Our Best Investment

In 1957, my draft number was getting close to being called. I preferred to enter the military on my terms so in March of that year, I enlisted in the Navy for a four-year hitch. After boot camp and two Navy schools, I received orders to Patrol Squadron Forty-Eight, VP-48, at North Island Naval Air Station, Coronado, California. We found an apartment we could afford on Orange Avenue, and enjoyed the small-town feeling of living in Coronado, and, of course, enjoyed the beach. We only lived in that first apartment for a few months because, in November, Pat delivered our twin boys, Russ and Doug. We immediately moved to a two-bedroom apartment in Navy Housing which was located right on San Diego Bay. We also made our first major purchase, a washing machine, in anticipation of a deluge of dirty diapers.

In 1959, my squadron deployed to Naval Air Station Iwakuma, Japan, where we flew patrols over the Yellow Sea. This six-month deployment turned into eight months. Pat had made friends with another Navy wife who lived in Imperial Beach, so she moved down there for a few months while I was gone.

By 1960, I was an AT2, Aviation Electronics Technician Second Class, an E-5 on the pay scale drawing hazardous duty pay (flight pay) and proficiency pay. Thanks to this, we were able to buy a new 4-bedroom house in San Diego. This is when I became a commuter for the first time. To get to Coronado, I could drive to downtown San Diego and catch the car ferry which only cost a buck, or I could drive Highway 94, and I 805 and go around the south end of San Diego Bay and up to the Silver Strand. Gasoline was cheaper than the ferry, so I elected to drive. After being caught in a couple of traffic jams, I found a back way past Sweetwater Lake and through Bonita and Chula Vista and over to the Strand. The Silver Strand is basically a strip of narrow sand and beach that connects Imperial Beach and Coronado. You can look out one side of the car and see the Pacific Ocean and look out the other side and see San Diego Bay.

March of 1961, I was discharged from the Navy. We took a couple of weeks and went back to Kansas to show the kids off to our folks. After a good visit and a good time, we returned to San Diego, and I began looking for work. IBM offered me a job, but they wanted to send me to Oklahoma City for training and then station me in El Centro. Thanks, but no thanks. What’s the point of living in California if you can’t be near the ocean? I took a job with Electro Instruments as a Test Technician at $2.20 per hour.

In the fall of 1961, Pat was pregnant. She was seeing Dr. Jim Turpin in Coronado every week. We only had one car, so she was having to take the bus. She and the boys would catch the bus at a bus stop that was about a block from our home. The bus route took them through downtown San Diego to the ferry landing at San Diego Bay. The ferry was a car carrier, so the bus was able to drive right onboard. It was an enjoyable few minute’s ride across the bay, and the boys thought it was terrific. When they got to Coronado, it was just a few blocks down Orange Avenue, the main drag, to the doctor’s office.

One day, during this period of time, Pat had put the boys down for their afternoon nap. She was worn out from doing household chores and chasing the boys all morning. She stretched out on the couch and promptly fell asleep. She was awakened by someone knocking on the door. Her eyes popped open, and the first thing she saw was that a kitchen chair had been dragged over to the front door. She also saw the door’s safety chain had been disengaged. Pat rushed to the door and opened it to find a neighbor lady holding hands with a boy on each side. Pat and the neighbor didn’t know each other, but the neighbor had seen Pat and the boys walking around the neighborhood and knew approximately where we lived. She knocked on doors until she found the right place. The lady said she found the boys at the bus stop and knew that three-year-olds didn’t have any business catching a bus. Pat thanked the lady profusely and got the boys inside. She noticed that her purse wasn’t in its normal position, and upon examination found out that the small coin purse inside was empty. Questioning the boys about the whole episode, she learned that they just wanted to ride the ferry, so they got some money for the bus, unlocked the door, and took off.

In November of 1961, our daughter, Terri, was born. Prior to the big day, I worried about the best way to get to the hospital in Coronado. The ferry would be the best way, but if we got caught in a traffic jam downtown, or if anything else messed up our timing, Pat might have the baby on the ferry at night in the middle of San Diego Bay. We decided it would be safer to drive all the way around and go up the Strand. That’s what we did, and it worked out fine.

In 1964, the boys were six years old, and Terri was three. Both boys were having colds and respiration problems. Our pediatrician suggested that they might do better a farther inland where it is warmer and drier. The weather people on TV have a lot to keep track of in San Diego County as there are four basic weather zones. They are: Coastal, inland valleys, mountains, and desert. We checked it out and decided to try the city of El Cajon. It’s only 10 or 12 miles east of the coast but is in one of those valleys that is 20 to 30 degrees warmer than the beach. We decided to rent for a time and see how we liked it. We found a nice 3 bedroom on the eastern edge of El Cajon. It was on a large lot in a semi-rural setting.

We were a little worried about the boys going to school. They had to ride a bus 4 or 5 miles to a school that was clear out in the boondocks. We soon relaxed. The boys enjoyed the school and the bus ride was no big deal.

The home was on a 1/3 acre lot so there was plenty of room for the kids to play. There was a small corral with a shed, so I was able to keep a horse. Actually, we started out with a Shetland pony for the kids, but the little devil was so bad about biting that we took him back to the horse ranch in Poway, and traded him in  on a horse for me.

The lot behind us was  a terraced hillside that had once been a grape arbor. On that side of our back fence was a pomegranate bush and when the fruit was ripe, it was hard to keep the kids away from it. While in season, they had that red stuff all over their hands, faces, and clothes.

Three houses down from us lived Norm and Margaret Trivett and their three daughters, Karen, Laurie, and Susan. They had a swimming pool and were good about inviting Pat and the kids over to swim.

We didn’t have any family in California, so the Trivett’s invited us to spend Christmas Eve with them. They had a lot of family, so, during the evening, there were probably 30 or 40 people in and out. From 1964 until 2021, we spent almost every Christmas Eve with them. Sadly, we lost both Norm and Margaret in 2022.

By the summer of 1966, the boys’ health problems had cleared up and we all enjoyed living in El Cajon. Pat located a nice 3-bedroom home about a mile away in a sub division known as “Olive Hills Estates.” They weren’t really estates, but were nice homes on standard city lots. The area was hilly, and many years before had been an olive grove. We had an olive tree in the front yard and one in the back. Both trees were effusive in the number of big, black olives they produced. We soon learned that when the olives ripen and drop from the trees, you have to be careful about stepping on them and tracking it in on the carpet. We learned that a company in San Diego would harvest the olives for free and then they processed and sold them. After a few years of that, we learned that the trees can be sprayed with a chemical that inhibits blossoming and development.

Behind our house, the entire block was just a vacant lot. After a couple of years, the California Highway Patrol built a sub-station directly behind us. They built a six foot cement block wall clear around their place. A few cops next door certainly makes you feel safe.

There weren’t any parks or playgrounds near us so we were worried about finding a way to entertain three rambunctious kids and burn off some of their excess energy. We decided that a good portion of the year would be covered if we had a swimming pool. We got some estimates, made a decision, and planned to get the pool done before spring. The design we chose was an oval that was 12 feet wide at the shallow end, 16 feet wide at the deep end, and 40 feet long. It had a black gunite bottom so it would warm up faster, and it had a diving board.  A deck made of Arizona flagstone finished it off nicely.

The pool was completed on time. Pat went to the Red Cross and signed up for the Red Cross Backyard Swimming Course. Pat was a strong swimmer, and she enjoyed the course and was certified to be an instructor.

Pat announced that the pool would be open from 8:00am until 8:00pm, and neighborhood kids were welcome. She said that if any kid needed lunch to go in the kitchen and help themselves. There would be a big jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, jam, and a pitcher of Kool-Aid on the counter. This was all high energy stuff to replace all those calories burned in the swimming pool. Additionally, if anyone needed a snack to tide them over, there would be cupcakes and bananas available.

The pool was an instant success. Our kids practically lived in it and the neighborhood kids enjoyed it, too. We lived there for eleven years, and that pool really got a workout. The kids learned to be good swimmers, played games, dived for rocks, and just had a good time. Pat had a great time, too. However, she said that when they played Marco Polo and she was it, she had to cheat and keep her eyes open because the kids were so fast she couldn’t catch them. We’ve talked about the pool many times over the past 50 years and have always declared it to be the best investment we ever made.

Our 11 years on Olive Hills Avenue were a great growing up time for the kids, and we all have a lot of memories of the place. I’ve documented some of them in this blog, and I’d like to recall a couple of them.

Putting our little five year old daughter, Terri, on a school bus and sending her off to Ballantyne School was nerve-wracking. The, it got worse when she was accepted into the gifted program and was transferred to Avocado School which was even farther away.

Once, Terri thought she had discovered a real treasure trove behind the 7-11 store. She didn’t realize it was a storage area, but thought it was just a place where people were dumping their pop bottles. Now and then, she would gather up an armload of bottles and take them into the store and redeem them. Then she would use the money to buy a Slurpee. Mr. Bert, the manager, knew what she was doing, but thought to was funny so allowed it to continue. However, Terri wanted to share the wealth and started bringing her neighborhood friends along. This was getting too costly, so Bert had to shut it down and tell us about it.

Another funny memory is when Pat brought Doug home from the dental surgeon’s office after a procedure. She knew he was still doped up, but she had to go to the grocery store, so she told Terri to keep an eye on Doug. Doug’s doped up brain told him to strip the interior of his VW car.  By the time Pat got home, he had removed the interior door panels and was starting on the headliner. Terri said she kept an eye on him, but didn’t know she was supposed to stop him from doing anything.

Another time, Russ was accused of urinating on a neighbor girl. The investigating officer could hardly keep from laughing when he learned that Russ had just squirted her with water from a syringe.

Life is never dull when you are raising kids.

Dave Thomas


My First Real Job

My first real job was delivering newspapers. It was the summer of 1948, and I wanted to get a job and earn money so I could buy some of the things I thought I needed. My Mom suggested that I go to the Gazette and talk to her friend, Elsie Harrison, about being a paper boy. I hurried to the Gazette that very day and found Elsie. The first thing Elsie asked was if I was 12 years old yet. I told her that I would be 12 the last week of August. She said that would be perfect as one of her paper boys would be starting high school and would be quitting the paper to play freshman football. She said that on my 12th birthday, I should go sign up and get my Social Security card and then she could put me to work. On the magic day, Mom took me down, and I got the Social Security card (which I still have). A few days after celebrating my 12th birthday and obtaining my Social Security card, I officially became a carrier for the Augusta Daily Gazette- a paper boy. If I remember correctly, my pay was $2.10 per week. Considering it now, I’m surprised that a small city of 5,000 could support a daily newspaper. The paper was owned by the four people who worked there. Mike Cipher ran the press. His brother, Paul Cipher ran the linotype machine. Elsie Harrison took care of the administrative stuff, and Bertha Shore did the reporting and news gathering, and wrote a daily column. Berts’ column, which she wrote under the pen name “Ima Washout,” was a front-page feature that contained jokes, quips, and tidbits of local news she picked up on her rounds downtown each day. The paper was published six days a week and contained 4 pages every day but Thursday when it went to six pages to carry the grocery ads for the week.

We paperboys arrived at press time each day. After the papers came off the press, they had to be folded down to ¼ of their original size. Mike taught each of us paperboys to run the folding machine. We took turns, each of us running the machine for a few days before turning it over to the next guy. After the papers came off the folding machine, we counted out what we needed for our routes and carried them out front. We sat down on the sidewalk, and leaned against the store front and folder papers into the proper configuration for throwing. The store to the north was Scholfield Hatchery, and we always had to look in the window to see if there were any baby chicks to look at. After our papers were folded and loaded into our canvas newspaper bags, we mounted our bicycles and were ready to deliver.

My paper route started at the corner of State Street and High Street and ended at the entrance to Garvin Park. I don’t remember many names but will enter what I can. The first customers I can name on the West side of State Street were Doctor Jim Alley, the dentist, and his wife, Nan. Farther up the street, on the northeast corner of State and 12th was the original Kiker’s Grocery Store. I gave the paper to Mr. or Mrs. Kiker or their son, Bob. Sometimes, I found it necessary to take a break and have a package of Twinkies or a Netti Chocolate Soda. This store was too small and was always crowded and busy. It was only a short time before the Kikers moved the location a block to the north and built a new store on the southwest corner of State and Ada.

I continued delivering papers to where State Street terminated in a T junction with Kelly Road. Almost every home got a Gazette. There was only one house across from the end of State, and I believe it belonged to the Foster Falwell. I turned east and delivered up Kelly Road to Dearborn. I turned South on Dearborn and delivered down to Ada. Then, I delivered Ada all the way back to State Street. The only names I remember on Ada are Millison, Mullins, and Schraq. I went across State and delivered Ada to Henry. I delivered the east side of Henry, north to Kelly, and then jogged a few yards west and turned north on Washington Lane. There were no homes on the east side of Washington Lane which ran from Kelly up to the entrances to Garvin Park. There were no homes on the east side of Washington Lane. That side was just a worn out pasture. The lots on the west side of Washington Lane were pretty much built up, all the way from Kelly up to the entrance to the park. Lloyd Ludlum, who was a couple of years older than me, lived in one of the first two or three houses. Up near the to of the hill was a street that went west into the Park Place subdivision. The David Allison family lived on the northwest corner. Going on up the last block of Washington Lane, one home belonged to Gus Gustafson and his wife. Gus was the high school principal. I believe the last house on the street belonged to the Puckett family. There weren’t many homes in the Park Place Subdivision yet. I remember Harold Bedell, Erbie Watson, and Semisch.

After delivering Park Place, I traveled back down to Kelly, jogged a half block to the east, and started down Henry Street. I think Henry had only been open for 3 or 4 years or so. The homes were new, and the street was paved with concrete. There was a vacant lot on the SW corner of Henry and Ada. One day, Boler Wilson moved a big house onto it. If I remember correctly, my dad, Al Thomas, who  was a brick and block layer, built the foundation for it. I think that was the new home of Art Ballinger and his wife. A little farther down Henry was the Proctor home. That was Warren and his wife, their daughter, Ann, who was my classmate, and their son, Robert. The Proctors had a sailboat parked in their side yard that I think was built by Warren. One summer day, Ann invited some of us to go with them to Santa Fe Lake for a swimming and sail boating day.

The last customer on my paper route and on Henry Street was A.V. Small and his wife, Jesse. The Smalls operated the AVS Honey business out of their basement and hired a bunch of kids every summer to help them.

I must have covered at least two miles on my paper route and enjoyed every minute of it. The people were all nice, and it felt good to be out in the fresh air-no matter what the weather was. I delivered the Gazette for  a year, and then was able to get a Wichita Beacon route which paid a lot more.

Dave Thomas