Friday, March 27, 2009

To make pictures go where desired, and to make a very short post for tonight.  It is best to group images, perhaps, if there is more than one.
First, though my mother's had a pattern woven in, the backdrop made for these pictures was a curtain made of 'monk's cloth'.
Second, these pictures were taken by way of thanking relatives who had sent me new dresses for my 3rd birthday.  Like all the snapshots that were sent around to relatives, they record the color, the cloth, the sender, the date in green fountain-pen ink on the back.  The one at left was yellow dimity, that at right was described as 'peasant style'.  These came back t0 me from my eldest cousin on my father's side after my aunt's death, along with many others.  So these are photos that I remember from my parents' own albums.
Third, however, exceptionally, I remember the taking of them.  I was deemed sufficiently recovered from a 'flu' to be dressed and re-dressed and posed.  The monk's cloth curtain was rigged, probably over the screen door.  My father had the folding Kodak on a tripod on the front walk.  Though I liked picture-taking, I did not really feel up to smiling, but was glad to do everything asked (such as putting my arms as my mother thought appropriate to a peasant-style dress).  Five of these poses survive.  I hadn't been crying, but I'd been gotten out of bed.  It was also the occasion when I learned, when my father put the light meter to his eye (I must look up how that pre-photoelectric cell meter worked) and told me to look for the birdie, I did look every time (so my eyes are neither downcast nor shut).  Afterward, and for a long time thereafter, I kept at my father and my grandfather to let me look into the light meters so I could see the birdie (which, of course, I never saw).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Learning language

A very brief post today.
One day when my mother was busy I remember asking (since I could reach the wash basin by standing on the bathroom stool) whether I might get a drink from the toilet.  My mother was horrified.  I don't know if either of us ever realized that I used 'toilet' for the whole bathroom, as in 'go to the toilet', but for quite a long time I refused to fill a cup for myself at the wash basin.  
Quite different.  One day, when we were playing in the sandpile, and my mother was taking in dry laundry, at the time as I was learning letters (well before I went to school), I kept naming strings of letters and asking her what they spelled.  "No, that's not a word."  But when I said, does A S S spell 'ass', she told me not to spell it or to say it.  Can I have been quite ignorant?  True, it is very easy phonetics.
One day, at the grandparents, I asked my grandfather for an apple.  He cut one in two, peeled and cored one piece, and said "Here's a half apple".  Then he cut the second piece in two, and said "Here's a quarter apple for you and a quarter for me."  The next day we got to sixteenths, which was about as far as my numbers went, except for just reciting by rote, which is merely preparatory.  That year when I was four, at Thanksgiving we had the china with six bundles of flowers around the rim.  While waiting my turn to be served, I kept looking at them and heard myself say "Three is six  in half, and two is six in threes", to myself, not expecting anyone to notice.  But they did notice.  They didn't know what my grandfather had been entertaining me with (one advantage of being a first grandchild or an only child).  Since then I have confirmed that almost any child between three and six can pick up the same insight.  I never could figure out why the teacher taught the rudiments of fractions year after year.
I thought of apples and flowers again much later when I learned that early civilizations had worked duodecimally, rather than decimally.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

644 pre-School kitchen snippets

There was a photo, which may be lost forever, showing me, aged about 4, washing my doll clothes on a child-size washboard, in a basin in the kitchen sink at 644.  Presumably, I was standing on a chair.  Presumably, because I remember the picture (the light was very photogenic, pouring through the window above the sink) but I don't remember the event.  Certainly it was posed, because there was no water in the wash basin (enameled metal, of course, there being no plastic yet).  Similarly, I remember (and here it is) a picture of my sister, just two, standing in the bassinet frame in expectation of our new baby, which would be a brother.  But in both cases, it is photos that I know; I don't have real memory of their being taken.  The snapshot I just posted also shows the rose trellis arching the end of our front walk; it is the rose trellis that I do remember.  In a family of avid photographers, I early formed a distinction between what I remember (what no one saw in many cases) and what I know very well but from photos.
So, no one took a photo of the stove we first had when we moved to 644, but I remember it very well.  It stood up on four legs and was connected to natural gas.  It was very safe; there were no pilot lights that could blow out, and no one, of course, turned on the gas before the kitchen match was lit and ready.  Good kitchen matches do stay lit, but if one was blown out by a draft from an opening door, for example, one turned off the gas jet and started over.  Simple.  Baking Christmas fruit cakes, though, required a little skill.  You didn't set your oven.  Today I'd set mine for 275° F.  You could buy an oven thermometer at Woolworth's or the hardware store, but we didn't have one.  My mother, like my grandmother, knew how high the gas flames had to be to keep the oven (each particular oven, not all being insulated the same) just right to produce fully cooked but unscorched fruit cakes after several hours, how many hours being determined by looking at them, once they were past being ruined by opening the door of the oven, and towards the end poking them with toothpicks.  After cooling overnight they were wrapped in waxed paper and dish towels (made of cotton sacking, such as was used for sugar) and stowed in drawers to age till Christmas.  Brandy might have helped them, but ours depended on molasses and as much glazed fruit and nuts as the dough would take.  Year after year, they were perfect.  Some old things were difficult, but others were not, and the danger of 100% manual gas stoves and heaters is largely an advertising myth.
Now, believe it or not, my mother actually won a new stove by completing a slogan ("in 25 words or less").  I think it was an Oxydol-sponsored contest, but couldn't swear to it.  She boasted of having won a Roper so faithfully that I am dead certain that the brand-name was Roper.  It did have pilot lights and a heat control on the oven.  It was white, too, at a time when most cooking stoves (unless you still had a black wood burner, and that was very rare indeed in California) were cream or green, that apple green.  The Roper even moved with us when we moved north after the War started.
In the small pantry area between the kitchen proper and the porch with the washing machine, beneath the shelving, was my toy box.  My grandfather had made it, in the shape of a box between the bodies of running dogs (I think dogs, not hares).  Blocks, stacking toys, and what not, were tossed in there for storage, and it seemed to me that I spent long hours doing not much more than picking up and putting down things in it.  Or putting together and taking apart.  Since I didn't take naps, perhaps an hour in the toy box instead of running all over and making demands took their place.  In the toy box: it was large enough for a pre-schooler to share with the toys.
In either house, our hair was washed by lying on our backs on the kitchen counter with our heads largely over the sink.  No one left a child unattended there.  But that reminds me of soap, since bar Ivory was used as shampoo (a little vinegar in the rinse).  When we spoke nasty things, that is, when we sassed or tried to frighten the littler ones or said one of the words that Daddy brought home from work, such as damn, or said peepee for urine, there was a time when my mother washed out our mouths with that same Ivory soap.  My next sister and I somehow divined that a teaspoonful of butter was the cure for soap (and, by the way, it is), and the cleansing of our naughty mouths with soap didn't last too long.  I remember, too, that the washcloth with which my mother washed our faces before coming to table often was "sour", and I hated the odor.  I still hate anything that has that stench.

Monday, March 23, 2009

More toddler snippets

My grandparents' neighbor, Helen K., had lived in their block about as long as they had, though she was younger. I guess she was born about 1910. Here she is standing in front of the house that my parents had rented till I was over 3 years old, with her own house in the background, taken in 1990. By sheer luck she came out to take a very short walk with her granddaughter, and I recognized her. By this time, though (it is typical), she called me by my mother's name. Fine. Time does fly, and I've already proven (to myself if to no one else) that the earliest memories stick best, formed when one not only had a growing brain but, so far, had less to store in it. The orange flowers are California poppies, not related to opium poppies. On Helen's front porch, stick-style, wisteria (or was it bougainvillea?—purple, though) bloomed. Just behind the chimney's position is her kitchen door and porch, the one used every day, especially for children, her son Mike being about 18 months younger than me. She always called my grandfather Teacher. Her husband was older and a traveling man, but I remember him smoking a cigar. Fascinating. Helen was inexhaustibly kind to me. She had a cookie tube (that is a tube like that used for cake decorating and similarly with different nipples to make different shapes of cookies: stars, flowers, snowflakes, and the like, and I never tired of watching her use it. In vain I begged my mother to make that kind of cookie. Mike had a play pen which Helen set out in the open shade in the driveway beside the kitchen door. I was too big to be allowed in with him (and, now that I think of it, my shoes had been all over the out of doors), so I tried to entertain him through the bars. Once, when the sprinkler was on, watering the backyard grass, and some trickled down into the hollow under the gate to the back yard, I very much enjoyed making mud pies, and gravy, so to speak, in it. I can still feel that smooth, cool, dark gray adobe mud. Helen took me in and used a fingernail brush (I think you'd call it) to clean my white shoes. My mother came and took me home.
I think that what I felt when my grandmother fished me out of the surf was the adults' shocked fear and relief. What I sensed when Helen had to save my shoes, and my mother had to thank her, was what I might now call humiliation. I don't remember what they said. I did understand that playing in undesignated mud with shoes on was not to be done.
Later I noticed that my mother tended to 'put down' Helen, for example by deploring her 'old man.' I never knew why, if indeed there was any reason at all. But when one woman has to clean up after another's vaunted child, she does, for that day at least, have the upper hand.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


The easily accessible beaches were Pismo, Avila, Morro Bay, and Oceano.  I don't have childhood photos of any of them, but I do have a snapshot of my parents, when engaged to be married, at Morro Rock, geologically the last in a chain of peaks of which the highest is Bishop's Peak.  My mother is wearing beach pajamas, and they are holding, coyly, in front of them a question-mark shaped piece of kelp that they had found.  I remember (so clearly that if I could digitize my mental image of it, it would be perfect) the photo my grandfather took of me, age 4,  wearing a brown pullover (Oceano is often cold) over beach pajamas at first extra large and hitched up at the shoulders; I got them for my first birthday (see above).  Their background color was again apple green.  It hung, framed, over the radio-phonograph at the end of the dining room at 684, by the swinging door to the kitchen.   A young painting student named Phyllis, whose last name I forget, got color notes from the grandparents and copied it as an oil painting (not unskillful, actually).  I no longer have access to either, if they exist.  I do remember posing on the Oceano dunes, though.  I remember the difficulty of climbing up the pure sand, but little else of visits there.  The water is colder, and, if one were old enough to go in further, the undertow is strong.
On the other hand, though I have no photo, I remember the blue and white swimsuit, the white top like a sleeveless undershirt, the blue bottom like shorts.  It was for a child about three years old, and my siblings wore it after me.  No child went naked, and no girl child, no matter how young, went topless.  I remember walking into the surf at (probably) Avila and looking around in the water and my grandmother coming in after me, I had no idea why she came in, shoes and stockings and all.  But they made a great fuss, and I did understand that, no words needed.  I remember a stand where we bought cotton candy, but I don't remember which beach.  I have pictures of a big, long pier, which I think is Pismo rather than Morro Bay.  I remember picking up sand dollars.  I do remember wading on many occasions and playing in the wet sand as the tide went in and out.  None of us thought of swimming.  I'm not sure any of us knew how.  The Pacific is not, in any case, a good place to learn.  The breakers can be large, and the tide is strong and, unless perhaps at Pismo, I don't remember seeing any lifeguards.  But wading in the salt water, not deeper than one's waist, and having the sensation as of the sand moving underfoot as one wave after another comes in or out, is lovely when one is little.
In Google maps, the Oceano dunes seen from space are gleaming white and extensive, and I hope they are as Protected as they are designated as being, since the famous photographs by Edward Weston (and Ansel Adams followed him there), which I came to know much later, do them no more than justice.
Yesterday I wondered why my recollections of the beaches, though vivid as memories of sensation, are all jumbled.  I think it is because I was always taken there, never until 1990 going there myself.  The dark sand of Avila and the white of Oceano stand out at such.  But we got into my grandfather's car and set out, the adults sometimes discussing which to go to as we left town, and, when the color of light changed and the smell of the ocean came to us, I knew that we were nearly there.  It is like the NY Subway, the London Underground, the Paris or other Metro: you get into train, or automobile, at one end and out into another reality at the other.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Window Dressing and Interior light

The rental house two doors down from 684, which we rented till my fourth year, is remembered only for the front room being dimmer than the kitchen; I remember high windows in the front room, but when I briefly saw that room again I saw that the sills were only about a meter above the floor: toddler's memories made them high.
My grandparents' 684, pre-War, had distinctive  drapes in the front windows, of the living and dining rooms.  They were made of what was called monk's cloth, a heavy loose weave, off-white, to which black iron rings more than an inch in diameter were sewn by an eyelet cast with them at intervals of about four inches to their upper hem.  These were strung on a curtain rod of wrought (?) iron, with pointed tips, which required iron brackets.  Handsome, but requiring maintenance, resewing the rings to the hem, which in any case required heavy button thread.  Of course, they were part of that Mission Style, like the tiles on the fireplace, of the period.  Behind them were roller blinds, too.  I don't think that houses with wooden venetian blinds had roller blinds (I don't know), but all others had.  I can't remember what the bedroom had, but perhaps just machine-lace panels framing the roller blinds.
A different kind of Mission Style was used at 644.  A sofa and chair were wooden (pale wood, probably ash, varnished maple-like—unless it was maple) with sets of matching, brown-plaid seat cushions and back cushions.  The wooden arm rests were not like classic Stuckey; they were sort of rounded in a style I'd now try to characterize as 'kitschy hacienda', in the same sense as the motif of a Mexican man in a sombrero asleep leaning against a cactus.  The curtains in this living room were a brown and yellow ocher open mesh instead of machine lace (woven like a gingham with open squares in it).  Therefore the light was very warm.  In 684, it was not so brownish but the heavy monk's cloth together with the original light-brown oil-stained woodwork also gave those rooms a domestic light quite different from the bright hues and whites of the late 1940s.

More Snippets

Speaking of nearly forgotten odors: the smell of hot, soapy water in the pre-automatic washing machine, both at "644" and at "684".  I know it wasn't washing soda or the bluing.  Both my grandmother and my mother at the dates in the 1930s used white bar soap (Fels Naptha only for special purposes and rarely), and I think it was White King.  Ivory, of course, is just as white and could be used similarly, but its odor was (and is) milder.  A bar, about 5" long and about an inch thick.  With a paring knife this was cut on the bevel starting at the end of the bar into triangular-section slivers, first one side, then the other.  These dissolved in the hot water.  The machine must have held about ten gallons, at least (I recall what a 5-gallon can labeled for olives looks like), so the procedure one followed made sense.  First the white cottons, especially sheets and towels were agitated right-left, right-left, in the 140° water for some minutes and were put through the wringer.  A sawn off broom stick was used to fish for them and, when the tip of something had cooled enough to touch, it was coaxed through the wringer, but spreading out the cloth, so it wouldn't be too thick for the wringer (if the wringer had no Safety, too much at once could burn out the motor).  While the whites were in the stationary tub full of cold rinse water, the mixed color-fast pile was put into wash water, now cooled a bit but still hotter than used today.  Then the whites, poked with the broomstick to maximize the rinsing, were put through the wringer in the opposite direction (when needed, they could be rinsed twice).  Given time, they could be hung out on the clothesline while the colored load still washed.  Then the latter were put through the wringer into fresh rinse water.  By this time the soapy wash water had developed the indescribable but still clean-smelling odor that I remember, part human, part soap.  Finally the work clothes and other dark colors, which would bleed color even after a number of washings, took their turn in the wash.  The color-fast cottons, children's clothes, house dresses, and the everyday underwear, came through the wringer and were taken in the wicker basket in their turn to the clothes lines.  My mother or grandmother would shake these well as they hung them to dry, to minimize wrinkles; also, they were mindful that hanging things on the bias put them out of shape.
In California, in almost any week, there was at least one good drying day, not humid and with a slight breeze.  The linens would be dry in a couple of hours.  These were lines strung between T poles at either end of the yard.  We only read about places were you needed to dry things in the cellar.  Of course, there were no laundromats, no heated dryers.  We knew no one personally who sent the sheets to a laundry (though one neighbor had a mangle), but one or two families had diaper service.  Pre-Birdseye flannelette diapers took time to dry, and if you had two at once in diapers you needed an extra wash day.  For diapers you did use Ivory or boxed Ivory Snow and a little bleach.  No one who knew it can forget the perfume of laundry dried outdoors in California.
Cottons had to be lightly starched.  They really did.  Starch (I remember the Linit box) had a slight scent of bluing, not that it made whites blue.  You had to cook it, like thin gruel.  You didn't want it sticky.  You might strain it, if you were fussy.  If you cooked it carefully, however, it had no lumps.  You emptied the saucepan  full of cooked starch into a basin of cold water and, as it were, re-rinsed the dresses, shirts, and blouses in this properly diluted starch, wrang them out by hand, hung them out to dry.
To iron the cottons and linens, you had to sprinkle them and roll them up wrapped in the old towels and old sheets kept for the purpose in the ironing basket.  After a minimum of an hour, better several hours, they were ready to be ironed.  The early electric iron had to be plugged and unplugged every few minutes to keep it at a temperature where it ironed but did not scorch.
To go out of chronological order so as not to need to return to ironing: I learned to do all this before I was ten, because during the War my mother was working, and I was the oldest.  Automatic heat-control irons, ready-made starch, and non-soap detergents were post-War.  As I road the bus to Junior High School, I saw billboards saying What are clotheslines for?  The following week they said, Clotheslines are for the birds; dry your clothes in a Bendix automatic dryer.
Today I keep clotheslines for 'airing', clothespins for all sorts of uses, and the iron (but it is a now-old steam iron) is somewhere.  Ironing is OK for, say, altar linens, but I haven't ironed my own clothes for decades, nor table linens.  Most cloth today does not endure much ironing, anyhow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"684" Interiors

Nothing of the exterior of 684 suggests the character of the interior living space, which evinced nearly half a century's interaction between its occupants and its brickyard-owner's inception.  Of course, by the time this photo was taken at Christmastime, 1965, not only the carpet but the walls (papered, but had been cream paint on plaster) and the woodwork (painted off-white rather than stained light-chestnut brown) had been changed.  And in the mirror, showing the far wall of the dining room about 30 ft behind us, the knowing eye now sees the hutch that my grandmother had long craved, of mahogany (not 'Philippine' substitute), which my grandfather had made for her: nothing on PBS's New Yankee Workshop was beyond his skill.  He made whatever he couldn't repair.  The small hanging shelves for tiny objects and souvenir spoons, to right of the hutch in the photo, for example, were made to order.  The chairs, and many not visible in any photo, were gradually acquired by restoring specimens supposed to be beyond repair, all in the right woods and finishes, all with historical joints.  These were not people who went antiquing.  After he retired from teaching woodshop in the schools, my grandfather opened (in a former Nazarene Church one-room building) his own shop.  He never had to advertise.  Fixing what moving companies had damaged may have helped financially, but beds and chests, tables and chairs, some really fine, others merely rather nice, arrived unbidden and unannounced.  Work of his kind cost far more in Santa Barbara, for example.  When only half a chair arrived its owner might say that it wasn't worth fixing and leave it behind.  If it was really nice and not too large for their house, it came home with them.  So long as she could, my grandmother did the refinishing, my grandfather the wood work.  Similarly, their books were not valuable as auction objects.
The pair of windows, eye level indoors, above eye level from the brick walk outdoors, were a common feature of the time (they were echoed in the far dining room wall).  A 1918 house in the block where I now live about 2000 miles away has them; perhaps the brick houses were a little older than 1926.  The drawers to the right of the fireplace held a collection, wonderful to a child, of pens and pencils and rulers and erasers, two tin whistles, to name only what I might look at.  At far right,  a let-down hinged writing surface revealed cubby holes for letters and notebooks.  The cupboard below held large books, not expensive, but with Rembrandt etchings and with Doré illustrations to the Divine Comedy, for instance; I think these came from book clubs.  The conch shell, the clock, and the portable radio were recent when the picture was taken; I hated the radio, because it coincided with my grandparents circumscription of life, and preferred the old clock, which had ceased running (being an early electric one), shaped like an elongated bell curve about a foot long, of mahogany, but I loved the conch shell.  The andirons were real brass, and they'd always been there, I think.
Now the tiles.  The patterned ones above the opening, about 8" or 15 cm. square (not the dinky and sloppy ones used on Mexican restaurant tables today), were those imported Mexican tiles that were so popular in California in the 1920s.  I do not know whether the crazed glazed blue ones, "irregulars", imperfectly fired, were imported or from Henry Faulstich's own brickyard or some other supplier.  The blue, also, was grayer and darker than the somewhat garish turquoise blue of perfect ones.  The hearth, too, was paved with them.  In the bathroom, the splash area above the tub and the bathroom floor was of similar "irregulars" but in tans and browns.  The draining boards in the kitchen were in white hexagonal tiles, the common ones of old bathrooms and of the bath establishments at Hot Springs, Arkansas, but edged with rounded off apple green tiles.  Apple green was also the color of some appliances of my childhood, not exactly the institutional green of school restrooms, not so near aqua nor yet lime.
This characteristic tile work (also seen later in Henry's own house, which I never visited beyond the front room and briefly in childhood, and on the undulating kitschy brick and stucco garden wall running down his side of the driveway, decorating it in Mexicali fashion ("It happened in Monterrey a long time ago...") made my grandparents' little house different from other fundamentally Ladies Home Journal interiors of the time; before the War it had a pair of Maxfield Parrish prints over a sofa against the wall at left (windowless, backing up against the hall and bedroom closets) and after the War a pair of pale water-colored floral prints in their place, so perfectly in accord with LHJ.
Of course, when I grew up I was right that my grandparents had innately somewhat better taste than most of their Ladies' Aid and Presbyterian synod cohort.  They certainly acquired their own notions of niceness independently, not only in chairs but in music.  The whole remains noteworthy because it's not as if they read, e.g, Kolodin for music or periodicals beyond, e.g., the Saturday Review.
The only reason it is relevant here is that it is what I looked at, closely, too—I studied it, that it is what I loved, that it departs, as any particular example must depart, from the movie and television representations of the typical.  Our possessions (and whether we care about them) are both an important part of what we are and an ineluctable depiction of each of us and of all of us.
The other night I saw an Act of La Traviata on television.  Based on a house like the Lumière house at Lyon (true, a little later than La Dame aux Camélias), it was a lovely set.  Of course, in an opera, both the room and Renée Fleming's costume were a little over the top, as if forgetting that the Maison Lumière is restored as a museum, but a large family originally lived in it.  And, I thought, I wonder whether Toll Brothers can afford to continue underwriting the Met and, at the same time, how Toll Brothers would adore imitating that style more perfectly than they do.  Designers, though, study the professionally furnished and designed interiors (and exteriors) of every period, the publsihed ones.  Ensembles like that of "684", neither stereotypically shabby or trashy nor done by even a local interior designer, tend to go unrecorded.  No one with the FSA would have even looked at it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

684: The Faulstich houses

When you own a brickyard, it is reasonable to have built a house for your sister, then a rental unit, then a house of your own, all at once and all of brick.  So, as a child, I knew Eva's at the corner, my grandparents' next moving downhill (and with a triple garage for all three behind it), and Henry Faulstich's own.  Eva was perhaps reclusive—I seldom saw her.  Henry was very kind, but my grandparents were not socially intimate with him and his wife, because they drank, and my grandparents were very Presbyterian.  Much later, when I was in university, my grandparents took me out to the brickyard when a 'kiln' was going: such a kiln was the size of a large house and constructed for natural-gas jets to blow into it and keep it red-hot.  Even for a Berkeley undergraduate it was an awesome sight and informed my interest in the development of fired brick in the history of architecture ever after.  Any reader will have deduced that our county not only had natural gas but also adobe: the Franciscan missions of California are built of adobe: sticky clay tempered with straw, needing only lime whitewash or stucco occasionally to endure very moderate rainfall.  Henry's bricks and my grandparents' house were built of fired adobe brick.  He also sold imported large Mexican decorative tiles, better than recent ones.
My grandparents rented the little house, 684 (the Yugo in front of it dates it to my 1990 visit), from 1926, when it must have been new, till their deaths, my grandfather's only in 1973.  It had only four rooms, but a large closet (with a transom window into the kitchen), which my grandfather for years used as a photographic darkroom as well as for storage, housed a Murphy bed, which swung, on a swivel, through a door into the dining room and then lowered; the dining table with its six chairs had to be moved to the end of the dining room (the downhill side of the house) to accommodate the double bed, on which I slept (with my first sister when we were there at once) so long as my grandparents lived for me to visit them.  A smaller closet, as full as Fibber McGee's of the radio comedy show, opened opposite the large one off the little hall that led to the bedroom and to the bathroom.  With the clothes closet opening onto the bedroom, it made the latter a shallower room than the living room in front, just as the large closet narrowed the front of the kitchen, with California cooler, sink and draining boards overlooking the driveway and a refrigerator (I barely remember the first one with a motor on top) under the transom aforementioned.
The lot sloped downward not only to the west but also behind, so there were some steep back steps from the screened porch that had the stationary tub and washing machine, down to a brick-paved walk that continued along the side of the house and behind the fireplace; accumulation of ashes would be scooped out of a chamber accessible there.
At a slightly lower level  between the house and the garage wall a small area was planted with lippia, the only thing that would grow under a huge pepper tree.  I have always wanted a pepper tree of my own.  Lippia, however, though requiring no mowing, attracts honey bees that sting.  Another tree, but I'm not sure if it was another pepper, shaded the west end of the yard.  An open lot, not really big enough for a house, separated my grandparents' house from Eva Faulstich's, and this was often planted with dahlias, chrysanthemums, asters, sometimes also vegetables.  In the narrow plot between the brick walk and the house wall were flowers like lantana.  In front, on either side of the stucco-clad pillars that formed a sheltered porch at the door, were trellises on which American Beauty climbing roses were trained.  To my astonishment, the trellises or ones just like them (but not the roses) had survived rentals since 1973, probably to a low-income family to judge from objects tossed into the front porch, such as discarded mattresses, to wit the 1990 snapshot at the top of this post.  Everything was 'privacy' fenced, though, even the head of the driveway.  In my childhood I could walk from the garages at the bottom of the driveway across under the pepper tree, along behind Eva Faulstich's house, up another driveway to Broad Street and into Hanrahan's store (later with another name, now no longer there), where small purchases were made, not least penny candy.  Licorice whips, or red ones, supposedly raspberry, were in fact a penny apiece and 15" (at least 12") long.  My grandmother said that the opaque licorice sticks were made from floor sweepings, which I did not believe.
This modest little house obviously had been neglected, but no one had tried to remodel it.  The interior, though, cannot have been the same.
[A California cooler, by the way, was open to the air with slats and screen to the exterior.  It was the best place to store cheese, olive oil, butter, not to mention bananas.]

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"644" I guess was 10-15 years old when we lived there.  I did not see it again until 1990 when I took a long trip with a young friend in a tiny car, a Yugo, across most of the continent, to see, inter alia, the Pacific Ocean.  Houses wear well in California's Mediterranean climate, but I'd have had trouble recognizing this if I hadn't known the address.
A half century earlier (apart from having different trees in different places) 644 was white clpaboard with dark green trim.  Now it had pink synthetic siding with white trim and a different color on the roof as well; I think it had been dark gray John Mansville roofing (my mother always called things by their brand names, but remembering the color is my own).  Above all, though, it was altered as so many houses are by completely enclosing the porch that ran across the front.  To the height now covered by pink siding we had ordinary white porch railings. I have seen so many houses effectively expanded in this way.  One thing is unchanged: the chimney.  By losing my balance while running as a toddler I had run the point of the poker that hung by the fireplace almost through the bottom of my left cheek, where there is still a slight scar.  I do not remember that there was any other heating in the house, apart from cooking in the kitchen, but, after all, California doesn't need much.
Behind the front porch, there were a living room (with the fireplace) and a dining room.  Behind the living room were my parents' bedroom, then a small hall with a door to the bathroom and, at left, the door to the bedroom I shared with my sister.  Behind the remainder of the dining room was a very narrow kitchen, behind it a laundry with a stationary tub (viz., built in) and a wringer washer, and the back door to a rather long back yard, relative to the size of the house.  The rooms were not large.  I never saw post-Victorian houses when I was young with rooms larger than they strictly needed to be, so it is more noteworthy that all these houses had dining rooms.  Before television, houses had dining rooms, even if you earned less than $100 a month in a grocery or a dairy.  I estimate that 644 is about 40 feet wide.
When my sister was old enough to have a bed rather than the 'six-year crib', as they were called, which, besides, my infant brother would soon need, my grandfather who taught wood shop and was quite expert, built us twin beds and a chest of drawers of knotty pine.  As was fashionable then, it was finished by painting with flat white and rubbing that off to reveal the knots, then coating it with a tinted transparent varnish, semi-matte (glossy being thought tacky).  Since Disney's Snow White had just come out, he also made life-size (face-sized) cut-outs in 3/8" pine of the seven dwarves and colored them in transparent paint, using india ink to outline in black and, I remember their saying, white shoe polish for the white beard and the whites of the eyes.  These were hung, with eyelets screwed in at the top, all around the room.  I had a Dutch-girl appliqué bed quilt that my great grandmother had made for me.  So long as my sister had the six-year crib, I had the bed that my mother had had as a little girl, which was a spool bed, apple green with pink-and-white bunches of apple blossoms painted, I think, but perhaps decalcomania, on it.  I don't know what became of it.  Perfectly good things, however, were not trashed, so it must have been passed on to someone else.
There was a small area retained by a short retaining wall directly outside our back door.  Lower, a couple of  steps down,  there was a round, stone-walled fish pond.  Mosquitoes, though, could be a problem, and my grandfather had someone bring in a load of white beach sand, the Oceano kind, so that my sister and I had the finest sand pile imaginable.  When it had rained we had only to dig a bit for damp sand; when it hadn't the garden hose could moisten a patch, so we built mounds with tunnels through them.  I had a sunsuit that I adored.  A brown teddy bear and several alphabet blocks were embroidered in outline on  the cream-colored percale, bound with brown bias tape.  It was one piece, and this was before grippers, of course.  I remember when I outgrew it and protested that no, it wasn't too small, even as it cut into my crotch.  Then, of course, it disappeared, since I kept growing.
On the back of the garage, which was long enough to hold more than one car side by side, there were common red geraniums.  After the petals were gone we could take the little spears and make a slit in one, put the other through that, and have little scissors.  On the fence opposite that there was honeysuckle, which was sweet.  Once my little sister ate something off the hedge which was feared to be poison, and my mother administered egg white, then warm water, then mildly soapy water to make her vomit.  The berry she ate must have been harmless because she digested all of it, while I stood by feeling superior.  About halfway down the yard there a big bushy rose bush with rose-pink roses and, near a standing water tap, in season were purple stemmed common pink naked-lady amaryllis, which I have loved ever since, in preference to the glorious Dutch ones.  It is not easy to get that kind of bulbs.  At the back of the yard, and beyond the end of the garage, there was a prune tree, which seldom bore much.  At the very back we had a vegetable garden the last year that we were at 644.  Finally, in the very back corner, there were hens and chickens, succulents, and nasturtiums galore.
I should add that we sometimes saw common snakes, which came down from the mountain slope's grass, and we did have to watch out for black-widow spiders and call my mother if we thought we saw a spider that qualified as such.
In the front yard, near the end of the front walk was a rose trellis.  In our neighbor's yard but shading ours were a loquat tree and a pine tree with triple needles, long ones, which could be plaited.  At the edge in front was a camphor tree, easy to climb, whose leaves when crushed were very fragrant, at the lower corner of the lot a huge century plant, agave, which we treated with due respect, since it had serious spines.  Sometime between the inception of WPA and the War, they came and put in curbs and gutters and drains and paved the street.  That was fascinating, but we were told not to talk to the men, because "we don't know who they are".
I just heard the wonderful Eric Schmidt, Chairman & CEO of Google, speaking of what technology cannot purvey, though Google gives us the Earth and the Seas and the Sky: "the smell of bread on a Paris morning".  Now I hadn't actually remembered that as a Memory, but when he mentioned it I recalled having smelt it, and not only there but in Athens and wherever I have been where neighborhood bakeries baked every morning, including a number of Italian towns.  I had not, however, registered it.  Therefore, instead, I shall have a Memory of Schmidt's example on Charlie Rose, but it is only my own 'registered' memories that I shall try to describe here.
My own analogous memory is the wonderful aroma of roasting coffee as we approached San Francisco on the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge, mostly from the Caswell's plant but perhaps also from Hill Bros.  It is associated with the two neon billboards with animated elements that were the only ones that worked all the way through the War, one of Coca Cola, with some sailboats, I think, and, I suppose illustrating the Pause that Refreshes (quite evidently not my favorite of the two) and the other of Sherwin-Williams, Sherwin Williams Paint Covers the Earth; the Earth sphere was green and blue, and above it in three stages a paint can emptied to cover it in red paint.  All of both of these in neon-tubing outline.  In those days, sometimes, we could look down and see the Sixth Fleet in.
What I do not spontaneously remember or is not directly provoked by something someone else says I am not including here.
A narrative is a most dangerous thing to essay.  A narrative is expected to make sense.  Sequence and causality are usually essential to it.  My mother was full of narratives, and most of them were false.  Her narratives of her wondrous eldest child were almost all of them false.  And they were sentimental.  One thing I do remember was listening to her narratives.  It is proving difficult to be satisfied with many things that, narratively considered, were of no importance at all.  I remember when I moved to Oregon in 1962 smelling in the autumn on the railings of the bridge over the mill race what I realized must be creosote.   It was.  It is, s.v., no. 2 in Webster's Collegiate (how quickly I have found having that in my Dock on my computer to be indispensable).  That is memory, and I'm sure it is quite unimportant.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The house where we lived from 1938 to 1942, from before I was 4 till after I turned 8, was then the last one; to my right as I sat on the front walk was the yellow grass of the mountain's slope.  I faced an empty lot, certainly not another house, across the street.   Alongside our house and continuing across our street, perpendicular to it, ran a track, and at 45° to our house, on the other side of it was a very important building, the home of our radio station, KVEC Mutual Don Lee, as they announced every hour, one white stuccoed cube.  None of this was paved.  The Model A was gray with a green stripe around it, just below the windows.  The upholstery was tan plush, a sort of tan plush that didn't wear out at all easily.  I think the spokes of the wheels may have been green, too.  The photo dates from the Spring of 1939, when I was nearly five and my little sister had turned two in January; my little brother, born in February, was still an infant.  The raison d'être for the car was that I would start school in September.  Before that day came, we took the car all the way to North Hollywood.  The Model A was not a new car, but it was our first.  I cannot use it to date trips to the beach or to the county park, because, more often than not, we went with my grandparents and in their 1931 Studebaker.  I do not have a picture of that car, but, like the Model A, it had running boards (on which my sister and I are sitting, and, no, I don't know why they were called running boards.  Webster's Dictionary says that it is attested as early as 1860, so I guess that as one ran along he could jump onto it when the carriage was already in motion).  In 1939 my grandfather got a new Studebaker, which seemed alarmingly different to us.  It had no running boards.  Not to be confused with the post-War famous Studebaker, still it made a break from square cars and rounded-off square cars (consider, e.g., a 1936 Dodge).  When we had been spending the afternoon with my grandmother, and my grandfather came home in the 1931 Studebaker, he let me stand on the running board, holding onto the upright between the windows, and ride down the sloping driveway in that way, then get off so that he could maneuver the car into the garage.  A brick garage, of course.  Its owner owned the brickyard.  To my mind, a car without running boards was hardly a car at all.
Our street address was 644; in what follows, I shall flag any recollection from this period "644".  My grandparents' street address, though on the other side of town, was "684", and that was where they lived for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What is not memoirs

It is obvious that I shall write about much that I remember.  What do I mean, not writing memoirs?  I mean that I want to try to write about what someone of my age, raised where I was, in what my memories will reveal as a lower-middle-income family, actually remembers.  I do not, however, want to write yet another somewhat phony encapsulation of a Depression-era childhood and a post-War adolescence.  I do not want to try to define what is Me.  I do not presume to being able to isolate what is universal in my experience: universal to all girls, universal to all WASPs, shared by all of my relatives.  That is, I don't want to typify.  I do not want to distinguish what happened to be important (e.g., Pearl Harbor day) from what certainly wasn't.  I only want to discover whether setting down what I do recall that I quite surely do remember, without resorting to anecdotes or 'remembering' what is actually a scenario based on a snapshot, will cumulatively make sense.  Without contrived continuity.
In that respect, I am trying to be honest.  I do not remember everything, and on any given day I do not think of what I do remember.  In many cases, I truly do not know why something has been retained, and I do not wholeheartedly agree that it might be psychologically significant.  That is why these little essays may not be very interesting.
For example:
When I was two and three years old we rented a house that was only two doors down the street from my grandparents.  I often went barefoot, since that street already had sidewalks, and I could go alone back and forth between the houses (not that I was allowed to stay out for very long).  What I remember is the texture of those sidewalks on the soles of my feet and, after a passing shower, the brief kind that comes in off the sea and often makes a rainbow, a sunshiny shower, the unique odor of the moistened warm sidewalks.  Yes, we lived within a 30-minute drive from the Pacific.  Our sidewalks' concrete had been made, I am sure, of sea sand and perhaps sea water, though that seems less practical. But I only thought of that explanation much later; the experience of Pismo Beach was overpowered by the ocean itself, and by the odors of its seaweed, for example.  I was conscious of larger forces, of the noise, of the waves, of the tide, when we went there.  Walking and digging under the pier, there was a fishiness (I suppose a clamminess).  I thought about these sidewalks throughout my childhood whenever we moved to or visited some other sidewalks, whether in the same town or another.  I know of no others with that sea-salt odor, slight, only really noticeable when they were moistened on a sunny day, and with that distinctive sandy smoothness under bare feet.
This may be a convenient place to record that it was only when the WPA was instituted that the street was paved, and on our street when we moved to the other end of town we got even curbs and gutters only in the late 1930s.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another angle on e-friends

Since the 1950s, when we took a series of courses together in university, I have seen my friend P. only once, when, c. 1990, I was driving through his town and (in the absence of a telephone in his house) dropped by utterly unexpected; we went out to get some supper.  We knew each other, however, very well, having corresponded in pen and ink on paper since we both left the university.  We had in common tastes in books and music coinciding just enough for correspondence, and we both cared for painting and photography.  Now, with a few interruptions, we have corresponded for half a century; he still has no phone and now no e-mail, either.  We also sometimes exchange books and recordings, but letter writing (he tolerates my print-out, since my handwriting is not what it once was, but everything goes USPS) is the continuous, evolving basis of our friendship.
So far as I understand, it is not my having once known him in person, with his voice and fleeting facial expressions, since it was never a fleshy friendship (it just wasn't), or our friendship being much older than e-mail, since some of my e-mail friends are of more than a decade's duration, but the usual fortnight's delay between sending and response that distinguishes this friendship from those based wholly on e-mail.  Telephoning might have altered, might have spoiled, the friendship; I have a phone, but I value it not for personal communication (things tend to go wrong and be hard to correct) but for 'c0ntact' (one is held up, will be late; one will not be home next week, etc.), and he has never had a phone.  I do, most whole-heartedly, love the instantaneity of e-mail, but my old letter-mail friendship can survive without it.  We can exchange snapshots just as well either way.
Persons on TV keep saying that electronic friendships are not personal, not real (true, not literally real, but actual), are the friendships of persons who cringe, who misrepresent themselves, who fear the truly personal.  Putting aside the ancient source of 'personal', from the word for a mask worn by the actors, the dramatis personae, which is not wholly its current meaning (though 'personality' may be put on), consider that there is more to a person than what you can hear and touch and smell and caress.  The latter aspect, of course, can be essential, to part of a marriage or other partnership, but also critical to a divorce.  Besides, not everyone that is different is sick or defective.
E-mail, I often think, was made for me.  I like to reconsider what I have written, whether I may have been malapropos or committed a blooper or left out a phrase that was in my mind but had not made it into text.  Many of my correspondents have English as a second language, and their first language is my second or third: have I expressed anything so that it demands my own dialect of U.S. English or is liable to go wrong in translation?  I could never handle the telephone in other languages and manage to say anything worthwhile.  In e-mail we all manage very well, not only for intellectual ideas but even for sympathetic insight.  For the latter, we can put something differently, in case that will help.  In case of personal loss, for example, it won't do to be unintentionally ludicrous, if one can avoid it.
And, of course, the Attachment works magic, both with one's own photos and with things one has seen and wants to share.
The result, after a few years, is a very well based empathy and familiarity.
With my own surviving sister, even after all these years, and despite the wonderful familiarity of her speech inflections and all, a gulf of unshared tastes and inner experience remains.  Why do some people write letters that are just like the omnibus ones that tend to come in Xmas cards?  Why do they never acknowledge whatever one tries to give of oneself or write anything unsuitable for that omnibus letter?  Why do they write Love at the end but never put any into what they write?  Why does one have a sister that loves the telephone, instead?
In fact, one needs letter writing, and e-mail has all of its advantages without the too-long delay.  E-friends are perhaps for many of us, even if we cannot maintain the consistently high level of the great literary letter writers, essential to the intellectual and inward parts of the personal.
I am trying to find out what the advantage of a blog may be, when it is not political and certainly not argumentative.  If anyone wants to read these, fine.  In the course of writing them, I may manage to make myself clearer even to myself.  Not that I expect to write anything that is not commonplace, but if, gradually, I can do that, is it useless?