how many times we would watch it or even if we had seen it before. We would stay at the movie theater from about 3 until 9 o’clock at night.


When Thunderball came out, one of the James Bond movies, it played for weeks and weeks but since that was the alternative to having us participate with the rest of the family and it was our babysitter and that was fine. Our feelings simply did not matter and were not in the least considered.

When we went to the movies we were instructed to sit in different parts of the theater, never together. Every once in a very long time our small interior world would come into contact with the larger world. There was a movie playing called Downhill Racer and during the movie there were three young, black teens that were being very rowdy. The small usher was afraid to ask them to be quiet. They happened to take seats behind my sister and proceeded to bother her. One took his hand and hit her in the head. I was up on my feet before my mind kicked in and I ran up and told them to leave my sister alone. The ring leader came up to me and punched me in the nose. He had a big ring on and it left its imprint. Then he and his two friends walked up the isle and in loud voices stated they did not like the environment and left the theater. When Selma picked us up we told her what happened and I cannot remember her exact words but it was something like, next time mind your own business. David, my father, never was told and life went on as usual. I had a very flat nose with a flat bridge going across.

Years and years later my nose was again broken, this time by accident and I had to have the damage repaired. I did not know what that operation entailed and I looked like I had been in a war. Suddenly I could breathe through my nose but I could also smell. Wow a whole new world opened up, I did not have any idea what I was missing.

Each Sunday, around 9:00 PM, Adrian and I were  instructed to leave the theater and wait outside until Selma arrived to pick us up.  She would usually be late and always have hamburgers, fries and a coke or a shake. As she would drive us home and we were forced to gobble our meal down before we arrived. We were never given the option of enjoying our food; rather we were forced to stuff it in as quickly as possible. Selma would then throw the paper bags and trash out the car window. I remembered wishing a policeman would spot her in the act, pull her over and give her a ticket. But that never happened.

15.0 An Uneasy Alliance with My Sis in Parallel Universes

by Elizabeth Stephens

An Uneasy Alliance in a Sinking Boat

Although Adrian and I were physically in the same boat, we were kept worlds apart, yet we existed in parallel universes. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other and Selma kept the rivalry between us alive by rewarding tattle telling. I never knew what Adrian was thinking at those times and when I hear her version of what we both went through, it amazes me that we were in that same sinking boat but did not work together more.

On rare occasions Adrian and I would work together to protect each other from Selma’s relentless attacks. While we were watching television on our carpet pieces, we’d often fall asleep after 11 or 12p.m. If one of us heard her approaching, we’d wake up the other one so that we wouldn’t get caught by Selma. If we did get caught, she became vindictive and would say, “There must be something wrong with you two, if you can’t stay awake.”

You Want to be a What? An Artist! Better to be a Clerical Worker!

When Adrian was in the 12th grade she wrote an essay about what she wanted to be when she grew up~ an artist. Selma got wind of that and made her change it to a clerical worker. Yes, that’s right. Would someone who loves you and is looking out for you want your crowning achievement to be a clerical worker? Nothing against being a clerical worker, if that is your calling.

When it was my turn, Selma forewarned and instructed me precisely how my essay was to read. “When I grow up I want to be a good citizen.”

In school I got very high marks in art. Yet I was sternly rebuked and told in no uncertain terms that Adrian was the artist and let her be the artist. At the time I liked working with clay and painting. I made Selma a Dracula figure out of paper Mache. It looked like the Count Dracula on Sesame Street series. It was very exquisite. When looking back on that choice that might have been a message I was subconsciously sending her, but again maybe I could not realize it. After I moved out, I asked for it back, but she gave me some excuse that she couldn’t locate it. It probably ended up in the trash.

Adrian was quite talented as well. Adrian would carve faces on the side of puzzle boxes with scissors. Good faces too. However, as soon as Selma found out, Adrian was ridiculed.  Even recently I asked Adrian if she still did any carving. Adrian said Selma told her I was the artist in the family.  Again, this was Selma in action doing the double duty of pitting one against the other, or dividing to keep conquering.

Adrian once remembered Selma drove us to the movies and stopped at a store. Adrian was watching some people intently and Selma said to her, “Something’s wrong with you for looking at other people!” This was another typical Selma comment.

A Child’s Unrequited Affection and Kitsel the Cat

After David and Selma came back from a weekend in Palm Springs, Adrian was walking by David and Selma’s bedroom and she walked up to David and kissed him. She couldn’t remember what Selma said at the time, but later Adrian was accused of kissing up to David. A day later, Adrian had scratches on her neck where Selma was washing her hair from holding her head underwater. We had to deal with these kinds of treatment and accusations frequently as backlash.

There were three layers of children, the oldest and youngest were Selma’s and the ones in-between, that would be us, we were foreigners and so treated. The other children were not allowed to talk to us. Even when the cat would make its way in our room and Selma would discover it, she would remove it from us as if it would be defiled if we touched it. The cat’s name was Kitsel-the Jewish word for cat or sometimes called Sputnik after the Russian space program. The cat liked us and would keep coming back in our room for we paid attention to him and gave him lots of love.

Beautiful Joe

The first book I owned was when I was 12 years old. The title is ‘Beautiful Joe’ by Marshall Saunders. It is about an abused dog’s life. Is there some irony here? I do not know why it was given, or really by whom, but according to Selma, she was behind every good thing and everyone else was the bad guy. (I do not remember Adrian ever owning a book of her own.)

Beautiful Joe


Selma would have different types of behavior if either one of us did anything like breath or look at something. She would yell at one and be as nice as pie to the other. Another tactic would be for Selma to stand at the door to our room and yell at us for about forty-five minutes, then walk away, think up something else, come back, go away, and come back again. We always dreaded her reappearances.

As for any other relationship between Adrian and me, it was almost non-existent. Since we were not allowed to speak to one other, or to do normal sibling things, it was like living in a prison where both cell mates had to follow strict rules. Our every moment and all our movements were choreographed by Selma. To stir up trouble, Selma would try to turn us against each other from time to time. As a young child, I perceived that I had no power over my circumstances and Selma consistently enforced that perception. We were really quite afraid of her.

Brick Walls and Stuttering 

Selma would verbally assault us with words that cut through us like a well sharpened kitchen knife. I could never get my point across. I think that’s why I stuttered.  For years I stuttered terribly because of my life at home. Most people have had the experience of trying hard to communicate to a brick wall that was my whole life. That is also why I spoke as little as possible; I just couldn’t get the words out. Sometimes I didn’t even want to try, as Selma took too much energy out of me. I grew increasingly dissatisfied in my teen years and asked myself, “How can this happen in middle class America?”

The older I got the more I started to piece together the larger picture and things weren’t adding up. Something did not smell right. Since every aspect of our existence was programmed by Selma, things started to get under my skin.  From time to time Selma would accuse us of some wrong doing, or she would manufacture something, which would give her the option of bringing up past occurrences. More and more it seemed we were always doing something wrong, the worst was smiling or appearing to have fun. Walking was attacked and thinking as well. I really can’t remember Adrian ever doing much of anything; it was mainly me that was attacked. It seemed I was always the one in trouble

How About a Cigarette?


Selma had the bright idea that she would get me to smoke, perhaps thinking I would eventually die of cancer.  She would buy me cigarettes and tell me how cool they looked and how they would make me feel special. I could have as many as I wanted. I would light up, but would never inhale. It was interesting to me that she never tried this with Adrian. I have never asked my sister what she thought about this until years later, but then there were so many things that were not spoken about. Adrian said she thought I had tried smoking already, but she did not know it was Selma’s idea.  Selma finally gave up on getting me hooked. (Although Selma did not smoke herself, David smoked like a fiend and many years later Selma died of second hand smoke.)

Selma had a way of pitting us against each other and invented means to make us mad at one another to keep us at odds with one another.  On one particular occasion, Selma got very mad at me after Adrian told her, “Lizzy said she hates you.”  Although I never said that, Selma made me apologize to her. I later found out that Selma had promised Adrian a doll for tattling on me, so Adrian had fabricated the statement that I hated Selma and even after all that Adrian never got the doll.

Mind Games, Nagging and Doublespeak

Later when I read Mommy Dearest, the biography of an actress, Joan Crawford and she seemed to have spells where she went crazy much like Selma. It also reminds me of Saul in the Bible when an evil spirit came upon him. (Selma is the Biblical female form of Samuel which was also fascinating to me.) Selma was consistently off when it came to dealing with Adrian and I being, David’s ‘other’ children.

Selma loved to nag and to hear herself talk, in fact that was her specialty. Selma also would talk us to death and tell us of all her concerns for us as to how she was always looking out for us and our welfare. She would talk then walk out of the room and then think of something else to say then come back and talk some more. This tactic was repeated almost daily. We were being worn down from our early childhood. This was how she would wear a person down to their stubs. She would adeptly bring up the past to drive home her point. The next time you did anything wrong, all your faults would be paraded in front of you. When she was finished with you all you wanted to do was crawl up in a small ball and die. She would nag David as well. I remember her going off on him for getting the wrong paint brush size. On and one she went, how could you have gotten the wrong size.

The worst aspects were these mind games that Selma played. When I would relate some of these events to normal people they would not believe me, I stopped trying. Adrian and I were trained this way from our youth and grew up under these practices. But the thing that irked me the most was that Selma’s children were treated normally in the same household, it was the double standard.


At one time I was sitting waiting for Selma and across the way was a candy store. I saw a mother and her daughter entering the store and they seemed so happy together. I so badly wished to trade places. I then saw an Outer Limits episode, an old sci-fi series and very scary. It was a story of a man running from the police and he ran in a museum and saw a picture of a fisherman in a small boat in the middle of a lake. The fugitive wished himself into the picture and then he was screaming because he could not get out. Then I thought better of my wishing situations.

When the family would go away for a few days, that was nice, but when took an extended vacation for a few weeks, I was ecstatic!  One time I overheard them practicing a foreign language, and found out they were going to Europe and were even taking their younger children. This time it would be different. Selma had an African American maid named Halestine. She would be our watcher. She liked us and would talk to us. She even gave me a sip of her Brandy;  it tasted awful.

16.0 “Say the Magic Word”

by Elizabeth Stephens


I was 16 years old at this time when I heard about something called Buddhism. A fellow student at University High School, named Mary, gave a report in a health class. She had just been to a convention as a Buddhist in Hawaii. She said all you have to do is to say these magic words and you will get everything you want. I thought, “Okay, I’ll try it” since I could do it in my room and didn’t have to go anywhere. Mary became my friend after I took the plunge, and started practicing Buddhism following in her footsteps. I became her shadow and little disciple.

I began to chant for small things, such as money. One of my half sisters threw some coins at me. Wow it works! I then started to chant for larger things like my situation to change. How I wanted a normal life.  Mary wanted me to come to a meeting. I shuddered. She didn’t know about my situation, that I had no friends and never was allowed to go anywhere, especially at night. Selma always had Adrian and I on such a very short leash, however because Selma was in Europe, I told Mary I would go. This independent act demonstrating my defiance of Selma as much as it exhibited my desire to have friends.

Mary picked me up and we drove to a nearby house to my first Buddhist meeting. It was a cozy setting and the house rocked! It was full of energy and chanting. I joined right in and from then on I was sold. I was going to do this thing. When I got home and I was flying high.

I Runaway to My Three Aunts

Then reality struck me.  How in the world was this going to be accomplished? Selma and David were on their way home. The walls started closing in on me. I felt I could not breathe. I could not go backwards; I had to go forward. I decided I would run away and leave this whole thing behind me. The three aunts had continued to be in touch with one of my teachers and a classmate, so I was able to locate their address. One day after school I took the bus in the opposite direction and arrived at their house. I then came face to face with the three older ladies that had taken care of my sister and I so many years before. They did not know how to be around a young person of 16 years old as we were in such different worlds. For some unknown reason a call came in from Selma. How did she know I was there? Adrian got on the phone and said that Selma was crying that I had run away. Really?  Did I say I was very naïve? I bought it, hook, line and sinker. I so wanted to be loved. I left my three aunts and went back to Selma. She was nice to me on the phone and said I could even go to more Buddhist meetings if I came back. I was in total shock. When I got home Selma told me David was so mad at her that he beat her with a frying pan.  She then made me get the pan lying on the back yard grass. This was yet another example of how she played with my mind, while half of me understood it and the other half wanted to keep moving down the road.

Okay, I could now go to Buddhist meetings, wonderful. I saw Mary and I was so happy, “Hey,” I said, “I chanted for the situation to change and now I get to go to meetings, hurray!”  From then on I was rarely at home at night. I would even use the telephone to call for rides. Up to that point I had never used the phone before. What a trip! Now I was always out until about 10 pm or so. I would come in as quietly as I could and would walk down that long hallway. Adrian would always tell me what I missed on TV and I would try to listen politely, yet now I so was excited, living life and having real experiences and not just watching others.

From Selma’s Prison to Street Shakubuku and a Buddhist Fife and Drum Corps

The experiences I started having as a sixteen year old were life changing. These included going up to people on the street, sometimes 50-100 people asking them to attend a similar meeting as I had attended. And remember I stuttered, at these meetings I would stand in front of many people and get practice in public speaking. Of course since I was so new it really didn’t matter what I said, people were happy that I was trying and that I was excited.  I was meeting so many different kinds of people and my horizons were opened. Also there were activities such as being in a drill team with performances in front of government officials and celebrities. There were periodical conventions that large groups gathered together as well as monthly meetings where there were always things to do and new tasks to perform. While the mental abuse at home continued with the mind games, I was now coming into my own and would not let Selma distress me much anymore.

The Only Photo

One evening as I left for a meeting I was aware that something was happening, as there was unusual level of activity in the house, but I was occupied with my Buddhist practice so off I went. When I returned late that night Adrian said, “Everyone is mad at you.” “Why,” I asked? Nancy, my step sister got married in the living room by a Rabbi. Why would this be my fault? I knew the cards were stacked against me. Selma probably told everyone I turned my nose up at the event, when in actuality I knew nothing about the wedding. And yet, Selma made it appear that it was my fault. I did not even get to decide if I wanted to be at Nancy’s wedding or not.


This picture was probably taken by David. Since we were the invisible children we were kept out of sight as much as possible, this was the only picture that shows a least one of us was in the same house. If Selma could have figured out away that she didn’t have to take it she would have. I have no idea of how Adrian got this photo or how it survived.

This photo was taken in 1969 and Adrian was almost 18 years old and was wearing the “first” ugliest dress ever made. I remember it well; it was white on the top, pink on the bottom topped with an obnoxious orange bow. See how ‘happy’ Adrian looked, Selma probably coached her. It looked like she was the adopted child from a poor home and had just dropped in for a visit. But strangely enough, no one said anything to me, not even David about not being in attendance at this event.

A Buddhist Altar in a Jewish Home

My next hurdle was setting up a Buddhist altar in my room. I explained my family situation to my leaders, but they still did not understand as few people ever did. They told me to chant and a way would be made. I had been a Buddhist now for a few months and the leadership was impatient to get along with the program. Finally a date was set. The day I picked was May 3rd as it had significance in the Buddhist context as Master-Disciple Day. I told Selma that some friends were going to come over and put up a black box or in other words, my altar. The time came and Selma was in the house, but was no where to be found. The box, a black sprayed box top was put up and the chanting started and the scroll, (the Gohonzon) was unrolled and put up inside the box top or as it was called enshrined. This group of people chanted so loudly I thought for sure Selma would come in and throw them out of the house, but that never happened. They finished and then they left.

When David came home, boy was he mad. He gave me the ‘you are Jewish and as long as you are in this house you will remain Jewish’ speech and then he walked out of the room and he never said another word about the scroll. Since when was I Jewish? I had never been to a temple or instructed it what this meant. We did celebrate Hanukah instead of Christmas. Was that it? In our living room among the prized possessions were two statues, one of the fat bellied Buddha and one of Confucius, so that was acceptable?

My First Job at General Telephone

The next two years flew by and shortly after I turned 18 in May,  I graduated from University High School. No sooner had I  graduated from high school, than Selma’s plan to get me out on my own unfolded. She told me where to apply for jobs and I took buses and would follow her instructions. On one interview, I applied at the General Telephone Office located  at 525 Wilshire Blvd (a building later purchased by Nichiren Shoshu for it’s North American Headquarters, the Buddhist sect I had joined). I did not get the job and Selma seemed very agitated. She went in and yelled at them and somehow I was reconsidered and hired.

My sister had been moved out a year before when she turned 18, but I hardly noticed as I was so busy with activities. I was a leader now and had many members to take care of, to call and to teach.

Selma once told me that I would be a good Buddhist missionary and I should consider going to a different country. I was shocked at the time, but wondered where this was coming from. As I look back I know now it was only to butter me up and to get me as far away from her and the family as she could.

17.0 Free At Last!

by Elizabeth Stephens

I Was Just Let Out of Jail

Shortly after I had turned 18 Selma came in to my room and said I was to pack my things and accompany her to the store. I did not know what was happening. I waited in the car while she went into the store, a normal course of events. Adrian and I would never go into any store with her as that was a privilege exclusively reserved for her biological family members. Soon after she emerged with a bag of groceries. Then we drove up to a small apartment building in West Los Angeles. We walked into an apartment and Selma matter of factly announced that this was my new home. I was officially moved out of my house and I was to live here, work and pay my own rent. Then she left. Her legal responsibility as far as she was concerned was done. I was stunned. I sat down and reflected on what had just transpired. I was just let out of jail. I could do anything I wanted to do at anytime, without any limits or having anyone there telling me what to do. I would no longer have Selma buzzing around me rattling off  her biting commentary. All I could think of was freedom! I was free. Free at last!

Free at last!

Free at last!

Selma’s responsibility had ended and that was that. Sadly, I was not even given the opportunity to say good bye to my father, let alone the rest of the family. A family that I was not to see for another nineteen years.

I was now able to have a normal life. I could do whatever I wanted; I was still trying to grasp this amazing situation. I thought, wow, I can stay out to all hours of the night or get another job or eat whatever or whenever I wanted. I remember taking $20 and going to a store called Newberry’s. It was a five and dime store where I bought so many things I felt very wealthy. It did take some time for Selma’s evil eye to wear off. Was she still watching? (Even to this day my husband said he sees Selma’s handprint on me from time to time.)

I started doing more and more activities and traveling. I met so many new friends and started to enjoy my life. At one time I had five boyfriends and all kinds of friends. I still worked for the phone company and was moving up in the ranks. Unlike many other Buddhist members, I seemed to be the most stable person I knew as  members around me floated from job to job quite frequently.

My First Toothbrush

I don’t remember the exact time I purchased my first toothbrush, but I do remember that I had a terrible time with my hygiene. At the phone company I had a supervisor that took an interest in me. She told me I needed to take care of myself and at first I had no idea where to begin. For so long I was simply fighting for my own survival. Now I was throwing all my effort into working for world peace, so it was difficult to take time to look at myself. I was brought up that I did not matter, so I thought, “Why should my appearance matter?” It was very difficult for me to get my mind around it. It was seared in my conscience and was burned into my self-image through psychological abuse and now I was attempting to unlearn these terrible lessons. To this day the residual imprint remains in my subconscious and is difficult at times to resolve directly.

I went from a clerk’s position to a customer service representative and had a lot of fun as I liked most of the customers and got along well with the staff. I then volunteered to go out into the public office to meet with customers that walked in off the street. By this time I had a lot of face to face experience with people I developed while  doing Buddhist evangelism (called Shakubuku) on the streets of Los Angeles.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Leopard Loin Cloth

I had some interesting experiences working in Santa Monica, California. One customer would always come in wearing a leopard loin cloth only, this was before the day when you’d read the sign in the window, “No shoes, no shirt, no service.”  Often customers would come in because they were so upset with their bill or their phones. On occasions customers would carry their phones in as weapons. I would take care of them as I was used to dealing with difficult personalities. That office handled some big movie stars and occasionally we would serve them. Before our previous California Governor Schwarzenegger made it big in the movies, he would come in simply as “Arnold.” We were very upbeat and a happy group usually.

Fighting for World Peace

I had the opportunity to travel to Japan, to New York and Denver for conventions and other cities for large meetings. This was my passport picture two years after leaving my former life. Notice the broken flattened nose.

Sho Hondo Opening Ceremony October 12, 1972.

Sho Hondo Opening Ceremony October 12, 1972.


October 1972 Sho Hondo Opening Ceremony. I hated the uniforms with a passion, but here I am anyway smiling as part of the Young Women’s Division Fife and Drum Corps Drill Team.

Denver Convention.


Each convention had a different theme, this was the cowboy/girl in Denver in 1974.

I was rising in the organization and became a senior leader. I know that sounds very important but I was kept very busy for, after all, the nature of a movement is to keep you engaged so you did not have to think much. From my years of bondage that fit right in.

I longed for a goal, a noble goal and I envisioned that I was part of a larger group that was working toward world peace. I had usually about 7 to 10 young women who were called my members. I would be responsible for them to get to meetings and to grow them in the organization.  I lived in Santa Monica and while most of the meetings were nearby, I would drive nearly an hour to the San Fernando Valley pick up the girls, drive to Santa Monica.  After the meetings I would take them home and return back to my apartment. I did a lot of driving or chauffeuring of my members. But I did not mind as they were my family now and I enjoyed being around people and working toward a cause.

I would do activities about 7 times a week. This consisted of gathering at a location and going out in a group, getting people off the street to come back with us. It was exciting and the adrenalin would pump us up, especially if someone was brave enough to comeback with us. Then we would have a discussion meeting.


Here I am at the Kick-Off meeting of Cheviot Hills District. Hi Kurt! Hi Robin!  Bruce, Leah, Stephanie, Rhonda, Shirley, Mary, Laurie, Susan, George, Ed, Natalie. Who’d I miss?

The meeting was really not a discussion it consisted of people racing up to the front to give their testimony, singing weird songs and then the leader would talk. If the guest ever had a question they would get what seemed to me a long winded speech and then be asked to join the organization. These activities would then repeat themselves until late at night. Now I could stay out as late as I wanted. Yes it was hard to get up the next day for work, but I felt I was living my life to the fullest.

Early glamour shot with one of my only 'old school friends' Lynn.

Early glamour shot with one of my only ‘old school friends’ Lynn.

I also went to drill team practice weekly and we would perform at many venues, sometimes at museums, Dodger Stadium or for large meetings. Looking back everything was a photo opportunity. Here I’m part of the Koteketai Drill Team at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Aug 16, 1972 NSA Fife & Drum Corps at “Youth Expression ’72” at L.A. County Art Museum with Mr. William and Los Angeles County Supervisor, Warren Dorn.

During a Parade in San Diego.


Young Buddhist Missionary on Bicycle Kidnapped

After I had moved out and was totally involved with Buddhist activities. One morning I was riding my bike to a meeting and a car pulled to the side of me and a man asked for directions. All of a sudden he was out of the car and grabbed me and had an object at my throat and forced me into his car. It was a busy road and I wondered why no one saw this. He drove to a location and told me to keep my eyes closed. The next thing I knew was I was in an apartment being raped constantly. The walls must have been thin as I could hear someone taking a bath next door.  I felt I was in an altered state.


As I was a Buddhist missionary I shared Buddhism with him and made friends. I found out he had just gotten out of prison. I did not ask what he had done. I have blocked out some of the details, talk about the Stockholm syndrome, but I went with him to his parole officer as his girlfriend. Later I took him back to my apartment and he saw where I lived and he left. I called my Buddhist leader and told him what happened and his response was, I know this is a serious situation, but next time don’t call me on Sunday. The leader also told me not to have anything to do with the man again. The man did come to my door again later and I told him not to come back. He went away and did not come back. I knew I was very lucky that I was alive as the situation could have turned out very differently.

It was interesting to me when I reflected on how I felt.  I knew I was not worth much. Selma had done her work so it was not a big deal that I was not looking for a knight in shining armor. All these things just verified that my situation was true.

18.0 Kibbutz’s, Kosher Kitchens, Masada & Pilgrimages to Mount Fuji

by Elizabeth Stephens

Our Two Aunts Invite Us to Israel


Lily and Belle Silverman

When I was 20 years old our two aunts came back into our lives. They asked Adrian and I if we wanted to come and visit them, in Israel. They had left the Beverly Hills area and started a synagogue in Israel. We accepted their gracious offer. We flew to New York and met our cousin, and spent the night. I remember the TV was on but the reception was so bad we saw the reflection of the two twin towers on the screen. The next day off we went to the Middle East. This was the first time I saw armed military patrolling an airport. That was back in 1972. It was a whirlwind experience and  opened my eyes to a much larger vision of the world. I went to Masada where 900 Jews had killed themselves rather than be captured by the Romans after a long siege of their mountaintop fortress. There were ruins of Herod’s palace and boulders from the catapults. We floated in the Dead Sea and even visited Jesus’ Tomb. I could always feel pressure from the aunts. They were constantly watching me to see if I would put the glass of water on the proper side of the counter. There was a kosher side and a non-kosher side and of course I did not understand what that meant. Once we visited a kibbutz (a work, live place) and they even had separate dinning rooms, one for meat and one for dairy products.


Adrian & Elizabeth in Tel Liev

As a Buddhist all our activities flowed together, whatever comes naturally was the most meaningful. I would never insult anyone and made a lot of accommodations during our stay. In a blink of an eye, our three weeks were up and I am sure the family wanted us to stay, move into a kibbutz, marry and populate the homeland, but that did not happen. We returned to the states.

It was hard to come back from vacation, especially after you had spent sometime in a foreign country. Life seemed very dull and it took time to readjust. Culture shock.  From time to time I needed another challenge at work so I was promoted from my position  as a residence to a business representative and started worked with larger companies. Then I tried out as an installer, but I did not want to climb a 16 foot pole. I knew I needed something different so I went into the switch room. That was traditionally a man’s job and I was one of the first women to be accepted into that classification. It was also one of the highest paid positions. Unfortunately, it had some drawbacks. Once I knew what to do, I had to walk about and look busy, but only when the boss came around. My hours were 6:00-2:30 and I lived up the street so this was an ideal situation.

I was able to go on a pilgrimage to Japan, twice with a large group of members. The first time was in 1972, then 1973. These were significant times as the Grand Main temple (ShoHondo) was being built as the completion of the three great secret laws. In this sect of Buddhism one of the tenets was that a large temple would be built; it was supposed to be good fortune to attend.


This temple was supposed to last 10,000 years, seating 6,000 all with an unobstructed view of the object of worship. How interesting that it is not in existence today. There was a disagreement between the priesthood and the laity. The layman built it form the interest on 100 million dollars collected from the members  and the priesthood paid 30 million dollars to have it demolished.

When we were on these trips, no opportunity was left unattended. All the members would visit meetings with the local members to rub shoulders and for mutual encouragement.

Here I was in my convention uniform. Unfortunately it was rather short as I did not know polyester would burn when ironed.

I did like these uniforms much better, the Hawaiian dress for the Hawaii Convention.

Again, I was totally immersed in Buddhism, as it was my whole life. By this time I had lived a few places and I always had meetings at my apartment. This was one place I lived in West Los Angeles, California on a street called Ohio. The building’s name was Quo Vadis in Roman or ‘Where are you going?’ At the time I did not realize the significance.

quo vadis

Adrian had a totally different outlook on our past situations. When she was 18 and got the invitation to leave she continued to go to movies on Sunday afternoons for over a year. I think it was her defense and still is. Sometimes when she talks about the past I feel bad that we couldn’t have been better comrades at that time. That was the only world that we knew.

19.0 Stockholm Syndrome, Baloney Sandwiches and Sunday at the Movies

by Elizabeth Stephens

Skeletons, Baloney Sandwiches and Stockholm Syndrome

When I was moved out of the house I realized Adrian was moved out the year before me in the same manner. We lived nearby but we had little to do with each other due to our training. We had to learn how to be family with each other. Doing simple things like visiting or talking to each other were learned traits. Also we began talking about our process of living and the lessons for the past and coping with the future.

I asked my sister about her time moving out and her answer was very insightful. She said she had a certain ‘loyalty’ to Selma, much like the Stockholm syndrome. Though she enjoyed the freedom, still she would eat the same baloney sandwiches and go to the movies on Sunday. I shuddered when I heard that.

Adrian had two experiences with Selma after she left the house. The first time she made a surprise visit home as she approached the front door, she heard Selma saying how much she’d done for us. After all Selma was the one to buy us a color T.V. and how David had done nothing for us and that we did not respect him. Adrian proceeded inside and started yelling at Selma for all the injustices she had perpetuated.

David asked why she didn’t come over to visit before, do you need and invitation he asked her. Adrian said, yes. Adrian went on to bring up some other incidents and she said Selma freaked out. David was apologetic and asked that Adrian try to forget about all of that and that he wanted her to be happy. Then David was going to drive her home but Selma said no, she would take Adrian. Adrian did not want to go with her and started to walk home and Selma was right there walking with her saying, ‘you really threw me for a loop’ and ‘bringing all the skeletons out of the closet’ and on and on.

Adrian asked her, ‘can’t we just start over or start over?’ Selma turned back and Adrian proceeded home only to get a call from Selma and she started up again. Adrian was surprised that Selma even had her number. Selma told Adrian that David was so angry at her and it was Adrian’s fault. Then Selma called the next morning and started up again. Adrian told her she would not come over again and that was the last time she spoke to Selma.

Close Encounters, Reconnection, and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

The second encounter with Selma occurred in a market. Adrian was walking up to the check-out counter and heard Selma’s voice. She turned around and saw her speaking with her children.  I do not know who ran out of the store the fastest in separate directions.

The first time I went to see David was after some years had passed. Of course they had never gone out of their way to contact us. I found out that they had moved to a street called Gretna Green, an upper class neighborhood, down the street from O.J. Simpson, the notorious address where the infamous 1995 murders took place. One Sunday afternoon after I had gone to a Buddhist lecture focused on our relationship to our parents, I felt I had to make an attempt to reconnect. So I went over and knocked on their door. Only David was home at the time. I was very fortunate that Selma was out. I can remember he cried. He told me he was sorry we hadn’t been closer.

David said he wanted me to be friends with Selma, as if he thought that was possible. I cried and hugged him and I left. Later that night, who should I get a call from, but Selma? I couldn’t believe her tone of voice as she told me that I should ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and how I shouldn’t  ‘rock the boat,’ and she went on and on and on. I almost felt like hanging up but being polite. I put the phone down and went and did an errand. When I came back she hadn’t even missed me. I had said before that she was a great talker. She carried on a whole conversation without me!

I think Adrian’s way of dealing with this situation was to work it out by ignoring it. But when I started chanting I was in contact with a lot of people who knew we were not treated as we should have been. I spoke to a counselor about my past and he asked me what I wanted. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to yell at my father for not being there for his daughters. The counselor asked me if I thought it would make any difference. I answered,  “Probably not.”  What was David going to do? How could he make up for all our pain?

At times, I have found myself becoming defensive about my past and recognize  that is the way I respond to the hurt I have suffered during my childhood.  It just comes out that way sometimes. Someone asked me if I thought this was my karma to be treated that way in my childhood. For some reason, I did not believe in the causal connection with some evil deed done in a past life. When I was young I would pick out someone who looked happy and want to be them. Once I was waiting for Selma and across the street at a candy store I saw a mother daughter who looked so happy and I said, “Why can’t I be like that?” I felt a lot of pain. It reminded me of a science fiction movie in which a man had so much pain that he looked at a picture of a man in a boat and through his sheer will found himself inside the picture, and was unable to escape. He was screaming because he could not get out. It made me realize that it was important to appreciate my past,  use it as fertile ground and learn that these lessons would bear great fruit in the future.