|We were poor but
we didn't notice
In a few weeks I will be entering my
80th year. There were many of my teachers, friends, family and later my
superiors in the Navy who would have given odds that I would not have lasted
I was born in San Diego. My father was
in Naval Aviation at North Island. Not long after I was born my father
left the Navy and he and his brother set out to make their fortune in home
construction. They did well until the crash of 1929. The only thing my
father was able to salvage was a two acre lot in the foothills east of
San Diego. Our house was a common type in the mild climate of Southern
California. It was called a tent house and was a wooden platform with four
foot high walls over which was stretched a surplus army tent.
We had no indoor plumbing (Chic Sales
was the bathroom architect). We did have water piped in but my mother cooked
over a wood stove. Oh the meals she turned out were the stuff dreams are
On the two acres we were able to raise
much of what we ate. We had lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. My mother
put up quarts and quarts of the surplus every year.
For entertainment we did a lot of reading.
We used to take turns reading aloud to each other. At an early age I was
turned on to Alexander Dumas, Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson and
We didn't get a radio until sometime
in the early 30s. I guess that you could say that we were poor but we didn't
notice because every family in the neighborhood was in the same condition.
In the neighborhood where we lived the
children were all boys and we played endless games. We fought Indians and
since WW1 was not too far in the past we fought and killed regiments of
Germans. Our heroes were Sgt. York, Eddie Rickenbacker and General Pershing.
Two incidents always stay fresh in my
memory of those years. When I was taking Freshman English in High School
we were required to memorize poems. I was given "Thanatopsis" by William
Cullen Bryant. I was struggling with it one night and my father recited
the entire poem. I was amazed that after so many years out of school he
should remember that. From that moment on my love and respect for him knew
The other memory is about food -- turkey
to be exact. At Thanksgiving and Christmas our family and my uncle's family
always got together. There was one turkey and I never seemed to get my
When I was 12 a neighbor was trying
to make a little money raising turkeys. In those days one didn't buy a
frozen bird at the super market. The birds were ordered from the farm and
then killed and dressed on delivery. Our neighbor had the misfortune of
breaking a leg just as his turkey flock was maturing. My father in a spirit
of neighborliness volunteered me to help out. So every morning after I
did my chores I went to the neighbors to milk his cow and feed his turkeys.
When the holidays rolled around I was
there to kill and dress the birds. On Christmas Eve there was only one
big tom turkey left and Jim told me to catch and kill him for a special
order. When I was finished I asked when the buyer was coming and he said,
"The turkey is yours, Tom. That's all I can pay you for all of your help".
I ran all the way home carrying that 25 pound bird and I was one proud
boy. The family turkey was already bought and my mother cooked this one
just for my father, brother and me. For once I had all the turkey I could