Friday, April 9, 2021


My earliest memory is just before two which would be 1958.  I know it is that age because I described the house and the family providing daycare to my mother; she immediate knew when and where.  It was a 1950s refrigerator, the kind where the door and frame were all rounded.  The father pulled a beer out of the fridge and handed it to me, knowing I would take it like a soft drink.  It was yucky!  His wife reprimanded him.  I still hate beer today, probably for that reason. 

The next memories are I think from about four.  Because my father was on the run from the FBI, he lived in San Pedro, working at Todd Shipyards far from where our mother was raising me and my four siblings in Chula Vista.   These days, withholding reporting would have put the FBI at his employer at the second paycheck.  Back then, pretty much nothing was computerized. 

Friday nights we would all get into a car whose make and appearance is a complete blank.   Some sort of four door sedan, either 1940s or 1950s at best; the opening line of the Steve Martin film The Jerk immediately comes to mind. 

We drove up U.S. 101 from Chula Vista to San Pedro.   It was a long slow drive because lots of it went through cities along the way as surface streets.  I suspect it was only about three or four hours but I always fell asleep. 

My father rented a cottage on top of a hill that was walking distance to the shipyard.  (We had one crummy car in our family.)  It was built in the 1920s or 1930s.  Housing in Southern California was still cheap.  There was an arbor with figs, I think, growing over the sidewalk from parking to the front door.  It was very high above the surrounding flats, maybe 200 feet.  There were two roads to the top, one on the south side of the hill, one on the north.  I think there were a few other similarly decrepit cottages up there. 

We would arrive in what seemed the dead of night.  A vivid memory that I can still smell: pot roast.  My father would put a pot roast, carrots, onions, potatoes in the oven at a very low heat before he went off to work on swing shift.  By the time we arrived the smell was unimaginably good.  Stare at the roast hard and it would disassemble. 

There was a basement accessible from the outside.   I have some memory of wanting to get inside but it was kept locked.  I doubt they were any secrets.  The area was infested with black widow spiders and I am sure that my mother was being protective.  

There were not enough beds.   I remember sleeping on the floor next to my sister Marilyn who drilled me on times tables up to 12x12.  I do not remember learning to read.  My sister Susan remembers my brother Ron teaching me to read before I was two. I have to take her word for that because I do not remember a time when I was not reading books.  By first grade I was reading and understanding my brother's high school chemistry textbook.  Nor surprisingly, I skipped kindergarten.

First grade was at St. John's Episcopal elementary school.  I have a vague recollection that my mother was a clerk for a school system and my tuition was therefore paid by her employer. 

I recall that Mrs. Fuqua (yes, Hawaiian) was using phonetics to teach reading.  I played along because she turned the process into a game.  

I have one embarrassing memory.  I was reluctant to raise my hand to go to the bathroom during class, producing a large puddle under my desk.   I think other students laughed but Mrs. Fuqua was the model of a good teacher in handling it.

We lived in the Woodland Apartments in Chula Vista which from Google Maps still seem to be there next to the charter school.  Back then it was my sister Marilyn's junior high.  I recall vividly standing in the cold gluing matchbooks to a student government campaign poster for her.  (I think the idea was that she was unmatched for the office.)

We lived in a two bedroom apartment on the second floor.  My eldest sister Carolyn had already gone off to UCLA.  Susan and Marilyn shared one bedroom.  My brother and I shared the other bedroom.  My mother slept in the living room I think partly to shield us from FBI agents who, without search warrants, demanded to search the apartment for my father.   Perhaps an arrest warrant authorized a search.  They kept threatening to take away her children if she did nor reveal where my father was.  I think it was an empty threat.  They never took us.  My skepticism of Big Government was learned young. 

I have another vivid memory.  My father was moving out of the cottage.   He had taken a fall at work, suffered amnesia and wandered the streets of San Pedro for several days before he received medical care and his memory returned.

I believe we were going to meet my mother somewhere because my father had no car which is why he lived walking distance to his welding job at the shipyard.  We walked or rather he carried me on his shoulders for much of a mile or two to the ferry terminal.   I remember him getting me a Hostess chocolate pie from a convenience store.  Do you remember them?

The ferry took us across some body of water associated with the Navy base, which back then, was open for us to walk down the docks looking at warships. 

There are two ugly memories of the time.  My family caught a fish off the end of San Pedro pier.  They attempted to clean it on the kitchen table.  I was just old enough to see over the top as fish guts and smell went everywhere.   To this day, I cannot eat any ocean dweller if it looks or smells like fish.  Fish sticks, or fish and chips are okay.

The other traumatic memory:   We were driving north on U.S. 99.  Seatbelts were not yet required and the few cars that had them as an option were expensive.  I was asleep on the back seat and a drunken Marine from Camp Pendleton rear ended us.  I either went unconscious or I blotted the trauma from my memory.  My next memory is being in the back of Uncle Lloyd's pickup truck near Long Beach as the Sun rose.  I was plagued until adolescence with night terrors where I was in the back seat and some indescribable monster appeared at the window. 

Lots of other memories of Chula Vista if these are interesting.

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