Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the third excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
After a few years of marriage and the births of my brother David, and my sisters Barbara and Patty, my parents found that there were no opportunities for them in Phoenix. My dad was going from job to job, many times working two at a time, but none was steady. He scraped enough money together to pay rent on a studio apartment, feed the kids, and buy a broken old Ford to take him to and from his various jobs.
Later in life, my parents would laugh about the time their car had a dead battery and they couldn’t afford to replace it. My dad would get up early in the morning, open the hood of the jalopy and peer into the motor as if there were a problem. Without fail, a Good Samaritan would ask if he needed help and my dad would explain that the battery wasn’t working that morning, and he would appreciate a jump to get the car started. Once his work day was over, he would begin the same routine until a passerby would lend him jumper cables to start the car for the return trip home. This would last for months.
He quickly realized that this was no way to live. He had traveled around the world as a sailor fighting for his country, seen New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. He knew there were opportunities for those who took risks and sought a better life. So, with a used battery in the rickety car and protests from my Grandma Joaquina, he and my mom packed up their three babies, their meager belongings, my Abuelita Chabela, and headed for San Jose, California, to join his sister Maria, her family, and relatives on his father’s side of the family to find work in the orchards and canneries of the fertile Santa Clara valley.
In San Jose, my parents moved into a relative’s garage until they were able to earn enough money to find a place for their growing family. They found a small apartment not too far away from the town’s bustling canning industry. My Abuelita Chabela took care of the kids at night while my mom worked at the canneries. It’s a cliché, but my dad worked day and nights to earn just enough money to keep a roof over their head and dinner on the table, and there was enough work for my parents to rent a small house in San Jose’s east side.
My brother Steve was born shortly after they moved into the rented house on the east side, and with another baby to clothe and feed, my parents found extra hours working for slave wages in the apricot orchards of the east valley picking the fruit and cutting it for the lucrative dried apricot market. Every bit helped, but they needed steady income to provide stability for their growing family.
During that time, San Jose was rapidly growing and the postal service was looking for reliable veterans to meet the demands of its burgeoning workforce. Soon, my dad’s status as a World War II veteran would pay off when he got a job working at the downtown post office. Although the pay wasn’t nearly enough to meet the needs of their family, the stability gave them a chance to achieve the American Dream and buy a house. They found a house just a couple of blocks away from their rented house.
My parents borrowed money from relatives to put a modest down payment on the outlandish $11,000 mortgage they took to buy the house on 48 Viewmont Avenue. For the next several years, my dad would dutifully drive downtown to the post office to earn a living and my mom would supplement their income taking jobs cleaning houses and working part-time in the cafeteria at the new IBM headquarters in the south side of town. My dad would take every opportunity to work overtime to help pay the bills.
Lucky for them, my abuelita was available to take care of the kids while my parents struggled to stay afloat. This steady way of life continued for nine years and it looked like my parents were starting to slowly build a solid foundation for their family’s future when I arrived.
Next Wednesday: Chapter 1 continues with my first years growing up at 48 Viewmont Avenue in east San Jose.