Monday, April 27, 2009

Starting a new home in Alameda at 1342


This picture was taken to be sent to family for Christmas of 1942.  We were not quite fully settled in the house yet, but the curtains had been hung.  True to their date, these had appalling patterns printed on them and had wooden rings to hang from instead of metal (they might, at this date, have had sharp hooks  and draw cords, but they hadn't).  The brown shingle house dated from about 1910, I think; it is still there and in good shape; the climate of coastal California is wonderfully gentle to wooden houses.  For the record, here I was nearly 8 1/2, Lorna would turn 6 on New Year's Day of 1943, Brucie would be 4 on Feb. 1, and Linda would be 2 on Jan. 12.  To me the little ones look younger than they were here.
I have always thought that we came to Alameda in the Model-A Ford, but I'm not sure.  It was followed by a series of later used cars, but I think we kept the Model A for a while.  When we got to Alameda, we found that the previous tenants had failed to vacate our house in time.  Somehow my father found temporary lodging.  Like many other families we profited (as did the owners of it) from someone's fitting their garage with a hot plate and a couple of double beds, which we rented for about a week.  I'm not sure, but I think we used an outhouse.  It was in the Webster Street (west) end of Alameda, where the Naval Air Station was and where, in 1942, anything at all habitable was in demand.  Like most children, I simply accepted the situation.  I wasn't in school, though.  Our own house was in the other end of town.
My idea of the War was still vague, and compared with moving to Richmond or Oakland, Alameda was an easy transition from San Luis Obispo.  It was family life that had changed.  My father was flat-footed, had four children, and was a bit old for the draft, but he had to get up around 5:00 am to take the government bus to the ship yards at Mare Island.  We saw much less of him, though he did everything he could with us on weekends.  My mother prepared for a new life by taking Red Cross courses in nursing.  She also thought of fulfilling dreams I hadn't known of to be a popular singer.  I don't know when it was that she got a singing coach.  In the local Little Theater she got a spot in the "Olio" (entr'acte) of their production of the melodrama "The Drunkard", singing the Jenny Song from "Lady in the Dark".  I think this was performed at the Alameda Hotel, or near it.  She had a Victorian costume of red silk with black trim (quite without reference to Kurt Weill).  I still know all the words to that cautionary tale.  It must have been shortly thereafter that she sang gigs at a place called the Gay 'n' Frisky in San Francisco (no, not what you think; it was just a service men's bar like all the others in that street, which was dubbed International Settlement).  Did she turn into a floozie?  No, I don't think so.  She always came home; I don't think she drank much; and, give sailors credit, she was plainly the mother of a bunch of kids.  Not that she was homely.  She just wasn't the attraction that she had dreamed of, a girl who probably thought of someone like Russ Colombo falling for her.  My father didn't stop her.  At some time she went on Ted Mack's—no, that's what my sister said, but I remember now, it was a local program and the MC called himself Budda (I think spelled that way), and I remember her singing "Long Ago and Far Away" (a very difficult song, yes) and hearing her on the air.  My sister remembers another song.  But I have promised not always to be dead right but to put down what I actually remember.  Who this 'Budda' was I do not know.  Google no help.  Coming home in someone else's car, from this or from, indeed, Ted Mack's amateur hour (but that one wasn't in San Francisco, was it?), she was in a car accident and hospitalized for some weeks.  I am not sure whether the night club work was before or after this.  I don't know whether the time she put in as a nurse's aid in the Alameda Hospital was before or after this.  I do not remember being exactly unhappy or afraid.  Perhaps we children were just living our daily children's life.  For me, school mattered a lot, but I thought, for the blog, I'd get this confusion out of the way first.  At this moment I am thinking how odd it is that children relate their own life so little to that of their parents.  A nice elderly lady named Mrs. Kimbrough stayed with the little ones when my mother had a day shift at the hospital.
What the life of child from 8 1/2 to 11 was during WW II was full of many other things, which I shall take one year at a time.
My grandparents must have come north at Christmas, 1942.  Brucie had an excellent all-wooden wagon that my grandfather made.  We had an all wooden gym set, with swings and a trapeze and a slide (with a sand pile at the foot of it) under the sycamore tree in the rear back yard (the lot was long and narrow, the anterior back yard had a patch of grass and some flower beds).  My grandfather had made that gym set.
The summer of 1943, my father enrolled all of us in nursery school.  With Lorna pushing and me pulling, we put the two little ones in the wagon and walked to the nursery school, about a mile from the house, every morning.  Thus we were fed and cared for, and it wasn't at all bad just for that length of time, except that they tried to get us to swallow cod-liver oil.  My father had to intervene for Lorna and me.  He also had left us a pot of oatmeal for breakfast.  No wonder that I was eager to do anything I could to help.  The others weren't big enough yet.