December 10, 2010

40 Questions to Ask Your Mum 2

The finish to......

40 Questions to Ask Your Mum: Home:

15. Do you have a special Christmas Day memory?
One Christmas grandma came to share the evening. She looked beautiful in her black and vividly poinsettia flowered skirt. She wore a unique piece of American Indian jewelry, a Thunderbird on a delicate chain, against the black of her shirt. She was so vivid versus the rest of us.


16. What illnesses did you have as a child? Did the doctor visit?
Yes, they did in those days. Measles at three…..that took my eyesight. Often what they called the flu….I bet I was allergic to something. Hives, hives, and more hives. Asthma always. Appendicitis at 16. That was enough.


17. How did your mother sew, cook, clean, keep food fresh, heat water, etc?
You would laugh. One of the deals she made with Gimpa when he bought #20, was that he hire someone to keep it clean. At first there was Dolly, then years later there was Kathy….these two wonderful women really taught me how to be a decent person. They cleaned, they did laundry in the old wringer washer and later in the Bendix. They took the wet laundry out to hang it on the line. Mother sewed occasionally on her Monkey Wards machine very little, but she did try to teach me to embroider. I hated it. Out on the back porch laundry room there was an older Wards round top refrigerator. Water was heated in a good sized water heater on the back porch.

The kitchen was an old style, long narrow, farm kitchen with plain fronted cupboards reaching up to the high ceiling. I came home at four and stuck the potatoes in at 425 degrees, a hot oven, every afternoon. The stove we had when I was small was a gas stove that was lit by a match put in a hole at the front of the oven. Kabooom was the norm. Somewhere along the line mother grew tired of the explosions and bought an new electric stove. Often she would start a stew or “stoup” in a big sunken pot at the back of the stove. Pea soup was a family favorite, ham and beans, and lamb or mutton stew. She used the Milwaukee Settlement House Cookbook as her basic knowledge book.


18. What handyman jobs did your father do and what tools did he use?
Frankly, I cannot imagine Gunny doing any handyman jobs. There were saws and other tools out in the barn/garage, but I remember mother using them not Gunny. Perhaps he did and I missed the show.

19. Who washed the dishes after dinner; did you and sibling/s squabble?
Not a sibling in sight. Dishes: She bought a dishwasher somewhere along there too….one that rolled here and rolled there. It sat on the wall next to the stove in front of the California cooler. You had to be very thin to get into the cooler. I washed the pots and pans at the giant old farm sink, got chewed out every night for not doing a good job, and I was sent to my room in tears. Mother always said she was a better architectural engineer than cook.

20. What jobs did you do after school?
I worked in the bindery at the print shop. In the summer, if I was not in summer school, I did some odd jobs like pack beans….the heat knocked me out. Baby sitting….when they cried, I cried. But usually I was in summer school for failing math yet again. Or failing Spanish yet again. We aren’t discussing music which I loved but couldn’t do.


21. What assemblies did you have at school?
Anything to do with school isn’t well remembered. I remember sex education and those abstractions that were supposed to show us what a uterus, or fallopian tubes looked like in sixth grade. Jr. High we had one where a live singer came. I was embarrassed….no, I don’t know why. Public high school there was something, but all I remember are the Pep Rallies. Boyden’s….No assemblies at all.

22. Was there a poor kid or a rich kid in your class?
Me. I was the poor kid in grade school….but everyone thought I was rich because I lived in the big house on Second Avenue. I was the kid who was continually teased by the other ones when we got off the bus. There had to be kids whose father’s and mother’s made less than mine, but I was a very isolated kid and didn’t know any.


23. What games at playtime, where did you eat lunch?
Often three or four of us gathered at the base of an old palm tree and played in the dirt. Lunch? Outside in the playing fields of Rome somewhere. Usually a bagged lunch in grade school….only once in a while the treat of eating in the cafeteria. Jr. High, outside under shelters at picnic tables and steam table hamburgers. Boyden’s….out in front, in classrooms, in cars. Ah the adventure of it all. I’d grab a hamburger from down the street, oh they were good, eat there, and walk back up the hill just in time for my next class….smoking madly.


24. What subject or sport were you good at, and what did you hate?
I was good at art. I knew what I was good at from the moment I drew my first kite at age 4. I was in love with color from the moment I got to paint mountains in first grade. I got to doodle in the yearbook at Jr. High but was sad that Green and Bob Otey were vastly better, and in High School got to paint the giant banners that draped the stands or gyms for sports. Hate: Math. No good at: Sports.


25. Did you have a teacher who inspired you?
My third grade teacher who had to deal with my first math disasters. I don’t remember her name. The art teacher at Bishops in 1954, and Mrs. Madigan at Chula Vista Jr. High. The art teachers at Chula Vista High many who ended up being my teachers at Southwestern College. Robinson, Clark, and Mr. P. What a progression of love and support.


26. What was a naughty schoolyard song?
None that I knew of.

27. What school and after-school groups did you join?
Just the Pep Club where I was given the chance to paint giant banners for sports and get to meet members of the Art Club and the other art teachers. It was a very exciting time for me. Instead of being a longer, the skinny kid with the big glasses, I was taking part in things.


Out in the world:

28. How did the family shop for food?
My grandmother walked to the corner store, or bakery, but I really don’t remember how mother shopped. There was one store with a art deco sign, Glenn's, and that’s where she must have done her shopping. They took credit.


29. Did you visit your local library?
Always. As often as I could. At first in the basement of the old CV Carnegie Library, and later upstairs in the adult stacks. I read everything I could get my hands on. At Bishop’s, I discovered the good stuff…..Jane Eyre and the like. Back home again, I was back to the local Carnegie as often as I could go. I always got a good book or two as presents, so I would cheerfully reread what I owned if I couldn’t get the library. Libraries were heaven to me.


30. What was the road outside your childhood house like?
Second Avenue was a paved two lane road. It was one of those that rounded gently in the center and slopped down to dirt verges. This was a small farming community, and only two blocks from the house were tomatoe fields. The neighbors rode their horses down the dirt, and bike riders struggled on the unpaved areas set aside for sidewalks. Annoying olive trees edged the road….mother hated the mess they made, and inside the hedge bordering the dirt walk were three giant pines.


31. What was your first paying job, first pay packet?
Probably from the print shop. I vaguely remember 75 cents an hour when I was in grade school to sweep the floors.


32. What frightened you (at the circus? at the zoo?)
Mother herself took me up on a Ferris wheel once. It got stuck at the top. Rickety. Rocking. Frightened me for what seemed like forever. I can now appreciate what she was trying to do, but I came away from that experience frightened of heights and Ferris wheels. This poor woman was just trying to spend some quality time with her difficult daughter, have some fun, and what she got was hysteria. Yes, they took me to the circus….a one ring and the three ring. Zoo too. I liked those. At the zoo I was in love with the seals….and their pool is gone now. Darn it.


33. When did you leave home to live elsewhere?
1954: The first time I moved away was when I went to boarding school. Among other problems, my slobbyness wasn’t tolerated. The second time, 1960, I joined the Army. Here my slobbyness wasn’t tolerated either, but we worked out a compromise at my last base. If my quarters were so clean you could eat off the floor and everything else was locked up or hidden, I, the beatnik, could leave the base until the inspection was over. I often worked nights for special services, and that got me out of a lot. When I had to go back to the finance department, I was miserable.


34. Do you remember your first teenage dance?
Mother must have had some vision of formality in her mind for she sent me to formal dancing lessons. Cotillion. Yes, I said that. Yes, I learned ballroom dancing….which I loved. But the boys always came up to my chin. I hated that. I couldn’t see the future at all. Or the future of music. I was never good at fast dancing….much like any sport. But I did go to a “sock Hop,” chaperoned, at the Jr. High gym.


35. What church activities did you join?
When I was four, our family joined St. John’s Episcopal Church. Mother had me baptized. I remember a fuss because I was four. It hadn’t been done earlier. I went to Sunday School. Mother must have dropped me off….did she go to church herself? Gimpa must have driven. Gunny didn’t. He was a Baptist. I sang in the Choir at Bishop’s not letting on that I could not read music. As I got older, I helped with the small ones at Sunday School, helped with the Christmas and Easter Pageants, and was a counselor at the Summer Camp in the years after I was a camper at Mrs. Duffy’s Ranch Camp For Girls in Fallbrook. Oh, I loved that place. I began singing in the choir early. Alto. And after Gimpa killed a small child, I became the designated driver to take him to church every Sunday until I left for the Army.


36. What radio or TV programs did you like and dislike?
Grandma listened to the news every afternoon on her radios. Gabriel Heater. Mother wouldn’t let me listen to the radio at home, and that’s probably the impetus for the installation of a Hi-Fi. The turntable was in the den just next to the living room, and the Tube amp was in the small bookcase just behind mother’s chair. The speakers were across the living room built into the bookcases on either side of the fireplace. Every night of my teenaged years, Gimpa would come down stairs and put on a record. Often there would be something new and exciting…all this music stirring my daydreams until they came home around five.

Radio: They often put me to bed early….and of course in their lights I deserved it. I would crack my door, and Gimpa would turn the sound up on his big Grundig. Sunday evenings there would be wonderful shows….”Only the Shadow Knows….”

We got a TV in the middle 1950’s. Mother bought some very old platform rockers and put the TV down in the basement with a row of rockers far, far away in front of it. I wasn’t supposed to watch it, but often I would drag a chair up to watch the Mickey Mouse club.


37. Was milk, bread, ice delivered? How?
At Grandma’s house ice and milk were delivered. I didn’t appreciate the work it took to drain the pans under the icebox, but as I grew I was able to help with that. She walked up the alley and down blocks to buy some half and half bread….half wheat and half white. There was a term for this that I’ve forgotten. Milk….she bought at the store.

We on the other hand, lived majestically up on a hill above a dairy. Milk was brought home in glass bottles and had to be shook to mix the milk and cream. Holding tight to the cardboard tab too. Bread was terribly healthy stuff that always upset my stomach, and no ice….tho the “icebox” had to be defrosted regularly.

38. Did you have Guy Fawkes bonfires, Anzac/Empire Day events?
In far off, on the border, Chula Vista, we had a Fiesta once a year. A big parade….lots of horses, lots of neighbors on horses with a fair and carnie down the street near the dairy. I loved it all.


39. Where did you travel by train, bus, tram?
Grandma, in her endless search to discover entertainment for a small granddaughter, would take me to the train station to watch trains. Steam trains. So very exciting. We would walk a couple of blocks from her house and catch the trolley downtown. If we went to Balboa Park, we took a trolley there too. She never knew, but I thought those old, clanking green trolleys were just as entertaining as the steam engines, but not quite as good as the merry go round in the park.

Bus? From the house to Third Avenue, I’d walk across empty fields to the bus stop. Coming home, I walked up C Street. Downtown San Diego I went, and I’d walk up the hill to the school to save that quarter for cigarettes. All those years off busing, no air conditioning, other friends going the same way but to Cathedral High School. Once I was bitten by a dog running toward me on that morning path. I didn’t think I could go home, so crying I went onward to school. Then there were years I hitched rides with a couple of others who lived in Chula Vista. That was a very good thing….tho I had crushes on the two guys. In the end, I got a very good education, and a lifetime friendship with a sister of one of the drivers.


40. Do you remember an early family holiday?
Once upon a time, we all got into the DeSoto and drove it up to Carmel to visit my father’s old haunts.

It was the most exciting thing I had ever done. Meeting these aunts, sisters of my magic gramma, in their charming board and batten cottage, was eye opening. They lived an arts and crafts life without martinis every evening. I came away from this visit with subconscious visions of a new way of living.


  1. Gosh! The illness thing brought back memories! I had mumps, measles, and mono all in the 7th grade. One very sick puppy!

    I love that your memories are so clear and you are able to weave them with such meaning.

  2. I'm really enjoying these!!! I remember most of this stuff myself. But I can't remember what I did yesterday!!!


  3. Like I've said before, Maggie, you should write a book!

  4. Gosh, we never had sex education. I had to learn on my own... in bits and pieces. It seems like kids learn too much too early these days.

  5. I had a comment all written, but Google threw it out. Now you'll never know.

  6. Loved reading these! Kinda sorry you've finished. You sound a lot like me growing up, even to the grandmother with whom you seemed to have a special relationship. I wonder who you feel you're most like now? Perhaps that grandmother? as she seems to have had quite an influence.


What a delight to get a note from you. Thanks for leaving one.


Peter in front of a wall sculpture. We were invited up to Peter Knego’s home to see the latest installation.   Abstract flat ...