My mother, Polly Black, died peacefully in her home last night (Sunday, January 28, 2024) after a long battle with peritoneal cancer. She was 76 years old.
Polly was a mother of two, a grandmother to two grandchildren, and a friend to many. She remained young at heart and in her mind for her entire life.
Polly was born on February 16, 1947, in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Harriet E. (Askew) Prettyman and William E. Prettyman.
When she was 1½ years old, her family moved to Oakland, California, where her parents had married. They lived with her grandmother Gert (Scott) Askew and her grandfather Clyde Askew until her parents bought a house in San Leandro.
When she was not quite 3½ years old, she welcomed her baby brother Dan.
For the next four years, Polly lived a life filled with the attention of her cousins, her aunts and uncles, her grandparents, and of course her parents and her little brother.
When her father accepted a job in Los Angeles, Polly and her family moved away from her tight-knit family in the Bay Area, and to a new home in North Hollywood. Polly would still see her grandparents and cousins every summer, but she never got over the sense of loss and what she felt was abandonment from losing her family support structure.
In North Hollywood, Polly attended St. Jane Frances de Chantal Elementary and St. Genevieve High School, where she formed a close circle of friends, including her lifelong friend Kathy (Thompson) Roberts. Polly lived a comfortable life in North Hollywood. Her parents added a den to their house and put in a backyard pool, which served as gathering places for family and friends over the next two decades. She enjoyed hanging out and going shopping with friends. She attended the opening day at Disneyland with her family. She enjoyed her family’s annual summer getaways to the Lake Odell Lodge in Oregon, especially because she could bring Kathy and visit with her cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.
At the age of 18, a mutual friend set her up for a blind date with Keith Black. Keith was 22 years old, had just gotten out of a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy, and was passionate about 1950s and 1960s Los Angeles car culture. While different in many ways, the two resonated in many of their basic approaches to life and soon found themselves growing very close.
Keith converted to Catholicism and he and Polly were married on October 9, 1965, in North Hollywood.
Polly and Keith rented an apartment together in Van Nuys and in mid-1966 they welcomed their first child, Michael. They moved twice more over the next two years, settling into a larger rented home on Vesper Avenue in early 1968 when Polly learned she was pregnant again. During this time, she met Bobbie Narke, whose friendship she would cherish for nearly 35 years. In late 1968, Polly and Keith welcomed their second child, Jill.
In the summer of 1971, Polly and Keith bought a modest house in Reseda, California, where they could raise their two children.
Polly focused on being a stay-at-home mom who delighted in raising her children. She made hand-sewn outfits for her children, often matching (much to their later embarrassment). She taught them to cook and sew and supported them in their interests. The family went on regular road trips to the Bay Area as well as annual summer road trips to places such as British Columbia, Oregon, and Southern Utah.
Polly and Keith tried to live life to the fullest to keep up with their peers: attending live concerts and shows, buying season tickets to the Hollywood Bowl, enjoying fine dining, tasting and collecting wine, golfing, taking vacations, buying jewelry, buying land to build a vacation home, bidding on vacation packages at auctions, and so on. While it crept up on them, they ended up living well beyond their means, and the stress ate at their relationship. Polly got a job at Loehmann’s to help with the family finances. Keith began to grow distant, eventually suffering from a mid-life crisis that led him to leave Polly and his children in 1982. Despite Polly’s attempts at reconciliation, she and Keith divorced in 1984.
After the divorce, and facing a mountain of debt from her marriage years, Polly sold the family home and moved into a smaller apartment. She left her job at Loehmann’s and started working at Valley Federal. She changed jobs a few times over the next decade, also working at other financial firms such as Unitrin and Chase Home Mortgage.
Despite trying to increase her earnings during the 1980s and 1990s, Polly continued to struggle with debt. She left her apartment and moved back in with her parents to try to get ahead of the debt. Her zest for treating herself and others to comfortable indulgences never waned, causing her financial woes throughout her life. After a year of living with her parents, her parents helped her purchase a condominium in Panorama City where she could live with Jill. Polly’s condo was close to the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which resulted in substantial damage. Polly could not afford the needed repairs and lost the condo to foreclosure. She moved in with her brother Dan while she tried to get on her feet again. She rented an apartment by herself for two years, but after her father died, she moved back in with her mother. She would continue to try to live on her own, but end up moving in with friends or family members several more times over the next couple of decades.
In early 1999, for her 52nd birthday, Polly treated herself to a trip to the British Isles. She met her son Michael who was already in England doing graduate research. For the first week, Polly explored London and Canterbury with Michael, and decided to take a spur-of-the-moment trip on the chunnel to Paris for a day. She spent the second week touring Ireland with her old friend Bobbie.
When her grandson Jack was born in late 2001, Polly found a new passion in life being a grandmother. Polly doted on her grandson Jack, spending as much time as she could being with him and getting to know him.
In December 2011, Polly splurged and treated her whole family to a day at Disneyland, capping off a lifetime of over 55 years of visits to the Happiest Place on Earth.
In May 2012, Polly and her friend Mary Jane Gramly set sail on a cruise to Alaska that was a highlight of her life.
In early 2013, at the age of 65, Polly retired from her job at Kemper and started thinking about what to do with the rest of her life.
As her grandson Jack grew older and more independent, Polly learned she had another grandchild on the way, this time to Michael and Tasha. Her granddaughter Arwen was born in late 2014 and Polly wanted a chance to get to know Arwen as she had Jack, so in late 2015, Polly left the city she had called home for 63 years and moved to the Bay Area to be close to Arwen. She wanted Arwen to call her “Gram” in honor of the nickname she gave her own beloved grandmother, Gert Askew.
Polly kept in touch with her long-time friends from the Los Angeles area but wanted to also make some new friends in her new home, so she met up with fellow quilters and knitters and soon had an active circle of friends. Among all of these new friends, Barbara Cardwell was her dearest friend and companion. Polly and Barbara were fast friends and enjoyed their time shopping, eating, getting coffee, listening to music, and exploring the local area.
Polly received her cancer diagnosis in November 2021, by which time her cancer had already advanced to stage 4. Polly decided she wanted to fight the cancer, in no small measure because she wanted to be able to see her young granddaughter Arwen grow up.
The cancer treatment was rougher on her than she expected, and she tried many variations to find a treatment that she was comfortable with. As she could no longer drive, she relied on Michael, Tasha, and Barbara to get her to her appointments and treatments, to take her shopping, and to keep her life as normal as it could be. Ultimately, Polly could no longer tolerate the cancer treatments and she decided to stop fighting the cancer and enter hospice to best enjoy the last part of her life.
Polly’s friends Janet and Bob Amrhein stepped up to help Polly with shopping, appointments, and daily companionship. Polly was deeply grateful for all who helped her during her struggle with cancer, but most especially Janet, whose selfless dedication and cheerful confidence at the end stages meant the world to Polly and her family.
Thank you all for sharing good times with Polly and helping make her as happy as possible all the way to the very end.