28 February 2009


I have to resist the temptation to title this 'Robyn.'

When we moved to New Zealand, we, being Yankees, were surprised to find males with the name 'Robin' (I don't think I had ever heard of Christopher Robin at that time - more's the pity). Then we discovered that there were just as many females - but spelt 'Robyn.' I still can't hear the difference (in case that was too subtle, it was intended as humourous).

My sister was born (sorry, dear, in the age of the Internet you can't hide) 1 May, 1946.

And, according to my father, he laid the keel of the 40-foot ketch he built in our back yard in the near-desert climate of Bakersfield near the date of her birth - and called the boat the 'Robin' in her honour.

That's as may be. The boat moved on from any relation to us, at least, long ago, but my sister is still around.

Well, 'around' as alive, but she lives in Hawai'i.

Again almost certainly due to my self-centredness I don't remember much about Robin when we were small children in Bakersfield. There was, after all, nearly four years' difference in our ages - and when you are 12 (as I nearly was when we left Bakersfield), four years is a very large difference indeed.

What I remember with great pleasure is times when the three of us - me, Peter, and Robin - were at sea ... on the Robin!

The yacht was launched in 1950, I believe. My father had to have it trans-shipped, dismasted, to San Pedro Harbour across the Ridge Route - I believe he had to get all sorts of permissions and such. Peter may know more about this than I do.

We left Bakersfield in 1954, so for what seems to me in retrospect a vast number of years, but was in fact only about four, we had this boat for holidays. We sailed to the various California offshore islands - Catalina, of course, but Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa and the rest of the Channel Islands.

Robin used to enjoy poking things :-) - sea anemones, the insides of mussels, and so forth - to watch them squirt. I remember our main use of mussels was as bait - I don't think I could have believed it if someone had told me at the time that one day I would be a greedy eater of them!

I don't know when Robin began playing a musical instrument. Was it when we still lived in Bakersfield? I don't know. I myself did, I know, take piano lessons for a short while in Bakersfield, but soon switched to playing the cornet. I love music now and am an amateur horn player.

I don't know if Robin had started music then, but I would not be surprised. It would be a harbinger of great things to come. She is now an awesome musician!

But that's a story for another time.


My sister Candace has recently told me that she has been reading this Blog. She is three years younger than I am and she has helped me to remember details long forgotten.

I am not sure if she was as aware as I was of the next thing I will write about. There seemed to be a theme of "furniture" that ran through our family, especially on my father's side.

Most of our relatives lived in houses that were built sometime between 1905 - 1920. These houses had many similiar details that I later found out were representive of the "Arts and Crafts" design.

Both my father's mother, Lois Peery, and her brother-in-law, Frank Wire, worked at a large furniture manufacturer business in Portland called Doernbecher's. I have looked up information about this company and they often had over 1,000 employees.

Doernbecher's was functioning for many, many years in Portland. My grandmother worked as a payroll clerk and my great uncle as one of the managers. I can remember meeting Lolo at the furniture plant when I was young. It was located in a gully near the neighbourhood that she lived in.

The family on my Dad's side talked about furniture a lot: the names of various types, the manufacturers, the quality of various pieces - on and on. I can still remember the name of the importer of the carpets (Khartojian or something like that - I can pronounce it but not spell it!) they had on their floors - there were large Persian rugs in all of the rooms of the houses.

Another furniture topic was upholstery - who did the best job, where the fabric was from - I was often taken to furniture sales and displays. My great uncle would let the family know who was having a sale in Portland - we would go to it....just to look. These were boring Saturday mornings for me but I knew that if I behaved, there was a piece of pie and a coke waiting at the local café, later.

My grandmother and her sisters lived in Laurelhurst in Portland. My grandmother's house was the first one built in that neighbourhood. I learned this from looking into the history of the area. There is a large park near one of the boundaries with a small lake. We spent a lot of time at Laurelhurst Park.

Well, enough of that for now, but I have always retained a real interest in furniture - at least browsing on ebay and dreaming :-)

22 February 2009

The Farm and Candy Making

The farm had a number of buildings on the property besides the main house. There was a building not far from the house on the main driveway that was quite large and had a porch. This may have been used as a "gatekeepers" house originally.

Now that I think of it, my grandfather probably stayed out there when he was alive. As I said earlier, the farm was purchased by him for his retirement and he travelled to it frequently from Portland.

My memory is that my father used it as an office and storage space. It was painted white with a tinge of pink and had gingerbread decoration on the outside - we called it the "candy house".

My father and his mother, Lois Parker Peery, bought a candy making business in Portland that was for sale after World War II. Their intention was go into business together but it never happened. I am not sure why but we had many of the untensils, candy trays, copper pots, marble slabs, metal covered tables, etc... for a long time. I never gave all this stuff much thought when I saw it around our homes later.

What my father and his mother did do was make candy at various times during the year as gifts to family and friends. Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day - I think that was it.

They made "creams", toffee, rocky road and taffy (sometimes). When we moved from Portland to Seattle, they divided up the job and my father would make some of the candy in Seattle and my grandmother would make some in Portland.

I remember the candy boxes, the small, dark paper cups that held the individual pieces candy, tons of chocolate, flavorings, crused peppermint, walnuts, filberts that was used. Oh, and the themometers - they had very big ones to test the chocolate, etc.

I spent a of time putting candy into the paper cups and then in to boxes and when I was able to drive, I also did the deliveries.

The last time my father made candy was December, 1982. Lolo (what we called his mother) had died earlier that month at 97. She had long finished making candy but she always loved to get a box from him and also know that some friends were also receiving them....so he never quit until she died.

I remember that they loved to go into "See's Candy" and "van Dyne's Candy" in the Portland area just to taste the latest types that were available. They would buy a selection and then talk endlessly about the quality, etc....

Shall I next time write about the furniture interest that also existed in the family? Okay - that was even more intense than the candy making.

21 February 2009

Not alone!

I have become aware that I have written so far as though the family I grew up in consisted of my father, my mother and me.

There were, in fact, one or two others :-)

To be exact, there were two others.

My sister Robin will probably have to wait until next time! My brother Peter - who has appeared in the combox - was born 20 January, 1944 (ha, ha! So now everyone knows how old you are!). We are only 16 months apart.

It is interesting to contemplate the differences between us. I will get a bit personal and trust that my brother will ... well, probably respond in kind :-) Remember, Peter, this is how things look - or looked - from my angle. I have already become very aware, having read what you wrote in the combox, just how differently the same things can look to two different persons who experienced them.

I have always thought that Peter and I exercised a sort of Darwinian ecological 'separation of habitat.' Perhaps the very closeness of our ages made this inevitable.

Peter was sporty; I was not. Peter was (later, when we were teenagers) attracted to motor vehicles; I was not. Peter was concerned about dressing decently; I was (definitely :-)) not.

I, on the other hand, was freaky about maths and science; I don't think Peter was. I was generally nerdy; Peter was most definitely not. Musically I think Peter was more attracted to popular music; I was (and am) almost wholly a 'classical' (meaning by that basically the western tradition from the baroque through the classical to the early- and mid-romantic) man.

Perhaps this only developed later. I notice that the things I am mentioning are all from our adolescence.

One of my problems - my biggest in trying to remember things about other people - is that I am, in fact, the most completely self-centred person I know.

Self-centred, not necessarily selfish. Well, yes, of course, I am selfish at times - alas! But I don't mean the choose-me-and-my-interests-before-others sort of self-centredness. I mean that I frequently don't notice things about others unless they relate directly to me.

Susan knows this better than anyone.

"I saw Jane in town today, Sue!"

"Oh, great! What was she wearing?"


I expected I would have noticed if she had been naked, so she must have been wearing something - but unless I had been interested in that, I would not remember.

So the fact is that I don't recall a lot of detail about my childhood with my brother.

But I think he does.

One incident he has mentioned to me - which I absolutely have no memory of - is the time I hit him over the head with a plank - a plank, in fact, that had nails sticking out of it - presumably causing potentially serious injury.

And I cannot recall that. I think I remember his telling me of another time, possibly more creditable to me - and possibly when we were teen-agers - when someone was attacking or abusing him, and I charged in to his defence.

Don't remember that one either.

The nicest thing I recall about Peter happened in about 1997 - long after our childhood, of course. From the time Edna and I moved to Hawai'i, in 1966, to 1997, he and I had very little to do with one another. Well, it's not too surprising, I suppose. Until the 1990s there was no e-mail; toll calls, particularly overseas ones, were very expensive.

Still, I think we had grown very far apart. Indeed, even before 1966 I don't think we were very close. And after I became a Christian - and began trying to convert everyone and everything by my own sheer will-power - well, it was pretty separating.

This was really far more my fault than his. I recall once, during those years, his sending me a book about Chinese characters, a book which tried to relate them to the Bible. I don't know if I thought much of the book - but it was, as I reflect on it, a deeply moving, touching thing for him to do. He is not religious himself. His wife - another Susan Jensen :-) - is a serious believing Mormon; his brother is a serious believing Catholic. He likes to say that he is the last heathen hold-out in the family.

But I scarcely noticed him, until 1997. He and Susan came to visit us. They stayed about a week (I think) in Pukekohe, then did a lightning tour down to Christchurch, and back.

I found out an astonishing thing in that visit. I found out that I love my brother deeply. I was 55 at the time, and he was 53, or 54. I suppose some would say that it was about time.

14 February 2009


Having outlined, at least briefly, my father's family, and my mother's, I was trying to think, "Who's left out?"

Oh - us, I guess :-)

We lived at 221 South Chester Avenue:

View Larger Map

But there was no enormous motorway crossing Chester Avenue at the time.

Bakersfield's population when I was a boy was slightly less than 30,000. I remember reading the sign as you entered the town - this must have been after the 1950 census - and I think it was something like 29,368. I am probably wrong about the '368' bit but I am pretty sure about the 29,000 part. Or maybe not. Maybe it was 10 times as large.

According to Wikipedia, Bakersfield's population at the beginning of 2008 was 328,692 - ten times as large - which astonishes me.

I don't know when my father and mother bought our house. Certainly I remember no other house in Bakersfield as a child, so I suppose they moved there before I was born.

My memories sometimes clash with those of my brother, so I will be interested to hear what he has to say about this. I recall the house as having some sort of plastered-on finish with tiny little sharp-edged stones, which you could pick out of the underlying plaster (tar, actually, I think). Did it have a front porch? I don't know. What I do remember, and am quite sure of, is the two great plane trees ('sycamores' we called them then, but I think 'plane' is the commoner name) in the front yard. I had the sort of bicycle that had no gears or hand-brakes. Instead, to brake it you pushed back on the pedals. Only my brakes were a bit worn and didn't stop the bicycle very much. So my favourite way of stopping was to ride onto the front lawn and jump off the bike, letting it crash into one of those trees.

Let me see - there was a driveway up the left side of the house, and a garage at the back. Behind the house there were two (I think) apricot trees - with a concreted patio that had lovely curving grooves in it that you could trace with your finger.

And a kind of garden shed, that was the scene of one my more memorable attempts at suicide. My father had tacked onto the back of this little shed a framework of laths, and had covered the whole thing with old curtains - tacked onto the laths. This was a playhouse for us.

One day - I do not know how old I was - eight, perhaps - we had managed, somehow, to get onto the roof of the shed. And there was this inviting cloth 'net' below us. Would it hold one, like a circus safety net, if one were to throw oneself onto it? Who among us would be the one to try the experimental approach to find the answer?

I suppose I cannot have been unconscious for long - perhaps not at all, just momentarily stunned when the wind was knocked out of me upon my hitting the ground. I do remember the distinctly hurt feelings I had when all those with me - was Peter one of them? - had scarpered the instant they saw that the 'safety net' had not worked, that I was lying on the ground - and that there might be adult trouble.

There were many opportunities for self-mutilation in that backyard. There was the time I tried to put out one of my eyes. But that will have to wait for next week.

08 February 2009

Square Dance

Before I forget - my parents belonged to various community groups in the area. My father was a volunteer fireman - very exciting for us. He belonged to the Boring, Oregon Fire Department. This group had functions that the familes could attend.

Square dances were really popular and also the food provided at them. They were held in the Boring Community Hall.

I can see couples swirling around a huge dance floor with some guy dressed in a cowboy shirt and boots singing up on the stage -"Hey Goodlookin' - Whatcha Got Cookin'? - How's About Cookin' Somethin' Up With Me." I remember thinking that maybe he was a baker.

I knew a lot of the people on the dance floor but until those evenings I hadn't known that they could dance like that. It seemed very fast, confident and orderly. I wanted to squaredance, too.

All for now -


07 February 2009

Bob's your uncle!

Well, rather, Bob's my uncle - and my mother's oldest brother.

So far as I know, Uncle Bob was the only one of my mother's brothers who was colour-blind. That implies that his mother - my 'Grandma Dell' - was a carrier. And the fact that I am colour-blind means that my mother is a carrier. And that means that both my daughters are carriers.

"Oh, God, no!" - I can hear my children shouting - "not another lecture from Dad - this time on genetics!"

Oh, OK, I resist the temptation. Suffice it to say that colour-blindness is passed through women to men - normally. In rare cases a daughter of a colour-blind man and a woman who is a carrier of the same sort of colour-blindness, will be colour-blind - but mostly, the mother is the carrier. The boys have a 50-50 chance of being colour-blind. If, on the other hand, the father is colour-blind, all the daughters are carriers, the boys are unaffected.

Which means - Helen and Adele, are you listening? - that the two of you are carriers of the dread condition of colour-blindness.

OK, it hasn't been a big deal for me - but Helen's son Gus could be affected. He is only a bit under two and a half. One day someone will find out.

Uncle Bob was 18 when my mother was born, and lived - at least all the life that I recall - in Oakland (across the Bay from San Francisco), so we oughtn't to have had that much to do with the family, but I seem to recall them almost as much as I do Kenny's family, who lived in Bakersfield.

Visiting Uncle Bob was the occasion of my first train ride - at least, the first that I recall. I don't know when it would have been - perhaps around 1950 - and it was, I think, on the sort of train my mother called the Streamliner - which is to say, a diesel-electric locomotive, as opposed to a steam engine. Well, the Wikipedia article makes it clear that it was the aerodynamics that gave it that name, and that made sense. I remember - when we lived in Oroville, so 1954 or later - my mother taking us to a bridge to see 'The Zephyr' - going, I think, from San Francisco to Chicago. That Wikipedia article says the Zephyr was a type of train, not just one, so I guess it was that sort.

Bob lived in the Oakland Hills - very steep steps going to the house. And someone I knew - was it Uncle Bob or was it my friend Roy from my undergraduate days at the University of California, Berkeley - had a little chain-driven conveyor that went from the street up to the house, so you could put groceries in a little box, trudge up the steps, and pick them up at the top. Maximally cool!

I had later relations with Bob and Big Ruth his wife, and with Roberta and Judy their daughters. When I was about to be an undergraduate, Judy asked me once, with a knowing smirk, whether the Berkeley housewives still kept their marijuana (or whatever slang term she used for it) in a tea caddy in the kitchen. This was in 1961, I think, and I was shocked and horrified. Marijuana was a frightening word that I knew only from high school anti-drug films. It led ineluctably to heroin use and an early death.

Her asking me was in the northern hemisphere summer when I, with my cousin Terry (Kenny's daughter), and a female second cousin from Salinas (whose name I forget - and whose relationship to me I do not know), worked at Big Ruth's "Breakfast Bar" restaurant at Stateline, California - at least, we called it Stateline, though apparently its official name is 'South Lake Tahoe.' It continues across the border to Stateline, Nevada. You could gamble - in those days - in Nevada, but not in California. You could eat in California - if you had been one of the winners in Nevada.

Big Ruth was very much a leftist - indeed, I think remember my mother saying that in the 1930's she had been a 'card-carrying' (did they really have cards?) member of the Communist Party. The Democratic National Convention took place in July of 1960 and I recall Ruth and Judy (maybe only those two of that family) watching it with great intensity - and Ruth's grief at Stevenson's loss. I did not understand this at the time and do not today.

'Big Ruth' was - I do not think anyone would mind my saying so today - an alcoholic. I think she herself recognised this and stopped drinking later in life. I do not suppose she is alive today, and I know that Judy, her younger daughter (5-6 years older than me?), is dead. Roberta is presumably still alive and may read this. But it is a fact that Roberta's mother, my aunt by marriage, drank as part of her daily routine during that summer of 1960. I never saw her drunk and perhaps she didn't get drunk. First thing in the morning - about 4:30AM as we opened at 6AM - she made herself a concoction of 'Orange Julius' (they are still around, apparently!) and brandy - and, I think, sipped it all morning. She was the cook, owner, manager of the restaurant - and a fabulous cook.

I won't write about my mother's other siblings simply because we had very little to do with them. Byron lived in Taft, with his wife Elaine and 'Little Byron' their son. Ollie (her sister) and Myron lived in Oildale - famous for racism (my father claimed that Myron had an indoor shooting range where he practised shooting a target in the form of a black man) and Merle Haggard - and for being a major centre for the Ku Klux Klan. But we had little to do with either family, even though living near to them.

Bob is gone. I am sure Ruth is gone. Judy is gone. So are most of the rest of my mother's generation. But my mother is alive, and as well as 94 years old and survivor of at least one heart attack can expect to be. God bless and keep them all.

September 1946

Spokane, Washington was where I was born. I know nothing of the place as my parents returned to Portland, Oregon the following year. I have a few photos of the year we were in Portland staying in a house near my mother's parents. The house was in the Sellwood District - Bybee Avenue.

When I was nearly two, we moved to a farm outside of Portland. This place I remember a lot about. It had been bought by my mother's father, Everett Stretcher.

At some point I will check the location and include it.

I do not know when my grandfather bought the farm, but I believe that it was in the early 40's.

It consisted of sixty acres and the main house was located on a corner of the property. The house was two stories and we could see Mt. Hood in the distance from the kitchen window.

This farm was my grandfather's "retirement farm". He continued to live in Portland with my grandmother, Clara Stretcher, and drive out to the country to work on the farm.

I have photos of Grandpa Stretcher wheeling me in a wheelbarrow loaded with pumpkins.

Unfortunately, he died in 1948. I believe he was 67 at the time. My parents continued to live on the farm until 1953.

Grandpa Stretcher had grown up on a farm in Indiana and then moved to Portland, Oregon as a young man. He had lived in the city but had always wanted to own and work on a farm again.

His farm provided many things for us. There was an apple orchard, nut trees, vegetable garden, a barn with hay to play in, and old truck left in the barn that my sister and I played in.....but what I remember the most were the neighbours.

Across the road, south, were the Wetzel's. They had a big farm and two boy who were older. Mrs. Wetzel made bread and I would cross the road to get loaves from her to take home. She would often give me a piece of the bread with butter and jam on it. The smell was wonderful.

Across the main road, east, were the Potriff's. They were an older couple who had a big piece of property with a huge vegetable garden. They also grew a lot of berries. I can remember going over with my mother to pick strawberries.

The Potriff's were originally from Canada. They were wonderful to us and really enjoyed our family. Mr. Potriff thought that my sister Candace was very cute. She always showed interest in his garden. He called her "Kansas".

I knew that when we went to the Potriff's berry patch it was jam making time. This was stressful as my mother would have huge pots of berries cooking on the stove at home and then the berries would hang in a cotton bag hung from an open ladder to strain before they were then made into jam.

There are certain events that stand out in my mind while living on the farm. We saw television for the first time (Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, 1953) at a neighbour's house. I remember coming into their livingroom, which was filled with people sitting on chairs, and seeing this large, wooden box against one wall with a small screen at the top of it - we were all suppose to be watching the coronation......well, sort of.....the reception wasn't very good, the screen was small and the event wasn't very interesting as I was six years old.

I can also remember my mother sitting in front of the new radio/record player combination that my parents had recently bought (another big box that was made of beautiful wood with doors) trying to listen to the coronation. My sister and I must have been bothering her because she was trying to tell us to be quiet so she could listen. We were used to hearing children's radio stories coming out of this new box not this boring event that seemed to go on forever.

My mother had told us quite a bit about the new Queen. She had even bought us a children's book at the bookstore near her mother's house in Sellwood - bookstore on Bybee Avenue - that showed the life story of these sisters in England. I remember thinking, "What happened to them?" Now all we have is this unclear picture on the television to see and nothing good on the new radio to listen to because of this world event involving these sisters.

Never finished the section about the neighbours but that will be later. I also went to school for the first time while living at the farm.

I could go on forever! Maybe I won't :-)