I'm sure the very young grow weary of hearing about the "good old days" in whatever context it's offered. Well, I'm sorry, but I'm going to do it anyway. Sometimes folks need to know what came before and what things were like before they arrived on the scene.
My family moved here in 1951, just a couple of months before I was to begin the seventh grade. We arrived on June 25 in the middle of a heat wave. The daytime temperatures rose to 105 degrees every day for two weeks. We thought we had died and gone to that other place, but it was only our special introduction to the high desert of New Mexico!
We registered at the Texas Ann Motel way out on West Central (as it was then called.) I think there was a window unit for an air conditioner, but I can't swear to that. Mostly, there wasn't air conditioning of any kind except in the movie theaters and department stores. Our car certainly wasn't air conditioned (again, no one's was back then), and the new apartment we rented on North Sycamore sure as hell wasn't! Not only that, but the bedrooms were upstairs, and we had to sleep with all the windows open and hope a breeze came through. It rarely did.
We moved here from La Jolla, California, where the daytime temperature was about 75 degrees at that time of year. My father was notified we were being transferred, just as we were getting used to being in California. In La Jolla we lived up on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. As we drove away the day we left, I was turned around in the back seat of our 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door, looking out the window, as my view of the ocean disappeared. At age 12, I wasn't anxious to move to another new town and enroll in another new school. We only lived in La Jolla a little over six months, and I had grown to love the climate and going to the beach every weekend.
Almost as soon as we rented the apartment, we began the search for a house to buy. The hope was to be moved in and settled before I had to start school. Since we only lived one block from East Central, my dad took the bus every morning to the FBI office at the corner of Park Avenue and Tenth Street, right across the street from Washington Junior High. That left my mother and me with the Chevie to go house hunting.
I remember looking at a lot of houses, but I don't remember the actual day we purchased our home. It was being built, and I know it was early enough in the process that we were able to select the paint colors we wanted in all the rooms. But it wouldn't be ready until the end of August, so we did the best we could surviving the heat in the apartment.
In those days, television was very new. Yes, I know. This is dating me really bad, but it's true. My family, however, had owned a television set for more than two years. Apparently no one else in the apartment complex had that distinction. I don't think many of the kids had ever even seen one. Ours was located downstairs in the living room and it was situated in such a way that when the front door was open (as it was all summer long), the screen could be viewed from the front porch.
Did I mention that I was fearful that I wouldn't make new friends when we moved to Albuquerque? I shouldn't have worried. I became the best friend of every kid in that complex. Every night, they all gathered on our front porch and vied for front row seats. The front row had to lay on their bellies, propped on elbows to watch so the ones behind them could still see. But you know what's even funnier? Television was only on for three hours each night -- from 6 pm to 9 pm! And, there was only one station! KOB-TV, channel 4. There was local news and a guy named Jack Baker played the Hammond Organ for half an hour. Beyond that, there wasn't much else to see. Tom Doyle was the newsman, and he was around for many years on that station. And do I need to tell you television was only available in black and white?
At the end of August, moving day came, and we were in our new home. One catch. There was no phone service available at our new place. My dad's job required he be able to be reached by the office 24/7. Too bad, said the phone company. They had been caught off guard by the recent population explosion in town and new phone lines had to be extended way out to the area of San Mateo and Indian School Road. So we were put on the "priority list", which meant that the first line that became available would be ours. Problem was, when that day happened more than a year later, we were on a 12-party line! I didn't mind. I loved to pick up the phone and listen in to see what was going on in the area. I tried to be real quiet, but sometimes I must have giggled or something, and the ladies talking would sternly tell me to hang up or they would report us to the phone company for eavesdropping!
By the way, San Mateo wasn't paved at all. At the corner of East Central and San Mateo, there was a little cafe shaped like an Igloo. I think it was called "The Igloo Cafe" but don't hold me to that. Anyway, you turned north there onto a dirt road (more like a rut, really.) Naturally, our street wasn't paved either, although I think the builder was forced to pave it before San Mateo was paved about a year later. All I know is that the dust storms that fall were another rude shock. Sand came in the windows and doors, leaving piles of the stuff to be vacuumed every day. There was a lot of swearing from my mother that first year.
Before too long, we found out about weather stripping, and that slowed the sand somewhat. But while the weather was still warm, the wind and sand trapped us inside with only an electric fan to stir up the hot, dusty air. Fortunately, my dad managed to plant grass and by the next summer, our back and front yards were both planted and the sand problem was mostly under control. Unless, of course, the wind blew in from the area north of us that hadn't yet been developed and planted.
When it came time to start to school, the nearest junior high school was Jefferson. That was (and still is) at the corner of Lomas and Girard (only in those days it was Las Lomas and Girard.) So, my mom would take my dad to work all the way downtown, and then come back and take me to school at Jefferson. Fortunately, in the next year or two, we acquired a school bus that came out to the wilderness to pick up me and the other pioneer school kids.
Stay tuned for Chapter Two!