Diggings: Level 13

In June of 1940, Arle and Lyle took a Greyhound bus to California. Aunt Burt, Uncle Hugo and I loaded up the 1939 Cadillac with luggage and roadmaps and also left for the wooly west. What a marvelous motoring trip! Just two-lane roads all across the country. The exception being the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but after that, just little-used roads through small towns, large cities, farmlands and exciting new vistas. I had never been west of Illinois before and when we finally reached highway 30, the Lincoln Highway, I felt we were like pioneers discovering virgin territory.

I had some qualms when we reached the point where highway 30 was only a few dozen miles south of Chicago and I felt that I would die of loneliness if we didn’t stop by to see my family before continuing on to California and another six weeks away from home. But that was not to be and onward we went. Years and years later I realized that Hi. 30 intersected Mount Vernon, Iowa. Three of our children went to Cornell College there and discovered that the scenery hadn’t changed much in all those intervening years.

How exciting to see the first glimpse of the mountains in the distance. Nights were spent in towns large enough to offer hotel stays. We left the road and found lodging late in the afternoon. Showered and changed for dinner, usually eatern in the hotel dining room. My usual order was roast beef, mashed potatoes with GRAVY, string beans (or peas) and cherry pie. Nothing seemed to help my emaciated look, but it was great fun to try to gain weight.

Up early in the morning. Uncle Hugo was a FAST driver. He told us that he averaged 60 miles per hour…that! in the days of narrow roads, many small towns to get through and terrifying hairpin turns in the mountains. During our drive through the desert, we stopped to buy a carton box which was attached to the right front window and filled with a giant piece of dry ice. This served handily as a primitive air conditioner, the only drawback was when small pieces of dry ice would fly back into my face. They did sting.

I loved seeing Boulder Dam, Las Vegas (two or three blocks of shanties and bars with one or two gambling joints), Reno (The Greatest Little City in the World) and finally Los Angeles. A compact little city without the labyrinth of highways that we now know and love. Just a small place surrounded by desert land. We picked up Lyle and Arle at the train station, as the Greyhound bus ride was interrupted in Arizona with some terrifying floods going on somewhere or other…so the trip was completed by train.

Then on to Van Nuys to visit Mimere: Bea, Lyle and Burt’s mother. She was the sister of my mother’s father (Rosario Fortier) and as she was always referred to as Mimere, I have a dim memory of her name – Delilah. She married a Pelletier, had a large family in Chicago, remarried when her husband died and moved with her new husband Fox to 5050 Fulton Ave in Van Nuys. She was my mother’s godmother and her favorite Aunt. I loved getting to know here – an impressive woman with great bearing. Her husband, Fox, was rather sickly and laid about the house. Mimere, on the other hand, would take axe in hand, and accompanied by a shy, inquisitive child (Nettie) would find a pair of good-sized chickens and behead them!! I was shocked then changed my mind after eating a lovely chicken dinner. She gave me a tour around the few acres – introducing me to orange, lemon and grapefruit trees and a black widow spider who was spinning on one of the branches.

We took daily trips to visit Aunt Elease (yet another sister of Burt and Lyle and Bea!). Elease lived on a small ranch adjacent to Andy Devine’s large SPREAD. She was married to Raymond Bright (a half-Native-American) who we called an Indian in those politically incorrect days. Raymond always wore a bathrobe that had designs similar to an Indian blanket. I wonder if he did this for effect. Martha, the governess back in Thornton Farm was the sister of Raymond. They were from Iowa.

Elease and Raymond had twin daughters: Jean and Janet…older and sophisticated “women” of 17 years. There may have been a son but I don’t remember. Jean and Janet were great riders and saddled up two extra horses – one for Arle and one for me. “We’re taking you for a ride” they said brightly. Well, I should have known better. It started out quite well…we rode around in arroyos (dried up streams, I discovered) and galloped through the cacti and sagebrush at dizzying speed. Then my three lovely, older cousins seemed to suddenly disappear! I realized that this was a result of my horse running in the opposite direction than that of the others. This brought terror into my heart. I could see my bleached white bones discovered years later, explaining finally what happened to poor skinny Nettie who vanished when she was eleven years old…!

The amazing gallop seemed to last forever. Then I actually saw the (compared to the desert flatness) towering building indicating an approach to Los Angeles. They loomed up in the vast distance like a beacon calling to a poor lost child who was still concerned about the bleached white bones scenario.

I never got as far as Lost Angeles. But!! what if I had!! Perhaps I would have been discovered by a Cecil B. BeMovieMogul while riding bravely through the lot at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer…a new and exciting child star in competition with Shirley Temple and many other more-talented child performers with much prettier hair.

However, instead of a Hollywood career for me, I was rescued. Jean, Janet and Arle, ingeniously following the tracks of my runaway – finally surrounded the terrorized horse and rider, putting an end to the small drama. We returned to the ranch and I insisted that I had decided to take off on my own to do an exploratory ride of the San Fernando Valley. No one believed that story.

While in Los Angeles, we drove out to visit a friend of Aunt Bea’s…her name was Carma Israel and she bred gorgeous chickens. I have always adored the design of her house and chicken house (mansions). The ranch house always epitomized the ideal in desert, west coast architecture. A lovely expanse of house with walls of stone and red tile roof. Courtyards and patios, gardens and a lavish but cool (pre-air conditioning) welcoming house.

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