Applegate cried in Priddy’s arms when she got her cancer diagnosis, but soon she took charge. She was facing a four-month lag between her lumpectomies and the double mastectomy she had decided to have; she was busy working, and doctors were confident the delay wasn’t dangerous. Still, she assembled her nearest and dearest and laid down the law: “There was to be no stress in this house. The heart rate had to stay even, and don’t piss me off. I didn’t want to feel my blood pressure go up. I still had cancer, and I didn’t want to accelerate cell growth. I just wanted to stay calm. I think for the most part I’ve kept that philosophy.”
It’s a practical outlook that goes back to her early childhood. Her parents divorced when Christina was three months old, and Priddy found herself perched, with her infant, in a tiny house on Lookout Mountain Avenue. At that time Laurel Canyon was home to many single mothers, for whom those ’60s summers of love had morphed into rent bills and thirdhand Toyotas. Christina first appeared on TV when her working mom had to haul her to a soap opera job as a babe in arms.
“The canyon does have homes like this one,” Applegate says. “But it also has 800-square-foot broken-down houses. We all lived in shacks here. And all those mothers struggled to provide for their kids. For most of them, the father was not really a role in their lives.”
Applegate spent weekends with her dad until he moved to Northern California when she was about 10; she still maintains a close relationship with him and two half-siblings, who live in L.A. Despite the civility of her parents’ split, there was more trouble at home.
“Badstepdad,” she says. “From three to seven, I had a stepfather who caused a lot of damage to my mother and to me. I think that put her off, and she never had another relationship.” A more benevolent male presence was a man she knew as Uncle Stephen and whom she still calls her godfather, musician Stephen Stills, whose early romance with her mother settled into a lifelong friendship. Back in the day, Stills might have been singing about the mothers of Christina’s little tribe of preteens who skateboarded through the canyon sporting buzz cuts and modified mohawks:
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by.
And feed them on your dreams. . .
Priddy had musical aspirations beyond the album she recorded (with producer Phil Ramone) but says she has few regrets about scaling them down to make ends meet with voice-overs and commercials. There was parental discipline in their community, but with a decidedly hippie slant. “All the moms kind of let us do whatever we wanted to do,” Applegate says. “There weren’t a lot of rules, but there was a lot of mutual respect. I always made sure she knew where I was, and I would always be home by a reasonable hour.”
She doesn’t recall envying the material excesses of Valley Girls in nearby towns. “I never felt poor or that I wasn’t provided for,” she says. “There were months when we were on food stamps, but for the most part, we did OK. I was working, so it was a two-income family.”
She wasa trouper. Applegate was missing her two front teeth and wearing her “flipper” (a bridge crafted by dentists to conceal lost baby teeth) when it came loose during a canned-ham commercial. Christina asked the director coolly, “Can I see my mom for a minute?” Priddy reached into her purse for denture fixative, and her daughter nailed the take. She made good money; Priddy invested some for her in real estate.
Applegate does not remember much about her mother’s first cancer surgery, a mastectomy. “The only thing that changed in our life,” she says, “was that we started going to our church.” It was called the Church of Religious Science, “which is not Christian Science or Scientology; that’s not what we are,” she emphasizes. “It’s the basic belief that God is everywhere and you can really change the course of your life by having clear intentions.”