Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Brain Dump: Early 1960s

In 1962, my family lived in Chula Vista, a suburb of San Diego nestled against the Mexican border.  (The last time I visited, I noticed the Jack-in-the-Box ordering box for drivethru had the Spanish in larger letters than the English.)  We lived in an apartment on Woodlawn Avenue, apparently 544, according to online maps and my reconstruction from memory, immediately north of the elementary school (maybe junior high) my sister Marilyn attended, which is now Mueller Charter School.  Not immediately adjacent, but very close was the I-5 freeway.  I have a vivid memory of helping my mother and Marilyn put up some silly poster covered in matchbooks as part of her pursuit of some student body government post.  (Was she matchless?  I do not remember.)  It was cold.

Travel was fairly rare for us.  We were definitely not well off.  Complicating the matter was that my father was sought by the FBI, and so he generally worked away from home.  The FBI would sometimes enter without warrant or probable cause to search for my father and threaten my mother that her kids would be taken away.  Finding my father on these accidental "interstate flight to avoid prosecution" charges could not have been a high priority task, because we drove to San Pedro almost every weekend to visit him.

My father worked at Todd Shipyards as a welder repairing ships.  He rented what in retrospect was a very odd house on top of a hill which seems may still exist on an unaccountably unbuilt hill.  It wasn't very big and it was ancient, even in 1962, but big enough for him to live in while working graveyard and swing shift, repairing I believe both commercial and Navy ships.  There were spectacular views from front and back of the house and lots of black widow spiders that caused my mother to put the fear of God into me.

We started driving north when my mother got off work.  I have no strong memories of the car except one bad one.  I have this odd impression that we arrived at my father's place in the wee hours of the morning.  Roads were slow at the time; the Interstates were far from complete, and state highways were often stop-and-go through every little town.  I do know that when we arrived, the smell from the kitchen was overwhelming.  My father always had a pot roast ready with onions, carrots, and potatoes.  Even at 5, this was an overwhelmingly good smell and flavor experience!

Cars, even new cars, which we never had, had no seatbelts.  I can remember standing up in the middle of the bench seat next to my mother.  It was quite common to make "car beds," collections of blankets that provide something that would help kids fall asleep.  Perhaps they provided some padding for minor crashes.

The only strong memory I have is a blackout, then waking up hours later in the bed of my Uncle Lloyd's pickup.  A drunken Marine from Camp Pendleton had rear-ended up, destroying the car.  My siblings have no memory of me being hurt, but for many years, I had a night terror, in which I was lying in the back seat of that car, and suddenly something monstrous raises its terrifying face to the window.  (If you have never experienced a night terror, good for you.  They make nightmares seem pretty pleasant.)

The weekends with my father were wonderful.  I always loved my father immensely; he was kind to me in a way that my mother simply could not manage.  There was a grape arbor over the walkway to the house and it was a lovely place where we often ate dinner outside on Sunday afternoon.  There were not enough beds, so we were often camped out on blankets all over the house.  Amazing how much easier it is fall asleep at that age.  I have several very positive memories of learning there.  Marilyn drilled me on my multiplication tables.  I was not in first grade yet.  My brother taught me to read so young, that I have no memory of not reading.  I always assumed that I learned at 3 1/2.  My sister Susan's memory is that I was 2.  I know that by first grade I was reading, learning, and memorizing from my brother's high school chemistry textbook.  This was a great advantage.  I went from child care to first grade at St. John's Elementary School, skipping kindergarten.

Returns to Chula Vista were disheartening.  I have memories of arriving in north San Diego to a very hard to miss Flying A gasoline station sign.

There will be more.

One other trip to San Pedro memory.  For some reason, our mother put Marilyn and I on a bus to San Pedro.  A Greyhound for the long trip to San Pedro.  We then rode a city bus to the base of the hill on which our father lived.  While that may sound like a crazy thing to do, in the early 1960s, it did not seem so.  By the end of the city bus trip, there were guys making either  catcalls or inappropriate remarks to my sister who would have been 12 or 13.  The bus driver told them to knock it off and they did.


  1. Wow, how fascinating!

    You've definitely lived a more exciting life than I have, and I too live near Chula Vista- in Carlsbad, just up the coast. Your story reminds me that when I was little, my family & I lived in Woodland Hills, in The Valley (San Fernando Valley, that is.)

    We used to drive down to Vista, very close to where I live now, to see my grandmother. There wasn't any I-5 then, just the Coast Highway, and I always looked forward to going past Camp Pendelton because there was a good chance of seeing tanks or helicopters very close to the road. What a long trip it seemed back then!

    I do hope sometime you'll tell us why the FBI was so interested in your father!

  2. Why was the FBI after your father? (And if he was wanted, how did he get to work on Navy ships....)

  3. Mauser: In the 1950s, when credit cards were quite rare, a common method for small merchants to extend credit was to hold a personal check until such time as you had brought enough cash to pay off the check. Technically, this meant you had written an NSF check (because you knew there was not enough funds when you wrote it--worse than an accidental bounce). This was a felony in Washington State at the time. My parents were going through one of those bad times that used to be common around Seattle at the time, and a local grocer had graciously extended credit in this manner to my parents.

    The sheriff apparently wanted to prove how tough he was on crime and started enforcing the law, even where there was no fraudulent intent. Worse, my father played poker with the sheriff weekly. Guess who was winning and who was losing?

    Next, the bank suddenly and without warning closed my parents' checking account. (Banks had a bit more discretion in those days.) Worse, my father had gone to San Francisco to look for work within a day or two of the issuance of a warrant. FBI gets called. Part of why I am suspicious of unlimited governmental power.

    Repeated attempts through intermediaries to resolve this went nowhere. They wanted a felony conviction.

    How we was able to get work: Do you think DoD just ran a database query in 1960 for wanted fugitives? These days, his SSN would have flagged him within a few days of starting any job. Back then? He never registered to vote because that was an unneeded risk.