1942 – 1949 The Early Formative Years Part 2
In 1942, I believe after the air raid in February, my mom and Aunt Beatrice took me to Mexico for my first visit to meet all the family there. My uncle, Tio Chito, (Chee-toe) owned a small grocery store in Cuauhtémoc and was considered a rich man at the time. He had a couple of cooks, maids and people who worked in the store.
We travelled by train roundtrip and were gone for about four or five months. How could a poor family afford that?
I remember parts of the trip:
In Cuauhtémoc, a cousin went to the outhouse during a thunderstorm and I was watching from the back door when a lightning bolt hit the outhouse. The bolt blew the outhouse up and my cousin was sitting there crying her eyes out. She was scared shitless. HA HA!
At that time there was no electricity in Cuauhtémoc and all the streets were dirt, no asphalt or cement. The sidewalks were made of wood.
We visited Mennonite Camps who provided fresh produce for my uncle’s store. There were about ten camps called Campos within ten or twenty miles of Cuauhtémoc. They were one street villages with homes on each side of the street. The frontage of each property was about one hundred yards, not sure. Behind the homes was the farm land where the Mennonite’s would grow various fruits and vegetables. I think there were about twenty five homes on each side of the street, (road).
A few of the Campos had cheese factories where they made their own cheese. We visited about four or five of the cheese factories in one weekend. If you can imagine, in a time of no refrigeration, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, you might be able to imagine the smell these places generated. I have never eaten cheese since that visit and never will.
The Mennonite men wore overalls, had beards and the women wore long dresses and bonnets on their head. They drove horse pulled wagons and were very devout Christian’s.
We also visited where my Grandmother was born in 1895. She was born in a mining town named Cusihuiriachi, (KOO-SEE-WHOEEE-REE-AAH-CHEE), in the State of Chihuahua Mexico. “Cusihuiriachi” is a Tarahumara word meaning “erect pole”. “Cusi” was a silver mining town about two hours southwest of Cuauhtémoc. In its heyday it had a population of around twenty thousand inhabitants.
Grandma told me stories about life in Cusi and about Pancho Villa. Our family must have been an upper middle class family because she said they had Chinese servants. Pancho Villa didn’t like the Chinese and she witnessed that fact one day when Pancho shot one as he was running for safety. He shot the Chinaman without spilling his coffee.
She also told me that all the girls, of age, would be sent to the mountains to hide when the town got wind of Pancho arriving at Cusi by train. The train tracks were built to keep the silver ore flowing out of Cusi.
Eventually the silver ran out and Cusi became a ghost town, but before that happened she married Jose Delgado, the grandfather I never saw.
They had four children while living in Cusi. They were my mother Elisa, the eldest born in 1916, my uncle Pancho born 1917, my aunt Beatrice born 1920 and my uncle Daniel born 1922
When we visited Cusi it looked like a town that was bombed with only walls standing and no roofs on ninety nine percent of the buildings. When we visited, there were only about fifty people living there. One family there was the government guy who had all the record book about who was born, when and when they died. My mom had him make her a new copy of her birth certificate.
While I was in Mexico I was immersed in the Spanish language and could barely speak English on my return to the US.
My mom did take me back for a second visit when I was about eight years old and not much had changed in four years. I had fun chasing a maid in the courtyard with a dead snake on the end of a stick and I guess I killed a few of chickens for whatever reason.
There was a man who owned a taxi service between Chihuahua and Cuauhtémoc. He used a station wagon to haul people back and forth. I was told later that he grew that business to a large bus company in Mexico. He kind of liked my mom and I think they went out on a couple of dates, but nothing developed because he wanted her to move back to Mexico.
So much for the Mexico trips.
Oh, by the way, I was told the Mennonites grow pot now. I’m not sure if that is true, but thought I’d pass it on.
In times when I was sick my mother often deferred to my grandmother as to how to cure me. If I had a stomach ache her favorite cure was giving me an enema. I accepted that before I would accept her other way which was castor oil in orange juice. I hated that and it almost ended my love for orange juice.
If I had a chest cold, the cure was a mustard plaster on my chest. That really was hot and sometimes burned like hell. Another was Vicks in boiling water and they would place a towel over my head and the pan of water so I could breathe the vapor in. For a throat ailment it was honey in hot tea or Dr. Danny.
Dr. Danny would come to our house and treat me, prescribe something or whatever. The point is, we were poor, but because the government hadn’t screwed up our medical system by then, the Dr. Danny’s of the world could still make house calls and take whatever in payment. I don’t even think there was any available health insurance at the time.
I used to try to fly like Superman or parachute with and umbrella by jumping off roof tops and I really messed up my feet and legs at a young age. So much so my mother told me I came close to not walking at all had I not stopped. For a while I had to wear braces and for a much longer I wore special orthopedic shoes. I have no idea how my mother or family paid for my orthopedic treatment and special shoes I had to wear.
How did my family pay for that? We didn’t have that kind of money. I believe we were able BECAUSE the government hadn’t screwed up our medical system by then. And the family would help each other out in times of need. Even the poor didn’t need a government check before the welfare state was born.
When we returned from Mexico I started noticing things. One has stuck in my mind all these years.
At the east end of 89th Street close to Main Street was a small Baptist church and on certain evenings black people would fill it up and play loud music. One evening I snuck up to the window as they were in full volume with drums and all. The music was a fun kind of music and everyone was dancing or jumping up and down. I didn’t know what kind of music it was, but they liked it.
I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. As a five year old, I thought black people were really strange. I didn’t think strange in a bad way, maybe it was because they looked so different. I believe the black people at that church were the first black people I had ever seen in my five-year-old life. So I guess I was born a racist because I thought they looked strange. Or is it a natural phenomenon that happens when someone that young sees someone so different than themselves.
I say, a five-year-old kid doesn’t have the capacity to know the answer to that question, but someone like Michael Eric Dyson would blame the white European male for my thoughts at that young age.
East L.A. had become the Mexican barrio. South Central L.A was predominately White American. There, we didn’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for ourselves. I grew up as a member of one Mexican family of three or four families on 89th Street between Main and Broadway.
The Black community was east of Avalon or Central Avenue, about 3 miles east of Broadway and further south about three or four miles. It was called Watts. That was the map in 1943. By 1953 the black community had moved west and north. West to about San Pedro and North to about Manchester, the more East they were located, the more North they were, almost to downtown Los Angeles.
The best things about growing up in an all American community was there was no one there reminding us we weren’t American. There was no one there telling me I didn’t have a chance. That’s not to say there may have been some prejudice. What I’m saying is, I never felt any.
There were times when some boys who didn’t like me would call me a “wetback” a “beaner” or say “you’re a dirty Mexican.” But they were kids wanting to pick a fight. I knew I was as much an American as they were and I defended myself as any American kid would do.
My step dad Tony had started to teach me about fighting right after he and my mom got married at age seven. He taught me to always hit first and aim for the nose. That would cause a lot of bleeding and with kids, the fight would be over quick.
In the house directly west of our home was the Keldon family. The Keldon’s had a son my age named Timothy and he was my first official fight. I was about seven and remembering what I was told about hitting first and aiming for the nose I hit Timmy with my right fist.
Before I could get in another shot Timmy started bleeding all over the place. It was literally a one punch fight. He went screaming home and I got my butt spanked, but I think Tony was secretly proud of me.
Because my family assimilated to American culture we were no longer part of a minority. We were in the majority, we were Americans of Mexican descent. We never thought of ourselves as Mexican Americans, we were Americans. My family had the desire to live in America and the brains to assimilate and it’s not only foreigners that need to assimilate.
One of the greatest examples of assimilation accidently popped up on the popular TV show, “The Bill Cosby Show.”
OK, for this discussion let’s forget about the perceived sex scandal Bill is involved in and concentrate about what I’m talking about.
The situation comedy became the hit show of the 1980’s featuring, according to Wikipedia, an African-American family. I stated, “according to Wikipedia” because as far as I’m concerned the show featured a family of Americans of African descent.
There is a huge difference.
The show was originally based on Bill Cosby’s standup routine which was based on his real family’s life. I would say that Bill’s family had assimilated to American culture and lived a life with the blessing America can give to those who embrace her. The TV version of his family, the Huxtable family, certainly had assimilated.
What really gets me is how widely the show has been praised. From the far left to the far right, from rappers to people of all faiths, I haven’t heard of anyone who disliked the show, the premise of the show, the lack of “blackness,” nothing!
Why do you think that is?
Is it that Bill’s real family and TV family had assimilated from the black culture and accepted America? Is that the cause of the happy living conditions?
Bill’s TV show was so applauded he has spoken about his inner feelings about black people in America in real life. Maybe that’s why he’s in trouble with the liberals today.
Back to me.
Before I left my tortilla counting job at El Indio, I started selling newspapers after school and on Saturday nights when the stores would stay open until 9:00 PM, I would sell the early edition of the Sunday paper, Saturday night. AND shine shoes.
On Sunday mornings I pulled a wagon down the streets in my assigned neighborhood with the Sunday LA Examiner and LA Times. I would yell out “Examiner Tiiiimmmmes, paper.” People would hear me and come out and buy one, sometimes two.
After awhile I would pick up some regular customers. I learned that one particular woman answered the door very groggy the earlier I would deliver her paper. The groggier she was, it seemed the less she covered up and I would get a peep at her naked tits. She wasn’t trying on purpose to show me anything, I was trying to see anything I could see. Pure ten-year-old heaven. I found out at a young age, I liked tits.
She soon became the first house I would go to.
It was during my after-school day job, selling newspapers, I started showing signs of thinking out of the box. I got my first job selling papers from and older man named Dave who owned all four corners of Manchester and Broadway. By “owned” I mean he could hire and fire whoever worked on three corners he didn’t work. The newspapers would back him up so he was the boss.
Dave sold papers at the southbound corner of Broadway. He even had a big newspaper stand, about fifteen feet wide covered with newspapers, magazines, candy, cigarettes and cigars. He would lock up at night, but he worked it all day long.
The busiest corner was 1 – Manchester west bound, then Broadway north bound 2 and finally Manchester East bound 3 came in as the least busy corner.
That’s where I started my newspaper selling career, on the East bound corner of Manchester as it crossed Broadway. 3
It didn’t take me long to set records for selling on corner 3 and when one of the kids quit that was on corner 2 I thought I deserved to move up. Dave said no and talked me in to staying on 3. Then another kid quit on corner 1 and I really wanted that corner, but Dave again said no.
I really got mad at this so I quit and moved upstream, further east, on Manchester so I could have a west bound corner. I moved to Avalon and Manchester and caught the west bound traffic two miles before they got to Broadway and corner 1.
Even at two or three cents a newspaper, I was making over $5.00 a day, (3:30 to 7:00PM), counting tips. Two miles west, Dave was feeling the west bound sales, corner 1, losing sales. I, in turn, had shown my ability to turn a negative into a positive with a little initiative. That was the second time I got a shot of pride, now called self-esteem.
Funny thing about “self-esteem,” it’s something you can’t give to someone. An individual automatically gets it when their own “self” does something that makes them proud. You know it from your inner self.
How do you like all the self-esteem our kids are being handed out today? By doing so we are robbing them of the true pride they could feel when they actually did something that made themselves proud.
I figured out how to make money just about any way I could. When it rained the northwest corner of Avalon and Manchester would sometimes flood from the curb towards the middle of the street. The curbs were about 16 inches high so the water was at least that deep and then shallowing out towards the middle of the street, maybe ten feet. I would get a box from the local market and bring two 2×6 inch boards about six feet long.
I would make a bridge using the box in the middle of the water five feet out and use the two boards for the bridge. I would charge the people who wanted to cross about a dime to stay dry. Then one day a guy stiffed me so I got rid of one board and made them pay me when they got to the box in the middle of the water. If they didn’t pay I wouldn’t move the board so they couldn’t finish the crossing without getting wet.
The best thing that happened during the four or five years I sold newspapers is, I read them. I followed daily events and would talk to different adults that owned the stores I sold newspapers in front of.
During the rest of Grammar School, (K-6), I was a B+ student and I skipped the A-5 or the B-6, I can’t remember. I didn’t skip it, the school put me ahead a half year because I was doing so well. It must have been something else that caused it because almost the whole class skipped.
I was good at softball, (pitcher), good at football, (QB or End) and somewhat popular with the girls. Remember I was always giving girls a nickel to be my girlfriend. Whatever that meant.
One day about six girls, maybe 10 year olds chased me around the school and caught me behind a bush. They then each planted a kiss on my cheek. Don’t ask me why, I don’t remember. I did manage to cop a feel on the ones who had some young boobies starting to bud.
I found more when I graduated to Bret Hart Junior High School, (Grades 7-9). Boobs, that is.
I started Junior High School in January of 1949, and I remember we had snow that January. Take a look:
Wow, climate sure does change doesn’t it? And it’s a natural process, at least it was until it became a political football to advance the Progressive Liberal Socialist agenda.
Up next is 1949 – 1952 Junior High Years