GROWING UP WITH ROY AND DALE #6
I have the feeling my parents found both humor and truth in Psalm 127:3,5: "Children are an heritage of the Lord . . . Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."
Dad's quiver was more than full. It was overflowing—not only with children, but also with dogs and pigeons and chickens. It was time to move again, and this time Dad wanted to have livestock—cows and pigs. He wanted a place that was big enough to be self-sustaining, and he was delighted when he found a 138-acre ranch in Chatsworth, California.
It was quite a place. There was a large lake and several ponds, as well as a swimming pool. The Canoga Park High School football team used to have drag races out near the lake. There were separate quarters for the housekeeper and her husband and for the cook, and there was a ranch hands' house. We had a barn, corrals for the horses, pigeon coops, and special shelters for the hunting dogs. The wood-frame house was accented with lots of brick work, and it was secluded by bushes and trees and other shrubs. Mom and Dad decided to put additions on each end of the house, so it became a sprawling home. You needed roller skates and a map in that place, just to get around. Mom and Dad had the idea of putting in an intercom system, which was really important. Without it, I don't know how we would have managed.
We each had our own bedroom, and the living room had a huge walk-in fireplace made out of petrified wood. We also had a large den, where Dad hung his hunting trophies from Africa. Mom put our family altar in the living room by the front door. The Western-style kitchen was built to accommodate a large family. We had a walk-in freezer, a large walk-in refrigerator with shelves for storing milk cans and whatnot, another refrigerator for other food items, and a meat closet.
The dining room easily handled our big round table with its lazy Susan, and we had a large aquarium in there, too. The whole house was carpeted in industrial carpet like you find in hotels because with so many children, we needed something that would stand up to the wear and tear.
Way down at the end of the hall was Mom and Dad's room. They had a master suite with sliding glass closet doors, wood paneling, cathedral ceilings, and ivy wall paper. About four steps down and to the left of the master suite was a little television room, and just beyond that was Dad's office. He had a full-time secretary who managed the household needs. By this time we needed lots of hired help. Betty was a black woman who did the housework, and Leola was another black woman who did all the cooking. Neither of them wanted the other messing around her territory. If Betty went into the kitchen and lifted the lid on a pan, Leola would grab a fly swatter and chase her through the house. Theirs was a good-natured kind of fussing at each other, though, and both of them were wonderful with us and with their work.
Sandy and I liked Leola. She always smelled of glycerin and rose water, and sometimes she would come out onto the porch and sit and talk with us. She was a great big woman who reminded me a lot of Hattie McDaniel. When she hugged me, she'd darn near push the air right out of me!
Leola loved all of us kids, and every once in a while she'd slip us a piece of candy or gum and say, "Now don't you tell your mama." We'd sneak out back and have it.
One day I went out to play in the backyard, and Leola had about 20 large pans all over the steps. Some of them had flour and some had cornmeal in them. There were black things all over the top of the flour and cornmeal. Leola was out back, shaking some rugs.
"Hey, Leola," I said. "What are you doing?"
"Hey, there, Dusty. Well, there's some boll weevils in the flour and the oatmeal."
"Bugs? Why don't you throw it out?"
"Naw. They don't hurt the flour none. They don't like the sun, so I just set 'em out, and they git up and leave."
Even though Leola liked us, we weren't any more welcome in the kitchen than Betty was. In fact, my sisters never learned to cook until after they were married, because Leola guarded her territory so fiercely. We'd slip our heads just inside the door to see if she were there. She wore slippers but she never quite got them on all the way, and we could hear her padding around. She could never sneak up on us because those slippers gave her away every time. If Leola were in the kitchen and we told her we wanted a snack, she'd go out to the garden and pick some fresh vegetables. We'd have little strips of carrots and squash sprinkled with salt. When we couldn't hear the slippers, we knew we were safe, so we'd sneak into the kitchen, grab a cookie, and run like the dickens. She'd come waddling after us with that fly swatter, shouting, "Boy, when I get you, I'm gonna throw your buttocks up to the sun!" She never did catch us, though.
Although Leola was fussy about her kitchen, Mom did the cooking on Leola's days off. Mom wasn't the best cook in the world, probably because she didn't have much time to practice. But one meal she fixed was always my favorite: southern fried chicken. She made corn bread in an iron skillet, and she fixed black-eyed peas and mustard greens. She could fix her "old south recipes" any time she wanted, as far as I was concerned.
Sandy, of course, didn't really have any preferences. Every morning he'd ask the same question: "What's for supper?" No matter what she answered, his response was always the same: "Good!" Only one answer could spoil his whole day.
None of us liked liver. Even Mom disliked it, but because she had once been anemic, she had to eat it. No matter how Leola would try to disguise it, we still hated it. One time Mom decided to try her hand at cooking it, and she figured she'd fix it just like a pot roast. Maybe if she simmered it for a few hours with some tomatoes, it would be good. Sandy took one bit of it, and for the first time I could remember, he turned green. He just couldn't understand why Mom would do that to us.
Breakfast always began with oatmeal. When Mom and Dad were first married, one of their sponsors was Quaker Oats. Twice a month they would receive a case of oatmeal. There was no way we could eat all of it, but every morning we had oatmeal before we had anything else.
Sometimes, if it was Leola's day off or if she were on vacation, Virginia would make the oatmeal. It was always a disaster. One day I let it sit there until it was stone cold.
"Come on, Dusty," Mom coaxed. "Two bites."
"Okay," I sighed. I stuck my spoon in and lifted it up. The whole bowlful came up, and the milk ran down into the sides. It wasn't fit for human consumption!
But the oatmeal wasn't the half of it. We also had Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice—and whatever else Quaker made. When the Nestle company picked up part of the sponsorship, we got cases and cases of Nestle's Quick—chocolate, strawberry, and for a while, even banana flavored. Some of those products started coming when Cheryl was little, and we were still trying to use them up when she got married!
Mom was determined that we would be healthy, so every day we had to have our doses of cod liver oil and Uncle John's Elixer. She'd also make us something she called a "Morning Smile." She mixed orange juice and raw eggs with a tablespoon of honey and some wheat germ, poured it into the blender and whirred it up until it was light and fluffy. I loved that—until she got the idea of hiding our cod liver oil in it. From that time on, it was not a "morning smile" to me—it was a dreadful drink.
Sandy and I both loved the ranch. We had venison to eat from Dad's hunting trips. We crocked our own eggs, putting them in a saline solution so they wouldn't spoil. We butchered our own meat, and we ate our own chickens. My only regret was, with so many children to feed and so much abundance on the ranch, Mom rarely bought us tuna for lunch!
Sandy and I even enjoyed our chores. In addition to the standard chores like keeping our rooms tidy, emptying the trash and carrying our own dirty dishes to the kitchen, we had to haul in the milk from the walk-in cooler every morning. We'd skim the cream off and put it in two separate containers. One container was used for making butter, and one was for coffee, strawberries or cereal. Too little to carry the five-gallon milk cans alone, Sandy would get on one side and I'd get on the other, and we'd carry a can in together and put it in the refrigerator. One morning we dropped the can. Five gallons of milk went all over the kitchen linoleum, all over the throw rugs, under the refrigerator, under the freezer, under the cupboards, and into the crawl space beneath the kitchenette. Sandy and I tried our best to wipe it up, but five gallons of milk is a lot of liquid, and there were places we just couldn't reach. Betty and Leola spent most of the day trying to clean it up, but the kitchen smelled sour for the next couple of weeks.
No matter what the chore, if it was dirty, Sandy and I loved it. One time Dad told us to go out and clean up the pigeon coop. I don't know how clean we got it, but we had great fun slipping around in the droppings! Mom used to get squawking mad at us because when we came in, we reeked!
We also had some wild ducks on the ranch, and they laid their eggs out near the lake or in the pastures. Some of them would be hidden out there for months, and so we never gathered them for eating. On Saturdays Sandy and I would head out to the pasture and get into rotten egg fights. One day we had the time of our lives. Sandy spotted the first egg when he was about 20 feet away from me. When Sandy took aim, I took a dive—and landed right in a fresh pile of cow pucky. I skidded on my belly through the stuff, and when I stood up, it was ground into my shirt and all the way down my pants. Looking around, I spied a cow chip. It had a nice crust on the outside, but it was soft enough to be good and mushy in the inside. I took aim at Sandy and let that thing fly. Just as it got close to Sandy, it came apart in the air, and it splattered all over him. We kept that up for hours!
It had rained recently, and there were mud puddles all over the pasture. Sandy and I dove into manure piles and mud puddles until we were unrecognizable. Suddenly Sandy took a dive and disappeared. Pretty soon he was sputtering and calling for help. I ran over to him, and he was shoulder-deep in a huge mudhole. "Get me outta here, Dusty, or I'm a goner for sure!" he hollered. No matter how hard he tried, he was stuck. I ran for the barn and hurried back with a rope. Sandy tied it around his chest under his arms, and I pulled and pulled until he was finally able to walk himself out. We collapsed on the grass next to the hole until we got our breath.
"Know what, Dusty?" Sandy puffed.
I could always out-run Sandy, and I took off. Before we got to the house Virginia spotted us, and she made such a racket it wasn't long before Mom came running. She lit into Sandy and me like a hawk after a field mouse. She made us hose off outside, and then she poured disinfectant all over us. We had to take a bath before she'd let us eat anything. We didn't learn from that, though. We had lots of similar fights whenever we could.
At butchering time Dad started with the chickens. He cut their heads off and they ran around, chasing us. When they stopped flopping, Sandy and I helped clean them. We dipped them in hot wax and then, when it had set, we pulled the wax off to get all the feathers out.
One time Dad decided we were big enough to help with the hogs. "Okay, boys," he instructed, "just go into the pigpen and grab those pigs, drag 'em out here, and
James will take care of them." James was our Filipino househelper, who was married to our housekeeper, Betty. It looked easy enough, so Sandy and I jumped in the pigpen. Those pigs dragged us from one end of the pen to the other, squealing the whole time. We never did get hold of them, but we had a great time. We thought it was especially fun, because when we got out, we were covered from top to bottom with muck.
One Monday morning I was out in the front of the house waiting for Virginia. She didn't stay with us on the weekends, so I always waited for her on Mondays. Pretty soon I saw her old green Chevy coming up the driveway. Linda came out onto the porch with me as Virginia walked up to us. "Dusty and Linda, I have something to tell you." She got down on her knees next to us. Suddenly I felt worried . Virginia looked sad, almost like the day Robin died. She put one arm around each of us and said, "I feel I've done all I can do here. You're all grown up now. You're a young man, now, Dusty—almost nine years old! Linda, you're a young lady. I need to go and help some other little ones."
"What do you mean, Virginia?" I asked.
"I have to go to work for somebody else now. You know that Mr. and Mrs. Allen have a new little baby girl. Her name is Bonita. Now that they've moved to their ranch in Malibu, they need me there."
I was devastated. No other explanation was ever given to me about why Virginia was leaving, and I couldn't understand why Rex Allen's children needed her more than I did. It threw my whole system out of whack. Virginia had been the most consistent guiding influence on my life until that point. She had been a part of my life every day that I could remember, and as much as I loved my mom, Virginia was really the first woman who had mothered me. I ran to my room and grabbed Peter Cottontail. He was the first toy Dad had ever given me. He had a wind-up music box inside him that played "Peter Cottontail," and I slept with him. When I first got him he wore a pair of white knickers with suspenders. When they wore out Mom made him a little tuxedo with a black bow tie. I stood him up on the bed and I punched him. He rolled off the bed and onto the floor, and I threw myself on him, punching him until his head came off. I always took all my anguish and frustrations out on Peter Cottontail, and Mom fixed him again and again during those years. I still have him.
After Virginia left I moped around for weeks, and when I got old enough to get around on my own, I often went to the Aliens to visit with her. She sized up every girl I dated, and when I married, she gave my bride her seal of approval. Virginia worked for the Aliens for the next 15 or 20 years, and not too long after she retired, she died of a massive heart attack.
When Virginia left, Mom and Dad hired another woman to help care for us children. Her name was Pearl White. She had grown up in the Midwest, and she liked kids, but she was strict. She wore a thimble on her middle finger all the time, and when we got out of line, she'd come out of nowhere and ding us in the back of the head with that thimble. We always watched out for Pearl because she was as silent as a cat, and we could never hear her coming. She moved so fast we hardly knew what hit us. At the table we'd be goofing off. One minute she'd be sitting there and the next minute she'd have flown around that table. Thunk! She'd let us have it.
Like Virginia, Pearl didn't stay with us on the weekends, but Betty and James and Leola lived with us all the time. One weekend Mom and Dad were away, and Sandy and I got scared during the night. We'd all gone to bed, and suddenly Sandy started hollering.
"Dusty, Dusty! There's somebody in the closet!" Although Sandy was often frightened by shadows, this time I thought I saw somebody, too. Sandy and I tore out of the room and down the hall, screaming for James. We ran into his room, and he leaped out of bed. Just then James thought he saw something by the screen outside of his window. James grabbed his gun and ran out of the house in his underwear, shooting and screaming something in Filipino. I can still see him running toward the lake, hollering and firing his gun. He never found anyone. When he got back, Sandy and I were shaking like crazy. The whole thing had scared the dewdrops out of us, and when we refused to go back to our own room, James let us sleep on the floor in his.
Another night not long after that we had a mare in foal. Again we were all in bed, and about one o'clock in the morning we were about knocked out of our beds by a horrible noise. It sounded like a horse screaming. There had been reports of a mountain lion in the area, and we couldn't tell if we were hearing a horse in trouble or a mountain lion screeching. This time Dad was away, but Mom was home with us.
"Cheryl, get a flashlight," she ordered.
We were all standing around in our pajamas, and Cheryl ran to get her flashlight while Mom grabbed her stage pistol. I don't even know if it was loaded with live ammunition, because she usually kept it full of blanks. Anyway, she and Cheryl set out, tromping across the pasture in search of whatever was making that noise. They were gone about 45 minutes, and when they returned, they hadn't found anything. I don't know what they would have done if they had found a mountain lion. Although Dad is a terrific marksman, Mom never could hit the side of a barn. She just always looked real determined!
As the months went by, Pearl began to have health problems. When she had to quit, Mom hired another lady, Ruth Minor. We all called her Granny. She was just one of the boys. She went everywhere we went and joined in all of our games. She drove us to school and was available whenever we needed anything. I don't remember Granny Minor ever getting mad, and I always had the feeling that she—like all of the people who worked for my parents—would have worked for nothing. They loved us and respected my parents, and it never seemed to me that they considered working for us as "just another job."
And the job was about to become more complicated. Mom and Dad had always been strong supporters of World Vision, and Dr. Bob Pierce, the founder, was a personal friend of theirs. One day he shared with them the plight of thousands of little Korean children, many of whom were unacceptable in their native country because they were of mixed parentage. Their fathers had been United Nations servicemen. When Mom and Dad saw the pictures of one little girl in particular, we all knew it was only a matter of time before there would be another baby in the house. Dad was about to add another arrow to his quiver.
TO BE CONTINUED