Growing Up in Silver Lake

A Californian Childhood in the '50s and '60s

Kristie McEwan

Kristie McEwan
Location
Honolulu, Hawaii,
Bio
I grew up in Silver Lake in a time that needs to be remembered. Silver Lake was a neighborhood between Hollywood and Glendale. The 1950's and 1960's were a time that taught us many things...good and bad. I have lived in five states and three foreign countries. Each place has its own memories, but Silver Lake's remain the most vivid. Today I breathe chalk dust for a living.

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Salon.com
DECEMBER 31, 2011 1:42PM

As odd as it sounds, I want to say "Thank you, Polio"

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PART ONE

 

Katrine Kleihauer met Ray when she was at UCLA --at the same time as Jackie Robinson.  Ray was not a student.  I think they met at a dance class, but I can’t quite remember.  They fell in love, he proposed and she accepted. But she agreed with the stipulation that she would graduate and get two years of teaching experience under her belt first.  Completely smitten,  Ray could do nothing but wait.  I always thought this decision shows how practical my mother was, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions she made.

My grandfather was less than thrilled that his future son-in-law was not a college graduate. He, himself, had a Doctorate of Divinity and his daughter’s grandfather had been a college president.  I spite of this he performed their marriage on the flagstone patio of his house near Beverly Hills.

Ray was the only child of a widow who had epilepsy and lived in a Seventh-day Adventist home in Azusa. Azusa was about an hour outside of Los Angeles and was made famous by THE JACK BENNY SHOW: "Train leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa and Cuuuu-ca-mon-gaaa!"

Ray supported his mother and was a responsible son who got life insurance for both his mother and his new wife. Not wanting to risk passing epilepsy to any of his children, he had a vasectomy.  So two very practical people were now happily wed.

That was until December 7, 1941.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Franklin Roosevelt declared war the next day and immortalized the “day that would live in infamy.” Things quickly began to change.  Ray joined the U.S. Navy, as did my mother’s brother. Katrine and my aunt moved in with each other to save money.  My mother continued to teach.

My uncle, as an officer, had the unlikely posting of Arizona.  Ray was sent to Long Beach, California.  It was there that he caught polio and died within a week.  He was buried with full military honors and my mother kept the flag that draped his coffin until she died.  It is now in my attic from which I can see Pearl Harbor. I can’t bear to throw it away and my sister does not want it.

 

PART TWO

 

Katrine was devastated, but ever practical, she took Ray’s insurance money and bought a two bedroom, one bathroom home on a hill in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.  She paid $10,000 cash for the house. 3018 Angus Street was a rather plain house that was built in 1939 and today is worth well over $700,000. Sometimes she rented out the extra bedroom to unmarried teachers or their equally unmarried sisters.

Silver Lake was, and is, an eclectic neighborhood with a hodge-podge of architectural styles, races and, today, sexualities. There are homes designed by Richard Neutra and a nearby Frank Lloyd Wright.  Silver Lake was where Anais Nin lived with her last and very youngest lover who would become my science teacher in junior high school.  It was friendly and crime-free and a much better bet than the Quonset huts and Levittown cookie cutter homes that many G.I.s were returning to.

Once the war was over and she got used to being an independent widow, she decided to take a trip to the place she had most wanted to visit:  Alaska.  My uncle who had survived the war unscathed, the biggest threat being rattlesnakes and heat stroke, gave her some advice.

“Katrine, if you want to meet a man, don’t travel with a girlfriend; travel alone.”  And she took his advice.

 

PART THREE

 

Katrine Kleihauer Haurin headed north.  By the time she was in Anchorage, she sat on a bus waiting for it to leave the station.  A man came and sat next to her. He had wavy hair and a pencil moustache, which was the style of the time.  He pulled out a packet of gum and offered her a piece. I prefer to think it was either Juicy Fruit or Doublemint. He offered her a hell of a lot more than that., as well  He announced right then and there that he was going to marry her. He broke the date he already had for that night, and my mother became his unofficial “intended.”

 

There were several bumps in the road—one being that he was married to a woman in Detroit who had ditched him for someone in a cute uniform.  He had traveled to Alaska to start a new life without ever bothering to get divorced.  Other slight bumps were the religion in which he was raised, the fact that he was not a college grad (again!) and that he was fifteen years older than my mother. When he promised to go to Michigan to get a divorce, Katrine worried greatly that she would never see him again.

 

Then on Thanksgiving Day he showed up at Angus Street.  My mother, I believe, was entertaining a second tier man.  The man left quickly  and my mother and father were soon back on my grandfather’s flagstone patio.  My mother wore a modest white dress with eyelets and carried a small bouquet of Bachelor Buttons and daisies.  My father wore a broad, rather gaudy tie and a suit with wide lapels.

 

Once again, my grandfather was not overly pleased with my mother’s choice.  A man with little education, raised a Mormon and fifteen years older to boot.  My father was actually closer in age to my grandfather than he was to my mother.  But that was all snobbism.  My father was funny, kind, handsome in the look of the day, a bit shy sometimes and witty in a unique way.  He had the look of a Hollywood star when he was young and my mother was charmed. Katrine Kleihauer Haurin became Katrine Kleihauer Haurin Smithson.

 

 

 

Author tags:

azusa, alaska, love, pearl harbor, polio

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