Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Two Letters To Isabelle

We were asked to describe our lives when we were Isabelle's age for a family history section in her class. We thought it might be of interest to the rest of the family. Here are the 2 letters.

Dear Isabelle,

I was your age more than 50 years ago. It is hard to understand what that means when you are just going on 9 years old. Maybe you can understand a little better if I can describe how different the world was then.

When I was your age, I lived in the east part of the city of San Diego. It was an old neighborhood, where the houses were built in the 1920’s, so in the 1950’s, our house was old. In fact, my grandparents used to live there and we rented from them.

My room was the only upstairs room. It had windows all along the front looking out over the street. There was a sink which I rarely used, since most 8 year old boys see little use for sinks.

I do remember riding my bike very freely all over our neighborhood, and got very good at riding. My friend and I quickly found the hills where crossing streets made good jumps. Without helmets or any kind of padding, we rode as fast as we could down those hills and into the air. We thought we were really flying.

The other memory is of spending entire Saturdays at the San Diego Zoo. All by myself, I would bring 2 dimes to ride the number 7 bus running along University avenue directly to Balboa Park to get off at Zoo Place. I always saved the second dime for the return trip. Since I was not such a good planner, I usually forgot to pack a lunch, so drank a lot of water and usually found unshelled peanuts people dropped. That was part of the adventure. I spent hours watching the monkeys and the hippos and came to memorize the zoo’s layout. I knew where every animal enclosure was located.

At the end of the day, I would go back to the bus stop and use my other dime to ride home, never concerned for my safety, or worrying about getting lost. In those years a young boy or girl could go almost anywhere without fear or concern for his safety.

A couple of years later, we moved to Lemon Grove. La Corta Street was in a housing development where most of the houses looked the same. I learned that La Corta Street was an uphill dead end so it had very little traffic. It was perfect for daredevil boys with wheeled vehicles.

About this time, I learned that you could use old skates to make a “skateboard”. I thought this would be a perfect way to ride down La Corta Street. Skates were then metal wheels with clamps to fasten to your leather soled shoes. If you unbolt them, you had separate front and rear wheels.

I cut a 2” by 4” board about 18 inches long, pounded the skate’s clamps flat and nailed the wheels to either end of t
he board. Now I had a “vehicle” with no brakes and no real steering –perfect for flying down a steep sidewalk. Without any “safety” equipment but my sneakers and shorts, I determined to give it a try after gaining my balance riding down my short driveway. Steering entailed leaning and shifting weight. I was now a skateboarding “expert”.

I carried the skateboard about halfway up the hill, and jumped on, barely able to hang on down the hill, and got better by falling off less and less frequently. When I got to the corner, I could not make the turn. Luckily, there were no cars coming on that quiet cross street as I flew off the sidewalk and onto the asphalt. A couple more tries and I was able to negotiate the curve of the sidewalk to an even steeper street and jump off.

That emboldened me to carry my now battered skateboard to the top of the hill with the determination to ride all the way down without falling off and getting around that corner –at a much faster speed. What I would do after turning that corner onto the steeper downhill, I really gave very little thought.

At the top, the street actually looked much steeper and longer. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach, but I launched myself down the sidewalk hoping that there would be no kids or dogs wandering into my path. With no helmet, no knee pads, and no elbow pads, I sincerely hoped I would not crash, though what else could happen I did not consider.

On the way down, I was feeling very good, like I was some kind of an expert, invincible rider. That meant that I remained on the sidewalk and the nails holding the wheels on did not fall out. So far, so good.

When I got to the corner, I had to face the reality that I was going much too fast to make that turn. That was actually a good thing since the prospects of going down the cross street were even more dangerous than the track I had been following. As I started into the turn, I had the feeling that I just might not slide too much and stay on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, metal wheels do not grip concrete sidewalks so well, and I went off the sidewalk. When the wheels hit the parking strip grass, it abruptly stopped, sending me into the street.

Fortunately I hit the asphalt on my side, and except for plenty of scraped skin on my legs and hands, I suffered little damage. No truck ran me over, I had no broken bones, and there was no concussion though my head was wholly unprotected.

You are growing up in a wonderful time, Isabelle. There are great adventures and experiences awaiting you. It is however, a different time. In many ways better and more protected than when I was growing up, but in many ways more dangerous. God bless and protect you in all you do.

Love, Grandpa Earley February 13, 2011

Dear Isabelle,

How nice to be able to share something with you about my childhood. It will be interesting for you to see where your life differs from my life as a child.

My home life was a little different from yours in one way because where you have 2 sisters, I had 4 brothers. I was the oldest girl just as you are though, so in that respect maybe we are a little bit alike. Although, I had an older brother, my parents depended on me to take care of my younger brothers just as you are depended upon to help with your sisters. Having 4 brothers and no sisters made me the “princess” of the home. My dad always called me princess, and I truly thought I was. I had my own room, but all four of my brothers were in the same room. We only had a 3 bedroom house, so that was the logical solution, right? Other things that were a constant in our home are that we went to church every Sunday and ate dinner together every night at home—except on Friday night. On Friday night we went to Arctic Circle and got hamburgers 5 for $1.00.

As far as activities that I enjoyed, the one thing that will be most different from the way things are now is that we had a lot more freedom. I had friends that lived on the same street. Because the world was different then, my friend and I would ride our bikes for long stretches—sometimes taking the whole day. We would eat our lunch by a stream and eat wild currents. I would also go with my brothers over to the local lake and go spear fishing from their raft, or ice skating in the winter. Your great-grandma Hansen never worried much about us because it seems the world was safer then.

I also liked to play with my Betsy McCall doll. Playing for me was having my dad set aside a place in the yard for my dollhouse. I planted lawn around the doll house. Your great-grandpa helped me pour cement for a swimming pool, patio and sidewalk. I decorated the orange crate house with carpet scraps and made drapes for the windows. My friend and I made furniture for the rooms. Honestly, after I finished the whole creation it wasn’t that much fun to play with my doll anymore. I think I enjoyed the creation of the house more.

I remember having a pet horned-toad for awhile that I kept in my room. He didn’t fair very well. Neither did the ants in the ant farm that I created in a canning jar.

Music was a big part of my life after I turned 10. My parents wouldn’t get me a piano until I turned 10, but after that, I learned how to play and would play and sing for hours. No iPods then. We had radio, record players, and TV. I loved to watch the Hit Parade on Saturday Night, but mostly I created my own music

In school, I tried to always do my best. I loved to learn, and still do. In the third grade I got a prize for reading the most books. (Maybe that is why I am a school librarian now). I always loved books. I loved the Nancy Drew series so much that I tried my hand at writing my own Nancy Drew type novel in the 5th grade called the Mysterious Staircase.

I realize Isabelle that you love reading and you love to do your best, and that you love music. You are already a talented singer and dancer. Maybe we are the same in a lot of ways even though I grew up in a world much different than the one today. I am so glad that you have part of my name in yours. You are wonderful Isabelle.

Love, Grandma Belann Earley February 13, 2011


  1. The world must have been different if Mom ate hamburgers every Friday night ...

    Dad, you are a lucky kid to have survived your "skateboard."

    And Mom, I had no idea you wrote a novel. Does it still exist anywhere?

    Now you guys just need to write letters to ME about when you were MY age. Pretty please?

  2. We loved reading these! Love, Nathen, Seth, Noah, Brinlee and Meesha

  3. We could all use some more letters! Thanks for doing this.