My mother was a dirty blonde. I’m referring to the color of her hair, not to her behavior. Admittedly, she smoked, drank, and laughed heartily at Rusty Warren’s comedy albums. She had a nice figure. At least once in her youth, she posed for sexy bathing suit pictures.
When she began dating my father, she and he were both divorcees, each with one marriage behind them. My father worked at the Fairfax Theatre and lived in an apartment upstairs. My father first became aware of my mother when he overheard Nana and Grandma telling her how to live her life, while sitting at the counter at Casper’s hot dog stand. Casper’s was a popular hangout situated next-door to the Fairfax Theatre.
At that point in his career, my father had worked at a drugstore and a couple of downtown movie theaters, The Grand Lake and an all-night theater where he had the graveyard shift. As far as I can tell, my mother went from student to wife and then back to wife again. Soon after I was born, she went to work behind the counter at the Fruitvale Theatre. At some point, my father had become the manager of the Fruitvale. He somehow managed to convince his superiors that working with his wife wouldn’t be an issue. It never would be.
I saw little of my parents during the early year of my life. Most of our time together was spent in cars. My mother never learned to drive. She had been in an accident as a teenager and wasn’t up to the responsibility. So, my father was our chauffer.
I only had a few sleepovers at my parents’ apartment on 35th Avenue. It was pretty tiny. I remember sitting in a highchair and refusing to open my mouth for something my mother wanted me to eat. My mother became very upset because I wouldn’t open my mouth. I was used to being fed by Nana or Grandma. I ended up pushing the food on the floor and making her cry. I remember my father making me a bed in the kitchen, but I wasn’t comfortable. The faucet dripped and the cute cat clock on the wall ticked loudly. I ended up, crawling into bed with my parents and I immediately fell asleep.
I spent a lot of time in offices marked “Manager”. The Fruitvale Theatre was my first. It was a big one with an adjacent second office for the District Manager. This would be where I would wait for my parents to end their shifts, entertaining myself with paperclips and other office paraphernalia. I would make necklaces out of the paperclips and draw on old flyers and handbills. I became familiar with theater procedures like rolling coins and stuffing ticket stubs into envelopes that would then be sent to the main office on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco to be counted and matched with the box office receipts.
My father would sometimes pick me up at school and take me to San Francisco to pick up the payroll for his theater. He would also pick up the payroll for a few other Bay Area managers who didn’t want to wait for the checks to come in the mail.
Before going to the office, I would usually have a short visit with the current cashier and then go to the candy counter to see my mother. If she wasn’t helping customers, she was seated on a stool behind the candy counter. If it wasn’t busy, she would be reading a book or the newspaper. Come to think of it, my father never reprimanded an employee for reading during downtime as long as they got the work done. The rug had to be popcorn free, the counter had to be stocked, the customers had to be taken care of, but when all work was done, the written word could always be a refuge. This was also true for cashiers, doormen, doorwomen, ushers, and usherettes. Get your work done and you could read to pass the time.
Both my parents liked to read, my father had a library of books from the Book of the Month Club and The Fireside Theatre. He even had bookplates in some volumes that read, “Ex Libris Raymond Maginot”. My mother liked to listen to my father read and so did I. Robert Benchley’s “A Good Old Fashion Christmas” was a holiday tradition along with “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” and “The Night Before Christmas”.
My mother was fond of solitaire. Before computers, this was game played with a deck of cards. Due to her inability to drive, shopping was a family activity. In many ways, my mother was a kept woman. She didn’t go anywhere that my father didn’t take her. Many of her hours were spent in waiting. In the days before copy machines and scanners, my mother would copy jokes, poems, and stories she liked into notebooks. For her, being a scribe was just another form of solitaire, a way to pass the time.
In the final days of the Fruitvale years, my mother became the manager and my father became the manager of the Del Mar in San Leandro. They got an apartment in the Oakland Hills near the Mormon Temple and they had an extra room that they said would be mine someday, but even on Thursday nights, their day off, I was taken back to Nana’s, because Friday was a school day. The Fruitvale /Del Mar days didn’t last long. The Fruitvale was destined for the wrecking ball. My father became the manager of Hayward Motor Movie and my mother was back behind the candy counter. Except now, it was a snack bar and there was even more stuff to sell.
I developed a taste for cheese pizza and started collecting Mr. Looney Buttons. I guess I’m an easy target when it comes to novelty items. During the Motor Movie days, I spent more time with my parents. We had our Thursday night dinners and I was spending more time going to work with them, especially during the summer.
Not much was being asked of me at that point. I might roll some coinage or help carry some stock to the snack bar. That was about it. The inventory was kept inside the screen tower located just beyond the playground.
My parents wouldn’t really put me to work until we moved to Davis as a family. For seven years, Westlane Auto Movie would be my home. As long as I lived with Nana, my parents were always people that I was going to live with in the future. They were interesting people that I hung out with, and ate with, but they represented another world just out of my reach. I referred to my parents as “mother” and “father”, nothing else felt right to me. I wouldn’t really get to know them until I got out of Oakland. Sometimes, I would sit on Nana’s porch waiting for their car to pull up. If anything happened to my parents, I’d be stuck at Nana’s forever I thought.
I really didn’t want to stay at Nana’s. Both of my uncles scared me and Nana had old fashion values regarding who should and shouldn’t be my friends. I might be attending an integrated school, but I wasn’t allowed to bring any “colored” kids home with me. If I wanted to have friends of color, I would risk getting a beating with Nana’s “switch” or having a belt taken to my backside by Uncle David or Uncle Gene. My father didn’t believe in beating children, and my mother supported him, but Nana was old school regarding discipline and she had two willing males to do her dirty work.