The first place I remember living in was in North Long Beach on Ellis Avenue. It was a little one bedroom house with a garage, behind a bigger house. My sister and I slept on the couch in the living room for the first couple of years we lived there. We would be put to bed on my parents’ bed and then transferred in a semi-comatose state to the couch when they went to bed.
At some point, my dad closed off part of the garage to make a little bedroom for Barbara and me, leaving a little laundry room in the remaining space for my mom’s wringer washer and sink. I remember her hand scrubbing my dad’s workshirt collars on a washboard (one of those corrugated tin things with a wooden frame) before she would toss them in with the rest of the whites.
There was a clothesline just outside the kitchen door (the only door) where my mom would hang the clothes after wringing them, rinsing them, and running them through the wringer again. She had this wonderful housedress she made for herself. It was black and white and had a full circle of a skirt that she could lift from both sides so that it came up like large wings. There is a picture of her standing under the clothesline wearing the dress. She had a neighbor take the picture so she could send it to Dad when he was in Saudi Arabia.
I remember the stove, which actually had a space underneath large enough for a cardboard box. Oddly enough, that’s where we used to keep the trash – in a cardboard box under the stove. I remember setting fire to the contents of that box early one morning (I was six). I was up before my mom and lighting little bits of tissue paper and then tossing them back into the box when the flame came too close to my fingers. Most of the time, the paper was extinguished before it came into contact with the contents. Only this time, it wasn’t. The next thing I remember, my mom was up, out of bed, her face the same color as her copper red hair. She had the box outside the door and had me by the arm in a nanosecond. The next thing I knew, the paddle had come down off the top of the refrigerator and she was giving the back of my legs and behind as good a licking as she could with the balsawood paddle. She was shaking and crying – angry, scared, lonely (Daddy was 15,000 miles away in Saudi Arabia), and fed up with doing it all by herself.
I’m sorry, Mom. I know I must have pushed your buttons beyond anything that could be called reasonable.