A Retired Engineer Remembers Life Before World War II
by Doyle P. Henderson
©1999 by 21st Century Education, Inc
The second of two sons born to Deloise Myers Henderson, I was born at home — delivered by my father, in Santa Ana, California, on Columbus Day — October 12, 1924. In the year 1999, I will turn 75. I was born early in the middle of the Roaring 20's — a full decade before the big depression and the first of three elections of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I remember arguing with my schoolmates that our then current President, Herbert Hoover, should be re-elected. At the time, my dad, Norman, was a newspaper reporter for the daily San Bernardino Sun and he was a staunch Republican. His typically conservative views have stuck with me for a lifetime. But, a lot of things were different back then.
At times, it seems I can't remember much at all from those years, yet when thinking of specific people, places, or things, I can still remember a number of events that happened before World War II. Some of them may interest you. But, don't expect a chronological history of events — or even a brief family genealogy. Rather, just enjoy reading the memories I have about the people I knew and the way things were back in those days.
My mom's maiden name was Deloise Charleen Myers. Her mother, Emma, had two daughters and six sons. They all called her "Della" although my Dad and all Mom's friends always called her Deloise. I've never heard of anyone else with that first name. In fact, I have no idea where it came from.
She talked a lot, sometimes seemed pretty stubborn, but was always a loyal, loving, well-liked, honest, generous, decent, and selfless lady. She drove a car back when many women didn't know how and never once even dented a fender. A champion of the underdog, she stubbornly defended the weak and young. In her forties, she educated herself and made herself employable and financially independent.
She never swore, smoked, or drank much at all — although four of her brothers did. Two others died of appendicitis and scarlet fever when they were in their twenties. With the untimely loss of their father, a mother to care for, little money, no welfare, social security, or other government help (called the dole in those days), and with limited schooling, only one of my uncles, Ralph, managed to marry, yet he fathered no children. Roy and Bob also were sometimes hoboes who rode the rails all over the country during the depression years-- eventually migrating to their older brother's place in Southern California where my uncle Carl, a gassed and wounded veteran of World War I, forsake his own needs to care for his aging mother and give frequent shelter to his often less fortunate brothers.
They all had musical talent and could play the guitar and mandolin when their beat up old instruments weren't in hock at a local pawn shop. They often sang folk songs of the road, some of which I still remember. The youngest brother, Bob (Robert Fitzimmons Myers), also had a natural talent for composing music and for drawing. But, usually he had no materials other than brown paper bags and burnt wood. As a young boy, he had blinded himself in his right eye by enthusiastically throwing a rake into the air when my mother told him he could walk to the store with her. When she cried out a warning for him to look out, he looked up at the wrong instant. Despite his ugly disfigurement, apparently no one ever advised him to wear an eye patch. Undaunted and without complaining or whining, he always seemed to be a good spirited and kindly man.
When they could, they all worked as laborers in the numerous Valencia and navel orange groves near Redlands, California. They irrigated and tended the trees. In the winter, they often stayed up all night to fill and light dozens of smudge pots which burned oil. The heat usually kept the fruit from freezing. During the harvest period, they helped haul oranges and kept the packing houses running.
On Saturday nights, the boys, as my mom called them, took off their dusty coveralls, bathed, put on plaid shirts, and hung out in cheap bars. Usually, they got drunk. They carried a bottle or flask filled with cheap blended whiskey. Sometimes they would come over to our house to see their sister. They often brought a box or two of the largest navel oranges in the world — hand selected from hundreds of trees during their work. I grew up enjoying six inch oranges without realizing how lucky I was. One by one, after their mother passed on at age 81, each of my uncles also died. Only Carl reached his sixties. They all worked hard, stayed out of jails and prisons, had few real possessions, and no children.
My father, a white-collar newspaper man, tolerated them — but, truthfully, he was ashamed of them. Even so, in the twenties, they went into the termite treatment business together. Within a period of six months, that failed. Later, in the thirties, they acquired mining claims on land in the desert north of Apple Valley. The boys dug several mine shafts near other rich claims. They actually found gold. But, the yield from their gold mine was too meager to allow them to continue mining without power machines. The price of gold at that time was only $32 an ounce. They went back to the groves.
I remember going out there on the weekends and seeing at least ten sidewinder rattlesnakes. My brother and I threw rocks at three or four snakes near the mine. We hoped we had killed them although in those days we believed that snakes didn't die until sundown.
My uncles' plight clearly showed me what can happen to decent men who fail to get a good education and grow up in a situation where/when opportunities are severely limited.
When my mother was growing up, her family lived several miles out of town near Joplin, Missouri. The place, as they all called their home, was surrounded by corn fields and lead mines. The family had lost its ownership in three local area lead mines when her dad died (also in mid-life) of respiratory disorders. One of his mines was named THE FYNO MINE and another: DAMDFYNO MINE. There are pictures and records of these and other mines in the local museum in Joplin.
My mom's older sister, Carrie, married and moved to Iowa before their father, Grandpa Myers, died. She had a son (Howard Burgess) whose life and interests have been surprisingly similar to mine. These two sisters each had a son raised in different states without knowledge of the other's activities. Yet, note the following facts: Both Howard and I became interested in amateur radio, he became W9TGU and I was W6RFG. He worked in electronics on government contracts at Sandia Laboratories for 30 years, had two daughters, became a published author of several magazine articles, and is the nation's top authority on bizarre cattle mutilations associated with UFO's. While subject to repudiation by authorities, he was interviewed on camera for a full length movie on the subject. He retired and moved to the high mountains near the ski resort of Taos, New Mexico.
My own professional and private life has been similar to his, and we both have writing capabilities, and have become associated with bizarre concepts and phenomena. As a result of these activities, we have both been publicly interviewed, and we both currently live in high mountains near ski resorts. They're interesting coincidences.
After World War I, during which her high school sweetheart was killed, my mom left Joplin and moved to Baker, a small town in eastern Oregon where her aunt and uncle lived. She also had suffered a throat goiter with temporary loss of speech. When encouraged to regain her speech, she somehow got a job as a telephone switchboard operator and worked on the late night shift. That's how she got to know my dad, who was a newspaper reporter, sight unseen, over the telephone.
Every night, the Portland Oregonian, the state's biggest newspaper, would send out the next day's news to other smaller newspapers in various outlying cities throughout the state. As there weren't any teletype or FAX machines, they used a man's voice over the telephone.
At a pre-set time, late every night, a reporter in the newsroom at the Oregonian in Portland, would read the news (out loud) over his telephone after central switchboard operators in the various cities had connected their local city reporters' telephones to the one circuit — like a conference call does today.
Every night, each newspaper had a reporter ready — wearing headphones and sitting at a mechanical typewriter. When the man in Portland started reading the news, each city's reporter typed the incoming news — all at the same time — for his city's newsroom and the morning edition. That was my dad's job in Baker.
That was after the first World War ended in 1918 and he had been released from the army after starting air cadet training at the age of 18. Dad was born and raised in Portland where his dad, George Philip Henderson, became manager of the Chevrolet agency there. Grandpa George came from Philadelphia, went to the Klondike gold rush, returned without a claim or fortune, became a photographer, and in time built a nice three-story home with an elevator on the steep hillsides of Southwest Portland.
George, and Ella who was an elocutionist (speech teacher), had Norman and his older sister, Vera. She married and had three sons: Gene, David, and George Patterson. Dave became a minister to the Indians in the Flagstaff area of Arizona and also became a skilled ventriloquist. Innovatively, he used his dummies while preaching religion to the Navaho Indians. He married and has several grandchildren who carry on the bloodline under other names than Henderson.
My grandpa Henderson retired after being able to buy a lifetime annuity which provided monthly money for both he and Ella until they died in their mid-eighties. I remember him telling me that he had already gotten back far more money than he had paid in years before they both died. Of course, there was no inflation to erode buying power in those days.
He also owned an air-cooled Franklin sedan (automobile) of which he was most proud. While he could buy one of the new Chevrolets his dealership sold at cost, he told me he wouldn't own one. They also had a small cottage on the beach at Seaside, Oregon. Grandma made chocolate mousse and fancy dishes I had never heard of when we visited them on vacation in the early forties. Grandpa Henderson was a sharp man who gave good advice when asked and gained complete financial independence on his own. Comparing life's choices of quality experiences to the pouring of non-homogenized milk delivered in the glass bottles we all knew so well in those days, he told me: "Learn to scoop the cream off the top of life and leave the rest." He was the only grandpa I ever knew and I can truly say that I both loved and admired him completely.
My Dad had attended college in Oregon and when he got out of the army, he somehow got the night newspaper job in Baker. Apparently, my mom and dad talked to each other every night over the phone while they were waiting for the man in Portland to read the news. In time, they met in person, dated, and then they eloped to Boise, Idaho in November of 1919. As Dad was way under 21, they couldn't get married in Oregon although my mother was about three years older than he. My only brother, Norman Paul, was born in Baker on February 25, 1921.
During their life in Baker, my dad also learned magic, so-called mind reading, spirit slate writing, etc., and he performed live on stage at several theaters in the state as a vaudeville act. He admired Houdini, a nationally famed magician at that time, and later wrote a book revealing some of his tricks. Selling it through mailorder for years, I remember him opening many envelopes each with a dollar bill in it — all through the thirties.
My parents camped in the snowy Blue Mountain forest during their honeymoon and trapped rabbits for fresh food. Like his father, who called cars machines, Dad always owned a car and frequently traded one for another. Even during the depression, he managed to trade in his 1929 Chrysler for a new 1936 Dodge. He drove fast, passed cars on two lane roads when it was barely safe to do so, and always bragged about the time it took him to go from one city to another. He never knew what a leisure drive was. If there was a car ahead, he had to pass it and speed up to the rear bumper of the next one. I recall him urging his car to accelerate — moving his body forward, almost bending the steering wheel while crushing the throttle with his right foot.
Somehow, he avoided having an accident until 1941 when he hit a gravel truck — broadside. It had pulled out of a driveway to cross the highway on the far side of a Y-intersection. But, the driver never heard Dad's legal siren on his unmarked car. Yet, he survived his injuries and a crash that totaled his car. After two weeks in the hospital, he was back on the road again and continued to drive the same as before. Even in his later years, he still bragged to me how he got speeding tickets fixed whether in his red Porsche or black Cadillac.
Mom and Dad met Beulah and Wilfred Brown in Baker. They all got married about the same time. And, when Mom got pregnant with Paul, Beulah soon after conceived Robert. Within six weeks of my conception in 1924, Beulah again became pregnant with J Rudgar, (Jack) Brown. Soon after, both families moved to Santa Ana, California where the two husbands worked for the local newspaper, the Register.
I was born at home at 302 Flower Street in a house that was still standing in the eighties. About twenty years ago my dad told me how the Doctor got drunk on a Saturday night and failed to show up when Mom started delivering me early Sunday morning. He told me of how he was all alone with Mom and personally delivered me. He even admitted cutting my umbilical cord too short. That error required minor surgery to my belly button at Loma Linda hospital about two years later — of which I still have faint memories. But, when I asked Mom about all this, she said that a nurse delivered me.
About ten years ago, I discovered that Beulah Brown was still alive. So, I called her. After exchanging greetings, I asked her about the circumstances of my birth knowing how close friends the Browns and Hendersons were at that time and that her son, Jack, was born just six weeks after I was born in Santa Ana. To my dismay, she replied that although she remembered me, she couldn't even remember her own son Jack's birth, let alone who delivered me. At Christmas in 1994, Jack wrote me that she was still living. (Note, she was still living in November of 1997.)