I was born here in Los Angeles, specifically in Hollywood. My mom was born on Vermont somewhere called the Stork’s Nest. It was a midwifery center. This was pre-women going to the hospital to give birth. My grandmother arrived here in Los Angeles January 1, 1901 so my family has been here awhile.
Los Angeles and the environs have changed immensely since I was growing up. We used to take drives out in Woodland Hills and Thousand Oaks when there was nothing there but fields and no houses or businesses. I remember when we had drive-in movies and drive-in every hing else besides. When advertizing was all in the shape of what was sold and HUGE! Very few are left like the giant Donut over a donut shop by LAX. There were giant hotdogs that sold hotdogs and giant oranges that sold orange juice all the way up the 101. There were drive-ins Bob’s big boys (had to have a silver goblet milkshake and fries with blue cheese dressing) and through A&W rootbeer restaurants with huge frosty glass mugs of rootbeer.
There were no McDonalds except one in Downey and one in Pomona. There were no BK’s, no Wendy’s, no Taco Bell. There were Foster Freezes and Dinah’s chicken and Chicken Delite and a lot of mom and pop takeout like my mom’s favourite place that only made milkshakes and egg salad sandwiches.
You went to Van De Kamp’s and Dupar’s to go out to eat. Dupar’s is still around, thank heavens. And there were the oh, so good Van De Kamp cookies and the Helm’s Bakery truck that delivered. There were milk men and Jessup’s Dairy was on San Fernando Road and the Jessups went to our school. So did the Winchell’s of Winchell’s donuts and the Johnstons of Johnston’s yogurt and pies.
We walked to school and the girls carried cloth lined baskets with their books and the boys just carried them unless they had a canvas bag. No backpacks at all. Glendale schools made you write with funky blue plastic quill pens and if I was really lucky I could score a black one and the teachers had red ones to grade papers with. You had to use the school pen and not anything else.
We walked to the 5 and Dime down at the little village area near our house and bought giant Charms suckers for a nickel or we bought red hot cinnamon toothpicks and whistle rings. We could also go across the street to the pharmacy to buy an LP or a 45 and it was the only place that carried Reese’s peanut butter cups that used to come in candy boxes not bags or lemon drops. If you were hot you went to the liquor store to buy Coke in bottles from their deep ice chest and they carried sunflower seeds and Frito Lay dry roasted peanuts and fudgesicles.
Those were for days when we didn’t reside in the high school pool for 10 cents. Those were also the days of heavy smog where you got out of the pool and your chest hurt from swimming when the air was a icky colour of brown. LA does not have smog any more at least compared to what we used to have. Glendale got it especially bad because it hit the mountains behind and stopped. In those days they never kept us out of PE or recess because the air was dirty, you just went out and played. Only sissies and kid’s with bad asthma stayed out of the smog. We went to summer school because my dad made is but I got to take cool art classes and science classes.
The pool also had these cool vending machines with cartons of juice with the best fruit punch and lemonade I have ever had. We had to con mom out of money for the machine.
Mom would never let me join the Summer Reading Club at the library. She said it wasn’t fair to the other kids since I read a book a day and about half were from the adult side of the library if there wasn’t a new Mad Scientist Club book out or Danny Dunn.
Our elementary school still had desks on runners with ink well holes in them and tops that lifted up for your stuff. I remember one of my favourite things was always getting a new pencil case w/ sharpener and box of virgin crayons to start school with in Fall. New crayons are still one of my favourite things. At Christmas I got the box of over 100 and couldn’t open any other gifts until they were properly in rainbow order. Something that drove my mother nuts.
Summers were also for visiting the Santa Monica pier and getting Hot Dog on a Stick lemonade and using baby oil on our skin for a nice deep burn while lying out on the sand. Usually we went to the beach with our church on the church bus. We used to run around Hollywood because it was pre-homeless and hippies and safe to run around in. It was a lot different in Hollywood then.
Los Angeles was a bunch of small towns then and a lovely place to grow up most of the time. I spent about half my summers at my grandmother’s house off 52nd street and Crenshaw in their old Craftsman bungalow. Now I wouldn’t recognize it. My mom was in the first class at Dorsey High and my grandfather graduated from Manual Arts High.
But I also remember the Watts Riots and the Baldwin Hills dam breaking. I remember 1962 when it seemed like everything was on fire from Bel Air all the way to Glendale and beyond. When we moved into our house in 1963 there were holes in the roof from where the neighbor’s boots had gone through protecting the house from the fire because the owners were away at the time. I remember the fuss my dad made because the deed on the new house said he couldn’t sell of anyone who wasn’t white. He was absolutely infuriated that the clause was there. There used to be a sign in south Glendale on Brand that said if nonwhite people were there after sunset the police would pick them up.
There were bad things but we really didn’t notice them because we were protected in some ways not all but some. We were less protected physically but more protected mentally I think. When I think of the physical things we took chances on that of course, we never told our parents about. Climbing the mountain behind my best friend’s house and going through culverts where there were rattlesnakes. Riding 5 aboard a Flexie Flyer, (a sled with wheels) down our hill to see how fast we could go with just another friend who didn’t fit on to stop cross traffic, no helmets and we had to be going faster than 30 miles an hour because it’s a really steep hill people didn’t even ride their bikes on much. We rode into the dead end of the street and baled at the curb. How none of us were hurt I do not know but it was fantastic fun. We were only limited by the size of the sled. The more people the faster we could go.
Because my dad was a teacher and Glendale didn’t pay their teachers in the summers, dad always had to find a summer job. I can remember him delivering milk, driving a taxi, being the Fuller Brush man and delivering phone books. I think we liked the milk delivery the best because the dairy had the best chocolate milk. Mom was terrified the two summers he drove a taxi and it ruined his driving for life. He always “knew a better way.” He also drove like a bat out of hell after that.
No one cared where we went as long as we came home for dinner and after dinner the block became one huge place for hide and seek after dark. We got hurt but we went right back at it. My sister got stung by a bee on the slip and slide which was when we found out she was allergic. We had lots of sprained ankles and broken arms and Ricky down the street lost his two front teeth going face first down the pool slide. I melted my hand during a night game of tag because I fell on an outside light. Who knew that those cool green and blue lights were really hot? I still remember the next door neighbor kid’s mom picking me up by my arm and running with me to stick my had in the freezer. She could really run! When I started school that year my right hand was still wrapped in bandages because the palm was one big blister. If we got hurt we just picked ourselves up and went on playing unless it hurt too bad.
They used to make red fruit punch with red dye number 2 and it had a certain smell that I really liked. If I ever smell Sea & Ski and that punch I will know I have time traveled to the summers of the 1960’s.
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