Please Don't Feed the Baby

Now, the longer version. Born to a Marine and his school teacher wife, I was an only child. I spent the first couple of years of my life in the small town of Mehama , Oregon, living with my mother in the single-wide mobile home my dad had set up in the back yard at my grandmother's house. I say I was living with my mom, because my dad, being a Marine, was overseas a lot during my younger years: Japan, Okinawa, Korea, elsewhere.

When my dad got transferred to Camp Pendleton, California, we packed up the motorhome and dad hired a contractor to pull it to Fallbrook, California, where dad rented a space in the Fallbrook Motel and Trailer Court which was back then located at the corner of Main Street and Aviation Street.

Please Don't Feed the Baby

This was before my brothers were born. A segment of an old family movie shows me as a toddler sitting on the hood of my mom’s car, wearing a red corduroy jumper and holding an avocado between my chubby legs. In the movie, I was barely a toddler at that time. Apparently I was a very friendly and gregarious child who the neighbors liked really well . . . . Mom told me once of having to pin a note on my clothes that said “Please do not feed the baby” or something like that because it seems I was quite popular amongst the other mothers in the park and they liked to give me candy and treats.

My earliest memory of my brothers is also captured in a home movie (and that's probably why it's my earliest memory, since I've seen it in the movie) – as a family we were visiting Balboa Park in San Diego and I was pushing my brothers in their twin stroller --- round, and around, and around in a circle.

Superman, and the Nail in the Snow Pile

I was running through Grandma's house pretending I was Superman. Even had a towel pinned around my neck for a cape. I leapt toward a window, making as if to leap through it and fly off, as Superman would do. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop in time and my right hand went through the window. I remember being driven to the doctor in Stayton, my wrist wrapped in the same towel I had been wearing. To this day I can still see where the stitches were placed.

I may have been about six years old when my brothers and I were playing in the snow one winter in Mehama, and I jumped into a snow pile and found a nail. Not that I was looking for it; it was sticking up through a piece of wood that the snow had covered. It penetrated my foot when I landed. It rather hurt, as I recall. That incident led to the first Tetanus shot I remember ever getting.

Annual Pilgrimages to Grandma's House

During many of the years we lived in southern California, we would take annual trips up to Mehama for family Christmas gatherings. I always loved road trips, and the ones to Oregon were the best. Long stretches of watching the telephone lines dip and rise as we’d pass phone poles, the crops in the fields alongside the highway appearing to march briskly in long lines as we flew by, the glint of sun reflecting from the polished rail heads on the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks we’d parallel as we made time up Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley (until they opened up Interstate 5, which then became my dad’s route of choice but that was several hundred miles of boring to me since there was pretty much nothing along that route but desert).

Back in those days, you could see a Southern Pacific train coming from miles and miles away – the SP had special oscillating headlights called “Gyralights” or “Mars lights” that moved in a circular pattern (some also moved in a figure 8 pattern) making it look like they were flashing. The Mars lights were built by the Mars Signal Light company (which was actually part of the Mars Candy Company) which also produced them for use on fire trucks (still in use today), whereas Gyralights were a product of the Pyle-National company. Both the Mars and Gyralights pretty much fell out of favor on railroads due to federal regulations vs. their high maintenance costs. Southern Pacific began removing them from their locomotives in the 1980’s. You can see one in action in this YouTube video:

As I said, we made the annual Christmas pilgrimage most every year, and while most of them were car trips with my dad driving, there were times when he was unable to accompany us. For those trips, we rode Greyhound or Continental Trailways buses from Oceanside, CA to Salem, OR. The bus was only taken two or three times. I enjoyed the rides.

I really liked those Trailways buses. The drivers were very professional yet friendly, unlike some of the grumpy Greyhound drivers I’ve had the pleasure of riding behind. Their buses were classy, even down to the whitewall tires! They even built their own coaches, at a factory in Belgium in partnership with a Belgian company called Bus and Car. We rode Silver Eagle coaches like this one: which were the standard Trailways buses. However, Continental Trailways also used to offer “Five-Star Golden Eagle Service” between some major cities. Their Golden Eagle coaches were styled the same as the Silver Eagles, with a few notable exceptions: Externally, the polished corrugated portion of the body which was silver on the Silver Eagles had a golden hue on the Golden Eagles. Inside, the coaches had more leg room, bigger seats, and an observation lounge and well stocked galley with complementary sandwiches, snacks and beverages in the rear. This was not self-serve, though, as the Golden Eagles also had an on-board hostess complete with airlines-style stewardess uniform and hat, who provided at-your-seat service while the bus was en route. She would also provide you with a pillow or blanket if you desired same, as well as magazines and newspapers. Five-Star Golden Eagle service was by reserved seating and its passengers even boarded on a red velvet rope-lined red carpet. Yep, Continental Trailways was classy. (See .)

But I digress.

When my dad did the driving on our Oregon journeys, he would drive nonstop (the trip took 24-26 hours one way), rotating with my mom if he needed a nap. Often I would let the road noise lull me to sleep, to awaken whenever he slowed down or stopped for gas. To this day I have no problem falling asleep if someone else is driving.

All those trips were uneventful save one. There was that one time when the Rambler overheated at the base of the Grapevine en route, and dad made the mistake of loosening the radiator cap . . . it pretty much blew up and he was severely scalded by steam. The shirt he was wearing didn’t offer much protection and ended up peeling off a lot of his skin when he ripped it off. Although I don’t remember him getting medical attention, I do remember that he had to wear wrapped gauze around his torso for many weeks.

These trips were still in effect by the time I had my driver’s license, so in later years I got to be one of the rotation drivers.

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