Chapter 6: Denver Avenue Memories

It seems like you should also know what was going on in our neighborhood in those years. I lived on Denver Avenue, which actually was only two blocks in length at that point. It began at Slauson Avenue on the north, and went to 59th Street, and then on to a dead end after that. At the end, there was an alley that went east to Figueroa Street. I don’t remember if it went to the west or not because I never went that way. Most days we went to school, we walked down that alley to go to Figueroa, the street where 61st Street School was located. Let me tell you about some of the people who lived on that street. Those I can remember were those who had children, the ones that were most important to me in those days.

The Hamils lived in the house farthest south on our side of the street. They had at least four children in the family: Ida, Jimmy, David and Sherelda. I’m sure there were others besides. Jimmy had a physical and mental defect. It was probably what we now know as “Down’s Syndrome.” He sat on the curb watching while the rest of us kids were playing baseball or some other game in the street. He was a nice boy, but because of his disability, he slobbered a lot, though he was generally accepted by the kids and they talked to him kindly.

Next door to the Hamils on the north were Bruce and Margie Anthony, and they had a little sister. They had a large house, and inside their living room was a large bay window that was built into the left side of the room. It had a window box on which you could sit, and inside of which they kept toys and books. Roland Wainwright and his family lived next to them, one house closer to 59th Street. Next to them was an empty lot at the corner of 59th Street where we used to play. When I was seven or so, we made “clocks” from a weed there that had little hooks on the ends. When stuck into your clothes, they twirled around clockwise of themselves. If they were still green, you could make a “scissor” out of them by getting another weed like them and sticking one through another and then moving the prongs back and forth like a scissor. We picked other weeds that tasted like licorice.

Across the street from the empty lot, behind the house at the northeast corner, lived the parents of a movie star named Jean Parker. How exciting to realize that she visited her parents, but we didn’t get to see her. I never actually saw her, but at least, her folks lived there. Next to them lived Johnny and Ellen Press. They either had a big sister or there was another girl who was older who lived there before them whose name was Gretha. Gretha was a tall girl and blonde. Johnny and Ellen were my age and Midge’s age, and they were also blonde.

Richard Nicolay, an only child, lived next door to Johnny and Ellen. Between Richard and us lived Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland. The childless Sutherlands had a dog named Spot that saved my sister, Midge’s life one day. Even though our street didn’t really go anywhere, quite a few cars came down it. Midge was just a little girl, barely able to walk well, and she went out into the street. Spot saw her, knew she shouldn’t be there, so he went to her, circling round and round her till she got closer and closer to the curb. He was a marvelous dog, and we all loved him.

The Sutherlands had a fig tree in their back yard. Every year we went over there and picked all the figs we could. Mother made delicious fig jam from them. The job of getting figs wouldn’t have been worthwhile had the jam been anything less than delicious, because the sap that came off that tree got on our legs and was almost impossible to get off.

Mrs. Sutherland belonged to the Eastern Star, which is a part of the Freemasons Lodge, and at Christmas time they invited us kids to go to their party with them. The party was held in the Masonic Lodge on Broadway. The hall was decorated beautifully, and they had a lovely tall Christmas tree with colorful packages under it. We each got a nice Denver Avenue Memories Christmas gift. I don’t remember what we got, but it was an exciting experience going to their party, seeing the lovely huge tree, and getting a gift from beneath it.

The Sutherlands were also thoughtful. I know this because when the kids on our street had a show once across the street on the Brands’ front porch, they provided ice cream afterwards. I thought they were great folks, but Eadie says that in later years, they put up a fence around their yard, and if one of our baseballs was hit by accident into their yard, they would go out and get it and not give it back until the next Christmas. In fact, that’s why Eadie thinks that our Mother got their cat one time, and kept it for a few days.

We Finks lived next to the Sutherlands. This was my family. We had three trees in front of our house. One was right next to the driveway. There was another tree in the middle in front, and one evening Bob attached a string from that tree to another tree across the street, and hung some paper on it. Then when a car came along, it had to stop because the driver didn’t want to drive into the string. It was fun to see their reactions, but we could have gotten into trouble with the police. Also, in that same tree, Bob put a buzzer, the wire being attached in his room in the back of the house. It seemed like every so often men worked on the street, so when they did, he would ring that buzzer, and the workmen would really be puzzled about where that noise was coming from. Another time, he tied a rope on a branch, and tied a tire on it, so we could have a swing. We played there a lot. Another time, he made a tree house up there, but I was too little to get up into it.

The third tree was a palm tree on the other side of the property. Its branches fell off whenever we had a big wind storm. Once in a while, city workers came and removed branches, and as it kept growing, it became quite tall with only branches way up at the top. In fact, there are many palm trees in that part of the city even today. They are still growing along the street on Denver Avenue.

Once when my brother, Bob, was still home before going away to college, we dug a hole in the ground that became a tunnel that went to the next door neighbor’s yard going under the fence between the yards. It was really fun and exciting, but at one point, it caved in. We were fortunate that none of us were in it at the time or we might have been killed. We really got bawled out about that when our parents found out about it.

In high school, Bob took a course in floriculture, so when he came home, he made a lath house in the back of our garage where he grew all kinds of little plants and flowers. It was a place to shade the plants. He would put them into little pots when they were the right size and send us little sisters to sell them to the neighbors. We got a penny for each one we sold, and we sold them for ten cents.

Sometimes late at night, I would awaken to the sound of a train passing by on the tracks along Slauson. I could hear it long before it got to our street because of its loud whistle which was blown at every cross street along the way. Then I could hear the cars clacking along the tracks as each one passed. I could almost count the cars as they went past by the sounds they made, and sometimes there were many, many in the train. I could hear them very plainly even though we were eight houses down the street from them. The sound of the whistle blowing at each intersection could be heard for a long time into the night, rather a mournful sound as it ran further into the distance.

The train was an invitation for young men to hop aboard an empty car and leave home. My brother, Bob, went that way sometimes, and others we knew took the train to go far distances across the country. In those days, it wasn’t so dangerous, I guess, but it was never an invitation to me. These were always freight trains and they frequently went by empty. You had to have a certain kind of courage and almost be foolhardy to do it, but if a guy wanted to go away badly enough to a particular destination, he would hop a freight car and take his chances that he would make it all right.

Of course, we have many more memories of what happened at our own house, but we’ll go on to the house next door. At least two different families lived in that house while I was growing up. The first one was a family that had two older girls. One was a beautiful girl named Marguerite. Their last name was Luce. Marguerite had a boyfriend, and when they came home at night from a date, they parked out in front of their house, and we spied on them. We used to tease them, but they didn’t pay any attention to us.

I remember visiting old Mrs. Luce early in the mornings, going up the stairs on their back porch and knocking at the screen door. She would always come and invite me in, and then she would serve me toast which she had browned in her oven and covered with a thick layer of peanut butter. I don’t know what we talked about, but she knew how to keep me there for quite a while, and it was nice to be with her.

The other family who lived there were the McCarthys. They had two girls our ages, so we had a lot of fun with them. Theresa was about my age, and Gerry was Midge’s age. They were Irish, and therefore, they were Catholics. (In those days, we thought that all Irishmen were Catholic.) They went to the Catholic school a few blocks away. Theresa was good in math, so she helped me in my math sometimes, which I sorely needed. That was never my high point at school.

Theresa and Gerry were in the club we formed about that time. We called ourselves the “Sunshine Shiners,” and we made little pins out of milk bottle caps as our badges. Evelyn and Inez Blagbro, girls that lived across the street at the corner, were in our club, too, and of course, all the Fink girls except Eadie. She was probably too young at the time. We used to meet in different places. One place we met was under blankets or sheets that Mrs. McCarthy had hanging on their clothes lines so we could have a little clubhouse underneath. One time we had it between our two houses. There was about three or four feet of space there, just right for a good meeting. At least one time we had it at night when we all went down to the Blagbros’ and slept on their front porch. The guys had fun bothering us that night. Elmer, Orville and Bobby Shand were probably at least some of the guys involved. I’m not sure of the others.

Our mother showed us how to make May baskets out of cans and strawberry boxes by making flower petals from crepe paper and pasting them round and round the cans/boxes. We made them for May Day every year. One day we went to Aunt Althea’s house, and she had many May baskets all over her living and dining rooms. She was making them to give away to people who lived in an old folks’ home. She made them of small cans which had crepe paper decorations on the outside. She showed us several ways we could cut and make these decorations so the baskets would look like roses or other kinds of flowers. The cans were nice because when she put flowers into them, she could also place a little water to keep the flowers nice for several days. We used to make May baskets to take around to the neighbors. We rang the doorbell, dashed to the back of the house and waited for someone to come out to get the basket.

The house my father built at the back of our property when he and mother first married was rented out to other folks after he built our house on the front of the lot. A young couple named Mr. and Mrs. Frakes used to live there. For a while, Mrs. Frakes helped us with the May baskets. The next couple that came, the guy was really a good looking guy, but the gal was letting herself go and complained to Mother how her husband didn’t want to come home to her anymore. So, Mother told her to spruce herself up, put on some makeup and look really nice for him so he’d have something to look forward to when he came home. She tried doing that, and it worked.

Nice folks lived next to the McCarthys, but I don’t remember their names. There was a house behind their house, too, but I never knew the people who lived there. We knew the folks who had children, but not usually those who didn’t.

Johnny Roach lived next door to them. He was a fantastic guy. His mom was fantastic, too. She used to make delicious rolls and sell them to our mother. Johnny was quite a go-getter. He was a bit older than the rest of us, and he had lots of vim, vigor and vitality, always coming up with good ideas. He made a cart out of wood, which he fixed up with wheels. He would get in it and have us little kids push him down the street. Quite a guy! I think it was his idea to have a Halloween party, too, and we fixed up Theresa and Gerry’s chicken yard, or maybe it was his own yard, so we could use the hen house as our venue. We were blindfolded, taken in and then fed worms to eat. I think it was really spaghetti, but they made us feel it first, so it did seem like real worms!

After the Roaches moved out, the Hargets moved in, but I think I was going to college at that point in time, so I didn’t know them so well. Mrs. Harget used to make butter, and Midge went over there and helped stir her wooden paddle to get the butter to set. Mrs. Harget loved Aimee Semple MacPherson and listened to her all the time on the radio. Aimee was an exciting radio speaker/evangelist that had quite a following in those days. Mrs. Harget even sent that group money.

Next door to the Roach’s house, lived an old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Vreeland. One time, when I went up to talk to the old man, who was sitting outdoors in front of his house, I stood right next to him. He gave me a big hug, but he also slid his arm around and touched my legs. Wow! I didn’t go near him ever again after that. Then there were the Chittendens who lived next to them, a nice couple of older folks, but more the age of my own mom and dad.

Next to the Chittendens, a vacant lot used to go clear through to the candy store on Figueroa Street. On the right side of the vacant lot on the Figueroa side was an apartment house where one of the boys in Bob’s Friendly Indians lived with his mother. Another boy who also belonged to the Friendly Indians, a boys’ group that my brother, Bob, used to have, was Jimmy Willerford. He lived in a two story house where his mother had roomers. It was quite near to a liquor store that was on the corner of 59th and Figueroa Streets. We sort of claimed him as one of our Denver Avenue gang because he came over to be with the kids there quite a bit. Apparently, he was quite good at telling ghost stories on the Finks’ front porch. They were so realistic that Margaret and Edith would have to walk him home after- wards because he was scared to go home by himself.

Talking about that candy store, we spent at least ten cents of our hard-earned money almost every week to get lots of penny candy at that place. I liked the little dots of candies on a strip of white paper that you picked off one by one. Also, I liked the cigarette candy with red on the tip so you could put it on like make-up to look like lipstick. Of course, I got suckers most every time, and once in a while, I’d get an all day lollipop which was more expensive, but really did last a long time. I loved the Abba Zabba bars, little bars that had a bit of peanut butter on the inside. Another good one was a caramel sucker, which was good for a lot of delicious sucking. There were also little candy barrels, jaw-breakers and licorice sticks. There were so many kinds of candies that I can’t describe them all. Midge says she used to buy horehound candy there, and Vi remembers buying dill pickles with her money and sometimes getting cookies so we could share with kids who didn’t have any money.

Well, after the vacant lot, there was another house on Denver Avenue, but I didn’t know the people who lived there, and there was another vacant lot on the corner of Denver Avenue and Slauson. Around that corner was the F & S Market (Figueroa and Slauson) where we did most of our shopping for groceries, fruit and vegetables. The fruit and vegetables were in a stand out in front, and the parking lot was on the inside of that.

Every summer, they would have a special sale, and they would have some cowboys with their guitars on a raised stage with a lot of singing and stamping of feet. During those hoe-downs, they also had prize giveaways. It was fun to hold on to receipts we had saved for a long time ahead, because the emcee called out a receipt number, and if you had that receipt number, you won a bagful of groceries. We won several times. Eventually, within a few years, they closed down the open fruit and vegetable part and enclosed it, according to new laws, I think.

When Midge was older, she went to work at the F & S Market, and in fact, met Gene Husting, who later became her husband. He also worked there! She said that one of her first jobs was counting ration stamps, so that must have been during the war, World War II. I remember being sent to the store from time to time, but getting the wrong thing and then having to take it back and get the right thing. Vi remembers that they had great dill pickles in a barrel there. She really loved dill pickles.

Mother used to get her hair done at a beauty shop across the vacant lot from the candy store. One time she took me in to get my very first permanent wave at that shop. I was young, and they had hair rollers that were clamped on to my hair that were connected to electric wires. When they turned on the heat, it was too hot, so they had an electric fan to blow on the hot area. Well, they ended up burning part of my head and I did not like that kind of a permanent ever after. I was very happy when we got to have home permanents in later years where you could buy one in a box at the store and then go home and give it to yourself. Midge and Vi also got several of those perms at the shop, too.

During World War II, our mother was a Warden for our block, and I was a Fire Watcher. We had to go to the beauty shop building for meetings to find out what to do if there was an air-raid. One Sunday night, there was an air-raid. I was in church at 57th and Figueroa at an evening service, so I had to put on my armband and go to my station atop the F & S Market just a couple of blocks away. Actually, it was a false alarm, but it was quite exciting at the time, and I’ll probably never forget it. I was 15 years old at the time.

Now we should be coming back down Denver Avenue on the other side of the street, but first, let’s go around to Vernon Foster’s house on Slauson. We shouldn’t forget him and his older brother, Walt. They were a little older than I was, more like Vi’s age, I think. Vernon sat at our table at our 50th Fremont High School Reunion, and we found out that he is a judge now (retired).

Now we come back to the first house on the right side of Denver Avenue. A family by the name of Eck lived there who used to grow huge snails in the green leaves of plants in their yard, the kind that people eat.

Next to them lived Earl and Mildred Brand. They had several children, all boys. Kenny and Ted were two sons, about the ages of Midge and Eadie, but there were other sons whose names I don’t remember. My brother, Bob, used to work for Earl who had a lawn business. He worked for him in summers in the western parts of Los Angeles and took care of homes and yards. Mildred’s father used to live in the small house in back of the Brands.

When Ted was in junior high school, my mother taught him how to read, because for some reason he had never learned. She made a scrapbook for him of sports events that he was involved in at school, and they spent quite a bit of time together.

I can’t remember the people who lived next door to the Brands, nor those who lived for about three houses down. There were no children there, no doubt.

Tom Bosanko lived in the next house, though. They had a funeral there in which they brought the coffin into their home and had people come in to view it. The body in that casket was Tom Bosanko, a middle-aged man. That was the first time I had ever seen that done, though it was common practice in the Philippines when we were there. Next to Tom lived Ducky Daddles, a little boy who was prohibited by his parents to play outside his yard. He lived in the same house where we had given the May basket one year that had the bugs in it. That lady had moved.

Rodna lived next door to Ducky Daddles’ house. She was older than most of us kids, and was an accomplished pianist—playing very difficult pieces very beautifully. Her father went deep sea fishing once in a while, and brought home fish which he smoked in a smokehouse in his backyard. He brought us some of it from time to time, and it was just delicious.

The Browns lived next door to Rodna. I told you about the big earthquake in 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake. Mrs. Brown was the lady who came running out of her house and fell down her stairs. It was a miracle that when the stones from their chimney fell down, they missed her completely. The day was March 10th, and our family was actually in the process of eating our Dad’s birthday cake. When we felt the shaking, we looked out, saw how red the atmosphere was, and then saw Mrs. Brown come tumbling down their steps.

You may remember that I was just about ready to go into the third grade. However, that happened, also, just as my sister, Vi, had to go to junior high school. We were in the district of John Muir Junior High School, but it was in such bad condition because of the earthquake that it couldn’t be used until it was repaired. Therefore, she had to go to Bret Harte, another school at that time. She only had to go half day because the kids who rightfully should have been going there used it the other half day. By the time I graduated from 61st Street School, John Muir Junior High School was useable, so I got to attend there.

There was a house behind the Browns. The Achenbachs lived there. The children were Marian, Bobby, Ruth and Billy. Their mom and dad were good folks. Ruth was the one I knew best. She was a good help to Miss Katie Vee Clarkson at the Figueroa Boulevard Christian Church on 57th and Figueroa. For three years, I went to Miss Clarkson’s Tuesday school after my regular school was out at junior high, and all of us kids went to the Daily Vacation Bible School that she had year after year in the summer. Ruth became a contributor to our work when we became missionaries in the Philippines.

South of the Browns lived a nice family, who were the Brandenbergs. They had an older girl who may have been Vi’s age. The Shands lived next door to these folks. There were two houses on that lot, and Bobby Shand lived in the front house. Dick Crosby lived in the back house. I remember that Bobby’s feet used to smell so bad. Maybe it was because he didn’t wear socks with his tennis shoes. It was on the porch of the Shand’s house where we had a show one time, and our main song and dance was to “Frankie and Johnny were Lovers.” Johnny Roach was our director, and he taught us how to dance the routine quite well. We charged one safety pin admission, and the Sutherlands provided ice cream for refreshments afterward. What a red letter night that was. It seems strange to me that no one else remembers them giving the ice cream, but I remember that vividly.

The Markles family lived next door to Bobby Shand. They were a real bright spot on our street. Emory was their older brother. Orville and Elmer were Vi’s and my ages. When we were little kids, we used to play cars under the fig trees in their back yard after making roads all over the dirt there. We had more fun pushing them all over the roads we created. In later years, we used to go to their house to play “War” for hours on end on their cool cement front porch. Elmer was one of our gang, and when my mother gave me my one and only birthday party, Elmer gave me a beautiful cross pendant that looked like it had diamonds in it. That is the only gift I remember getting at that party to this day. We also went inside to play “Cootie,” using dice and having great fun. When Mrs. Markles was having her lady friends visit, Margaret, nicknamed Midge later on, was invited to come. She was put up on a table and sang all her songs from Sunday School that she knew. They loved her. She was really cute with her little chubby legs and sweet face.

Midge remembers Orville used to have a chemistry set in their garage, and he was always playing with that. She’s sure that’s what got him into his job later in life. I can’t remember his title, but he was an important man where he worked. Orville was always an exceedingly bright young man.

The Blagbros lived next to the Markles. Mrs. Blagbro was P.T.A. president at 61st Street School where most of the kids on our street went. They had two daughters: Evelyn was Vi’s age, and Inez was between the ages of Midge and me. Their mother made delicious blood pudding, but I never did eat any of it. They lived on the corner of Denver Avenue and 59th Street.

Across 59th Street from them was a house where our dad used to go to mow their lawn after he was retired. That was when Bob went away to Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Oregon and came home in the summers. Before that, he used to play Baseball, Hide and Seek, Kick the Can and other games out in the street. Vi remembers the time she batted and hit Midge on the forehead. She also remembered playing Run, Sheep, Run and Annie, Annie Over, etc. There were several houses down the street from there, but I didn’t know the people that lived there.

I do remember one night hearing some awful grinding noise on our street in front of our house. Upon going out to see what it was, we found that there was a two-story apartment building being moved down the street. What a sight. The next day, they moved it on down to the next block right next door to Doris Dascomb’s house just across the street from the Hamil’s.

Doris was Vi’s age, and she lived with her parents. She may have lived at the end of the block. The alley went to the left at that point, and there was a mulberry bush at the end of the alley where it runs into Figueroa Street. Vi said she used to go to school every day with Doris, and they passed that mulberry bush.

There were a lot of changes in the neighborhood by the time I left to go to college. Many of the people I mentioned moved away and a lot of newer people came, but these were the ones that had a part in my life, so I mentioned them for the blessings or whatever that they were to me.

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