Archive for May, 2017

The Heavens Aglow……..#16[a] (50’s)

May 31, 2017

The Heavens Aglow

Mike’s cousin Jerry Facey, husband Fess and family lived on the same block as his Aunt and Uncles in Etna, the Cortez’s house and two acres of pasture land  extending to the behind their house made the separation.  Mike getting acquainted for the first time with the Facey brude, his five year younger second cousins, Sammy, his younger sisters Dee Dee and Trudy, but finding their jovial Dad Fess more entertaining.  Fess inviting the youth to attend an evening meeting of the local volunteer fire department.   Mike and Fess arriving at the two-story Main St. Fire House, the gathering being held in a large upstairs conference room with several 8 foot folding tables placed end to end providing seating.  Cousin Fess when introducing  young Mike at the meeting of the Etna volunteer firemen, a member asking the youth a question, “are you a Limburger man” ?    Mike with a quizzical look on his face replying in all honesty that he didn’t know what the question meant.  The explanation becoming self-explanatory with the immediate serving of a some snacks.   Soft drinks, luncheon meat,  cheese and crackers were provided during a pause in the meeting, there were two kinds of cheese provided, regular cheddar and Limburger.  The answer to  question became apparent by the seating arrangement,  those who took Limburger would sit at one end of the tables, the cheddar people sitting at the other end.  Mike deciding to forgo the Limburger.

The Edna Fire House

The sleeping youth  was aroused from his bed, his Aunt Bernice and Uncle Sam having been awaken by the sounding of the town’s fire siren, soon discovering that the sawmill less than a mile away on the east side of Etna has erupted in flames.  Mike standing on the front porch could see rising from the inferno an amazing sight, an enormous plume of glowing sawdust embers cascading thousands of  feet upward,  the heavens filled with bellowing embers, the effervescent sparkle twinkling like a thousand stars in the clear night-time sky.  Fess suddenly appearing saying he had been to Mill and there was nothing they could do about the fire but let it burn.  Mike was surprised when Fess asked if he would like to accompany him back to the scene of the  fire, the answer was a resounding yes.   The young man having never witnessed a major fire let alone a sawmill fire,  it was already an unbelievable sight.   Listening to conversations of the adults, he learned of the two components that fueled the spectacular Mill blaze.  The cuttings from the saw blades, better known as sawdust and the lubricating oil for the chains and sprockets that rotate the blades, the mixture presenting a most volatile combination.  The volunteer firemen were regiment, doing their best to control the flames when suddenly a very loud shrill  sound burst forth.   It was the mill whistle connected to the boiler that provided the steam to power the cutting blade drives.   For an instant everyone hesitated thinking that the boiler might explode, but gradually the whistle volume began to decrease  finally totally subsiding.  Mike finding a unique perch,  Fess having seated him atop one of Etna’s two fire trucks, the loft a safe distance from the flurry of activity,  the twelve-year old experiencing a once in a lifetime event.

Beware the cattle guards when on horseback

The visitor from Oakland was introduced to some  older boys,  Gene and Sam Branson,  who were nephews on Fess’s side of the family.  Gene was a horseback rider offering to take him riding,  but having to ride double, Mike seated behind the saddle.   It was during a riding occasion, Gene dismounted attempting to lead the horse around a cattle guard with Mike still on the horse seated behind the saddle.    The horse hesitated, Gene tugging on the reigns but the horse still refusing and then bucked,  Mike remembers the horse going up.  The next remembrance was waking up sitting at the dining room table in process of eating his supper with his Aunt and Uncle, somewhat confused, having no recollection of what had transpired after apparently being bucked off the horse.  Still somewhat in a daze he excused himself from the table and retired to bedroom deciding to remaining silent about the event, later finding out from Gene that he had landed on the metal cattle guard.  The fall must have also affected Gene,  it was the last time he offered to take Mike riding.

Mt. Shasta viewed from the Callahan road

Mike watched diligently as his uncle loaded the pickup with camping gear, having found out that his cousins would be joining them.  As curiosity would have it, he asked where they were going, not that finding out where would have meant anything to the city boy, but the name Cabin Meadow Creek sounded engrossing.  It was early afternoon the two family caravan leaving town, traversing east on Callahan Road, crossing Etna Creek and the Scott River, then south on the east side of the river towards Callahan.   Callahan was where the east and south fork of the Scott River converged and  besides having a store, post office, a couple of old building and few residents it resembled an old movie stagecoach stop, but what was impressive was the view of Mt. Shasta 2o miles to the south, southeast.

Siskiyou Mountain meadows

The camping expedition proceeding up the south fork road, then venturing onto a once bulldozed steep logging drag trail.  It became apparent, the further they went up the more the greater the impasse, but unexpectedly the incline leveled into a large meadow adjacent to crystal clear, ice-cold flowing creek, they had arrived at their destination.  What impressed Mike retiring in a sleeping bag after dark was the serenity that enveloped the mountain, the  sound of the nearby creek caressing the stillness of the night occasionally broken by the dialog from the unseen inhabitants.

Mike having never fished before was subject to a learning experience, his Uncle Sam taking time to demonstrate the stringing and use of the reel, the difference between fly and bait casting.  The youth catching his first trout,  not a large rainbow, but a small eastern brook, but excited as he was in catching his first fish, there was a problem, he couldn’t tell anyone how he came to catch it.  It started with a shoelace coming untied, setting his pole down to tie it, but laying it down with the baited hook in the water.   When he picked up his pole he found a fish on the line, deciding it might be best not mentioned the details of catching his first fish.

Gleaning from his visit,  found the small Etna logging community a remnant from another era.  Mike discerning the towns simplicity,  its residents bonding with the contemporary world by listening to the Richfield Reporter at 10:00 P.M. on the radio and a once a month pilgrimage out of their majestic valley to Yreka for groceries.  With the arrival of his parents,  his stay in Etna instilled an immense hope and desire to return to this marvelous place of enchantment.

Low Tide Mollusk…#17 (the 50’s)

May 30, 2017


“I think he’s still asleep”  was Gary Michael Willson heard as he lay warm and  covered on the divan, his bed for the night.   The whispered voice of Grandpa and Grandma Weisner resonated in he’s head.  He was awake and answered to that effect feeling the adrenalin starting to pump through his veins with just the thought of what was going to transpire.   Grandpa Marvin having promised to take the young boy abalone fishing with him in the early hours of the morning.   Mike bounded out of his makeshift bed and hurriedly dressed,  not wanting to hear a reason why he couldn’t journey on this adventure.  Grandma had a bowl of cereal ready for a hasty breakfast and a sack filled with a complete change of clothes that would be needed.  A passing thought resounded, ‘grandmas’ think of everything’.  The excitement beginning to raise, the young boy eager to get started.


It was just Mike and Grandpa seated in the old Dodge coupe as they left rural Sebastopol turning onto highway #116.   It was still dark, the sun yet to anoint the eastern horizon with its glow.   The predawn air damp with patches of fog dotting the highway which is normal for Sonoma County as two prospective maritime questors ferreted their way to the pacific coastal coves.  Continuing on  the road which ran abreast to the Russian River,  the elderly experienced piscadores and  a young inexperienced apprentice were steadfast on their appointed way.




The dawn was beginning to emerge as they dismounted their transportation making their way down towards the water.    No ocean waves thundering on these rocks,  for the sea was in reflux, the tide having ebbed and a subtle stillness prevailed.   The youth could see others on the beach,  a Bonfire was present on shore a good distance from the water, Mike hearing laughter and noticing the occupants with thermos’  in hand,  suspecting that  coffee wasn’t the only beverage on the beach.   Grandpa Marvin  explaining that the abalone were mollusk,  fastening themselves to the rocks just below the surface and at low tide you could reach down in the water and grasp them, but a pry bar was needed to loosen their powerful muscular suction from the rocks.   The youth discovering there was a limit to the number you could harvest  and also a prescribed minimum diameter size.



Mike was anxious to hone his skill at this new-found means of sea urchin fishing.  The anxiousness were short-lived,  the tidal waters extremely cold and the experience of wading into the ocean with all your clothes on wasn’t a pleasant one.    An immediate discovery that wet clothes do have weight and tennis shoes don’t really grip the seaweed when questing towards the first outcrop of the rocks.   Struggling to give a knowledgeable appearance,  finally accepting help from a stranger, who directed him to an outcropping and directing him to a certain rock and behold there was an abalone attached.   Prying the muscular mollusk  loose from its anchored station, discovering it looked to exceed the seven-inch diameter minimum.   First thoughts for the boy were of jubilation,  but soon was replaced by an inborn sense of naivety.  The overcast dawn sky, the cold, and being wet contributed to a decision to conclude his abalone fishing experience, the bond fire on the beach looked very inviting.  Mike gathered his change of clothes and was pointed in the direction of an embankment behind some large rocks where he proceed to change.  Wondering about his wet shoes, but surprisingly finding an old pair of flip flops in the clothing sack, suspiciously  looking like they didn’t belong to his grandmother.


Accepting the bonfires invitation, the abalone expedition finally coming to a conclusion, a gunny sack of abalone safely stored away in the Dodge Coupe’s trunk.  After a brief stay, The young man and his grandfather,  like the ebbing waters of the tide, decided to recede from the coastline shore of the pacific.  A return to Sevastopol, the time the two had together, and the event indelibly ingrained as an everlasting memory for a young Mike.

The Sulphur Mines – A Return…#18 (the 50’s)

May 28, 2017

Mike and his adherent sister Nan

A summer day,  the East Oakland Hills beckoned and a attentive young boy listened, Mike discerning their incessant plea of assiduity.   A plan was in the making, he would approach his younger next door neighbor Milton Pepitone, better known as Babe, asking if  he would be interested in joining him in an hike to the reaches of Skyline Blvd.,  East Oakland’s highest view-point overlooking the vast bay-area.   It was agreed upon,  the two boys starting their 2 mile march, crossing Mountain Blvd. upwards towards the first lower summit, a familiar climb for both having been there before.   Looking back Mike noticing a young unpretentious figure following in their footsteps, it was his youngest sister Nancy.   On many occasions  she was tenacious in meandering behind him when she ascertain he was going up into the hills.   In the past he had tried everything to dissuade her from following him,  from yelling at her,  to actually throwing rocks, with  no intent to hit her,  only to coax her from continuing her undertaking.  But alas, once again it was to no avail,  her persistence prevailing so with no other options he invited her to join this quest.

Milton (Babe) Pepitone

Looking east, Destination – Skyline, the furthermost peak

The three reaching the crest of the first hill, heading down into a familiar shallow valley with what resembled a road having been bulldozed long ago, going past the abandoned stables he had explored during a previous journey. The three following the hollow north for a quarter-mile before  addressing another trail upwards. The ascent was slow, the three finally reaching a summit overlook, the pavement of Skyline Blvd lying  about a fifty yards beyond.  The three travelers continued on a disassembled trail that paralleled the road, soon passing above the familiar Oakland hillside landmark. the  Gallagher and Burk Quarry.  Mike thought about continuing on Skyline and going down Redwood Road, but instead asked Babe and his sister if they wanted to see the Sulphur mines.  The three making their own trail descending down from skyline in the direction of  Devil’s Punch bowl and the Sulphur Mines.

Sulphur Mines tailings


Skirting passed Devil Punch Bowl, descending down to the remains of the McDonnell Mine excavations.  The glimmering yellow of the pyrite containing the valued ferrous sulfide that encased the surroundings and permeated the atmosphere with its ever-present pungent smell of sulphur.   The rustic relic of the old central shaft its pilings standing like a monument in commemoration of days gone by.   Several foreboding tunnel entrances boarded up as if to imprison the  memories they still held  rather than to prevent access to unwanted  visitors,  their  warning signs still posted,  weathered and neglected.  Mike entering an aperture,  exploring the  encasing walls with his hands,  the yellow crystallized material cleaving to  his fingers.  In the light provided from the opening,  he stood within, absorbing the ambiance of the moment, its reality and a feeling of deja vu, to visualize the arduous undertakings of these  unearthing craftsmen of old.

what memories lay burried

what memories lay buried

A exploring comptempuous sister

Having immersed in refection, it was time to move on.  Stepping back into the sunlit terrain Mike looking about,  Milton was present,  but his sister Nancy was nowhere to be seen.  He had  instructed her not to enter any of the tunnel openings,  but he knew how obstinate she could be.   He conveyed the question to Milton about Nancy’s  whereabouts to no avail.   He knew how adamant his sister could be in her determination to explore these underground caverns having  some of the same intransigent traits that he had,  so it was no surprise what was transpiring.    As suddenly as she had disappeared,  she emerges with a contemptuous grin on her face.     Mike could say nothing for he could identify with her pretentious act as she could proclaim that she had succeeded in doing something few of the populace  would undertake,  let alone accomplish.

Mills College Lake Aliso better known as Green Lake

Departing from this wondrous extrication area, the threesome journeyed along the path above Leona Creek reaching to where it became subterranean crossing  beneath Mountain Blvd and emptying into a body of water commonly referred to as Green Lake.  In reality it was Lake  Aliso, initially constructed as a flood control measure situated on the Mills College Campus and because of its green algae hue when viewed from Overdale Ave, a shortcut north around the college to access MacArthur Blvd, the  name Green Lake  prevailed.   Pressing onward they marched homeward bound, not journeying on Mountain Blvd but on the eucalyptus tree-lined dirt road  at the base of the hills culminating at Keller Ave.

Mike remained engrossed with Leona Heights and Laundry Farm Canyon.  His dad having mentioned that as a kid growing up in Oakland he had ridden the street car to Leona Heights and was aware of the sulphur mine and the quarry’s but never had the initiative to see them first hand.   Mike didn’t press the matter, knowing that his dad as a youth was a ward of the state, raised during the depression by an Italian/Spanish family only because the state provided twenty dollars a month.   He wondered if one up-close look may have introduced a whole new chapter to his Dad’s life,  just as hearing Steve Graham tell about Laundry Farm Canyon had spurred Mike’s interest, leading to his first brief visit and aspirations of fulfilling youthful fantasies and adventure.

Have Gun Will Travel…………#19 (the 50’s)

May 26, 2017

Daisy 50 shot pump

Unwrapping the gift the young man could feel the adrenalin building,  the pulsating rush of excitement was reaching a level almost equaling a point comparable to when he received his  bike.    It wasn’t like he was expecting it,  but in the far reaches of his hopes and desires it had reached the forefront.  Uncovered, nestled in its packaging lay the fulfillment of a consuming thirst,  an object not just  representing attainment,  but a testament to achieving reliance and trust from the wellspring of his heritage.   Mike gazed at the air rifle,  a BB gun,  a real projectile abettor.

Suddenly like a baseball bat striking him,  he felt a burst of infinite disappointment.   His thoughts were,  it couldn’t be,  no it just couldn’t.   Mike looking again, confirming his first inclination, it wasn’t the Red Ryder, 1000 shot,   lever-action carbine that he had hoped for but upon closer examination it was a gold embossed daisy pump.   Looking up at the expectant faces, the question of what to say at a time like this was flashing through his mind.   He felt the significant of disappointment in the pit of his stomach but also realized he couldn’t convey his feelings to those around him,  knowing what the others expected, a reaction of joy had to be displayed.   The reality of the situation began to sink in,  a daisy pump is better than no gun at all,  taking a deep breath, he managed an expression of joy from within the depths of disappointment.

mechanix Illustrated

A monthly subscription

The Willson family subscribed to a host of current event magazines, Life, Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, but the one his Dad would pick up the monthly was his favorite, Mechanics Illustrated.   It was while flipping through the pages of Mechanic Illustrated that Mike’s enthusiasm for his recently obtained daisy pump  air gun accelerated.   Reading an article about air guns, it pointed out that his daisy pump mod #25 was more powerful than the lever-action model and it was consistent in firing a BB because they were spring-loaded in his gun.  The lever-action with it lower velocity and gravity feed often wouldn’t fire a BB.

Mike setting up a target area in the backyard utilizing the store-bought packages of paper targets so he could visually track his proficiency.    Tin cans were also used allowing an audible sound and movement to identify a hit.    The unintended subjects that he never fired at were the chickens that were allowed to roam in the backyard.   The number of chickens varied, normally enough for gathering a few eggs and a provisional dinner on occasion and a watchful bantam rooster who served as a territorial guard dog keeping vigil on his flock.   Shortly after the gun arrived it was noticed that some of the chickens were walking rather strangely, almost lopsided.  Upon closer examination it was discovered that the chickens had ingested BB’s from the target area,  mistaking them as something edible, the BB’s remaining in their crawl, the added  weight realigning their balance.  With the cause exposed, Mike’s dad imposed a new rule,  no more target practice in the backyard, if he wanted to shoot, he would have to go to the hills on the other side of Mountain Blvd..   He did venture one more target opportunity before discontinuing his air gun discharging at home, a well-kept secret,  the open light bulb on the city light mounted on the pole by his house on the corner of Greenly Drive and Shone Ave would now have to be replaced.

Street light on the corner of Greenly Dr. & Shone Ave

  One morning Mike asked Babe his younger neighbor if he wanted to go across Mountain Blvd and shoot targets.  Babe accepting the invitation, the boys headed down Shone, Mike noticing his sister Nancy lingering behind the two.  His younger sister sometimes would accompany him, so he motioned for her to join the two.  Once on the hillside there was plenty of targets , all stationary and readily accessible for judging their shooting  expertise.   Mike knew but better but committed an error in judgement taking aim at a target he didn’t expect to hit, but  did,  his subject dropping from the limb in a tree to the ground.   It was a feeling that he had never experienced before, one of remorse and shame and compounded by his act having been witnessed by others.   Mother Nature’s innocent portrayer of song, a beautiful blue bird was dead.  Solemnly he dug a hole and place the small feather-one in the ground as the others watched in silence.  He vowed to himself,  never to repeat this exploit of despotism on God’s innocuous creations without purpose.

God’s innocuous creation

Young Michael Willson discovered like most youth’s that the adventure in life is about the journey not the destination, that  tomorrow only comes once and  yesterday is gone forever.

5-Speeds-3 Speed Brownie-2 Speed Axle…….#20 (the 50’s)

May 24, 2017

Lumber Truck Delivery

He heard the loud sound of a well-worn muffler expelling its resonant breaking the silence that prevailed in the neighborhood.    What truck would it be? echoed a thought.  The Reo,  the White or maybe the Mack.   It didn’t matter to Mike,  what did matter was Dad fulfilling his promise and was coming by the house to  pick  him up.   Last night he had told his son he would be hauling a load of lumber to Orinda and would  stop by the house so he could ride with him to make the delivery.

The Interbay lumber truck with Mike aboard traveled onto Mountain Blvd.,  heading north for nine miles to the junction with Tunnel Road and the approach to the Caldecott Tunnel.   Looking about the cab of the truck,  the boy saw three operating controls not found in an automobile that made a lasting impressions.   First was the lever fastened above the drivers window,  when pulled,   operated the mechanical turn signal arm mounted on the driver’s side of the cab.  The second noticeable object was a rope with a weighted knob hanging from the roof of the cab.  It operated the air horn.   The third  was three separate gear shifts.   Two gear shifts  mounted in the center of the floorboard,  and one mounted more toward the passenger seat  side.  Mike watched as his Dad double clutched and shifted the non-synchromesh gears,  utilizing the gear shift for the 5 speed.  The other gear shift was called a brownie and had three shift positions.  The positions,  Under,  Direct,  or Over could be used in combination with any of the normal 5 speeds allowing three gear changes  for each speed.   The third lever was a two-speed axle and enable an over/under drive separate from the transmission.   It didn’t take Mike long to understand shifting options and the operating principles of the  truck transmission.

(L – R) 3 speed brownie – 5 speed gear shift – 2 speed axle

The Caldecott Tunnel

For some reason Mike found that even adults like to blow their horn when entering a tunnel.   Sounding a truck’s air horn is even better.   The bellowing sound was engaged as the two travelers passed thru the Caldecott Tunnel.    Orinda was a small rural town like Lafayette, Walnut Creek and others on the way to Martinez.   Driving into this small Hamlet  they located the job site with rows of new tract homes under construction.  His Dad backed the truck in,  placed the 2×4 stickers on the ground for the load to fall on,  loosened the ropes,  maneuvered  forward then shifting into reverse, backing up locking the brakes.  The load neatly rolling of the flatbed and onto the sticker that kept the load  from touching the ground.  The lumber successfully delivered,  with tie-down ropes properly stored,  the twosome embarking for Oakland.

500 series Earth Scraper

Dad never claimed to be a truck driver,  he always referred to himself as a teamster.    Mike was relatively sure his Dad never drove a team of horses,  but what he did discern  was his Dad’s natural ability to  operate any heavy-duty vehicle equipment.   He recalled his Dad speaking of being stationed at Fort Riley Kansas during the second world war and mentioning the twin Cadillac V8 engines that powered the M5 tank he was trained to operate, before advancing to M4 Sherman.    He also recalled his Dad working construction and operating heavy-duty equipment including the Giant Caterpillar 500 Series Earth Scrapers,  his Dad’s skill and talent for operating equipment was very evident to his son.

Home again from his trip to Orinda the boy reasoned,  time spent going somewhere or riding in the truck was of  little any value, but  the companionship and being with his Father was priceless because it was a time just for them.

“It’s Going to Blow Up!”………#21 (the 50’s)

May 22, 2017

1928 GE Frig – replacing the icebox

Would he miss the Ice Box, the Young Boy thought  “Not”.   Emptying the water pan underneath the ice box was part of life.   He was assigned that charge when it was discovered he could shoulder the partial melting remains of a 50lb. chunk of ice, purging the watery remnants out the dining room french doors and off the Shone Ave side porch,    No more sign rituals either,  the act of correctly positioning a sign in the living room window so the 50lb.  number was in the up position,  rather than 25, 75, 100 or the backside turned over reading No Ice.   No more ice man with his leather sheath and ice tongs and no more watching him chisel and reduce the larger blocks of ice to lesser ones,  the fragments left for eager young hands to grasp from the back of the truck.   The Lad witnessing the passing of an era.

transported with ice tongs

It’s place in the window no longer a home

Mike could tell from its appearance that the new addition in reality was old.  It had an emblem above its  door,  displaying a familiar name, General Electric.   A refrigerator was a copious step forward considering the prevailing history of an ice box.   Observing it more closely,  it was very similar to its predecessor,  performing the same function,  but without using a dissipating cooling source.  The refrigeration mechanism was located on the  top and appeared to be a motor encircled with tubing.   The only down side that Mike could see, was that it didn’t make ice and there was no longer a block of ice available for chipping.   The boy knew very little about refrigeration except that recently George Chamberlain, a neighbor who lived behind them had a refrigerator explode,  damaging the kitchen and partially moving the house off  its foundation.  It was Mike’s understanding that  George’s refrigerator was an absorption ammonia gas unit and that had something to do with it.

The school day completed, the Young Man proceeding home from Burckhalter Elementary and upon entering the house discovered his Mother scurrying about moving furniture from the dining room that adjoined the kitchen toward the front of the house, asking  what was going on and why the moving of furniture.  Her reply was,  “It’s going to blow up”,  Mike noticing that his mother was quite upset, asking for explanation.  She immediately began explaining in hurried tones that the refrigerator was making a hissing sound and she was afraid that it was going to blow up, with a reference to the neighbors refrigerator.  Mike ‘s first inclination was to investigate, with his Mother in tow, they entered the kitchen.  She pointed to the top of their recently acquired refrigerator where the large coils were located exclaiming that the noise was come from there. He asked if she had turned it off and she replied that it was off and unplugged.   He politely asked her to step out of the room so he could look and listen for the sound of the impending disaster.   With the room quiet he waited, at first nothing but silence and then a unmistaken hissing sound.

A smug Young Man calling his Mother to return to the kitchen  announcing that he had found the source of the noise and it was not coming from the refrigerator.  Prior to the family acquiring the refrigerator, Mike having opened a mason jar of Grandpa  Marvin’s canned cherries, placing the leftovers  in a newly acquired Tupperware juice container and instead of placing it inside the icebox  he placed the container in the cupboard above the icebox.  The newly acquired refrigerator having replaced the icebox beneath the cupboard,  The youth surmising,  because the refrigerator motor gave off an insurmountable amount of heat whereas the icebox gave off none,  causing the Tupperware enclosed container to heat, the cherries to ferment and the carbon dioxide gas from the fermentation was lifting the container  lid and escaping with a hissing sound.

The Culprit

Mike reasoned that in essence his Mother acted in accordance with her supposition being astute in her vivacity of the circumstances involving the refrigidaire*  (Mike’s mom having a habit of assigning brand names to products, thus all refrigerators were known as refrigidaire’s) and the event also confirmed that Grandpa’s cherries will ferment.

A Summertime Glitter………….#22 (the 50’s)

May 20, 2017

The selection with a ? always a favorite

In the summertime the boy would shed the shrouding of his feet,  even if it meant enduring the pain of a stubbed big toe.   He had contemplated that because the big toe protruded the furthest on the foot absorbing all the blunt damage,  acknowledging the unsaid lesson of going shoeless. He did foster exceptions to  journeying barefoot, especially  while on treks across Mountain Blvd and journeying up towards Skyline or whenever his Mother insisted footwear be worn.

Every Wednesday during the summer months was a matinée day at the Eastmont Theatre on MacArthur Blvd  starting at 11:00 a.m. and for the sum of 20 cents admission.  One would be rewarded with the matinée special feature, a serial, newsreel,  cartoon and then the advertised double feature.  A typical show time Wednesday morning found Mike, his sisters Kay and Nancy, next door neighbors Babe and Sis on their way, their destination the Eastmont about 3/4 hour walking distance.   Up the path at Keller and Greenly Drive to Crest, then over to the Field St. then down the vacant hill to Sunkist and 75th Ave. to MacArthur Blvd.  Mike never asked if any of the others knew this zig zag shorter route to the the theatre at 74th and MacArthur but accepted the responsibility.  Once inside,  Candy was a nickel,  popcorn and fountain drinks ten cents, Mike preferring the candy machine, the candy choices were  different from the ones at the counter,  plus the vending machine had a special selection named Chance.  The Chance designated slot didn’t display a candy bar like the other slots, but displayed a Question Mark and an unknown selection would be dispensed, Mike having a suspicion it was the slot used by the concessionaire for a variety of leftover selections.   The youth for some reason liking the suspense of the unknown even if it was just purchasing a candy bar at the movies.  Another given being Mike and Babe would have no part of sitting with their sisters, meeting them after the show for the walk home.

The Granda - requiring a ride to and from

The Granada – requiring a ride to and from

The Fairfax Theatre at 51 Ave & Foothill Blvd.

The Capitol theatre 58th & Foothill Blvd.








Unlike the adults, Mike and sister when attending a normal feature other than a matinée  never  paid attention to starting times, entering in the middle of a movie,  staying  until they realized that this is where they came in.  Mike’s Dad on weekends would drive them to the Granada on E. 14th,  the Capitol or Fairfax on Foothill,  Mike checking at the ticket window on how long before the double feature started over again so his dad knew what time to return.  There were other east Oakland theaters, the Laurel,  Hopkins,  Foothill, Fruitvale and was aware of the much larger downtown cinemas,  the Grand Lake, Paramount,  T&D and Fox Oakland.  The latter wasn’t in his  Dad’s driving radius when it came to transporting kids to the movie, but he was usually obliging for the others.

An attendance design rather than a learning destination

An attendance design rather than a learning destination

Den Meetings at Gordon’s house on Greenly drive

Mike discovering Cub Scouts wasn’t as exciting or adventurous as his own cavalcades.   Most generally the after school den meetings were drab and dull, even when involving  special  projects, finding the snacks were normally the highlight of the meetings.  This being his  last year of participation he did give some thought to going on into Scouting, but there were two obstacles.  The Scout meeting were in the evenings on Outlook Ave which meant going down 73rd Ave,  a little far to be riding a bike at night.  Mike interest began to change when the Den meetings moved to the basement of  Gordon Grabe’s house at the corner of Greenly Drive and Circle Hill Drive holding something that was of interest. Stationed against the wall was an old player piano and on top of the piano were stacks of boxes containing the perforated music rolls.  The meetings suddenly took on a new light as he called upon himself to provide the group with music,  courtesy of a new-found duet,  himself and the player piano.  Still his interest in scouting was waning, others didn’t realize, Mikes Mother was a proficient Camp Fire Girl sponsored leader, Mike having been talked into helping with many of their outings,  loading  and unload supplies, attending far more adventurous outings than presented by the Cub Scouts.  He did fulfill his cub scouting commitment securing the rank of Den Leader as a Webelos.

His world was in transition,  noticing that an additional  portable building was delivered to the school, but this one was different.  It was a double wide portable,  placed next to the main building, soon discovering It would serve  as a cafeteria.  Analyzing  the portables proximity to the main building, it made sense because of the utility hook-up necessary for it to function.  The days of eating in your room when it rained and spending the lunch time outside on benches on clear days for the most part were over.  No more eating lunch hidden between the portables, but the largest divergence caused by the cafeteria was to the little corner store,  a substantial amount of their business was providing snack addition for sack lunches.  For some reason he was concerned, maybe because many of the before and after school events that were generated there.   Mike watched as the neighborhood began to change, the new home construction on Shone Ave. and Sterling Dr. was finally completed and  to his astonishment, first one boy about his age named Don Bryant and then another, a year old Hank Ball moved in.  The young man reasoned from the events of the summer,  that accumulating knowledge is like collecting stepping-stones, the more you have the further you can go.  He also discerned  from Scouting, it was more of an event than a challenge and for his part more of an attendance design rather than a learning destination.

An Old New Arrival…………….#23 (the 50’s)

May 18, 2017

The family car 37 DeSoto

The  37 Desoto was no longer a member of the family,  in its place taking up residence in front of the house on Greenly Drive was the new family car,  a 1936 Oldsmobile four door sedan.   It was powered by a straight-eight engine,  entertaining more power that it’s six cylinder predecessor,  much heavier,  plus having a very impressionable simulated wood grain dash and complimentary interior.   The demise of the Desoto was predictable,  taking two incidents to resolve the cars nemesis.   The first episode indelibly marked, the family embarked on the long trip north traversing on highway 99 to Yreka,  the soaring summer heat in the Sacramento Valley reaching 105 plus degrees.    With the air-flow vent cranked open,  all windows down and  wind buffeting the interior,  the unimaginable suddenly happened.   The in-rushing cataclysm of air causing a small rent in the headliner to evolve into a large tear.   The headliner began to flail in a torrent  of promptitude,  causing the fabric glue,  which long ago had digressed into powder,  to explicate out from its metal roof entrapment forming  a cloud,  choking and covering everything,   including the occupants.   Continuing on for a short distance,  the boy’s Dad finally stopping and setting about in the removal of the remaining loose headliner.   Mike could tell that the mood of those traveling had changed and to further add to the carnage,  his Mother complained of a shortness of breath.   The boy’s mom looking distressed,  but in the stifling heat so did the rest of the family.   A stop was made in Red Bluff and a brief retreat from the swelter was achieved.   A reassurance from his Mother that she would survive,  enabled  them to continue  traveling to Yreka in the maimed DeSoto.

36 Olds – A car with a “Joey the Jeep” Heart


Beautiful wood grained dash

From the headliner event Mike knew the days of the DeSoto were numbered, not having long to wait for the final deciding factor to seal the fate of the automobile.   The family was returning from an overnight visit to his grandparents in Sebastopol when the handwriting on the wall made its presence known.   Having attained Oakland, just  past the Park Blvd. intersection his dad unexpectedly asking for complete silence and when this was not achieved,  in a stern voice he make the request again.   Everyone was quiet, wondering and waiting for a response from the driver.  The answer soon coming,  a problem in the engine,  his Dad conjecturing that the very slight knocking  resonating from the engine saying it sounded like a rod bearing insert starting to go.    Slowing the car, they continued on in silence, if for some reason it would make a difference, finally achieving their destination,    Later the youth observed as his Dad consulted the Motor’s  Auto  Repair Manuel  for the DeSoto,  his Dad certain of his rationale of the problem and began his labor of repairing the car.    The was car parked on Greenly Dr. in front of the house and for Mike it was the first time his Dad had asked him to help. He watched the ongoing process his job was to hand Dad the necessary tools when  beneath the car  but being observant with a new-found interest, the draining of the oil,  dropping the pan, removing the rod cap that grasp the crankshaft, replacing the bearing insert.  All a new enlightenment, discovering  the mechanical how and why complexity of an engine, their conterminous components, a curiosity fulfilled,  initiated a decision to explore this new-found realm.

The do-it-yourself auto mechanics Home Bible

An unsuspecting pitfall on Shone Ave.

Shone Ave. was a steep road with a 36 inch wide, 24 inch deep open cement culvert that snaked down the incline along the Willson’s  property line, and with no Stop Signs at the intersection of Greenly Dr, its presence having never presented a problem.  A recent decision by the City to place stops  sign on Shone Ave’s steep incline changed all that.   Drivers would stop on the hill,  forgetting to slip the clutch to remain in place, sometimes killing  the engine and while trying to start-up they would frequently roll back not realizing that there was a deep culvert present.  Mike would watch as they attempted to drive out, but with one wheel spinning in the Culvert, there was no traction, the only recourse  was to call a tow truck.  On occasions there was one exception, a 3421 lb. 1936 Oldsmobile, with a 121 x 59 inch wheelbase, having 7.50 x 16″ tires,  a 240 cubic inch engine, the body featuring solid chromium steel bumpers and a logging chain in the trunk that could be used for extricating cars from culverts.

The Boy lost count of the number of people who were thankful there was a 1936 Oldsmobile with a   “Joey the Jeep heart” and a congenial teamster living at the corner of Shone Ave and Greenly Drive.

Apartment Opening……………#24 (the 50’s)

May 16, 2017

Lieutenant Roy Spears & family

Mike and his sisters enjoyed the covenant downstairs portion of the Willson residence as a their room for indoor activities.  Besides the one large room with its outside entrance,  it had a walk-thru kitchenette, with a small gas stove, sink, cupboard and a fold down wall table leading to bathroom consisting of a stool and shower.  The other bathroom door opened into the basement washroom which housed mike’s mother’s wringer washer, concrete double sink and the very steep stairway upstairs opening into the dining room. It was when Mike’s mother introduced him and his sisters to a couple and their two children and that he realized the loss of the downstairs room.  The Spears,  Roy, Polly, Bobby and the youngest, Judy, were a military family, Roy a First Lieutenant in the Army Air Corp and would be leaving on assignment to Okinawa with the family to join him, but the outbreak of the Korean war dictating a change in plans, the family no longer able to join Roy in Okinawa.

Judy, Polly & David

  Polly and the two children remaining in the  downstairs room, now designated as “the apartment”,  her and the kids becoming ‘like part of the family’.  Polly’s prolong stay changed when her friend Dorothy came to visit,  giving notice that her and Dorothy were looking to rent a house in San Francisco.  The moving experience was swiftly completed and to Mike the downstairs was in one respect sadly vacant, but in another way, its status had presented unlimited possibilities.  The Spear family move to San Francisco found the Willsons visiting, Polly who had mentioned that Judy and Bobby really enjoyed the older kids.  During the summer Polly extended an invitation asking Mike if he would mind spending some extended time with Bobby.  Mike looking forward to traveling by bus across the Bay Bridge to the Muni Station in the Transbay Terminal, then boarding the L Taravel Streetcar for the extended ride to the ocean side of San Francisco, disembarking at 42nd street then walking the two blocks to Polly’s house. .

The only way to travel – San Francisco Muni Streetcar

   Polly’s house, unlike his Aunt Alice’s San Francisco house before they moved, came with a majestic view of the ocean. From Bobby’s bedroom window,  one could view the blue pacific, the sunsets, even the ship sailing  to and fro from the Golden Gate.  Foremost, the windows opened wide, enabling the onshore breeze to bring the sounds of the ocean waves breaking on the beach through wind-blown curtains, the atmosphere  providing a heightened sense of adventure.  Another plus was the 6 block proximity to the ocean, Polly and Dorothy not hesitate in exploring the beach with its washed ashore spoils waiting for discovery making the seaside excursions an inevitable treasurer.  Mike’s enjoying his first week long visit but longing to remain longer when his parents appeared.

Auntie Al (as she was affectionately called.)

Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie O’Toole having sold their 538 Garfield St. residence of many years, Mike’s cousins now  both grown having enlisted in the Military, Pat in the Navy and Bud in the Army.   Mike always enjoyed spending time with his Aunt Alice  at the Garfield St. residence provided many lasting memories. From the Garfield house he could hear the roar of the lions at Fleishhacker Zoo at feeding time and his Aunt a non driver as was his Uncle Charlie would  venture on the Muni to Golden Gate Park,  downtown to the theater, acquaint the blue pacific, wading in the surf across from Playland at the beach Mike and his aunt having the opportunity to see the first 3-d movie,  Bwana Devil.

East portal entrance to the Twin Peaks Tunnel

  These moments would always be retained as lasting picture of a caring fostering  Aunt.  The change in lifestyle having taking a toll on his Aunt and Uncle, their current residence an apartment in an unsightly neighborhood on Castro Street two blocks south of Market St. and the entrance to the east portal of the Twin Peaks Tunnel.   The Castro street abide was a rear apartment on the second floor of a very old building which hosted a variety of  characters including  a elderly man on the first floor,  a resident who had an extrinsic notion of the exploits of Christopher Columbus especial when abiding with an excess amount of “vino”.   Aunt Alice always  characterized the neighbor as   “1492”,   because he frequently mentioned that year in his long loud dissertations in his Italian accented broken English.

Best Pinochle hand - a double run

Best Pinochle hand – a double run

Something was amiss, Saturday afternoon Mike was asked to join his Dad, the two journeying across the bay to the Castro Street address of his Aunt and Uncle.  Mike having overheard a discussion between his mom and dad that his aunt and uncle’s phone had been disconnected and they were being evicted and with Uncle Charlie was still unemployed their life was in total disarray.  Mike was surprised when his dad didn’t ask his aunt and uncle but told them they were going to stay with us in the downstairs apartment until they could get their situation organized.  Mike realizing he would have to set aside his aspirations of moving from his small upstairs room to the vacant  apartment.  With their arrival  he discovered a side of his Uncle Charlie that he never knew existed, for the first time his uncle actually had a conversation with him.  Mike finding he enjoyed his company, discovering that he was an amazing card player,  demonstrating many slide of hand tricks and introducing the youth to the game of Pinochle.  The boy spending many hours playing the challenging three-handed version with his aunt and uncle.  As months progressed Mike could sense a conflict between his parents and his aunt and uncle, Alice and Charlie making no effort to find work or change their ongoing  status. Words were finally exchanged, suitcases packed, the couple announcing their son Pat who was stationed in the navy down south arranged for them to move to Anaheim.  Mike having mixed feelings, he would missed them,  but now the apartment would once again be vacant, opening the opportunity to convince his parents about moving downstairs.



Diminutive to Capacious……..#25 (the 50’s)

May 14, 2017

The fog rolling off the hills

The new downstairs accommodation having been vacant for what seemed like an eternity since aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie had moved out.  The inevitable question being put forth, the request having  been made many times in the past, his parents answer always the same,  NO.    This time  Gary was prepared with a litany of affirmative reason to present his case,  but all was unnecessary,  this time the answer was.  YES!  The downstairs  rooms, better known as the apartment,  would forthwith be known as Gary’s  Room.

At the age of 13 Gary discovering life could be a paradox,  exuberant and remorseful,   conjecture vs procrastination and from diminutive to capacious.   The ambiguities in life were characterized by changes,  having been demonstrated with the procurement of his new domicile in the family household downstairs.   Gone would be the ambiance of his old small  8 x 10 cubicle of a room adjoining the kitchen with its morning vista, the fog rolling off the hills and the damp fragrance of new cut wheat traversing through the open window.   Also gone would be the tranquility enveloping the room at night with the effervescent glow of a full moon casting its efflorescence on the wall.    The morning aroma accompanied with the crackling sound of bacon frying, the bustle of his Mother in the kitchen preparing his Dad’s breakfast, the event no longer a prerequisite for the start of a school day.

There were two entrances to the downstairs, one through an upstairs dining room door leading down thru the basement laundry room, entering through a bathroom and kitchenette.  The other means of entrance was the an outside door that provided an entrance from the backyard.   Gary realized it would take some time to reconcile that he was no long a full-time segment of the enduring habitants presiding upstairs.  A display of independent accountability provided a sense of  propriety and with it a discussion about him moving back upstairs coming to closure.   The room granted the young man much of what he couldn’t attain upstairs, but also ordained more responsibility.   It provide an island of solitude where he could read, listen to his music and have the room to work on project without family interruptions.   It provided a station where he could entreat his friend, even if for only  a short period.   The outside entrance gave him a prestigious feeling that he could access and depart  without notifications,  but because of the veneration instilled by parents these were just entertaining thoughts not ready to come to fruition.

Gary found the freedom from the distractions upstairs could also be somewhat disdaining,  acquiring a sense of  waning family closeness but deciding it was because of  youthful maturity and his diversity of activities and interest,  not because of his downstairs severance.   He was a visual example of the individuality developing within the family and concluded it normal as sibling aged,  and reasoned he was not alone in this thoughts.    Reality was present, it wasn’t families influence but the discovery of a new sphere of acquaintances and the reflection of their interest that would  kindle his ambition and  accord an effulgence to the  future.