Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Early Months of 1948

Both my sister and I remember that our mother was with us for part of the time that we lived in two rooms, one equipped for housekeeping, in a residence hotel, a by-the-week hotel, on 7th Street between Broadway and Washington (i.e., not very far from the present, much refurbished Jack London Square). Not that we knew much about it, but we were only a couple of blocks from an honest-to-goodness burlesque, strip-tease theater (http://www.flickr.com/photos/therealdevildoll/1410990310/) but just as close to the Roxie (?)  movie theater, where, a little later, "The Red Shoes" ran to much acclaim for weeks and weeks. On the ground floor, below the whole of the hotel, was a Hispanic shop and restaurant, Mi Rancho, making tortillas continuously, selling phonograph records (78 rpm, shellac, of course), and so forth. To judge from its web page, it has prospered, at least recently. Lower downtown Oakland was not prosperous at all in 1948.
Our furniture was in storage. When my mother was absent, she was at the county hospital, committed for the effects of prescription drugs. That we were at this hotel permitted my father as much parenting as possible, since Swan's Market was only three blocks away. Often when he came home he took us out to walk, usually straight up Broadway, for the better part of an hour, for exercise, but we were not allowed to run around the streets of Oakland by ourselves. I must say that we came to no harm, though we saw plenty of winos on the street, and there were young women in the hotel who were street walkers. There was an open area at the intersection of two hallways, as I recall, where we children congregated and played (perfectly decently). I liked then, and I still like, Mexican-American children; they were friendly and, I repeat, decent. Lice could be a problem; impetigo was a problem with some children. We got together the idea of putting on a show for one another (and our families if they would come); it was nothing to write home about, since no one had talent or training or musical instruments, but it was harmless. One of the streetwalkers was very kind to the children and did up our hair for us, but not 'glamorously', and she never said or did anything even slightly inappropriate. When she asked if two of us could go shopping with her at Swan's, we were allowed. I think she wanted children with her as a sign that she was off duty and should be let alone. It would not have been a good place to grow up, but we were there (as I calculate) only a couple of months and, without our mother to tell us that we were too good for the other children, I might be a bit the better for this experience. In the end, we did not get lice or impetigo, and no one tried to tempt me or Lorna to have sex, either.
Since the #51 bus would take me straight to Alameda High School, I was given permission to enter Grade 9 there. I was 13 1/2 years old, and a few of my earlier Lincoln School classmates were there, in fact. I got a little Latin I, too, just a little. It did not occur to me that the word would have gotten round among the teachers that a girl from that neighborhood in Oakland would be in their classes. Some were careful not to let me sense that they knew where I was coming from, but a couple resented the pupil from out of town and let it be felt. So: it makes all the difference at which end of the Posey Tube you reside.
It can't have been for long. When I entered Elmhurst Junior High in East Oakland, I easily caught up in Spanish I instead of Latin I, and the rest of the curriculum was the same.