Tag Archives: California

Just The Three Of Us

By Marji Smock Stewart, from Climbing the Hills and Finding the Rivers. This continues her story on from 35 Cent Grilled Cheese.

Marji and Bill Stewart in CaliforniaI 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.orange-clothespins-photo-d-stewart

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.

Bill and Marji Stewart with babyAt 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.

Bill Stewart and babyWith 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.

home in Torrance CaliforniaThe 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.

Selling up

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.

The_Mount_Rushmore-2015-Aafaque-wikicommonsThen 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.

Yellowstone Bears

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.

The-Meating-of_the_Bear_Yellowstone_Park_NYPL_wikicommonsLeaning 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.

Stewart farm Ohio Co KYIn 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.

John C Mabee Stakes

Del Mar Track DMTC-panorama-Andrew-Chen-2008-wikicommonsThe John C. Mabee Stakes is a 9 furlong Grade II turf race for fillies and mares at the Del Mar track in San Diego County, California. John C. Mabee is my eighth cousin.

I found that out while looking for another John Mabee. The search results were filled with John C. Mabee Stakes and “California racing icon”. Well, I had to find out if we were related. We are.

John C. Mabee and me

john c mabee chart
Tap to see full-sized chart

You have to go back eight generations to Pieter Casper van Naerden Mabee, born in 1626. His parents had come to New Amsterdam, now New York City, from the Netherlands in the 1620s. Pieter Casper Mabee married Aechtje Jans van Norden about 1650. They had six children.

Their son Jan Pieterse is the ancestor of John C. Mabee. A younger son Casparus Pieterszen is the ancestor of my grandmother.

American and Canadian Mabees

The family stayed in the New York and New Jersey areas for more than a hundred years, until the American Revolution. John’s branch stayed in the new USA. My grandmother’s line remained United Empire Loyalists and left for Canada.

Simon Casperson Mabee moved his family to New Brunswick in 1783. His son Silas, my grandmother’s great-great-grandfather, moved between New Brunswick, the US and Ontario, dying likely in Ohio. His children, for the most part, settled in Norfolk and Elgin counties in southwestern Ontario.

John C. Mabee’s great-great-grandfather Bartholomew moved from New York to southern Ohio around 1800 and died in Greenup County in northeastern Kentucky. Bartholomew’s son William Thomas Mabee moved from Ohio to Iowa.

From Bird to Golden Eagle Farm

John C Mabee findagrave.comJohn Couchman Mabee was born August 21, 1921 in Seymour, Iowa. He was the youngest of John Lynford Mabee and Dora Beatrice Couchman’s four children. They owned a farm and John grew up with a mare named Bird. He suffered from pneumonia and bronchitis. So, from childhood, he wanted to live in a climate better suited to his needs.

In 1941 he married Betty Lee Murphy from nearby Putman County in Missouri. Soon after, they moved to Nevada and then to California. In San Diego, John and Betty started a small grocery store called Johnny’s Market. That one store grew into a chain called Big Bear Supermarkets.

They bought three yearlings in 1957 and began racing. In 1972 they bought a property in San Diego County and built a breeding and racing stable they named Golden Eagle Farm.

Best Pal 1988-1998

Best-Pal-with-Gary-Stevens-Del-Mar-findagrave.com-pic-donald-greyfieldBest Pal was maybe their best known horse, a crowd favourite who came in second in the 1991 Kentucky Derby. There’s a race at Del Mar named after him too. The Best Pal Stakes is for 2 year olds at a distance of 6½ furlongs on dirt.

After John died, Betty and son Larry continued operating Golden Eagle Farm. Betty died in 2010 and Larry died two years later. Larry’s son John R. Mabee continued in the racing business. According to posts on Facebook, the Mesa Grande Band of Diegueño Mission Indians bought Golden Eagle Farm in 2019.

For more on the Mabees and their farm, see California Thoroughbred, November 2004 (also Legacies of the Turf and Del Mar below). Also see my Mabee Family Tree.

Today is normally  Belmont Stakes day in New York. But it’s been postponed to June 20th. No fans will be in the stands for what is this year’s first leg of the Triple Crown.

35 Cent Grilled Cheese

Part VII, Finding the Rivers, Marji Stewart: Grilled cheese fortunes

Our trip out west in 1946 was a real honeymoon. We were gone a month or longer and made some stupid blunders. One I recall is that we drove that old car up a washboard road to Monument Valley in Arizona with only a bag of water tied to the bumper. The bag fell off so we lost our water.

bill-stewart-western-usa-1992-photo-marji-stewart
1992, Bill Stewart on trip through Arizona and Utah where he and Marji lived at the time.

No water, no food and no blanket or emergency supplies in July. People who are much better prepared than we were die in that environment! The scenery in Monument Valley is breathtaking.

In California we visited with Bill’s sister Lillian who was staying with her friend Claudine. We just barged in as people thoughtlessly did back then. We saw the usual California sights, such as Knott’s Berry Farm which was incredible then. The time I remember best was dinner and dancing for just the two of us at the famous Ambassador Hotel when a big band was playing – Freddie Martin. That was heavenly music and food for this river rat.

Ambassador_Hotel_Cocoanut_Grove_1948-postcard-wikicommons
Cocoanut Grove in Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, 1948 postcard

However, the time wasn’t right then for us to stay in California. We headed back to Kentucky, sightseeing all the way. Glorious simple days. No air conditioning, so often driving at night to avoid the heat. There were very few choices of places to sleep and once or twice we simply slept in the car. Who would dare do that today? Also all highways were two lane. A real drag to be stuck behind a truck going up a mountain road!

Grilled cheese fortunes

Perusing the menu in a cafe somewhere in Arkansas, we thought the price of a simple grilled cheese sandwich was too costly. All of 35 cents. Driving along Route 66 we toyed with the idea of starting a business in Kentucky. What kind, though? What about a restaurant, Bill asked me. Sure, but where?

Back home to Owensboro – and to Bill’s Mom and Dad. Perhaps they Grilled cheese sandwich_on_white_plate-Senator2029-wikicommonscould spare a piece of their small property to let him build? I had no experience in food service but Bill had paid his way through the University of Minnesota working in kitchens. A fortune could be made charging 35 cents for a mere grilled cheese sandwich. It cost no more than 2 cents to prepare. So why not? Did we have a lot to learn!

Whether the Stewarts really wanted to give up an acre of land, I honestly don’t know. But give they did. We moved in with them, into Lillian’s bedroom upstairs. In the tiny room adjoining it, we made a small kitchen. We put a two burner kerosene stove and an old card table with three chairs in the little room. I washed dishes in the bathroom. Orange crates held our kitchen stuff. Not that we ate there much. Mostly we ate with the Stewarts or the Smocks. Both mothers did our laundry. Did I ever properly thank them?

I got a job as a teller in a Savings and Loan institution on Frederica Street but I had no transportation. Bill would take me to work and his dad would pick me up in the afternoon. Robert would patiently wait in his car even if it took hours to balance the books so I could leave the bank.

We finally managed to get a loan to build a restaurant, after being turned down by the “big” bank in town. Bill did all the blueprints, planning and consulting. I simply worked and my meager salary kept us afloat.

Uncle Clarence Brown, the city engineer, advised us to build a building which could be turned into a residence if we failed or changed our minds. He was Bill’s mother Mabel’s older brother. But these two greenhorns thought we knew more than the wise engineer. We decided to do it our way. We wouldn’t fail. Famous last words!

Strawberries

Allens-1963_book_of_berries-wikicommonsThere was one crisis time while Bill was building. He had ordered enough strawberry plants for another acre of land. They arrived just when Bill had a serious case of poison ivy from clearing the land. He was so sick I even had to shave him! But the strawberries couldn’t wait to be planted.

A dear older neighbor, Guy Barlow, and I planted those Tennessee Beauties. That spring of 1947 saw a prolific crop of berries. Bill and I had to pick, prepare, make jam and freeze them. We gave away a lot and sold the best ones. Do you have any idea of how many strawberries are in an acre? A lot. A whole lot. It was years before I could enjoy strawberries again.

Stewart’s Drive In

In the early summer of 1947 “Stewart’s Drive In” had its grand opening. It wasn’t long until our glazed eyes were opened too. Yes, we served grilled cheese. But. Running a small restaurant required almost 20 hours per day, seven days per week. And even then we barely met our small payroll.

grilled cheese hopes at stewarts-drive-in-1948
Stewart’s Drive 1947-1948 on Stewart Court in Owensboro KY

Bill worked in the kitchen and dish area and I waited tables, worked the soda fountain and car hopped. We both worked after closing until we went home in the wee hours of the morning and crashed. Business would be great one day and zilch the next. The first winter was rough, weather-wise and financially. I served cars outdoors even when there was snow on the ground.

In the fall of 1948 Bill decided we would close for the season and go out west until early spring. We settled in Long Beach, California. Both of us got jobs. Working only eight hours a days, we felt as if we really were on vacation. Bill worked at the Union Oil refinery in blue collar work and I “slung hash” in a diner.

Uncle Clarence was right

When it came time to return to our drive in in the spring of 1949, both of us were ready to throw in the towel. Yes, I must admit we were quitters. Uncle Clarence was right, we should have built a multipurpose building.

We managed to lease the drive in and stayed in California. We moved to Wilmington to be close to the refinery. Our big apartment was two rooms plus a hall and small bath. This was a housing project, Avalon Village, a prototype of later public housing but privately owned then. The bed was a Murphy bed that pulled out from the wall in the living room. [Maybe Avalon Gardens.]

We made lots of friends but most of our fun was either on the beach or, for Bill, fishing. He went out on day trips for deep sea fishing and usually made a nice catch. Maybe a 10 pound Albacore or tuna.

California Dreamin’

marji-stewart-redondo-beach-pier-ca-1949There weren’t any decent rivers near us but there was the Pacific Ocean. Our favorite day off activity was spending the day at the beach. We had two large cloth bags (air mattresses) which we would run along the beach and hold in the wind. They filled with air and we quickly tied them. We carried them out in the surf and then rode them in to the shore before the air leaked out. Great, innocent, cheap – but very sandy – fun. Often we went dancing later somewhere in LA or to the Coliseum for special events. Always more than one hour’s drive.

To make ends meet I worked at jobs like selling home products. My territory was Watts. Even then it was a minority neighborhood, gentle and peaceful. Could it actually rock with riots, violence and murder? Yes, sixteen years later, it could and it did.

Of course I never made enough money to pay my expenses. Gasoline was less than 39 cents per gallon, sometimes 19 cents! One of my friends and I tried to get jobs at the local fish canning factory but they wouldn’t hire us. Helen said perhaps we looked too “refined”? I think they more likely thought we wouldn’t stay.

Finally Bill got into real estate and quit his job at the refinery. He was told to be prepared to survive a year before any income would start coming in. He worked in Rolling Hills, a lovely area.

Size 10 to 14

I took a job as a secretary and jill of all trades with a suit manufacturer in downtown LA. During the interview, I was told that the job required being a size 14. I was a size 10 so I told the employer “I’ll grow into it!” He laughed and hired me anyway. I doubt that I made even $35 per week and had to ride the buses downtown to the garment district, now almost in Skid Row. That was January 1950.

marji-and-bill-stewart-xmas-day-cal-1950, beyond grilled cheeseOccasionally I would have to wear the newest suit and go meet with a prospective buyer for the boss and model the garment. Lest this sound like a glamorous job, it wasn’t. I was the only person in the office and often felt the wrath of someone – customers, employees or bosses. But I was glad to have a job. However, my plans backfired for working until Bill could make it financially in real estate. When we were least expecting it, we were expecting! You could say I really did “grow into” the size 14.

We’ll leave Marji and Bill for now. See Monroe Smock, Kentucky for the beginning of this story. We’ll go to Marji’s grandmother and the McDonald family of Kentucky and Texas.