Saturday, March 1, 2014

Grandma's egg business

My step-grandmother (Rhoda Porter) lived on Midvale Avenue in the rural Palms area of Los Angeles and she ran an egg business.  Every month she would have my step-father load us all into the car (1957 Ford Fairlane) and drive the family way out to Bloomington to visit our Smith cousins.  The road was long as the freeways were yet to be built east to San Bernardino.  We would travel to downtown on the surface streets and when finally to East Los Angeles we would find Valley Blvd. and follow it almost all the way to San Bernardino.  Driving past miles of vineyards, (now the city of Ontario), past signs promoting the new city of VinaVista that would be built soon (never happened), past the slag piles of the Kaiser Steel plant and Colton Cement mine, finally arriving in Bloomington to spend a hot day watching old man Smith who was always busy watching the jalopy races on the dirt track of Ascot Park (google it). Interestingly, Ascot Park Speedway was located between Long Beach and West Los Angeles near where our journey would begin.  The Smiths were very British and hailed from Alberta, Canada.  I recall their home being situated among some very tall eucalyptus trees surrounded by a lot of sandy dirt and as was mentioned, it was always hot there.  We would walk along their street for what seemed like miles surrounded by orange, lemon and grapefruit groves. My mother would tell us that they planted all the eucalyptus trees that lined the street with the thought of extracting the oil from the leaves, only to discover they had planted the wrong type of eucalyptus.  Never the less, the trees provided great wind breaks for all the citrus groves that would populate all of Southern California.  On the way back late each afternoon we would stop at the chicken ranches (now the city of Walnut and Cal Poly Pomona) to pick up tons of eggs that my grandmother would then sell to all of her neighbors friends and relatives. She supplemented her social security  with the egg money and actually saved enough money from such to buy property and finance a trip that cost $1000 (a lot of money back then) to her native England.  As her plane departed from the Airport, we all sat on our cars at the end of the runway to bid her goodbye.  We were close enough that we could see her and she could see us and wave at us from the sleek new 707 jet.  Funny lady, she would have a beer with her soft boiled eggs for breakfast.  She passed away suddenly in the early 1960’s while only in her 70’s.  It would never be the same afterwards in that the family would break apart on many fronts.   

Sunday, February 23, 2014

1957 Ford Fairlane 500

As a young child I recall trips up and down the coast with my parents in their brand spanking new 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Coupe. The sleek tail fin on the right side of the car provided a great arm and head rest out of my rolled down window to view the world. As the A.M. radio blared, “Hot Ziggidy Dog Ziggidy,” I could view the world. Very few freeways had been built and we rarely traveled inland as the Pacific Coast Highway was our main drag. For some reason our world stopped where the road turned inland just beyond the sand dunes where the new highway cut behind the big rock near Pt Magu and extended down the coast to San Diego where the ocean suddenly stopped and dried up (bottom of San Diego Bay) and the road turned inland again. It would be many years later after my step father had left the family that I would have the opportunity to travel inland, beyond the San Fernando Valley. The church father and sons outing was that opportunity. The newly completed San Diego Freeway north was the route we followed until it ended at the two lane road San Fernando Road at the north end of the valley and the to the Sierra Highway and out to the camp sites on a ranch in the foothills of the Santa Clara River Valley (Later Santa Clarita). Today that same site is now a park and ride lot at the end of Newhall Avenue and the Highway #14 freeway. In order to acquire more food supplies we needed to drive 5 miles farther up the road to a store on the corner of Soledad Canyon and Sierra Highway. Nothing else was there accept the store… Now the same corner (Solemint Jct) is the site is occupied by many stores and strip malls. Eventually church and boy scout trips would proceed farther north to Lake Hughes, and then the High Sierras. The Antelope Valley Freeway was completed by then, starting at Solemint Jct. and proceeding all the way to Palmdale before it again ended at Sierra Highway and proceeded north as a two lane road all the way to the Sierras. That was a long two lane road across the desert proceeding through small towns Ricardo, Littlelake (no longer existing), Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine, & Bishop, Tom’s Place. Camping on Rock Creek in the Sierras was such a treat. Hiking around a serene long lake and up the valley to prominent point and sitting on a snow pack just to observe the view of the John Muir Wilderness. Some of my most memorable moments resulted from that trip. While traveling back we passed by Lancaster and I looked around and had a warm premonition feeling this would be a great place to live. Upon arrival home that night my mother let me know that she had met a man at the singles activity that was from Lancaster and she had a date with him the next week. As fate would have it they met in July and were married in October and we moved my senior year of high school to Lancaster. I thought I had died and gone to heaven with all the open space.. I could ride my bike miles out on the desert and see no one. One never know what paths life’s travels will take them…Growing up in the city I never knew the pleasures of country living but I have made sure that my children have had the experience and opportunities to enjoy both to make their own decisions.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

1950's God Bless America

In the 1950’s when I began kindergarten at El Rincon Elementary, we all began by singing God bless America. The pledge of Allegiance to the flag with its new stanza “Under God,” was recited and then started our day of learning and play. Sometime around that time, I told the kids in the class that Lincoln was no longer the president and when ask who was? I told them, “I don’t know but he is some old guy without any hair.” (Eisenhower). As I walked home from the Pulio’s house (babysitter) in the dark I looked to the sky to see if I would be able to spot “Sputnik” as it rotated the earth with its beeping signal. Such was my life in that era. My family were Democrats, my mother a Republican. My father drove a black Ford Fairlane 500 and we spent most weekends living out of that car as he fished up and down the California coastline. Our family friends, Cherry Ross (Grand-daughter of Chief John Ross of the Cherokee nation), Wyoming Pete Cody (100 year old cowboy who rode with Reno Benteen into the Big Horn post Custer’s last stand) and his sidekick Jesse James, Jr. accompanied the family on these outings. I would sneak listening late into the night, stories of the old west and the bygone eras. I handled William Bonney’s (Billy the Kid) rifle at an early age and learned that I was born 100 years to the day after he was born. I was little Billy the Kid. As school years progressed we would begin each day singing, the National Anthem, America the Beautiful. Something has been lost today by children not enjoying music and patriotism practiced each day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Birth Father

I am not sure what caused my mother to marry my birth father (William Joseph Byers) however in February of 1950 they eloped to Elkton Maryland and were married by a judge. Elkton was the place where young couples went to get married in a hurry as no marriage license was required. A little over nine months later I was born after my mother's journey from Newark, New Jersey to Hollywood, California. Mother was a telephone operator in Newark and would often take vacations in small resort by the name of Virginia Beach, Virginia. While visiting with family friends, the Spencer’s, in Virginia near the end of World War II she met and dated my father who was stationed near by at Dam Neck Naval Base their romance bloomed over the next few years as she often visited the Spencer’s during this time. As my father was mustering out of the navy they decided to the time was right to move her small family to California where he had served for a short while in the Navy. Prior to my birth, mom transferred to the phone office in downtown Los Angeles and they began their across country journey and along with my only sister they arrived and settled in at 121 ½ S. Rampart Blvd. My older brother Jack had stayed behind in New Jersey with his father’s family as he didn’t want to interrupt his schooling and friends. For many years afterwards I am sure he felt abandoned by my mother and I am sure his father’s family promoted that thought. As Thanksgiving approached, my mother worked her operator shift on the 22nd of November and prepared for the day off holiday the next day. I arrived unexpectedly shortly after 2:30 am the next morning ahead of the taxi and the doctor in the tile bathroom. Many my mothers co-workers didn’t realize that she was even pregnant. I was given the name of William Joseph Byers II and I guess I ruined the holiday that year. Not too long afterwards my father abandoned my mother and left for parts unknown. He would occasionally call and touch bases from Ohio or New Jersey however communications were not frequent. In 1953, my grandmother traveled west via airplane to visit mother and brought with her an article from the local newspaper reporting the death of my father. A death certificate would later reveal he died from a broken neck after diving from a pier off the New Jersey coast. Interestingly he was an excellent swimmer and diver. The death certificate also revealed another interesting fact, another wife’s name on the certificate. He was a modern day polygamist. Information about my father was sketchy at least. He had married once prior to my mother and had father’s two children. That marriage had ended in divorce. His father John had married his mother, Nellie Giesinger and adopted her two children one being my father. Only recently has new genealogical information been unearthed that revealed that he has not born in Ohio but in neighboring Erie, Pennsylvania. Nellie’s family was from Alabama and Texas. I was destined to be born a fine southern gentleman, by my father screwed it up by moving to California. I am grateful for my father for giving me birth and I honor him for that; however I cannot imagine what caused him to abandon his family. For years I envisioned him in naval intelligence and continuing on assignment post World War II and which he was unable to reveal these facts to my mother. This eventually contributed to his death.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Old Mission Home

We entered the Mission Home Training Center for our two week stay prior to departing for our assignments. The mission home, made up of an old hotel near the corner of North Temple and State Street, was located across from Temple Square. My five room mates and I all shared a corner room overlooking State Street with a clear view of Apple Annie as she walked up and down the street in front of us taunting the missionaries as they came to and fro. I must admit some of us took to taunting her back and throwing apples at her from the windows on the second floor.

All six of us where departing for the same mission including Don. Don like myself was the youngest sibling in his family. We had fallen out of contact for a few years but upon both of our mission calls, discovered we were both being called to the same mission on the same day. Darn that Sister Kinnelly who predicted we would serve together.

Don was not quite as organized as the rest of us and never bothered to make his bed up. We took to helping him (sort of) by making his bed one day. We really short sheeted him, when he walked in on us and quested, “what are you guys doing?” I had the duty to inform him his bed was closest to the door and always looked bad so we, as his brethren, were helping him. After closing the day that eve and with the lights out, it took him a while to figure it out why he couldn’t quite fit in his bed and just stood there looking befuddled…. Until we all bust out laughing.

After the two weeks of training in the basement of the Old Hotel Utah, (now Joseph Smith Building) we returned to our Host family (Davidson’s of Millcreek) the evening prior to our departure for the mission field. The evening, with weather changing and while jogging along the street with Don, I stepped into an undulation, tripped and landed on my chin, splitting it open. Wow, with blood all over my clean white shirt they rushed me back to the Mission Home, in a vehicle with a snow plow attached to the front, where the Mission President (an MD as well as my girlfriend’s Uncle) stitched me up. I was destined to arrive the next evening in Vancouver with a huge bandage on my chin.

Much has changed in the 40+ years since those days. Salt Lake has continued to grow outwards. The distant suburbs are now close in and once country fields are filled with new homes. Salt Lake would host the world with the Olympics in 2002 and Downtown would grow upward with many new high rise buildings. The store on the corner and the Old Mission Home, as well as the Desert Gym up the hill are all gone, making way for the Church Conference Center. The Mission Home, now called the MTC is located in Provo. My chin healed up. Don and I returned home married and raised our families. My mission home companion, Elder McFarland passed way the next year a victim of an auto accident and I would later meet his nephew as he served in my home ward providing information and pictures to his family. Life doesn’t stand still and things change as life rolls on. Make sure you write these memories down so they can live on for generations to come.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Puyehue, Andes, Chile, Travel

When I was 9 years old, I recall having a foreign exchange student join our class who was from the far off country of Chile. I recall the teacher coming into our class and telling us that he and his family had fled the country when their entire city (Valdivia) had been destroyed by an earthquake (9.5 – largest earthquake ever recorded) that caused tidal waves that reached far across the pacific to Hilo and Waipio, Hawaii. I remembered learning not only about the destruction not only from the quake but also of the seven volcano’s surrounding the area that were rumbling and erupting. When Jake Mom and I traveled to Chile at the completion of Jakes mission we had the opportunity to see Valdevia (rebuilt) the surrounding farmland turned to marshlands after sinking 10’. We also traveled inland to observe the beautiful Andes mountains consisting of many sleeping volcanoes. Yesterday, Volcan Puyehue erupted again for the first time since 1960 spreading ash and rock as far as 100 miles to the east in Argentina. Soon the winter snow of the area will cover the ash and rock and all will be washed away in the Spring melt. Note the attached picture of the peaceful looking mountain that came to life. As you walk about in your lives, take the time to look around, smell the roses, take pictures and witness history as it takes place.

As always,


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lofthill Drive

Lofthill Drive 1958 1959

When I was eight years old and as the city of Los Angeles expanded outward, my family left the city for the suburbs, settling in La Mirada, California. My dad would drive the old Santa Ana Freeway through traffic to downtown drop off my mother and then off to UCLA where he worked, and then back again at the end of the day.

Prior to moving, they looked at many of the new homes in the area ranging in price from $10 to $18,000, settling on the Cape Cod model half way up a hill at the price of $15,000. Having just moved from and apartment into this brand new home, I thought it was so large yet by today’s standards it was not.

My elementary school (Eastwood) was under construction just up the hill and as young men we would walk up the hill to the school site and slide down the un-landscaped hill on sheets of cardboard or plywood. The year was 1958 and we said that we were inventing a new sport we called skurfing. Many years later as my children grew, I learned of a new winter sport called snow boarding, which encompassed the same ideas and techniques as skurfing.

My first visit to the principal’s office occurred at Eastwood when I instilled fear in the hearts of my fellow students by spreading rumors of the dreaded Mr. Takamoto being a left over Japanese spy from war time days. In actuality, Mr. Takamoto was a handicapped gentleman who suffered greatly as an internee during the war. I can recall the signs advertising the new developments, “Vets, $1 moves you in.” Our mailman was another victim of the recent war in that he only had one arm. I was amazed that he was able to sort the mail in his bag with just a stump for an arm. Being so close the end of WW II we were in the midst of a huge baby boom with children in every home on the block. All of us children had a fathers who had served. They shared their stories away from our ears late in the evenings as they passed time drinking beer and playing cards.

Just down the hill was the Orange County line and the city ended with open fields and hills from there to Buena Park 5 miles away. The view was spectacular and every evening we would sit on our porch and watch the fireworks from Disneyland a few more miles down the Santa Ana freeway to the south.

The long block was often filled with the kids on the block having fun. The most fun being, wagon training. We would pull our wagons (everyone had one) to the top of the hill, tie them all together and start a run down the hill much to the horror of our parents. As a car would back out a drive way, we would turn into the hill and tumble from our wagons making horrible yells accompanied by laughter.

Times turned hard and my dad lost his job in 1959 and forced our move from the two story house back to a small apartment in Culver City. It seemed that it was so hard on my family that we snuck away in the middle of the night and just let the bank take our house back. Recently as I attended the memorial service for my nephew Chris. After 50 years, I had the opportunity to go back to the old neighborhood. The house is still there. The hill is just a small rise, our skurfing run is now heavily landscaped and the open fields are all gone. The neighborhood has grown up and a new generation of children now inhabits the hood. I wager however that they don’t have the fun that we had, way back then.