Madilyn must have been Catholic. One day after school she and my dad came across the street and put Danny and me in the car and we drove to the Sacred Heart Elementary School in Glendale where we were enrolled. An odd place for two little boys who had only been to church once in their lives and knew nothing at all about such places, let alone Catholicism and the catechism every kid was supposed to be able to recite. Early each morning when I arrived I joined the other kids and stood against the wall in the classroom, answering questions posed by the nun, all related to the catechism. You had to sit down if you couldn't answer the question and it seemed to be a point of pride, especially with the girls, to stay standing. I was always the first to take a seat. After a few weeks of this the nun told me to bend over my desk, with my fanny in the air, and she whacked me good with a ruler. After that I learned a bit of what she wanted to hear, but even at that age I resented it. There was a kid named Carl in the class who had the same attitude as I did and we became pretty good friends after he was whacked, too. Carl was a fat kid who wore corduroy trousers that were way too long for him, so he belted them about chest-high. He looked like one of those two Lewis Carroll characters, either Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum. Nobody else liked him, but Carl and I understood each other. Fortunately for me I only spent a few months at Sacred Heart, but for years after I always said I was Catholic if anybody asked me my religion. Dunno what became of Carl.
I think Madilyn and my dad must have broken up because he took Danny and me out of the Catholic school and we moved from the house on Future Street. My dad got a cheap apartment and he took us to an old woman, whom I swear hated kids, and we stayed with her in a couple of small rooms above a garage. She told us to call her Aunt Annie but we seldom had the chance as she never seemed to stop talking. After awhile much of what she said were simply complaints...the most often being that Dad was always late paying her. She pinched us when she said it, too. She gave us oatmeal for dinner and put us to bed before it was dark outside too, which seemed a terrible injustice to a pair of little kids that were used to going to bed at late hours. We didn't mind the oatmeal... at least it was hot. But no radio! I sure missed Baby Snooks. Did I say Aunt Annie was an old woman? She smelled like an old woman, too.
After a few months we moved again, this time to a huge two-story house where the lady who owned it ran a boarding house just for kids. she was a really nice woman who laughed a lot and cooked wonderful meals. After supper we often sat in a ring in the huge living room and played parlor games such as "I Spy" - a game where Mama would hide something small in the room, such as a spool of thread, and we had to sit quietly and look for it. I wasn't the youngest by any means... there were 12 of us and four kids were smaller and younger than me, and the oldest was not yet a teenager. After school my job was to water the front lawn every evening which I thought was a helluva lot better than having to change sheets, wash dishes or sort and take out trash. I liked the kids and the lady, but Dad was late paying her, too, so it didn't last. That was the best place I ever lived as a kid.
Another move... This time we moved out to Riverside to a 20 acre farm that was mostly a big orange grove. A man named Bob Leffley owned the place and he was a drunk. He wasn't a nice drunk, either, but he had interesting stories to tell when he and my dad would sit out on the porch in the evening. He had been in the army during the war, stationed on some small island where he had to use binoculars to watch a narrow strait for any ships that passed through. I think it was somewhere in the Philippines. Most of his stories involved hunting pigs and big snakes in the jungle that grew there. I found 'em exciting. My dad told stories of bootleggers in Texas and how he had spent two years in prison for hijacking a truck full of booze that belonged to the mayor of some little Oklahoma town. Me? I didn't have any stories.
It was just Bob, Dad and Danny and me on the farm. Bob's wife lived in Los Angeles and had a cafe near the railroad yards where my dad had worked and Bob's small farm provided her with eggs and chickens as well as an occasional slaughtered pig. About once a month we all rode into the city and delivered stuff from the farm to the cafe, after which my dad and Bob would start drinking and continue all the way back. When we got home it was a good time to hide and stay out of sight until the next day. Ol' Bob, when he was drunk, thought it was good for me to have a spanking every once in awhile. Thinking back, I realize that my dad seldom spanked me, but for some reason he never stopped Bob. Once, after the trip to the city I was grabbed and blindfolded, and both of them held me down and stripped off my pants. Bob took an ice cube and told me it was a knife and then he slashed a circle around my genitals. It certainly felt like a knife! Big joke. I was screaming at the top of my lungs and managed to break away and run out the front door. I ran naked down the middle of the road late at night sobbing, and scared to death that they would find me and take me back to continue cutting me up. The next morning my dad only said, "Don't be such a baby."
We had chickens, cows, rabbits and pigs and it became my job to feed both the chickens and the rabbits. I liked that. We also had a donkey named Annabelle, which I learned to bridle and ride. I liked that, too.
I was in the fifth and sixth grade at Alvord Elementary School and the school bus picked me up right in front of the house. I had a good friend that I spent my recess time with, but one day in class I saw him spread a handkerchief across his lap and fold his hands across it. There was a puddle under his desk. I never liked him again. Another time when a small group of us were in a reading circle, the girl sitting across from me had pushed her book into her crotch and was slowly opening and closing it, over and over. She closed her eyes and the look on her face was... well, different. I liked her. We had a class bully, too, and I hated him. Bob Preston. A great many years later I read about a Bob Preston who was a county supervisor in Riverside and I often wondered if it was the same person.
After two years with Bob on his farm my dad took a job at the Plaza Hotel in downtown Riverside and we moved again. He was the night desk clerk and went to work about 6:00 in the evening, leaving Danny and me alone. He almost always came home early the next morning. We had five acres of our own, but no house. We had a really big surplus army tent with wooden pallets for a floor. Twice a week a truck arrived and a man would bring in 10 gallons of bottled water. I don't remember ever taking a bath while we lived there. We had goats. Lots of 'em, and we sold milk, cheese and butter to a man and his wife who came by once a week and loaded everything onto a sputtering old truck. My dad taught me how to milk the goats. He also brought home a small collie one morning and I named him Buck. My first dog. Wow, but I loved that dog!
The tent blew away. Yep, it literally went sailing off down the country road and left us homeless. Most of the goats were gone, too. Two ladies and a man arrived that afternoon while we were sitting on the spot where the tent had been and said they were from the Child Welfare office and they wanted to know what his plans were for Danny and me. None. He didn't know what to do. They were nice and they gave him a card and then took us with them. That afternoon we were delivered to the Riverside County Juvenile Detention Center where we stayed for the next three months. Darned if I know what happened to Buck.
There was a school at the detention center... one room for all grades. The only thing I recall about it was I learned that Rotterdam is a city in the Netherlands and the teacher told us a way to remember it... My sister et up all of my candy and I hope it Rotterdam teeth out! The other thing I recall was I found a book about Midshipman Hornblower, which started a life-long love of stories about the wooden sailing ships that England had in the war with Napoleon and the French.
We had a dormitory where we all slept together and in the evening a night supervisor would arrive who would sleep in a separate room. Sometimes he would take one of the little kids into his bed with him. One evening he took the little brother of an older boy and the next morning the older one hit Mr. Odigard with the leg from a dormitory cot, cutting his face. He was screaming at him to never touch his brother again. He didn't, but he still took other young boys to bed with him. Son of a bitch.