5th grade Riverside class photo – fall 1954
5th grade Riverside class photo – fall 1954
I think this was taken in the fall of 1954, at the beginning of my 5th grade school year in Riverside, CA.
I’m the one standing just to the left of our teacher, whose name I have sadly forgotten.
If I look a little short and scrawny in this photo, I have an excuse: I had skipped first grade a few years earlier, so I was a year younger than all the other kids in my class. And this was a year when both girls and boys began growing by leaps and bounds.
Most of the photos in this album were taken nearly 40 years after we first moved to Riverside, CA, as part of some research that I was doing for a novel called Do-Overs, the beginning of which can be found here on my website
and the relevant chapter (concerning Riverside) can be found here:
Before I get into the details, let me make a strong request — if you’re looking at these photos, and if you are getting any enjoyment at all of this brief look at some mundane Americana from 60+ years ago: find a similar episode in your own life, and write it down. Gather the pictures, clean them up, and upload them somewhere on the Internet where they can be found. Trust me: there will come a day when the only person on the planet who actually experienced those events is you. Your own memories may be fuzzy and incomplete; but they will be invaluable to your friends and family members, and to many generations of your descendants.
So, what do I remember about the year that I spent in Riverside? Not much at the moment, though I’m sure more details will occur to me in the days to come — and I’ll add them to these notes, along with additional photos that I’m tweaking and editing now (including some of the drive from Riverside to Omaha, where our family moved next), as well as some “real” contemporaneous photos I’ve found in family scrapbooks.
For now, here is a random list of things I remember:
1. I attended one school, somewhere in downtown Riverside, when my parents were looking for a house; and when they finally found a house out at the edge of town (at the base of the San Bernardino foothills), I was switched to a different school. This was typical; I usually attended two different schools in every city we lived in, and I attended a total of 17 schools before heading off to college.
2. While I eventually rode my bike to and from the second house to my school, I started off riding a school bus. A bunch of us kids would wait on a corner for the bus to arrive; and it was at the edge of a huge orange grove that seemed to stretch on forever. There were always a few rotten oranges lying on the ground, thoroughly rotten, and these substituted nicely for snowballs. There is nothing like the experience of being smacked in the stomach, of your fresh clean shirt, with a rotten orange.
3. Like most other suburban kids in the 1950s, I was allowed to do all sorts of things alone — as long as I returned home by dinner time. I could ride my bike anywhere I wanted, alone; I could hike way up into the hills alone (as long as I had a pocket-knife, which my father insisted I carry in case I was bitten by a rattlesnake). And I was allowed to sleep outside in the back yard, in a sleeping bag, virtually whenever I wanted to. The weather was always quite mild, the skies were clear (Los Angeles smog had not reached us in those days), and the stars were utterly amazing. There were shooting stars to watch, an experience I have never forgotten.
4. I discovered that marbles were excellent projectiles to shoot with one’s slingshot, and that they would actually travel in a more-or-less straight line. I became pretty good at shooting lizards with my slingshot; all I needed was an endless supply of marbles (because you could only shoot them once, at which point they would generally disappear somewhere). So I began practicing quite hard, played competitive games of marbles every day at school, and eventually amassed great quantities of the little round things.
5. Even better than lizards were spiders; they were everywhere, and they were relatively easy to catch. I don’t think any of them were dangerous, and in any case, none of them bit me. I sometimes put them in my pants pocket for the day, and I often brought them home. And I would put them in the dresser drawer with my socks and underwear; it seemed like a good place for them to relax. My mother discovered a couple of them one day, and was not impressed.
6. We had relatives in the city of Los Angeles, and made the 50-mile drive to visit them once or twice a year. We also made a 50-mile drive once or twice to visit San Juan Capistrano, which my parents thought was the most wonderful place in the world — mostly, they told me, because of the famous swallows that migrate each year from someplace in Argentina. In fact, I think they were impressed because they were old enough to like a 1940 hit song, “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano,” which I couldn’t stand. If they had told me the place was the locale of the first Zorro novella (“The Curse of Capistrano,” published in 1919), I would have been much more impressed.
7. Riverside is where I got my first dog—a mutt named Blackie, that was part of a litter produced by the next-door neighbor’s dog. It provided an open invitation for me to visit the next-door neighbors whenever I wanted, and swim in their pool (a rarity in those days). At the end of our year in Riverside, Blackie moved with us to our next location — traveling all the way in a little house/bed that had been made for him in the World War II Jeep that Dad hitched to his Chevrolet.
8. Riverside is also where I had my first exposure, at school, to kids of other ethnic backgrounds. There were Asian kids, and black kids, and Latino kids (whom, sadly, my father referred to generically as “Mexicans,” but whom he also held in high respect because he remembered watching their comrades working harder and longer than any of the “white boys” in the rough mining and ranching camps on the Utah/Colorado border, where he had grown up). All of us were thrown together in the same classroom, all of us traveled to each other’s houses and neighborhoods after school, and nobody seemed to think it was unusual in any way.
9. I learned, to my enormous delight, that I *was* different in one special way: I was left-handed. During the pickup baseball games that we played constantly during recess, lunch, and after school, there were never enough baseball gloves for everyone, so everyone simply shared with everyone else (after all, if your team is at bat, you don’t need your baseball glove). But I was the only left-handed kid around, apparently the only one in the whole school; so nobody ever wanted to share my glove.