At the grocery store, pork chops cost $.21 a pound; bacon cost $.32 a pound; a quart of milk cost $.10; a pound of butter cost $.42; eggs were $.23 a dozen; flour cost $.03 a pound; sugar was $.05 a pound.
“Where you going Charlie?” Chester Doolin and Beau Henry were at the corner near my house and they were blocking my way. I knew them because we all went to Haydock School. I was in third grade and they were in eighth. They were big, mean, and out-of-control nasty. They were the town bully boys and they made all the other kids in our school completely miserable.
They knew where I was going, they met me there almost every day. Sometimes I would try to outsmart them and go home a different way but I couldn’t always do that.
I looked past them to the fence of our house. I was hoping my mama or somebody would be there outside but there was no such luck. I was getting tired of these guys beating me up and taking my money on a regular basis, but it was them laughing at me as they walked away that hurt me the most.
Then there was that terrible ordeal I had to go through when I got home. My mama would be crying as she wiped the dirt off my face and cleaned my wounds and bruises. John and Robert took turns looking at me in disappointment. My sisters just lowered their eyes in shame.
“Why did you let them do it?” Both John and Robert asked me in their own ways. Just a reminder, John was my stepfather and Robert or Bobby was my brother.
I did my best to hold back the tears of both pain and humiliation. I was tired of this, explaining why two boys much bigger than myself would keep on beating me up and taking my money, like it was my fault.
Everybody in the family chipped in. There was work at the sugar factory, if you had pale skin and an Anglo sounding last name. John did what he could, but it was never enough. My folks now had two new babies to deal with, my brothers Frank and Henry. Bobby was grown up now and worked at the lumber yard. I was a paperboy.
Every afternoon I would go to the train depot and wait for the five o’clock express from Los Angeles. The train was never late. The old iron horse rolled into the station with his usual rumblings and squeaking the hissing noises. The mail car would slide open its door. One of the mailman from town threw him a bag of our mail and he took in trade the mailbag from the train.
“Here you go, Charlie.” The mailman said. His name was Beau Dean, everybody said his name as if it was one word. I just called him Sir. He was there every day and I wondered if he slept on the train. He tossed me the bundle of the Los Angeles Evening Herald. The first few times I wasn’t able to catch them, but eventually I got the hang of it.
Now all this time passengers were getting on and off the train. Boxes and crates were loaded and unloaded by the local crew. By the time I got my bundle the train was ready to take off again. Their next stop would be Ventura, after that Carpentaria, then Santa Barbara.
I was paid a penny for each paper that I sold. The bundle had twenty-five papers. The bundle of papers was kind of heavy to carry but it soon became lighter as I started selling the papers. I sold them for three cents each. I received one cent for each paper that I sold. At first I wandered around the station selling the papers to the travelers. And then I would walk across the tracks and sell them to the local folks on the downtown streets and inside the shops.
On a good day I contributed my quarter to the family budget, that is if I arrived home with my earnings. Almost every day there were those same bullies who would wait for me in ambush and try to steal that quarter from me. I knew that it would do me no good to tell on them. Who would believe me? Who would bother doing anything over a quarter?
Each day I would go home a different way but when I got near the corner of my house I would place the quarter in my mouth to protect it. Sometimes as I was running away or getting myself beat up I would swallow the coin.