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.