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.