By Marji Smock Stewart, from Climbing the Hills and Finding the Rivers. This continues her story on from 35 Cent Grilled Cheese.
I kept working well into my pregnancy. At a juice stand where I got off the bus, I drank almost a quart of freshly squeezed orange juice each morning, either the 10 or 15 cent size. I craved tacos, so I learned to make them.
Bill and I had a ball buying baby things. We bought a used crib. It fit in the hallway, just like having a nursery. I got a Pfaff sewing machine and managed to make a couple of maternity dresses. Mostly I just let out the waistlines of current clothing. My sister Betty made me a couple of pretty smocks. I felt rich.
I bought yards of white “birdseye” fabric and sewed diapers, shaped like an hourglass with more fabric in the middle. It seemed logical to me. This was many years before the industry got wise and manufactured disposable ones shaped the same way.
Bill got the ingenious idea of painting the clothespins a bright orange. The clothesline at our apartment in Avalon Village was a community one and we kept losing clothespins. Now one couldn’t miss our orange pins anywhere in the big project, or later my odd shaped diapers.
A new Chevy for a new baby
Then a baby boy. Bill cried with joy. A few days later when he picked us up from the hospital, did he have a surprise for us! He had bought a brand new maroon colored Chevrolet. Didn’t want to take his new baby home in an old car, he said. The little prince rode home in his new carriage but, for all he cared, it could have been an old pumpkin with wheels. He slept the whole way home.
At home, I felt more helpless than the new baby. I fully expected him to disintegrate with the first bath. The only baby care advice Dr. Barksdale gave me was, “One of you is going to be boss; you decide now which one it will be.” It is fortunate that babies don’t come in boxes with S.A.R. – some assembly required. But they don’t come with instruction manuals either. Both of us had so much to learn. We did – and still are all these years later.
With three in our family, we now were eligible for a larger apartment in Avalon Village. So we had a real bedroom, plus living room and kitchen. A bed still pulled down from the wall in the living room, so we even had a guest room.
We used that Murphy bed plus cots when both sets of parents drove from Kentucky to visit us. We did a lot of sightseeing, including a boat trip to Catalina Island. They had never been out west before. They stopped in Oklahoma briefly. Mabel and Robert visited her Brown relatives in Norman OK. My parents drove on up to El Reno and Calumet and visited with Aunt Matt and other family.
Soon after their visit we had an offer to house-sit for a year in Wilmington while the owners were in Guam. Rent was $25 a month. We cared for their dog, Sally, a big old Collie. We had a yard which was great for a small kid. There was an old front-loading washer on the front porch and clothes line in the back yard.
Two things stand out in my mind about that year. The time I locked myself out of the house while my toddler was inside. And the time that toddler put half a can of dog food, can and all, in the washer. What a mess!
Home and School
By the time our year was up we had bought our first house. It was on Linda Drive in Torrance, California, not far from 101 highway. Bill financed it via the GI bill. Very low interest rates like 4%; with a monthly payment of $89; total cost being in the range of $5,000. The house had two bedrooms and one bath, and we thought it was a mansion.
Soon enough our “baby” was starting kindergarten. A big moment for him, and for me. I started college. I remember being mesmerized that first day on campus. I couldn’t get enough, but I always rushed home to be there when school got out. Bill bought me a little used car. Between church and social life, Bill’s work, my classes and all our homework, the treadmill started and it never stopped.
The next year I transferred to UCLA, over an hour’s drive away. I would leave at 6 a.m. to get to Westwood and find a parking place. I have often thought the most difficult thing about getting a college education is finding a place to park! Bill didn’t need to be in the office until 10, so he looked after morning duties.
Bill did well selling real estate in Rolling Hills and was known to be an honest realtor. But the work demanded showing houses on weekends until dark or later. It seemed there was very little family time. I never knew when he could get home for dinner. He insisted that I stay at UCLA until I finished and then we might consider something else. I combined classroom courses with correspondence courses in summer so that I had more time at home – and less driving.
About that time, it was obvious that Southern California was no longer the quiet, serene orange grove location it had been for years. Gangs began popping up, kids got involved in drugs and alcohol even in junior high. Crime was increasing. This was heavy on our minds.
When I finished my BS in Home Economics at UCLA in August 1958, we began to think of returning to Kentucky to be near grandparents. Bill was wanting to do something that would not take him away from home so much. I enrolled in graduate school until the time came when we could make a move.
We sold our home to a couple who had been living in a trailer. So they bought all our furniture, appliances, everything. Of course we each kept a few treasures. Mine were the big Kitchen Aid mixer Bill had bought me, my typewriter and sewing machine.
In 1957 Bill had bought a new Ford station wagon and built a plywood rack on top to hold our luggage. So off the imaginary treadmill by the summer of 1959. We headed straight to Kentucky to unload all our stuff. We wanted to then make one last big trip across the western US that we’d all remember forever. But how? School would begin in August.
In Owensboro we went to one of the schools and got all the grade four textbooks. I would be the teacher. The personnel there weren’t too happy. This was “home schooling” before home schooling was popular.
Then we loaded camping gear and drove through the Dakotas, Colorado, Wyoming and other areas that we dearly loved. I’m not sure we got much schooling in. It was awfully hard to get serious about working math problems when looking up at the presidents carved in the stone in South Dakota at Mount Rushmore or gazing at the geysers in Yellowstone.
We had a special memento from Yellowstone: the bears. We had placed our food in coolers on the wooden rack on top of the station wagon. Stuff like bacon, dried apricots, sugar and fruit. While we were sleeping inside the wagon, a commotion awakened us from above. Our stuff was being tossed in the air from the top of the car to the ground.
Leaning on the horn didn’t bother the bear but probably irritated nearby campers. Bill got out and threw a brick at the bear but it missed her and dented the car. That really angered Bill. But in a fight against nature, nature usually wins.
Afterwards I picked up the box of dried apricots the bear had flung into the woods. It was still warm and wet with her saliva and had a hole the size of my little finger through it. That could have been my son’s arm instead of dried fruit. We gave up and left the area. Complaining to the park authorities yielded no sympathy. The bears were there first! We honestly hadn’t realized that bears could demolish a vehicle – even destroy the humans inside it if they wished.
This trip was a glorious time of fishing and sightseeing. But in the Colorado mountains, it was getting cold. I had to break the ice to melt stream water for a pot of coffee for breakfast. I was getting cranky. Real cranky. I was hankering for a real bed and no ice to break for water.
A Farm in Kentucky
So we headed back to Kentucky. We stayed with my parents who were living on Highway 60 east of Owensboro. Bill took off by himself and drove throughout Kentucky and Missouri searching for a farm. It seemed to us a farm would be a good place to raise a kid and have a good home life. The kid in question didn’t care as long as he could have a dog and, he hoped, a horse.
In early December, Bill drove up in Ohio County, Kentucky and found the farm he wanted. It was near Fordsville, backing up to Rough Creek, approximately 200 acres. Bill finalized the deal and we could move in January 1, 1960.
Next time: The Stewarts learn farming.