Do you remember your childhood home? Was it like mine was?
When I was a kid in the 1950’s in Portland, Oregon, my family lived in a white, 800 square foot, two bedroom stucco house. It was in a residential neighborhood built up in the 1920’s.
RO’s Childhood Home, Portland, OR
Portland is a large, bustling, industrial port town where the Willamette River flows into the Columbia River.
I went to a brick, two story school that had mostly asphalt and concrete playgrounds, and still does.
If we kids could get hold of a penny or two, usually found on the street or down in a storm drain, we’d stop at the “24 Flavors” shop that was across the street from the school and get some candy. Jujubes were a good deal. Put one of those in your mouth and it would take hours to dissolve.
The city was full of the noise of industry, noise of the airport, noise of automobile traffic, and there were sirens; always the sirens. Sometimes one of the oil storage tanks across the river would catch fire and the air would be filled with smoke. For unknown reasons, when an oil tank would catch fire, the school administrators thought it a better idea for us kids to be running around the playground than sitting in classrooms. So, when such fires happened, and the air filled with soot, we kids would be running around the playground and breathing in that dark gray gloom.
Smokey, dusty, dirty air and dirty water. You could smell it. You could taste it. This was long before the Environmental Protection Agency had been formed.
RO’s Parents, Young Sweethearts
My father was from Tacoma, Washington, an industrial seaport town much like Portland.
But my mother, my mother, was from somewhere else all together.
Dad was a city boy. Mom was a country girl.
Some of my most favorite kidhood memories are from our trips to grandma’s house.
Road to Grandma’s House
To go to grandma’s house we had to drive out of the city, along the Columbia River, which cuts through one of the biggest mountain ranges on the continent, cross the river on an old tug and barge ferry, then finally those last 20 miles on a very crumbly, bumpy, potholed road, over the railroad tracks and down by the river to my grandparent’s farm.
RO and Brother, Eating Sandwiches
As a little kid, did you ever overhear that your family was going on a road trip? How did you react to that news? Joy, excitement, fear? Whenever my little brother and I heard we were going to grandma’s house, we lost it. We got so excited we’d get into trouble right away. If there was one thing the old man had no patience for, it was excited kids. His idea of a good time was for my brother and I to sit with our hands in our laps staring at our shoes and not making a sound.
My little brother and I would be running around excited, playing, and WHAM, a big, clammy hand would slap down on top of my head, grab a clump of my hair and start shaking me. “You go clean up your room before we leave, and stop farting around.” Stop farting around was a favorite old man command. He always frightened us.
But, contain us he could not. Whip us he did. But, he could never completely subdue us, at least not me. Besides, if our aunt Jean was going to be at grandma’s house, she might read “The Bear Story” to us, and we really liked The Bear Story.
Do you remember the car that your parents had when you were little?
In those days my folks had a dull green Studebaker, six cylinder jalopy that got us down the road. That thing always smelled of damp wool, motor oil and rubber floor mats. I can remember summer nights on an old gravel country road going from the family reunion at the Glenwood Grange over hill and dale to grandma’s house, jack rabbits bouncing left and right off the grill of that car, through the headlights, all the way. There were a lot of jack rabbits in those days. But, that’s another story.
So, first, we had to get out of town. The routine was, my mom would pack a lunch for us all. The old man would check the oil and tire pressure on the Studebaker. My brother and I would grab a teddy bear or our sock monkey. And, we’d all be ready to go.
I should mention at this point, that Eisenhauer had not yet created the freeway system. There were highways, but no freeways.
The old Studebaker wheezed to life in the side yard and we backed out into the street and headed north to Columbia Boulevard. Columbia Boulevard headed east from north Portland and met with US Highway 30 that crossed the country all the way to New York.
Did you have a “Produce Row” in your town when you were a kid? For all of us Columbia Boulevard was fun because there were a lot of roadside produce vendors to stop by. We could get apples, peaches, berries, plums and the like. The vendors’ shacks were rustic. The smells and sounds there were exotic. There were lots of different accents of the recent immigrants that were growing and selling the produce. The roadside was dusty. Horns honked. A train would rumble by on the nearby tracks.
After a stop at produce row, we’d head on east across northeast Portland, out to Troutdale and across the Sandy River. By the time we got there we were at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge.
But, by this time the furry of my brother and I fighting in the back seat had risen to a crescendo. We had territorial rules that we made up on these journeys. You may recognize them if you had a brother or sister along for the ride. We drew an imaginary line across the middle of the back seat, dividing it into two sides. We were not to cross onto the other one’s side. He was to stay out of my space and I was to stay out of his. If he entered my space, I’d push him out of it. And he’d do the same to me if I got into his side. These episodes often began innocently, with minor jabs and finger pokes. But, they soon escalated into back seat brawls.
Then, the clammy hand would descend from above. The car would lurch to the side. And, the old man’s voice would boom as he swatted us. “If you two don’t knock it off I’m going to stop this car and paddle you both.”
RO, Mother and Brother
That would cool us down, at least for a while, as our mom sat there quietly. She had learned not to intercede…