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.