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BLACK BEAUTY IS A'WAITING
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH: TRUMAN BOYD MANOR IN LONG BEACH

(Excerpted from my book of short stories: The Undisciplined Years [working title])

                                                      EARLY YEARS IN ANCHORAGE


In the summer of 1946 my father and his brother-in-law, uncle Vernon, traveled to Alaska to see about opening some kind of business together. The war had recently ended and my father could not live any longer in the congested government housing of Long Beach, California where we had been for the past three years while he worked in a Civil Service position at the Naval Shipyard.

Even though our family was from the coal mining area of western Pennsylvania my mother sniffed that she did not like having to live beside the ‘Tennessee hillbilly’ family who occupied the small apartment next door. The mom of that family looked like a typical country hick as she habitually tromped barefooted around the grassy play yard in thin floral print dresses, her hair looking like it had not seen a brush since antediluvian days, a wad of ‘chawin’ tobaccie’ stuffed in her cheek and a lighted cigarette dangling from her unpainted lips. I never saw her when one eye wasn’t squinted from the smoke curling up from that omnipresent cigarette. Her voice was louder than the freight trains that ran along the set of tracks next to the apartments.

Truman Boyd Manor, as our squat, two story Long Beach hovels were known, was comprised of some number of off-white painted apartment buildings running perpendicular to the main tracks of the military supply railroad which serviced the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. Most of the residents of the Manor had someone who worked at the shipyard. Our homes were no better or worse than the military enlisted housing units nearby – they just weren’t painted battleship gray. In between these rows of apartment buildings were small grassy open areas that were used by the mothers to hang their wash; by the children as a playground; by the men for their bull sessions; and on really hot, humid nights, by us all as a place to lay a blanket and try to catch some shut-eye.

On the other side of the tracks was a huge oil storage area. We could see the oil tanks looming larger than life and always wondered what would happen if somebody bombed that area – would hot burning oil would wash across the tracks and catch our homes on fire?

One clear, hot afternoon we found out.

We children were playing outside and looked up over the oil tanks to see a military fighter plane that looked like it was in trouble. It would fly straight for a moment, then plunge downward, then back up, then plunge again, all the while its engine was making the strangest coughing sound we had ever heard.

Suddenly the sound stopped and the plane plunged straight down into one of the large tanks. When it hit, there was a huge roar, louder than anything we’d ever heard, including the steam engines and our neighbor’s voice! The tank erupted into flames and we felt like the sun had just turned the heat up another fifty degrees. We kids stood transfixed by the sight of the flames shooting high up into the air. The sky was turned black from the smoke. Our eyes watered from the pungent smell of burning crude.

Soon we heard the wailing of fire truck sirens and the ominous sound of the air raid sirens. Instantly we scattered, each of us running back into our respective homes to the safety of our moms.

The image of that little plane vanishing into the top of the oil tank is forever etched in my memory, and I have always wondered whose son was aboard that day.

But as a four year old I mostly had a happy time playing with the three little girls who lived in that apartment next door. Marie was the eldest – perhaps seven or eight. Then came Crystal and Roberta who were closer to my age. Roberta was known as ‘Birdie’ to all of us back then. We played outside together every day, sometimes in the hot sun or in the soft, infrequent, warm rain that fell in Long Beach. A favorite game of ours was to stand on one rail of the tracks and dare each other to be the last to run away as a huge smoking steam engine would chug by. I guess we were lucky that we never tripped and fell in front of one of these behemoths. No matter how many times our mothers scolded us about playing on the tracks we were addicted to it and played the game over and over again throughout each day.

The most memorable event of that era, though, was when their mom would stand on the stoop and call the girls for lunch. Bellowing out into the common area so loud my ears still ache she’d scream in her best southern drawl, “Mawreee! Y’all brang Cryshtal an’ Birdie an’ come own,” Ptooey ! and spit a juicy brown slug of tobacco juice onto the cement walkway before slamming the screen door behind her.

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8 comments:

  1. Hi - You brought back many fond memories - I lived in Truman Boyd my first 5 years (1946 - '51) My Dad worked at Terminal Island during the War, then attended UCLA. We move to PA in'51. I have a box full of photos of me, my friends & the Manor. It was a great place for kids! I never knew where it was in Long Beach. But recently found out the Manor is now called American Gold Star Homes, off of Santa Fe Ave. I'd love to go back & visit someday.
    Thanks for the post & the memories ! - Jared

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  2. Hey, I lived there when I was about 4 to 5 years-old about 1949 to 1950. I had forgot where it was until 14 years a ago when I was commuting to LA on the Blue line. I looked out the window and something felt familiar. My wife was sorting out a box filled with old papers from my deceased parents when she brought to my attention an military envelope addressed to my father at Truman Boyd Manner. That's when I found this article on Google. Brings back memories of getting beaten up by the bigger kids, some kid I knew name Lee starting a brush fire, and a car falling on a man when his jack failed. I remember those railroad tracks. A nearby tree that my sister would climb and some kid falling off that tree, getting badly injured. I remember a small store with a blind man that ran it. I remember going to a Japanese boy's birthday party and being the only non-Japanese boy at the party and winning the booby prize at pin-the-tail on the donkey. I think we lived below that family with the three girls. If not it was a very similar family. We kept in touch with that family until I was about 13. The last time I saw them they had a chicken farm not too far away.

    Thanks for the chance to reminice.
    Mike

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  3. I was just over in that neighborhood today, taking a water exercise class at Silverado Park Pool. We, too, lived in Truman Boyd. My parents and older sister were already living there when I was born in 1948. I went to kindergarten at Daniel Webster Elementary School, I guess it would have been 1953/'54, but then my parents bought a brand-new house (that we watched being built) in a housing development in the "farming and dairy" community of Garden Grove, for about $3,000. My dad had been in the Navy on a PT boat in WWII and my mom worked at the shipyard, which he did, too, when he got out of the service. We didn't have much, and neither did anybody else, but I remember that we had great times playing with all of the kids, and my parents remained friends with many of the neighbors from there the rest of their lives. Do you guys remember the man who, in the summer, would get all the kids together and make a "swimming pool" out of a huge piece of canvas that we would prop up on the sides with our scooters, bicycles, wagons, or anything else we had? Rember the incinerators where we, gasp, burned trash? My best friend was a boy named Richie who let me keep his wagon when he went on vacation; my second best friend was a Japanese girl who was a little younger than me...darn, can't remember her name at the moment. Do you remember the park across the street that let us check out toys for the weekend, since we were all so poor? Most of them were lovingly hand-made from wood, etc. I remember the store across Santa Fe and the barbershop where we got our bangs cut when we were lucky; when we weren't lucky, our mom cut them and they looked like they were done with pinking shears! So many great memories. Thanks for sharing everyone.

    Virginia

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  4. I, too, remember my early years ('44-'49)living in Truman Boyd Manor. I attended Daniel Webster in kindergarten before our family moved to Compton. My dad had been a Merchant Marine who later worked at the now defunct Bethlehem Steel. I remember those railroad tracks and playing on them (when mom wasn't looking)with my best friend, Judy. We attended church at the Naval Chapel nearby I played at the playground on the merry-go-round and swings. I remember the day a nice "old" man came by when the merry-go-round was full of us kids and started making it go. It went so fast I vomited and have never been able to look at anything spinning ever since! lol I'm writing a novel and found this site when browsing for the info I needed. What a pleasure to read all of your comments and to have my memories validated.

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  5. I Lived in Truman boyd for almost eight years.(1950 to Dec.1958. It was some of the best years of my childhood. My Dad worked at National Metal and Steel on Terminal Island. I went to school at John Muir, Daniel Webster and Stevens Jr. high. I played from the Oil Refinery River, Lions drag strip to the tar pits at willow bridge. Hunted lizards along the Rail road tracks From Wardlow to PCH. Had the baseball field in my back yard. Remember Mc Coys Market, the Five and Dine, Hobby shop all on Santa Fe. Lived in apartments #165 and #205. I was a Boy Scout and had meetings located in Truman Boyd Manor. Had Friends like Jim & Johnny Mayo , Larry Johnson, Labron Mayfield, Buck Havelcek and many more I can't remember. My family finally moved to a new house in Lakwood Ca. in Dec. 1958. So many memory's there could write a book. Ron

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  6. I believe my family lived in Truman Boyd Manor from about 1951 - 1954. My parents purchased a home in Anaheim off Katella and Jean street. Things I remember from T.B.M.
    1. The toy checkout store
    2. Church on the grounds
    3. Baseball field
    4. American Flyer and Lionel trains
    5. Superman and Kellogg cereal!
    6. Asian Farmers
    7. Power Lines between Webster Elementary and T.B.M.
    8. Dick and Jane books with spot.
    9. Calls from Dads ship in Korea DD-687
    That's a start down memory lane....

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  7. Jim Alley_Jungle JimFebruary 10, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    I have some of my best childhood memories from Truman Boyd Manor from 1955 to 1958. Being from Tennessee at 9,10, & 11 yrs old, I was amazed at everything around me and all there was to do for a young boy. I attended Webster, walked every day, as it was just a few blocks from our apt. We lived in the one facing Sante Fe, at the bus stop and right across from the little store on the corner where I used to spend my allowance on Saturdays, then go to Silverado across the street where we had multitudes of crafts and games, ping pong, tetherball and the like. I remember they showed movies in the auditorium, I think was on Sat mornings. I was part of a Navy family(Stepfather) was a Chief. I have great memories with my best pals Jackie Edwards and his younger brother "Bit", they were from Indiana and lived right above me. We spent many days together exploring the tracks and riding our bikes to Orange County, believe it or not. We spent a lot of time also in Compton. We also loved to play in the flood controls. Silverado has been really updated, Of Course since that time but in the mid and latter 50s was a wonderful place to be for a young lad from Tennessee and it was right across in front of our apt, just across Sante Fe. It's difficult remembering it all, but now at 67, and after the Navy and Vietnam, my memories are still vivid of the great times we had there within just a few blocks of the project, and especially the Cantine in the back part of TBM.
    Also great memories of all the activities for children around TBM and Silverado after school was out. A great place to be in that timeframe of the 50s.

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  8. What year did the plane crash? My mother, sister and I lived at 627 Truman Boyd Manor (near Clem's store) in the early 50s. I attended Daniel Webster school in fifth grade and part of sixth. Quite an experience. We used to put pennies on the railroad track and then see if they got smashed.

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