My grandma was an animal lover. I can't remember a time when she didn't have ducks and chickens in her back yard. She had a duck named Donald that would chase the grand kids all they way to the back door when they ventured toward the back of the lot, territory he deemed his own. She had white ducks, mallards, a mixture of the two, and the red faced Muscovies. She had a squirrel that a family member brought to her all the way from Arkansas, an aviary containing hundreds of parakeets, a couple of large tortoises that wandered her back yard, and a crow named Jim who was granted house privileges. Her dog was a feisty little bull dog mix that was as mean as he could be. No grand child was spared from being bitten. He and I gradually came to a truce and he would let me pet him for a few minutes before he bit me. I think he began to like me because he didn't break the skin anymore when he bit me. He loved to play fetch and would run after a ball time after time and then signal the end of the play session by biting me. Every few years my grandma would start missing her family in Oklahoma and go back for a visit leaving Duke with me. He was a house dog which meant I had to take him for a walk every day. Putting on his halter was very tricky but I learned to do it without being bitten. He would sleep on my bed and sometime during the night work his way under the covers and sleep at my feet. If I moved he would bite me.
Grandma and Duke in her back yard. Manhattan Beach 1957
When I was a kid the only black people I saw were the men who picked up the trash. I was afraid of them. My grandma, a woman who was born in Alabama and never went to school beyond 3rd grade (she was self educated through reading) treated them as equals. She would would talk and laugh with them; they were friends. That made a big impression on me. My parents were not overtly racist (I was never allowed to use the N word), but they believed the races should not mix or socialize. Years later my black friends and I would meet at grandma's for dinner and bible study. Bible study? My grandma? Yes, she became a Christian late in life and I know it was a true conversion because she didn't cuss so much after that.
Every Friday afternoon after school my grandpa would arrive in his 1954 Ford pick up truck to pick me up so I could spend the night at grandma's house. We would spend the evening sipping ice tea and watching TV shows like Sea Hunt, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 77 Sunset Strip, and our favorite, The Twilight Zone. Those were good times but I was growing up. My interests were wandering to girls and cars so one Friday afternoon when grandpa arrived I told him I didn't want to go. It seemed childish to spend the weekend with grandparents. The next time I spent the night with my grandma I had Dorothy and two little girls with me. Not long after that my family moved away from Hermosa Beach to La Puente in the San Gabriel Valley about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. I suppose because of my love of reading I have always looked at different periods of my life as chapters. This was definitely the end of a chapter as my childhood slipped away. I had become a teenager.
Redondo Pier c. 1953
- Alaska becomes a state
- Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens die in a plane crash
- The first transcontinental commercial jet flight. $301 LA to NY
- Fidel Castro overthrows Batista to govern Cuba