We took the train to El Paso. It may as well have been a distant planet, because compared to the little crossroads of Charlie we had arrived in another world. It was just Danny and me with our mom, and we walked from the train station to a white stucco hotel with an arched entry. Our room was on the second floor and for a reason I don't know, my dad had arranged for us to stay there the next three months at company expense. The room had a balcony which overlooked a lush, green interior courtyard where a banana tree grew up to our windows. Directly below us was a pool with darting goldfish, and there were small tables down there amongst the ferns, each covered with a white tablecloth. I would lie on the balcony during the afternoon and watch men in white jackets move slowly from table to table, serving elegant men and women. For me, it was a view of a fairy tale, a place where I expected magical things to happen and certainly wouldn't have been surprised if they had. But of course I was five and everything was magical. When the three month interlude was over, we walked from the hotel to the train station and finished our journey to California. Maybe some day I'll go back to El Paso and find that hotel.
We got off the train in Los Angeles. My dad was waiting for us as we came into the Union Pacific Station, and he had a porter collect our baggage and put it into the trunk of a brand new Ford convertable. It was black with a white top, and the four of us all sat in the front seat as we rode in the open air to our new home. Our rented new home.
There's a part of Los Angeles south of Glendale where Verdugo Road runs next to the railroad yards; those yards run for miles and miles along there, and my dad worked in one of the buildings. Our house was high on the side of one of the many hills overlooking that area, and if you've ever seen the Laurel and Hardy movie where they are delivering a piano up an endless flight of wooden stairs, then you know where it is. My dad said the hill we lived on was called Goat Hill, and I believed him, but I'm not so sure anymore.
In September that year I started to school. My teacher's name was Mrs Watson; she was big; she had her hair cut short in a dutchboy bob, and she wore the same green dress every day. That's all I remember of that first class. Shrug.
Christmas came and my dad bought me a Red Ryder BB gun which my mom wouldn't let me use. I looked at it often, but I only remember shooting it once when my dad set up some paper targets behind the house. That winter it rained a lot and I had to stay inside, but I didn't mind because I had learned to read. I read everything. I read the little books that were mine and I read the newspaper every day. I also read the magazines that were piled on the table in the screened porch. There were copies of Life, Look, and my favorite, the Saturday Evening Post. When I read the Post I always started at the back and looked at the cartoons first. My mom wasn't much of a reader and couldn't understand why I spent so much time with books. She often told me I would ruin my eyes by reading so much. It didn't happen.
But my little brother did find the BB gun and shot me in the chest with it. He had a temper worse than Mom's, and we did a lot of rolling around on the floor punching each other. He tore one of my books, I hit him, and he shot me. Now, looking back down the tunnel of years gone by, I think it was an omen.
One day my Aunt Betty, who was my mom's favorite sister, arrived at the door and surprised us. She and her best friend, Boots, had left Big Mama's in Texas and had come to California. They had found jobs in Santa Monica and shared clothes, boyfriends, and an apartment by the beach. She wanted us to come visit her on the other side of Los Angeles, so my dad put us all in his Ford convertable and off we went. You could smell the salt air as we got close to the beach, and my dad was telling all of us how big the ocean was. My mom had never seen it, and of course neither had Danny nor had I. We parked a block away from Aunt Betty's, and started walking. My dad told Danny and me to close our eyes tight and took our hands, saying he would tell us when we could open them again. We walked and walked, and it was a very long time to keep my eyes shut, but I did. We walked out onto the Santa Monica pier, clear to the end of it, and as we stood there, he told Danny and me to open our eyes. !!!!
We moved a couple of times, but not far. We lived in Glendale on Division Street and Future Street, and I stayed in the same school. Both places were closer to the railroad yards that were down below Goat Hill. I got to walk to school and made a lot of friends in the neighborhood. They were all ages, from the kid up the street named Charlie who reminded me of the name of that little cross-roads back in Texas to the lady next door who gave us cookies. Her name was Mrs. Krooke, and it was spelled in big letters on a board near her mail box. One of the kids had penciled a letter 'i' on it so it said Krookie. It was kind of fitting. They were good cookies. During the daytime it was her front lawn where we gathered to run through the sprinklers, and in the evening the lawn was the base for our hide-n-seek games. Her husband used to tell ghost stories to the kids who would sit on that same lawn in the summer evenings, and sometimes we heard about their son who was away in the Army. Charlie and I wanted to be in the Army.