Auntie Gracie married late in life. She married Joe Pelayo and in 1958 they had one daughter Anita who has been living on the east coast most of her adult life with her husband. They are teachers. Auntie Gracie died of stomach cancer (as did my mom). Uncle Joe died just weeks after. It was as though he felt it was time for him to go too. Mom had one more sister, Auntie Camille. The fun auntie who seemed to be more our age than my parents age and more like a big sister, she lived with us for many years and was treated by my dad as more of a daughter than a sister-in-law. She eventually broke free and married a Puerto Rican musician named Ray Medina. It didn’t last forever. They had no kids but they did have fun for a while, making the rounds of the East L.A. club circuit where Ray played with his band: The New Latin Breed. I sang briefly with the band (in Spanish no less) when his singer suddenly quit.
Mom and Dad’s marriage was like from a story book. They had known each other since they were in their early teens. And everyone knew they would be getting married one day. They married during the time of the II World War. Dad would write to her from all over the globe, telling her how much he missed her and that he couldn’t ever tell her where he was writing from or where he was going. He was a corporal in the Army Air force and took aerial pictures of sites they were bombing. He used to have a whole collection of pictures that he brought back in his duffel bag. It was the 93rd Bomb Group also called the Traveling Circus. Later he was recruited to fly in a B24 called Duchess as a door gunner and flew in one of the most famous and arguably the most dangerous bombing missions of the war. The raids on the German held oilfields over Ploesti Romania also called Black Sunday.
Dad was also a very good looking guy and his photo was used on an advertisement to promote a New Year’s Party at the Shrine. I had heard bits and pieces of the incident from several people during the years and never got the whole picture until I visited Aunt Patsy at the Durfee house where I found the actual poster for the event. The real story was that my Grandmother was playing in the orchestra and that my Dad along with a photo of him in his Army Air force uniform was promoted as Archie Franz the popular singer. A made up name conjured up to promote the gig. Rumor was that he was actively rehearsing for it but as it turned out for one reason or another never followed through. Dad was always the front man in any situation and Mom was the one who reinforced the picture of the noble couple. This was especially advantageous in political situations which Dad later became involved with. He ran for mayor one year and used to have lots of parties where many of the local politicians used to come and mingle with our families. He was very much like his own father. There was always something going on.
We had originally lived in the hills adjacent to Downtown Los Angeles above Solano Ave on Spruce Street. The neighborhood was basically a small canyon two blocks away from the gates of Elysian Park. This was small multicultural neighborhood where long cement stairways lead up to large wooden homes. Their lawns seemed to be impossible to mow. We used to spend our holidays with the aunts and uncles and tons of kids at my mom’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Esther’s where we kids spent many hours playing on the porch and steps or exploring the neighborhood. On Thanksgiving or Christmas we would all gather around the black and white TV after dinner to watch TV.
Grandpa Leonard (the 3rd) had been a foreman on the tunnels of the 5 Freeway that passed high above Solano Avenue, towering even over the old Grammar school where Mom and the girls went to school. I have a few photos of him and his crew building the streets surrounding the Griffith Observatory. The Solano neighborhood almost seemed to be dominated by my mother’s side of the family. Just over the hill to the west of Solano was Chavez Ravine. It took about five minutes to hike up to the top of the rim, overlooking what is now Dodger Stadium. Mom used to tell me about the neighborhood when she was young and how everybody pretty much got along with each other even though it was such a diverse neighborhood, comprising of Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Polish, Jewish and Mexican. After all they survived the depression and the 2nd world war together in that neighborhood. There was a section of the neighborhood where the kids walked through to get to downtown which comprised of wooden shacks built and lived in by unemployed men. “Bums” my mom called them, remnants of the Great Depression. “But” she would say, “they were all friendly and would say good morning” when she passed by.
When I was two or three, we moved out of Los Angeles and out to the country to the small town of Pico California. Now called Pico Rivera and about a 45 minute ride from the city. We were the first to move in to the new track of stucco houses on Rosemead Blvd, former sites of orange groves. I remember before they built Mary Miller junior high down the street. It was an orange grove too. Uncle Robert had a small house a couple of miles down Rosemead Boulevard just north of the intersection of Whittier Boulevard which was only a half a mile from Rancho Don Daniel. My brother Greg and I went to all grades of school just three blocks away from our house. The elementary, the junior high and the high school were all within one block from each other. I loved the big bay windows in the elementary school, with the oversized blinds where sunlight would come down in ribbons in the early afternoon. Years later, I would occasionally go into the old Valencia elementary school grounds on weekends when no one was around, peering into the windows as old memories brought back the smells and sounds of elementary school. I loved sports in junior high, especially running. A guy named Tom and I were the fastest runners in school and always competed against each other. In high school, I stuck with track, even though by now I could be caught ditching behind the high jump pit and smoking a cigarette when we were supposed to be doing laps. They called me the rabbit because I could do the standing broad jump further than anyone else including guys that were much taller than me. I used to like to run with my friend Paul who was a champion in CIF on the hurdles. I got caught ditching one day and it wasn’t like I had never done it. I used to write my own notes and me and a few guys would go down to the riverbed or to someone’s house who’s parents weren’t home. But I eventually was lucky enough to get caught and I got more into high school after that. I graduated El Rancho High in 1966.