Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chapter 8...Things I Remember...

As I said before, I spent most of my time at the river. The river was my friend and I enjoyed it. After Mother got more used to me going to the river and staying all hours, it became easier. I don’t know if she began to believe I had a guardian Angel watching over me or she just got a little tired of fighting a losing battle with the river and me

I often went all the way up to the Hughson Bridge, the upstream limit for me. Many times I would find a log and float the four or so miles down the river at a very leisurely pace, just kicked back and enjoying the feeling of buoyancy and the caress of the water. I found many places in the bank, mainly the northern bank, where the tree roots came out over the water. There was one big oak tree that had extremely thick roots that reached way out over the water, about six or so feet. Water had washed away much of the dirt under the tree and the roots showing were very strong and thick. The water at the back there was pretty deep, around five or so feet. I swam under the roots and dug out a large hole in the bank, mostly under the roots, but partly down stream, also. I could swim under the roots and come up out of the water under the bank and breathe. I could put my feet on the bottom and stand straight up. I didn’t tell anyone about my underwater fort for a long time. Every time I went up to the Hughson Bridge and floated down, I’d stop and go into the fort. It never occurred to me it might fall in. I had been in there many times the summer I made it. That winter the water came up quite high and flooded away up the bank. The next year when the weather got warm enough to swim, I went to the fort and found it had caved in. The tree was all right and is probably still standing.

Just being winter wasn’t always reason enough to not go in the river. My sister, Joan, and I went to the river one winter and broke the ice at the edge of the water to swim. We didn’t stay in for long but it was fun while it lasted. Joan and I did a lot of things together when we were young. Like me, she spent some time on the river.


It is impossible to put specific times on some incidents I remember so I will just tell of them as I recall them.

I mentioned about the dump ground being a half-mile or so from our house. The dump was a part of my life in many ways. A lot of things went to the dump that were very usable to people like us. My mother never dug in the dump but I did. In those days it wasn’t a disgrace to dig in the dump. We considered the dump to be just exactly what it was; a place for a lot of good things to be discarded by people who no longer wanted them. I was forever finding things I could use in some way. I found toys and clothing and books among other things. The main thing I searched for was magazines and funny books. A couple of times I got lucky and found a large number of funny books that had been neatly stacked and tied with string. I considered that a bonanza! Funny books were very valuable in the lives of the kids in Little Okie. They were read and traded extensively. They were about as close as any of us kids would come to reading anything promoting morality and honesty. Heroes like Superman, Captain Marvel, Tarzan of the Apes, Dick Tracy, Batman and Robin and Wonder Woman were revered by us and imitated as closely as possible. Some other popular heroes were Plastic Man, Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, Joe Palooka, Popeye, The Phantom, The Flash and Archie. The movies, also, made serials of Buck Rogers, The Green Hornet, the Iron Claw and the Shadow. Some western serials were Tom Mix and Hopalong Cassidy, Zorro, Lash LaRue and Johnny Mack Brown. Buck Jones was a silent movie Cowboy who was popular even after the talkies came out. Charlie Chaplan was popular as was the East Side Kids with Muggs McGinnis, also known as Slip Mahoney. The Little Rascals with Alfalfa was a show that stayed popular for years.

On Saturdays we listened to radio programs such as, Mr. District Attorney,(Champion of justice, defender of human rights) Let’s Pretend, Straight Arrow and the Lone Ranger and his faithful companion, Tonto, (that program was the first taste of classical music for most of us, the Lone Ranger theme, ‘William Tell Overture’) and the popular horror program with the squeaking door, Inner Sanctum. Some detective programs were Mr. and Mrs. North, the Thin Man and later, the Fat Man. There was, also, Sam Spade. Remember, “ Henry,-Henry Aldrich!- Coming Mother!” And don’t forget The Great Gildersleeve or Amos an’ Andy as well as great shows like Jack Benny and George Burns and Gracie Allen. Of course Bob Hope was the most popular war effort comedian. He and Dorothy Lamour, the sarong girl toured the Army, Navy and Marine camps at home and overseas in WWII and Korea. The most popular legs in the war were those of every soldier’s pin-up girl, Betty Grable. Phil Harris was a popular program.

Mother, like most mothers, had her programs to keep her company during the day. I think Ma Perkins and Stella Dallas were the two most popular of the daytime shows. It wasn’t long before those daytime shows were being referred to as soap operas because of their popularity with the housewives of America. There was, also, Lorenzo Jones and his wife, Bell and Young Doctor Malone.

When we listened to the radio we listened for Johnny saying,” Call for Phillip Morris,” and, “I’m Froggieee, Froggie the Gremlin,” also, “That’s my dog, Tag, He lives in a shoe, I’m Buster Brown, look for me in there, Too!” Just like today, some of the commercials were as popular as some of the programs. Another commercial that was popular was the program, Grand Central Station’s Bromo-seltzer add; ‘ Fights acid three ways, Bromo-seltzer,Bromo-seltzer,etc., and on and on sounding like a train engine. And, of course, the most popular ads in the nation were the Burma-Shave ads. They had witty rhymes on them and were scattered along the highways from coast to coast and border to border. They were good to break the monotony of traveling.

Back to the dump.

The dump was the place where tree stumps and grapevine stumps were dumped. There were acres of them and the roots of the big trees were perfect for burrowing around in and making forts. My stepbrother, Floyd, and I made many forts and trails through the tree roots. One time we were at the dump and Gene Burgin and another guy (I can’t remember who) were also there. We decided to play a game of shooting at each other with our nigger shooters. (Now they are called slingshots) The idea was to come as close to each other as we could without actually hitting anyone. We would sneak around through the trails and try to sneak up on each other and get a shot in that was so good it couldn’t be considered anything but a hit. When one or the other side had both parties hit, the game would be over. To call time out, one had to hold up two fingers in the v style. Floyd and I were doing pretty well and had gotten in a couple of pretty close hits. Then Floyd wanted to call time out so he held up two fingers. The problem was that he raised up behind his two fingers. Eugene shot just as Floyd raised up and the rock went between Floyd’s fingers and hit him in his eye. It barely missed his eyeball and knocked a chunk out of the side of his head. He yelled and the blood started spurting out of his face. We thought his eye had been put out and we ran home as fast as we could. Luckily, Mother was there and she always knew just what to do. She was a whiz at nursing wounds. She looked at it and made sure Floyd’s eye wasn’t in any danger then she did what she always did. She cleaned it up, put some Merthiolate and a bandage on it and told us to be more careful. And we were for a while.

I think Mother used Merthiolate because, in addition to its healing power, it burned worse than fire. I think that was the biggest reason we were more careful.

I went to the dump one time and found some violets. I brought them home and Mother planted them in an old tire. She laid the tire flat on the ground and filled it with dirt. That was my planter. Those violets soon filled the tire and flowed over the sides of it.

Another thing we kids used from the dump was grapevine roots. Grapevine roots are partially hollow and, when lit on one end, make a pretty good, if terribly harsh, cigarette. We smoked them sometimes although not for long at a time. They burned our throats so badly that we would be hoarse after a few puffs. It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off of the grapevine cigarettes.

The dump was a place that made kids look forward to searching. It was full of treasures of all kinds. The trash that was dumped there was dry trash. There was no garbage mixed with it. That made it better through which to root. It is amazing what people threw away. I found coins, medals and a lot of costume jewelry. I kept a cache of wonderful things I had collected from the dump in a cigar box. Those were the good old days!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Step Dad-Pop...

My step dad was Vernon Bue. Mother had known him for years and had always had a crush on him. He was a tall, handsome man with ‘Gary Cooper-like’ features. Mother would later say he was the only man she ever loved.

When we all came to California, the Alexanders and the Bues, Mom was married to and living with my Dad, and Vernon and Delia Bue were living together with their families. I know we saw them from time to time (as when we lived at Bear Creek Camp) and later on in Merced where they and we lived. I was never aware of Vernon and Delia arguing or fighting with each other. I cannot even remember being in their house when they were married to each other, although Floyd and I played together and our families sometimes visited together.

I think my mom had eyes for Vernon long before he and his wife had marital problems. It is my impression that Mother wanted Vernon and aggressively went after him and her actions hastened the breakup of the Bues’ marriage. I was busy being whoever I was as a child and didn’t notice when Mom and Vernon finally got together. I know he moved in with her for a while after we moved to the Airport District. Then he was gone for a while and mother kept company with a man named John Smith .

The Smiths lived on a street several blocks behind our street and across an open field on an extension of Riverside Drive, later to be renamed Hillside Drive. John had a bunch of kids about the ages of Mom’s kids. His son, Johnny, was a little older than I was and two more boys were older and younger than I was. George was older and I don’t remember the younger boy’s name.

He had a couple of beautiful daughters. The older daughter’s name was Peggy and the younger one, the most beautiful girl in the world, was named Norma. She had coal black hair and blue-blue eyes and the finest features of any girl alive and I was completely in love with her. She was about seven or eight years older than me. It broke my heart when she later married a Filipino man, short and dark and at whom no one would think she would even look. The only reason I can think of as to why Norma would marry him was because John married a Filipino woman first.

There was another girl (she was my age) named Connie. She was a pretty girl and I might have been convinced to like her if Norma hadn’t been around. Of course, I was too young to understand just why I should like any girl but with Norma, there was no reason needed. With her near, I was under a spell and if I had been old enough to know why I was in love with her, I surely would have pursued her relentlessly and eventually acquired her for life.

The boy, Johnny, raised game chickens and on occasion, entered some of them in chicken fights. He was never serious about his chicken fights and I doubt any of them ever got killed in a fight. He had several kinds of game roosters. Some were WarHorses, Cuban Shufflers and Round Heads. He also had a weird looking Rooster called a Houdane. (Hoo-dane) It had feathers on its head that drooped down from the top to below it’s beak like an umbrella. They went all the way around its head and even covered its eyes. It was really strange. The older boy, George, liked one of our girls for a while; Mickey, I think.

I remember one time Mother, John Smith and I went up to Coloma, a town in the gold country. I guess we had a good time. I found the first quicksilver I had ever seen in the river there. I had a heck of a time picking it up. I showed it to John and he got all excited, saying that where there was quicksilver, (mercury) there was gold. We went back to look but didn’t find any gold.

John’s wife had died before he met Mother and, after he and Mom went together a couple of times, I recall Mother going to John’s house. It didn’t take John long to realize that Mother wasn’t for him. She was too bossy and he couldn’t deal with that. Anyhow, their romance didn’t last for long.

After a time, Vernon came back and finally moved in with Mother. They didn’t marry for a while. I guess they had to wait for his and her respective divorces to become final. They finally went to Reno and got married. I remember some of the kids getting on to mother because she was living with Vernon without being married. She said they were living as man and wife so it was all right. It’s strange how, "all right,” something can be when it is you and not someone else who is doing it. I guess nothing ever really changes, does it?

Anyhow, after Vernon moved in and Mom and Vernon started living together as man and wife, Mom wanted me to start calling Vernon, Dad. I couldn’t do that because I had a Dad so I called him, “Pop.” I don’t think it made much difference to him one way or the other. He wasn’t an affectionate man with children. I can’t recall ever seeing him even hug one of his own kids and I don’t think he was attracted to me, to say the least. I think he accepted me only because I came with the package, (Mom) I think he later even regretted accepting Mom, after he realized how domineering she was. He was a quiet man but that is a hard row to hoe when around Mother.

She brought out the worst in him, if there was any. They had screaming fights after they had been married for a while. Mother did most of the screaming and Pop, after a while, responded in kind. One time Mom got so mad because Pop disagreed with her that she threw an orange at him. He threw it back and she had a fit. Mother thought no one should ever,” dispute her word.” Not even her husband.

Pop didn’t really dislike me. He just knew I was Mother’s baby and got away with a lot. I didn’t really get away with a lot; I just did what I wanted to and took whatever punishment came as a result of me not minding. If I was told not to go to the river or I’d get a whipping, (Mom would always say,” I’ll get a switch and cut the blood out of you!”) I went anyway and took my whipping. Mother always made me ‘go get a switch’ for my whipping.

Pop’s kids minded Pop if he gave them a serious look when he told them not to do something. He never had to whip them and he wouldn’t allow Mother to either. With them, whipping wasn’t necessary. I know they must have loved their Dad and he them but none of them ever showed it.

Although Pop was a church going man, a member of the Church of Christ, he still liked an occasional drink, usually Four Roses or Three Feathers whiskey or a beer now and then but Mom wouldn’t allow it in the house. When relatives came to visit, Uncle Mac Rayburn or Uncle Curly Johnson or Grandpa Johnson or someone else, Pop would take them to the park and they would have a drink. I think they drank for the manliness of it more than anything else.

Uncle Mac was married to Grandma Johnson’s sister, Cannie Brummett-Rayburn. Uncle Curly was Mother’s brother, Newton Johnson. He was a constable of Longview, Texas. His wife was Hazel and he had three kids; two girls, Juanita and Paula and a son, Morris Lee.

Pop had a bad back that hurt him when he sat a lot so he would squat on the floor and lean back against the sofa and read. He read the Bible or Coronet or Pageant magazines. I think he read a lot.

The only time I remember Pop getting mad at me was when my stepbrother, Floyd, and I ditched school one day. We went some place on the other side of town and somehow word got to Pop where we were. He came after us and told us to get in the car, He looked at me, red in the face, and said, ”James Cameron, I ought to just whip you. Floyd never did things like this until he started running around with you.” I thought he would hit me but he didn’t. I guess he was right about it. I was a bad influence.

Pop never liked me much when I was a kid. After the war money was hard to come by and Pop and my brother-in-law, Clarence Weatherford, Mickey’s husband, did whatever they could to make money. They found and hauled scrap metal to the junkyard and sold it and they topped and chopped down trees for people.

One time I went with them to a farmhouse where they had contracted to cut and chop up a eucalyptus tree for fire wood. There was a fence around the pasture where the tree was. At the entrance to the fence was a barbwire gate, four strands of wire stretched between two poles. The gate had a pole at each end. The free end that opened had a loop of wire at the top and one at the bottom. To open the gate, we had to stretch the gate to get slack and remove the top loop then the bottom loop and swing the gate back. I was ahead of Pop and Clarence and tried to stretch the gate for slack and take the loop off to open the gate. I couldn’t do it. Pop came over with a smile and said,” Well James Cameron, I thought you were stronger than that.” Then He opened the gate. It was embarrassing to me and I was quiet the rest of the day. I didn’t dislike Pop but I never really cared to be around him. It didn’t seem to matter to either of us whether I was around him or not.

Mother didn’t always use good judgment about things concerning Pop and me. One time when I was in about the eighth grade, Mom and Pop were having an argument about the word,” often.” Pop was saying the word was pronounced,’ ofen,’ with a silent,’t,’ and mother said the,’t,’ wasn’t silent and the word was,’ of-ten.’ They couldn’t agree. I hadn’t been listening to their argument and out of the blue Mom wanted to ask me what the correct pronunciation was. Pop thought that was silly, to ask a kid. Mother insisted I would know since I did so well in English Grammar in school. (My best subject) I was embarrassed and so was Pop but that didn’t bother Mother. She asked me which was right and I immediately told them that, although the word without the ‘ t ‘ was used the most, either pronunciation was acceptable. They were both in the dictionary. It just depended on what you were comfortable with and how the people around you used the word. They were both right. I think mother had to take my word for it because she either didn’t know for sure or just didn’t want to lose the argument and Pop was just glad it would be over. Anyhow they both accepted that reasoning and the argument was over.

It was awkward for me and I know Pop wasn’t happy that Mother thought I knew more than he knew. I didn’t blame him for feeling that way. She seemed to think I was wise beyond my years and took every opportunity to say so. But she still introduced me to people as her baby, even when she was ninety-one years old. I think I should have considered it an honor to be perceived as being so wise by someone who really was so wise about so many things. She was just not too smart about some things, especially how to get along with people close to her, Pop in particular.

It’s strange how things turn out sometimes. When I was at home, Pop could care less if I was even around. Pop got stomach cancer when he was fifty-one years old and was dying. His sister was a nurse and lived in San Francisco. She got Mom to bring him to her home so she could take care of him. At first Mom refused to take him but finally decided it would be better for him so she took him. I was eighteen years old at the time and had just been married. I was in the army at Fort Bliss, Texas and had been since nineteen fifty-three. I had been writing to mother and knew Pop was sick but I didn’t realize how sick he was and that he was dying. I got a call at home (my wife and I had an apartment in El Paso) one day and it was Mother. She said hello and said there was someone who wanted to talk to me. It was Pop. He sounded very weak and I had a hard time hearing him. It was amazing. He said he missed me and wished he could see me. He asked how I was and how I liked married life. He said he wished he could talk to me. I said I hoped he would get better soon and he said he probably wouldn’t. I told him I was sorry he was sick and maybe I could see him when I got a furlough. He said he hoped so and said it was good to talk to me and we said goodbye. He died a few days later.

I'll add more later.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Friends...

After a while I began to make friends, aside from Sissy and Sonny Runyan, in the Airport District.I guess the first one was a boy named Donald Steely. He lived on Hillside Drive, two blocks south and a half block west of me. I don’t remember just how we got acquainted, I suppose just from being in the same neighborhood. His dad was a carpenter and he lived in a much nicer house than I did. I saw it a couple of years ago and it seemed much smaller than it did when I was a kid. His family was the first I knew of to have a telephone in our neighborhood. I still remember his number-5813J. Our first number was Lambert 23474. That was much later.
Donald was a cocky kid and thought he was tough and liked to show it. I guess my reputation for toughness preceded me because he never wanted to try me out in a fight. His mother was Juanita, a friendly lady and his dad was Ben, a friendly man. He had two brothers, Freddie and Gary David. His house always had a lawn and he kept it trimmed. His family was financially much better off than mine but that seemed not to matter. We played together and went to the river together. Donald could be braver than most because he always had an uncle around.

His dad’s brother, Jack, was there a lot of the time. He was about five years older than we kids were. He was a nice fellow and liked to be around Don and his friends. His other uncle, A J ‘Jake’ Redman, was also there sometimes. He was Juanita’s brother from Richmond and he had a reputation for being extremely tough.
Another friend I made was Utah Stephens. His real name was Carl Laverll but his Grandpa who raised him called him Utah and so that was his name. I think he took that from the old cowboy song,” Utah Carroll.”
The first time I saw Utah was one day when he was walking by my house. I said something to him and he gave me an answer I didn’t like so I took a poke at him on the shoulder. He wasn’t sure what to do so he went home. A little later I was skating on the road in front of the house and a girl walked up to me and asked if I was the one who was picking on her little brother. I said I was and she grabbed me around the neck and started punching me in the face. I struggled to fight back but, because I had on the skates, I couldn’t get a foothold. I also couldn’t stand up so she finally had to let me go because I was too heavy for her to hold up.
As I sat on the road taking my skates off, she left and told me not to pick on her brother anymore. I just cussed her and by the time I got my skates off, she was gone. Later that day I saw Donald Steely and told him about my run-in with Utah and his sister. Don said Utah was a good guy, new in the neighborhood, and his sister’s name was Merrilee. So the next time I saw Utah, we made friends. He was and still is a good guy and in later life we had some adventures together. Merrilee remained tough for as long as I can remember.
Utah was raised by his Grandpa and Grandma. He had a sister, Merrilee, and later she had a son who was raised by Pop Hampton, her grandpa. Pop Hampton’s name was Van Hampton. He lived to be about ninety-five years old.
The thing I remember about Pop and Mom Hampton was that they were very nice and quiet. Pop Hampton chewed a tobacco called Cotton Boll Twist. It was a bulk tobacco that was twisted in a rope and dried and cured. He would cut a piece from it with his pocketknife and chew it and spit in a can that was kept nearby. He was the first in the neighborhood to get a television set. That was about 1947. It was a 17-inch and his favorite program was championship wrestling. When we could, all of us kids and some other neighbors went to his house to watch wrestling on TV. It was a real treat. He doted on his grandkids and they loved him and Mom Hampton.
Another of my very first friends was Eugene Burgin. He lived on Hillside drive with his sisters and his mother and step-dad, Leonard Burgin. Eugene was a couple of years older than I was but he ran around with some of the same kids that I did, including me. He was a really good worker. He had a bunch of pigs he raised in his back yard, which was converted to a pigsty. Every morning before school, Eugene would make the rounds of the entire neighborhood and collect garbage for his pigs. He set it up with almost all the people in the neighborhood to save all their slop for him and he made his rounds every morning without fail, pulling a wagon with several large cans on it to hold the slop. He was always a good worker and, after he got old enough to drive a car, always earned his own money to service and drive it. I’ll have another story about these boys later on in this story.
Later I became friends with Gene’s uncle, Merle Burgin. Merle was younger than Eugene and Eugene didn’t call him, ‘uncle.’ We didn’t encourage Merle to go places with us. He seemed too young although he was almost my age.
I was a fat kid and, after a while, I began to be called,” Fat James,” by the kids and later by grownups, too. I resented it at first and had a few fistfights with some of the boys but, after the grownups started to think that was my name, I got used to it. None of my family or relatives called me Fat James. As it turned out, I was unique in my name and position in the neighborhood.


Friday, April 9, 2010

The Polio Scare… Banishment from the River...

I'll make this post a bit smaller than the last one. It'll be easier to read.

I spent so much time at the river, it was like my Guardian Angel lived there. She would never let anything really bad happen to me as long as I put my fate in her hands. Of course, at that time of my life, being a child, I didn’t fully understand the importance of her presence in my life but there must have been a vague realization of that important presence in the dark recess of my mind because I continually did things that brought me to the brink of disaster. I’ll tell of some of them later.
Grownups, of course, do not understand about such things as Guardian Angels and where they live and why they are there so they sometimes do things that attempt to interfere with the irrevocable scheme of life. My Mother and the Polio Scare was one of those things.
At one period the dreaded virus that caused polio was rampant in the United States. There were so many stories about how the virus was spread that no one knew just what to do to keep from getting the disease so everyone tried everything. Mother’s rumor that she believed was that polio was spread mostly by dirty water. She immediately set about to assure that my family and I wouldn’t have a chance of catching it from water, especially the dreaded river water. She ordered all of us kids to stay far away from the river on the penalty of death, either from the water if we went in the river or from her if we went in the river and survived. She was terrified of us catching polio from the river water.

The subject came up every morning before she went to work and in the evening when she came home. Mother always worked and so during the day she had no control over us. I, of course, headed for the river as soon as Mom left for work. I would spend the day at the river, swimming and playing, then try to be home before mother got home. As soon as she came home she would ask me if I had been swimming in the river. Of course I would say no. Sometimes she believed me and sometimes she wouldn’t. Once when I got there a little later than Mom, she saw by my red eyes (they get that way from being open under water) I had been in the river and made me strip and take a bath in a number three bath tub. It was very embarrassing to be bathed by my mother in the front yard. As luck would have it, while I was being bathed in the raw, a girl I knew walked in front of the house and saw me. She pretended not to notice and I pretended not to notice her. I saw her later many times but she never mentioned my spectacle.

Sometimes Joan and I would swim in the canal at the corner where the bus stop was. When mother came home we would try to be the first to tell her on the other. Whoever got to her first, claimed to have been pushed in by the other. The accused got a whipping most of the time. I sometimes wondered how mother stood it, knowing she should believe one of us but knowing we both lied. I think it was a ritual with her; believe one then the other, that way it was more fair to both of us and she felt like she was keeping us from dying from polio.

After a while a vaccine was discovered for the dreaded disease and we were once more allowed to go in the river. I had never stopped anyhow. I knew something or someone would always protect me while I was in the river. Even from polio. The river was my friend.

Mother worked always and while she worked, we kids were left alone. In those days kids being left to fend for themselves while their parents worked wasn’t unusual or frowned upon by others. We were always poor by most standards and learned very early that we must care for ourselves or it wouldn’t get done. Caring for ourselves wasn’t something that ever was considered good or bad. It just was our way of life. A parent worked and kids kept out of trouble and managed.

At one time we had a trailer house at the side of the house. My bed was in it and so was a washing machine. Mother would get up in the morning and usually wash and hang out a load of clothes and then wake me for school. One time when I was eight years old and in the third grade, I had been extra sick with a sore throat and had stayed home a couple of days. Having to stay home with it made my sore throat serious enough to do more about than just treat it. Mother decided I needed to have my tonsils removed so as soon as my throat got well, she arranged with the hospital to do the job. I wasn’t aware of it until the day before it was to happen.
Mother washed a load of clothes and hung them out and woke me up. She told me to get up and get dressed and at ten o’clock take the bus to the La Loma Church of Christ bus stop and walk from there (it was only a few blocks) to the hospital. She said to be there by ten thirty, that they were expecting me. I did it and when I walked up to the hospital door, a nurse met me and said,” You must be James,” and I said I was. She took me to a bed and had me get undressed. I was sedated with gas and moved into the operating room where the offending glands were removed.

That would have been the end of it except the gas made me violently sick. I tried to throw up but my throat was too sore. I couldn’t take water so the nurse gave me ice to suck on. The whole thing didn’t go well at all. When Mother came by for me that evening, the doctor told her I should stay the night so she left me there. Later that night I managed to eat some ice cream and that helped some. The next day Mother came by and got me when she got off work and took me home.

It’s amazing, you might say, that an eight-year-old child would be made to do such a thing on his own. It not only isn’t amazing, it wasn’t at all unusual for something like that to take place. I doubt it even occurred to mother that I might not be able to do as I was told. This wasn’t playing; it was something that needed to be done. It was important. Mother always knew us kids could do whatever was necessary to manage for ourselves. I am always complimented when I think of the confidence Mother had in the other kids and me. Any good in us now must have been instilled by events such as that, events that allowed us to make decisions on our own and not question them any more than our Mother did.
I went to Wilson School in my third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. I remember some of my teachers. Miss Crews was one, then Miss Cross. The one I remember mostly is Mrs. Eisenhut. She was my sixth grade teacher. Not much exciting or worth remembering happened there. I ditched school a lot.
I remember when we studied Mexican history. We made paper mache animals and made a piƱata and things out of straw. At the end of the study we ate enchiladas and tamales. I had to have sixty-five cents to pay for my meal. Mother didn’t have all of it to give me and I had to sell pop bottles to get the rest I needed. I recall I didn’t think it was worth it after we ate and wished I’d ditched and used the money for something else.

In my music class we bought small flute-like instruments called Symphonets and learned to play them. I got pretty good at it. We made up a little class band and had a good time. After I started Junior High, the music teacher there asked if anyone wanted to be in the band and I said yes. I brought my Symphonet to school and the teacher said I needed a real instrument, that the one I had was a toy. Every one got a laugh out of that. I was embarrassed and left the room and went home and threw the flute away.

Not much happened at Wilson School that is worth mentioning. I never made any close friends there. The main thing I remember about Wilson School is ditching school and having the truant officer come to the house. Mother always acted as if she could hardly believe I had played hooky from school. She knew how easy the schoolwork was for me and had trouble believing I’d miss school on purpose. I never got real good grades, mostly Cs, average and an occasional F. MY best grades were in music and English which were both extremely easy for me. Reading was easy and grammar, both of which came under the subject of English. I barely glanced at words to study for spelling and never missed one in a test. I can remember only a few names of my classmates and there is no reason to mention them in this journal.

The one thing I remember is something I mentioned earlier, buying Double Bubble gum at a drug store for a penny a piece and reselling it at school for up to a quarter a piece. I stopped doing this when another boy got caught doing the same thing and was suspended from school. He didn’t tell on me so I got away with it.

I remember going to a special fifth grade class for a short period of time at Wilson. I can’t recall why I went to this class for such a short period of time but I remember that it was made up mostly of kids from Little Okie and it stunk. I guess it was because the kids there were from homes, most of which had no inside toilets or bathing facilities, including mine. The kids stunk and the room stunk from the unwashed kids. I didn’t stay in that class for long. I don’t remember why. Maybe it stunk too much.

I remember times when I would get the itch (scabies) from someone or the other or just from the neighborhood and mother would mix up sulfur and grease and smear it all over me. I remember going to school with the yellow stuff under every part of my clothing. I was very careful to keep my sleeves pulled down, hoping the other kids wouldn’t notice. It never worked and I got laughed at a lot, not loudly though. I scrapped a lot in those days, mostly because of my environment.

Being Poor…

I guess being ‘poor’ is really a state of mind. My family was extremely poor and we knew it but I don’t remember feeling poor. I was aware that I never was given toys as a child and never had much of anything I could call playthings. Occasionally I was given a toy car and I cherished it and would play with it for hours, making roads in the dirt and having a terrifically good time. I can right now remember the feeling of pleasure I had playing with those toy cars. Once I got a toy truck that had a dump bed that actually dumped. It was a very sturdy truck, made of heavy metal; A Cadillac of trucks by today’s standards and I hauled tons of dirt with it. I seem to remember getting some building blocks at some time or other. I don’t remember being thrilled with that present. I’ve never been much of a builder of things.

Even after saying all of this about being poor, I don’t recall any of us ever mentioning or even thinking about ourselves as ‘poor’. When school started, we were given a few new pairs if pants or dresses for the girls and underwear and a new pair of shoes and some socks and these things were to last all year until school started next year. Birthdays and Christmas gifts were always clothes. I never wore shoes, even to school, until the weather got really bad and I was forced by Mother or a teacher to wear them.

The first time I can remember feeling poor was when I was in the ninth grade at Modesto High School. I briefly became a member of the FFA, Future Farmers of America, and as part of our lessons, we raised animals or chickens or some other farm animal. I raised Bantam chickens, a rooster and several hens, and had a coop in the back yard. One day we all loaded on a bus to tour our homes to see each child’s project. We went to several homes of some of the other kids first and I saw very nice homes and orderly animal shelters and corrals and saw no homes with outside toilets. Everything was immaculate and looked new and wonderful to me. When we finally reached my house, I began to wish I had stayed home that day.

The bus pulled up in front of the house and the kids began to unload and look around. They saw the shack and the outhouse and the dirty yard and the chicken-coop and I felt very small. No one said a disparaging word or made any comment when I showed them my project. They were very nice kids, mostly farm kids, and very polite, but I could feel the tension among them, even the teacher. It was very likely their first encounter with an Okie home.
When we got back to school, we briefly discussed some of the more elaborate projects and class was out. I never went back to that class. I transferred to a shop class. I was asked why I wanted the transfer and I said it was because I didn’t want to be a farmer and that was good enough for the school. I think the teacher probably already knew what had happened and why I wouldn't go back to the FFA classroom.

I'll stop this for now.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Growing up at 911 South Conejo Avenue, Modesto, California was as hard as it was easy. I stayed a child for a long time but grew up long before I should have. That sounds screwy I know, but you had to be there to appreciate and understand it. It will be hard to list my life in a straight line as far as years of age goes, but I’ll try.

Meeting Sonny and Sissy helped me get used to the neighborhood. They were very friendly kids and easy to know. Sissy was as skinny as a toothpick and never wore a top in the summertime; I guess because she had no top, not even (she said) after she grew up.
I spoke to her on the phone in 1992 when I was down in Modesto at a Little Okie Reunion at the Legion Hall. I wondered about her and found her older brother, James', number in the phone book and called him and he gave me her number. She was surprised and happy to talk to me and we talked over old times for a while.
She said,” James, I am a grandmother now and have finally gained a little weight. My daughter told me that I even have a bosom now!” That was good for a laugh from both of us.

Sonny was the fastest runner in the neighborhood and a pretty good swimmer. Sissy’s claim to fame was the amount of water she could blow out of her nose when she came up out of the water when we were swimming in the river. It was unbelievable!

Sonny and Sissy came to my house occasionally but I was allowed in their house only to trade funny books. Their Dad was very strict about that. Their house always smelled of fried baloney, which was what they took to school for lunch about every day.
Their Dad had a girlfriend in South Modesto, and he walked over there most evenings after work. I never knew what he did for a living. He had three other sons, Paul, James and Theo. Paul was a huge fellow and James was about average size and I don’t remember ever seeing Theo. He lived on the other side of town somewhere.

Sonny and I traded funny books every now and again, after either of us had traded with someone else. Trading funny books was a very important part of our lives. Almost as important as was reading them. The main funny books I read were Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman, Plastic Man, Joe Palooka, Wonder Woman, Archie and Tarzan of the Apes. Later others emerged such as Spiderman, the Green Hornet, Dick Tracey and the Classics Comics Series which told of historic events. There were some spin-offs such as Humphrey, a spin-off from Joe Palooka and B. O. Plenty, a spin-off from Dick Tracey. The magazines of those early days were Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and Life and the pocket sized books, Pageant, Coronet and Reader’s Digest.

We, also, played marbles. Most of the kids in that time of our lives shot marbles. We had plain marbles and shooters. The shooters were larger than the plain marbles and some of them were denser. Some people called the shooters, taws. I was a pretty good shooter and usually had more marbles than most of the other kids. We traded marbles, too. With the plain marbles, they were traded mostly one for one. If I had one the other guy liked and he had one I wanted, we’d trade. If you wanted a shooter, you had to trade several plain marbles for one shooter. The number depended on how good the shooter was and how badly you wanted it. You could use steely balls for shooters but most kids wouldn’t play against a steely ball. It was considered not fair to use a steely.

We also played tops. The tops were regular tops with the point filed down to a sharp point. These were called,” Spikers.” The object of the spikers was to have a contest to see who could spike a top that was already spinning on the ground. If you were good at it (and I was) you could throw your top at the one on the ground and split it or chip a piece off it with your spiker. It was considered cool to have a chip or two off your spiker. After a while, word got around about who was good at spiking and then it would be hard to get anyone to accept the challenge to spike.

We, also, played,” Mumble-de-peg.” That is played with a pocketknife. Your knife is stuck into the ground from a certain distance. The blade is open and placed on various parts of your arms and hands. Then your right finger is placed atop the knife handle and the knife is flipped toward the ground and must stick to stay in the ground. You start on your finger, then your knuckle, then your hand, wrist and on and on until someone misses. When someone misses, the other person takes a small peg and barely sticks it into the ground, just so it will stand up. Then the winner gets one smack with the handle of his knife to drive the peg into the ground. Then the looser has to pull it out with his teeth. It is quite a game.(Some called the game, ‘root the peg.’)

Another game that was popular when I was a kid (many, many, many years ago) was Indian Wrestling. Two people, usually boys or men, would lie on their backs side by side but in opposite directions, with their waistlines at about the same spot. Then, on a signal from someone or just a mutual sign, they would raise their legs next to the others straight up and let it drop three times. Then on the fourth time up, each player would attempt to lock his leg around the leg of the other and flip him over. The one who flipped the other was the winner. Physical strength had little to do with the outcome. It is a skill game that depends on timing.

And, of course, the most popular game of all with most boys in different families was putting on the boxing gloves. If there were boys of close to the same age and size in visiting families, they would invariably put on the gloves and square off against each other. It was a family affair and the kids and grownups alike usually enjoyed the event.
The gloves were sixteen-ounce gloves and rarely did anyone get hurt. Occasionally some of the grown men put them on and scrapped some. The only rule was no one could get mad. If you were getting the best of the other guy, it showed class to find an excuse to rest or stop, and if the other fellow was getting the best of you, it was no disgrace to seek a rest and ask for a mutual stoppage of the fight.
My stepbrother, Floyd, and I put the gloves on regularly until he finally outgrew me and I had trouble reaching him with my punches. At that time in our lives we just stopped putting on the gloves and we never missed it.

The girls played mostly Jacks, Paper Dolls , jump rope or hopscotch. Sometimes the boys played jump rope and hopscotch. I remember when we lived above Pate’s Store on South 9th Street, my sister, Mickey had a ton of paper dolls. I think Joan and Eva played with them some, too, but it was Mickey who enjoyed them the most. Mother would buy groceries that were wrapped in such a way so the wrappers had paper dolls printed on them. Then Mickey would cut them out and wait for the next package that had the doll clothes for her dolls. I don’t remember her dolls’ names. I think they were Tillie the Toiler, Fritzy Ritz, Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour and some others that were popular during the war.

Joan was the best at jacks. I recall her playing for so long without missing that I actually got tired of watching. Eva wasn’t as much of a game player as the other girls. Neither was Buddy. Buddy was always a good worker. When we lived in Merced, Buddy at age about 14 or 15 set pins in a bowling alley after school and made enough money to buy a new Schwinn Bicycle. He had it for years and rode it everywhere.

When we first moved to the Airport District (Little Okie) Mother worked at Hedley Hospital. Hedley Hospital had been a mental hospital before the war and during the war, it became a V A Hospital. I don’t know just when the changeover was made, to VA then back to mental but she worked there for some of both applications.
The main thing I remember about Mom working there was that she would sometimes bring home food. It was usually turkey. We would have it for our meals. And kids sometimes would kid me about my Mother working at the nut house. I had a few fights about that at first. Then Mother told me to stop fighting about it, that it was nothing to be ashamed of, so I stopped.

Shortly after we moved on South Conejo Avenue, Mom got word her brother, Bill, who was the baby of the family, had been killed at sea. He was in the US Navy in World War Two.

I remember Dad being there for a while. He and Mother never got along. Dad worked as a gardener around town. He had no formal education and never thought he could work at any kind of a good, steady job so he lined up what yard work he could and made regular rounds for a lot of people. I thought it was a pretty good job. If I was ever asked what my Dad did for a living (and I was a few times) I would said he was a Professional Gardener.

I was pretty sticky-fingered when I was a kid. We never had more than the bare necessities and money was hard to come by. If I wanted something and found a way to do it, I stole it from wherever I could find it. That was the only way I could ever have anything. I almost always got caught.
When I did get caught, I was taken to the Detention Home. Then mother would be called to come after me. I don’t know if she ever had to make restitution for what I had stolen. She would have if asked to. She never believed in taking anything for nothing. Mother always worked steadier than Dad to try to care for the other kids and me.

When I was eight years old, I met a kid in the neighborhood named William Bryant. He was fresh out of Oklahoma and had about as much nerve as I had. We plotted and carried out a burglary of Rollers’ Store. We broke in and stole cigarettes (neither of us smoked) and candy and soda pop. I don’t think we found any money. We, of course, got caught. I can’t remember what tipped everyone off but we were caught right away.
The police came out and took me to the detention home for the first time. Mom had to come and get me and I had to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Roller. Mom blames ‘That William Bryant ’ for leading me astray and the Bryants blamed me. I never played with William Bryant again after that.
He had a big brother we called Junior Bryant.

A lot of Bryants lived in Little Okie. The one I knew later was Barbara Bryant. She was about my age and very friendly.

I stayed away from the store for a while then went back to buying apples and grab bags.
Grab bags were small sacks of assorted candies and favors; usually a plastic ring with a propeller that whistled when you blew on it. They were from a nickel to a quarter each depending on how much was in the bag.

Another popular item was a wax bubble filled with koolaide. They were shaped into different images; Elephants, Rhinos and the like. Each was a penny or two. You put it into your mouth and crushed it with your teeth and drank the koolaide and then chewed the wax like gum. There were a lot of little candies you could buy for a penny in those days.

The most popular was Fleers Double Bubble Gum. Each piece was wrapped in a small comic story of some kind. It was excellent quality and the flavor lasted a long time and the gum lasted for as long as you wanted to chew it.
It was a penny apiece and was very scarce after the war started. When I was in the fifth and sixth grades, I would go to a drug store on Yosemite Boulevard on a certain day each week and wait for the bubble gum delivery. If I was lucky enough to be there when the delivery was made, I would buy all I could afford (usually a quarters worth or so) and keep out ten pieces for myself and go to the school and sell the rest for a quarter apiece. It was in demand at school and I never had trouble selling all of it. I got a lot of spending money that way.

The Strand Theater was the main theater in Modesto. On weekends it would show feature pictures and comedies from nine in the morning until two am the next day.(If you stayed for the midnight show)
Sometimes there would be an amateur hour where people would go on stage and sing or dance or something. Prizes were given for the most applause. Sometimes there was a door prize given for the patrons, usually a dish of some kind. Sometimes your ticket stub would be put in a giant wire tub and the tub would be taken to the stage. Someone from the audience would be selected to spin the tub and a stub would be picked out. The one picked would be the winning number and that person would win a prize, a nice dish or something else.

In those days a quarter went a long ways. I could ride the bus to town and go to the show and get a bag of popcorn and ride the bus back with a quarter and have a penny left over for bubble gum.

Sometimes some of us kids would go around to the back of the theater and climb up to a window to the ladies’ room, and if we were very careful and watched for a time when the show was the most exciting and the room was empty, crawl through a tear in the screen and sneak out into the movie for nothing. This was a very common practice and I don’t remember anyone ever getting caught. I wonder if they knew about it and just let us do it. Not too many kids knew about that way in.

My mother was always worried and I usually got a whipping for being gone all night but I was not deterred. If I had a whipping coming, I took it and waited for the next time.

I spent many nights on the river alone. At first Mom would come looking for me and, once in a while, she would find me and whip me all the way home, as well as she could at a dead run.
Once in a while I would get hurt some way and her worries would seem justified. Once I was swimming at the pipe when the water was pretty low. I crawled along on the sandy bottom on my hands and knees. Just my luck, this time, someone had thrown a broken bottle in right there and my knee came down on it and it cut a huge gash in my right knee. I got out of the water with my knee bleeding like a stuck pig and started for home. I didn’t have anything to wrap around it so I just held my hand over it. Blood was everywhere.
Just then a lady came by in a car and saw me and almost panicked. She screamed for me to get in the car so she could take me to the hospital. She wrapped a cloth bag around it and started driving. When we came to the house, I told her that was where I lived and to stop. I almost didn’t tell her because I knew what Mother would do to me after she fixed my knee. But the lady did stop and Mother came running out and saw me. She thanked the lady and took me into the house.
By now most of the bleeding had stopped. It was a huge gash (about three inches long and to the bone-I still have the scar) and Mom cleaned it out with alcohol and, after the bleeding had completely stopped, put some Merthiolate on it and wrapped it in a bandage.
For some reason, to this day I don’t understand, she didn’t whip me. It bothered me for several days, both my knee being sore and not getting a whipping.
But I recall I was back in the river before the knee healed up all the way. It seemed I was always in the river.

I'll stop here and resume this later so it won't be too long.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Home At Last...

*This is the shack Mom bought. That old trailer was there for a while. That is Mother in front. I’m not sure who the men are.

Mother found a lot with a one-room shack on it in an apricot orchard across the street from the airport at, 911 South Conejo Avenue, in East Modesto. This area was commonly known as,” Little Okie.” The term,’ Little Okie,’ pretty well described the people who settled there.
The area was mostly one, two or three room shacks, most with outside toilets. The outside toilets were holes dug in the ground, usually five to six feet deep, always at the far rear of the house, with outhouse buildings built over them. The outhouses had a door at the front only with a latch inside so the door could be latched while the toilet was in use.
The outhouses had board seats nailed across the room at sitting height for an adult with either one or two holes cut through the top as entrances to the refuse area below. The seat boards reached from the center of the house to the back with boards nailed from the front of the seats to the floor so small children couldn’t fall in under the seats. The idea was to enter, drop your pants, (or lift your skirt)
Sit over one of the holes and relieve yourself into the darkness below. If you were fortunate, you would never need to actually see what was in the bottom of the abyss. We had a two-holer. The most dangerous things about the outhouses were the honeybees. (And spiders)
*This, of course, wasn’t the only use for the outhouses. They were prime targets for trick-or-treaters who were turned away from houses without the ransom required to assure a safe Halloween Night. In the event someone blundered by not treating the goblins that roamed the streets of the neighborhood to candy or some other treat, they should approach the outhouse in the dark with extreme caution and, if they had one, a flashlight. You could build a sturdy and strong outhouse but it was hard to build one that couldn’t be turned over by ghosts and goblins!*
Anyhow, Mother bought the lot, shack, outhouse and all for five hundred and fifty dollars, (or thereabouts) on a contract of about 5 dollars a month, or so. The house had a water hydrant inside above a sink and natural gas with a four-burner gas stove with an oven. For hot water, we heated it on the gas stove. I think the water from the sink ran out a pipe to the back yard on the ground. I know we didn’t have a septic tank at that time.
It is sort of hard to know where to start on this adventure, this part of my life. I was seven years old and in the third grade at Wilson School. My teacher was Miss Crews. I remember enrolling, remember the feeling of the new school and being there for the first time. I don’t recall many of the kids in that room. They weren’t really a part of my life away from school and school wasn’t an important part of my life; it was just somewhere I had to go.
The first kids I met were twins, a boy and a girl named Alice and Albert Runyan. They were called Sonny and Sissy. I lived on South Conejo and they lived around the corner on Bonny Brae. They were very skinny, just opposite of me in build. Sissy was a pleasant girl and Sonny was the fastest runner in the world. With the foul mouth he had, he had to be fast on his feet. Mother thought he was a great kid because, after he became acquainted with her, he would run by the house and tease her by saying,” Georgie, Porgie, Puddin’ an’ pie, kissed the boys and made them cry!” and she would run after him for a little ways like she was going to get him then she would laugh and laugh, like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen. I'll tell more about Sissy and Sonny later. * It must have been summer time when I first met them because we regularly went to the river (Tuolumne River) to swim and spend the day. We mostly went to the Legion Park, which ran for half a mile along the river, from South Conejo Avenue, west to Empire Avenue. It was a very nice park, with restrooms and dressing rooms at the east end. The east end of the park was called, “The Big End,” and the west end, at the Legion Hall, was called, “The little End." I’m not sure why. Maybe because there was more distance from the road to the water at the Big End than at the Little End, and so, more park grass area.
*Almost everything with which we came in contact, i.e., treed areas, pastures, dump grounds, bridges and many other things had specific names.*
Across the road from our house was an open, grassy field, empty except for a small building just at a fence, which ran along the other side of the street. Farther out in the field was a wrecked fighter plane. That area was ‘the field.’ All of the area was an airport that had been closed down and out of use. Farther over from the field were hangers still standing. Sonny, Sissy and I explored them thoroughly and played there from time to time. Later the airport would be opened up to crop duster planes, and still later, refurbished and opened up to commercial planes. But now, the airplane runway was used for drag strips for hot-rodders. It was exciting and very noisy at times.
Up the road from our house, where Conejo makes a bend because of a canal outlet (the canal was underground there and the gates and valves were above ground) was the ‘bus stop.’ The city bus, which said on its marquee,” Airport, via La Loma,” used that corner as the southernmost stop on its loop from town and back. Its driver was a man named, Mr. Reynolds. He was a very nice man and was always polite and courteous to everyone, even us okies.
Down the hill on Conejo, toward the park were homes of people I would later know but the one house that had a name was the house where Uncle Dan Bagley lived called, “Wheeler’s Ranch.” Right around the south corner from our house and on the right (everything was on the right because of the field) was Roller’s Store, a small market where we waited for the school bus. Mr. and Mrs. Roller lived next door on Connie Way. After I started to school, I usually took lunch money, and I would buy an apple each morning while I waited for the bus. Sometimes I bought a Mission Grape soda.
Below Wheeler’s Ranch was a slough that the road crossed. It was about three hundred feet wide and had many willow trees on it. They were black willow and they were called,’ the Willows.’ Us kids used to go down to the willows and climb up to the top of the highest ones and grab the end and jump off and ride the trees to the ground. They were so limber that it seemed impossible to break one of them.
Just up the hill from the willows, on the east side of the road, was an open field where the city trash was dumped. Tree trunks and grapevines were also dumped there. We found a lot of great things in the dump and built forts among the tree stumps and grapevines. The main things we looked for were funny books and magazines. But we also found clothes and other things worth keeping. The old saying,” One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is true. I remember finding some violets there and bringing them home and mother planted them in an old tire filled with dirt. They grew very well and were beautiful. This place was called,” The Dump.”
On down the road toward the park, where the road curved to the right, was a pipe that came out of the bank and dumped water into the river. It was the underground canal that comes down from the bus stop. This place is called,” the Pipe.” It was a popular swimming place because the water was fairly deep where it dumped into the river and we could dive off it into the river.
Down the river from the Legion Hall was a creek that emptied into the river. It was called Dry Creek.
Off Santa Ana Avenue was a winery called the Gallo Winery. Down from Gallo’s, toward a cherry orchard was an old single story building with a finished basement. It was a large building, probably two thousand sguare feet and had many rooms on each side of a long hall that ran the entire length of the building. Each room had a closet alcove with a small door in each closet that opened into the next room. The building sat alone in the middle of an open field. This was called,” The Whorehouse,” because we thought that was what it had been at one time.
Up the river is where I spent most of my life from age seven to age thirteen or so. The first field east of the pipe had a huge oak tree in the middle of it and not much else. That was called,” the Oak Tree.” On up from the oak tree was a clump of trees called the Little Jungle. . This wooded area was fairly small, although the trees were thick and tall. It was about three quarters of a mile east from Conejo, where Conejo curved to the right and became something else as it headed to the park which started about one fourth of a mile west of the curve. That area was called,” The Little Jungle.” The river was lined with huge oak trees and the Little Jungle had many Oaks as well as cottonwoods and willows and other trees.
Then came a fenced pasture where some horses were kept. This was called,” The Horse Pasture.”
On up from there was “The Big Jungle.” That is where I spent most of my time when I wasn’t in the river. The big jungle had many trees of all kinds grouped tightly together. Growing on the big jungle trees were wild grapevines. They were extremely thick and had been growing there for six thousand years. I know this because they were so thick that they made a plush carpet on top of the trees and, if you were careful, you could (and we did) walk on top of the trees without falling through. It was a wonderful place of magic for me, a loner for the most part, where I could be anything or anyone I wished, limited only by my imagination. (And there was no limit to my imagination)
I was Tarzan the Ape-Man or anyone else I wished to be. The big jungle was the Garden of Eden all over again for me. This was an age where innocence was commonplace and pleasure for me was as easy as watching the morning sun come up and as close as the pipe or the big jungle!
Just at the edge of the big jungle, on the bank of the river, was a deep, wide pile of concrete blocks that had been dumped around a pipe coming out of the ground. Water came out of the pipe all the time. It never stopped flowing. This was called,” The Artesian Well.”
On up the river about a mile or so was “The Hughson Bridge.” This was usually the farthest we would go up the river.
Underneath the Hughson Bridge, on the north side, was a sheer bank of pure clay that was called,’ Clay Banks.’ It was about a hundred feet long and ten or so feet deep and was full of holes that must have been made by crawdads because crawdads were what lived in them. A way to get the crawdads out of the holes was to stick your hand into the hole and, when one of them clamped onto your hand, pull it out with the crawdad attached. Most people would only do this once because the pinchers of the crawdads were very sharp and strong. Sometimes they would let go at once and you had to act swiftly to get it before it fell back into the river. You had to grab it just right across the back to keep from getting pinched again. Other times we would have to pry the pincher apart. Either way it wasn’t fun after the first or second time.
Along the river at various spots, mostly on the other side, were mussel beds. Mussels are fresh water clams. They weren’t considered good for people to eat but they made excellent fish bait. Some of them were huge, eight to ten inches in length and three to four inches wide. The fishing in the river was very good. It was filled with Perch, Bass and catfish and Carp.

I'll stop for now so as not to have this post too long.


Monday, March 1, 2010

On To Modesto...

As a child I don’t recall missing not having someone to play with. I spent a lot of time alone, playing cars with wooden blocks, arranging the dirt and rocks into roads and buildings and making streets through them. I spent hours sometimes just playing by myself, cars or cowboys and Indians or a wealth of other games I could imagine.
When I was too little to pick cotton, Mother would sit me at the end of a row while she picked the row of cotton and back. She’d tell me to ‘sit there and play until I get back,’ and I would. Later, when I was bigger, she’d make a cotton sack for me out of a potato sack with a shoulder strap so I could go along behind her and get what she missed. Of course, after I was ten and older, I had my own sack, probably a six-footer.
I’ll tell more about cotton picking later.

On to Modesto...

After some time (I have no idea how much time elapsed between Merced and Modesto) we got to Modesto in the covered wagon. We went to a place under the 9th Street Bridge. Later it was called Ingalls Auto Camp. I remember spreading my pallet on the ground and going to sleep and being awakened in the middle of the night and told to move my pallet. The river had risen and we were almost in the water. We moved our pallet and weren’t swept away. We weren’t at the camp for long.
The next thing I remember is living in a small upstairs apartment over Pate’s store, a small market. Daddy, Buddy and Eva were somewhere else; I don’t know where or why. That left Mom, Mickey, Joan and me. I started to school at Washington Elementary School, in the second or third grade, I don’t remember which.
The war was on (WWII) and cigarettes were at a premium. Along with Lucky Strikes, Camels and Chesterfields were new cheaper brands like, Alligators, Dominos and some others. Mickey was sneaking around to smoke and once in a while Mom would catch her and raise Cain with her and order her to stop smoking. Mickey didn’t stop smoking though; she just got smarter about hiding her cigarettes and chewing gum to hide her smoke breath. Then Viceroy came out with the first filtered cigarette and Mickey showed it to Mother and Mother said she could smoke if she only smoked Viceroy. That ended the battle about smoking. At least for Mickey.
I think Mother went to work at the Hedley Hospital while we lived above Pate’s Store. I guess I passed to the third grade while we were there.
The highlight of that part of town was the 9th Street Bridge. It was the main thoroughfare through Modesto from the south and it was unique. It was of average width and two lane (one in each direction) and about four hundred yards long. So far, so ordinary! But, what made it unique were two very large Lion statues at each end of the bridge; one on each side of the bridge entrance, both north and south! I rode those lions at least to Africa and back a hundred times; that is, when someone else wasn’t riding them! Remnants of them are still there. And the Railroad Bridge that ran parallel to the bridge was a source of adventure for us kids.
Underneath the railroad bridge was a narrow catwalk. We had to be very skillful acrobats and athletes to get onto that catwalk from the end and it was really an adventure to climb over the side of the bridge and down to get to the catwalk. And we had to be very careful not to be caught by the train while crossing the bridge or climbing over the edge. As an added attraction, it was about a mile to the river below! At that time it was the highest RR Bridge in the world! Now it is a lot shorter distance from the bridge to the river below. I don’t know what happened to cause that. (Could be because I got older)
The Modesto City Limit sign was at the bridge. The population was 17,000.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

School Days...

I think I have put this in a blog at some time before but, anmyhow, here it is again with a bit more added to it.

Mother took me to register for the first grade in the autumn of 1940. The school officials said I had to be five years old to start. So Mother took me back in January of 1941 and enrolled me in the first grade. I finished the first grade that year and advanced to the second grade when I was still five years old. I went to Galen Clark School.
The following year just before school started Mother took me to the school cafeteria to get my shots. I don’t remember what the shot was for but I know it must have been terrible because every kid there was whimpering or crying out loud in anticipation of the shot. Mom and I got in line and I didn’t have enough sense to be scared so I just went along with line until I reached the nurse who was giving the shots. She smiled at me and told me to roll up my sleeve and I did. She gave me the shot and it stung a little but I didn’t flinch or cry. She looked up at my mother and said,” My, what a brave little Man!” Mom said,” Yes he is.”
Floyd Bue, who would later be my stepbrother, also went to Galen Clark. Floyd had a high squeaky voice and, although he was a tall boy for his age and as physical as he should be for his height, he was timid and afraid of just about anyone who wanted to terrorize him. There were a lot of Mexicans enrolled in school and three of them liked to wait for Floyd and pick at him as he was walking home from school. The last time they made him cry, he told them that his brother was going to school soon and they had better watch out. I started awhile later and sure enough, on the way home that first day, the Mexican kids were waiting for him. Floyd was taller than I was but I was fatter than he was and that made me seem bigger. Floyd told me ahead of time about the boys and we were ready for them. When they approached us, one of them said,” Is that your brother?” and Floyd said it was and he is tough. The boy walked over to me and asked how tough I was and I punched him in the mouth. He started running away from us and the other two followed him. They never bothered us again. Floyd and I spent a lot of time together and we never bothered anyone and, after that incident, no one bothered us again.
I vaguely remember a water tower we climbed. I don’t remember what we did on it; I think just looked around. I thought up most of the things Floyd and I did together and he usually just went along with them.
The following is something that happened which, for whatever reason, has stuck in my mind as one of the most disappointing things I can ever remember happening to me as a child.
The carnival was in town and it is the first carnival I can ever remember. I was very excited about going and thought about it all day the day I was supposed to go. I went to school that day and mother told me to wait at the gate on a certain side of the schoolyard after school was out. I waited at the wrong gate and when everyone didn’t find me at the right gate, they went on to the carnival without me. I waited until almost dark then went home. There was nobody there and I didn’t know where the carnival was so I didn’t get to go. It left town the next day. All anyone could say to me was, ” You should have been at the right gate.” Sure. Thanks! I hated everyone for a long time after that for not looking for me. Sometimes I feel like I still do.
Not long after that Mother was canning some fruit on a kerosene heater in the kitchen (I think this is what happened- maybe the heater was just on for heat) and the heater caught on fire and blew up and the house was burned down. We lost almost everything. Uncle Nick lost everything.
I don’t remember much about what happened immediately after that. I know we started for Modesto. Dad was there with us. We had a two-wheeled trailer that was pulled behind our car. The trailer had a frame for the top that could support a canvas top to make it like a covered wagon. Mom and Dad slept in the trailer and us kids slept on pallets on the ground. When we were traveling, Dad would dig a hole in the ground where he wanted to build a fire. He carried a piece of tin with him to make an oven to cook biscuits. He would mix the biscuit dough and grease a pan and put the biscuits in the pan. Then he would put the piece of tin over the hole and build a fire on top of the tin. The hole under the tin would get hot and Dad would put the pan of biscuits in the hole and use the hole as an oven to bake the biscuits. It worked very well and Dad’s biscuits were always perfectly browned and extremely tasty.
We never had a whole lot to eat but we always managed. Sometimes Mother would boil water and put in sugar to make ‘sugar syrup’ for breakfast. We almost always managed to have chicken (chicken was very cheap in those days) at least once a week. Sometimes we would have bacon and once in a while we’d have spare ribs. But mostly it was biscuits and potatoes and gravy for dinner and biscuits and cream (or water) gravy or biscuits and sugar syrup for breakfast. Mother and Dad used a lot of canned cream instead of milk for gravy or other milk dishes. Canned cream went a lot farther than milk because it could be diluted to whatever strength was needed and, when there was milk left over in the can, they could put a tiny piece of bread in the hole to effectively plug the can and preserve the remaining milk. It’s amazing how long canned milk kept without spoiling.
I remember spreading my pallet under an apricot tree to go to sleep one night. I was, of course, sleeping with someone else, probably Joan. During the night it started to rain. Joan went to the trailer and told mom it was raining and mom said to pull the quilt up, so we did. It was very warm under that quilt that night. I couldn’t get cool and the next morning I found I was covered with chicken pox bumps. Mom looked them over and said I had chicken pox and needed to keep warm and dry for a few days. No one else caught them from me. There were no ill effects from the disease.

That'll do it for this time. I won't wait so long next time.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bear Creek Camp...

*I'll start another episode here as I recall it. Some of my story may be duplicated; maybe I remembered the same thing over and re-inserted it into my journal. The next episode will start, "School Days." This one is, "Bear Creek Camp."*

My family lived in a couple of farm-workers cabins at a place called, ”Bear Creek Camp.” We had a Jersey milk cow and a 1931 Buick car that ran pretty well. We must have been there for a while because I remember a lot of things that happened there.

At one point the cow got loose and ran away toward the creek and we all had to chase her until she got tired to catch her. She had a huge bag and gave a lot of milk. No one ever got sick from drinking the raw milk.

Dad worked for a turkey farmer. When payday came, Dad, Mom and I went to the farmhouse to collect Dad’s pay. When Dad got out of the car and started to open the gate to go into the yard, a huge German Police dog ran at him barking and snarling with bared teeth. He wanted to eat my Dad. Dad wouldn’t go into the yard, even after Mom told him the dog wouldn’t bite him. Finally she said to get out of the way, she’d get the check, and she walked into the yard and told the dog to shut up and to go and lay down, so he did. She was fearless. She got the check.

The Bues were Vernon- the Dad, (who would later become my stepfather) Delia- the Mother, three boys; James, Bobby and Floyd, and two girls, Betty Jo and Joyce. Later we would call James Bue,’Big James,’ and me, ‘Little James,’ because he was older than I was.

Christmas came when we lived there. Christmas was never much about gift giving in those days. Money was too hard to come by to spend much on anything more than necessities. Floyd Bue and I were about a year apart in age, with him the oldest.
We got a cap pistol and a box of caps each for a present. I recall we played together for hours with them-until the caps ran out! We would climb on top of the cabins and jump from one to another trying to catch or get away from each other. I remember we played mostly detective games, cops and robbers because the guns were of an automatic type and not revolvers used by cowboys.

One time the big boys made a pair of stilts out of two 2 by 4s and some blocks of wood and straps. Everyone wanted to walk on them but Big James made them so he got to walk on them first. When he got up on the blocks with the ends of the 2 by 4s under his arms, one of the straps broke and he fell with his armpit onto the end of one of the boards and tore the underside of his arm up. Mother put some Merthiolate on it with a bandage. It was still sore when they left.
This didn't faze the other boys because they repaired the stilts and took turns using them.

While we were there, my folks traded our Buick for a Star car and a sow and nine pigs. We ate very well for a while.

When the Bues left, we all gathered around their car that had a trailer hooked on the back with their belongings in it. We were saying goodbye when the car pulled out. Buddy was standing near the right back seat of the car and, when it pulled away, his foot went forward and went under the trailer and the trailer tire ran over his foot. It didn’t break any bones but it surely flattened his foot!
We moved away shortly after that.

Just before we moved I seem to recall being in the car with Dad and Buddy. We stopped at a grocery store/bar for something and I was told to stay in the car until they got back.
While they were gone I played at driving. While playing, I pulled the emergency brake on and forgot about it. When they got back, we left and, after a while, smoke began to come up from under the car. Dad pulled over and Buddy got out and looked under the car and found the emergency brake band (which went around the drive shaft) was on fire. He threw sand on it until the fire was put out. They got mad at me and gave me hell for almost burning up the car. It’s strange I can still recall that so vividly. (I seem to always recall bad experiences vividly)

At one point, I remember we lived in a tent near a canal. I think it was at Triangle Ranch near Modesto. The tent had a wooden floor and was a lot easier to keep clean than a regular tent without a floor. One of the girls or Mother would roll up the sides of the tent every day or so and we would mix warm soapy water and pour on the floor and scoot around on the floor or skate around with rags on our feet or use a broom to scrub the floor. Then we would rinse it with buckets full of clear water. It kept the floor pretty clean. Mother and the loder girls didn't seem to mind that Joan and I used the floor like a skating rink; maybe because it got the floor cleaner and the others had less to do while cleaning it.

The next thing I remember was living in Merced. We lived in a house owned by a man named, Mr. Nick Buono, whom we called,” Uncle Nick.” I think Mother cared for him in return for lodging for her family. I don’t know where Dad was. We were there for a while; long enough to be visited by relatives from Texas.

One incident I remember is the time Lit Christmas, my half sister and her husband, Roy, were there with some of their kids.
Roy was mother’s cousin and Lit was Dad’s oldest daughter by his first wife.
They had seven kids; four boys-Roy Jr., (Cowboy) James, Billy and Johnny, and three girls, Leona, Eva Lee and Rosa Mae.

(Uncle Nick made his own wine and stored it in the cellar.)
One day Cowboy and Buddy sneaked into the cellar to steal some wine. Bud took a few drinks and Cowboy decided he would rather stretch it out a little. He lay down under the spigot and turned the spigot until the wine just barely dripped into his mouth. He did very well for a while but the wine finally caught up to him. He got so drunk that he couldn’t get on his feet without help.
Mom raised Cain with him and he staggered outside and threw up from the kneeling position until he passed out on the ground. He was carried inside and put to bed. He was still sick when he awoke and swore he would never again get drunk on wine. He stayed sick the rest of the day and all the next day.

*Next is an incident I recall happening in Merced while mother was visiting a lady friend.
I was playing with a little boy at his house and he was riding a tricycle. Behind it he had a push type rotor lawn mower tied to the trike and was pulling it like a trailer. Trying to play with him, I pushed the mower and a blade came around and sliced my right hand to the bone. It almost cut off the outside fleshy part of my palm. I ran into the house, scared to death, to show mother. She took me into the bathroom and washed it and put Merthiolate on and wrapped it in a bandage the lady gave her. Then she took me to the hospital where a doctor looked at it and put iodine on it, re-wrapped it and said it would be all right; and it was.

I'll end this here so this chapter won't be too long. I'll add, "School Days," later, before too long.