50s: Nomads

We moved around in the early fifties. I was born in Milford MA where my Dad’s family had lived for generations. He was a doctor in general practice at that point. Mom and Dad met in uniform, doctor and nurse, during the war. They married in 1945 and had Chip in 1946, me in 1948. We were a classic baby boom family.

After Milford we were in Fort Pickett VA because Dad got drafted into the army for the Korean War. I remember late-night phone calls, Mom and Dad worried. I learned later that because Dad had served during World War II he wasn’t supposed to have to serve again during Korea. But he lost that argument, and we lived in a small house on the base, looking out over a big field to a forest. Mom and Dad told the story of Dad being called to testify in Washington about the injustice of having to serve twice. They met Senator John F. Kennedy in the halls, and Dad liked to tell the story that he asked to meet Mom. She was beautiful, he was a womanizer.

Then we moved to Park Forest, IL. It was a socially designed suburb of Chicago, which was used later for research into the phenomenon of suburbs in the 50s. We moved there for Dad to become an ophthalmologist. Dad took a train into Chicago every weekday. Mom was a fifties housewife with two small boys. We lived in a cul-de-sac and the tiny kids played in the street while their mothers watched. I know this from stories, not from memory. I was too young.

and from there, they moved to California. They had seen California during the war, and they knew they wanted to settle there. Mom told us about arriving in California for the first time, during the war, in February. She’d been all night in the train and woke up in Los Angeles. The warmth, the deep blue sky, the flowers everywhere left her impressed for good. That dynamic fueled the growth of California after the war. People from elsewhere wanted to move there for its landscape and climate.

I heard stories of plane rides from Chicago to California. The planes were propeller planes. There was a stop for fuel halfway between Chicago and San Francisco.

We lived for a while in Marysville CA. I started kindergarten in Ojai CA. And then Los Altos.

We moved to Los Altos in 1953. It was a nice small town on the San Francisco Peninsula, on the edge of the Santa Clara Valley. The valley was also called Blossom Valley mainly for its apricot orchards spreading through the southern parts of Palo Alto, the flats of Los Altos and Mountain View, Sunnyvale, down past San Jose, which was the main town in the valley. That’s the same valley that’s now called Silicon Valley.

We lived at 629 Benvenue Ave, a rented house on a cul-de-sac, thoroughly fifties middle class America. I learned later that two forty-niners (pro football) lived on the same street. They were like the rest of us, living in flat suburban houses in the suburbs.

50s: Ojai Grandparents

I took my first plane trip in 1958. It was a small propeller plane from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. A commercial airplane, but tiny. The flight took less than an hour. Our parents dropped Chip and I off at the gate and our Grandad picked us up in Santa Barbara and drove us to their home in Ojai. 

In those days, we dressed up for the planes. Women wore high heels. Kids wore the church pants. 

smoking fish with Grandad

Grandad and Grandma lived in an idyllic small house under a huge oak tree at the foot of the TopaTopa mountains. Theirs was literally the last house before the undeveloped wild leading up to the mountains, but it was still only a comfortable walk for two boys from there to the movie theater in the old center of town, what we called “Spanish” arches. Ojai was nothing special back then, just a small rural town in the mountains above Santa Barbara. 

Grandad and his next-door neighbor took us fishing on the Pacific Ocean. The neighbor had a small boat on a trailer, with an outboard motor. We woke up well before dawn and drove to the ocean. One day we caught like 17 bonita, a fighting fish related to tuna. Grandma turned up her nose and complained, but Grandad set up his homemade smoker and smoked them all over three days. We went in a small boat with an outboard motor so far out to sea that we couldn’t see land. That was scary, inherently. But I was there with my Grandad, a big man with strong arms who seemed to be always smiling, and always safe.