DOUBLE LIFE OF A LITTLE GIRL III
GRANDMOTHER’S ROLE IN OUR CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
After our return from the Central Valley of California to our small burg north of the San Francisco Bay Area, we stayed at my Grandmother’s home for almost a year. During this time, many of the things we; my mother, brother and I, took for granted began to cede to change and variation. No longer were all the lawns mowed precisely and evenly as they had been around our first home. No more were evenings quiet without even a hint of activity as it was in our former, bucolic neighborhood. In our new environment; daytime sounds morphed into nighttime noise. Street activity continued well into the dark hours whereas, before, there was much space between our house and the next and, even then, the “next” house was as still as ours. The framework around which life unfolded was quite different; with a hint of excitement simmering just below the surface.
Homes were built much closer together and many types of dwellings occupied the same block. My grandmother, being quite an independent entrepreneur, had a large lot in this semi-industrial area, and she decided that there was a great possibility for income. She hired a contractor to build a 4 unit rental complex behind her home. The work was done quickly and, before we knew it, she had all four apartments leased. My brother and I would venture into this strange new world, inspecting this and exploring that. It wasn’t long before we got to know all the residents; most of whom were very friendly and welcoming. In fact, the family of one of my grade school classmates moved in shortly after completion of construction. We hadn't been that close then but, though it was strange at first, soon, we were striking up a renewed kinship now that we shared something in common.
NEW AND DIFFERENT WAS THE THEME OF OUR YOUTH
Again, brother and I found ourselves in a strange new world, experiencing another aspect of life. I remember how foreign it felt, playing on asphalt rather than huge swaths of grass or field. I recall how the heat of the afternoon radiated from beneath my feet; causing undulating waves before my eyes. I was aware of how there were so few green, growing plants. I wondered what it must be like to live in this stark place. I had a feeling of sympathy though, at the time, I wasn’t able to put my finger on it.
My mother started to look for work and a new home. As an adult now, looking back, I can see how trying a time this was for her. Newly divorced (again), in need of employment and desperately wanting a home for herself and her children, this was an extremely difficult time for her; a young mother of two rambunctious, curious kids. She had arrived at a point where she was no longer content nor happy to be living in Grandmother’s house; and the friction began to fester between the two of them. Never the closest of relationships, anyway, the circumstance did not lend itself to nurturing their mother/daughter dynamic. Some days were very tense, with mother shooing my brother and me into a room with the order to “stay still, be quiet!” And we did; and we were.
HISTORY COLORS PRESENT DAY DECISIONS
Soon, my mother had found what she thought would be the perfect home for rearing young children. Unhappy with the ‘upwardly mobile’ social and cultural constraints; and the world of double standards (Stepford Wife as an example) she had endured during her marriage to my father; she choose a humble 3 bedroom home in a middle class housing development which had been built more than a decade before resulting in time enough to foster green lawns, medium sized shade trees and lots of volunteer growth which softened the edges and eased our transition. Located in a ‘nice’ part of town with a grade school in walking distance; safety and security were all but guaranteed. She had played the role of wife to our town’s favorite son for enough years to know that that life did not appeal to her while this one did.
My mother came to California during the “Grapes of Wrath” era of our country’s history. Her father and mother immigrated directly from Germany and landed in America’s Heartland, Oklahoma. There, they established themselves as successful business people; owning and operating a thriving bakery shop in Oklahoma City. They did quite well and lived a good life until the Great Depression. As happened to so many businesses large and small; theirs soon lost customers due to high unemployment and, in short time; the business folded and my Grandparents were left as so many others were; with no source of dependable income and bills to pay; mouths to feed. And, just as so many others; they found themselves migrating westward; towards the hope of prosperity; the promise of a better life. So, at age 16, my mother, an “Okie,” was transplanted into a not so forgiving world. She often told me of the taunts and teasing she endured because of her accent and the poverty of her family and her very modest home. To her death, she still recalled, with a sad look in her eyes, those years spent in lonliness and solitude with very few friends. Even with this history and beginnings, moving to a nondescript dwelling was more in keeping with what was familiar to her. The upper crust’ lifestyle in which she dwelled while married to my father was never comfortable for her. My father thrived in such an environment, my mother withered.
Our new home fit her needs and comfort level just fine. Brother and I liked it too because our new friends were right next door, just down the street and around the corner. Late into the evenings, in this active and friendly place, we played under streetlights with the neighbor kids. It was great! GREAT! Here, we only had to walk out the door and skip next door to grab Tom or Karen for a fun night on the street! Tag! Hide and Seek, hop scotch, or roller skating on the even pavement and street surface; it was a child’s delight. Unlike my childhood home which was surrounded by field and stream and, different than my Grandmother’s house, where industry rumbled and cars sped by and, certainly, better than our Central Valley home, where everything was barren; numbingly plain; out new ‘digs’ were perfect! Mother got it just right! Not only that but, my first day at my new school wasn’t bad, at all. Thankfully, I’d had the summer months to get to know kids and make new and lasting friendships so, first day at school was a b-r-e-e-z-e! How great was that!!!
CHANGE IS IN THE WIND…..AGAIN
We lived happily in this home for 4 years. Then, as fate would have it, my mother met and married yet another suitor. And, it was up and moving, again. I remember standing in the driveway feeling lost and morose; feeling as if the rug were being pulled out from under my feet. I ran to my friend Susan’s house to tell her the news and see if I could live with her parents at her house…I really didn’t want to leave…again!!
Of course, that was not to be and, as scheduled, we packed and moved out into the country again. This time, the house was made of cinder blocks and was pretty much a big, boxy building. The good thing about our new home was that we lived on a dead end street that dead ended right on the banks of a swiftly running creek! A child’s delight! (though, my mother certainly did not think so). Exploration and experimentation was the order of the day, once we settled in. Brother and I snuck down to the creek’s edge and stood there wonderstruck at the swiftly running water, the loud roar of it’s movement and feeling our faces being buffeted by the gusts of wind generated by the rapidly coursing, undulating water. There were huge trees which swayed in the wind making a glorious wall of sound, large boulders in and around the water as it flowed on and a steep, walkway down to the water’s edge. This one was much better than our early childhood meandering seasonal stream. This constantly moving estuary had a life all it’s own. One which thrilled two young siblings who stood or sat on it’s brink, moved by nature and happenstance.
Stay tuned..I'm writing this in segments to make it a faster story....more to follow as this pretzel life continues....