Friday, February 18, 2011
Dog Years 2
California and Spike
My parents found a puppy for me for my third birthday. By then, we lived on 111th Street in LA where we moved from
after my dad returned from fighting Hitler. His brother-in-law got him a job at the Jantzen Swim Suit factory (“Just wear a smile and a Jantzen”.) My mother, a registered nurse, worked at small maternity hospital nearby. Daycare was provided by Evie, my mom’s youngest sister, and Dorothy and Lucile, my dad’s sisters. My memories of those days consist of an odd collection of disconnected details and are probably highly influenced by listening to family talk of these times and looking at those old black and white snapshots with the serrated edges. Kansas
My aunt Evie was just twelve years older than I. She babysat me during the summers when she was not in school. She still claims that I was a spoiled brat. There is some evidence, I must admit, in that direction. My mother had a professional photographer come to the house regularly to take my picture. I was cute. I look in the mirror now and wonder what happened. Evie claims I used to tell my mom everyday when she came home from work, “Aunt Evie spanked my butt,” whether she had or not. Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Cile were both married, but never had children. They absolutely doted on our family. Even after we moved back to
, they were just a phone call or train ride away. They took us in almost every summer and entertained us with all Southern California had to offer: Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Marine Land, The La Brea Tar Pits (or Par Tits as Aunt Dot called them) and of course, the beach. Kansas
I used to love the days when Aunt Dot babysat. She was a person of amazing innocence and sweetness, a master of misspeak and constant victim of teasing from her ornery brother, my dad. Once for breakfast at the local greasy spoon, she ordered Number Two with Pisscuits. Part of our ritual when she came to baby sit was to take a bubble bath before my nap. She would bring paper packets of gardenia-scented bubble powder that created foamy mounds. One day she put off bath time saying that we needed to wait for the Postal Express man. She was expecting a package. I thought she meant that he was going to join us in the bath. When he rang the doorbell, I ran to answer the door. “Oh boy,” I gushed. “Are you going to take a bubble bath with Aunt Dorothy and me?” He looked over my head at a shapely, embarrassed Aunt Dot and leered, “Well, I guess that’s up to Aunt Dorothy!”
Our house was tiny and cute: living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a pink tiled bath. The driveway was two strips of concrete with grass between. Three tree roses trimmed the front entry, a peach tree grew in the back, and a pink oleander dominated the small front lawn. The flowers on that bush smelled like sugar cookies. My mother warned me that they were poisonous and that I should not eat them. Of course, I would never have thought of eating flowers if she had not mentioned it.
The Oliveras lived on one side. They had many beautiful brown children and brought home tortoises every time they came back from a weekend trip to the desert. Mr. Baker and Mrs. Cook (or vise versa, I never could remember) lived on the other side. They had a
that played the piano. I was fascinated by that dog and puzzled by the disparity in the owners’ last names. I never did get a satisfactory answer to my questions about that. Chihuahua
My other memories of the place include a neighborhood kid with blond hair who came to play on occasion. We would stretch out on our bellies on the floor and color in a coloring book. I was frustrated by the fact that he was meticulous and slow, and I was always ready to turn the page before he was. I also remember a neighborhood theater, The Riveola, that played westerns. I was in love with Roy Rogers. My mom and Aunt Cile took me to see him at Bullocks department store. We stood in line for hours and finally made it to
. I pitched a huge fit when all I got was a pat on the head. I wanted to talk about Trigger and Bullet and Dale and invite them all to dinner. Roy
Aunt Cile, wise, witty, and fun, loved to take us to the beach. Her hubby, Uncle Johnny was her perfect match. Once while we were bobbing in the surf, a big wave knocked off the top of her twopiece. Uncle Johnny said, “Lady, if you’re going to drown those puppies, I’ll take the one with the pink nose.”
Anyway, back to my dog. (Obviously, I am prone to digression…probably ADD. My mom did get a note from the kindergarten teacher, brief and to the point: “Your daughter is restless on her rug.” And just last week I returned to the bedroom after brushing my teeth to discover that I had made just half the bed.) The dog was acquired from an ad: “small mixed-breed puppies to give away.” My parents have always been naive about animals. They saw the mother, a small terrier type, but the father was “unknown.” We named the pup Spike and he promptly grew into the name. Dollars to donuts the dad was a pit-bull. Spike had a square head, no neck, a fireplug body, and waddled like a weightlifter. His coat was a lovely yellow and brown bristly brindle. He loved me and hated anyone wearing a uniform: meter readers, cops, and mailmen. We got warning letters from all three departments. The mailman was especially testy. Part of his attitude was probably my fault because I routinely filled the mailbox with snails.