Monday, June 15, 2009

Rollingwood 1946

I do not remember celebrating Christmas at either the old or the new address, but it was probably in Alameda, where it would have been like other ones and so not remembered apart. And I had had some little Grade 7 in Alameda, which would have been in January 1946. I have no photos, a trunk and a box having later been lost, which included all my father's surviving negatives as well as prints: what I have I owe to my cousin M.E. who sent her mother's prints back to both me and my sister. The house, then brand new, of wood so green that things tended to mold, can be seen by getting the ground level view of Clarendon Court, Rollingwood, San Pablo, CA from Google Earth. Later tract houses are typically in worse condition. Perhaps the first post-war FHA funded ones were built best, or perhaps the building of Contra Costa College and the building of later developments on the hills where we went up and followed the shepherd and the sheep all over the rounded slopes served to protect Rollingwood from the worst deterioration. When we moved in there were military barracks style housing units across El Portal Drive, and a wash house, where I was not allowed to go, because a dead infant had been abandoned in it. (Don't think 'laundromat', since it pre-dated the front-loading and spinning, rather than agitating and wringing era). It was half understood that if you qualified for an FHA loan for Rollingwood, you and your family did not manage Life in that way. I knew that in "Little Women" babies were born at home, but in real life they were, so far as I had known, born in hospitals. Anyhow, nothing tempted me to walk into the Projects. So I walked virtuously along Road 20, unpaved and deep in dust, past the Projects to the shed that protected us from rain as we waited for the school bus to Roosevelt Jr. High in Richmond. In dry weather, May through September usually, we had sand fleas nearly to our knees by the time we got to the shed. I went alone, because the others were still in Elementary (I think the Rollingwood school was called El Portal, too, but I'm not sure). Thus my daily life was apart from the family. My sister and I were talking on the phone last night: Daddy had by then been let off at the shipyards? Was he trying to succeed by photography alone (he did get business, but it can't have been much)? Lorna remembers his working in clothing and shoe stores, and I have a dim recollection of such a job, too, but neither of us was sure of when. That he took every job he could I do not doubt. Neither of us is sure when he began at Swan's 10th Street Market in Oakland, but neither of us thinks it was from Rollingwood. The Market was a wonderful place, of which more later. file:///Users/patricialawrence/Desktop/Swan's%20Marketplace%20Photographs%20-%20Page%202.webarchive He built a darkroom in the attached garage of the Rollingwood house, and it was then and there, since I was tall enough to see into the trays, that he taught me how to handle the chemicals and the prints and assess the contrast as seen under the red safe light. He had a two-room Studio on San Pablo Avenue, where there were also palmists and cafes and bars and what not. As I said, it cannot have been profitable enough. I thought that I remembered a salesman enrolling my sister in tap dancing class while we were living in Clarendon Court and Daddy's taking pictures of her and her classmates at that time, because I seem to remember her practicing to The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers (78rpm) in that house, but she remembers it in connection with North 17th Street instead, and she probably is right, since it's her memory. Her prints of these photos were lost in a Texas tornado (the life of a young air force wife...), or I'd post them here.
Most of the time, while we lived there, things were fairly normal, though our mother had a fallopian pregnancy and our brother caught his jeans on a picket fence and broke his leg (and had another illness of whose nature I'm not sure). Nothing happened to me, apart from puberty shortly before I turned 12 (but see note at end here). I came to like the bus trips, looking out the windows and memorizing every detail. The worst hullabaloo was in the back of the bus. There was a polio scare that year, and as I recall it affected the house at the E. corner of Clarendon Court at Greenwood Dr. Most important to me was acquiring a black and white kitten that I called Comet for the marking on his nose. I was able to keep him through three houses.
When out of school I learned what housewife coffee clatches were, since my mother let me join her and Virgie and the other woman whose name I forget. They were careful of how they spoke in front of me, coy, and I never asked questions, even when they teased me. Girl children are self-protective, and I still wanted to know and understand things at the level of that Parent's Magazine-approved book, "Being Born". But I understood profoundly that adulthood might be simply the loss of aspiration and ideals and imagination and that 'love' might be not only different from the movies but different from the 19th century novelists, such as Jane Austen; certainly I hadn't read Madame Bovary yet and wouldn't have understood (or liked) it if I'd tried. There was a one-room library in San Pablo, and I read Edna Ferber (at best) and biographies. The librarian there was nice and posted several of my pictures there.
These are not philosophical essays, but I wonder whether adolescence is not easier, in some ways, when you really have something to fuss and worry about, such as whether some of the girls at Roosevelt Jr. High School may themselves have had babies that they dumped in wash houses or at the bus station.
Note: Both Lorna, though only age 9, and I earned pocket money by baby-sitting in Rollingwood.  I said, above, that nothing happened to me there.  Actually, one evening I went in this capacity to a home just around the corner (outside of Clarendon Court); the children were already put down and falling asleep, and the parents asked me, as they left, just to feed the dog.  It was a cocker spaniel, very cute.  But as I filled his bowl, then bent to set it down for him he leapt for my throat and got my right jaw rather than the jugular.  I telephoned, home I think; someone called the parents (anyhow, someone came to take care of the children I was to have watched); someone found a clinic where a doctor cleaned the wound, put seven stitches in it, dressed it.  I hated kids saying at school, hey, did a dog get you?  I have never argued with those who say that some breeds, at that time cockers, notably, were inbred and stupid.  Our big springer spaniel, Viffy, had been an altogether different spaniel.  That is how I completed the triangle of scars: the one where as a toddler I'd tumbled into the fireplace poker at 644, on the left jaw, the gold crown on my upper incisor where it had been broken, and the new one.  Now I usually forget about the scars that came from the wounds that took stitches, but both are still there.  The difference between me and my brother was that I healed quickly.