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.


Today I finally hit my weight goal of 100# and the barista at our local Starbuck’s was flummoxed when I switched to a ‘small skinny vanilla latte, no whip or caramel ‘, which has only 100 calories.  For 4 months I have been eating everything I could find to make up for the 20# weight loss.  Thin is good, scraggly is not.

I have always thought those people who order an egg white omelette, or who announce to the waiter to ‘put the dressing on the side’, or ‘no mayo on the sandwich’, are missing half the fun of eating.  Every newsstand has a dozen magazines telling the virtues of a new diet.  Having been on the other side of thin several times in my long adult life, I do know how difficult it can be to lose unwanted pounds, but trust me, it is just as hard to gain them back.  Funny thing, those pounds.  They just seem to have a mind of their  own.

According to my grandmother, you can never have too much butter.  When I was very young and we were living in Grandma’s boarding  house, we didn’t get much butter.  It was expensive to feed all those extra people during the Depression, but when she got rid of the boarders and switched to simply renting rooms, we got into the good stuff.

My father was a Navy man, and when he was home with us, we occasionally ate steak., and this is how he cooked it:  first you put a layer of salt into a very hot cast iron frying pan.  Put the steak in and when it’s done, you throw a huge pat of butter on top of it.  You don’t need any of those meat sauces.  I don’t think they knew about barbecue grills in those days.

Which brings me to the point of this: the egg white omelette.  I have seen people order this and I can’t imagine why.  In the first place , they are tasteless so why would you eat them?   Omelettes need an extra yolk in not out.  A truly great omelette has three whole eggs and an extra yolk.  Scrambled eggs improve the same way.    If you’re worried, just don’t eat eggs.


“Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money”.  Jules Renard


An amazing woman passed into the annals of history the other day at the extraordinary age of 99.  She was my mother’s sister and my aunt.

As a child the family moved often, often prompting her to say she had attended 52 schools, which though I believe that  number to be apocryphal, it probably was actually a larger number than most.  My grandfather was a dear and charming asthmatic hypochondriac who could no longer work, and who believed his health improved by simply moving a few blocks from where they were living at the time.  This led to a divorce, leaving my grandmother to support herself and 2 small daughters.

The women in my family are strong survivors, and while Grandma took in boarders, the girls went to work part-time at early ages.  Education was not valued as highly as survival, especially during the Depression, and they were lucky to attain high school educations.

She loved clothes and dancing and wanted  so much more than she had and with no certain prospect of obtaining.  She had great style and made most of her clothes.

She worked at whatever jobs she could find , going to night school learning to become a secretary, always reading and learning to improve herself.  By 1949 she was supporting herself, her daughter and her mother.

She took a job with Standard Oil of California which took her to Saudi Arabia, and Aramco, where she met her husband.  They remained happily married for over 50 years.   During the thirty years they lived in Dharan,  they traveled the world, and she absorbed facts and knowledge like a sponge.  She was a fascinating conversationalist on history, politics, religion and the daily news from all over the world.  Her taste was impeccable and she collected china, silver, rugs, books and jewelry from Europe and Asia.

She is a tough act to follow.




If I hear the Little Drummer Boy beating that drum once more, I’ll kick a hole in it.  And Rudolph.  Don’t even go there.  Why someone hasn’t taken that poor reindeer to a doctor for that red nose, I’ll never know.  I love the Christmas music, but it began being piped throughout all the stores (along with the Christmas decorations) before Halloween.  Our local radio station  has played every Christmas song invented 24 hours a day since the beginning of December.  I know what you are thinking: “change the station,   Stupid!” But actually, it is quite  pleasant.  Even Rudolph!

The season has changed immeasurably since my childhood.  The things I remember, my grandchildren have never experienced, but then the things MY grandmother enjoyed, seem antidiluvian.  I’m not sure which is better.  The best present I ever received was a red-and white checkered rag doll I saw high on a shelf in the dime store when I was six.  They don’t even have dime stores anymore!  Of course NOTHING was ever a dime even then, and during the Great Depression, even a dime would be too much for some.

Today’s wish list runs to X-Box, IPads, Kindles, etc., draining the wallets of indulgent parents by mega-bucks.  The Norman Rockwell vision of Holidays is simply that; a vision.  The answer is just relax and enjoy it, it is what it is.  Like the 10,000 teenagers yapping away on their cell phones in the mall.  Of course, they do this soundlessly, because of non-stop texting.  It is amazing to me that a teenager can be present at a family dinner, cell phone in lap, and carry on a fairly lucid conversation while meanwhile notifying all of their friends of even the most minute details of their existence.  Talk about multitasking!

But the tech world has captured all of us.  “I have to start the going to bed ritual 30 minutes before I have to actually be in bed.  Plug in personal cell (android, so it soaks battery juice like a Hoover.)  Work cell (Iphone and this one sucks like a Dyson,) IPad touch, IPad and Jawbone bluetooth headset.  The sad thing is I can’t remember my life before I had more phones than pockets.”

That last part, is not exactly true for me, but I’m sure it is a daily thing for a lot of people today.  And our kids will have to cope with even more tech as the years go by, so they may as well sharpen their wish lists in 2011.

My cards have been sent, the packages wrapped, Christmas cakes baked and distributed, Hanukah greetings sent, and special phone calls made, so I’m ready to relax and dance around the room to Rudolph’s cheery bounce.  I hope you do the same.