|Back in our day . . .||
Awwwww, who couldn't love that baby? Apparently, his parents... In my last post I described my adventures during the process of just staying alive long enough to be born. I guess now I should try to talk about what I inherited from these parents, neither of whom had any patience for anything that might tie them to a life of stability. As you might imagine, this is going to be difficult, having barely known one of them, and never laid eyes on the other, but we'll see what can be accomplished. The easy one first: My dad.
You might think he would be the hard one, not knowing anything about him, but that's what makes him easy; I say next to nothing, and I'm done. They say I'm the spitting image of him. I always thought I looked like mom when I was younger, but maybe they weren't all that different. I have one picture of him somewhere. It doesn't come readily to hand, and I don't want to hold this blog up for a week while I look for it, so you'll have to take my word for it. That's what I've had to do my whole life. But here's an interesting anecdote:
Once upon a time, before I got my current job, I worked in an office where squadron personnel came in to pick up their invoices. One day an older lieutenant, what they call a "Mustang," meaning he was an enlisted man who worked his way up to officer, came in. The guy was nearly my age, and looked just like me. Heavy-set, round face, seriously, it was like looking in a mirror. His nametag read "TYLER." We had a few moments to talk, and it turns out he was from northern Georgia, dad's ancestral home, and he didn't know his father, either. Probably just an eerie coincidence, but food for thought; I mean, the guy treated one woman like a sex toy, why not another? Just sayin', you know? We had plans to meet off duty for a good old fashioned chin wag, but his unit was shortly deployed to Operation Desert Shield, and I never saw him again. As to dad's genetics, I know absolutely nothing. I guess they're okay, though. I turn 65 next week, and all I have is hereditary migraine (from mom's side of the family) and a pre-diabetic condition that's being successfully treated (so far) through diet.
And then there's mom. The professional gambler, you'll remember. She cleaned up well, I have to say. She usually made it back into town for holidays from whatever hotbed of high-stakes card rooms she was frequenting. Christmas almost always, and my birthday occasionally... More at first. This picture would have been taken on one of her "state visits." I'm pretty sure I'm three here, which would make her twenty.
Mom may not have looked like much of a handful in her A-line dress here, but she was rougher than a stucco bathtub. If Lara Croft had run afoul of her, we'd all be playing Tomb Raider-Slayer today. I always knew when there was about to be an impending visit, because grandma would cackle with glee, and regale me with assurances that she would be putting her fist right through me. It was a long time before she figured out why I was always in hiding when her cab pulled up to the house. Or maybe it wasn't. She couldn't have had much of a childhood if she was raised by my grandparents, and that may explain her morose moodiness, and desire to be far, far away all the time. I share a lot of that...
But I'm drifting off subject. The subject here is what I inherited from my parents, genetically and personality-wise, and maybe that complete comfort with being alone with my thoughts is part of it. I can be moody like she was, though I make a conscious effort to moderate it, and I tend to withdraw from contact when I feel like I'm being ridiculed or denigrated. You've been warned...
Genetically, there was always buzz around the family that her kidneys were bad, but I see no sign of that in my own life. The migraine was present in my great-grandmother, skipped grandma, but mom had a migraine-like pain that would flare up in her neck independently of any exercise or trauma. Migraine in the neck, is that possible? She was also said to have had asthma, which seems to afflict me in a minor fashion, only after exceptionally hard exertion. The diabetic proclivity seems to come from her as well. She was heavy, and so am I. Aside from a general similarity in the face, I don't know what else.
I think I could have liked mom. I lived with her for two weeks during the summers I was 12 and 14, and attended a semester of high school from under her roof when I was 16. During those times, I was treated like I had a brain, and was allowed to use it to exercise control over some non-life threatening aspects of my own life. But there was always some drama, real or imagined, that reared its head, and I would be packed off back to grandma. What I think is that she tired of having a kid around, figured she had gotten all she could out of the experience, and "something came up."
So what I think I ultimately inherited from my parents was a real firm sense of how to be a rotten parent. People have expressed amazement, given the kind of parents I had, at how good I am at it. I don't know about that; my kids have problems that I might have been able to spare them were I more skilled or attentive, but I sure had a real good model of what not to do! So, thanks for that, Mom & Dad. Things may not have gone the way I would have chosen, had I been offered a choice, but you showed me more than you ever planned or knew about.
All right, like it says in the intro, this is being done for family members, and these are things that future Tylers need to know. But I recognize the tone of doom-and-gloom that's crept in here, so next time out, I'm going to take a break from all that, and talk about the neighborhoods I lived in growing up. There's some comedy to be milked from that, so y'all take care of yourselves, and I'll see you in a week or so!
All the best,
Before school started, my Mom and siblings and I, drove over to the school to have a look. It was brand new back in 1963.. No one had ever darkened it's doorways, and no one had a clue just how fantastic that year was going to be! I was going to be a member of the first graduating class in the history of CPHS.
Getting ready for school meant shopping for clothes, and we drove down to National City to the huge Montgomery Wards store. I found several outfits I liked, and then we drove over to Kenny's Shoe Store where I bought 2 pair of shoes. One pair was for dresses, and one pair for P.E. and just generally running around. I loved Chula Vista, and our home, and now a brand new school. It looked as though my life was going to turn around and have some good components mixed in with the bad luck I considered my lot in life. The days of living on Kodiak Island were over, and not even a fond memory. I had hated every bit of it, every day, for 3 years. Now I had a brand new beginning and I was so excited. The first couple of days I went to school with a neighbor, Shirley. Her Mother drove us over and I walked home after school the first day.
We signed in and found our names on the roster posted outside the office. We found our homeroom that way and went to our first class. Mr. Mueller was my teacher's name. He was very low keyed and didn't mind us chatting as long as we weren't disturbing anyone else who was trying to study. The first day though, we all just chatted while waiting for him to show up. He came in finally and passed out papers to tell us which classes we would be attending and the room numbers. Some of the students knew each other from previous years, but the majority were new to each other. There were students from 3 different schools that made up the student body. It would be a fun year, getting to know each other and to be Seniors was going to be a trip!
As a senior, we had privileges that the under classmen didn't. We had a Senior Lawn, and only Seniors could sit there. A group of my friends and I sat on the lawn and had lunch almost every day. The punishment for an underclassman for trespassing on our lawn, was to be picked up and stuffed in the nearest trash can! Everyone took it in good spirit though and we all soon began to feel connected and to enjoy every moment of school. I remember when the Beatles came out, and I'd save my lunch money to buy the latest record. One day in Civics class, I had a magazine in my lap and was thumbing through it as the teacher talked about current events. One day, he caught me and walked up behind me while I was looking at pictures of my favorite Beatle, Paul McCartney! He asked me if I ever had nightmares about them, and I put the book away as my face turned crimson. We had a test that day and after he graded the papers, he apologized to me in front of the class because I made the best score on the test! Yes, I was a Beatle Maniac! I watched them on the Ed Sullivan show and was so excited! I bought every record they put out, and magazines and anything else I could get my hands on that was Beatle oriented. I did sketches of the individual Beatles and papered my bedroom walls with them. I ate less, slept less, and had more fun that year than anyone can imagine! I'm sure a lot of it was because I didn't have to traverse mounds of ice and snow to do anything, or go anywhere. The weather was perfect and I just loved California.!
One day, when I was home sick, I was doing something in my room and listening to the radio, and suddenly the station broke for an announcement. President Kennedy had been shot! I yelled to my Mom to turn on the TV and we both found seats on the sofa and watched the unfolding news. President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas Texas and was in route to the hospital. About half an hour later, they announced that the President was dead. I couldn't believe it. I was so shocked. We sat there and stared at each other. How could it be that he was dead? The best President we had ever had, was dead. People all over were crying, even some of the teachers, or so I was told when I went back to school. I couldn't imagine my Civics Teacher, Mr. Persutti,, ever crying about anything, but he did. That night as we watched them bringing his coffin in the Motor Cade to be placed for the public to pay their respects to the fallen leader, I could contain my tears no longer. I went to my room and threw myself on the bed and cried my eyes out. My Dad came in and asked me if I needed anything, and he got me some aspirin and a cup of coffee. My head was splitting. My Dad sat on the bed for a few minutes, talking to me. I didn't focus on anything he said...I was lost in grief. It was heart-breaking and to tell the truth, it was many a year that went by with that grief gripping my memories in a tight fist. He would never be forgotten.
Back to school, and resume living. The year would be full of wonderful memories, saddened by some, but the goodness of life soon brought all of us back to reality and we carried on. Another privilege of the Senior Class, was having a vault in the ground where we put our predictions of our lives in 10 years, and then buried it. On our 10th anniversary, we would all find out what part of our predictions came true! I didn't go to the 10th reunion, but I did hear about it. I had no idea what I had put down for myself, but it wasn't what I had hoped for! I'll leave that for the next session and say good bye for now. There are so many memories that I must refresh myself and try to recall all the fun we had that year. I am getting old and forgetful, so bear with me, and I'll see you around!
I was ages 2 - 12 in the 1950s, so absolutely a child of that decade, which coincidentally happened to have been the last full decade in which the nuclear family was considered the norm. For the benefit of you youngsters, the nuclear family was that model in which Dad went to work and brought home the bacon, and Mom stayed home, cooked it, and kept hearth and home running between meals. You can see how this worked in black-and-white reruns of Leave it to Beaver, Dennis the Menace, and Father Knows Best. I sometimes try to envision my parents in that relationship; it isn't a pretty picture!
It starts in the late afternoon, as Dad (the navy diver) comes into the house, tired and grimy from a hard day of underwater lint removal (or whatever his job was...), kicks his way through the sea of empty milk cartons, formula boxes, and soiled diapers to the dining room table, where he asks Mom (the professional gambler), "What's for dinner, honey?"
To which she replies, "Whatever you feel like fixing, dear!"
Dad's name was Carl William Tyler, native of Decatur, Georgia, and he may have felt trapped by unexpected parenthood, or he may have just had a handle on who Mom was by then, but whatever the case, he was long gone by the time I was able to form memories. Mom wasn't far behind, and likely I was the better for it, but all I have to piece together into a narrative of my parents' life before Little Jack came along is the word of two older women who wouldn't have peed in his face if his beard was on fire. So search your pantry for a large grain of salt, and then we'll continue.
Got it? Good.
Given that Dad was 21 in 1948, he must have joined the navy right after World War II. Family lore is that he was involved in the Bikini A-Bomb tests, though as junior as he would have been at the time, he probably wouldn't have been in the water, but rigging gear for the divers, tending the compressors, that sort of thing. But here's an interesting factoid: Dad is out on a boat in the radioactive lagoon for a couple of weeks, and not long after, he's back in San Diego laying the keel of Little Jack. Ever since I can remember, I have carried a static charge that can knock people down. It has been suggested that if I could learn to control it, I could be a legitimate superhero. I can't go shopping alone on a dry summer day, because I don't dare touch the store shelves, and when I take off a wool sweater, the fireworks display rivals the Fourth of July. Coincidence?
By the way, I inherited a number of these photographs, including some that aren't the famous ones you often see in the magazines:
Here's a little-known fact: Most people assume that vertical black smudge at the right side of the water column is a shadow, or a flaw in the film. Not so. It is the 26,000 ton battleship U.S.S. Arkansas being blown completely out of the water like a bathtub toy.
But I digress. In San Diego, Dad served aboard the U.S.S. Sperry, a submarine tender. Family lore says that, when he found out that Mom was pregnant, he passed the hat among his buddies to collect the money for an abortion. Abortion was illegal in 1948, but as San Diego is a stone's throw from Tijuana, Mexico, this was hardly an insurmountable problem. She is said to have taken the money to an address reputed to be that of an abortionist, only to find he had been called away by a family emergency. Rather than wait for his return, she used to money to go on a weekend drunk, which is why I'm here to tell this story. True? Who knows? The source is hardly unbiased, but I wasn't there (in the figurative sense), and it is part of the narrative that forms my self-image, and colors my view on abortion. Anyway, it is said that when she returned still pregnant, he took her for a moonlight stroll in Balboa Park, and on the most remote athletic field of San Diego High School, tried to kick me out of her. That I got from Mom's own lips, so I give it a little more credence.
Okay, so I probably dodged a bullet (literally?) by never knowing that guy. What sort of person was Mom? At 16, Kay Frances Jentoft, late of El Centro, California, was dealing an illegal card game in the back room of a waterfront bar along the San Diego shoreline (it wasn't always the upscale tourist mecca it is known as now), and doing her own bouncing, so Dad may not have had the easiest contest of his career when he assaulted her...
Mom was in and out of my life until we parted ways over her dumping heavy adult business on my 7-year old daughter, so that would have been 1985. I finally began to get to know her when I spent a few weeks in the summer of 1960 at her little crash pad in Ocean Beach, one of the classic Southern California beach towns. The thing about Mom is that she had the true gambler's outlook, that yesterday is history, tomorrow is a crapshoot, and all you really have is right now. Sometimes being around her was more like having a big sister than a mother, and when things were going well, it almost felt like we were on a caper together. On the other hand, Mom wasn't ever quite happy unless she wasn't happy. She was an emotional black hole that could suck the joy out of a room just by walking in the door, and if she had designed her own coat of arms, emblazoned on the traditional ribbon across the bottom would have been O Me Miseram, which I am reliably informed is the Emperor's Latin for "Oh, poor me!"
By the time I was making memories, I had been placed with her mother and grandmother to raise. She always said they had had me made a ward of the court, as she was, by dint of her profession, unfit by the standards of the day to be a mother. They as vehemently denied it, but I tend to believe Mom on this one. See, in California, when you take in a foster child, you get a monthly payment to defray expenses, and given their "love" of children, I can't imagine them keeping one in their home without being paid for it. In this day and age, court records can be researched on the Internet, but I've never done it, I think because I prefer the ambiguity. Weird I suppose, but that allows me to keep thinking that someone in my family wanted me...
Sounds like a big sob story, but I've never cared for sympathy. This is just the story, as best as I have been told by a bunch of people who hated each other, of my parents early life, and why, in that age when it was rare to find a single-parent child, I didn't have any. It was probably for the best. Had Mom and Dad tried to stay together, I probably would have witnessed a murder around the age of five.
So this is the environment that produced me, and now you all know where I came from. I intend to go further, much further, down the road of nostalgia, but first I must ask everyone to tighten up your seat belts, place your chairs in the upright positions, and make sure there is a supply of airsickness bags in the pocket in front of you. When everyone is ready, we'll take another excursion.
'Til then, all the best!
Have you ever lived someplace that was close to paradise? Well that's what San Diego was like for me! In Kodiak we had such bad weather and I was not the greatest on sheets of ice and glistening snow piled so high you had to dig your way out of the house. So, in the balmy summer we experienced in our first year here, it truly was paradise to me. Once we had moved into the house and retrieved our furniture from storage, my parents went out to find a car next. They came home with a Mercury Monterey with a push button starter on the dashboard. It had 4 doors, and compared to what we had in Kodiak, it was a limousine! It was turquoise blue and white and very suitable for our short Mom to drive. Dad would soon be going out to sea for 9 months, and Mom needed a reliable source of transportation. My Grandmother Elsie lived with us, and she had driven for many years. Often she would be the one driving me to school and picking me up in the afternoons. She had always lived with us, and she helped Mom out a lot with things.
Once we all settled in, there was much to do on the house and the yard. My brother David was 13 at the time, I was 16, and my baby sister was 6. Mom would round us all up on any given weekend, and we'd all make the trip to a place in National City and we'd buy plants for the yard, grass seed, fertilizer, and the like. David liked working in the yard and he'd spend his days in the balmy breezes watering the newly planted grass and sweep down the driveway and the walkway in front of the house. We had a huge backyard and a patio and that too was swept down along with the garage. Grandmother and Mom took care of the storing, and I took care of the making of beds, and general clean up of the house. We all worked together while Dad was at sea. He and Grandma Elsie were not the best of friends and it was a lot easier on the nerves when one of they was away. I think Grandmother loved the weather as well. I fell in love with the palm trees swaying in the breeze, and the Santa Ana Winds of late summer days. The Taco Bell and Jack In the Box were new to us, and we thought it was some of the best fast food ever. We found Cost Less Imports down in San Diego, and we'd browse on lazy Saturday afternoons, buying some incense, jams and jellies, teas like Oolong, and candles, and such. They had everything you could imagine, but the place caught fire one day and burned to the ground. There was so much to see and do that we were never bored. It was paradise to me and I loved San Diego with a passion.
Soon school would be starting, and we drove over to the school one day to check it out. It was a brand new school, and I would be a Senior and a member of the first graduating class of Castle Park High School. It was beautiful, and I didn't know it at the time, but this would be the best year I'd ever had in school! There were many classrooms, a huge campus, a Senior Lawn, a cafeteria and a place to buy burgers and things of that nature if you didn't want a full lunch. The P.E. field and building were up above the school on a hill that overlooked the whole campus. I'd met some kids in Kodiak that were from California and they too made it seem like a paradise. I was so excited about going there to live. At first I thought we were moving to the San Francisco area, but at the last minute it was changed to San Diego, and now that I've seen San Francisco, I am doubly glad we live in San Diego! It really doesn't compare.
There is so much to tell about my life here in California, and I don't want to diminish your time with us here, with prolonged descriptions of the weather, and the things we were finding so attractive, so I will bring this session to a close for now and give my co-author the platform for a bit. I will be back with more of the reasons I fell in love with my life here, and prepare the background for just how it affected me when I was told we were moving away, yet again, to a cold, dismal place, leaving California far behind me. Thank you for joining us for another cup of tea. Hope it was entertaining and gave you a somewhat clearer picture of my love for this place.
Drop in again and pay us a visit!
As I sit here on my well-worn overstuffed couch with an Xbox controller in hand and a teenage grandchild at my side, I have to wonder how I acquired grandchildren who are older than I am...
But of course, they aren't. I don't know how it is for others who are aging, but I don't feel a day over ten. How I came to have ulcers, dentures, reading glasses, and a host of other things that only old people are supposed to have is a mystery that I never expect to solve. But Bonnie thinks it would be a good idea to begin to run this blog as a form of memoir for the kids, the grandkids, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their head. I fully agree, although it will force me to take a close look at who I am and how I got here.
Before you can begin to make sense of the events of which I will be writing, it will be necessary for you to understand that I grew up in a very different world from the one inhabited by my grandchildren, and even my children. For example, I have been reliably informed that my mother smoked, drank, ate tuna from the can, and had little or no prenatal care at all. I was put to sleep on my tummy in a baby crib covered with lead-based paint. There were no childproof caps on the medicine bottles nor locks on the kitchen cabinets, and later on, when I rode my bike, if anything was on my head, it was a baseball cap. The other kids would have made me wear a dress if I'd shown up on my bike with a helmet on!
I rode in a car without a car seat, a booster seat, seat belts, or air bags that had bald tires and marginal brakes. My favorite riding position when "shotgun" wasn't available was standing on the floor in back leaning on the front seat so I could see out the front window. Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm summer day was always a special treat. I drank water from a garden hose, and four of us routinely shared a Coke or Pepsi, and I don't remember one case of typhoid flaring up in my neighborhood.
We ate Twinkies, white bread, real butter, and bacon. We drank Kool-Aid made with real white sugar, but none of us were overweight. Why not? Because we were always outside playing, that's why not! On weekends, and especially during the summer, our folks would push us out the door after breakfast, and they didn't expect to see us again until the street lights came on. They only had the most general idea where we were, but we knew where they were if we needed adult intervention. We spent hours building soapbox racers out of junk, and rode them down the steepest hills we could find, only to discover that we had neglected to include brakes in our brilliant design. We fell out of trees, got cuts and scrapes, broke bones, chipped teeth, and yet somehow no lawsuits were ever brought over these accidents.
We didn't have Playstations, Nintendos, or XBoxes. There were no video games, nor 150 channels on cable, because there was no cable! There were no DVDs, no DVRs, no surround sound, no cell phones, no iPods, no MP3s, 4s, or 5s, no personal computers, no Internet, and no chat rooms. We had actual friends, and when we wanted to chat, we didn't look them up on Facebook, we went outside and found them. That's right, we rode our bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door.
Little League had tryouts, and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with the disappointment. Imagine that! And the idea of a parent bailing us out if we ran afoul of the law was unheard of; the parents actually sided with the law!
We were spanked with wooden spoons, switches, coat hangers, Ping-Pong paddles, and belts by parents, aunts and uncles, and schoolteachers, and no one ever called child services to report the abuse. We ate worms, dirt, and suspicious vegetation. We were given BB guns for our 10th birthday and made up games using baseball bats and golf balls, and contrary to what we were told, very few eyes were actually put out.
Our generation went on to produce some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers, and innovators in history. Today's kids master hand-held games that are more capable than the computers that put men on the moon, but if their fanbelt breaks halfway between L.A. and Vegas, do they know how to fix it using a pair of pantyhose? We had freedom and responsibility, experienced success and failure, and had to deal with it all, good and bad. If you are one of us, congratulations! You might want to share this with those less fortunate, those whose childhood came after the lawyers and politicians decided that being a child was far too lucrative to be left in the hands of children.
So now you have some idea of the perspective I bring to this project. I think the world seen through the eyes of today's child, despite all the electronics and wonder-toys, is nowhere near as interesting as the one I saw was. But that's just my opinion. Settle back for the ride, and don't hesitate to speak up if we strike a nerve...
All the best,
[Disclaimer: A good many versions of this "child of the fifties" thing has been going around the Internet for a good many years. I freely admit to have cherrypicked the points that spoke closely to my own childhood, and expanded them through the filter of my own experience. I don't want to take credit for anyone else's work, but why reinvent the wheel? Regardless of all that, I hope you had a good time! ~ J.T.
I arrived in San Diego the first time in 1963. I was arriving from Kodiak, Alaska after 3 years of freezing to death, and San Diego was in the middle of a heat wave. I wandered out of the airport terminal and sat down on the curb while waiting for my family to get the luggage. I'd never felt such heat, and it was in the evening hours. My family joined me at last and we caught a cab to a Motel where we were able to clean up and go find something to eat. My brother and I sort of passed out on the beds, so the rest of them went to eat and said they'd bring us something back. That was my first day in a place that I would soon come to love and to make my home.
There wasn't much to San Diego back then. It was compact and there were many outlying areas where we would eventually find a home. My Father was in the Navy and he would be going out to sea after we got settled in. For the first month or so we lived in Navy housing and my parents got busy looking for a home. It was overcast most days and fooled me into thinking I could sleep in the yard and not pay for it. I suffered a bad sunburn that day and by evening I was all but blistered. I could hardly move. The San Diego sun was relentless and the cloudy days would fool me no more.
My parents were driven to various housing locations, and settled on a house in Chula Vista. The house was nice, big enough for all of us, and the yard needed work. They signed all the papers and we moved in, sleeping on air mattresses the first night, until our furniture could be delivered. I would come to love San Diego in the next year we were fortunate enough to be here. I was so happy to be in a sunny place, far away from snow and mud and gloom. I was ready for a new beginning, and before I get into that, I will bow out and let my husband have a say. There is no rush, and I don't want to miss anything by hurrying along, so I'll say bye for now and make dinner for a hungry crew! Enjoy yourselves, and leave comments if you wish.
All the best,
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??