Episode 4
Long Beach 1934

I blame it on the neighbor who had a grand mal seizure on my bedroom floor. Was she contagious? Among all the other vaccinations, I didn’t have that one either.

Grandma had discovered Christian Science in the body of Mary Baker Eddy, and we did not believe in doctors or vaccinations. She took my mother and aunt Corrine into the fold, but not my father and me.

I was a silent rebel, dutifully attending church services three times a week, wearing my shiny black Mary Jane’s and hat with streamers down the back. When I was sent to Auntie’s the shoes were exchanged for brown high top Buster Browns, a Dutch cut and no church.

Grandma and me 1935
Grandma and me about 1935

We lived a few blocks from the beach and there was always the smell of the ocean along with the acrid smell of oil from the derricks on the north side of town. But on warm silent evenings the perfume of orange blossoms filled most of Southern California. I believe it was the beaches and the orange blossoms which drew so many people to California in those days. The promise of jobs didn’t hurt either.

Along with other aromas flickering through my memory, the water in early Long Beach was undrinkable due to its smell and its color. Yellow sulfurous liquid poured from the spigots reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno. Everyone had a large bottle of water delivered to the house for drinking purposes but the bathtub was filled with deep cadmium yellow which fortunately did not stain the body.

Auntie and Uncle Phil had an avocado tree with climbable branches and Grandma had a fig tree shaped appropriately as well. I liked them both and spent a great deal of time up the fig tree. From its top one could see directly into the dentist’s office next door which gave good entertainment when he was working on a patient’s open mouth.

I could have made a lot of money inviting the neighborhood kids to climb as well, charging a nickel apiece. You could buy a lot of candy from the penny candy store around the corner in those days. The dentist was a nice man who gave me free tubes of Ipana toothpaste which I saved and gave to my teacher at Betty’s Dance Studio, where I was a primo tapper.

The movie star Laraine Day lived around the block, and I always hoped she could get me a job in the movies, but obviously it didn’t happen. Nancy Joy Peterson was a fellow tapper, whose pushy mother curled her hair high on her head and let her wear lipstick, didn’t make it either.

Me 1938

The Great Depression was a terrible time for the country. We were among the lucky ones. My father had a job and grandma had her renters, plus she and my mother and Aunt Corrine often were able to get a short term job. Grandma knew about the restaurant business from helping at her father’s summer resort, and there was always a need for a good waitress. My mother also once worked in a hair salon giving what was called a “marcell”; pressing the hair into waves with a hot iron. Grandma was also a great seamstress, and sometimes worked in a nearby factory sewing. None were high paying jobs, but people took what they could.

Though I was too young to understand the magnitude of its impact on our society, I retain memories of the Depression which I realize are due to the hardships we endured. My mother told me of the times we had no food in the house and so she did not call me in for dinner hoping the neighbors would invite me in to share theirs. I was often sent to Auntie’s at those times.

Many people rose late in the day to eliminate an extra meal. Coffee grounds were used more than once and then put on plants in the garden. Occasionally I went with Grandma to a place where we were given paper bags of vegetables for soup or stew. My dear aunt Corrine used to cringe with guilt to remember once stealing some empty milk bottles, because you could get a nickel apiece and three bottles could buy enough vegetables for a pot of soup.

Long Beach was a beach town and a navy town with plenty of suitable entertainment for those hoping for a respite from Depression blues. More about that later.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

14 thoughts on “FRAGRANCES OF MEMORY Kate’s Journal”

  1. We forget how fortunate we are sometimes. Your words about the Depression remind us to be grateful for the bounties we have. Sadly, so many around the world still go without.

    Love that you spied on the dentist and his patients. What a way to pass the time. ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. I wasn’t a very nice girl. We do tend to forget to count our blessings. I cringe when I hear a teenager complain about something he/she doesn’t have, and the parent gives in right away. I used to worry about the next generation, and now it’s here and it’s worse than I thought it would be. Immediate gratification does no one any good, though I would have loved a little of it myself. I remember everything I wanted to buy for myself and couldn’t afford, and nearly everything cost a big $36.


      1. I remember how long I saved up to buy a cheap TV for my tiny apartment in college. A lot of nights’ waitressing tips went into that. Now it’s like nothing for a young adult to go out and get a $400 phone. Oh boy, do I sound old now…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I would have paid a nickel to spy on the dentist. Is he still there or have I left it too late? I have no memories of the depression as I had not arrived yet. I do remember WW2 and my mum and I queuing up for some kind of soup in an enameled green bucket.
    Now, I could easily live in mouth watering luxury from what the most appetizing food that gets thrown out. You see complete meals left on diner’s tables with perhaps just a single bite taken from a rare cooked eye-fillet steak with golden string chips and ice-berg salad. I might just add some pepper, that’s all.
    I would make a very good vagrant. If you see someone lurking around the bins in your neck of the woods, Kayti; it could be me!


    1. I see my own family throwing food out which could be used for another meal. Some of my best meals are left overs, sometimes several on the same plate. I know your family was the same, we all wasted nothing. The hems of my dresses were let down and sometimes added onto. I remember cutting cardboard to put in my shoes which had holes worn in them. Can you imagine kids today doing that? That is what makes the big discrepancy between the generations. Maybe it was the same between our parents and us. I can’t imagine complaining about it though. I’m sure some of the homeless can eat very well with a little effort on their part just going from grocery store bin to bin. A friend works for a food pantry where so many people try to take more than their share and she has to slap their hands. (Not really, but she would like to.) I’ll look for you in back of the local Safeway store.


  3. Fascinating about the yellow bath water and people rising late to miss a meal. I like that you gave toothpaste to your tap teacher. How cute! And I remember Ipana toothpaste from when I was little. Great stuff, Kayti. x


  4. It’s funny, but everyone I’ve met who lived through the
    Great Depression says, “It wasn’t so bad for us.” People must have had a sense of pride in their resourcefulness. How wonderful that you still have these photos!


    1. I think if people were disadvantaged before the Depression hit they became more so and it was undoubtedly a very bad time for them. We were lucky though. In today’s drought situation, people are finding ways to conserve water, going to great lengths to do so. Very much the same situation. I’m glad you like the pictures. I seem to be running out of them because we didn’t have a camera. They used the old Kodak box cameras in those days.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your stories, because there’s so much I can relate to. I was a decade behind you, but things didn’t change so fast back then. Even as a kid, I knew about marcelled hair, and letting down hems, and such. I wish I’d known more about how bad mom had it during the Depression — I could have been more understanding about some of her fears. There were a couple of winters when they lived in a house with cracks in the walls, and she’d wake up with snow on her bed. My Lord — it makes me cry even now to think about it. I didn’t learn any of that until her last year or two of life, and much of what I’ve learned came from my aunt.

    She certainly passed on a lot of coping skills. I rarely use canned fruit any more, but it never fails. When I do open a can, the first thing I do is count the number of peach halves, to see how far they’ll stretch.

    Your post was so different than I imagined. When I saw “fragrances of memory,” the first things that came to mind were Evening in Paris, Joy, and Emeraude. Oh, gosh — we did have some ghastly perfumes back then. Tigress, too. Thank goodness we finally could afford Chanel #5 and Shalimar!


  6. I know what you mean about feeling bad about what our parents went through. Probably most kids didn’t have a clue. Life went on and you went where you were put. We lived in one place in Connecticut that doesn’t bear description, but when I get there I will try. People took what they could get and no complaints.
    I always make sure I don’t get cut when I open a can since I had a bad one as a child.
    I remember all those perfumes too. Drugstore glamour. I can’t use any of it now and when I have been with a group of women with perfume I cough for a week! The perfume going through the produce department is enough for me.


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