Teri Metcalf grew up in California in the 1940s and 50s. Her great-great grandparents had come to the United States from Germany in the mid-19th Century and traveled from east coast to west in covered wagons, finally settling in Carpinteria, a small Oceanside city east of Santa Barbara.
By the time she was ten, Teri and her family had moved at least nine times: they lived in coastal towns in southern California: Richmond, San Diego, Long Beach, Pacific Palisades, San Fernando, Playa del Rey, then back to San Fernando. When she was nine, her, by-then, single mother moved Teri and her younger sister, Lynn, to Northern California’s Bay Area, where an office job in a relative’s business awaited. They lived first in San Mateo. When her mother remarried, the family moved into a new tract home in nearby Mountain View. These frequent moves meant that Teri was continually enrolled in new schools, sometimes in the middle of the school year. “I always felt like an outsider,” she says. “It was hard. But in some ways it made me stronger.”
That strength is what is most evident in Rambler Rose, her newly published memoir of her coming of age. It is a story of such loss: So many moves, her parents’ divorce, grandparents left behind, her father’s second marriage and his diagnosis of polio. (“Rambler Rose” is the name of the silver pattern her parents selected when they were married: pieces of the silver are, for many years, one of Teri’s only connections to her father.) Teri’s stepfather, Arthur, was sometimes kind, but often cruel and abusive. Her mother held tightly to the notion that theirs was the perfect family and refused to acknowledge to Teri or to the outside world that things at home were often far from perfect. Throughout the story, Teri introduces a colorful cast of relatives: grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Cousin Zetta and her husband, Don, were good friends with Hollywood producer Jack Wrather and had a ranch-like retreat where many movie stars regularly visited. Grandmother Nana paid for Teri’s tuition at Notre Dame High School, an all-girls school just south of San Mateo. When Teri was admitted to Berkeley in 1965, she witnessed anti-war protests, listened to Joan Baez, and smoked her first and only marijuana cigarette.
Teri tells her story with little emotion, almost as if a reporter writing about another’s life. Nearly every anecdote carries the same weight: a memory of her athletic mother walking on her hands is delivered in nearly the same tone as an ugly episode with her stepfather. Yet this is an unusually engaging book, giving the reader the sense of being so immersed in much of Teri’s early life that surely she must be a lifelong friend.