Chapter 1952, age 9-10

Themes and Events:
• The first successful open heart surgery was performed at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
• The first full scale Hydrogen Bomb in history is exploded by the U.S.A. at Eniwetok Atoll in the
South Pacific.
• The first pocket size transistor radios are introduced –by the Japanese.
• This was the first year in seventy one years that there were no lynchings in the United States.

Moving to far away California
Soon after the end of the 1951-52 school year, Mom and Dad stored our household furniture in the barn at Grandma and Grandpa Glen and Elsie’s farm and we drove across country to Los Angeles, California.  Lockheed or McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation was hiring to fill an airplane manufacturing contract and Dad was looking for a better paying job.

We rented a very  small, furnished, one story, unattached bungalow apartment in a sun baked, dusty court of about a half dozen apartments. The bungalows were owned by Mr. Brodrick Crawford who was the gruff speaking and  popular star of the weekly television series, “Highway Patrol”.
Our bungalow consisted of essentially three rooms:  a small kitchen, front room and  bedroom, and of course a bathroom.  In the front room were two couches that opened into twin size beds. The couches were separated by a small end table with a lamp on top.  Mom and Dad slept in the bedroom, while Linda and I slept in the front room on the fold out beds. (Above image: Hollywood Freeway 1952)

These apartments were located immediately south of a major airport that was undergoing extensive construction.  I’m not sure, but think it was probably the Los Angeles International Airport.  Several times, after the  workers had gone home for the day, some of us children who lived in the court would walked over to the construction area and play.  It was particularly exciting exploring the long dark subterranean, concrete tunnels that were being built. I suppose when the project was finished, these “tunnels” were concourses from the main terminal to the individual airline boarding areas.

 Night of the Unidentified Flying Objects
A very interesting phenomena occurred one evening during the summer of 1952.  It wasn’t long before bedtime, the family was sitting listening to the radio, when suddenly a nationwide news story interrupted local programming.  Several saucer shaped, “Unidentified Flying Objects” had been detected on radar near Washington, DC.  Over the next hour or so, we sat nervously listening to the radio.  Live radio coverage continued to fill the airwaves regarding the spectacular and
disturbing effect. A small group of UFOs flew to Washington and hovered high over the White House.  People in the streets saw strange lights in the sky that zigzagged one moment and hovered motionless the next.
Commercial and military radar followed the movement of these night sky visitors.
Occasionally a UFO would accelerate and almost instantly fly off the radar screen. Then one or two others would be seen crossing the radar screen at great speed to join the small main body of craft above or near Washington D.C.

The radio announcers’ voices were excited, there was occasional confusion as they tried to figure out what was going on.  We sat silently looking at the radio, aghast at the implications, listening intently.

Several jet fighters were scrambled from a nearby Airforce Base (Patterson, NJ?) to intercept and investigate the U.F.O.s.  As the military aircraft approached Washington D.C., the UFOs began to move away. The jets accelerated inorder to over take the retreating glowing lights, but the U.F.O.s dodged and zipped away at right angles to their previous flight paths. Finally, in an incredible burst of speed, the U.F.O.s climbed high in the sky and whisked out of sight, then off the radar screens… and they were gone. The phenomena was headlines in nationwide newspapers for several days.

(Internet images, 1952: Above, UFO’s over capitol building. Below, radar images, UFO’s over Washington DC.)

There were 3 nights of intense activity over Washington, D.C. On July 19/20, July 26/27 and August 2/3, the skies above the nation’s capital were crowded with UFOs darting here and there, over the White House, over the Capitol Building, over the Pentagon.

They were seen from the ground, seen and also detected on radar from control towers at Washington National Airport, Bolling Air Force Base across the Potomac River, and from nearby Andrews Air Force Base. The radar operators conferred by telephone to ensure they were tracking the same targets. In many cases, airline pilots flying in the area were able to provide visual confirmation of radar  tracking.

The appearance of unidentified objects flying with impunity over the heart of the American government and its military establishment was embarrassing to the Department of Defense, whose responsibility it was to protect the country from airborne intrusion. A flood of questions from reporters led the U.S. Air Force to call its biggest, but also most embarrassed and confused press conference since World War II.“
A few years later the Soviet Union and United States began a new form of rivalry, the “Space Race”.

Moving back to the rural Coloma farm
Toward the end of summer a lot of workers, including Dad, were laid off at the aircraft factory.  I don’t think Dad looked for another job in California, we just packed our few belongings and drove back to Michigan.
It had been interesting living in dusty, arid California, but I was glad to be going back to Michigan where my relatives lived.
(Photograph: Front of farm house. In 1952, my bedroom with Grandpa Glen was inside of the
smaller facing windows upstairs at the left side of the house. I fell asleep every night, looking out over the countryside from the small window just to the right of the fireplace chimney.)

For the next six months or so, our family lived with Grandma and Grandpa Pierce on their farm near Coloma.
The farm was the best place I ever lived as a child. There was so much to explore and do. It was a place to hunt the imaginary Mastodon, it was the home of the dangerous Saber Toothed Tiger, it was a place of fun and fantasy, it was a place to grow.

When we moved into the large, remodeled three story farm house, Mom and Dad were given a furnished upstairs bedroom, which incidentally was normally Grandpa’s bedroom. I slept across the hall in the guest bedroom with Grandpa. The guest bedroom had a large, steel tubing, double bed against the wall. Right near the head of the bed was a small window that looked out over the front yard. I slept next to the window each night going to sleep whilst watching summer give way to fall and fall to winter.

(Photograph: Backside of farm house, ca 1945 The back of  the G.K. Pierce farm house as seen from along the driveway, near the chicken coop. The back door was the most frequently used door as the cars were mostly parked by the near by barn, left rear of photograph.)

My sister, Linda, slept down stairs with Grandma, on her large wood framed, double bed. Grandmother’s bedroom was inside the two windows seen at the center of the lower level. Of course at Linda’s and my age, we  were always asleep by the time the adults came to bed. Being asleep ahead of time was desirable in Grandpa’s case, because he snored quite loudly, making it difficult for anyone to go back to sleep once awakened.

 The Shafer side of my family
We didn’t visit my Mother’s side of the family very often and I don’t know why. Up until the early 1950s, about the only contact we had with the Shafer side was to visit my maternal Grandpa, Pearl Shafer.  Very seldom did we ever visit the Shafer’s and very seldom were we ever visited by them.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, we lived only a few miles away, between a fifteen and thirty minute drive  from my Shafer Aunts and Uncles, and Grandpa Pearl Shafer’s farm.
We saw Grandpa Shafer more frequently than all my Shafer uncle’s families and other relatives from that side, all put together; too bad, it was an opportunity for a lifetime of contact that has been lost.

(Photo left: 1942, Pearl Elmer Shafer and Alma Delight Kellogg Shafer visiting my parents in Brookfield, holding me when I was 3-4 months old.)

Grandpa Shafer occasionally came to visit us.  The visits were short, lasting only a couple of hours at a time. Usually, my Dad was at work when Grandpa Shafer visited. There was no animosity between Mom’s father and my Dad, I think Grandpa Shafer just didn’t get up and about until later in the day and that’s when he visited.  He would sit at our big, round wooden dining room table and chat with Mom, occasionally stopping to play rough house with Linda or myself.

While we lived in Michigan we visited my Shafer uncles and their families perhaps two or three times and that’s about all they visited us.  As time passed, correspondence between these people and my parents diminished, becoming basically nonexistent after 1953. The only person Mom seems to have kept in touch with over the years, was her nephew, Duane.  I don’t know why the relationships were allowed to dissolve, but as a guess: The Shafer’s were high school educated people with a non too affleuent farming history. My paternal side of the family were all college educated, except for my Dad, who at the time had finished two years of college. The Shafer’s had been rural farmers during the 1800s, while my dad’s family and the Grubb family had been teacher, professor, small businessman, a railroad station agent, large land owning farmers, and much more urban in outlook.

The slowly dissolving relationship with the Shafer side of the family can be seen earlier in this autobiography:  Right after my birth, Grandma Alma Shafer came to Illinois for a week to help her daughter, my Mother, with the household chores.  Not long after this, Mom took me on a trip to Michigan.
Together with her sister in law, Aileen, we greeted Mom’s brother, Harry Shafer, who was just returning home from World War II, England.  Also, during the first couple years of my life, I received quite a few Christmas and birthday presents from the combined Shafer family.  By 1952 the Christmas present exchanges had dwindled to zero.
Although I was way too young to understand such things at the time, the exchange of presents is a good indicator of shared feeling and felt obligation.

What ever socialization was lost on the Shafer side was certainly made up for on my paternal side of the family.  While we lived in Coloma, our family visited Glen and Elsie’s retirement farm almost every weekend. It was a great place to play, and did I ever play hard there!

Memories from the Pearl  and Alma Shafer farm
While Glen and Elsie, my paternal grandparents, had been college educated, professional people during their working years and retired to a ‘hobby farm’, my Shafer granparents Pearl and Alma, were full time, life long farmers with at most, only high school educations.
My Dad’s family had a small 15 acre fruit farm for retirement income, the Shafer’s a 40 to 80 acre fruit farm. Glen being an engineer, designed and remodeled their large old farmhouse. Pearl built a one story board home with tar paper siding immediately next to that of his Kellogg inlaws (literally, a dozen yards away).

Everything about the Shafer farm seemed old, and used, there was not with the same feeling  of prosperity, neatness and detail encountered at Glen and Elsie’s farm.

The included photographs, show a partial portrait of the farm’s home and yard.

The Shafer’s were a hard working family. Grandpa, Pearl, an easy going man, worked the large fruit farm and had a seasonal fruit picking crew of southern workers billeted in several ramshackle  cottages near the barn.  I might point out here that Grandpa Pearl’s mother was Elsie Easton, daughter of Pulaski Easton the California Gold Rush ’49er I’ve written a story about in category, My Family in History.
Grandma Alma who was probably the more organized and efficient of the two, was for many years,  supervisor in a  factory.
(Photo above: My mother, Hazel, age 3-4  years, ca. 1924, she is standing at the corner of a drive-in corn shed, also seen in the 1941 photograph below. Below: 1941, my mother’s cousin, Duane seated in the Shafer farm yard.)

In 1946, Grandma, Alma Delight (Kellogg) Shafer, suffered a fatal stroke while attending a movie in Hartford, with husband Pearl, and grandson, Alan. Alma died a few days later at the age of fifty six years. Grandfather, Pearl Shafer, continued living alone on the family farm until his death fourteen years later.

I remember Grandpa, Pearl Shafer, and can easily recall his image.  My memory of him comes from my childhood, when I was between the ages of about four to eight years old. In these memories: “Grandpa is always wearing faded coveralls. He never seems to be in a hurry, he walks slow, moves slow and talks slow. I think he spends a lot of time sitting at his cluttered kitchen table, also watching television. I know he likes watching the Red Skeleton Show, infact I think he looks a little like Red Skeleton. Grandpa likes to raise bees. He has lots of bee hives and never gets stung. I’m afraid of bees. Grandpa is a good person, cheerful and friendly, but I don’t like to get too close to him. Although Grandpa likes me, he has a funny way of showing it, everytime I come near him, he pinches me or pulls my ears. Both hurt. Grandpa can sit still, smile and wiggle one or both his ears.”

My paternal grandparents: Glen and Elsie Pierce
Although my father was the youngest of three sons, I was the first grandchild born to Glen and Elsie.  Being the first grandchild put me in somewhat of a special relationship with Grandma.  From my earliest memory, Grandma Elsie and I were true blue buddies.  Grandma spared no effort to spoil me and she stood up for me whether I was right or wrong.  I loved Grandma as long as she lived, and after.  When she aged, and was alone there were times we leaned on each other for support.  As I write these words, it’s been decades since her passing, yet tears well up in my eyes at the thought of her.  I loved Grandmother Elsie (Grubb) very much, she has been one of my closest friends in this life.

Grandma Elsie (Grubb) taught school, had been Principal of a small school and raised three sons in her younger years.  Since retiring to the fruit farm, she  was busier than ever..  During the 1940s and ’50s, she kept a large house, maintained three large gardens, did lots and lots of fruit and vegetable canning, helped sort and pack the farms fruit, raised chickens and sold eggs.
Grandma was smart and clever.  She had a tendency to be pushy and if pushed, she got mad, fast.  She was never mad or pushy at me, Grandma and I were pals. (Photo right: Elsie Grubb, abt 45 yo, ca. 1934).

I’ve heard from my Dad that when he was a boy, on occasion when Grandma got really mad the family would duck and the dishes would fly.  Once she broke a dish over her middle son, Jack’s head for not being apologetic enough for arriving home late for supper.

The combination of her being smart, clever, a little pushy and aggressive worked out for the good, when it came to selling fruit farm’s product.  I recall taking several trips with Grandma and Grandpa, in their 2- 1/2 ton truck, to a large open fruit market in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  On such occasions the truck was loaded with either: bushels of apples, pears, plumbs or peaches; some of which I helped pick , grade and pack.

The market was an interesting place, with many dozens of truck of all different sizes parked in rows separated by driving lanes.  There were lots of farmers and ‘purchasing agents’ walking about, calling to one another,  and climbing on the trucks to inspect produce.

While at the market, I stayed with Grandpa, either sitting in the cab of the truck, or atop the stacked bushel baskets on the flatbed.  Meanwhile, Grandma went to find a buyer and ‘horse trade’.  She had a knack for trading and always seemed to get a little better price than Grandpa.  There were always a few bushels with the very best of their crop placed right at the back of the truck, within easy reach of the buyers.

Before the buyers arrived to make their inspection and purchase offer, I was instructed to be readily available on the back of the truck.  If a buyer asked to have the top of a bushel basket removed for inspection, I would innocently take the top off one containing their best produce and quickly hand out several of the largest, shiniest best apples for inspection.  Once the produce had been inspected and a price worked out, we were given a ‘dock number’, where the produce was to be taken for unloading by the workers.

Although Grandma was a bit outspoken and aggressive, this trait was counter balance by her being generous with her family.

Elsie wasn’t as organized or as fastidious as her husband, Glen.  Her bed was never really well made and her dresser was a study in disorganization. Opening one of her dresser drawers was like opening a ‘jack in the box’ toy.  Items of clothing were stuffed into the drawers so that each drawers contents were under compression.  When a drawer was tugged open, thus releasing the pressure, clothes fairly popped up and out, making it difficult to reclose the drawer.  Although Grandma had cluttered drawers and a overstuffed closet filled to the brim with clothing and women’s hats, the large farm house was always clean and orderly.

Grandpa, Glen Kenyon Pierce was a tall, quiet, educated and easy going man.
Although he was  organized and excellent at planning detail, he was not fussy. Grandpa was not nearly as outgoing as Grandma and he tended to be a little aloof.  I think Glen and I share a common faculty, in that we both live more within a world of ideas, being perhaps a bit more introverted than the women in our lives.
 I must have taken after Glen in other respects too, because I am neat and orderly, clothing in my dresser drawers are always folded and organized in batches.  Whereas Elise’s’ clothes  closet and dresser were packed to capacity with clothes, Glen was rather  Spartan.  In his closet, suits and work  clothes were hung nicely and spaced.
His dresser drawers were only half filled and his clothes,  appropriately folded.  Everything seemed to have a place and everything was in its place. Grandpa was neat. Grandma was relatively messy when it came to such things.  My own dresser is filled to capacity with clothing, but everything is organized, creating a composite of  my grandparents traits.
(Photo left: Glen Kenyon Pierce, abt 53 yo, ca. 1940)

For as long as I can remember, Glen and Elsie slept in separate bedrooms.  At the farm, Elsie slept on the main floor, in a bedroom that overlooked the farm yard, facing north.  Glen slept up stairs toward the back of the house, his windows overlooking the south and west orchards, except while we lived at the far, then Grandpas and I took the upstairs East facing bedroom.

Unlike my parents, I don’t recall seeing my Grandparents openly display affection for one another.  I should point out that by the time I was ten  years old and old enough to really know my paternal Grandparents, Glen was already sixty five  and Elsie, sixty three years old.  Glen and Elsie were born during the Victorian times of the late 1880s, a period when virtue and appearances were very important.  They were products of an era when public displays of affection were not considered
proper.

Glen was a Bell Telephone Long Distance Telephony eresearch engineer and later an Engineering teacher.  He personally remodeled their farm house’s interior and exterior.  He installed indoor plumbing, remodeled the large old barn, built a chicken coop, planted peach and apple orchards, designed and built a large mechanical apple sorter.  Glen was a tall quiet man who spent a lot of time working alone. He knew what he was doing and when he was done you could see his work was professional. It didn’t matter what he was involved with, whether it was planting acres of orchard, moving the produce to market, designing architectural modifications to the house, electrical work, or plumbing, he was good at it all.  That’s not to say he did everything himself by hand. He hired work crews and machinery as was required. He was a modern engineer in his time, using the equipment available in that time.

ClymerElementary School
During the fall of 1952, after our return from California, Linda and I were enrolled at Clymer  Elementary  School. The small, rural school was located about one mile NNE of my Grandparents farm, on Clymer Road, in the southeast corner of an intersection. The two room building sat in the country, surrounded by cornfields on two sides.
It had First to Fourth Grade classes in one room and Fifth to Eighth Grade classes in the other.  In terms of student numbers, I seem to recall there being twenty five to thirty children in each room.  The building had a two room basement. In one room was located its furnace and coal room, while the other basement room was occasionally used  to show educational movies.

Each class room had one teacher who tried to spread her time as equally as possible amongst the four grade levels in her charge.  From what I recall, this method of teaching wasn’t conductive to a real learning experience.  The teachers presented new materials or problems to one grade, while the other grades worked on their own arithmetic, spelling or reading. After 15 or 20 minutes she would move to the next grade level and pick up where she left off. When the teacher’s attention was occupied working with the kids in one grade level, many kids in the other grades would eventually finish their work then sit looking absentmindedly around, drawing pictures, whisper or half heartedly working on other assignments.

The school bus route came past the farm on the final leg of its journey to school. Fortunately, Linda and I only had a five minute ride going to school. The trip home was terrible, because the driver followed the same route in the afternoon as he did in the morning; the first kids on in the morning were the first ones off at night. Although we had a five minute ride to school, it took us forty five minutes to get home.  Consequently, Linda and I walked home more often than we rode the bus.
Winter afternoons in southwestern Michigan weren’t usually very cold, so except on stormy days, we preferred to walk home, arriving back at the farm a half hour before the bus passed.

Early recollections of  television
During 1949 or 1950, my grandparents bought a television[1].  They were the first ones I  knew to have a television, so we enjoyed watching the programs everytime we visited the farm.  During the fall and winter of 1952, while we lived on the farm, I found  thrills every Saturday morning watching Tom Corbet- Space Cadet[2] and Space Patrol (with Commander Buzz Corey) Other particularly important TV programs for a boy my age were The Roy Rogers Show[3] and Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, Howdy Doody, and The Lone Ranger.

When my Grandparents and parents watched TV, they preferred: The Jack Benny Program, You Asked For It, You Bet Your Life (with Groucho Marx), I’ve Got A Secret, and The Liberace Show.

Usually, on Saturday morning  the adults were busy: The men were either at their jobs or working about on the farm, the women were involved with cooking, dishes, grocery shopping or light farm work. Linda usually tagged along with my Mom, so I had frequently had the television to myself.

Internet images of the TV programs I watched during the early 1950s:
Left to right: Roy Rogers and horse Trigger;
The Lone Ranger and his horse, Silver;
Hopalong Cassidy and Topper,
and best of all, Tom Corbett , Space Cadet (standing center)

One Saturday morning, I saw the strangest thing imaginable during a commercial break! Considering all the TV programs available during the early 1950s, we saw very few Negroes, essentially all the actors were ‘Anglo’.  Once in a great while, you’d see a Negro in a program, but when you did, they were always portrayed as happy go lucky, lazy, lapsidasical, and perhaps cute. They all spoke with a strong Southern accent and were frequently dressed in ragged, tattered clothing.  Negro roles included: slaves; unemployed agricultural laborers;  friendly, smiling, comical, and sometimes musically oriented servants.

Until that day, I’d never seen a Negro make a commercial.  Lo and behold!  A well dressed Colored man was shown walking up the concrete or marble entry stairs to his East Coast style brown stone house.  As he casually came up the steps, all dressed so fine and dandy, like a well to do middle class White, he paused momentarily, smiled and spoke directly to the viewing audience.  The Negro admonished us to buy Pepsodent  toothpaste.  Even as an eleven year old,  I understood that this was not the way things were done, it almost making my eyes pop out!
After that, “black and white” TV took on a whole new meaning.

By 1995, some forty three years later there are several ‘all Black’ TV situation comedies and others programs with jerky acting, ‘token’ white people filling the roles  once reserved only for Blacks.  Most current commercials are Black and working class oriented. State & local TV news now feature Black on Black homicide, or Black drug arrests with essentially every scheduled broadcast.

Television use to be a middle class gadget, now its geared to and produced for the lower classes.  For the most part, during the current 1990 to 1995 period, weekly programming consists of: situation comedies, nearly continuous sports events, police and hospital dramas, daytime soap operas, children’s cartoons, biased national and international news, program and movie reruns, and infomercials (half hour long sales pitches in a news style or testimonial format).

Elsie’s gardens, canning, cooking
Grandma Elsie, maintained three large vegetable gardens on the ‘retirement farm’ where she grew the full range of common vegetables. Grandpa used the tractor, plow, discs and harrow to roughly prepare the soil every spring, after which Grandma did the planting and weeding. Although the gardens were never named, I’ll name them here for sake of description.

The largest of her gardens
was North garden (see G1 in drawing below), located between the house and the barn. North garden was approximately seventy feet wide and one hundred fifty  feet long. It was bordered on one side by the driveway and on the other by a  tractor trail that ran from the barn, past the homes back door and on south out to the orchards. This garden was only partially planted every year yet it contained huge quantities of tomato, cucumber and various squash. The chicken coop was only about a hundred feet from the North garden, so white and reddish brown chickens could always be found rutting around amongst the plants looking for bugs and pecking the ripe tomatoes.

The second garden, South garden (see G2 in drawing, where Grandma Elsie was working at the time of her 1940s photograph), was located just south  of the house, beyond a ten foot high or taller, hedge of honeysuckle bushes. It was roughly a square, or about twenty five to thirty feet wide and as long, and partially planted to vegetables (including rhubarb) and several ornamental bushes. South garden sat beside the previously mentioned tractor trail. In one corner of the garden was an old two hole outhouse, which was only conservatively used by the male  grandchildren.  South garden was used to raise such perennials as rhubarb and gooseberries, also peas and string beans.

The third garden, Long garden (G3),  ran south beside and parallel to Spring Hill Road. It was located only about a fifty feet from South garden and only a short walk from the home’s front door.  It was a long narrow patch of ground being about twelve feet wide and about one hundred feet long.  Long garden was planted to row crops such as different varieties of carrots, lettuce and beets. There was so much produce from these gardens they were only partially  harvested for consumption and canning.
Besides Grandma’s gardens, Grandpa had two small areas under cultivation, each being perhaps a half acre in size. West of the house, downhill and near the woods, was a small cornfield. About six hundred feet south of the house, in the middle width of the farm, was a small field of potatoes. (Photo ca. late 1940s,  Grandmother Elsie working in her ‘south garden’. ‘Long garden’ is just beyond trees behind her.)

Grandma did a lot of canning. One section of the basement wall had five foot high shelves running along it. The shelves were packed with glass jars filled with her tasty canned jams and jellies, various vegetables, vegetable mixtures, relish, many types of canned fruit, pickles and chicken.

Grandma made pies quite often, and when she did, she made a several at a time. It seemed there was almost always either an apple, pumpkin, rhubarb or mincemeat pie, partially eaten and waiting for sampling in the refrigerator. I particularly liked her apple pies with their thick crust and sweet apple contents. After baking apple pies, Grandma would apply a liberal sprinkling of granulated white sugar to the top of the golden brown crust.
To my young palate, her pies were the golden gilt on the lily.

As great as Grandma Pierce was at canning and baking, for some unfathomable reason, when it came to breakfast, she never got the hang of making a good plate of bacon and eggs. Perhaps she spent too long making a tall pile of toast, squeezing fresh orange juice, pouring the milk or setting the table — all while the eggs and bacon sat in their skillets frying. All I remember is that her eggs were always cooked to a leathery consistency and the thick, slab cut bacon was almost always overcooked and burned.

What ever was lost at breakfast, was made up for at lunch. Grandma always had either homemade soup, crackers and cheese or a tasty sandwich’s of one sort or another. Her supper meals were also tasty, hearty and robust, often containing chicken or pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, string beans or corn, white bread, and for us kids, whole milk.

Introducing the rest of the  family
During those years (ca 1946-1952) that we lived in Coloma and then on the farm, my entire paternal side of the family would gather for holidays, some birthdays and less frequently on weekends. By 1952 the family consisted of Grandmother Elsie, age sixty three years and Grandfather Glen, sixty five years,  their three sons, their son’s wives and six grandchildren.

The eldest of my grandparents son’s was Uncle Bill (William Glen Pierce, born 1914, age thirty eight in 1952) and his wife Aunt Elizabeth (Hubble), also thirty eight years  old. Bill was an mechanical engineer, a serious sort of fellow and the last of the three son’s to marry. His eldest son, Richard, was one year younger than myself, while their daughter, Margaret, was the youngest of the grandchildren,  born in 1948.

Uncle Bill and I began writing to one another after I left home and joined the Army.  We maintained close contact with each other for over thirty five years and were in many ways closer than my own father and I.

The middle son, was good natured, Jack (Jack Pershing Pierce, born 1918, age thirty four in 1952).  Jack married Julie (Wilkinson). Their sons were, Jack Jr. at the time called, ‘Jacky’, who was two years younger than I, and son Robert Charles, or ‘Bobby’, as he was called in those days, born in 1947.

My Dad, born 1920, age thirty two,  and Mother, Hazel May (Shafer), born 1921,  were the first married of the three son’s, while I was the first born of the grandchildren, being born in 1942,  my sister, Linda was born in 1946.

Family “get togethers” at the farm
In 1952, during the family get together’s, we grandchildren were naturally segregated by age into two groups: 1) the “Big Kids” – including myself, 10; Richard, 9; and Jacky 8;  the “Little Kids” – Linda, 6; Bobby, 5; and Margaret, 4 years old.

These were exciting times for we grandchildren. There were buildings to explore and play in, there were woods and ravines to explore, a stream, “Tarzan vines” to swing on. The twenty acre farm was a place for kids to run absolutely wild – and we did.

At family get togethers, the “Little Kids”, looking for fun and direction to their activities, wanted to tag along where ever we oldsters went. This always developed into a game of “Ditch the Little Kids”.  We’d run away and hide, or try to hide, from our younger siblings, so the game immediately became a sort of Hide and Go Seek.  If the youngsters gave up on us and found themselves something to do, we’d reignite their interest and the chase.  We’d climb about amongst the fruit crates on one side of  the barns split loft, then climb and tumble amongst hay and straw bales in the other half of the loft. We’d slide down the hay chute into the bottom level of the barn where the cow and pigs lived. We ran through the woods around the barn, ducking our way past bushes that bordered one of Grandma’s gardens and sneak up to the house. Steal through the house so as not to upset or cause suspicion amongst our parents then hurry down the back steps into the basement.

As we ran wild and carefree, we’d occasionally sneak into the chest freezer that set beneath the basement stairs. In the freezer was always stored four or more half gallon cartons of variously flavored ice-cream, i.e. vanilla, chocolate, an off flavor and Neapolitan. We made sure there were always several large spoons stuck in amongst the cartons.

On occasion, Grandpa would make a batch of homemade ice-cream for the family. We kids learned fast to keep a check on the ice cream’s progress as Grandpa turned the crank on the icecream maker.  Shortly after the ice-cream had thickened and he’d returned upstairs to visit, we “Big Kids” and occasionally the “Little Kids” would pry the lid off the freezing cylinder and sample the sweet goodness.

On these big family get-togethers, the adults always stayed in the house. The women could usually be found in Grandma’s kitchen, sitting around the kitchen table, leaning against the counters chatting and helping prepare meals. The men sat about in the front room chatting while watching baseball, football or what ever sports event that happened to be on TV.
Of course, we children always were outdoors playing, except for meal times and when it became too dark to see.

Grandkid construction projects
Over a period of several years, cousin Jack and I built a tree house in a large tree just south west of the front yard, near Spring Hill Road. At the height of its glory, the tree house consisted of a non level triangular floor without walls or roof. Access was almost always made using one of Grandpa’s fruit picking ladders.

As our early years passed, we kids attempted a variety of construction projects about the farm. Most of the projects resulted in one or more of Grandpa’s tools being temporarily or permanently lost. Since we only put the tools away, at most, half the time, Grandpa usually had to make a mental note of where we were “working.” Later, if he couldn’t find a tool, he’d look around on the ground at our latest construction site. Occasionally, a well rusted tool would show up the following spring after the snow melted.

It seemed Grandpa always had several hand saws and hammers in various stages of rust, in either the barn or basement workshop. For all the lost tools and spent nails, Grandpa never scolded any of us kids directly. The most he’d ever do when we began a new construction project, would be to shake his head and groan, with full knowledge that he’d soon be looking for his tools and would have to buy more nails in the near future.

Eisenhower President, Nixon V.P.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, former Supreme Commander of the Allies during World War II,  was elected President of the United States in November; Richard Milhouse Nixon is elected vice president.

  A bridge behind the barn
Near the northeast side of the barn, near the front doors, was a spring fed creek that came out of the ground and ran west, downhill through a ravine and eventually to a small stream. The  width of the muddy spring fed creek made it difficult for us kids to get from the south, barn side, to the north side of the farm. It was an obstacle that needed crossing several times a day so we could explore a thicket of Staghorn sumac and dig in the sand hill, or watch cars pass on the paved road.

In order to remedy this problem, we placed a solid wooden packing crate on either side of the five foot wide muddy area then laid two twelve foot lengths of old lumber across the boxes. The boards were set one atop the other so they wouldn’t break when we ran across them. The slope of the ravine on either end of the boards made it easy to run down one side straight across the bridge and on up the other slope. Our bridges planking boards were quite old, being left over from the house remodeling project that Grandpa finished about ten years earlier.

Of secret places and solitude
At times when I was playing alone, I would cross the bridge and go into a small peach orchard uphill from the sumacs. This was a private place out of everyone’s sight, a place I’d go to sit, be quiet and appreciate nature. I sat on the ground facing west, downhill, looking out over the sumacs and the woods below.
On my left was the spring fed creek, ravine and woods, behind me the peach orchard and a small rise. On my right, a sand hill rose cutting off view of the passing, paved county road. Several times I came here to make myself a crude bow, several arrows, spears and stone headed axes.
At various times, armed with my most recent weapons, I’d stalk downhill through the sumacs and into the swamp area below, while exhilarating daydreams of hunting prehistoric beasts or seeing a real fox filled my mind.

The sand hill
My grandparents had six or eight one hundred fifty foot long rows of grapes planted on the sand hill in the farms northeast corner. The rows ran east- west, parallel to the paved county road, but were set back up on the hill and about seventy five feet in from the road. At its highest point, the sand hill rose about eight feet higher than the road. In an area that extended between the grapes rows and the road there was a particularly sandy strip that looked like it had been a sand dune at one time.  In that strip of sand, Grandpa and Grandma reported occasionally finding flint Indian arrowheads. We grandchildren did a lot of digging on the hill, making underground “forts”, we found quite a few natural pieces of flint, but never did find any chipped pieces. Once we dug a hole in the highest point of the hill looking for an Indian burial chamber.

The Tarzan vines
From the back of the farmhouse the property sloped down hill toward the west to a steep wooded ravine maybe eight hundred feet away. Flowing from north to south at the bottom of the ravine was a four to six foot wide and eight to twelve inch deep stream. The previously mentioned spring that ran downhill from beside the barn emptied into this stream about one hundred yards north. Here there
were long “Tarzan” vines hanging from amongst the tree tops along the ravines embankment. The best vines were rooted on the steep wooded slope uphill from the stream. When a vine was cut we could walk back up the slope with the free end in hand, turn and holding tight, make a death defying swing way out over the gully. Without question, a drop from the end of the arc would have meant at least a fifteen foot fall, then a terrible rolling tumble downhill into the stream at the bottom of the grade.

[1989 photo looking downhill and west from directly behind the farmhouse. In the 1940s and 1950s the grassy area encompasing the entire center of the image, was a well mowed, hearty, orchard filled with row after row of peach trees. At the bottom of the hill was a large area  planted with   corn.  The Tarzan vines were on the edge of a ravine in the woods at the bottom of the slope, in the top left corner of this picture. The spring fed creek behind thew barn, comes down from the right side of the picture. A chicken coop and the barn are a couple hundred feet to the right.]

Winter Sledding
Much of the farm was on the west slope of a hill with a stream (and the Tarzan vines) as its western boarder. The slope started beside Spring Hill Road, at the houses front driveway, and continued past the back door, past the chicken coop and on down toward a small cornfield near the deep wooded ravine. We kids could start near the front of the house, take a running start to build up speed, flop down on our sleds and slide up to three hundred feet down the hill.
When the snow surface was glazed over just right, a single ‘sledder’ could slide all the way down, almost to Grandpa’s small cornfield.  (About to where the trees at mid distance jut out a bit from the right.)
When all the relatives were together for Christmas or New Years holiday, a floodlight on top the  windmill tower was turned on.  With illumination we could stay outdoors and play at night until we were tired and worn out from exertion in the cold. It was wild, it was fun, and, it was glorious!

Dad, almost electrocuted
When my grandparents bought the retirement farm, it had a working windmill located about half way between the back door and the barn. Apparently they didn’t want to depend on the windmill, so a electric pump was installed in a below grade sump pit beneath the windmill tower.  In about 1940, at around age twenty, before my Mom and Dad were married, Dad was in the sump pit working on the wiring for the new pump. While working he accidentally grabbed hold of a live electric wire. The current surging through him made it impossible for him to let go. Instantly realizing that he was being electrocuted, he managed to throw himself off balance and fall and in doing so the wire was pulled from his hand. Lucky for him and lucky for us.

More than once our family line has persevered against fear, danger and the possibility of imminent death by fast thinking and luck.
Recall that colonist ancestor, John Howland, was washed from the deck of the 1620 Mayflower on its voyage to the New World.  John had gone on deck while the ship was being pitched and tossed about in a terrible storm. When he lost his footing and went overboard, he happened to grab hold of a halyard that was trailing in the  water. He held on to the rope though was at times submerged, finally he was rescued by the crew who pulled him back on board.
And consider ancestor, Margaret Seybert, a young pioneer girl who surviving a Shawnee Indian attack that killed most of her family, taken captive, then later escaping from the Indian village.
Or Civil War ancestor, Harmon Anderson, captured and held prisoner of war; then barely surviving conditions at the notorious Confederate Andersonville stockade in Georgia.
Or maybe even my twenty one military parachute jumps from an aircraft flying 145mph at 1200 feet altitude.

Movies:
Movies that I saw alone or with a friend this year;
Red Planet Mars with Peter Graves, Andrea King, Orley Lindgren

Movies the family saw together (parents choice);
Above and Beyond with Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker, James Whitmore, Larry Keating
Hans Christian Anderson with Danny Kaye, Farley Granger, Joey Walsh
High Noon with Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado
Jumping Jacks with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Mona Freeman, Don DeFore
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima with Gilbert Roland, Angela Clarke, Frank Silvera
The Snows of Kilomanjaro with Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner
The Story of Will Rogers with Will Rogers Jr., Jane Wyman, Carl Benton Reid, Eve Miller
With a Song in My Heart with Susan Hayward, Rory Calhoun, David Wayne


[1]  The first commercial TV stations began in 1941, and by 1950 there were 104. About 4 million households had TV sets by then and relied on television for diversion.
[2]  ‘Tom Corbett, Space Cadet’ actor dies at 85, Updated:10:41 a.m. May 17, 2006
LOS ANGELES – Frankie Thomas, who became famous in the 1950s for his starring role in the TV children’s show “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” has died. He was 85. Thomas died Thursday of respiratory failure at Sherman Oaks Hospital, said his stepdaughter, Julie Alexander. Thomas began acting on Broadway in the early 1930s and soon ventured west to Hollywood, where he appeared in films including “A Dog of Flanders,” “Boys Town” and “The Major and the Minor,” as well as four Nancy Drew movies. In 1950, he beat out actors including Jack Lemmon to win the title role of Tom Corbett, a Space Academy cadet who was training to become a member of the elite Solar Guard, 400 years in the future.
“Frankie looked like the all-American boy,” said Jan Merlin, who played the wisecracking cadet Roger Manning. “Everyone in the room knew immediately this was the guy we were going to get.”
The show aired on CBS, ABC, NBC and the DuMont network and spawned popular phrases including “Blast your jets,” “Don’t fuse your tubes” and “Spaceman’s luck.”
Thomas quit acting when the series ended in 1955 and, over the years, worked as a television and radio writer, bridge instructor and author of mystery novels, including “Sherlock Holmes and the  Masquerade Murders.” He is survived by his stepdaughter and a stepson, James Aicholtz. At his request, Thomas was buried Tuesday in his “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” costume.
[3]   Roy Rogers Dies at 86 :    LOS ANGELES  6  July 1998 (AP) — Roy Rogers, the singing “King of the Cowboys” whose straight-shooting exploits in movies and television made him a hero to young fans and No. 1 at the box office, died today. He was 86. Rogers was a Depression-era truck driver, peach picker and country singer who in 1937 landed a $75 a week job as singing cowboy atHollywood’s Republic Studio.
In 87 modest-budget films, armed with a guitar, six-shooters and charm, he rose in salary and popularity to “King of the Cowboys.” For 12 years — 1943 to 1954 — he was No. 1 Western star at the box office in a magazine poll of theater operators.  Loaded with fights, always fair, and chases that corralled the bad guys, films with names like “Under Western Stars” and “Song of Arizona” were especially popular in small towns. His television series, which ran from 1951 to 1957, and thereafter in reruns, had similar appeal.
Rogers preferred to play down violence, shooting the gun out of the villain’s hand, rather than hurting the villain himself. He criticized other, more violent Westerns.  “When I was a boy, our parents taught us that hitting below the belt was a cowardly thing,” he once said. “I don’t believe this kind of thing is `entertainment’ no matter how you look at it.”
In many films and in the television series, he co-starred with Dale Evans, whom he married in 1947. Featured were his famous palomino horse, Trigger, and his dog, Bullet. His sidekick in films was bewhiskered Gabby Hayes, in television Pat Brady.  Rogers’ rodeo grossed $425,000 on a tour of state fairs, and he estimated it cost $30,000 in 1960 just to answer his fan mail. Rogers was born Leonard Slye (some references say Sly) on Nov. 5, 1911, in Cincinnati, of part-Indian ancestry. The family moved to California  in 1930.
He was getting some singing work on radio when “I heard a rumor they were testing for singing cowboys out at Republic,” he once said. “I guess you could say it was fate.” He recalled that the only way he was able to get in the studio was by waiting until the workers began returning from lunch and sneaking in with them.
The couple became well known for their Christian beliefs and spoke at many religious gatherings, including some of evangelist Billy Graham’s. She wrote several inspirational books.  “In the Bible, it doesn’t say you’re going to get by without having troubles,” Rogers once said. “I’m not a fanatic about religion. I think it’s a practical way of life.”

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Filed under Autobiography, __2. Childhood: 1942-1963

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