I noticed in passing yesterday that the 44th anniversary of my leaving the Masonic Home for Children (located in Covina, California) had recently come and gone… unusual for me in that every year I note the day as it happens.
I guess the truth is this year life has been overtaken by events and, all things considered, the anniversary was just another day. Reawakened to the anniversary and events of that time, I can’t help but be reminded of when I first learned of the Home and that we (Sis and I) would become residents. It was back in the early summer of ’62 when Sis walked up to me and said, “We’re shipping out“.
Uh oh. “We’re shipping out.”
I grew up in the American generation of John Wayne / war movies where that phrase meant you were going somewhere… and it probably wasn’t gonna be fun, either.
That took me by surprise because we’d been living in Downey at our Aunt and Uncle’s house for the past couple of months and – except for me wetting the sleeping bag every night and complaining that all I got for breakfast was buttered toast and hot chocolate – things seemed to have been going pretty well. Guess not.
Due to unfortunate family circumstances, Sis and I had been in a pretty constant state of “musical chairs, housing edition” since the previous summer when my father sold our house in Lakewood and we’d moved to Washington state where there was plenty of work for welders like pop. Before Downey, we’d been living at our Grandmother’s house for a couple of months… where we’d come from living in a rental house with no furniture in Washington for the previous couple of months. And now, right about on time, the “time to pack up and move again” train was coming into the station and somebody had bought our tickets for us.
“What do you mean ‘We’re shipping out?’ “I said to Cris.
Turns out (fill in appropriate Sissy-designated nickname for our Aunt) her four – or was it five? – children was enough to handle… not to mention the pleasure of hanging out my sleeping bag to dry every day and feeding two more mouths at the table. (As an adult, I completely understand the issues she and her family were dealing with, btw.)
“Yup, we’re going to some home for kids. I hear it’s nice but how nice can it be – it’s a home for kids?!”
Great. First, we left out house in Lakewood. Then the place in Washington. Then Grandma and Grandpa’s (I have some real horror stories from that little goat-rodeo… and some wonderful memories of Grandma and me 🙂 Then Aunt and Uncle’s. And now some children’s home.
I don’t recall being told anything more about “the home” until later in the week when Aunt and Uncle mentioned it to us and said we’d be visiting the home “pretty soon”. “Pretty soon” was kinda like “maybe” except in this case, it meant “as soon as we can arrange it so don’t think we’re going to forget it… like we did about going to Disneyland or getting that bike we talked about.”
Nope, “pretty soon” meant “Your ass is outta here as soon as they’ll take you. And if they won’t take you, well, don’t make us go there.” That campground we lived in when we first got to Washington was looking pretty good at that moment.
Sure enough, “pretty soon” was pretty soon and before you know it, we were driving through the big iron gates of the Masonic Home for Children where some really nice folks in really nice clothes with really nice manners greeted us in the front lobby of the Administration Building. Dayaaaam, last time I was in a building this big and nice it was for a custody hearing and I was sweating like a pig at a bbq. Not this time, though… this place had a nice feel to it. And the kids that I saw looked pretty happy, so unless they were already “taken” by aliens, maybe this “home” place wasn’t so bad.
No sense in rushing to judgement, though, so I put on my nicest Opie’s-going-home smile and off we went for a tour of the place.
(To be continued…)