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.
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.
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.