Personal History, Part 2

A bit more family history, as far as I can recall it, before I get to my personal memories of growing up in the high desert, and how that affected me.

In Felixstowe [England, where I was born], the family friend was a neighbor woman named Ruby. (When I delve into my half dozen metal boxes of family slides, I think I will find photos or her, and us at that time.) And one of the stories I remember [again: in a crucial sense, everything we remember about our past are stories, told over and over again in our minds or whenever we relate them to others, and not necessarily reliable as actual history — but nevertheless meaningful, as meaningful as anything from our past can be] is that my mother would leave me outside in a pram during the day, despite the weather being (since we were right on the coast) cool and damp. I have always attributed this to my relative tolerance of cool weather. I am the last one to put on a coat. In the mild SoCal weather, I can go a whole year without putting on a coat. (At the same time, given my high desert experience, I withstand dry heat easily as well. It’s hot humidity I have difficulty with.)

Thinking back, I think my father was not completely out of the Air Force when my family returned to the US. This was when I was about 1 ½ years old I’ve been told; late 1956 or early 1957. The reason we settled in Apple Valley (despite the name, a rather desolate desert town 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles) is that it was near George Air Force Base, just west of the larger town of Victorville, CA. (The base was decommissioned in 1992.) I think my father must have finished his Air Force commission there, and chosen to return there (as opposed to someplace in the Midwest, where he grew up) since it was relatively near the friend he’d met in the service, Rollin Bigbee, who lived in Burbank.

Let’s do a map. I’ve always been obsessed with maps, knowing where I am, knowing where places are. It’s common for me, reading a book, to check the atlas (I have several) or, these days, Google, to see where these places are. So, where is Apple Valley? It’s northeast of Los Angeles, thus:
SoCal map (Click on the image for a larger one.)

Apple Valley is in the upper right, near Victorville and Hesperia. The big green bands between there and Los Angeles below are the San Gabriel Mountains, with Big Bear Lake, Mt Baldy, the Angeles Crest Highway, and more. The world to the north is utterly different from the world to the south. It is an area of sand and rocky hills and vast expanses, at an elevation of roughly 3000 feet. The western end of that desert, between Victorville and Palmdale, is the area the rock band U2 took as the setting for their 1986 album “The Joshua Tree” – which included the song “Where the Streets Have No Names”. (This is true: all the roads out across the desert there have designations like Avenue F, or 152nd St east. No names.)

So: I believe my father finished out his Air Force commission at George Air Force Base. Then he got a job as a draftsman, for a man named John Blesh, who had an office in the area of Apple Valley called ‘the village’, about midway along the stretch of Highway 18 that runs straight west-east, in what is actually the southeastern end of the valley.

At first, we lived in what must have been a rented house, in the northeast corner of the valley, out by Sidewinder Mountain (IIRC) – a cinderblock house, and this is the place where I have my earliest memories… of lying in a crib with my parents in the other room; of a dog called Tammy running up the driveway. Everything was sand and scrub brush, alongside rocky hills.

In a pattern that was to be repeated, we moved from a rented house into a house that we bought: on Winnebago Road, to the southwest of the rented house and just north of what was then the small Apple Valley airport. This is the house where I lived for four years or so, through kindergarten and the 1st grade, and where later my maternal grandmother lived into her 80s. My family visited her many times over the years, and after they moved back east, I visited her over the years, until her death in 1984. My long-time connection to this place is why I list it as my hometown on Facebook. I have many pics, which I will scan and post eventually.

But a little bit more family background. My mother had one brother, Robert (my ‘Uncle Bob’), who I think must have also been in the service at some point, though I don’t think I ever knew the details, and who settled in the Los Angeles suburbs (the San Fernando Valley) afterwards. Because both he and my mother’s family settled in southern California, my grandmother on that side, who’d previously lived her entire life in a small northwestern Illinois town, relocated to southern California herself. For a time she lived in an apartment in Costa Mesa, down in Orange County. To get just a bit ahead of my personal timeline: when my own family moved from Apple Valley down to Santa Monica, when I was in 1st or 2nd grade, my grandmother moved in with us, in an apartment that was adjacent to the garage at the back of the property along the alley. And when, after 6 months, my father gave up that Santa Monica rental and bought a house in the San Fernando Valley… my grandmother moved out to Apple Valley, to take possession of the house my father had not been able to sell.

End of part 2.

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