Lowrey Family Christmas 1986 - Another Hair-Raising Adventure!

The Ghost of Christmas Past.....!

The Christmas Miracles of 1986

Credit: Olan Mills Portrait Studio
Doc & Katrina Lowrey 1986
The year we missed out on trimming a tree, eating a feast and opening presents became the most real Christmas I ever had.
We were living in tents and building a house on the old 5 acre, mountainside Houdini Estate, in Laurel Canyon, Hollywood, California which my children fondly called “The Hill”.
My husband Doc and I married for 2 years had 6 children between us. Our eldest was my 7-year-old son and then five daughters the oldest being 6, twins which were 4, his 3-year-old and our youngest daughter just 7 months old.
My husband was self-producing a national radio show and I was in negotiations for a cartoon contract with a local newspaper, The LA Reader. We were also waiting on a promised record contract with help from an acquaintance who worked for Arista Records.
A few days before Christmas, Doc received a letter from his Mother telling him that his 8-year-old adopted daughter had been hurt in a double homicide at her grandparent's Thanksgiving party and that his ex-wife needed money for the hospital bill. He knew the family well and had a lot of difficult experiences with them. Unfortunately it wasn't a far-fetched idea that something like this could be true.
His ex-wife, angry about the divorce and kept his daughter away in hiding for about 5 years. You can imagine the kind of panic a parent feels at a time like this. Especially one who has had their child kidnapped out of spite and hasn't had any news in many years.
The letter gave us a new Northern California address to send money to. So after talking about it all night we got up early, packed a few things and drove directly to the given address in San Jose. The plan was to enforce his Christmas visitation during which we'd have her seen by a doctor and psychologist and maybe file for custody.
The drive was about 6 hours away and when we got there we found the address was a fake. It didn't exist at all. This wasn't the first time his ex-wife had done something like this to him. He wasn't too surprised, but he was disturbed and unable to go home without seeing her for himself.
On a hunch we got a hotel room and because we were all members of the Mormon Church he started calling all the Mormon Bishops in towns within 150 miles of the address. After about two hours he found her, even got her phone number and address.
That evening, being it was the day before Christmas Eve and he wanted to be there in time to enforce his visitation, we left our hotel room and drove down to Merced California arriving there early in the evening.
Doc took his visitation papers to the police station and told them about how he hadn't seen her for 5 years and that she might have been in a double homicide on Thanksgiving. After talking to the police for an hour the police agreed to go with us to her real address to pick her up for his Christmas visitation.
When we got there his ex-wife stalled the police with complaints about her daughter already being in bed, while her husband called her church appointed Home Teacher who was a lawyer. The lawyer talked the police into having us go to court in the morning.
It was very late by then, so instead of driving home we had to get another hotel room. We were struggling artists and these expenses we charged to our one and only, for emergencies only, gas card.
Early in the next morning, on Christmas Eve we went to court. He was in mediation about getting his visitation when the mediator called a break and on leaving the room he was arrested for back child support.
Things looked very frightening for me at this point. I knew we couldn't stay in the hotel but one more night and I didn't want to leave him there 4 hours away and live in tents by myself. I didn't have any idea how to get around LA without him, I didn't know if I could find my way home.
The judge wasn't being very understanding despite the fact Doc hadn't known where to send the child support for years, had the letter from his mother with the fake address and could prove he had paid support before her disappearance. To assure his release Doc offered to stay in Merced to work the issues out and then judge let him go without bail.
However, the mediator decided to not give him the visitation, instead recommending 6 months of weekly joint counseling with weekend visits at our Merced residence, which we had yet to get.
All this because Doc's ex was insisting that her current husband wanted to adopt the daughter and was pushing for Doc to give up his parental rights to that end. The six months was to decide if Doc and the daughter wanted to end their legal relationship.
While I worried, waiting with our children in the courthouse halls a woman came up to me and told me she felt God wanted her to give me a check for $25. I thought she was being nice and graciously accepted it. We didn't have a bank account and in California it is difficult to cash a check without one, so I didn't think I would be able to use it. I certainly wasn't thinking about Christmas presents at this point in time.
I took it as a sign from heaven though, that we were doing the right thing and that everything would be okay.
After the court system finished with Doc, we went back to the hotel room and Doc got a local newspaper and we looked for a house to rent. There were only two listed and being it was late evening Christmas Eve, only one person would show us their house.
When we went to looked at it, it was in the dark as they had turned the utilities off. Doc explained our situation to them and surprisingly they generously just gave us the key and told us they would start the rent after the New Year.
When we got back to our hotel room Doc called our new Mormon Bishop and explained our situation and told him I would need a ride to the house in the morning. He was very nice over the phone and so I didn't worry about meeting and getting a ride from a complete stranger.
Very early Christmas Morning Doc and our son left our mini van seats in the garage at our new home and drove back to LA to break camp and bring us our clothes, bedding, food, tents and household items from off “The Hill”.
While checking out I found out my credit card had exceeded its limit and declined. The hotel manager was very angry and wanted to call the police. Frightened, I started to cry, but still managed to convince them to try it again for less and it went through.
To my surprise, I was exactly $25 short on the bill! Because I had that check and a local address, I convinced the manager to give me three days to get the money to them before they'd call the police. (Which I did, but I can't remember how now.)
Then I called the Bishop for a ride and he became very rude with me. Obviously he had talked to Doc's ex-wife and got a whole different story and I was the problem now and an unwelcomed disruption of his Christmas plans. But he never the less eventually agreed to pick us up, when he could get around to it.
My time in the hotel was up so I stood out in the parking lot with five little girls, waiting in the cold. Eventually the Bishop arrived and took us to our new house.
There was more coldness in him than the air. He growled when he spoke and didn't look at me even once. Merry Christmas, I bitterly thought to myself, though I thanked him profusely as I knew I would be interacting with him every Sunday to come.
It was cold in the house and the girls and I had no food left after breakfast. This is when I realized that we had miscalculated how long Doc's trip would take. Thankfully I was nursing our infant and she wouldn't suffer.
It was a cloudy and the sun fading fast. Without their toys and books there was very little for my girls to do. I had only been prepared for a long drive, not several days on the road.
After they ran around exploring their new home and claiming bedrooms, we all cuddled up together on the floor at the end of the hall. We kept our coats on and made pillows out of yesterdays clothes.
Soon it was dark inside and out so we napped on and off. It was incredibly uncomfortable laying on the floor cold and hungry. I know it was very boring, but the girls complained very little and slept most of the afternoon and evening away.
I lay there awake most of the time, my infant tucked in my coat. My thoughts alternating between about how happy we would be to finally be living in a house again and worrying about what troubles his ex-wife would continue to create. I also worried about how two artists would make living in this new strange small town and if we would both lose our career opportunities.
It felt like forever, but only after about 6 hours of being alone in the new house, my husband arrived with our blankets and food. We were so happy to be together again we all quickly forgot the cold and set about unloading the car and unpacking our few belongings.
We set the tents up and made beds in the bedrooms and fixed a sparse meal.
Surprisingly the children, tucked in all fell asleep right away.
The next morning Doc surprised the children with a gift for each one from a Christmas care package sent by Grandma that had arrived in Hollywood and somehow found it's way to our camp while we were gone.
Funny when asked, my children don't remember it at all.

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