by Anniel 2/13/15
It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. – Anonymous. • World War II was finally over and my father was one of the first to get a new Ford truck. Gas rationing ended and he could once again indulge his insatiable wanderlust. The truck was a flatbed with stakes around the bed. Dad put plywood up around the sides and a raised canvas over the front of the bed so my older brother, my Grandpa Charlie, and I could ride safely in the back, but still be able to see (don’t try that today). Grandpa was a very shy and silent Swede who loved us quietly. It was the summer I turned 6, and my brothers were 9 and almost 3. American GI’s were returning from the war and going back to work. The times were booming.
We children were still full of war stories and warnings about the enemy, especially the Japanese, even though none of us had ever seen a real Japanese person. The most exotic people I personally had ever seen were a few Mexicans and Navajos. We were fearful of all other foreigners.
Dad packed us all up, put an armchair in the back of the truck for grandpa to sit on, and we took off to travel the full length of the West Coast. We started by driving up through Utah and Idaho to Washington State and then all the way south to San Diego, California and over into Nevada to see Hoover Dam before heading home.
Southern Idaho seemed like nothing but jack rabbits, sagebrush and cactus, but we saw our first Burma Shave signs there. Remember? They were a series of 5 or 6 red signs, words in white caps, each set far enough apart to be read as a series. I remember the first grouping we saw because the first three lines were momentarily so shocking:
My older brother and I giggled for miles because we thought for a few minutes that the signs were asking us to stomp out our Mormon neighbors.
We drove up through northern Idaho then over into Washington State to Spokane. Just as we spotted the Spokane City Limits sign there was a tremendous lightning bolt and thunder that rocked the truck. We didn’t even have time to shelter under the tarp set up behind the cab before we were in the middle of a cloud burst and drenched to the skin. The rain ended almost as fast as it started. Mom strung a line across the truck to hang wet bedding and clothes on, and we drove on through the evening, the wet things flapping in the breeze.
After a few days we finally reached the coast and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. I still marvel at the power and beauty of the ocean. As much as possible we camped on sand beaches all down the coast. Lying awake at night and listening to the waves softly breaking on the beach was unlike anything I had ever heard or felt before.
Oregon’s ocean views were beautiful but the state had a more rocky shoreline with pebble beaches. We drove inland to a small town one day to gas up and buy food. Dad pulled off the road onto a grassy field and we all went flying out into the weeds as the truck tipped on its side into a ditch hidden in the long grass. The police chief, a small fire engine and a wrecker came to pull us out. Every resident of the town showed up to enjoy the spectacle. Some even brought food and lemonade for us. That was one exciting day for the town’s people – and us. Even grandpa thought it was funny.
The whole purpose of the trip was really to see California, where daddy had spent time as a hobo during the Great Depression. When we got to the California border it was a big day for us and we children really thought we’d see the Big Rock Candy Mountain there. Burma Shave kept delivering laughs:
DOES YOUR HUSBAND
GRUNT AND GRUMBLE
RANT AND RAVE
SHOOT THE BRUTE SOME
We didn’t always stick to the shoreline. Dad wanted to show us not just the redwoods, which were pretty impressive, but beautiful Lake Tahoe and the Central Valley, and the Sierras. I nearly drowned in Lake Tahoe, but Daddy pulled me out. The most impressive place of all was San Francisco.
The first thing we did when we reached San Francisco was rent a shower and we all cleaned up. Mom made me wear a pretty dress and put a bow in my curls before we went exploring. And in San Francisco that meant leaving the truck and heading by trolley to Fisherman’s Wharf.
As we walked onto the shopping area of Fisherman’s Wharf a Chinese man suddenly stepped out of a shop, picked me up and began telling everyone how pretty I looked, and he wanted to give me a pack of Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum. He frightened me to death and I started screaming. I thought he was Japanese and was going to kill me. I took the gum though. Dad was upset and embarrassed by my behavior, and it took awhile to calm me down. The man was extremely kind and in a heavily accented voice apologized for frightening me. We parted with smiles and me chewing gum.
I loved Fisherman’s Wharf. There were so many shops and people everywhere. We bought a large Abalone shell that was still in my mother’s home nearly 60 years later. The mother-of-pearl interior was so beautiful.
I was overjoyed to see sailors in REAL sailor suits just like I had seen in pictures. They had recently returned from the Pacific Theater and were as excited to see fellow Americans as we were to see them. I can still hear their wolf whistles and “Hubba hubbas” when a pretty girl walked by.
My older brother mastered the “Wolf Whistle” in about ten minutes, but mom told him to “mind” his manners. We knew what that meant, so we saved the wolf whistle and Hubba hubbas for later.
I ate my first clam chowder on the wharf and some of the sailors picked me up and danced around with me. One told me he would soon see his own little girl. Oh, was it fun.
The next day we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, which is red, and then turned around and drove across again just so we could enjoy the view, then headed out to Fleishhacker Zoo and the giant saltwater swimming pool there. That pool looked so incredibly large to me, and it took awhile to get used to the icy salt water. The pool was built in 1925 and closed on December 1, 2012. The gorgeous buildings were all torn down, and the area was paved as a parking lot for the zoo. What a loss.
At last we left San Francisco and headed further south down the Coast Highway, to Monterrey and beyond. I could have lived always by the sea.
When mom and dad left us alone anyplace, my older brother cooked up a scheme where he would spot a girl, give a loud wolf whistle, then I got to yell, “Hubba, Hubba,” and we’d hit the floor of the truck laughing our heads off. Grandpa Charlie just smiled at us. Dad finally caught us and told us to stop it, but he was trying not to laugh.
HOW YOU SLICE IT
IT’S STILL YOUR FACE
We went inland to see the giant Sequoias and Yosemite, then back to the coast to Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Diego before heading to Death Valley and Las Vegas to see the great Hoover Dam, before making a run for home.
HARDLY A DRIVER
IS NOW ALIVE
Las Vegas. There was no place on earth like it. But was it ever HOT. 129 degrees in the shade. In the evening we walked around some and Dad and Mom played a few slot machines. They didn’t risk much. I will never understand how I became prone to compulsive gambling with folks like mine.
Hoover Dam was a wonder of the World. We went on a tour down into the bowels of the dam where there were huge windows and dynamos. It felt so good to be cool and we could look directly out from underneath into the dark blue-green waters and spillways.
We left in the evening to be sort of comfortable, and headed off through the Joshua Trees and cactus. Grandpa laughed when he heard me singing goodbye to everything as we drove home, but it was a nice laugh.
TAKE IT SLOW
LET THE LITTLE
America, the truly beautiful.
* * * *
That summer began our family’s ramblings around the Western United States. I have traveled over roads that were merely arrows painted on red rock, over thick dusty tracks, up steep mountains that made us blanch, then turn white again on the way down. I’ve even been to Coffee Pot Rapids and Dead Horse Point and Douglas Pass, the most frightening road in America.
Daddy bought a new car/truck/station wagon every two years without fail, and I listened when he would tell my mother, Ruth, why we NEEDED a new car. I wanted to write a poem for my children about our travels and fumbled around some but finally knew one morning how to do it. Allow me to invite you into our travels:
Do You Hear That?
A Poem in Two Voices
His automobile, always new, was my
Father’s sustaining and one true passion.
It took some going, both uphill and down,
In order to fill his driving ration.
(Ruth, do you hear that? This car has a ping.)
His times of wandering were somewhat spent
As each new child joined in chaining him down –
But his summer journeyings were sacred
As he loaded and prepared to leave town.
(Listen, that sound, it’s the carburetor.)
He packed up the food, tarps and wool blankets,
Coleman lantern, stove and full Water Boy,
Then stuffed children in spaces remaining,
Everyone sharing in Daddy’s great joy.
(Did you feel those springs when we hit that bump?)
We drove high hills and deep river valleys;
Through billowing dust, and roads made of stone.
Dad always pushed on, through cloudburst and drought
And lung searing heat, all parched at the bone.
(Listen, my dear, it’s the radiator.)
Daddy wanted to see all that he could,
But driving was the ultimate reason
He kept on the move, speeding and shifting,
Braking and turning, throughout the season.
(Gas mileage is down. It’s time, Ruth, it’s time.)
We rode in autos, wagons and pickups.
Hair mangled by wind, skin dirty and beat,
As Daddy listened for clatter or squeak,
That meant a new car, all spiffy and neat.
(Let’s buy a new car and not hesitate.)
Oh, Daddy, listen, those sounds that your hear,
They’re the sounds of children in a new car,
Learning the world as they travel with you,
Learning of beauties that nothing can mar.
(Buy, before it dies and loses value,)
Those cars never died, they lived in our hearts,
And somewhere Daddy yet drives up a hill,
Twisting and turning, and showing the way
To little children who ride with him still.
(Time for a trade-in before it’s too late!)
Daddy, listen, it’s the wrong thing you hear,
It’s only some noise and not what it seems,
It’s the sound, the brief sound of forever
As children ride in the heart of their dreams.
* * * *
Come, Celebrate America! The land of the brave and the free. Tell your children and grandchildren of her beauties, and of the wonderful life you’ve been privileged to live here.