Santa Cruz wife traded on Fox’s ‘Spouses’
By PEGGY TOWNSEND
Sentinel staff writer
SANTA CRUZ — What would happen if you moved a shoe-loving, black woman who grew up in the projects into a family of barefoot, white Taoists who grow most of their own food?
That question will be at the heart of the 8 p.m. Nov. 29 episode of Fox’s new reality show, "Trading Spouses," which features a Santa Cruz family as — you guessed it — the white, barefoot, Taoist part of the equation.
With satellite trucks, monster lights and cameramen turning their quiet, downtown neighborhood into a mini-Hollywood last month, the Abbott family of Santa Cruz — Leslie, 51; Carl, 61; Luke, 18; and Kyle, 15 — spent a week finding out what happens when moms from two very different families swap lives for a week.
And it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out who might have had the harder time: the beautician from Nashville whose early introduction to Carl was an upside-down one (he was doing his morning yoga headstand at the time) or the vegetarian musician Leslie whose welcome-to-Nashville meal was a plate of short ribs.
Still, this being Santa Cruz and all, everything turned out pretty mellow.
"We had fun," says Carl, sitting cross-legged on the family’s sunny porch eating a plate of stir-fried vegetables. "The production people didn’t know ahead of time if we would react negatively, but we had a fun time."
The whole adventure began, says Leslie, when someone from the Fox network spotted the family of musicians’ Web site (www.playingbyear.com
) and sent them an e-mail.
Leslie and Luke were reluctant at first. It was the whole Fox-Network-national-TV-thing, they say.
But Carl, a philosophical man, thought it was an opportunity.
"Usually," he says, "when opportunity comes out of the blue, it’s a tragedy — somebody died or got cancer or there was an earthquake.
"But this wasn’t a tragedy," he says. "And you can’t pass that up."
It wasn’t long before the family was interviewed, photographed and accepted as participants on the show.
Leslie, a thoughtful, slender woman with short dark hair, was soon on a plane to Nashville. (She didn’t know where she was going ahead of time.)
And Vickie Lowe, a fun-loving, boisterous woman, was headed to Santa Cruz.
Leslie says she was charmed by her new family of four — dad Ricky Sr., daughter Hope, 19, and son Ricky Jr., 15 — who greeted her with a sign that read "Welcome New Mama," and the aforementioned ribs.
It wasn’t too long before Leslie was touring her new family’s brick, Plantation-style house with the expanse of lawn and big-screen TV and introducing them to music, which is her family’s passion — the Abbotts have their own band and have developed a unique style of teaching music.
"It was a little chaotic at first," Leslie said of the music lessons, "but by the third time it went a lot better."
She even got the family, whose daughter reportedly had 100 pairs of shoes, to try yoga, she said.
Over at the Abbotts’ house, Vickie settled into the 800-square-foot house and its first-floor Taoist chapel with a joyful kind of noise, say the Abbotts who were left behind.
"I love storms, the thunder, the lightning and Vickie was like thunder and lightning," Carl says. "I said, ‘hot dog, a storm is coming.’"
Kyle, a teen who admittedly likes quiet, wasn’t quite as excited.
"I enjoy thunder and lightning, but not communicating with it," he says.
But Vickie, say the Abbotts, was open to just about everything.
"She just jumped right in," Carl says.
Vickie tried yoga and played music with them.
She sat with them during their family’s regular Taoist service, which includes a reading of a chapter from the Tao De Jing, followed by personal comments.
"After it was finished, she said, ‘that’s entertaining,’" Carl remembers. "We all cracked up. We never thought of it as entertaining."
While Leslie was adapting her cooking to the Lowe family’s style and giving them a stir-fry experience, the Abbotts, who have a sprawling backyard garden, were getting a taste of meat and Southern cooking.
Bacon, pork chops and something called hot-water corn bread, which is cornmeal and water made into a patty and deep-fried, went on the table in the Abbott family’s windowed, second-floor kitchen.
"We still have meat left over," Carl says.
Like the rest of the Abbotts, Vickie soon kicked off her shoes in the house, but refused to remove them outside, they said. She played music with them, but drew the line at going out on Pacific Avenue to perform.
Then, Carl and the boys took Vickie to the redwoods — which apparently made her a little afraid. Vickie grew up in the city and was intimidated by nature, Carl says. The waves at the beach, where they went for an outdoor yoga session, frightened her even more.
But by the end of her visit, Carl took Vickie out to Lighthouse Point where his brother’s ashes lie in the little brick lighthouse there.
After, Vickie walked over to the cliffside fence and watched the surfers riding waves at Steamer Lane.