I was born in Stephenville, Texas, which is southwest of Fort Worth. I was told our family moved to the Golden State of California when I was three months old. My first awareness of being in a place was at Wood’s Addition. Wood’s addition is west of Lamont, CA on DiGiorgio Road about a half mile from the Main Street of Lamont. The neighborhood had five North-South streets and one East-West street in the middle. It was called Center Street, because it was in the center of the addition. On three sides of the addition, there were alfalfa fields. We lived on Rose Street. We lived in two houses on Rose Street.
One house was closer to Center Street. I don’t remember much about the house, except it had a hole on the side of the house that gave access to the basement. It didn’t have any formal shape, like a square or rectangle. It was more like someone just started digging in an irregular semi-circle and just left the dirt at the top of the semi-circle and dug down to the basement. My sister, Brenda, and I had a lot of fun at this place because in our minds, it was a fox hole. We would run and jump into the fox hole, quickly turn and point, aim, and fire our 2×4 wood “rifle” at our enemy. It was here, I learned the sound effect for shooting. A distinguishing feature of the house was the large fig tree in the back yard. I didn’t like when the figs were ripe and would fall to the ground. It was nasty when you would step barefooted onto a mushy, smelly fig. The enjoyable part of the tree was it was very large and gave good shade, but because it had smooth bark and somewhat horizontal running branches, it was great to climb, rest and be hidden for as long as you wanted.
The other house is the one I remember the most. It was the next to the last house at the end of Rose Street. The photo above was taken at this house. The car was a Desoto. The kid was me. I think I was in the third grade. If you will notice my khaki pants were pressed. Mom would wash our clothes in a wringer washing machine. She had a well-used wooden stick that was used to push down and separate the clothes as they moved back and forth during the wash cycle. She would only use Tide detergent. After the wash, the wet clothes would be run through the wringer to extract the water. Then the clothes were carried in a basket to the clothes line, in the back yard, where they were pinned to one of four clothes wires with two wooden clothes pins per garment. Mom called them garments. After the warm California sun dried the clothes, she would bring in the clothes and iron them, using a glass Pepsi bottle filled with water and a corked sprinkler head in the mouth to moisten the clothes to get the steamed crisp effect she wanted. Every school day, I would have an ironed shirt and pants lying on my bed, she had prepared for me. Non-school days, my choice of clothing was a pair of boxer trunks. No shirt, no shoes. Just me, my boxers and the sun. Mom nicknamed me Rusty; because of the sun tan I always seemed to have. I loved to play outside. I liked to played army. I created my own imaginary neighborhood, laying out streets in the dirt and using 2×4 scraps as trucks and cars. I liked to use my imagination. We had a tall swing set made from 3” diameter pipe. What great joy I had as I would swing until the front legs would start to come off the ground. Then I would “bailout”, flying great distances through the air (maybe ten feet) to land, rolling in the grass with a big smile of satisfaction on my face, because in my mind, I had just parachuted out of airplane over enemy territory and landed safely. One day, we had a couple of saw horses and a thick piece of plywood on them, to form a outdoor table. We would use the table for special occasions. We would make homemade ice cream, banana, vanilla, or strawberry. One of the kids would sit on the burlap covered ice as someone hand cranked the cream. I learned a valuable lesson on this table. Here it is. Are you listening? Never, every try to imitate Fred Astaire by tap dancing BAREFOOTED on untreated plywood. I got splinters so deep in my foot, they took me to a doctor’s office on Saturday (no ER’s then). He poked and prodded while I yelled loud enough for Dad and Brenda, who were outside the building to hear me. That laid me up for a couple of weeks. That kept me out of the baseball games that where played at our end of the street.
My brother, Larry, would play in these games. He has been a great brother to me. When he was about thirteen or so, he would go to work with Dad sometimes. Dad was a plasterer. They call it stucco or EIFS now, but he would cover the inside or outside walls with “mud”. Larry would be his “Hod” carrier. He would take the “mud” and put it into a vee-shaped wooden box with a round wooden pole in the center and carry it to where Dad was working on the building. Larry bought a three foot deep swimming pool for us to use one summer. He also bought an English racer bike for himself. He let me ride it, one time. Only once. I was riding his bike racing quickly to the dead end of our street. I planned on hitting the brake at the last second, turning the handle bars quickly and slide, whirling the back tire around until I was facing the opposite direction. Unfortunately, I hit the front wheel brake, instead of the back wheel brake, which caused the back wheel to come up and bucked me and the bike into the third furrow of the alfalfa field. I choose not to ask to ride his bike again.
I had my own bike; it was a twenty inch bike. Not fancy like Larry’s. It only had one brake. I loved it. If I wasn’t playing in our yard, I was “patrolling” our addition on my bike. I thought I was a CHiP. A California Highway Patrol motorcycle cop, who happened to be in the third grade. I would ride from Pierce Drive to May Street. Always on the ready, I would look for anything that wasn’t “right” to my eye. I used Center Street to my advantage. I would cut across on Center to get to Lowe Street. Once on Lowe, it was on to the corner grocery store. We didn’t have 7-Elevens then. At the grocery, I would park my bike, put the kick stand down, and walk in, chest held high, to buy a Dr. Pepper and M & M’s. It was not uncommon; to pour our M & M’s or Planter’s salted peanuts into our pop.
I have many wonderful thoughts of this place. We left Wood’s addition in the late 1950’s. To a third grade, naïve boy this place was perfect. After we left and lived in other places, I realized not every place was the same. The world was more than just a playground. There were heart aches, struggles, electric bills, house payments, car payments and trying to get along. Outside of Eden, is a whole new world.