Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Dreams and memories (Part One)

At times I lie awake at night following a stream of consciousness that has me partly remembering and partly experiencing random moments from the past. Last night I encountered something from my very early past when my family first moved to Stockton, CA, from Santa Cruz where Daddy had been in partnership at the Beach City Cleaners with my mother's twin brother who now had other plans. Daddy was delighted to get a job at Fiberboard Products Company, a paper processing plant. He was started at the lowest job level, although in retrospect I think they may have been cognizant of his physics degree with thoughts of its future usefulness to them.

In Santa Cruz I had entered at the usual age of six, but due to crowded schools and the fairly high degree of intelligence I still give myself credit for, I was skipped all the way to grade 3 before we moved, when I was still less than 7. This was later to become a misery to me when the Stockton school year started. But that was in the future that summer when we moved to Stockton.

Daddy was being paid the low starting salary of his new position, so we were poor by almost anyone's standards. We rented a tiny house (called by neighbors, “ The Cracker Jack house”, as we later learned. It was the worst-built house on a street that had extremely modest homes occupied by their owners. It had two nice features, however, - a peach tree and an apricot tree covered with luscious fruits. So each hot summer evening, Mama would pack a picnic supper and Junior and me into the car and drive us to meet Daddy. But there was a catch to this. A railroad track ran into the plant and along it traveled trains carrying sometimes hundreds of cars. We had to stop on the wrong side of them and wait – and wait. Why couldn't Daddy just step across? Because the crossing was manned by a guard, employed by FBP and he wouldn't allow it. So we sat in our hot car and sweltered, bathed in ineffable stink of a paper-processing plant.

But finally – FINALLY – the train would pass and we would drive to the slough (pronounced by us to rhyme with through) and unpack our baloney sandwiches and peaches or apricots, find a tree to sit under to eat. Junior and I never had a hint that there was any hardship in our parents' lives. It was cooler by the water. We must have fished. It was never high on our family's list of pleasures, but I think someone must have done so because I remember that we had fried catfish the next day, heavily breaded and fried in bacon fat.

Our little house was wonderful in other ways that summer. Our street (was it Monterey Street?) dead-ended at the other at a boulevard that led from downtown to a park. Across that boulevard stretched a great area of undeveloped grassland,and that was where the circus pitched their large tent and the many smaller ones for side shows that lined their midway. Early-arriving circus workers had mowed the tall grass to a lawn-like length. But one thing they could not do, and that was to connect to a water line that did not exist. The circus set up in all its colorful wonder. The nearest water was at the end of our block that was farthest from the circus. So every day the elephants paraded past our yard, a very large number of elephants, to be bathed and to slake their thirst. I don't remember any other animal being brought to our hydrant, but I guess a horse or a dog or even a tiger would have their attendants carry to them buckets of water. And we weren't interested in men.

4 comments:

Winifred said...

You have such an amazing memory and you have a great talent for painting wonderful pictures. I can see those elephants & I can almost taste the peaches. I can't feel that heat though. We have had such a terrible summer cold & wet for weeks now but I'll try to visualise some sunshine. Maybe we'll get some one of these days.

Thank you so much for posting, I'm amazed at the detail you can remember.

Maggie May said...

It is amazing how humans can remember things so clearly. I am just like that too. Wish I had such a memory for recent happenings!
You are so good at descriptive writing.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Mad Kane said...

What a wonderful, detailed story -- so vivid. Thanks. Madeleine Begun Kane

Cindy Vroman said...

I did not realize that you called my father Junior! What a wonderful story bringing a glimpse of our grandparents early life and your childhoods. What a great story to pass down. The only circus I remember was when you and Uncle Otto took our family to Barnum and Bailey. Thank you for taking the time to write this.