It was the best of times and the worst of times. It all started out in our little working class community in East Los Angeles. Located between the B. F. Goodrich tire factory on the west end and the Edison high tension power lines on the east. About two miles from end to end. See my story titled “Little House on the Avenue.”
Our community was a mix of blue and pink collar workers with a few small business owners tossed in. I lived there during the first ten years of my life and as far as I am concerned the Best of Times. We lived in a neighborhood where people knew us and we spoke to them often. We played in their front yards and their kids played in ours. We had a large sycamore tree in our front yard that was home base when playing Hide and Seek on Saturday afternoons. We played and played until our folks called us in for our Saturday night bath. See the story: Splish-splash I was taking a bath.
My favorite playmate was Donnie who had moved here from Milwaukee along with his older brother Dickie. Dickie who became my older brother’s best friend. Donnie and I as mentioned in previous stories collected pop bottles and redeemed then for cash at the nearby Joe Miller grocery store. Way back when there was a two-cent deposit on each 12-ounce Coke and Pepsi glass bottle. So, cash flow was reasonable as long as we worked at our collection business. My brother had a twice a week paper route and I think I made more money than he. However, Donnie and I spent most of our earnings on comic books and bubble gum and my brother saved his earnings to buy a three-speed Schwinn racer. Big deal.
Our neighborhood was a mixed bag of ethnics and colors. Russians, Germans, Hispanics, Irish, Italians, Scotch, and many other ethnics along with us Okies. There were Catholics, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Jews, and almost every religious belief. Donnie and Dickie were Catholics and attended Catholic school. The rest of us attended the local public schools. All of which worked out fine.
Living next door to the north were the Smiths. Mr. Smith was a white guy married to a Latina lady. They had to Latina-looking daughters Janet and Josephine (very cute) and Mrs. Smith with her Latina non-English speaking Latina mother. Mrs. Smith’s mother didn’t need to speak English when she rolled out her pan fried flour tortillas. She would fry up a tortilla, slather it with real butter, roll it up and hand one to each one of us. My oh my. Oh so delicious.
And just up the street were Donnie and Dickie’s family. Mr. Short a tall redhead beer drinking Irish man and Mrs. Short. Donnie’s mom to me looked German or Norwegian. Mr. Short was a carpenter and a very good one. He built on a really nice patio in the back and later an extra room addition for an expected new baby sister for Dickie and Donnie. Mrs. Short to say the least was a stay at home mom. And a very nice one. Not too long after the Shorts moved into our neighborhood Dickie came down with Polio and was in the hospital for several weeks then later came home to a regimen of rehab exercises. Then after their new baby sister was born, Donnie and I would stroll his new baby sister up and down Simmons Avenue in her shaded carriage.
To the south of us was the Snyder’s. A retired German couple. I seldom spoke to them but my mom must had since our clothe line was almost in their backyard. My mom was hanging out clothes almost daily. Just washing for us siblings was a full-time job.
Now, directly across the street was an empty lot with a worn foot path we used to get to my sisters friends trailers in the trailer court on the other side of the back alley. Anyway a vacant lot which gave a clear view of the Willard Battery water tower. The water tower formed an interesting silhouette in the evening setting sun. But to the south of the empty lot was a six-unit apartment building. I would often see a professionally dressed woman with hills and hat coming out the front apartment door walking briskly to the bus on her way to work. Never spoke to her but she was very pretty. Also in the same apartment was a highway patrolman who often parked his Harley motorcycle in the adjacent vacant lot when home on lunch break.
To the north of the apartment was playmates Kenny and Sheila. They had a nice looking reddish colored cocker spaniel. We had our own mutts that would come and go. Plus a black cat named Porkchops.
North of Kenny and Sheila was a guy we just called Kirby. A man who sat out on his front porch after getting home from work and sat in his tank top looking undershirt with a beer in hand. Kirby worked at Union Pacific railroad. My brother would often be over there talking with him after work. Kirby drove an ancient black 1932 Model A ford sedan to work and back.
But anyway, to make a long story a bit shorter there was Gary Beeler and Georgy Hernandez up the street and Jimmy Vasquez down the street. All of whom I played with and had in my class at school. Plus there were about a dozen or more kids I knew and played with after school around the block and a few blocks over. And this is not to mention my sister’s friends; Cheryl, Maryanne, Diane, Dorothy, and others.
Living in East L A back then was for the most part a delight. But it all came to an end one day. Living in a two bedroom smallish adobe house was becoming cramp for we six people. So we bought a new house and moved about ten-miles to the east. For my younger sister and me we had to transfer to another elementary school after Easter break. A school with a few problem kids living on the other side of the Rio Hondo River. It was mid-April and I was in the fourth grade and transferred into a very crowded fourth grade class. And as far as I could tell not welcomed. There was this portly pugnacious Latina girl with coke bottle glasses and buck teeth named Lupe who kept threatening to beat me up after school. I did however see Lupe pick fights with other girls. And pretty much the first time I had ever seen girls fight. Lots of hair pulling. Whew! However I managed to stay away from Lupe. Anyway summer vacation came quickly after moving to a new town and then we were out of school for the summer.
Meanwhile back in our new neighborhood and the start of the worst of times my two sisters and I were the only kids attending public schools. Almost every kid up and down our street went to Catholic school. So to say the least I was the odd kid out. One boy my age a few doors down who was often in trouble with his parents or with the Catholic school he attended. No great friendship there for me. Same for my younger sister Sharron. We never did fit in. Mr Massaro next door seemed to always be on my case so I tried to avoid him. A girl and her parents next door to the south and her cousin across the street both went to Catholic school. There were others up and down the street but all Catholic school kids. But let me say this, I have no problem with kids in private religious schools. I just had nothing in common with most of them. Nor were we ever invited to visit their homes. But as I progressed into junior and senior high school all that didn’t matter. My social life revolved around those two institutions and its student body instead. But looking back almost for six more years I had no street friends to chum with. Certainly nothing like I had in East L A. No bottle collecting. No delicious hot-out-of-pan flour tortillas. No big empty lot to fly a kite. No Joe Miller’s market to buy bubble gum and comic books. No nearby train station to watch passenger trains come and go. No horse at the end of the street to rub a soft fuzzy nose. No recycle center to sell old collected newspapers to. No partner enterprises and no street friends. We were just public school going California Okie Protestants. Trying our best to just fit in when we really didn’t. Welcome to the neighborhood you Okies. Howdy y’all