After the end of World War II, my parents moved back to Los Angeles, after being sent around the country during my dad’s time in the Army.
Dad was looking for work, and he heard from a buddy that the Navy was looking for civil engineers out at a place in the California desert called Inyokern.
Yes, it was a Navy base in the desert. At a dry lake bed.
So, around 1946, they packed up their two kids and drove the 120 or so miles north of LA to check it out. And, sure enough, Dad was hired as a pipe-fitter at the Naval Ordinance Test Station, which was first located at Inyokern, then moved across the valley to Ridgecrest. This Navy base in the desert has had several name changes through the years: NOTS, China Lake (after the dry lake bed there), and now NAWS China Lake (Naval Air Weapons Station).
At first, Mom, Dad, and the two kids, Robert and Jeanne, lived in a little trailer, waiting for base housing to be built. This really was a bit like pioneer days. There just wasn’t much out there.
My parents eventually moved into proper base housing, a duplex. And, in 1947, my sister, Charlotte, joined the family.
My brother, Don, arrived in 1955, and about that same time, my parents decided to move off base to a place of their own. Ten miles west across the valley, three miles north of the small town of Inyokern where NOTS was originally planned, Mom and Dad bought one acre of land.
If possible, this was even rougher than the base was when they had originally arrived. It was barren.
They built a four-bedroom, 2-bath house, with the living room windows facing to the west for a view of the Sierras.
In 1958, when I was born, my parents were still working on the house, although they had already moved in. In fact, the house wasn’t completed for years. I remember tar paper on the inside walls, and we used the open studs for shelving.
Dad was talented at working with his hands, and he was very, very clever. He did much of the work to finish the house, using his carpentry and pipe-fitting skills. He soon added a shed and a garage, as well.
As their family grew to include my younger brother, Richard, Mom and Dad added on to the house.
As Dad worked on the house and outbuildings, Mom was busy putting in gardens. She planted grape vines along the driveway, grew an abundant vegetable garden, put in iceplant under the dining room window, and placed flowers where ever she could. She made our little acre of the desert blossom.
Not too long after they moved in, my parents began acquiring animals. There were cows, goats, sheep, chicken, ducks, geese, cats, and dogs.
Dad also put in our well.
We ate many of the animals we raised. When the chickens grew too old to reliably lay eggs for breakfast, they became our dinner. (I plucked a lot of chickens.) My dad eventually put up a tripod next to the well to help him with hanging the larger animals (either those we raised or what he got on his hunting trips) after butchering. We ate lots of organ meats, not wasting any edible parts. I grew up on chicken gizzards, liver and onions, and home-grown vegetables. It was just our way of life, but I’m sure it seems foreign to most modern-day Americans.
As their children grew up and left home, and they grew older, Mom and Dad began to scale down the farm. There were fewer and fewer animals, and the garden became smaller.
A year after I married and moved away, and my younger brother off in the Marines, Mom and Dad sold the old homestead and moved to Nevada.
Forty years later, I can hardly recognize the place. I drove by several years ago on my way home from a visit with Mom. It was hardly recognizable. There are now neighbors on both sides and across the street beyond the railroad tracks. The once-empty pasture behind the house has been subdivided. The well, my old landmark, is gone.
I can’t say that I miss the place. It was the only home I lived in as a child, so I feel a bit nostalgic about it. But, it was hard in many ways. It was dusty, hot, and lonely. But, it was home.
‘Til next time.