Category Archives: 1960s

Fourth of July Parade and Rodeo, Long Ago in Redwood City

Fourth of July Parade float, Redwood City, around 1960.

Fourth of July Parade float, Redwood City, around 1960.

Around 1950, when I was very young, the Redwood City Fourth of July Parade and Rodeo was a very big deal. For one thing, the rodeo and carnival, where we went on rides, won bowls full of guppies or live baby ducks, ate corn dogs and cotton candy, and occasionally escaped the ever-watchful eyes of our parents, were the highlight of every summer.

For another, the parade floats were not designed by professional float designers and covered with exotic flowers and seeds that we had never heard of. The floats were thought up and built by their sponsors, often fraternal organizations or small businesses.

Float celebrating the Pulgas Water Temple, around 1960.

Float celebrating the Pulgas Water Temple, around 1958 – 62.

Redwood City had plenty of benevolent and fraternal organizations:  the Lions, the Elks, the Moose, the Foresters, the Masonic Groups, and the Odd Fellows are just the ones I remember.

Float built by  Redwood City Foresters of America branch, around 1948 or 1949.

Float built by Redwood City Foresters of America branch, around 1948 or 1949.

I can date this float, loosely, because I am the little girl in the center, wearing cowboy boots. The young woman behind me was a local beauty queen. This float used rolls and rolls of aluminum foil — which was very “modern” and was no longer needed for the war effort.

"Cowgirls" riding on the Foresters' float. Redwood City, around 1949.

“Cowgirls” riding on the Foresters’ float. Redwood City, around 1949.

There were marching bands (the sound of bass drums thrillingly vibrating in my stomach as they passed.) There were baton twirlers and platoons of horses. The Sheriff’s posse rode, and so did many private citizens who dressed in Old California finery and decked their palomino horses in silver-encrusted saddles. Veterans marched, including some survivors of World War I, and the two or three day rodeo meant that the entire Independence Day weekend had a western flavor. My parents always dressed up in cowboy clothes. My father wore a black ten gallon hat, like the ones seen in 1930’s western movies. Here’s one worn by Tom Mix.

My father was a Forester, and enjoyed helping to build floats like this one:

A rocket -- or a firecracker -- blasting off on a float made by the Foresters. Early 1950s.

A rocket — or a firecracker — blasting off on a float made by the Foresters. Early 1950s.

That’s my father, in his black ten gallon hat; he was very proud of this float, because every once in a while the rocket emitted a mighty roar and a cloud of icy smoke. There was a fire extinguisher inside the rocket. I got to ride on this float, too.

The rocket sounded very loud when you were riding next to it.

The rocket, fueled by a fire extinguisher, sounded very loud when you were riding next to it.

There was no problem finding little girls and boys who had cowboy outfits. These were the years of tiny black and white TV sets where we watched The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Roy Rogers (and his horse, Trigger,) Hopalong Cassidy (and his horse,  Topper,) Red Ryder and Little Beaver, and The Cisco Kid and his sidekick, Pancho. Those of us who didn’t have TV sets could read about their adventures in the Sunday Comics (The Lone Ranger ) or listen to them on the radio.

"Buckaroos" costumes made from McCall sewing patterns, McCall catalog, May 1950.

“Buckaroos” costumes made from McCall sewing patterns, McCall catalog, May 1950.

McCall pattern 1504 for a boy's western costume. May, 1950 catalog.

McCall pattern 1504 for a boy’s western costume. May, 1950 catalog.

"Rodeo Queen" costumes ; McCall pattern 1505, May 1950 catalog.

“Rodeo Queen” costumes ; McCall pattern 1505, May 1950 catalog.

Here’s another look at the Foresters’ float with the big silver star and a group of “Rodeo Queens:”

A flag at one end, a star at the other. Foresters' float, Redwood City, late 1940's.

A flag at one end, a star at the other. Foresters’ float, Redwood City, late 1940’s.

Here, it is passing the Hull Brothers Hardware store and the Luxor Taxi Cab offices.

Hull Hardware store and Luxor Taxi Cab office. Redwood City, late 1940s.

Hull Bros. Hardware store and Luxor Taxi Cab office. 4th of July Parade, Redwood City, late 1940s.

For a horse-crazy little girl like me, the morning of July 4th had a special aroma. The parade used to form up in the streets north of Broadway and follow a parade route up Arguello Street, turning East onto Broadway. Our house was on Hopkins near Arguello, and the horse and rider groups often parked their horse trailers along our street. My father always filled two big galvanized tubs with fresh water for the horses and put them on the curb in front of our house. After the horses had been there for a glorious hour or so, my Grandma B. and my Great Aunt Alice (two dignified ladies in their seventies) would appear with cardboard boxes and brooms. They swore there was nothing like horse manure for growing roses.

May your Fourth of July memories be as happy as mine.

Ye Olde Town Band, Redwood City, circa 1958-62.

Ye Olde Town Band, Redwood City, probably late 1950’s or early 1960’s.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Golden Afternoons, Vintage Photographs

Uncle Bert Takes a Girl to the Movies, circa 1916

My Uncle Bert, Age 16

My Uncle Bert, Age 16

The Carpenter

Uncle Bert, my cat, and me, late 1940s (click to enlarge)

Uncle Bert, my cat, and me, late 1940s (click to enlarge)

Uncle Bert was a fixture of my early life. The second oldest of my father’s seven brothers, he lived in a shed behind his mother’s house when I was a baby – just across the street from us. He was a carpenter. He built my swing (and my first two-wheeled bicycle), and he gave me one of the best presents I ever got: a miniature carpenter’s chest, with a real (but child-sized) saw, a real hammer, and a real plane, with a sharp blade that let me shave off long, golden curls of wood, just like my father did. He also kept me supplied with scrap lumber, which I nailed into tugboats and other – probably unrecognizable – shapes. Both my father and Uncle Bert made the unusual assumption, for men born around 1900, that a little girl was just as likely to want to build things as a little boy was. And they were right.

World War II and After

Uncle Bert spent WW II in Hawaii doing military construction work; I don’t know if he arrived before or after Pearl Harbor. In this picture, he is flanked by his two brothers in the navy. Bob was a SeaBee (CB). Bert is smoking a cigarette, but later switched to a pipe. Bert definitely cultivated a Popeye-the-Sailor look.

Bert flanked by two of his younger brothers

Bert flanked by two of his younger brothers

By the time I was in high school, Uncle Bert had moved to a warm berth – with a bathroom – in our basement. He was by that time severely disabled by arthritis that turned his skillful carpenter’s hands into rigid claws with gigantic knuckles. His fingers were bent under his palms and frozen into position, but he could move his thumbs enough to use a fork or spoon and to fill and light his pipe. There was usually a bag of tobacco in his shirt pocket.

He also had something in common with Garrison Keillor’s Norwegian bachelor farmers: Uncle Bert put on his long underwear in the fall and didn’t believe in taking it off until spring. At all. He was shy and physically modest, and he held to the old idea that taking a bath in the winter would “open the pores” and let diseases in. I suspect that he was also afraid that someone would suddenly enter the bathroom as a prank while he was in the tub. (He did grow up with seven brothers….) In addition to his bath-aversion, he was fond of Limburger cheese, liverwurst sandwiches, and raw onions – he kept a huge barrel of onions in the basement. I got to sit next to him at dinner all through high school.

I loved him when I was two, and I still loved him – but I was always grateful when my stepmother laid down the law: If he wanted to eat the food she cooked, he had to bathe occasionally.

Uncle Bert at Sweet Sixteen

Bert sweet sixteen postcard 72dpi

When I showed Uncle Bert this picture, taken around 1915,  he remembered the shy and awkward boy he had been, and told me this story:

“There was a family moved in next to us from somewhere in the backwoods. The old lady used to sit on the front porch in a rocking chair and chew tobacco. She’d spit that tobacco juice right on the floor: Rock – Rock – Splat!   Rock – Rock – Splat!

“They had a daughter about my age, and they worked her awful hard; she was thin and never had a decent dress or pair of shoes. So I felt sorry for her. That’s all; I just felt sorry for her because she never had any fun.”

(Uncle Bert knew a lot about hard work and poverty. His father – what was called “a hard man” — yanked him out of school as soon as he was big enough to be useful on the construction crew and paid him 50 cents a week, year after year. “Fifty cents a week!” my uncle said bitterly, sixty years later.)

Bert -- "Sweet Sixteen" is written on the back

Bert — “Sweet Sixteen” is written on the back

Young Bert decided to spend some of his hard-earned wages on a trip to the movies (silents, of course) with a group of kids his age, boys and girls who had grown up together. And he decided to treat the hard-worked girl next door to her first movie. He went over to her house the day before to ask permission of her Maw, who was, as usual, sitting on the porch in the wooden rocking chair, chewing and spitting. Amazingly, she said her daughter could go with the group.

Picture the boy in this photograph, shy and diffident, approaching her house the next evening to collect the girl. Maw was waiting for him in the rocker: Rock – Rock – Splat!

But this time she had a shotgun across her lap.

She gave him a long, steely-eyed look, and said, “Iffen anythin’ happen to my daughter – Splat! – Ah’ll shoot you like a dawg.”

No wonder Bert was shy around women.

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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1940s, 1960s, Tales I Was Told, Vintage Photographs

What I Want to Remember

Remember Their Summers

I am only one generation away from the 19th century.

My Mother's Aunts, with a Friend, about 1890

My Mother’s Aunts, with a Friend, about 1890

My mother was the youngest child in her family. She had siblings born in the 1890s. So did my father. The grandmother who took care of me when I was a child was born in the 1870s, married in the 1890s, and was still running a household in the 1950s — running it as she had in the 1930s.

I was born 20 years late — when my parents were in their forties.  I thought everyone’s parents talked about bathtub gin, roadhouses, Model T Fords, cranking the truck, and the thrill of driving on a paved road.

My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother on a road trip, late 1920s.

My great aunt, my grandmother, and my mother on a road trip, late 1920s.

The aunts and uncles who read me the comics, built me a bicycle, and took me to the movies and on vacations with them were born in the 19th century.

Two of my uncles, and my aunt, with their aunts, early 1900s

My Uncle Frank, My Uncle Mel, and my Aunt Dorothy with their aunts, early 1900s. My great-aunt Alice, in striped blouse, was a familiar and lively figure when I was a child.

A Moon Landing and the Wright Brothers

In 1966, my Uncle Bert and I watched television together as Surveyor One made a soft landing on the moon.  My uncle said, “The first newspaper article I remember reading — reading all by myself, you know, not with help — was about the Wright Brothers  flying an airplane.” Coincidentally, the first word I remember reading in a newspaper was “jet” — in a headline. (In the early 1950s, people still pointed to the sky with excitement when a jet streaked overhead, leaving a surprising white line of cloud behind it. We were used to prop [propeller] planes, which didn’t leave a vapor trail.)

Watching Sputnik from a Spinning World

I remember an evening when my father took me outside to watch a satellite crossing the night sky — a tiny moving star among all the others. It wasn’t just staring up at the sky that made us dizzy; we could feel the world changing. My father, who remembered plowing with a horse and team — and much preferred plowing with a tractor — taught me to appreciate scientific progress.

So, on a black and white TV set, in 1966, I was eager to watch the first time a man-made object made a soft landing on the moon. I watched it in the company of a man who had made his own “cat whisker” radio set, who was born before airplanes even existed.

I want to tell the stories my family told me, to pass on some of their tales  — tales that were told and retold when they and their friends sat around the kitchen table, sometimes forgetting the child playing among their feet. My parents, their siblings, and their friends lived through World War I, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, the fifties, the space race, the sixties…. They went from iceboxes to refrigerators, from homemade radios to VCRs.

They are all gone now. I want to remember their summers.

My mother, right, and friends, showing their naughty rolled stockings, 1921

My mother, right, and friends, showing their naughty rolled stockings, 1921

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Filed under 1900 to 1919, 1920s, 1950s, 1960s, Vintage Photographs