In a previous issue, with an essay entitled "War Bride," we related how in the early weeks of this country's involvement in World War II, my mom and dad, Julia and Leon, had just one day to get married (on 2/3/42) and have their Los Angeles honeymoon, promptly returning by the next afternoon so Leon could continue his duties at Camp Haan, training troops for the global conflict.
Indeed, within two weeks, the newlyweds had to move to Florida where, for the princely sum of $3000, they bought their first house, in Tampa, FL, and Dad was assigned to Drew Field as an intelligence officer, later being sent to supervise the Early Warning Radar unit on Oahu, HI, and, still later, to investigate war crimes in conquered Japan.
I was born in October, 1943, and did my best to keep Mom from feeling too lonely while Dad was overseas.
Papa Frank and Mama Pearl, with their
vintage vehicle, in San Antonio, TX, about 1947.
After Dad's tour ended in Tokyo, he finally returned, in 1947, being assigned then to Randolph Field, just outside San Antonio.
As he now had a lot of leave accrued and some savings, Leon arranged for their long delayed proper honeymoon, which, as I say, began 4/10/47, just a little over five years after their wedding.
There was yet one little detail to work out, what to do with their son while getting reacquainted. Fortunately, Mama Pearl and Papa Frank volunteered to look after me for the duration.
Just three then, I have only a few memories of that time with my paternal grandparents.
There was a particular jewelry/music box Mama Pearl used to wind up and open, to entertain me with its tune through the hours and days of my parents' absence. For some reason I recall too on one of the tables a heavy, clear glass paperweight of a reclining deer. Its head was turned clear around so that it faced toward its tail, a peculiar feat I had tried and knew was not easy for little boys.
I was encouraged also to look through an illustrated book of Bible stories. Before bed, I was urged to kneel and say a prayer.
My grandmother would at times hold me against her ample bosom and rock me while singing "Cradle Song," or at least its "lullaby, and good night" refrain, patiently repeated.
Larry (age 3) in San Antonio, TX,
doing the Charleston.
At night she would take her hair out of its bun and brush it. Once unfastened, it reached far down her back. Eventually, then or later, it would extend past her nightshirt, all the way to the floor.
I noticed that my grandparents slept in different beds. I could not recall seeing them embrace or kiss. Perhaps they only expressed affection in private.
In the morning, Papa Frank had interesting angles in his stubbly, unshaved face, and a nice smell after he'd finished with lather and razor.
Mama Pearl would sometimes let me help with rolling out the dough for homemade breakfast biscuits, then cutting it into the perfect doughy circles and placing them on a greased pan for baking. They were piping hot, soft, and delicious later, with real butter and syrup, after we'd bowed heads and listened reverently as my grandfather had said Grace.
On Sunday mornings, I was taken in good clothes with them to church and needed to sit quietly in the pew until the long service had ended, noticing the rustling of people's attire, their loud singing, their muffled coughing or clearing of throats, the women's nice smells, the way the congregation held itself tense and still until standing for the songs, then how it briefly relaxed, especially when sitting back down after a hymn, like a large animal stretching, before the next period of polite postural stillness.
But eating out afterward, on the way home, was tasty and fun.
And there were other times of pleasant gaiety, especially when my Aunt Lucile and Uncle Shelby, with their children, my cousins Bob and Marcile, were involved. Marcile and I were about the same age and often played. When the two households would get together, music was often in the air. Just about everyone seemed to love singing and/or playing piano or organ. These spontaneous home concerts were invariably loud, enthusiastic, talented, and infectious. The themes were the same popular and religious ones later made even more famous when performed on the Lawrence Welk show.
And there were occasional, lively, and exciting diversions into new areas, for instance when they were teaching me to do the Charleston, as in the picture.
Julia and Leon's trip began inauspiciously with an after-dark stop for the night in Sheffield, in western TX, after several hours of driving. The motel there was so extremely dumpy it became funny; and they began laughing at each new outrage of awful conditions: the rat-sized holes in the walls, the pliers hanging from the wall near the handle-less faucets to permit turning water on and off, the "grumbling, groaning, spurting, screaming water pipes," and so on. Ironically, the next morning, as they were on the road again (getting underway at 9:05 AM, April 11), they discovered a nice looking motel they'd missed the night before, only two blocks away from the place they'd rented.
Leon (age 34) in White City, TX, on 4/11/47.
They arrived that day at White City, NM, the gateway to Carlsbad Caverns, at 3:05 PM, but promptly had a flat, which Dad changed, Mom snapping the picture for posterity.
A quite satisfactory motel rental was obtained. They had a short rest and then supper, followed by a lecture "by Charley White, owner of White City and life long friend of the late Jim White who discovered the cave."
The next morning (4/12) they were up quite early and in good spirits, finding abundant new sources for amusement . They managed to complete the long, winding road, through the gorge area leading to the caverns, in time to take the first tourist trip of the day in, at 8:30 AM. They found this underground phenomenon quite interesting and enjoyable. The temperature underground was a uniform 56°F. Dad also related to Mom how much more primitive the conditions had been the first time he'd been in Carlsbad Caverns, as a boy. Whereas now there were electric lighting of most of the paths through, an elevator back to the surface from the end of the route in, and restrooms, none of these things had been present when he had been there several years earlier.
Continuing roughly westward, next they went to El Paso, TX, and on across the border into Juarez, Mexico, where they spent a full day, returning to El Paso for the night. A taxi-cab driver took them around to see the various sights. At the time, they had found what they saw of the border town to be "dirty, dusty, and bedraggled." However, they did like a really good floor show there, which included a woman dancing plus a man singing and playing guitar.
Julia (age 24) in Juarez, Mexico, 4/13/47.
The area of their travel became much more desert-like as they headed on toward CA. Indeed, the next notable feature of the trip, once they'd gotten into AZ, was a Desert Garden of various cacti.
They were still in that hot, parched state when their car radiator went completely dry. Thereafter, to progress at all, it was necessary to repeatedly stop, after just a short distance, to let the engine cool down. There were no easily accessible filling stations or other means of help.
They found a hermit out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the dry wilderness. Dad tried to get a large quantity of water to replenish their radiator supply and have some extra in reserve. He even offered the hermit a significant amount of currency for what they needed. But it was not a matter of money, the hermit told them. Water was precious! He could only let them have a quart. It was just too hard to obtain out there.
Eventually they reached southern CA. Though this was still April, the first city to which they came in the new state, Indio, was really hot. At an auto. repair shop they were told the radiator was ruined. Julia and Leon had to remain there several extra days while a new one was obtained and installed. They found no memorable attractions in the place at the time.
Once repairs had been effected, however, they were able to resume their trip with the short, additional distance on to Los Angeles, where they could at last take in a number of highlights for which they'd not had the time or opportunity on their first, one-day, honeymoon, a little over five years earlier.
Julia at Desert Garden, AZ, 4/14/47.
On 4/18, Julia and Leon enjoyed "a really fun evening" with the performance of a live melodrama, famous at the time, called "The Drunkard." This play had been presented continually since 1933. It featured evil characters who were booed and heroes or heroines who were loudly applauded. The whole thing was just a lot of fun. To enhance the merriment, drinks were served at the audience's tables.
In L.A. too (or its suburb, Glendale), they went to the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, where both celebrities and regular folk were buried.
While in Los Angeles, they visited some relatives, including John, a brother of Mama Pearl, so much younger than she that, though Leon's uncle, he was also three years younger than Dad. Julia and Leon also met John's wife, Elise, and an aunt of Dad's, Opal, also younger than he.
It was in L.A. too that Leon had inveigled Julia onto a roller-coaster, her first experience with one. She'd had no idea how far toward the sky it would go. Billed at the time as one of the biggest in the world, it went up, up, and up, a seemingly immense distance and then out and over the ocean. She had not even known it was a roller-coaster he was getting her onto, thinking it was just one of the regular rides, as she had already told Leon she did not want to go on a roller-coaster. When she saw how close to the heavens it was taking her, and out over the ocean as well, she simply passed out, revived only later, after the ride was over, with smelling salts. (Mom points out that, although Dad used to relate with some glee a version of this incident as having occurred the night of their real honeymoon, on 2/3/42, in fact it happened on this, later trip instead.)
On that high point, we'll leave the romantic duo until the next issue, when the trip account continues with northern CA attractions seen and then their journey back.