Where Did I Live? Birth through Nine Years

Following divorce from Sam Robinson, mother worked full time, so my childhood memories are of a series of boarding houses and schools. Mother promised me that when I reached my tenth birthday I would be old enough to stay at home alone, so then I could come to live with her.

A photo in my Baby Book shows a house in San Francisco with the address 1164 Portola Drive, labeled “The Princess’ Palace.” It looks like a two bedroom bungalow on a hill. I don’t remember it. What I do remember is a subsequent series of boarding houses and boarding schools until I was ten.

My first memory was of living alone with Annie Wrinker in her bungalow with a front yard.

Carolyn, age 3
Carolyn, age 3

That was followed by a boarding house in Oakland when I was three. My most vivid memory in Oakland was playing in the sand box and wanting some water. I picked up a pail, took it to the spigot and turned on the hose. A boy nearby told me it was against the rules, and I told him I didn’t care. That night at bedtime, about eight of us preschoolers were gathered at the chart on the wall to evaluate our day. Good children got a blue mark and naughty children got a red mark. I had always had only blue marks. But the boy spoke up, “Carolyn got water to play in the sand box.” I remembered another girl crying when she was going to get a red mark and the teacher changed it to blue. So I cried, and said “I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to get water for the sand box.” Thus, the teacher gave me a blue mark with cooing and a smile. I didn’t really care whether the mark was red or blue, but I never forgot that incident.

Ruth and Carolyn, age 4, in 1927
Ruth and Carolyn, age 4, in 1927

When I was four I lived at a boarding school with about a dozen children. My special memory there was that one night at dinner the “doggie bit me,” which meant the woman in charge lashed my arm with a small whip because I ate all my meat before I ate my vegetables. I had never been told this was a “misdemeanor” and I resented it very much. Another memory from that school was being wakened from a nap, dressed up in good clothes, and taken with a few others to go “Christmas shopping” and talk to Santa.

When I was five we moved to Los Angeles, and I lived at the Nature Music School. There we mostly learned music and dancing, and we performed little concerts most weekends.

Then, in early 1929, my mother married a man, Ed, who had a teenage daughter. We drove to Oregon where Ed had bought a farm situated on an island in the MacKenzie River. The farmhouse was huge. No bathroom, but an outhouse in the back. The only electricity was a single bulb hanging from a wire in the kitchen. Every night they gave me a candle to walk upstairs, telling me that if I burned it out before the weekend I would have to go up in the dark.

But I loved living on the farm. There were seven cows to be milked twice a day, and I got to milk the small Jersey. The barn was populated with cats and I adopted a kitten, naming her Lady Gray. There was a team of horses used to furrow the wheat fields. There were huge pigs, and I was told if I got in their sty they would kill me. There were fruit orchards with magnificent cherries, pears, and peaches; walnut trees lined the edges. One day Ed invited us over to the far edge of the island where he had shot a salmon. It was huge. One of the barn kittens came to investigate what it might eat, but the salmon was in the throes of dying so every time it flipped its tail the kitten would jump in fright. There was a library in the sun porch of the farmhouse and I found in it the book Alice in Wonderland. I loved that book and read it many times. The only word I didn’t know was “veranda,” which I pronounced “vendura.”

That September I started first grade in the two-room schoolhouse on the island. In October my mother decided she had made a mistake marrying Ed. So, late one night, she wrapped me in a blanket, put me in the Model A flivver, and drove south to California.

My mother got a job working in the Probation Office in San Diego County, and I lived in a Boarding House, which was an elegant mansion in the Mission Hills area of San Diego. They put me in the second grade in school.

During my third grade year I boarded with a Syrian family that had a mother, father, and two boys—one older and one younger than I. There I learned how the mother kept house and cooked marvelous meals. I still crave good Near Eastern food.

When I turned ten, my mother decided that I could come live with her and her new husband in Ocean Beach. And that is the next story.

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