At Home in Our Trailer

We knew that the Bell trailer park would be temporary, as we would have to get closer to USC. I didn’t want to drive fifteen miles twice a day.

Later that week, actually August 24, 1950, as we were driving around the USC campus, we found a house on South Flower Street that had a space for a trailer. After a lot of wiggling around, I finally got parked in the back yard. What a job, but I made it. We hung the power cord from a tree to the back porch. It was a very large house and the owner also had rooms for rent. As there was a bathroom close to the back door, we found it a convenient place to park. I was even able to make a swing for the girls on the large tree in the yard.

Just before Christmas, we learned that all the houses along that part of Flower Street were to be moved or torn down soon. The freeway, which was to be called the Harbor Freeway, was coming!

Incidentally, when we got ready to leave there, it was even more of a problem to get the trailer out than it had been to get it in. The fact that our trailer had four wheels instead of two made it harder to pull. Furthermore, since we had sat there through rain, the tires had sunk into the soft dirt. In the process of getting out, there were times I thought I’d have to get a tow truck. I was well aware of the weight of that trailer as I tried to pull it with our old Ford. I finally made it by trial and error.

Darlene had found a job working at Currie’s Ice Cream and Candy Store. She worked at night when I was home from the university. One of the ladies working there told her about the place where she lived in a trailer behind a house at 721 West 30th. She said it was close enough to Currie’s for her to walk to and from work. We found it to be a good place for us, and we stayed there the rest of our first year in California.

That first summer Darlene’s Dad and his daughter Sue came to visit in time to go back to Kansas with us. We enjoyed taking them sightseeing around Los Angeles to such places as Knott’s Berry Farm and a TV show. Incidentally, Jean won a very nice dress at that show. On our way back to Kansas, we took our time, stopping at such places as Boulder Dam, Grand Canyon, Indian ruins, and the Petrified Forest. We felt more relaxed than we had when we first ventured West.

Back in Hutchinson that summer I helped to build the new church in South Hutchinson. The church where we were married had been badly damaged by the same tornado we had been through the summer before we moved to Jetmore.

When we returned to Los Angeles, we found a nice spot behind a house just off Figueroa on 35th street. There were toilet and bathing facilities in the house. I even had a telephone installed in our little trailer. Then, we were connected to the world. Glenda started to kindergarten just a few blocks away, and Darlene went back to her night job at Currie’s Ice Cream and Candy Store. Oh, yes, one thing I haven’t mentioned really proves "it’s a small world." We discovered that the man who ran the Curries Ice Cream Store and adjoining restaurant was the brother of our first landlady in Hutchinson, Kansas. Imagine our surprise!

There was enough land around our trailer for us to plant some nice flowers. I was eager to do that as I was told that we could raise beautiful flowers in Southern California. We planted a daisy in front of our trailer that grew rapidly and produced hundreds of large blossoms. Along the side, which really was our house front, we planted a row of snapdragons and pansies. We couldn’t believe how long they continued to bloom on into the winter.

We put a skirt around the base of the trailer to keep the wind and trash from blowing under it. It also kept the unit much warmer. Of course, compared with the winters we had been used to, the cold in Los Angeles wasn’t much of a problem. It was nothing like Kansas, I can tell you that! No blizzards, no dust storms, no tornadoes!

We were very comfortable in our trailer all that second school year. My folks came and stayed during the winter. They found a nearby apartment and Dad even got a job at Ralph’s Grocery Store bagging groceries. When my brother’s family came to visit, they were able to rent an apartment in the house where we were parked.

An important change came into our lives toward the end of our second year in California, a change that would mean the end of trailer living.
Gregory LaMont, our third baby

Jean, our second child, was nearly four years old when we decided it was time for our next child. So far all our family planning had worked out just fine. Glenda and Jean, our first two children, were born about two years apart. Now, after four years, we were ready again. Two more children were in our plans.

Darlene’s planned pregnancy went along just fine. For awhile she continued to work at her part-time job at Curries. That job was a godsend for us. Although I soon had three part-time jobs plus my GI school allowance, it was all we could do to make ends meet. I’m not sure how we thought we could afford another kid, but as I look back, I don’t remember that we worried much about it. Our two girls had given us so much happiness that money seemed to be the least of our worries.

Darlene’s waistline began expanding very quickly, and by the time she was four or five months along, we began to think we’d have twins. However, our doctor assured us that there was only one baby.

We had great confidence in our doctor. He was such a gentle and kind man. Incidentally, we had learned that his brother was Rev. Hal Dalke, a Methodist minister that we had seen at various church conferences. Through him we kept up with Doctor Dalke long after we no longer needed him as a gynecologist.

One afternoon when Darlene went for a scheduled check-up, Dr. Dalke said, "You are going into labor. Go home immediately, pack your things and meet me at the hospital."

"But I don’t feel anything like I did when my labor pains started before my girls were born," Darlene protested.

"Believe me, this child will be born soon. Sometimes, mothers experience what we call painless labor contractions," the doctor explained.

Of course, we did as the doctor ordered. Within an hour we were at the Methodist Hospital on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles.

I had been in the room when Glenda was born, and I had watched just outside an open door when Jean was born. Can you imagine my surprise and dismay when this time I was sent to a waiting room away from the delivery room? No amount of protesting did any good. It was hospital policy. How times have changes through the years. Now a father is expected to assist during the birth of his child.

Of course, those moments of waiting seemed like hours. Why couldn’t they have allowed me to be there with Darlene? Did they think I couldn’t take it?

Finally the door opened and Dr. Dalke appeared. "Congregations, Glenn, you have a wonderful, big, healthy boy. I thought about taking him by the hand and letting him walk out to you, but perhaps you had better come in."

Wow, we had a son! He was born at 7:45pm, March 26, 1952, weighed ten pounds and one ounce, and was nineteen inches long. No wonder the doctor joked about letting him walk from the delivery room.

When I came into the room and saw Darlene, her face was beaming. "Our girls have a baby brother," she said. "Shall we name him Gregory LaMont, just as we planned?"

Of course, I agreed. Each time before our first two were born, we had the name Robert chosen in case we had a boy. After six years, we had forgotten Robert and chosen Gregory. For some time we didn’t have a middle name. Then a great guy named A. LaMont Smith started to work with me at TRAFCO, the Television, Radio and Film Commission of the Methodist Church Conference. (More about that later.) That name LaMont caught our eyes and ears, and we decided Gregory LaMont would be a great name. I still think so to this day.

Gregory LaMont McMurry

"I must go call my folks and your dad," I said, suddenly remembering that they were waiting for the news.

What a happy time for me! I had a wonderful wife and three wonderful kids. What else could I wish for now? Well, maybe in two more years, we might order another baby to join us.

As it turned out, we weren’t quite that lucky. After two years, Darlene lost a baby very soon after conception. This time the doctor thought the problem might have been a bad cold Darlene had. However, when she became pregnant one year later as he had advised, problems began again. Despite her staying in bed as ordered, after only three months she again lost the baby. This time his advice was not to try again.

How could we complain? We had been blessed with three, wonderful, healthy children. Life was good!

Culver City Houses

I’ve already written about the places where we parked our trailer for the first two years in Los Angeles. The four years of living on our trailer home, two in Kansas and two in California, had given us some wonderful experiences. At first, we had thought the stay in California would be temporary, and having a trailer home would make it easy to move back to Kansas. However, during our second year at USC, or maybe even earlier, I’m not really sure, we began to realize that we were in California to stay. I would never want to speak too unkindly about Kansas. After all, I was born there and spent the first thirty-three years of my life there. (Of course, I have to deduct nearly four of those years for my World War II service.) I have many wonderful memories of Kansas. However, I could see that I was getting stuck at the University of Southern California, and that I was loving all of my experiences there.

"Don’t worry folks, we’ll be back!" had been my parting farewell when we left for California the first time.

Now that wasn’t really a lie. Nearly every year we returned to Kansas. At first, we drove, pulling our big trailer, then our small one. Other times we went by bus or train. (Flying wasn’t as common a method of travel as it is today.)

Our relatives also came to visit quite often. In between visits we always kept in close contact with my folks and Darlene’s father, using the telephone, letters, and tape recordings. At first we had a wire recorder and it was a mess when the wires got tangled. Then came the reel-to-reel tape recorder and that was a big improvement. However, when the cassette recorder was available, we got one for my folks and one for Darlene’s father. Those recorders made it much easier for all of us to communicate with each other.

We knew after Greg was born that trailer life would have to come to an end. It was time to change to a larger dwelling place. Luckily, another thing happened that would make such a change possible. It was my State Department assignment to Germany. My compensation for that job allowed us to have enough money for a small down payment on a home. I will tell more about that trip later.

I returned to Kansas in October, 1952, from my Germany trip. We again loaded our trailer and headed for Los Angeles, knowing our first priority upon arrival was finding a house to buy.

Naturally, when we first came to Los Angeles, we had attended and transferred our church membership to the University Methodist Church near the USC campus. Bob and Virginia Unruhe, a newly married couple and members of our Sunday School Class, were the first people we had met at the University Church, and they became our lifelong friends. I had already met Mary and Bill Blume at Cinema. They were also members of the University Methodist and also became lifelong friends.

Both the Unruhe’s and the Blume’s lived in Culver City, and they insisted it was a great place to live. Besides that, if one lived in the eastern part of town, the drive to the University would be only five miles straight east.

"Glenn," Bill said, "head west down Rodeo Drive and you’ll run right into Culver City. You can’t miss it. Cross the LaBallona Creek and you’ll be there!"

As soon as possible we hunted a real estate agent and started to look for a Culver City home.

"Here’s a good deal," the real estate agent told us one day. "It’s a duplex. You can rent the back half for enough to make your house payments. It’s in the east end of Culver City so travel to USC will be easy."

When we went to look at the duplex, we discovered that the front half seemed just right for us. It had a nice-sized kitchen and front room, and two bedrooms. There was only one bathroom, but that was fine. After all, for four years we had lived in a trailer with no bathroom. One other thing we liked about the location was that it was close to an elementary school for the girls.

We made our down payment, but had to rent trailer space for another month until the duplex was vacated. Unfortunately, during that time it rained and rained. Darlene had a problem trying to take care of three active children cooped up in our little 12’ trailer. Since I was busy at USC, I didn’t have that kind of problem. When I got home from work, I suppose my presence added to Darlene’s problems. Now we had five people in that trailer.

Finally, we were able to move into our new home at 3567 Helms Ave. in early December 1952.

Actually there was no furniture to move except Darlene’s sewing machine that we’d toted back and forth in our trailer for years, and our little 6" television. It always sat on the sewing machine, as there was no other place for it in either of our trailers. We had mattresses for the girls from the trailer, and Greg was still in his basket.

Sears Pico came to our rescue with their payment plan for us. We bought a refrigerator, gas range, washer, kitchen table and chairs, and a divan. We thought we could use the divan for a bed for awhile.

As soon as possible we had our grand piano, and all the other things we had stored at my folks, moved from Kansas. We were lonesome for our piano. Getting those things we hadn’t seen for four years during trailer life made us feel good. Things weren’t exactly right, however, until I had set up my Lionel train in the back of my share of the double garage. That was fun until the renter complained about the noise of that train, so I had to stop my midnight train runs.

We had hardly gotten moved in when my folks came for a visit. That meant we had to get a bed right away so they could sleep on the divan. They hadn’t been there long until my brother and his wife, with their four children, arrived to celebrate the Christmas and New Year’s festivities.

Imagine Darlene’s frustration! I found her crying one day. It was more than she could take. We were hardly unpacked and here were all these people to feed and house. She certainly didn’t want any of them to know how she felt because we wanted them to feel welcome. But I could see what a strain she was under. I was off to work and she had all the relatives to entertain. On top of that there were Christmas preparations to be made. Thank goodness for the little trailer. That made a place for my brother’s family to stay.

In the long run, we all got through that time OK and we had a fine Christmas together. It’s just a good thing we were young enough to have energy to do all that needed to be done.

When we first moved into our house, the back was rented to a lady and her grown son. Soon they moved and we rented to a young couple with a baby. We got along very well with them, but they did do quite a bit of loud arguing, and that bothered us.

For four years we saved as much money as we could so we could buy a larger place to live. The time came when we were ready to look for a house.

One day we saw a house for sale on Lafayette Street with a large beautiful glass window in the front. When we went inside, we discovered a huge front room. What a great place for our grand piano! Unfortunately, the down payment, in fact, the entire price was too much for us.

Even to this day, when I pass by that house, I call it "our house with the beautiful window and big front room."

Finally, we found a house at 8944 Krueger Street, only a few blocks from our duplex. We liked the nice big back yard, and with two bedrooms, and family room, it seemed very adequate. Most important, the down payment and price were right.

We moved in Thanksgiving Day, 1956.

Before long, we tore out a wall between one bedroom and the front room, making an ideal place for our piano. The family room then became a bedroom. As the children got older, we needed more room. We refinanced and added three rooms and a bath. Unfortunately, in lengthening the house, the garage had to be removed.

We lived in our Krueger house until we moved to Maryland in 1969. Since it was rented while we were gone, we were able to return to it when we moved back to California. Many fine memories are now stored in our Culver City home on Krueger Street.

While we were house hunting, the real estate agents were looking for buyers for our duplex. We were surprised and also very disgusted when one asked us if there were any Orientals or Negroes on our street. We asked why and were told that our duplex couldn’t be shown to "such" unless some already lived there. As you can guess, this was in the days before the civil rights legislation.

The real estate agent offered us a deal. We could trade our duplex for a down payment on a ten-unit apartment on Berryman Avenue in Los Angeles. Although it needed no immediate repairs, we soon learned that we had inherited lots of work.

Keeping the apartments full was more of a problem than we expected. Every change in renters meant some kind of a repair or new paint job. One day one of the renters complained about a lack of hot water. On inspection, I found that a pipe had broken under the apartment and flooded the place. There always seemed to be water problems in the laundry room. Also the washer and drier coin boxes were often broken into, and the money stolen.

When there was a vacancy, we would often sit all day in the apartment to wait for prospective tenants. Also, we tried to keep the kids off long telephone calls so we wouldn’t miss any calls in answer to our rental ads.

Since our payments were so high, we couldn’t afford to hire help. Therefore, caring for the apartment was a family affair. As the kids grew older, they could help clean and paint. I had so many duties at my several jobs, I often felt overwhelmed by the demands at the apartment.

When we moved to Maryland, we hired a manager for some months. However, he soon got tired of the job and we decided to sell the apartment. We were never sure whether we made anything off that investment, but we were relieved to get it off our hands.

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