|Back in our day . . .||
First things first; today is the birthday of my oldest grandchild. Happy Birthday, Brian! The celebration begins as soon as school lets out. But first...
As we have stated as our clear purpose, this blog is first and foremost for the grandchildren. I am trying to be completely honest in everything I write here, because after I'm gone, this will form the tangible memories they, and if I'm fortunate enough to be remembered, their children have of me. I look back across these posts, and I see an isolated child undergoing a mild sort of abuse, spanked almost daily, though not in the emergency-room-visit manner that we all hear about on the news, blamed for everything bad that befell anyone in the family, and constantly made to feel worthless. I'm sorry for that. I merely report what happened. Lest this blog become an unreadable crescendo of doom, I will point out that I lived under a roof, never missed a meal that I can recall, never slept outdoors unless it was by choice, and nobody made me carry an AK-47 in their revolution before I turned 10. But there was an exceptional bright spot.
Marie Wheeler, nee Holt. Auntie-Ree I was taught to call her before I could form a memory of why, and she was in my life from the beginning. She was my great aunt, my grandmother's sister, and she thought I was the greatest thing since carbonated soda; or at least if it was an act, it was a good one. I never received a cross word, a backhand across the face, or any expression of displeasure whatsoever from her. Her husband, Otha Joseph Wheeler, Uncle Joe, followed her lead where I was concerned, and whenever their car pulled up in front of the house, I couldn't have been more thrilled if the circus had set up its tents in my yard.
She always dressed up for her visits; I guess it went with the times. I remember most strongly a navy blue dress (probably more than one) with white polka dots, open-toed pumps, and a sweet floral perfume. She would come in, and the first piece of her ritual was to bend over from the waist, kiss me on the cheek, and hand me a dime. She visited on average about twice a month, and that dime stood as my allowance for all the time she was with us. The grandmas hounded me mercilessly about not squandering that dime on anything worthless, by which they meant "fun," but I always did. Sometimes she would bring an inexpensive toy, usually a small cap pistol, or a toy tank or airplane... She had a fine instinctive understanding for what a young boy would like, and war toys hadn't yet been branded Products of the Devil.
There were a few occasions when the grandmas went out of town, or once one of them was in the hospital, and I was sent to spend a week with her and Uncle Joe. Their house was... interesting. It was, in the strictest interpretation, an apartment. They had one unit in a duplex in which the two units were stuck together back-to-back instead of side-by-side as is usual. There were, I think, three of these arranged around a grassy common space, with the garages enclosing the fourth side. It was very cool.
Auntie-Ree was a collector. Every horizontal surface in their house was filled with Oriental brass. I learned early the differences. Indian brass items, slippers, bowls, human figures and so on were thin, and their decorations etched into the surface. They were delicate and looked fragile, even though they were made of solid metal. To my child's eye, they paled next to the Chinese brass they shared the shelves with. Chinese brass was thicker, had a duller, more substantial appearance, and the carving most often went all the way through, giving the bells and bowls the appearance of quarter-inch thick, solid metal lace.
She also collected U.S. coinage. She had blue folders for every variant of every denomination. I was amazed to learn that there had been pennies with Indians on them, nickels with buffalos, dimes with Mercury, and gray pennies made of steel. I learned to tell which mint a given coin had come from, and to locate the marks of the artist who had engraved the design. She tried to get me started with my own little collection, but money in any denomination was far too rare and precious for me to justify laying up a hoard that would never be spent. She interacted almost constantly with me when I was staying with them; Uncle Joe read the paper and watched boxing on their black-and-white TV.
Uncle Joe was a big-shot with the Teamsters' Union. This was in the heyday of Jimmy Hoffa, and I still wonder sometimes what his real function was. He used to talk about driving a truck, and some of the jobs he worked on, and no doubt he did, but grandma told me several times that he was one of the men that would pull scabs out of the trucks and leave them bloodied by the roadside. I don't know. His "grunt" days were before my time, and he was never anything but gentle and friendly toward me, but this is Hoffa's Teamsters we're talking about, and how many times have you heard that you never really know somebody? I do know that by the time I came along, part of his employment arrangement was that every year he would go to a prominent San Diego dealership that is still thriving nearly sixty years later, pick out his new Oldsmobile, and drive away without a cent changing hands. There was probably a great story there, if only I'd had the awareness to run it to ground.
But every chapter closes, and in 1957, the year I turned nine, she paid a visit to her doctor for treatment of a nagging cough. All the women in the two generations before me smoked like chimneys, and it shouldn't have come as a surprise when Uncle Joe called my grandma to tell her that Auntie-Ree had lung cancer, and a life expectancy measured in a small number of months. Back then, any cancer diagnosis was a death sentence. There was no cure, there was no treatment. They just made you as comfortable as possible, and sent you home to live out your last weeks. As Uncle Joe had a job he had to go to, she came to stay with us. I remember always making myself available to fetch her things and fluff up her pillows, but if I had truly understood what was coming, I never would have left her side. Children in those days were shielded from things considered too mature for them, like sex, death, and property tax, and I can't say that was a bad policy, but the curtain came down on this particular chapter when I was nine years old.
She converted to Catholicism at the end, and had she sworn allegiance to a witches' coven, her sister couldn't have been more upset. My first exposure to the Catholic religion was thus listening to grandma go on and on about how it was a cult, her poor sister was going to hell because she'd turned away from the Lord, and a lot more things in this vein. Even today, when I have interactions with a Catholic, I have to consciously remind myself that not everything my grandma taught me was necessarily true. The funeral was held in a Catholic church, and my impatient nine-year old self sat in the pews through what seemed like hours of ritual. We finally formed a line and filed by to view the body, and the moment I saw that cold, perfectly constructed face, so lifelike and yet somehow not, I knew that a corner had been turned.
I have carried on without Auntie-Ree ever since, but despite all her efforts to teach me about coinage and culture, what I learned from her was that there were decent people who cared about children, and hope could not be taken, only surrendered. I don't think she ever realized what she was giving me, and I didn't have the maturity to tell her, but if her religion turns out to be right, then she knows. I think she would be pleased. Uncle Joe remarried a year later, something for which grandma never forgave him. I only saw him once more, at grandma's funeral, where he was kind and gracious as ever. My final assessment: He deserved better in-laws.
I'm sorry, it seems I've ended on another downer. If there's a positive side to all this, it involves the growth of my character. I've heard it said that what doesn't kill you makes you tough, and I'd have to say that that's true. Auntie-Ree's influence was an early step in the forging of the man I am today, and while she was taken early, the lesson I want to leave you with here is the good you can do without even realizing it, if you just decide that today, just today, you're going to be decent to the people you meet. Marie Holt Wheeler always did this every day, and in the 56 years she's been gone, I have never heard one unkind word about her. There are worse ways to be remembered.
And I'll leave it there. I have a million stories, but I think, like an Oriental painting, a few clean brush strokes paint a clearer picture than the clutter of minute details. Next time we meet, I'll tell you the story of the oldest person I ever personally knew, and I promise it will have a more positive note than you've become accustomed to. Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
I was born in Charleston General Hospital in Charleston, WV. I was the first baby in my mom's family and I came into her life about ten months after her father passed away. No one knew how great an impact I would have on her life but it turned out that I was her only successful child and brought into her life the things that made her happy. We lived in a very small coal-mining town called Ameagle. It was named after American Eagle Colliery and my grandfather was foreman of the mines. My dad worked there as well when he left the navy after WWII. He had the job of picking slate and filling up railroad cars. He was afraid to go into the mines after my grandfather passed away in his front yard after a shift at the mines. He had heart disease and died of a heart attack. He was my mom's favorite parent and they were very close. After he died, my mom was severely depressed and when I was born, she couldn't stop crying. Every time she would get upset in her hospital room, I would cry in the nursery. Now that I have had 3 children of my own, I can understand the impact that delivering a child can have on your body, especially after a traumatic event like losing a parent. It is extremely stressful. Funny how you understand your parents better when you grow up than you ever could have imagined as a child.
I went home to a little town back in the mountains, and I would grow and develop a sense of freeness that nothing else has compared to. Life would prove to be extremely difficult for me, but not until much later on. As a child, I went where I wanted, and developed a sense of such wildness and freedom and loved the world I knew and the home a child could never forget. My grandmother, my mom's mother, was a huge factor in my life. After my dad married my mom, they moved into my grandmother's house and that's where I lived the first 8 years of my life. She and my dad didn't get along, but she had just lost her husband and my mom would not leave her sitting alone while she and my dad shared time together. It was a mistake, but I can understand it too. So. to prevent further problems, my grandmother went to her mother's house where she only had to cross the street to the hospital in Charleston and she worked as a nurses aide there. She also at one time worked at her brother-in-laws restaurant, and on the weekends she'd come see us and bring us a lot of really wonderful food from the restaurant. Her brother-in-law told her to take what she wanted in order to not waste what would otherwise be thrown out. It was good food but left over the weekend would not be fit to serve, so he gave it to grandmother. She would also bring us clothes and help my mom to do things around the house and shopping. When mom was pregnant with my brother, grandmother would leave her job and move home to help her do the things she couldn't quite manage as she got bigger and bigger.
I was a talkative child and picked up things quickly. My mom's neighbor across the street would come and get me and take me to their house and teach me manners that were unusual for a 2 year old to have. I would ask at dinnertime "Please pass me a loaf of bread". I'd forget I only meant a slice of bread. I talked in sentences by the time I was a year old. My mom was thrilled with me, and when she had my brother, and no longer had time for me, I was devastated and I took my revenge out on my brother when he got older. I wanted to still be the favorite. I was 3 when David was born. I tried to stand on my head, and I did all sorts of tricks in order to regain the attention of my mother. She still loved me of course, but my brother was sort of sickly and had croup and had to have special medicine and so on. As he got older, he developed a mean streak and would throw things at me at the table and would slide down in his chair and kick me under the table. He had to have special shoes and they had steel toes and he left scars that I still have on my shins. He often pinched me and pulled my hair and one day I just got tired of it and I crawled behind the couch and when I got to the end I spied his fat little legs and I bit him to get even. My mom was so surprised and even though I didn't get a spanking for doing it, it gave me little comfort because it didn't change a thing. So, I went about my days playing alone in the backyard or with my cousin Sandra who lived at the end of the road.
I started school at 4 and I turned 5 in December. They didn't have Kinder-garden back in those days and I was put in first grade. I would walk to school with my cousin Sandra who was 3 years older than I was and after I got older I'd walk alone. In the winter months some of the neighbors would pick up a load of children and take us to school. But I often walked home and once I remember not being able to get over the two top steps that lead to the road home and I threw my lunchbox over the top and crawled over the iced and snow encrusted steps and pulled myself over it. I was an independent little cuss and I wasn't afraid of much of anything! Once a couple of girls were threatening to fight me, so I threw my books down, put my hands on my hips and told them to "come on then!". They changed their minds and turned around and left!
But there was a freedom back in the hills between the mountains, and I found it. I loved the changing of the seasons, and I loved exploring around the small town. I would often get money from my mom and I'd go to our "soda-fountain" and buy hot dogs, ready made and delicious! I walked the short trip to our local church and attend summer Bible School where I'd read about Jesus and make things for my mom. My parents took me to church on Sunday and Wednesday night prayer meetings, and I can still remember those experiences. Once they had a foot washing ceremony after the regular sermon one Sunday night and when we got home, my brother threw a fit because he wanted his feet washed! My parents had to do it for him before he'd calm down and go to sleep! I remembered everything that happened and although my parents stopped attending church when we moved to Huntington, I didn't forget what I'd learned. My grandmother was a Christian and loved going to church and even when years passed by and we were in Kodiak, she still attended church every chance she got and I'd go with her. It was there that I gave my life to Jesus. I truly needed a friend that Sunday and when the Pastor asked if there was anyone that wanted to have Jesus for a life-long friend, I went forward in the church and accepted Christ as my Savior. I was 12.
The mountains surrounding us were covered in all sorts of trees. Some of the trees had fruit and daddy would take me exploring. One of the fruits was called a "Paw Paw" and they were like mangoes, but had no huge pit in the middle. They were sweet and juicy and I loved exploring with my dad. On some days, he'd take David and me walking while mom made dinner and we'd walk by the river where there were beech nut trees and all you had to do was run your hand down the stems and you'd have a handful of beech nuts to eat. There was a railroad track there too and there was a hand car and my dad would put us on the car and move the handle up and down and we'd move down the track a bit. There was a sand house for the kids to play in as well, and all the kids would gather there. When we'd go home for dinner, you could smell the good food and mom always laughed when I'd show up for meals no matter where I was playing. The roads were just dirt but it was soft like sand and I went barefoot in the summer. I remember once that dad had been building a screen door for the summer weather so we could leave the heavy door open and let the air in. I was outside playing and got a piece of wire in my foot. Later on that day, grandmother was going to take us to Ohio to get ice-cream cones and they stopped briefly and I ran in to the doctor's office and he took the wire out of my foot. He gave me a band aid and a lollipop and I was quite content. The ice cream that I liked was black walnut ice cream and it was one of about 20 different flavors they made. The trip was fun and often we'd go with grandmother to the river and in the shallows, she'd park her car and we'd get out and wash it, and then ride inner tubes in the river. Summer was fun, but once I got a wasp sting in my back and that was quite painful! My dad took me in the house and took the stinger out of my back and put medicine on it. I was my dad's favorite.
I can remember clearly the day my parents were talking about moving to the city. I was 8 years old and was sitting on the sofa reading the Sunday funnies and I heard what they said. I didn't know if I'd like it or not, having always lived in Ameagle. Little did I know that would be the first of many "moves" and would never feel quite at home. The mines were closing down and a lot of people had to move. Now the place is a forest and no one lives there nowadays. We moved to a little red house that wasn't big enough for us. We weren't there very long and moved into a bigger two story house and we were there for about a year. Then we moved again....several times in 3rd Grade and I was in about 5 different schools that year and ended up in the school I started out in. Then we moved to Washington Street and my brother and I attended Washington Elementary school and we were there for several years. We lived in an old fashioned Victorian 2 story house with a widows walk and a huge yard with an apple tree. My dad put a swing in the tree and a huge swing on the porch for the adults. I can remember sitting in the swing in the summer and on weekends and read and read. I'd sit straddled on the swing and just gently swing from side to side while reading. My brother would be off playing with his friends which I was thankful for. My baby sister was born while we lived there. She had strawberry blonde hair at first, but it turned dark later on. She was a pretty baby and I'd come home for lunch every day when I was at school, just so I could hold her and feed her. Once she wet on me and I had to change clothes before I could go back to school! But I loved her. I was 10 years old when she was born. I regret that we were so far apart that we weren't very close. Years later when we tried to be close to each other, it just never worked out. We were as different as night and day. To this day we never talk or see each other and it is something I regret and wish I could have made it work out. Just too many years between us.
The weather was something I loved there. The cold snowy winters, the balmy breezes of spring, the hot humid summer with it's thunder storms and hail, and then the fall when all the hills and valleys turned colors. Here in California you don't have seasons and if I could change anything that's what it would be. I'd add seasons here and it would be the perfect Camelot of my dreams. I have a wonderful family though and I could not ask for more. I will be quite content with my California sunshine and I am at home once more. I've lived here longer than any place else, and it really has become my home. I'll wrap this up for now and go and make some delicious hamburgers for dinner. It's a quiet evening and some of our favorite TV shows will be on later, so I hope you've enjoyed this little excursion into the past with me and that you'll find enough here to keep up your interest and will come back for more. So Jack, I hand the pen to you and leave you to your memories and experiences of your young life. Best wishes to all and I hope you leave a comment as to whether you have enjoyed your excursion into the past.
When we last visited young Master Jack, it was 1954. He was five years old, and living at his fourth address. There was one more of these transient addresses left for me to visit, but it was at this time that I would become aware of the condition of childhood, so I've put it together with my last more stable home, because that awareness generates a lot of the important background about the man that I became. It is best treated as a unified whole.
Sometime very early in 1954, we moved to a fourplex in North Park at 2548 Landis St. In the picture, the front of the building is facing the camera, and the four apartments were arranged in a square, two upstairs, and two down. Each apartment was long and narrow, running front to back, and was arranged as a long hallway with the rooms off to the side. We lived on the ground floor, street side, and above us lived a man named Mr. Hurey who my caregivers described as a troll who hated noise, so I'd better keep quiet! He gave me a plainly homemade toybox that was so well made that my twins had it for most of their childhood. Maybe it was them who hated noise...
This house was slightly less than two miles from the one on Fairmount, which means that the last four houses I had lived in were in easy walking distance from each other; that should bring home the humor in the "Gypsy" part of the title. Anyway, from this house, I attended Jefferson Elementary for the second semester of first grade, and all of second. My first grade teacher was Miss Cook, who was young and cute, and who took off for two weeks, and returned as Mrs. Weaver. She was still young and cute, I liked her a lot, and she participated in the event that formed the foundation of my view of the institution of public schools to this day.
Another boy went to her and told her that I had kicked him in the face. Not maliciously, mind you, I was just "kicking around," apparently doing chorus line kicks for no particular reason, and hit him through carelessness. Even though there wasn't a mark on him, she asked me what I was thinking to do something like that. Knowing full well that nothing of the sort had happened, I denied it. She decided that I was lying about the event, took me to the principal, and reported the incident as such. I was spanked by the principal, suspended for three days for lying, not for kicking, sent home with a letter, spanked by great-grandma, put on room restriction, and spanked again when grandma got home from work. I never trusted anyone from the school system again, from superintendent to assistant janitor.
Didn't much trust the grandparents after that, either, willing as they were to believe anything bad they were told about me, truthful or not. My best friend from my teenage years once told me that the strongest vibe he got from me was my powerful sense of justice. I made some joke about being a Libra (the scales, you know), and moved on, but it might be that this is where it began. If so, then this event gave me a lot more than it took away, but it's impossible to say that with any certainty.
In any case, it was here that I discovered the enchantment of having friends my own age. Halfway down that block on the right side of Arnold Street lived Johnny Wallace. He was half white, half Mexican, and 100% boy. In another time, he would have been Tom Sawyer, playing hooky as he ran from one adventure to the next. He turned me on to baseball in his backyard, and Monopoly (though I had no idea at that age what the symbolism meant). His mom was a sweet Mexican lady, always ready with the milk and cookies. Often joining us on our adventures was Paula Nellie, a tomboy who lived in the corner house out of the picture to the left. I liked Paula a lot, but didn't think of her as a girl, just a playmate. She was a chunky little thing with a round, cherubic face surrounded by short brown hair, and she had cap guns on the rack next to her dolls.
I did have some idea what girls were all about, though, because I had what passed for a girlfriend at school. Gail Garbus was her name, and she was a vision of loveliness. Petite, a pixie face in a halo of golden hair, and often wearing a white fur coat, we would walk around the schoolyard with our arms around each others' shoulders, blissfully unaware of what the gesture meant. The difference between then and now is that the school didn't have me arrested for molesting her. Those were simpler times...
Eventually, the time came to move. Every move before this had been a grand adventure, but this one was an unmitigated disaster. I had these three close friends who meant the world to me; they were my sanctuary from all the child-hating, strap-wielding adults I had to deal with, and I cried my eyes out over having to go. But go, we did...
...to 982 Manor Way in Point Loma. You'll recall my great uncle Bill, the Air Force officer. He had joined the Army Air Corps before WWII to get flying lessons. Came the Great War, he was recalled to serve as one of the pilots of Axis Ass Ache, a B-17 flying out of North Africa to strike targets in Southern Europe. Following the war, he tried civilian life again, only to be recalled again for Korea, where he flew F-86 Sabres. This time, he took the position that, "You aren't going to let me get a civilian career off the ground, so you're stuck with me," and the Air Force became his career. In the summer of 1955, he had a vision, I suppose, of where the housing market was about to go, so he bought his retirement home in the very affluent neighborhood of Point Loma, and installed his mother, rent free, as caretaker. Since his mother was my great-grandmother, I came with the package. The garage in the picture had been converted to a bedroom, with windows across the front as wide as the garage door, and that became mine. Very nice! The little window to the left of the door was the kitchen, and the bay window to the right was the living room. The other bedrooms were in the back.
We moved in during the summer before third grade, and the second morning, about a dozen kids arrived at the front door, introduced themselves, and invited me out to play. Included in that group were two of the three Horton brothers, Todd and Tim. If you want to know the significance of that, do a Wikipedia search for Alonzo Horton... And Horton Plaza while you're in there. They, and presumably some of the dads, had built a soap-box car that had a fully enclosed body, and I got several turns to drive it as some of the other kids rode hanging on the sides and so on. The great feature of this car was that the steering was roped backward; turn left, go right. That made for some excitement, let me tell you!
This little development was a square block of houses, both sides of the street, with one bare street where Talbot climbed up to the crest. It's still that way, as you can see if you Google a map of the area. There were probably 30 houses around those three streets, and a quick calculation tells me there were over twenty kids of roughly equivalent age in those houses. We could field two full baseball teams at the drop of a hat, and our hide-and-seek games were epic! Westerns were all the rage during my childhood, and we all, boys and girls alike, strapped on guns, chaps, and ten-gallon hats, and turned the block into an old-west town every Saturday morning.
From third grade, when I turned seven a month into the school year (and had my only kids-invited birthday party), through sixth, when I turned ten, everything went along just fine. I was part of this great Spanky-and-Our-Gang scufflin' crew that did fun stuff, got into mischief, had each others' backs, and just generally treated life as our personal playground. Despite my cold and austere home environment, it was a wonderful childhood, and I feel profoundly sorry for today's kids who can't go down to the mailbox unless a parent is standing in the door with a shotgun, and who can expect to be thrown out of school for pointing a finger and saying "bang" to a playmate. I've heard many in my generation say that today's kids are dolts who can't do anything but push buttons. I don't buy into that myself, but if it does turn out to be true, all they will have done is to live down to the expectations of the jackasses who pass themselves off as educators these days. But that's another post (and don't think I won't revisit it!).
Beginning with seventh grade, which was the beginning of Junior High School back then, kids began socializing with the opposite sex, and they became aware of money. This process took the form of a sort of gradual, building culture shock. I was in a neighborhood I didn't belong in, financially. I went to school with the children of moguls in the clothing industry, defense contractors, medical suppliers, founding fathers of San Diego, and because of the way we came into the neighborhood, being what would have been the servants had the homeowners lived in our house, my education was about to begin.
We did a lot of our shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. The clothes I wore to school were last year's model, and these kids were well aware of it. Kids I was in class with would buy their lunches with $20.00 bills. That was the equivalent of about $150.00 today. I know; I looked it up. Once, and sometimes twice a month, my aunt would come over and give me a dime. That's what passed for an allowance. These kids were aware of that, too. From being a popular member of that Little Rascals crew, I went almost overnight to being a castigated outcast, someone who was the butt of jokes and ridicule from every quarter. This is how I can tell you that if you don't have an experience like this in your personal background, you seriously cannot imagine in your wildest dreams the contempt that these people hold you in, simply because you aren't sitting on more money than anyone could possibly need. Look at your politicians. Do you know one that isn't rich? Well, if you do, that is the only one who doesn't believe in his heart of hearts that you are lower than whale poop at the bottom of the ocean.
It was rampant and life-changing. A few girls took a liking to the way I looked and treated me as potential boyfriend material... Until their parents looked us up in Dunn & Bradstreet, and couldn't find us there. I could always tell the day that this had happened, as they had been directed (I like to think) to avoid me like I was a diseased dog. The only thing that kept me from turning out a much darker person was Chip.
Walter David Hanika, son of Roy A. Hanika, owner of Burlingame Surgical Supply, the largest supplier to doctors and hospitals on the west coast, approached me at lunch within the first couple of days at Richard Henry Dana Junior High School. He had attended a different elementary school, and didn't know me from Adam, yet he walked up to me with that long, narrow horse face of his, the black-rimmed glasses, and that infectious smile, loudly calling, "Helloooooooo, Tyler!" Whereupon he sat down beside me, carefully examined his cafeteria hot dog to determine whether it was right- or left-handed, and proceeded to eat it with his left hand. This magnificent show about tired, capable heroes called Combat! had just started, and along with one of my friends from Sunset View Elementary, Craig Burke (great-nephew of Admiral Arleigh Burke; see what I mean?), we discussed what we had seen in the last episode.
Thus began a friendship that lasted well beyond high school, through his college days and my military service, until we finally drifted apart because recreational drugs came between us. But that, too, is a story for another post. We stayed in that house until 1974, when my uncle retired and came to take over his property. He did right by his mom and sister, getting them a house in Lemon Grove; that was my cue to take control of my own life. I had served in the navy from 1965 to 1969, came back to the old homestead, and began looking for the job that could parlay my navy experience into a civilian career. Within a couple of months, my great-grandmother fell and broke her hip, and basically never walked again. There was no question of grandma being able to afford a nurse, so I put my life on hold and assumed that role for the next four years. Chip brought a walker-chair from the store that she used free of charge until she passed on in 1975 at the age of 87. During that time, I walked the neighbors' dogs, cut grass at the local Little League field, and held a menial job behind the counter of a dry cleaning store in the little center across Talbot Street, bringing in a little money, but always close at hand.
At the age of 12, I had spent two weeks during the summer living with my mom in a Monterey hotel, and returned again at 14, staying to spend the first semester of 10th grade attending Monterey Union High School. That was when one of those contrived emergencies came up, and I was sent back to San Diego to resume life with my grandparents. Ironically, I was good with that. At Monterey High, I was almost a celebrity, as I was from the big city, where all those kids were trying to escape to. I was accepted by popular cliques, had girlfriends, was friends with seniors, and through them, college kids. I would walk down the street with my sophomore friends, and cheerleaders from Monterey Peninsula College would pull over to the curb, call me by name, and offer us rides; I was viewed by my friends as a minor god. Stupid as only a young teenager can be, I couldn't wait to get back to San Diego.
So it transpired, and I suffered through another year of condescension, and mental and physical abuse until during the summer following 11th grade, I was sent back to Monterey to try it again. About a month before school started, I was told I would be attending 12th grade there. I still didn't get it, and announced, "Over my dead body!" Mom and I worked out an agreement by which I could join the navy on a minority enlistment if I could pass my G.E.D.s. That was the navy's requirement; mom couldn't care less where I was, as long as it was somewhere else. Long story short, I took a week's worth of tests in a single day, passed them all with flying colors, and was given a report date of October 12th, 1965. Columbus Day, five days after my 17th birthday. Thus was I ushered into adulthood, at an unexpected time by unexpected means. I have made it my personal philosophy, and tried to teach my own children, to always be ready to turn on a dime, thrive in the chaos, and make the surprises work for you. I guess this is where it started, and it makes a fitting end point for this phase of the journey. There are a million stories tied up with this address, and I'll probably get to all of them, but not today. I'll see you again in a week or so, when I'll talk about my aunt Marie. Until then, get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
It seemed to me that our drive to Minnesota was taking forever. Then, one night we drove all night and my brother and I fell asleep in the back seat. Upon waking, I felt frozen! I grabbed a sweater and covered up as much as I could. We had arrived. The morning was just beginning to dawn and the sky was still dark with patches of grey. We stopped to get something to eat at a restaurant in Duluth, and then we checked into a motel. The food was good and it was the first thing to feel normal in a while. The motel was nice, but the city of Duluth was dark and dingy and the tall buildings blocked the sunlight from the main street. I loved Beatle music, Paul was my favorite Beatle, and the radio was playing softly when I woke up the next morning. My Dad made arrangements with another Sailor who worked at the Admin building to stay at their place until we could find a house. We stayed at their place for a couple of days and they let me sleep in their Granddaughter's bedroom which was very nice of them. She was away with friends for a bit and wouldn't be back until later in the week. I don't remember her name now, but their house was really nice.
A couple of days went by with my Mom and Dad looking for places to live. Then one day they came back and Dad said, "Let's go home!" I thought for some reason we were going back to San Diego, but alas, after we drove for about 20 minutes, he pulled up in front of a beautiful house, and said, "this is it!" My heart fell to my feet all over again. We went inside and it really was beautiful. But I laid on the carpet in the living room and contemplated my revenge. I'd get even for this....oh yes I would! My parents made whatever arrangements needed to be made for our furniture to be delivered. We slept on the floor I think with blankets and stuff out of the car. The mornings were frigid even though it was the middle of June. Once our things arrived, I got busy moving my things into the far bedroom where there were corner windows. It would be cold in there in the winter, but I had no clue. I fixed up my room, and it offered some little comfort. Familiar things, in an unfamiliar environment. I moved a big easy chair into one corner and I got busy writing to my friends, and to my boyfriend. I had mailed them a postcard half way across the country but just hadn't had the interest in writing any more. I just wanted to get to our destination and start figuring out a way to get back to San Diego.
My Dad worked out in Duluth, and our house was in Cloquet. That was about 20 miles west of Duluth. So he had the convenience of coming home after each night's work, except when he had the duty. That meant he had to stay overnight and come home the next morning after his relief checked in. A couple of times he took David, my brother, and myself with him, but I found it boring and didn't repeat that activity! I wrote my boyfriend again because I hadn't gotten a response from the first one. I was beginning to develop the feeling that he just had other interests now that we were gone from California. I felt the cold fingers of depression starting to wrap around my mind, and I began hibernating in my room. I was out of school, and there were no colleges there that I could afford. Not that I had the interest in them... I was bored to death. The girls there seemed to all have short blonde hair, and were nature lovers. I loved to dance and go to the beach and spend the weekends with my friends and sleeping over. So different.
The summer months passed by slowly. Rainy days were prevalent. We had a large yard and the grass needed no watering like our yard in San Diego. The lawn mower came in handy... The houses were situated on a circle of land that was everyone's back yard. There were no fences marking boundaries...just open space and beautiful grass. I had a few babysitting jobs there and earned money for my clothes. I turned on the radio first thing every morning and one morning my mom said to me, "When are you going to get a job and help pay these electric bills!?" I was floored. Where would I find work? There was a paper mill in the little town of Cloquet where almost everyone worked. Besides, I was still angry about being there and I had no interest in working or going to school. One day I checked myself out in the bathroom mirror, and there were circles under my eyes and I just didn't look right to myself. I had no idea why, but it was an odd feeling and would make itself known again and again later on in my life.
One day I stepped outside the front door to get the mail. There was a letter from my boyfriend and I was so happy. I opened it and read it and there were words in it that I had dreamed the night before. It was weird the connection we had. I'd hear a song we both liked, or dream an odd dream, and the next day or so I'd hear from him. I had met him in Kodiak when he was there to be with his Dad for his Junior year. He was from Sunnyvale California and he had shown me pictures of his high school there and his friends. He was very friendly and funny and I liked him a lot. We had been writing for about a year when we moved to Minnesota. I answered his letter right away, like I always did. He said he had gone to Alaska on a cruise trip and he was one of the bus boys. He got to see his Father and step-mother and then came back to San Francisco. He had moved out of his Mom's house and she was upset with him, but he had turned 18 in May and she had no control over him anymore. He had an apartment and was always working in one job or another. I felt better once I started getting mail from my friends in San Diego. I liked the change in the seasons which we didn't have in California. It was pretty much very mind there and I missed it. But there were all sorts of trees in Minnesota and when the leaves fell, the yards and streets were covered in orange, brown, and gold leaves. I have to admit it was a beautiful sight, but it was not enough to make me stay there.
I can't begin to cover all the time I spent in Minnesota. I mean, it wasn't much over 10 m,onths and I got money from my Grandmother and my Mom gave me money. I made arrangements with my best friend in San Diego, to stay at her parent's house and the only requirement was that I helped with the housework and things like that. I was delighted. My Dad was argumentative and he treated my Mom badly. One day I told her that if she wanted to stay with him when he was so mean to her, that was her business. But as for me, I was going home. She begged me not to leave and told me I was the only one in the family that my Dad was afraid of. I had gone off on him one morning when I heard him saying how much he had given up for us and al his sacrifices, and I was just furious! I marched into the kitchen and slammed one of the breakfast chairs into the floor as hard as I could. I never cursed, but that morning I just went off! I told him that he was a selfish and stingy man and that he never did anything for anyone that would inconvenience him. He had moved us so many times I had just given up making friends. He drove me to suicidal thoughts with his carelessness and inconsiderate way of living. He made me so mad I could have choked him and he left the house. I don't know where he went and didn't care. I was leaving and that was final!!
There were days of deep depression for me there. I spent far too much time in my room, writing and reading. Then one day, I began feeling the strong feeling that I should read my Bible. I would lay on my bed and read, and the words seemed to jump off the page and into my mind and heart. I kept reading and reading, and then began reading our books on the mind and how the brain works and things of that nature. Sometimes I wouldn't sleep for days, just staying up reading and writing in my room. One night I noticed my Mom had bathed and set her hair and she was sitting on the sofa reading a magazine. Dad was off doing something, or at work...I don't remember. But I felt pity for her and it gave me a feeling of strength and determination in me, that I would never let any one treat me like my Dad treated Mom. My Mom had always been a quiet and gentle person. She followed him no matter where he was going. I wondered when the kids were going to matter. It just didn't seem like it mattered much about us or how difficult a time we were having. Nobody cared. At least that's how I felt. I grew more and more determined to leave. I felt a calling to follow whatever God wanted of me and one day I read that if my parents didn't take care of me, abandoned me, then He would take me up. So I told Him if he'd be my Father, I'd do whatever He asked of me. I knew that meant being on my own and following my thoughts and living a life connected to God no matter where it took me or what I had to do. I felt sorry for the whole world. They seemed to live in a delusion that wasn't real. They seemed to be living in a false reality. Like they were all hoodwinked into something that had a power over them. I wanted no part of it...I had been shown something more. Something different....like I was the only one in the world who could break this hold and set them free. Thoughts began to flood into me and I got into automatic writing. I don't know where all the things I wrote ended up, but I had been found of God and the papers were just a way I had of staying connected to God and this new reality.
At this point, I will say good bye for now. I have to try to remember all the things that happened and put them in order, and I'll be back after Jack's next time to post. I have a lot of ground to cover, and I think I'll go back in time when I make the next entry, to my childhood and it all ties in to the way I've lived my life. It will become clearer as I tie things from the past, into the present. There is a pattern I never would have believed. It all made sense to me. No one else knew my thoughts or desires or dreams. It was just me and God. So I hope you enjoy reading this, Grandkids and whoever else is interested. It's the story of my life and it follows a curving road...like the song by the Beatles "The Long and Winding Road". "Nowhere Man" was also a song I loved...it was about my Dad.... the fool on the hill.
So Stay tuned and if you have any comments to make, feel free to express yourselves!
Top o' the morning to ye! I promised, and shall deliver, a story about the places I lived as a child, but first, a self-serving piece of political fluff. Today is my 65th birthday, the gateway to the golden years, and for the past week I have been looking at "celebrating" it as a laid-off Federal employee, not knowing whether I would be in my house a month from now. This morning, my boss called to tell me to resume my schedule, and that we are going to be paid; see, I'm in Defense.
That was a great birthday gift, and no joke, but there are still 4-500,000 of us who are waiting it out, day by day, as their savings dwindle and they have to choose between milk and diapers for their babies. This is wrong. I don't care what moral or political compass you follow, it is wrong to treat your loyal employees this way. I have read a number of comments on the internet extolling the government to "Lay 'em all off! We don't need any of 'em!" I can ignore those people, because that view is so far past ignorant that the only people who can seriously espouse it are brain-dead swamp people whose parents are brother and sister.
As for everyone else, you don't have to be on the Federal payroll to be hurt by this. If you fly in airplanes, visit National Parks, travel abroad, or like to eat meat that isn't being sold with botulism as the secret ingredient, if you're hoping for a tax return or have a question about your Social Security benefits, if you're a poor single mom who depends on WIC to feed your baby, or counted on the CDC for your annual flu shot, this is hurting you! I would like to suggest a solution: STOP VOTING FOR THE DAMNED INCUMBENTS! If you would like to see our broken government changed, that isn't going to happen if you keep voting the same people into office who benefit personally from their own mismanagement of the system.
*All right, Jack, take a breath. People at large are too stupid to change and you know it, so move on...*
I'm told the first place that I lived was down on "C" Street south of San Diego. I'm afraid I don't remember a thing about it. My first memories, flickering, ghostly near-still pictures imbued with that fleeting motion of a stack of kinescope cards, come at 2881 University Ave in the San Diego neighborhood of North Park. The address was in the middle of the block, but the Thrifty Drug store was on the corner, and the apartments were entered by a dark staircase that opened off the street in the middle of the block. They occupied the second and third floors of the building on the left side of the photo. The drug store is long gone, and there seems to be a small theater that has incorporated the second floor, but the third floor apartments appear to have survived. I would have turned three in this apartment. We were on the second floor, and I have a precious few memories. I would get a pot out of one of the low cabinets, take it to my great-grandmother, and say, "cook!" No memory of whether she would or not.
I remember eating fillet of sole in the diner that was part of Thrifty's. It was full of bones, and I became quite the expert at removing them as I ate, sort of like that trick of tying a knot in a cherry stem (no, I never learned that one...). I remember the man who lived upstairs who would come in from work and drop his shoes, about 30 seconds apart; that saying, "Waiting for the other shoe to drop" never confused me a bit! I remember going shopping with grandma down on the street. The butcher would always give me a cold hot-dog when we came in, and there was an appliance store that would put televisions on display around the door. At least once, I witnessed a college football game on those TVs, and was terrified that I would be made to play football when I got older; were it so easy... It was here that I learned to read, following along with great-grandma as she read the funnies to me. I was too young to get the humor, and to this day I don't laugh when I read comedic material. Doesn't mean I don't get it, though.
And I remember my half-brother, Don Christianson (are you out there somewhere, Donny? Are you reading this?), wrapped up in infant swaddling lying on the couch, which was just about at my eye-level back then. My little three-year old self had no way of knowing that his dad was loading the bags in the car, preparing to take him home to Tacoma, Washington, and that I would never see him again. Probably just as well; I was too young to be accepting abandonment as a lifestyle...
From there we moved about a mile-and-a-half to the City Heights area, to this cute little house at 4045 Manzanita Drive, perched on the rim of Wabash Canyon. There's a freeway down there now; back in 1952, it was a wilderness area as wild and untamed as central Alaska. Manzanita was a dirt road, and I remember watching the paving crew asphalt it. Had a birds-eye view from the corner of the raised yard at the lower right corner of the photo. I turned four here, and got a tricycle. There was a lady across the street who had two boys, not twins, named Gary and Terry. Both were a little older than me, and they had a game where one would distract me while the other stole my toys. Periodically, their mom would return a batch of them. She drove a Hudson Hornet, and even at 4, I somehow understood that it was a high-performance car; perhaps the name "Hornet" was what tipped me off, who knows?
It was here that I became aware of my great-uncle Bill. William Harvey Holt, great-grandma's son. He was a Major in the Air Force while I was here, and went on to retire a Major General. He had flown B-17s in WWII, Sabres in Korea, and would go on to fly Phantoms in Viet Nam. More on him later... I remember playing with his son, who he called "Doody," and having an infantile crush on his daughter, Christine, a cute little blonde who knew it, and kept herself aloof from us icky boys. She would have been, I don't know, 8, while Bill Jr. was maybe 10. The main thing I remember is how decent they were to a little kid who must have been a real pest to them. Class does come through. I also remember that my uncle was friends with Bill Vukovich, though I never met him. For a while, we had a midget race car body stored in our garage, and my uncle may have raced with him before he became a legend. Classic case of two friends going their separate ways.
From that house, we moved less than a mile to another cozy little cottage at the corner of Dwight and Fairmount (on the right in the photo). I was here until I was on the verge of being six. Very few memories stand out. I went to my first school here, Hamilton Elementary. I walked to and from; those were simpler times... The criterion for what point you entered school then was whether you could read. I could, so I skipped kindergarten, and began in first grade, making me younger than most of classmates for the rest of my school experience. I had to get a polio shot, which was given by a cute candystriper; I never felt a thing! Polio was a big real-life terror back in the day, and every kid must have known someone who wore the leg braces, or a steampunk contraption on an arm. Some were even confined to iron lungs. Google that, and try to imagine what the quality of life must have been like. I've been doing a lot of whining on this blog, but things could have been a lot worse!
We got our first TV at this house, a small black-and-white set, and I would watch the westerns that were so prevalent back in the day, while seated astride an oval coffee table, shooting an unloaded cap gun (no caps in the house, young man!) at the screen. It was on this TV, in this house, that I met Commando Cody. Horses? This guy flew a rocketship, and battled the villains with ray guns! All during my childhood, I had the western rig to play cowboys with my friends, but CC captured my heart early, and stood up to take charge whenever I was choosing entertainment forever after.
I should point out that all during the time I have described, I was being raised by my grandmother and great-grandmother, with my mom popping in for holidays, and seeing my great-uncle once a year, as he took military leave to visit his mother. Grandma had been Rosie the Riveter during WWII, and was one of the fortunate women who was able to keep her job when the men came home. She had worked for Lockheed during the war, churning out P-38s, and later found employment with Convair. It was either here or at the Manzanita house that great-grandma and I would sit up waiting for her to get home from the swing shift sometime in the vicinity of midnight. We would listen to a swing band on the radio, and I would eat "butter-crackers," basically Ritz crackers with butter. I was a weird kid...
I had planned to cover all of my childhood homes in this post, but this is already pretty long, there are more left, and they are the ones with the more detailed and extensive memories, so I'm going to leave it here. I'll pick it up next time it's my turn. Meanwhile, I'm sure Bonnie will have some entertaining tidbits for you, so I'll see you in a week or so. Don't be afraid to use that chat room we've set up. It's for your convenience, and offers direct and quick access to the bloggers in question. We're aquiver with anticipation! Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
It may not sound much different than a normal school, and normal experiences at school, but after 3 years in such a miserable place as Kodiak, being in San Diego itself was a wonderful experience for me. In the years at Kodiak, I did begin a brand new relationship with Jesus Christ, and I did get to spend 2 weeks at Woody Island on a spiritual retreat with the pastor and several of the Bible School staff and about 25 other attendees. We shared our life experiences, and we had Secret Pals that we'd do things for. We had chores to do, but mostly it was reading passages from the Bible and campfires and singing in the evenings before bedtime. When I look back on those years, I see that there was a purpose for me having been there. It was part of the plan for my life. But the weather was terrible, and the school was nothing like what I'd experienced in Virginia Beach. I had attended a huge school, was in the band, and had a future expectation of attending Princess Anne High School and being in the band there as well. When my Dad told us one evening that he had new orders, and we'd be moving again, was bad enough. When he said he had orders to move to Kodiak, Alaska, I was floored. I couldn't believe it! Alaska!? No one could believe it when they heard the news. We had no say in the matter, because we were just kids. I don't know how it affected my brother, who was 9 at the time, but it was awful for me. I made a lot of friends in Kodiak, and they made life somewhat bearable for me, but I was so glad when the 3 years were ending and we would be moving again. I didn't care where, just somewhere off the island. My Dad informed us that we were moving to the San Diego area of Southern California, and I was elated! I'd always heard about California, and now I'd get to see it for myself! The warmest it ever was in Kodiak was around 65 degrees in the summer. There was one TV station and that went off at 9:00. There was one radio station and it played modern music, but it was nothing like it was stateside and there was one movie theatre in town and one on the base. We lived in town because my Dad wasn't an officer. The roads were mud most of the time. There was one paved road through town and out to the Naval Station, but the rest was just dirt. The houses were so poorly made that they called it the Cardboard Kingdom. It was so poorly constructed, that one winter the winds were so strong they ripped an entire garage off of a house in the street below us, and it moved the garage down the street and parked it in someone's yard. The days were gloomy and grey and in the winter, it was dark in the mornings when we were going to school, and dark when we came home. We did get to see the Northern Lights, and that was beautiful. But I was so miserable I had gained a lot of weight, and I went on a diet when it was getting close to time to leave, and I remained on it until I had lost all the weight I'd gained since we'd been there.
In May of 1963 our tickets for the flight to "freedom" were purchased, and we had moved to the barracks while our furniture was being packed and getting ready to be shipped to San Diego. After a couple of days at the barracks, we got ready to go to the airport, which was a little shack beside the runway, and we boarded the plane that would take us to Anchorage, and we made a stop at one of the other islands. Then we got to Anchorage and we boarded a Boeing 707 and began our flight to Seattle, Washington. The flight was uneventful and I was so anxious to see what Washington was like. Soon we were on our flight to San Diego, and we flew low over the San Francisco area and saw the Golden Gate Bridge. Then on to L.A. I've already discussed my initial reaction to the weather when we landed in San Diego, and I was not prepared for the hot summer we would be experiencing, but I loved it.
Now, knowing how Kodiak was for me, you can see why I loved San Diego as I did. It seemed like our parent's didn't know how we felt about anything. The year at C.P.H.S was like a dream come true. Take it from me, there was no comparison between the two states. We had so much fun that year. Then my Dad came home from the 9 month deployment he'd been on. But even that wasn't as great as it could have been, because he said we were moving AGAIN, and this time to Minnesota! Another cold place and I was sure it was covered in pine trees. I'd grown to hate them in Kodiak....I preferred the palm trees of San Diego! I could not believe it. I had to tell my boyfriend we were leaving again, and my friends, and even though I had plans to attend Southwestern Junior College, my plans were smashed yet again and there was no convincing my Dad to let me stay in San Diego with my best friend's family. The moving van showed up about 2 weeks later, after graduation from C.P.H.S. and loaded up our things. We again slept on air mattresses the last night in our home, and the next afternoon, we left the house, locked it up, and went to say goodbye to our friends. I said goodbye to my best friend, and she had bought me a C.P.H.S. pin that had our graduation year attached with a chain. It was beautiful, and I cried. We both were crying, my brother and I, and I cried through 3 states I think. When we stopped in New Mexico, to spend a night, I had the worst headache ever. We had gotten in the pool at the motel, but soon afterward it began to thunder and lighting flashed through the skies. We got out of the pool and showered and dressed, and we went to a little restaurant and had dinner. I had coffee, and it helped to soothe my aching head. That night I couldn't sleep because the headache got so bad. As we had left California, the radio station we always listened to faded away in the distance. My boyfriend and I had exchanged Senior keys and the one he gave me began to fade in the hot weather. I hated the Navy for all the moving around. I didn't understand why they had to move us so many times and to such far away places. I missed my home and my friends and my boy friend, and my life. I had just begun to get a feel for being grown up and even though I was only 17 and a half, I had feelings and thoughts and hopes like anyone else. It didn't seem to matter to my Dad. He said we would do things his way, the NAVY WAY, and there was no discussion. I felt like he was so unfair. I secretly began to hate him. I thought he should have spent the time in Alaska on his own and left us state-side. Then, just as we were getting settled in really good in San Diego, we had to move again. It left me with a lot of sorrow and emptiness. I began to become acquainted with depression. It would haunt me for years afterward. Even though we move on and continue with our lives, we aren't necessarily a willing participant in the things that happen to us. Depression was a very ugly feeling. Nothing about it was good. But leaving California was a traumatic experience for me, and it didn't even occur to me that in a few short months I'd be 18 and could do whatever I wanted. I just felt like I'd been locked up in a prison and there was no way out. But that wasn't to be the case at all. In the next post, I will tell you about my life in Minnesota, and then my flight back home. I've been here now since 1965 and I am here to stay.
Stay tuned for the next unfolding layer of my life.
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!
E-mail subscriptions now available
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?!??