My Hometown Is the U. S. A. - Born in the West ~ From Humble "L. A." Beginnings
LIVING IN "LA" AT AN EARLY AGE
Well, I think this will be more like a journal. I grew up in southern California. When I was born my parents were still married. I was born in "General Hospital" just like the soap opera. My parents got divorced when I was 5 1/2yrs old and my father died when I was 7yrs old.
We have always lived a "frugal life-style". I didn't know there was a term for it. We always called it poor. But poor to us was not the same thing as poverty stricken. It just meant no frills and use it up or wear it out. My mother was young during the Great Depression. She would be furious with us if we did not use a spatula to get the last of the mayo out of the jar. We rarely had extras and the trickle down never made it to the kids, or so it seemed. Sometimes we had to move because there just was not enough money to go around. Now that I look back on it I know how hard it must have been. To choose between feeding your children or paying the rent and starving for maybe weeks.
My mother became a single mom with three kids in 1966. Back then they did not have rental discrimination legislation laws so sometimes it was difficult to get a decent apartment. My brother was almost 4 yrs old. In the past she would dress him up as a girl when he was a baby to make it easier to get a good place. My father never knew because he was at work when she was looking for a place. Then as the man of the house he would just have to sign the lease. Now it was a little hard to continue that "three girls, no boys" scam.
Everyone owned a sewing machine or knew how to use a needle and thread. Even the little girls and some of the boys could mend a hole or sew on a button. Today's generation seems disinterested in these things. If you need and/or want to live frugally you will need to learn how to sew on a button, mend a seam, unclog a drain yourself, fix a hole in the wall, use left over food instead of throwing it out. These are all things that will help you save your money for better things instead of throwing it down the drain.
Eventually we moved into the "Projects". We lived in Rosemary Gardens, Aliso Village and a few other locations around town. I moved out of "the Village" in the middle of 5th grade. That would be late 1971, but if you want to see a little of what it was like there is a U-TUBE video you can watch from early 1980s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NVlIzhkFn8) It was like that when I lived there.
Even though I did not leave the state till I was 20yrs old, I still did some extensive moving around. When you move a lot it pays to be organized. My mother used to make what she called "book boxes". She would make a open top box that could hold paper back books (or anything else, but made to size). They could be stacked to store, or placed sideways on a book shelf for display. This gave her the idea of making other dividers for socks or underwear in drawers. We also took the bottom of cereal boxes and cut them off to put in kitchen drawers for holding silverware or utensils. All the boxes she made would be from other boxes we had acquired from other purchases. She would cut them up and tape them together then cover them with cheap shelf paper and voila! organization. I must confess I still do this myself.
By the time I left High school I had attended approximately 10 schools. 6 of them between 6th grade and 12th; in four cities and five homes. Two for 6th grade (Temple City & Covina), two junior highs (1st half of 7th grade in Covina & the rest of junior high in Fontana CA), and two high schools (FOHI!! & John W North in Riverside CA). I am sure that is part of the reason I did not feel uncomfortable about uprooting myself when I needed to move as an adult.
Temple City to Fontana via Covina
FIFTH GRADE TO JUNIOR HIGH
During the beginning of my fifth grade year my maternal grandmother died and left us her home in Temple City. It was like the first episode of "the Beverly Hillbillies". We moved out of "the Projects" to a nice neighborhood in the suburbs.
Quad buildings and benches with lots of plants is my memory of my older sister's Junior High School. Kids taking care of kids was normal back then. One more reason why it was easier back then. Nowadays if you let your children supervise themselves you get in trouble with the authorities. Child services gets involved and sometimes they take the children away. I am in full agreement when it comes to physical or substance abuse by the parents, but "big brother" seems to be a little heavy handed sometimes.
Back then, my brother and I would walk to my sister's school when we were dismissed from class and wait for her to be done, then we would all walk home together. My mother worked as a bookkeeper. She hated it and wanted to have a better life for all of us. In the 70s there was a big real estate surge, however there were lots of people ripping people off in shady deals as well. So anyway, my mother decided to purchase an apartment complex and be her own boss.
My mother had no clue when it came to business. We who live a "frugal lifestyle" seldom do. Maybe it is naivete. Always looking towards the prize but not seeing the pit in front of us. She found a place she thought was a great deal and sold the home her mother had left her in her will. She got a fair price on it. Once again the Beverly Hillbillies packed up and this time moved to Covina. A great place to live. We could ride our bikes (garage sale specials & you better know how to fix your own chain) about 10 miles by road to Azusa and go to the Toys R Us all by ourselves without worrying about the types of things parents worry about nowadays. The idyllic, bygone days of childhood. No video games, no internet, no cell phones & no money for them even if they did exist. Two pairs of pants, four shirts, one Sunday dress (or pants and shirt in my brothers case), two pairs of shoes and three pair of socks & underwear each . One dresser and one bedroom to be shared by three kids and no one thought it was weird.
Even in today's day and age I only fill up half of my closet with actual clothing. I own two pairs of shoes and now slippers since it is colder in West Virginia than California. I devote more space to crafting than clothes. I know how to mend a button, fix a flat or even get the movie unjammed from the VCR. I am not trying to brag, just stating the facts.
However, if you don't know the first thing about being a handy-person you have to pay someone to take care of the problems that arise with your rental properties, like plumbing problems. It is always wise to learn how to fix things especially if you own property of any kind. Learning basic electric wiring, basic plumbing, even changing the oil in your car or learning how to use a sewer snake on the pipe between house outlet and the street can save you hundreds over time. Home/property ownership can be expensive if you don't have basic knowledge or a guide of some sort.
Back then if people skipped out on the rent the building owner was liable for the unpaid utility bills and they came out of the rental deposit (if you still had that money) or your own pocket if you did not. Once again, back to frugality...
So, to state the obvious, we did not have a lot of money, therefor, I got a job (near the end of 6th grade) checking eggs and stocking shelves at a local store. I also walked around to every house in about a one mile radius every week collecting pop bottles and aluminum cans. My brother would help me and I would split the money with him (after giving some to our mother). We would work different streets every day. It was a regular routine with our little red wagon. We had this great thing back then. It was an automated recycling station (receptacle). You could put aluminum cans into a machine that was basically a huge dumpster with a "ghetto" can ATM on it. The cans had to be put in crushed. The machine would dispense money for the cans. Nowadays there are still machines in some major metropolitan areas, but not in my current state of West Virginia.
We would then walk to the grocery store and use the spigot on the side of the building to rinse all the bottles we had collected. The store would take them in and give us money for the deposit amount. Usually 5¢ per bottle (molded in the glass). The deposit was charged at the time of purchase, but some people did not like to have to take them back so we could reap the benefit of their disinterest. (another instance of use it up, wear it out or sell it if possible)
These idyllic days did not last though. During the course of the the year+ we lived in Covina a legal situation arose in which my mother lost the apartment building and all the money she paid into it through a real estate scam. The person who sold her the apartments did not have legal title so she lost all her investment. We spent our final months living in the den and cooking our meals over the fire since we had no money for the gas and electric. This, incidentally, was my first experience of taking cold showers for an extended period of time. We all slept in the den because it was winter and chilly to us with no heat except the fireplace. (I know what you are thinking! Cold? in southern California? Pshaw!) We read library books and played cards and board games by candle light. My mother was finally able to get a new place for us even farther out from LA. In the "sticks" she called it.
The funny thing is, I do not remember those days with revulsion, but rather nostalgia. We thought it was an adventure, we were camping, we were doing what we always did, surviving. And yet those early times help you overcome life's little bumps, even though our roots were from the "city" we were still able to adapt to our circumstances. We always found a use for something, we never threw anything out. If we could not use it we donated it so someone else could.
We packed up once again (Beverly Hillbilly style) and moved to Fontana. We even rented a trailer. What was my mother thinking? She was not an excellent driver. It was a trailer with short sides and totally open on top. You rent those things by the day you know. The day we had to do it there was a wind advisory. We drove that trailer down the 10 freeway toward Fontana and somewhere around the Pomona freeway connection we ended up jackknifing and dresser drawers flew everywhere. Well, they were not taped shut. You would think she would have learned how to pack by then! Additionally, my brother was sitting in a small spot in the trailer. The car was jammed with personal items an my mother, my sister and I were in the front seat of our Duster with two cats in our laps and another on the floor of the back seat in a carrier.
Always use caution when towing a trailer, listen to the experts on the weather channel, it is better to be safe than sorry. I am sure you know all these things, but sometimes living frugally actually gives you the feeling of being 10 feet tall and bullet proof "I can handle anything" so try to remember you are human and sometimes we can't do it all - at least not all in one day! Even God took six.
Talk about "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" I had been to Disney Land and this was definitively more exhilarating. I have visions of my mother darting out to pick up lost items from their resting place on the road whenever there was a break in traffic. It would have never occured to chalk it up to circumstance and leave something behind. My brother was OK, but some of the furniture was a little worse for wear. We got to Fontana though and I guess I will save that for the next chapter...
- Do I need this to survive? or for entertainment?
- Do I care what other people think of me? or what I think of myself?
- Can I handle the situation? or do I need help?
Remember that ...
needing help and being "needy" have very different meanings.
caring for others and worrying about what they think also have different meanings.
surviving and living are worlds apart....
Don't regret the life you live but live for a life without regret. You are stronger than you think and can handle what is dished out. Just use your head.