Old Mack’s Tales

September 7, 2012

Remembering The Mojave Desert

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 2:47 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Young Mack in the Mojave Desert

Monday, September 03, 2012



Mack’s 9th Birthday, with Nancy Richmond’s present on his feet.

They are sitting on the rim of the cistern which extends 30’ below ground.

I completed the Fourth Grade in the Mojave Desert schools, half in the Lucerne Valley and the rest in Apple Valley.  My big sister, Laura, had been boarding with a family of Seventh Day Adventists in National City, but she was sent up to Victorville on the bus and Missus Richmond brought her out to the ranch.  She and Nancy Richmond were about the same age, and they shared a bedroom; I slept on a roll-away cot in the large country kitchen.  It wasn’t long after Laura moved in with us that my fourth-grade classmate got polio and died, and the Lucerne Valley’s two-room school was closed.  And then, in seemingly short order, Chief Richmond—who had been Missing in Action, somewhere in the South Pacific—was found and sent to Norfolk, Virginia for shore duty.

For my Ninth Birthday, September 18th, 1943, I wished for cowboy boots.  None could be found due to the war shortages and the small size of my feet.  Nancy stuffed the toes of a pair of boots she’d outgrown with tissue paper and gift wrapped them for me.  It was the act which made me declare my love for her.  Her response: “Now, quit whining about not having any boots!”

Nancy saw me as the little brother she’d always wanted, someone to mentor in the manly art of fist fighting, horse-back riding, and spelling.  Nancy was an avid reader of Reader’s Digest and the first page she turned to in a new issue was “How to Improve Your Word Power.”  But she also read western novels and stories by Zane Gray..  She took issue with some of the western hero’s character traits; for example, she thought the hero who waited for his adversary to throw the first punch or make the first move to draw his six-shooter was nuts.  “When one of the boys challenges you to a fist fight, Mack, don’t wait for him to punch your lights out.  You hit first and aim for his nose.  If you hit him hard on the nose it will bleed and make his eyes water; while he’s blinded by tears, beat the shit out of him.”  When I complained that her tactic wasn’t fair, she punched me in the nose to prove her point and then said: “Fighting is stupid.  But if you have to fight, fight to win!”  I believed her, and later never had more than one fight per new school and that usually on the first day.”  Nancy also got me interested in reading.  Our library at school had all of the books by Rutheford G. Montgomery and I started reading one which was related to the news of the day.  Rough Riders Ho! The story about tankers in North Africa fighting Rommel’s Panzers came out while the battle for control of desert was still going on.  Thus I got interested in reading the newspapers and watching the Time Marches On newsreels at the movies, instead of running off to the Boys’ room between features.

Nancy was almost as fine a rider as her mother.  I had to keep one hand on the pommel of my saddle or grasping the Pinto’s mane while galloping across the rough desert terrain behind them.

Missus Richmond carried a double barreled derringer, especially when we went riding.  On one occasion she shot a sidewinder with it from the back of her horse.  She claimed it was a lucky shot, but she cut off the rattle and gave it to me as a “good luck charm.”  After my real sister, Laura, arrived at the ranch, she resented Nancy’s attempts to tutor me, but all in all Laura and Nancy got along fairly well; they sometimes hollered at each other, but they never had a real fist fight.

Laura complained a lot about the Seventh-Day Adventists she’d been living with.  Her main gripes were that they wouldn’t let her wear makeup, eat hamburgers, or go dancing.  I suppose those things are pretty important to a twelve-year-old girl.  Laura didn’t like the desert much either.  She was terrified of snakes and horned toads and kangaroo rats and the bats that hung from the rafters of the barn and swooped down after flying insects at twilight.

But she and Missus Richmond got along pretty well.  I suppose Laura relieved Missus Richmond’s boredom, and she was more interested in cooking than Nancy was; Nancy was pretty much of a Tomboy.

When we were dumped at the Nyquist’s boarding ranch, Laura’s chores included taking care of their toddler, cleaning house and helping Missus Nyquist with the cooking and dishwashing.  All of the girls at the ranch lived together in the attic on cots and had no privacy from each other.  Laura didn’t mind working, but she would have preferred to go swimming in the reservoir with us boys than bathing in a galvanized tub on the kitchen floor.  When our aunts came to get us, they made a fuss about how “filthy” we were and the first thing Aunt Tessie did when we got to her house in North Hollywood was to soak Laura in her bathtub and wash her hair with something to kill the lice.  Laura and Tessie got along just fine.

I recall very little about our time at Aunt Tessie’s other than the red streetcars that took us anyplace we wanted to go.  One of the places was the amusement park at the beach. Laura would wear lipstick and mascara when we went to the amusement park and she enjoyed being flirted with by the young sailors in the Fun House.  There were herds of sailors where ever we went in L.A.

I remember going to our Uncle Lawrence’s riding stable up in the hills, and to the North Hollywood Municipal Swimming Pool.  I can even recall the song they played on the Public Address system:  “Her Tears Flowed Like Wine.” And I remember playing tag and cutting the corners by jumping into the pool, and the lifeguard blowing his whistle when we ran.  And I remember the great hamburgers they made–when meat was available–at the concession stand too.

And I seem to remember being hungry all the time.  For some reason I was never told why things happened the way they did.  I never really knew why Aunt Tessie took us to that boarding house in Hollywood.  I remember the building. We lived in the two-stories above, over  a garage and a store on the sidewalk level which had been converted into a school room with blackboards and chairs with desks attached and ink wells and having to learn to write with pens and dipping the pens in the ink and making a whole line of connected, slanting ovals and letter e and l and b and p.  Most of all, I remember the small meals and not ever getting seconds and being hungry.  I remember playing hide and seek and kick the can with the kids and once, while looking for a can in the trash barrel finding a jar of rancid peanut butter and eating the stuff, scooping it out with my fingers,  because I was starving; I could sympathize with the prisoners of war who were starved and beaten in the movie “Bataan.”  It was “unpatriotic” to complain about shortages when so many people in the world had nothing for supper at all.  I complained.  It got me transferred to Aunt Rene’s chicken ranch in Fontana, where I had plenty of chores to do.


On the chicken ranch the laying hens all lived in three long houses with roosts like bleachers and the nests in long rows of boxes.  Delbert, Uncle Vernon’s son from a previous marriage, did most of the heavy lifting until I got strong enough to carry a bag of chicken feed and then I would carry them from the truck into the feed room and he would stack the burlap sacks of stuff.  I had the nastiest job of going under the roosts and gathering up dead chickens and walking in all of that chicken shit.  Chickens would peck each other to death.  If a chicken laid too big an egg and bled, she was immediately pounced on by the flock and pecked to death; it was terrible and it made me hate chickens.  I didn’t care much for dogs either.

Aunt Rene had a pair of big dogs.  Rex, the male, was pure German Shepherd.  Lady, the bitch, was Alsace-Lorraine Shepherd.  Lady had a litter of pups, six of them, but she wouldn’t let you get near them and when the pups were weaned and kept in the fenced yard originally built for pullets, they grew up mean as Rex.

One of the best things about living with Aunt Rene and Uncle Vernon was the food.  Aunt Rene was a terrific cook.  The two cows, especially the Guernsey, gave us gallons of milk every day and we made cottage cheese with the whey left over from churning butter in the dasher.  Aunt Rene made her own mayonnaise too, which she colored with something that made it orange.  And she baked bread, biscuits and cornbread. I got fat at Aunt Rene’s.

I made a good friend while attending school in Fontana.  Jim Dougherty was in the typing class with me and one day, during a speed typing test, Jim came by and hooked my ribbon with his finger and dragged it half way down the aisle.  After school we had a fist fight, which we declared a draw. After we fought Jim invited me to his house to see his model airplanes.  There Jim showed me how to cover the balsa-wood wings with silk or paper; it was a technique I later used on my own models.  Jim also showed me how to tape the plans to a work table and cover it with wax paper and then pin the balsa parts directly on the lines and then glue them together.  It was the way his father had taught him and the models his father had helped him build hung from cup hooks screwed into the ceiling of his bedroom; they were beautiful.  Jim’s father, if still alive, was rotting in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines or Japan.

Aunt Rene also had a Jersey heifer.  She was a beautiful cow named “Elsie.”  Elsie would follow me like a dog around the corral and lick my hand with her raspy tongue.

One day I made the mistake of feeding Elsie from a new bale of green alfalfa hay.  When I came home from school that evening Uncle Vernon was sticking his knife into Elsie’s stomach, which was bloated like a barrage balloon.  He was too late to save Elsie’s life.  He called a neighbor to come with his tractor and trailer and haul Elsie away.  Uncle Vernon explained that cows can’t belch or pass gas because of their multiple stomachs.  So they blow up until something pops and stops their hearts.

I read in the Inland Empire News that Fontana, California is called “Fontucky” now. 

Google now shows housing developments where there were only miles of grape vineyards owned by the Gallo Winery.  The fields were all bordered by tall eucalyptus trees, and in those tree lines there were cylindrical standpipes of the buried irrigation pipelines into which we plunged to cool off on hot summer days. ~~End~~



  1. Note to my readers.

    I read a lot, books, magazines and blogs. Like the robot, Short Circuit, the older I get the more “Input” I crave. Almost anything I read will remind me of an anecdote or story and if I have time, and access, I’ll write a rough draft and call it a “tale.” I need “feedback” in the form of comments to know if there’s any interest in the topic and to help me spot errors for future editing–some day this stuff may be aggregated and become a book, but only with your help.

    Comment by OldMack — September 12, 2012 @ 2:50 pm | Reply

  2. I miss you in the forum so I had to stop by and read a little.

    Comment by charlesgeorgetaylor — September 13, 2012 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for stopping by Charles. I only read a few Litfo posts now and then, but always yours. I will probably be posting more stories and current events on my website and on my facebook page.
      Let me tell you about the pleasant experience I had today.
      Allison came by at 0730 to drive me to the County Clerk’s office so I could renew my driver license–which expires on the 18th. Having operated on that license for twelve years, I was a tad anxious. My anxiety was based on the number of documents they now require to prove my identity (I renewed 6 years ago on the phone!). Not having a real birth certificate, one of the required items, I took in the letter from the VA which affirms my status as 100% service-connected disabled. I showed it to the very pleasant (and attractive) clerk, Sherry. She gave me a big smile and flopped the document on her flatbed scanner. “This is wonderful,” she said, “there will be no charge for your new license. And thank you for your service.” I had expected to be charged close to $70 for the new license, so I was smiling, exposing my full set of pearly white dentures when my photo was snapped.
      Having drawn the money from an ATM on the way to the clerk’s office, I had enough to buy some parts needed for the 1990 Volvo to get it running again. While at the Used Parts shop I asked Bruce (the owner) if he had a newer Volvo for sale. He tossed me the keys to a 1992 Volvo sedan (4 cylinder) model same color as my old one, but with excellent interior and a working radio/tape deck. So I put down $100 to hold it and will pay the balance of $2900 when funds from my VA Life Insurance are transferred into my account from Philly. So I’m still smiling.
      Allison asked what I planned to do with the older Volvo when I pick up the 92 model. “Why I plan to give it to you, so you can drive your mother to her doctor appointments, of course.”

      “Write if you find work.” As my father said to me some sixty-two years ago when I first explored Florida.

      Comment by OldMack — September 14, 2012 @ 1:40 am | Reply

      • Oh Mack… is this memoir? All of it? You write the way I WISH I could.. someday I hope I can sit and read your life story, between the covers of a hardback book. 🙂 someday soon, please.

        When I was small, 3 or 4, my family visited a relative I didn’t know, on their farm. It was a holiday, or reunion, and there were many people there. We spent the night, and in the morning I was somehow selected to feed the chickens. I was given a heavy metal bucket full of feed, and told to toss it to the birds in handfuls, then left alone to do the job. I walked in among those nasty birds, set the bucket down, and started tossing. The chickens somehow knocked the bucket over, and me as well, I’m not clear on the details.. I ended up being pecked by chickens head to toe, bleeding from a hundred small cuts, and visiting the hospital.

        Comment by angelsolala — September 15, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

  3. I refer to that mess as the time I was attacked by a herd of chickens.. which always gets either a laugh, or a correction. (Chickens don’t come in herds).. god, I hate chickens!

    Comment by angelsolala — September 15, 2012 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

    • My guess is that in writing personal tales mistakes can add if, like yours, they fit the age of the narrator.

      Grannie McKinney had a mean Dominicker Rooster that ruled her roost and served as her watch dog; meanest damned chicken I ever saw. If you search “rooster” on Clitfo you’ll find the story of that chicken’s fate when he decided to attack Mack at age 15 (a whole different attitude).

      Comment by OldMack — September 15, 2012 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: