Growing Up

It was like growing up in a rural area like you might read about in books. But it was great if you were a kid with lots of places to explore and play in. At one end of our dirt road was a horse owned by the Smith family. He was friendly and easy to pet but always fenced in. Next door lived Don Rafael, who I think lived alone in an old  house. I remember he had a car and would sometimes take us to the doctor. Even though he was ancient at that time he seemed nice but at the same time was a little spooky. I remember our mailboxes for everyone living there, were at the end of street, all on one big piece of lumber. It was kind of fun going to get the mail, so far away from the house. With so much dirt to play there was also a never ending supply of rocks. With us and a  kid friend who lived across the street, David, we used to have rock fights with each other. That was a blast, just kinda stupid now that I can think about it, but it was one way of making the most of nothing. When it rained the water puddled up everywhere, especially at the other end of the road in front of the Hernandez house. Steve, Tom and Paul lived there along with their sister, Lola. We used to go the puddle and pick out the tadpoles swimming around the puddle and bring them home into a hole we filled with water. In the picture at the top there was the palm tree in front of Tío Gabriel’s first house. Sometime after we got a little older we somehow got ahold of a pellet rifle and a BB gun. We used to practice shooting down the pigeons that lived there, then we would eat them. I remember them being pretty tasty. Now only doves are hunted and eaten. With the BB gun we would also shoot the meadowlarks that flew into the weeds across the house, they were good to eat too. Gophers were always around and they were fun to try and gun down. In the empty lot across from the  house, an old Trading Post shack was still there right where Norwalk Blvd is. I remember we used to try and look inside but it was always closed up ever since I can remember. Dirt was always good for playing marbles too and that was something we would do a lot, steelys and perrys and other names for marbles I can’t recall. Not too far away on Norwalk Blvd was our version of Walmart in those days, the Nagashima second hand store. Think that was the only place  Mom and Dad would buy us shoes and clothes. Seems like Mom would buy one pair of jeans for us then constantly patch them up so we could keep using them. And back in those days Taps were used fairly common on shoes to help extend the life of the soles and heels. Dad had one of metal stands you could put the shoe on and nail down the taps and also to repair loose soles. And where the Food 4 Less is now, I barely remember there used to be some sort of giant auction or swap meet where Mom and Dad would take us to buy a chicken or other things for the house. I just remember it seemed really big with lots and lots of things for sale. That was kind of an adventure going there. Then sometime when we all still quite young seems like I recall it burning down to the ground, big giant color of yellow in the sky.

Growing up we had lots and lots of weeds all around us, so guess that is why we used to have mice in our old house. I remember as a kid we could hear them crawling around inside the walls. Scary if you are a kid. There were  horny toads still living in the area and every now and then we would see a weasel. One of the things we used to do as kids was play dead out in the field. It would get the big black buzzards to circle overhead. Now I don’t even think you can find a black buzzard if you looked for one, seems like they are all gone. Just like the Monarch butterflies. Don’t recall at what time of year it was but we would get waves and waves of these beautiful butterflies launch out of the fields. It was a sight to behold for us kids.

One of the lasting memories was when we had to work the fields picking string beans. There used to be a farm near where the 605 freeway is and somewhere by Centralia. Mom would lead us walking there from the house fairly early in the morning on weekends and in the summer when school as out. All of us would follow in a line like a bunch of baby ducks. Sometimes the beans were grown in vines something like 4 or 5 foot high rows that were close to each other. That really sucks when its hot, with no breeze coming in. Our yield for the day would all go into these sacks that could weigh as much as we could carry over our shoulders. They were all piled together and weighed one at a time and tallied for our family. I think our yield would fetch like 2 or 3 cents a pound. It was hard work but sometimes fun. There were other families there from the Gardens; Castillos (Mom’s cousin), Rodriguez (Reynaldo’s family), Guzman, and then the Salcido family from Artesia. There were probably more, just can’t recall all of them. The Tanaka family owned the farm and I remember them being a great family. We used to call the owners Mama and Papa Tanaka. There was one nasty lady that worked for the farm to keep an eye on us, think her name was Mrs. Stevens, kind of like a drill sargeant for the bean fields. The area around the farm was fairly rural and there were cottontail rabbits and pheasants in the area. I do remember Tío Gabriel taking us there on the weekends once in awhile while he shot a pheasant or rabbits in the weeds around the farm. When we weren’t working the Tanaka farm we would walk over to another farm right off Carson near Bloomfield where Forest Lawn is now. Same string beans plus there were also some bush beans that were grown close to the ground. Think they had these at both farms. There was one other farm in the area somewhere along Centralia that was owned by someone that I think we used to call Don Valentín. He grew some squash, tomatillo and some other things. I don’t think all of us went there to work, I can only remember going to work there with Tío Beto to help him pick crops.

Dad had relatives living in Colton. One of them was around his age, Gumercindo Perez. If Dad ever mentioned how he was related I don’t remember. He could have been a cousin or nephew. I barely remember when Dad would drive out to Colton taking the streets all the way since there  weren’t any freeways yet. And I can’t forget Tío Carlos and Tía Maria. I think they either owned or worked at a tortillería. When we would visit them at the shop we could eat up on fresh tortillas. We called them Tío and Tía but I don’t know if they really were my Dad’s Uncle and Aunt.

Some summers we were able to borrow a lawnmower and go around the neighborhood looking for lawns to cut. We did get some jobs as kids and used the money for comic books and candy or gum. In those days the gum came in packs with baseball cards. Always wonder how rich we could all be if my Mom hadn’t tossed our cards in the trash when we were moving into our new house sometime around 1962

Then there were some summer days when we didn’t have to work the fields and we would play baseball like almost all day long at the school down the street. At that time there was a school, Bloomfield, where we went from Kinder to 5th grade right at the end of Ibex. Some of the boys in the neighborhood would get together and we would pick teams. There were the Whisman brothers, Nixon brothers, Mollinedo brothers and a few other boys from the hood. We used to  call our ball field Yankee Stadium and we would use the canal by Horst St. as the home run fence. Nothing but old wood bats in those days and whenever the bat cracked by the handle we would try and put a nail in the cracked part then use tape around it to try and give the bat a little more life.

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