It was a lovely Fall Thanksgiving in 1951. My mother (Laura "Lollie" Ogden Rusling) as usual, prepared a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for a family gathering. Those at the family home (3140 11th Ave.) in Oakland were, of course, my father (Harry Rusling), Uncle Lyman Ogden, mother's brother, my sister Myrna and her husband Harold (Rebholtz) and their two little girls Roslyn Jolly and Dianne Audine, plus my little family of my husband Dick (Richard Charles smith) and our little 11-month baby Randy (Randall Rusling Smith). This day, for some unexpected reason, Dick, who was always full of busy energy and good health, didn't have his usual appetite. Little did we know that in three days Dick would be at death's door, lying in an Iron Lung, paralyzed with dreaded Poliomyelitis. On that unforgettable Sunday, our lives made a total u-turn from the smoothly organized future we had envisioned: raising our healthy, handsome little boy, enjoying watching construction of the new home we had just purchased, delighting in my new career of mother and homemaker, and basking in the complacency of knowing Dick's many skills and capabilities were providing a good income for his gamily.
In three days our lives became an out-of-the norm lifestyle and experience. So I am going to tell, as best I can, something of my life because I assume that what I talk about might be of interest to family members and maybe friends. It wasn't until this 88th year of my life that I ever thought of talking about MY life, but I began to realize that time is running out for telling things only I know. Before talking about me, I will tell now a little of Dick's history. (He dictated his longer story to me shortly before he died, and it is available upon request.)
Richard Charles Smith was born March 7, 1922, in Delta, Colorado. Father was Otto and mother was Irene. Dick's elder brother was William Frank and Lucille Ann his younger sister. Dick loved Delta because of the outdoor life he had as a boy. He, his brother and close friends hunted, fished, rafted on the river running through the town plus doing all the things boys could enjoy in a small town. When Dick was in high school, his brother Bill graduated from school and moved to Alameda, California. Mother Irene had divorced Otto and moved to Alameda, with Dick's sister Lucille. Irene and Lucille made their home near to Irene's sister (also named Lucille) and husband.
After Dick's graduation from high school, he too moved to California to live with his brother Bill. Then World War II started. Dick worked in the shipyards in Vallejo as a machinist. Bill was drafted into the Army, but Dick had no wish for the Army so he volunteered for the Navy. His War years were spent on an Escort Destroyer in the Pacific. He earned a machinist third-class rating before his release at the War's ending in 1945. He decided not to return to Colorado and lived, first with his mother in Alameda, then in Oakland with his brother Bill and his wife, Ann, whom Bill had married upon his release from the Army. Ann had several sisters living in the area, one, of whom was Marty whose husband was Jay Fike. Jay owned a linoleum business on San Pablo Ave in Oakland. Dick's first work was at the Alameda Naval Station, but later he decided to work for Jay, where he learned the business of carpet laying and linoleum installation...a new field of endeavor. Sometime in 1947, Dick decided to room with a worker friend. This man had a lady friend named Helen who worked at the same firm as a girl named Audine. A blind date was arranged for Dick and Audine. In two months Dick and Audine were engaged and were married in four more months: March 29, 1949.
My wonderful mother and father had a most unusual courtship, which I think would be of interest before I talk about me.
Mother was born in the gold rush town of Columbia, near Sonora, California. Her grandfather, John Jolly, had sailed from England in 1850. He became a farmer in the rough Gold country town of Columbia where he met and married Amelia Moore, another pioneer. Amelia came from New York by ship, long before the Panama Canal was built. John and Amelia had a son and six daughters, one of whom was my grandmother Laura. Grandmother Laura married another miner pioneer Alonzo Ogden and eventually my mother, also named Laura (but always called Lollie), was born and raised in Columbia. In her late teens she and her mother moved to Stockton. It was while my mother was visiting with a cousin in Bakersfield, California, whose family name was Rushing, that mail was delivered to the Rushing home for a man named Harry Rusling. Mother readdressed the mail to Harry Rusling who she was told was a young man working in a shoe store in Bakersfield. This mail mix up happened just before Laura (Lollie's) vacation was over and she had to return to her home in Stockton, California.
My mother always had a fun-loving spirit, so whatever she did in the readdressing that first misaddressed letter, opened a long correspondence. My father, Harry Rusling, had come to Bakersfield from his birthplace in Bloomsburg, Ontario, Canada, as an adventurous young man, to stay with one of his brother's who had settled in the "new land" of Imperial Valley. Not long later, Harry found a job as a shoe salesman in Bakersfield. Well, Harry had a fun-loving streak too, and getting acquainted by mail developed into a courtship by mail. This young couple met in person only four or five times. Their eventual marriage was on June 11, 1911, and lasted 52 years.
The young Rusling couple made their home in Bakersfield which in 1911 was primarily an oil field town. My sister, Myrna Jolly, was born October 12, 1913, and Audine Marie was born November 9, 1919. Ours was a new Craftsman-style home in East Bakersfield. I lived there until I was six. I have vivid recollections of many things in those six years. This was a newly developed part of town. I remember seeing a spectacular oil field fire from the bluffs which overlooked the masses of oil derricks in the fields below. There were lots of creepy crawlies: scorpions (one found in the bathtub), many spiders in the basement, many tarantulas crossing the highway as we drove through a sandstorm, big black beetles in our yard, many lizards and horny toads for pets. Oh, there were such hot days and nights in the summer! It was fun to watch the huge tumble weeds roll down our dusty street. Getting lost in Woolworth's store was not a fun experience! I remember my mother's anguish and my panic as I ran everywhere looking for her. A neighbor's father raised sheep and I remember the herds of sheep and the busy bustle of lambing season. I was told Mother and Daddy first had an Oakland car, but I remember only the wonderful new 1924 Buick. It had sliding glass windows! A running board to step into the seats, a shiny big circle in the middle of the wooden steering wheel which you could hit and make a big ooohgaw!
The heat in this southern San Joaquin Valley town was unforgettable. If there was such a thing as air conditioning, it was not available to our modest family. I was six when our family eventually moved to Oakland where my mother's two brothers had settled. In Oakland our first home was near Lake Merritt, and Grand Avenue. This was a lovely residential section of town where I could walk to Lakeview School. Here we lived in an upstairs apartment in a lovely old home on Warwick Ave. I remember the beautiful stairway from the front door to our apartment and the pretty stained glass window on the landing. Our landlady drove and electric Essex Car. This was an area of big homes. We lived in an apartment created in one of the big homes. My school girl friends lived in two and three story homes. I loved seeing the insides of these homes and have never lost my appreciation of the beautiful, gracious old homes built in the era of 1915 to 1930.
When I was 10 years old, Mother and Dad purchased a home in East Oakland at 3140 11th Ave. for the frightening sum of $4,000. It was a stretch for their income, but they managed the payments. This home was built about 1912 in a neighborhood of similarly constructed dwellings. One walked up eight stairs to the entry floor where there was a comfortable living room, one bath, two bedrooms, separate dining room, kitchen, and an enclosed sun room across the back of the house. Stairs from the kitchen led to a ground level for wash room, coal storage, other storage spaces, and a back door led to the separate garage in the rear, and to the garden. There was a fixture in the kitchen wall that we found was a functioning gas light fixture. (We never used it.) Our home was three miles from downtown Oakland, near a street car line on Park Boulevard and a bus line on 13th Ave. My McChesney Elementary School was an easy six-block walk and Myrna's seven-through-twelth grade Oakland High School was only four blocks away.
California, at the time of my school years (1925-1937) was noted for its excellent schools. Our books and all supplies were furnished. There were advanced classes in the Elementary Schools, and in High School we had excellent teachers. Students had counselors to guide their class choices. Counselors set both Myrna and me on college prop courses. This was unexpected but fortuitous since in our middle-class family college was never considered. That future was for wealthy people! In Oakland High School there were the usual basic classes of Math, Algebra, Geometry, Latin, Spanish and German, Geometry, History, English, Journalism, Music Art, Drama, Stage, Home Economics for girls, Shops of several kinds for boys, ROTC, Physical Education of baseball, basketball, football, and dance. (Myrna worked in the school bank for three years thus beginning to develop her eventual excellence in Accounting.)
In my Senior High Class of June, 1937, I had a fun time in Mr. King's Stage Design class. Under his direction I designed and created props needed for Drama Class presentations. Thus teacher King gave me the opportunity to create the stage "decorations" for our graduating class. (I still remember the creations. I had fun in designing and making them.) I was one of the 10 students in our class of 350 who was presented with "honor roll" gold "O" pins. I had not expected this honor.
I am going to interject here an aside from my story. In retrospect, it was not until after I had retired from 38 years of work in the business field that I recognized a major change in parental trainings. During my growing years no one in my family, or in schools ever verbalized acknowledgments of achievement. Words of praise, commendation, encouragement were never expressed because this would cause vanity...an ugly word. Thus, I (and Myrna, also) never were aware of "self worth." I mention this because I see that parents now are wiser and know value of verbalizing helpful praise and love. Encouraging self worth, in my estimation, is just a boost in climbing the ladder of achievement.
In the three summer months after graduation in June, 1937, I took a course in Pittman Shorthand, taught by a church member from my First Baptist Church in Oakland. She taught four of us girls in her home. (What I learne3d at the day classes, I took home each evening to teach Myrna. Thus she learned along with me and had a new skill to use where she was already working.) My teacher had a connection with someone working at Caterpillar Tractor Company in San Leandro. When I finished the course, I was interviewed and hired at 17 as stenographer in the Advertising Department. I couldn't believe my good fortune because my salary was to be SEVENTY FIVE DOLLARS a month! The beginning rate generally offered to stenographers was $65.00. With that munificent sum I paid Mother and Daddy $25.00 a month room and board, started a bank account, paid for my bus transportation, clothing, learned a new word...Mutual Funds...and gradually built an account in one.
Caterpillar Tractor was a great place to work. I had two bosses who had to write the copy and create advertisements for construction and farm magazines, plus help the many Caterpillar distributors with their advertising needs. I learned a lot about the advertising business in general. I became acquainted with the professional photographer, Mike Roberts, who went on trips with my bosses to take pictures of various sizes of tractors in action. This Serendipity contact was vital to me in the years to come.
Looking back, I give God total praise for opening many doors, creating connections, smoothing paths in my life which made so many things "just happen" to my benefit. Knowing Mike Roberts is just an example of God's orchestration because about 10 years after my Caterpillar job, Mike became my full-time employer. I will tell more about that work later.
There was pleasant camaraderie amongst the women employees. We formed a club called "Caterpillar Girls Club" and had many happy, fun-time events. We had evening home gatherings, occasionally provided noon-time lunches for the big office staff, produced an evening stage performance with silly costumes. We just had good, innocent, clean, times together. Liquor was never considered necessary for fun in those days.
Since I lived with my parents in Oakland, I had to use public transportation to reach my work in distant San Leandro. From home I walked two blocks to the bus stop on 13th Ave., transferred to another bus at 14th St. I left the bus in downtown San Leandro and then walked six blocks to cross the railroad tracks to the Caterpillar Tractor Offices and Plant. (I have forgotten the names of the streets.) The setting was very rural with open fields and few dwellings. I was told years later that this big production plant was transferred to Peoria, Illinois, and the building became a canning factory.
I remember clearly the day I was standing by my desk on December 7, 1941, that the news burst upon us that World War II was declared. From that moment on, all lives were changed. I began working at Caterpillar in 1937 and remained there a total of six years. In 1942 my salary had increased to $1.00 an hour. I decided I would like to go to college.
What College? University of California in Berkeley, of course. That was where I could get the cheapest education. I had to pay $27 each semester (being a native Californian), pay for my books and any supplies required, pay for public transportation to get to and from the campus plus a few other minor incidentals and I still lived at home with my parents. (I don't know the present cost per semester, but I think it is in the thousands).
In the WW II years I attended Berkeley, the government increased the program from two to three semesters a year, to accommodate Servicemen's educations. This was great for me. I had my AA in less than two years, and had I been able to complete my senior year (more about this subject later) I would have had a Bachelor's Degree in three years. I never expected to use my college education as a means of earning a living; I was going to enjoy the experience. I chose subjects to please my interests. I was in the College of Letters and Science with majors of Psychology, Fine Arts and Decorative Arts but, over the years that education was a boon to my earning ability.
Remarkably, a friendship begun at U.C. is still ongoing. Auralee Strand smith, my college friend, and her husband Tom, live near in Grass Valley. Friends were always very important.
I previously mentioned that I knew photographer Mike Roberts when I worked at Caterpillar and that this contact was fortuitous. Mike Roberts had begun a post card business and during the years I was at U.C. Berkeley, his office was close to the Campus on Addison Street. Mike asked me to work for him in my free time...this was another of those Serendipitous events that I have thanked God for. In addition to working for Mike, I had an interesting job one semester in the U.C. Records Department where files were kept of all instructors' published writings. Adding bits and pieces paid for my education.
It was in the last half of my senior year, when I had begun work on the 18 units needed to reach the goal of a Bachelors Degree, that I left the campus...never to return. Why? What happened?
Let me back up a few years to tell about my family. My father always worked in the shoe business and eventually decided to open his own store in the Fruitvale business district on 14th Street in Oakland. The business was doing well, so in 1947 when a nation-wide shoe convention was scheduled to be held in St. Louis, Missouri, Daddy and Mother decided to take the major trip of their lives. They would go by train to St. Louis for the Convention, then travel to my father's birthplace in Ontario, Canada, so that my Mother could meet many of Daddy's relatives. Mother had never been out of California and it was an exciting time of organizing and planning. Sister Myrna had been married in 1938. Her husband Harold was working in San Francisco and Myrna was at home with their little girl, Roslyn Jolly. Thus, Myrna was available to manage the store while Father and Mother had their wonderful vacation. I was still living at home finishing my last semester of college.
All plans and lives changed when Daddy had a paralyzing stroke in St. Louis. He collapsed when Mother and Daddy were dining in a restaurant. He was taken to the St. Louis Barnes Hospital. Mother wired Myrna. Myrna arranged a flight for me and in a few days I was in St. Louis. Mother had found a room for us to rent just blocks from Barnes Hospital where Daddy was to be hospitalized for an indeterminate time. Not knowing what to expect about the length of time we would be in St. Louis, I applied for work at Barnes hospital. I was hired immediately. My first job was a major eye-opener. I was hired to work in the "Chocolate Shop." Of course I thought it was the local soda fountain, but that was when I learned about SEGREGATION! Black people at that time had separate drinking fountains, separate cafeterias in the hospital, separate bathrooms, etc. I was very uncomfortable with this. Fortunately my work in the cafeteria Chocolate Shop was only one day, because I was called to work in the Barnes Hospital Records Office, where I was more comfortable with clerical work. However, I was surprised at the mess I saw in that office! Doctors apparently had no secretaries so had to handwrite their records. These sheets of notes were loosely fed into manila folders with the patient's name on the tab. Then (in some mysterious way I didn't know), the folders were stacked flat in piles in a separate storage room, waiting to be picked up and walked down the hall to the Record Room. In the Record Room shelves lined the walls, awaiting folders. But, all the folders were loosely stacked on the shelves FLAT, so that when one searched for a patient's folder, one had to lift stacks of folders down, sort and restack. I couldn't believe the inefficiency of this time consuming system. So I suggested to my superior the obvious solution of turning the alphabetized files VERTICAL, not HORIZONTAL, so that one patient's file could be selected as needed. The file plan was accepted and my work began. (Compare this antique system to the improvements in this Computer Age.) It was about eight weeks (as I recall) when Daddy was released to return home. The stroke left him with a partially paralyzed right leg, paralyzed right arm and speech impairment. Mother and I were able to move him from the hospital to a train roomette accommodation and left St. Louis behind. Oakland looked so good to us! Family and friends were at the station to meet us and take us HOME.
We all had adjustments to make. Myrna turned the store management over to Mother, and I became care-giver for Daddy. Even though I had quit college, I took advantage of the U.C. Science Reference Library to get some basic information about care of stroke victims. Sixty-one years ago little was generally known about care of incapacitated patients. I learned what strokes were and something about basic therapy. Then with common sense, I figured out how to make things easy for Daddy; such as grab bars where needed, banisters, stools for exercise, systems for bathing, tricks to fix his foot drop, tricks for dressing, and more. Daddy was a great patient and adjusted well to his infirmity. I think it was about six months later the sore was sold and Mother could change from shoe salesperson to homemaker once more.
Then, just when needed, another wonderful Serendipity event occurred. Mike Roberts called to ask me to be his Office Manager at his newly opened printing plant, named Mike Roberts Color Productions, at the west end of University Avenue near the Bay Shore. At that time letterpress printing methods were standard. It was not long, however, that the faster and more efficient methods of lithography were brought into the printing industry. This system required complex darkroom processes, plate making and huge four-color litho presses, along with the regular packing, shipping and sales personnel. However, professional-photographer Mike had accumulated a huge library of United States, Hawaiian and Alaska 5x7 glass color negatives which were the basis for this new company's existence. His beautiful photography was a "natural" for selling cards to post-card hungry travelers. It was a very successful, growing business. Now, I will change to a different subject.