Aunt Helen with Janet (left) and Wanda (right)
To put everything in perspective. There was never a moment in my childhood when I felt unloved, mistreated, or abused in any way. At absolute worst until 1961 (more later), I was inconvenient. There were times when I resented events (doesn't every child?). There were times when I wished that I fitted in better. which is hard to do when you are always the new kid in town. Mine was a world of adults, first because of being an only child. Second because I had three major homes. Third because I was a "brain" and spoiled rotten by teachers and trusted by adults ... this didn't help with the fitting in part.
When last we left our story, it was 1949. Now a mere five years later it is the summer of 1954 and I am living with my Aunt Helen and cousin Wanda. There have been some new stops added to the map: Phoenix, Albuquerque, and now Chowchilla with the usual side trips of Los Angeles and Fresno. By the decade point, I have already attended six schools in six cities and number seven would be after the summer ended when I moved to El Monte (another city).
Somewhere in there around about 1951 Albuquerque, the parents managed to get unhitched (check the earlier story about San Marino Hall School for Girls). None of this came about before there was almost an international incident when I almost got shipped off to Saudi Arabia (Kamel deserves his own blog post) or made the rounds of every officer's club in eight states or the night they left me asleep in a car and when I woke up, I naturally went to find them. When a child in bunny feet pajamas shows up in a Phoenix nightclub, she just might end up on Billy Eckstein's lap. For the life of me I have no idea why he was there and why in Arizona in that era a white child was on a black man's lap. For the rest of the world in that period, it would have been a scandal. For me it was just life with mom and dad and all the performers they knew. It was just more music. I picked this clip so that you could see him moving as well as hearing his magnificent voice, but do take the time to listen to some of the other you tube cuts.
Having got unhitched Dad immediately got rehitched and thus I acquired a stepmother, two stepsisters, and a step grandmother. This was an excellent move on dad's part and she was a good enough woman that it took ten years for him to screw it up, even though he really worked at it.
Mom waited until the summer of 1953. She managed to find a truly good, responsible, stable man. Unfortunately, stability wasn't on her list of desirable qualities so he only lasted six years. While he was around, the music was great. He not only looked like Frank Sinatra, he sounded like him. At one point he had had a recording contract, but at the time the world didn't want one Sinatra much less two of them, so he became a Fresno Deputy Sheriff instead. This pair are the source of my inferiority complex about singing. Imagine being in the back seat of a car with Frank driving and singing and Judy singing along. His big number:
But they sang everything. They also didn't think it was unusual when a ten year old child looked at a television and became an absolute, total undying fan of Sammy Davis, Jr. Over the years, because of all the musical and motion picture contacts, stars were just people who earned their living working that way with one exception. I adored Sammy as mentioned in this previous article. This one sided love affair continued until his death and he still remains the only performer whose death brought me to tears, but it all started with this performance on black and white TV.
Will Mastin Trio starring Sammy Davis, Jr. May, 1954
Hang on to your hats folks. Up till now thanks to the love, the music, the admiration etc., I knew my life was different, but it wasn't awful. I'm a brainy, responsible little bookworm treated as an adult by all the other adults around me. It is all about to go to hell in a handbasket.