CALIFORNIA

Dear readers, next comes the hardest part of my autobiography to write.  I am going to have to speak quite harshly about my Dad and I do NOT want to leave the impression that I didn’t love and admire him.  There is simply no way, however, that I can NOT mention what happened in 1957, for the major mistake Dad made seriously affected our lives.  I got really lucky and was able to overcome the adversity but Dad never truly did.  Despite our hardscrabble existence, he led me by example and I have turned out to be, most will say, a decent human being.  For that, I truly do owe him.

August, 1957, was the major turning point in our lives.  I had turned 11 on the 17th of that month, my Little League team had just won a championship, and I was looking forward to starting  6th grade in September.  Out of what one could easily call “the clear blue”, Dad announced that he was getting married again!  Not only that, we were leaving Mooretown and heading for California!  [My entire analysis of events here is a product of my adult mind after YEARS of reflection.  In fact, I hadn’t even thought about some items until I sat down to write this.  Only NOW have I begun to piece together a fairly-accurate timeline of when various things happened.  At the time they occurred, I was just a dumb 11-year-old who saw what was to happen as a big adventure.]

I honestly don’t think Dad ever even told me that he had begun dating.  In modern-day practice, one would bring home the prospective new Mommy or Daddy to make sure they got along with your child.  Further, one would make sure that your child could co-exist in the same house with new step-siblings.  Nope, Dad did none of that.  He merely TOLD me he was getting re-married.  Freda Kittle used to run her Dad’s store while her Dad farmed and her Mom kept house.  She tells me that my Dad used to sit for hours and tell her tales, which, in August, 1957, certainly included talking about his bride-to-be.  Freda’s father, Fred Kittle, at one point tried to warn my Dad not to get tangled up in this relationship but Dad only got mad and went home. 

The maiden name of the con artist who scammed Dad was Janet Boyer. Initially, she and her parents had lived less than a mile from us.  (The Boyers were, genealogically-speaking, “Johnnies-come-lately” to Luzerne County.   Whereas William Boyer, Janet’s grandfather, came to the US from Germany in 1890, Jacob Hontz, Sr., Dad’s GREAT-grandfather, can be traced back to then-Union Township as early as 1820.  I still have to research Luzerne County deeds to see exactly when her Dad, Alfred Herman Boyer, bought the property in Ross Township. I’m expecting to find that it was in the late-1940’s.) 

Janet must have been married, at one point, to a man named Adams, for she had two kids who bore that surname. Jackie Adams was a boy about 3 years older than me.  His sister, Shirley Adams, was only 2 years older than me. I have seen pictures of Jackie and Shirley in the same Mooretown one-room school I attended in 1952-53 but I don’t recall them being there.  Shirley was very pretty and I’m told by Freda Kittle that Janet moved to California to “get her in the movies” probably before I started school.   Her Dad also moved out there eventually and I’m not sure what happened to her Mom. 

The surname “Kofisher” has stuck in my mind all these years, so she may have been married (and divorced) TWICE before deciding to con my Dad.

I can’t begin to imagine how much money Janet got from her two divorces but, however much it was, it wasn’t enough for her. She must have heard that my Mom had died in January, 1953. It’s now abundantly clear that she hatched a plan: go back to PA and snag Albert’s money. From out in Whittier, California (Nixon’s home town), she journeyed back to Mooretown in the summer of 1957.  How LONG it took her to convince him that she madly loved him, I’ll never know for, as I’ve said, I didn’t even know he was dating. Janet’s Dad, Alfred, had died in July, 1955 and Janet’s story was that he left her with unpaid medical bills and that’s why she needed Dad’s money.  In 1957, Jackie would have been about 14 and Shirley about 13 and, out of school at the time, they may have stayed behind on their own.

Dad was totally smitten with Janet, for she was a widower’s dream.  I’m told, but can’t confirm, that she was 20 years younger than he.  [That would make her born in 1924 but, for the life of me, I simply can’t find her as a 6-year-old on the1930 census ANYWHERE in Pennsylvania.  One thing I AM sure of is that her Dad was only 3 years older than my Dad. Present-day inquiry shows that a lady still living on the Ross Township property MAY even be Janet’s niece.  Despite the considerable ruin Janet brought to Dad and me, I am too polite to go ask that current resident about her aunt.]  Beyond the considerable age difference, Janet was also quite fetching in that she was blonde and had big boobs.  Dad had always said that the in-laws from his first marriage had been after him to marry Iona Holcomb, who was somewhat related.  Iona WAS a nice enough lady but, big-boned and plain, she couldn’t hold a candle to Janet.

Our property in Mooretown consisted of the new house, our old house behind it, and approximately 50 acres of land.  Dad was lucky, in a way, to find buyers for it in a relatively short time.  Realtor Tom Garrity of Harveys Lake, serving both sides of the transaction, put together a deal to sell it to Dick and Marion Stroud for $8,000.  I’m sure that Janet’s “Plan A” was to swoop East, convince Dad that she loved him and would marry him, and then retreat to California with the now-hooked Albert and his boy to follow soon thereafter.  Once there, she’d get the money fairly quickly and then figure out a way to get Albert out of the picture without the promised nuptials.  What she DIDN’T count on was that the Strouds couldn’t come up with the purchase price very quickly.  [Marion Stroud, now a widow, still lives in our new house some 51 years later and tells me how events transpired.  She and Dick were renting at Harveys Lake at the time with their 6 kids (3 boys and 3 girls).  They came back from vacation to find a letter from their landlord awaiting them.  The house was being sold and they had to vacate.  Luckily for them, Garrity struck the deal with Dad, who was amenable to waiting a few months until they could raise the entire $8,000.  The rent paid to Dad for those first few months would count towards the purchase price.]

With the sale of the house arranged, Dad quickly sold off our personal property.  Mom’s piano was sold to the Julius Verbyla family so fast that Dad didn’t even bother to clean out the piano bench, inside which were stored various pieces of sheet music.  YEARS later, I was lucky to recover a small photo album on the cover of which was inscribed “this does not belong to Julius Verbyla”.  Inside it were several pictures of me as a child.  I don’t know who bought our ’53 Chevy.  I’ve only recently (here in the Spring of 2008) been told by Marion Stroud that she is holding for me a wedding ring she found long ago.  It’s truly strange that it was upstairs in the attic.  One WOULD expect that Dad would have stashed the ring of one of his deceased wives in his bedroom dresser drawer rather than upstairs in the attic.  Freda Kittle, though, has a viable explanation: that, back in the 1950’s, people used to hide things in very unusual places lest “Gypsies” steal them.  The question now to be resolved is “to WHICH wife did it belong?” My brother Bob agrees with the assessment that it likely did NOT belong to his mother, Mae.   She was only 18 and Dad was 21 when then married in 1925 and they probably couldn’t have afforded a ring.  I will fetch the ring back here to Shrewsbury and have my buddy, ClockDoc, scan it with his jeweler’s loupe to spot any dates or initials.  In any case, the fact that Dad left such an item behind speaks again to his haste in leaving.  Mom’s china closet, which used to sit in a corner of our dining room, was given to Freda Kittle.  She offered to give it back to me in the 1970’s or 80’s but I declined, saying “No way I’d try to move that thing.  With all that curved glass, I’d be bound to break it”.  I’ve touched that old china closet at Freda’s house in Tunkhannock as late as 2007.  She uses it to store her knickknacks.  I don’t know what became of my dog, Tiny.  Hopefully, some neighbor looked after her.

With our affairs settled, Dad and I boarded the Lehigh Valley Railroad which, in August, 1957, was nearing the end of its passenger service out of Wilkes-Barre. The first leg of our trip took us to Buffalo, New York and there we hooked up with the then-New York Central railroad.  (It later merged with its rival Pennsylvania Railroad, to become the Penn Central).  The New York Central’s “North Shore Limited” train took us though a wee bit of Canada along the north shore of Lake Erie and thence on to Chicago.  There we boarded “The Chief”, a train of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe line that would take us all the way to Los Angeles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_%28passenger_train%29  Although “The Chief” featured Pullman cars, my ever-thrifty Dad chose not to avail himself of that feature and we slept in our seats for the next two days or so.  I remember being impressed by the double-decker “observation car” which gave a wide-angle view of the passing countryside.  I WAS worried, however, that we wouldn’t fit through the tunnels we encountered in the Rockies.

For about 35 years or so, I could recite the exact address of Janet’s house in Whittier but time has dimmed that memory.  I can only recall that it lie right off Colima Road but checking the length of that artery today at mapquest.com turns up no name that rings a bell.  Nonetheless, I can say that it was a typical suburban rancher with a tile roof.  Initially, Janet’s “Plan A” called for “wining and dining” Dad and me.  School wouldn’t begin for another few weeks and we were treated to the grand tour of nearby tourist sites.   We went to Disneyland, which had, at that time, been open for only 3 years.  We went to Knott’s Berry Farm, where I got to pan for gold.  We visited Olivero Street, a collection of little Hispanic shops near where we had debarked from the train at the Union Station. I bought some “Mexican jumping beans” there.  At Huntington Beach, we fished from the pier for mackerel, using anchovies as bait, and dropping our lines nearly 100 feet down to the water.  To this day, I disdain eating anchovies on my pizza.  I don’t eat “bait”!

September, 1957 rolled around and I started 6th grade at a neighborhood school to which I could walk.  Dad, for the most part, just sat around Janet’s house as she went off to work.  The kids at the school were nice enough and I was introduced to two things I hadn’t seen in Sweet Valley; tether ball and Fritos corn chips.  I wasn’t that adept at tether ball and would often kill my wrists as I missed the oncoming ball and smacked them into the tethering chain.  Fritos, on the other hand, were a positive culinary delight.  I don’t recall if I had any Hispanic classmates, but we learned to sing “Cielito Lindo” anyway.  I was less thrilled as the teacher introduced us to square dancing.  As the “new kid”, I always got assigned a female dance partner and none could match Mary Lou Buck.

As September turned into October, “Plan A” started to unravel, for the money from Pennsylvania wasn’t rolling in as fast as Janet had figured.  Until then, Janet had been passing Dad off as her “uncle who was visiting from back East”.  By October, she said that “the neighbors had started to gossip”. She convinced Dad to  move to the next town up the road, La Habra, and get a job.  Somehow, he blithely accepted that and I was left behind to live with her and her kids.  Not long after he left, I found out that Jackie Adams was far from the nice kid he had pretended to be.  Bigger than me, he made me do all the hard work around the house, like edging the sidewalk and curb.  From time to time, out of sheer meanness, he would sit on me and tickle me until I cried. 

On Friday nights, Janet would drive me to La Habra to spend the weekend with Dad but, even then, things were strange.  She WOULDN’T take me all the way to Dad’s apartment, which sat above Shahadi’s Hardware Store on Main Street.  She told me that she was “being followed” and she’d leave me in a shopping center about a mile away and give me bus fare to go the rest of the way.  It sounded exciting to me at the time to be part of some intrigue.  As an adult, I can readily see that it was an easy way for her to avoid even SEEING Dad lest he try to (ugh!) kiss her.  Dad’s apartment did have a phone and I guess he called her occasionally and she undoubtedly must have called him to see why the money was so slow in coming. 

At that time, Janet reportedly worked as a deputy for the LA County Sheriff’s Office and that may have been the one true tale she told.  I do know that she had a gun.  She also had a partner named Jerry who would stop in to visit after work occasionally.  They’d sit on the couch together and I once caught her kissing him.  They knew that I had seen them and was sure to run and tell Dad.  In a way, maybe they had even PLANNED that I’d see them for, not long after that, I found myself out of her house and away from mean Jackie.

The “official story” told was that I had been bounced out of school for telling dirty jokes.  Admittedly, I HAD been telling dirty jokes, so I had little defense to offer.  (However, even today I don’t think the other boys would have been dumb enough to retell them at home, leading their parents to complain to the school.)  The end result was that I too, had to move to La Habra and live with Dad.  So much for “modified Plan A”.  Now Janet would be free to kiss, hug, and do whatever else she chose with Jerry. 

Living back with Dad meant my second school in just a couple of months.  I have only one memory of it; they used to call me “Ronald”, which I hated.  “Ronnie” was acceptable and “Hontzie” was preferred, but they wouldn’t listen. 

Dad had found a job at a miniature golf course about two miles from our apartment.  Because he was an old country boy at heart, he found it no big deal to walk to work and I followed in his footsteps, figuratively and literally.  I’d spend the better part of both weekend days there with him.  His job consisted chiefly of collecting money and handing out balls and putters but he’d also sweep up the “fairways” and collect trash around the course.  When a golfer finished the 18th hole, his ball would disappear down the cup, never to be seen again.  It would go down a tube and through a tube to an underground bucket in a small cavity accessible by a padlocked door.  I made it my job, once or twice a shift, to take the key and retrieve the balls.  It was during a trip to retrieve balls that I noticed, off to the side, a large drainage pipe.  The pipe had a diameter of maybe 2 and ½ feet and it ran across the breadth of the course, a distance of maybe 150 feet.  I used to be skinny in those days (trust me—see the pic below) and, of course, as an inquisitive 11-year-old, I found it necessary to explore that pipe.  I don’t think I ever told Dad about my explorations or else he would have warned and chastised me.  It never occurred to me that I might meet up with nasty critters like snakes or spiders in that pipe and, luckily, I never did.

The golf course also featured an archery range and, being an employee’s son, I got to use it for free.  

Dad’s boss had a son a couple of years older than me.  While not nearly as mean as Jackie Adams, he nonetheless was a bit of a wise-ass and, luckily for me, a better shot than I with a bow.  More than once, he’d let an arrow fly right past me as I was retrieving arrows from the straw-bales backstop.  I’d complain to Dad but he wouldn’t mention it to the boss.

In addition to golf and archery, the course also had an arcade. I got to be a pal of the guys who came to service the various amusements.  The jukebox man would always fix it up so I could play about 10 songs for free.  I’d listen to The Tune Weavers’ “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby” (released 9/2/57), Jimmie Rodgers singing “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” (released 11/4/57), and Bill Justis & His Orchestra doing "Raunchy" (Phillips Int’l. 3519, released 11/4/57).  There was also Marty Robbins’ "The Story of My Life" (released 10/28/57), Buddy Holly & The Crickets’ "Oh, Boy!" (released 11/11/57), Danny & The Juniors’ "At the Hop" (released 11/25/57), The Four Preps’ "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)" (released 1/6/58), and The Royal Teens’ "Short Shorts" (released 1/13/58).  The arcade also had a 4 pictures-for-$1 photo booth and its operator let me take innumerable pix of myself as he made sure he’d added the proper chemical mix to the developing tank.

Only a mile or so from Dad’s apartment I found a treasure even more valuable than the golf course and its attractions – a LIBRARY!  I got a library card and was soon checking out the maximum 5 books at a time.  I recall reading small hardcover biographies of great men like Abe Lincoln and Booker T. Washington.   I’d truck them home by the armload, down across a public park, often after dark.  Given today’s atmosphere, it’s amazing I wasn’t accosted by more than one pedophile but I guess the La Habra police kept a close eye on the park.  The park featured a variety of citrus trees and I once brought home a grapefruit.

About two miles in another direction was a movie theater.  Sometimes I’d walk there and sometimes I’d take a bus at least one way.  I’m sure I went at least every other week but the only flick that sticks in my memory was one of Disney’s earliest classics, “Old Yeller”.  Some have called it the “quintessential boy/dog movie”.  I’m sure glad Mary Lou Buck wasn’t around to notice that I cried during the final scene.

Behind Dad’s apartment was the police station.  I had decided I wanted to be a policeman when I grew up and it was a no-brainer that, assigned to write a report for school, I headed there.  I avidly took notes as the kindly desk sergeant spoke and shuddered as he gave let me see, first-hand,  how it felt to be locked in a cell.

I remember Christmas in 1957 La Habra chiefly because there was no snow.  The temperature must have hit about 80.  The Chamber Of Commerce had hired Santa to drive a motorized sleigh along the streets and he sweated his butt off in that red suit!

All in all, life in La Habra was a step above that in Mooretown, what with the golf course, library, and theater all near by.  Still, I did miss my childhood pals and, as it turned out, it wasn’t long until I saw them again.

Back home, the Strouds finally had their financing in place, Dad signed the deed on December 23, 1957, and the money must have come through shortly thereafter.  Now came what, in my mind today, must have been a huge decision on Dad’s part,  He, however, was probably still so deeply in love\lust that he didn’t give it much thought at all.  Despite the facts that: she had made him move to another town; I had told him about her kissing Jerry; and she’d gotten rid of me, too, he GAVE her the money!

Next came a period of about 3 months while Janet devised “Plan B”.  By March, 1958, the new plan was that they’d go back to Pennsylvania and be married there.  I’m sure Dad thought “HA!  THAT will show those old in-laws that I’ve done much better than old homely Iona!”  Dad and I would head back, but Janet would need a week or so to line up a realtor to sell her house and then she and her kids would follow.   We’d wait at my brother Warren’s apartment in Utica, New York and then further plans would be made about when and where Dad and Janet would meet.  Dad and I boarded the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe again, on a run called “The Super Chief” this time.

Warren and his wife (also named Janet) had a fairly small apartment but they and their newborn daughter (Susan, born December 17, 1957) found room for us.  I was fascinated by that tiny baby lying in her crib, as I hadn’t been around any babies theretofore.  Especially interesting was the fact that she had a “soft spot” in her head that hadn’t completely closed yet.  I thought “Gee, dumb kid!   I wonder why she came out if she isn’t really ready yet.”  Warren was quite the intellectual and played chess by mail with another fellow by swapping postcards.  He should have told me about that BEFORE I managed to move all the pieces around on his chessboard. LOL  It was quickly decided that I needed more to occupy my time so I was sent off to the nearby movie theater where I saw “The Court Jester” (1955 release) starring Danny Kaye.  During our brief stay in Utica, I also noticed that the dummies who’d built that apartment complex also included garages that came with flat roofs.  Bad choice!  Utica is noteworthy for its heavy snows and, sure enough, many of the roofs caved in from the weight of the snow.  I think Warrens’ car escaped.

The week flew by with no phone call but it finally came though from California after about 10 days.  It was mean old Jackie Adams calling to say his Mom had suffered a heart attack on the plane, causing it to return to LA.  That’s ALL we were told.  There were no more calls and Dad made the only choice he could.  He and I would go back to Sweet Valley and hole up with Uncle Mike and Grandpa, who still lived on the old homestead near Grassy Pond.

Next up: “Life On the Farm”, which will include Janet’s “Plan C” , “Plan D”, and my high school years.  Given that it will be so wide-encompassing, it MAY take more than one chapter.  We shall see.

Written in April, 2008 by

 

Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury PA 17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402

e-mail: Sweetvalleykid@gmail.com

 

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