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.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Odds and Ends

All of these are specific memories for each of which I have too little to make an essay.
1) Going to play with some kids up Broad Street.  Nothing wrong happened, and I still don't know who they were.  But I didn't tell anyone where I was going and, besides, I had my sister with me.  We just played in their yard and got to know one another.  But when we got back to our grandparents' house, reality hit instantly.  They were frantic.  It hadn't occurred to them that I'd do such a thing (it hadn't ever occurred to me, either).  Never had I been so scolded.  Never had so many stripped cotoneaster switches been exhausted on my bare legs.  I think I was about age seven, or maybe turned eight.
2) Some children whom my family did know and with whom I was playing by permission in my grandparents' neighborhood had inherited the wind-up Victrola to play their own records, and they had Snow White records on Decca, whereas ours were on Victor.  I can't remember for the life of me who they were or how I knew them.
3) Opposite my grandparents' house, but set back next to "the old Portuguee's" house, lived a young family called 'Bolio' (spelled Beaulieu) who had a little girl about 18 months old named Carolyn, about the same age as my younger sister.  Next to them in a white stucco with red trim was a family named Jones.  On our side of the street, at the downhill end of the block, lived Mr. and Mrs. Lewis; when he had a stroke and was partly paralyzed we were in awe of his condition, and we visited him very quietly.  Around that corner and up the street lived a lady named Ruth Lenger, who, I think, had taught with my grandfather; she was nice and friendly.
4) From the grandparents' back yard, across behind Eva Faulstich's house and up a driveway was the short cut to the neighborhood grocery, where we got those licorice whips aforementioned.
5) My friend Shirley Ruth had some delightful sets of paper dolls, with which we enjoyed playing for hours on end a couple of times.  I remember six 'dolls', two 2-year olds, two 4-year olds, two 6-year olds, each with one boy and one girl, and there were dresses and suits for all the sizes.  We didn't exactly 'play house', she and I; we tried on all the clothes and talked about this and that while we did so.  This was at her house, which was very near our school, after school, while our mothers visited in another room, probably over tea or coffee.
6) With my mother one afternoon we went to visit one of her girl friends from high school who had a little boy about my age.  He had a set of My Book of Knowledge and was playing choochoo train with the volumes on the floor.  On the way home my mother was very disapproving of his being allowed to do so.
7) When we left 644, and my parents went north to the Bay Area to find us a house there (not easy in the face of overcrowding due to the shipyards and the Naval Air Station at the west end of Alameda), the four of us stayed with the grandparents for what must have been a couple of months, and I had perhaps as much as six weeks at Emerson School (the map now shows an Emerson Park there).  That was the beginning of Grade Three.  I cannot remember anything unpleasant about that school or, for that matter, anything at all, except that I liked its playground equipment.  Come to think of it, it is not unlikely that going to play with children I didn't know, at a time when I was largely with children I didn't know, dated from this time.  Also, probably from those last months in San Luis Obispo, and only a couple of blocks from my grandparents' house, was a working blacksmith, who shoed horses.  For there still were ice wagons and other delivery wagons that were drawn by horses, right in town, just as twenty years later there were still donkeys and mules at the neighborhood markets in Athens, Greece, right in the city, even in Kolonaki.  This is one more example of the bridging experience of my age-cohort, who ourselves were either too young or too old to be drafted to serve in any of the series of wars, as our grandparents and parents, also, had been, except that, had I been a boy, I might have been drafted for Korea, and who both remembered what was familiar to our grandparents and lived to do things like blogs.
8) Finally, I'll recall our going the few blocks to the railway station to see the brand-new California Daylight passenger train come and stop (its halfway point).  A whole train in red and orange, end to end, the most glorious train I ever saw (see above).
Trains, of course, were familiar; we counted the cars, we read where those cars came from, whenever we stopped for them at a level crossing.  But those were freight trains.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Daily classes, Grade Two

As I said, my memories that may be of Grade One are hard to distinguish from Grade Two.  But in light of what was done with six of us when we were in Grade Two, whichever grade I missed a lot of, the communicable diseases cannot have been a factor.  In both grades we were taught in both reading and arithmetic in groups.  By Grade Two I knew that my group was ahead, in the sense that we read library books and home books (my grandfather brought home all the Caldecott and Newberry award winners from every Teachers' Institute, and if he saw a children's book at the stationer's that took his fancy, he brought us that one, too) and Children's Activities a couple of grades ahead; in fact, we could read almost anything: Sunday School papers, Bible stories for children, the Gospel of Luke and the texts of carols for Christmas, the panels on the cereal boxes, and so forth.  I already have described my grandfather's teaching New Math long before it was introduced in curricula.  By "we" I mean my seat-mate Shirley Ruth and I.  Our mothers had gone through high school together, too.  If anything was particularly conducive to our reading so well that we hardly knew how it had happened, besides the ease of reading that makes progress snowball and having our own chalkboard to practice letters on, it was, of course, being read to, often in my grandmother's lap and following the text as she read.  And having our own books.  And our parents and grandparents liking the books just as much was we did (by "we" now meaning my sister and me; Shirley Ruth was an only child).  And the 1929 Electrola that my grandparents had.  We had every A. A. Milne song that Frank Luther recorded and lots of others; when Peter and the Wolf, narrated by Basil Rathbone, was issued (and I think this was the first U.S. release, and I still have the album), we had it, and it could be played for us almost whenever we asked.  To this day I know every emphasis and every pause by heart—not to mention the changes of the records about every four minutes.  Knowing so many A. A. Milne verses by heart, and the first half of "Silver Pennies", too, meant that we had far more vocabulary than house and neighborhood provide, and words that we knew were easily read.  (Dr. Seuss was not yet known; I was nominally too old for it when I found it at the library, but I loved "And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street" nonetheless, and when it came out, and of course my grandfather loved it, "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins" most of all.  Nothing he wrote later delighted me so much.  But that was another episode).  My grandfather was by no means the poet he might dream of being, but he was an inveterate verse writer.  In fact, several times a week, in the Telegram Tribune, he had a topical verse, definitely cracker-barrelish, which was quite popular.  The young painter who had made the photo of me on the Oceano dunes into an oil painting made a masthead for his verse with a tree bearing bottle corks and a poet leaning against its trunk, and, since my grandfather loved Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, too, in honor of Ferdinand the Bull the verse-column was called "Under the Cork Tree."  My grandfather also loved Harry Lauder songs (my grandmother less so), and I knew (and still know) all the words of Wee Doch an' Dorris (however spelled), and he didn't mind if children sang them, as well as Roamin' in the Gloamin' and I Love a Lassie.  He never lost these simple tastes, and neither have I.  There were certain kinds of cheap sentiment that they didn't like, though.  My grandmother, who had not gone to school past grade 8, deplored some of the pamphlets that inspired other women in her Ladies' Aid.  Consider, e.g., the words to the devotional song, "In the Garden" ("And he walks with me,...").This just seems to be the best place to insert the foregoing, because sharing such a variety of accessible verse and tunes with grandparents that we loved must go a long way to explain our being so "advanced" in language arts (which was then simply Reading and Writing).  My grandfather even sang to us early George M. Cohan songs, like "Ragtime Violin" and my father the songs he'd sung in high school, to his ukelele, including "Show me the way to go home".
But back to Shirley Ruth and me seated front, right in the classroom, where Miss Cheda could keep an eye on us.  When we weren't reading aloud, or learning longhand script, or taking down a new list of spelling words or learning some new wrinkle in arithmetic, we were given activities, such as purple-ditto work sheets (not run on a machine but off a tray of gelatin onto newsprint paper), or pages to complete in our workbooks,  or practicing writing, or, sometimes, working on phonics with one of the other groups.  Phonic families, such as will, mill, till, sill, bill.  Back at our seats, if we ran out of 'work' we might try making new phonic families of our own.  Or drawing pictures in our work books, or deliberately coloring Jane green, but leaving her clothes uncolored  and only greening her skin (when the workbook said, Color Jane green).  Once, and I really don't know why, we drew boys that had genitals.  Well, I had a brother by this time, and the drawing certainly showed nothing more dramatic.  Miss Cheda called in our mothers and gave them those drawings; she may have wanted to warn against the possibility of our "playing doctor" with other children.  Miss Cheda had her hands full, but managed admirably teaching a group of about 24, ranging from children just beginning to Shirley and me and Rosemarie and the Dart child (I think he mother called her Missy).  Apart from drawing the wrong things in the workbook that once, we never did anything worse than whisper to each other, and the content was never memorable: Can you come over tomorrow?  The tooth fairy gave me a nickel.  Did you see The Wizard of Oz?—I did.  If she saw us too bored, Miss Cheda sent us to the Library Corner of the room.  In this way I read all the California State Series of readers and social studies and science books.
A couple of years ago watching and enjoying all the Annenberg programs on elementary-grades teaching on PBS, I had to think that Miss Cheda had done everything right.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

As I write...

As I write, my sister is too ill to write for herself, and I am disheartened.  Therefore, here is the link to the album in progress of our early childhood years.  Since the blog itself is resolutely concentrated on things more than memoir content, here are the well captioned pictures; the text in quotation marks is from our mother's handwriting on the backs of the prints:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Grade Two

Speaking of milk and dairies.
It is not surprising that Miss Cheda, who lived on the Cheda Ranch, and was not one of our young teachers that might, like Miss Hanrahan, have been our parents' classmates in high school, thought that we should know something about the food chain (not that one used that term yet).
She arranged two memorable class trips. First she took us out to Cal Poly to see the cattle and the milking. California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo was not then called a university. Indeed, it was still largely agricultural and it was just Cal Poly. I heard my mother speaking somewhat darkly about the sort of girls who, in high school, went out with Poly boys. We were shown nice cows and I learned that the tan ones with pink noses were Jerseys, the tan ones with black noses were Guernseys, and the gentle cow all black and white, like the ones in picture books, was a Holstein. That Jerseys gave milk with more cream but less of it, that Holsteins gave lots but not very creamy, and that Guernseys were intermediate in both respects. They weren't being milked at that hour, but we were shown the equipment and told how rapidly it went to the dairy for pasteurization. I am quite sure that the simple differentiation of three breeds may have been just for us.
Perhaps a month later we all went to the Golden State Dairy (where, yes, my father worked, but not in the rooms that we visited), which some time after the War became Foremost (and who knows what Foremost belongs to now). We saw the pasteurizer in operation and the temperature control was explained. We saw homogenization (which I didn't, and still don't, understand) and the skimmer, which on the other hand, separated cream to be sold as coffee cream or whipping cream or used to make ice cream. We saw the butter churners, not a bit like those in The Real Mother Goose. For that matter, everything we saw was a major and important revision of illustrations in our picture books, just as Cal Poly didn't milk cows sitting on a stool with one's cheek against the cow's flank, into a galvanized pail (or even an oaken bucket). It makes me think that what we saw in 1941–2 would look quaint today. Then they took us to the butter cutting and wrapping room, which surely would look very quaint now. A couple of extremely deft and quick young women were wrapping the quarter-pound sticks, or 'cubes' as we called the shorter ones, so rapidly and perfectly that I could hardly believe my eyes. I thought they were wonderful. Well, they were. But how long has it been since sticks of butter were wrapped by hand? At the end of the tour, of course, we were given ice cream cones as a treat.
School trips are still done, and I hope that all children are treated as well as we were. I thought of the dairy trip back in the 1980s when I went to Avery Island and took the tour of the Tabasco Sauce plant. The vats in which it is aged were most impressive. Now, however, if anyone bothers to go there, they jam you into a room and show you a video and then herd you into the gift shop. I was so ashamed when I took visitors from California there, not knowing what had happened.

Monday, April 13, 2009

No one left to ask

My sister being younger than me, there is no one left to ask: when did Daddy change jobs to the dairy from the grocery?  And, what hangs on that, how early might he have brought home the scarlet fever from drinking raw cream?  One can't Google for a scarlet fever epidemic in town when it was only one employee's act that led to our getting it.  But that same year, whether it was 1940–1941 or 1941–1942, we had whooping cough and measles as well and I missed a lot of school.  And then there were tonsillectomies.  But that I have fewer memories of Grade 1 than of Grade 2 proves nothing.  It may just be that I was at a different phase of one sort or another in Grade 1.  The fact that I already read and had quite a lot of elementary arithmetic beforehand also makes it hard to pin things down.  Through both years we still lived at 644.
For me it was measles that was the worst case.  It was the 'red' measles, and probably I caught it at school, since I was the first one in the family to come down with it.  But I remember one vaguely weird night, probably coinciding with my mother's report that my fever reached 108° F.  And, of course, I had to stay in a darkened room for the duration: no books, no pictures.
I remember that my sister had measles, too.  We didn't have whooping cough too badly; it was the little boy down the street who had that first.  I wasn't very sick with scarlet fever, but the babies were (yet signs of the problems that later afflicted my brother had surfaced earlier).  Even my mother got scarlet fever.  After realizing that he was liable to get it, my father had to live with my grandparents across town and after the incubation period had elapsed, and he hadn't come down with it (but some of us had), he had to stay there, but could return to work.  It took a while before the last of the 4 children and my mother came down with it, so we were quarantined, seeing no outsiders but the public health nurse and with the perimeter of our property marked for Scarlet Fever and forbidding access, for four weeks at least.  It was fever that was dangerous, so far as I know.  It was already a rare communicable disease, thanks to Louis Pasteur.  Much later, when I got the opportunity to eat clotted cream from my other grandfather's own cow, I knew why people who knew it were so fond of raw milk: it is sweeter and, in a word, delicious.  But not worth getting scarlet fever.  Even though the rash was not so dangerous, it did itch.  It just occurred to me to go to the Wiki to find out something about it, since all I know is what I experienced more than a half century ago.
Anyhow, when it was over, the Public Health nurse wanted all our toys, including books, destroyed by burning.  Though I didn't always agree with my mother's taking stands on things, I did agree with her this time.  She refused.  The nurse retreated and said that it would suffice to put everything out in full sunlight all day, provided it was a clear warm day.  This we did, and the only thing that had to be replaced was crayolas, which melted.
Are families still quarantined?  I can't remember an instance, firsthand.
My sister and I both had suffered from tonsillitis, and I was diagnosed with adenoids as well, and we were hospitalized for their removal.  I was 8 years old, so it was between my birthday in June, 1942 and our moving to the S.F. Bay Area in October.  I remember ether anaesthesia.  I remember spitting blood and being given ice cream for food and aspergum to chew for the discomfort.  I don't think tonsillectomies were done in the doctor's office then (but neither were they yet routinely removed, just in case they got infected), even without adenoids as well.  I think that medicine since has found that tonsils are useful for getting infected and preventing more serious things?  I don't know  We both were in the hospital for several days.
P.S. I was right about tonsils: not useless.  As for scarlet fever, neither I nor those who cared for us knew anything.  Just google it for yourselves.
As for raw cream, NOT.
As for treatment: there were no antibiotics, no sulfa, no penicillin, none of the rest.  My mother was right to take a stand, though, but a couple of hours of California sunlight would have sufficed.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Famiy: siblings as of 1941

"Linda's birth announcement.  These pictures, understandably, did not exist in independent album prints: they are singularly unappealing, and Daddy would have been unhappy with them.  They do show, however, the  apple green taffeta dresses made for Lorna and me for the previous Easter, and Lorna's beloved cowboy boots, which came in one of the hand-me-down parcels from a cousin (Nancy?), and Brucie, about age 2, still in something like rompers.  They were taken in front of the brick wall around Henry Faulstich's house, so possibly Gramps rather than Daddy took them."
The text pasted here is the File Info attached to the image.

No more personal pages.  But here are the dramatis personae in some of their earliest pictures, from top l.: the author at one month, her sister at five weeks, their brother at three months, their listtle sister, the one born at the beginning of 1941, at two weeks.  Babies are babies.  My brother, by the way, is sitting on the brown plaid upholstery of the pseudo-mission style sofa at 644.  Somewhere already I have observed that, so far as memory and school experience were concerned, the younger two belonged to the next generation.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Viffy, 1942

The year that I spent in Miss Cheda's grade two, my sister was still at home.  You had to enter kindergarten then in September, and you had to be four years, nine months to enter; she had turned five in January, so, if I recall rightly, in the summer of 1942 she was still at home.
We had two girl cousins whose mothers sewed for them beautifully, and, though one was a little older than me and the other halfway between our ages, when my aunts sorted out the outgrown clothes once a year all the dresses that came fit my sister, and they were better made than anything downtown.  Of course, to a little girl, having new things of her own is more significant than having better things, and our grandmother did make us each two new dresses every Easter and two new outfits for school each fall.  Anyway, our cousin N. looked well in maroon, of which the dress in this picture was an example, but so did my red-headed sister, and no little girl was better dressed than she was.
For Christmas 1941 my uncle, a year younger than my mother, gave us a springer spaniel puppy.  He came with instructions for feeding and exercise.  He had a run at the very back of the yard, back where nasturtiums grew wild, with a dog house, and my mother made him the prescribed stew with vegetables and plenty of garlic to prevent worms cooked in a stock off soup bones from the butcher.  Because he was bright and lively, vif, he was named Viffy.  My sister loved him from the day he arrived.  Not that the rest of us didn't, but I think that my uncle even had her in mind when he brought the dog for Christmas.
Viffy ought to have been the dog we all grew up with, but the declaration of war and the opportunities it offered of better paying jobs triggered the decision to move to the S.F. Bay Area.  The shipyards called my father (who was 4F and had four children) first to work at Mare Island, later at Hunter's Point.  My mother said that the children could go to UC Berkeley, as my uncle had done, if we moved north.  Our new neighbors were very difficult about Viffy from the very beginning—not all of them, but those next door.  When he barked they called the police.  Would they even hurt the dog?  In the event, after only a couple of months, if I remember accurately, my parents advertised and found a new home for him with a family on Bay Farm Island, then still mostly rural, recent landfill.  A young cat was gotten from the Pound to console us, and he may have consoled me, but not, I am sure, my sister.
What war meant to us children, in this connection, was that, with both parents working and both of the children of halfway responsible age already in school, we could not have the dog.  Shortly, too, my uncle joined the Navy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

ca. 1939

How to date the memory of lying on my side on the front porch and considering the rainbows formed by looking through my own eyelashes?  The memory of watching skywriter airplanes trying to spell out advertisements in the sky and my trying to make them out before they dissipated?  The fascination of a trench-excavating machine, with bucket shovels at intervals on heavy chain, always going down empty again, always scooping more up again, always emptying into a huge funnel-like receptacle at the top: where did it start, where did it end?  (One saw it again in Vitruvius decades later).
How to explain what one does, and what one does not, remember?  Doubtless if she were available my mother would remember enrolling me for kindergarten and taking me the first day, but I remember the songs, the circle games, the rules, all the novelties of it, the things we had to play with that only groups of children have, the easels with large sheets of paper and little pots of water color in a row in the manger-like box enclosure below.  I remember the glorious routine of it.  I remember monkey bars and swings and trapezes over sandboxes in the playground.  I remember the upright piano that accompanied some of the songs (Little Johnny Jump Up, Where did you get your name?) and games, such as Go in and out the windows, Come follow me to London.  I remember rhythm band.  I already knew some Vachel Lindsay, from "Silver Pennies", but in kindergarten we acted out in unison.  What made it so gloriously satisfying to do?  No, we had no cuisenaire rods, but we had coping saws with real blades to use on real wood, and we had real nails and real hammers, ditto.  What kindergarten has those today?  We did have blocks galore.  Going to school was wonderful, except for one thing.  Naps.  I'd never done it.  Why stop and waste time?  Besides, we were supposed to bring a small rug (such as you got at the dime store to put in front of the kitchen sink) or a large bath towel to lie down on, and there was trouble at home about that; I remember hearing discussion.  Eventually, and I don't know how it was worked out, I did have something to lie on, and I did lie down (if I recall rightly) for naps, and I did not act out (as I recall).  We lay head to foot, foot to head, in rows to discourage both talking to your neighbor. and catching each other's colds.
The other evening I googled to find out if my school, then the newest one in town, still existed.  I think it doesn't; I'll check again.  But googling took me to someone's Picasa albums.  He was grade one more than 20 years later than me, and someone else commented on his 'retro' class picture (we didn't have a class picture in my three years at Fremont School).  But what was really fascinating was that his town was not simply later than mine (since I was sometimes visiting there when I was in university and he was in grade school, so that I did know 'his' town as well as 'my' town) but, quite simply, his own.  I went through his albums carefully and concluded that even if we had been in the same kindergarten at the same time we'd have remembered a different kindergarten.  Each child has his own, even though each child that remembers honestly writes true memories.  And also, I was talking on the telephone to my sister.  Each of us remembers many of the same things but often in different connections.  With 30 months between us, she remembers at a given age a different year and in a different place.  She was never an only child, because I was already there, and the time when she was still at home full time and I was already in school we lived in different universes.  Above all, though, we were not the same child, though she and I learned in school with equal ease.
Once more, I try to zero in on why there may be so much more to the 'outer child' than to the 'inner child'.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Downtown and Across Town

Obviously, I do not remember the taking of this picture, but notice (since it's uncropped) the proportions of 616 size roll film.  I do remember my teddy bear, in much later bedraggled condition, and my sister rode in the wicker baby carriage after I had graduated to walking.  We skipped the stroller; they were not yet common, anyhow.  But my brother and my sister were just a bit, a critical bit, more close-spaced.  And we got the Model A.  My parents realized that they needed a folding baby carriage as well as a stroller.  At least, I think that we got the stroller then, so that Lorna used it.  I never did, and perhaps we only got it when the final child came, and my brother needed the stroller.
I was about to transition to Kindergarten, though, when I remembered how much time and experience was connected with this wicker baby carriage.  Carriage: its suspension was like that of a carriage.  It wheeled beautifully.  It went up and down curbs beautifully; it was comfortable and protective.  It was very heavy, though, and, of course, it was not collapsible.  I often have felt that my younger siblings were transitional to the next generation.  They certainly were transported as 1940s babies.  They went to post-war schools, too.
When a young woman took her two youngsters downtown, where three main streets contained everything (beyond the corner grocery, if you had one) that you might need, the vehicle was the buggy.  If you ever wondered why it was so much larger than a baby, you would know if you came home not only with the used diapers sequestrated wrapped in newspaper but with what you had gotten at Penney's, at Woolworth's, at a couple of minor merchants, and at the grocery (where, incidentally, in the era of the wicker buggy, my father worked).  We might stop, too, at the Snow White dairy for an ice cream cone.  I confess, of course, to loving Woolworth's most, as today children love WalMart (or any other -Mart).  Sometimes I'd get a new coloring book or a new penny doll for my doll house.  Penny dolls really did cost one cent (then inched up to several cents).  Not that I always got anything extra.  I certainly did not beg for anything.  It would have been counterproductive, but I just didn't think of it.  They liked to give me little treats when it seemed right.  We stopped and talked to other young women my mother knew.  My mother noticed that other mothers had children that had to have leashes, lest they dart into the street or make a break for freedom in Penney's or the somewhat up-market dry goods store,  Riley's.  What I loved was watching and listening to the pneumatic tubes that took the sales slip and money for payment and returned the change and the sales slip marked Paid.   Remarkably, these pneumatic tube systems lasted a long time.  They had them in the university library to take slips requesting books up to the stacks  for a page to fetch the one required (but then, was it in the late 1950s?, they opened the stacks).  One dry goods store, the iron-fronted Sinsheimer's, in my home town had them for as long as it stayed open.  At some store I have the memory of such a system running on a pulley, like a miniature ski-lift.  What was it all about?  Not only to prevent the the basic-wage personnel from handling money.  Not to prevent hold-ups, I think.  One was remarkably safe.  My grandmother felt free to say no to hoboes when she didn't happen to have extra peanut butter and jelly—or when she saw that they didn't like peanut butter...  It was certainly useful, on that small scale of commerce, and before cash registers kept count of the till electrically, to have all the cash in and out in the hands of your accounts person up in the office, recording it all in pen and ink.  When I was very little, I still didn't understand what being pneumatic meant.  I thought them wonderful.  
Then, from downtown, we usually walked the other half of the traversal, to my grandparents' house.  What I do not clearly remember was walking back across town.  Perhaps my grandfather when he came home took us home in the 1931 Studebaker.  I know that we never walked home after dark.  When we got the Model A in 1939, my father could have come to get us in it, when he got off work.  Either way, of course, the wicker buggy had to stay where it was until we came to walk it home.  There was, by the way, still no public bus.  Thus, as I now see it, were born collapsible strollers, playpens, and baby carriages.  My first sister and I were the last cohort to ride conveyed like Victorian infants.  Evidently.
P.S. Sinsheimer's building is still there, with a link to the pulleys (so the other stores were the ones with pneumatic tubes). 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Young Child on Long Trips

I have two memories from a trip with my parents and grandparents when I was still very young.  I remember everybody looking up at something; I remember the sensation of standing still but moving and seeing water on the other side of a 'fence' and the breeze.  I remember being set on a chair at table along with the adults and expected to eat on my own.  And I did, but I had trouble with the full-size utensils and didn't know what to do with (perhaps) salami; I took the rind off the slice and put it in a bowl of jelly or jello—which was promptly removed from my reach.  My grandmother, an accurate source, when asked later told me that she had been afraid that I might fall overboard from the ferry and that we'd been visiting my grandfather's Petaluma siblings.  Above the ferry the Golden Gate Bridge was nearing completion.  But she didn't remember my doing anything wrong at table.
Later, in the year I started kindergarten, I came with them to see my uncle graduate from UC Berkeley.  Already too large to be held in the Greek theater, the ceremony was in the football stadium.  Like thousands of other children before and since, whose parents didn't go to football or baseball games, I dropped my program and couldn't retrieve it from under the seats.  The scene was vaster than anything I'd seen before.  We had breakfast at my uncle's rooming house (I don't think he belonged to a fraternity, but it may have been a dorm), which I remember because half a grapefruit, again, was something I'd never been offered to eat.  But he bought us blue and gold felt pennants and a sturdy souvenir megaphone, which I had for years after.
North Hollywood, where my father's oldest sister's family lived, was in the summer of 1939.  I remember my mother's bathing my brother, a few months old, in my aunt's kitchen sink.  I remember their having a telephone and my adolescent cousins' letting me listen to voices (the Operator, I suppose) coming through its receiver.  And the next morning, which must have been a Sunday, I remember my eldest cousin, M.E., sitting with me on the lawn, patiently reading the comic strips of the Sunday paper to a five-year-old who had never seen urban paper color comics before and was too young to read them for herself.  For which I adored this cousin for years to come.
It is not that I forgot other trips.  Those are all that we made, apart from going to the beaches or to the County Park for a picnic.  The live oaks had the low, horizontal branches characteristic of the species, and some were low enough to ride on.  It was a wonderful County Park with plenty of standing water faucets, stone-built barbecue pits, and stout wooden tables.  WPA?  Probably, or CCC.
So now I was ready to go to school.

Another very early memory: patty-cake

The girl my mother called my godmother, J., was still in high school when I was born.  I learned later that she was the daughter of my grandfather's Scottish-American friend (and I think fellow church-elder).
One day in the rented house near my grandparents' she and another lady and my mother were with me in its kitchen.  I was wearing my bunny slippers; I loved looking down at their rabbit heads and hated outgrowing them.  (When my sister had babies, years later, I searched for bunny slippers to give them but found none).
I was the center of attention, being passed around (though I could walk by then).  Suddenly my mother told me "Play patty-cake, Teegee".  I must have looked blank.  More than once.  My mother protested that I knew how.  I remember wishing that I knew what was desired.  When J. held up her hands, I put mine to hers but no more.  My mother said that I always knew it.
What do you think?
First, I was of an age where my comprehension of speech far outstripped my vocabulary and syntax—and maybe I was sleepy.
Second, if someone had started chanting and going through the motions, any child in her second year would have started participating in the rhythm and gestures, though she may not have known a name for the activity.
It was very embarrassing, and I describe it here being confident that every former child has experienced the same kind of helpless feeling.  How many times in school (especially in recess-period games or those required in Physical Education) has it not been recalled?  And later: what about in early dating?  In making introductions?