Our Humble Home

It was 1963 and the war in Vietnam was brewing.

We’d been married a year when my husband, Vic, and I moved into our first home, a government-issued 28-ft. silver trailer in the middle of a record summer heatwave without the benefits of air-conditioning. We improvised our own way of cooling off our metal abode by crisscrossing two garden hoses atop the roof and letting water run off the wall sidings.

These trailers were built in the 1940’s and issued to Marine Corps “grunts” who were awaiting deployment overseas so they may live at Camp Pendleton with their spouse.

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This was the first home Vic and I lived alone in as husband and wife. The inside looked like a doll house. It had a tiny sink and a little refrigerator, with a freezer compartment with room for only one ice tray. The bathroom was so small that one could sit on the commode and wash their hands in the bathroom sink at the same time.

I moved in with my combination record-player/stereo radio, Elvis L.P’s, a few pots and pans, a Monopoly board game, medium shopping bag of maternity clothes, and the one pair of sandals that I could get my toxemia swollen feet into.

It was near midnight when we arrived at the trailer. Vic had to leave immediately for his guard post on base. I had never seen the trailer prior to moving in. I failed to notice, or ask Vic, if the trailer was on tires or secured to the ground and locked in position. I was concerned about walking or moving in the trailer because I had gained 60 pounds during my pregnancy. I feared all my weight may start the trailer rolling down the street.

In the early morning when Vic got back, he was shocked to find me still dressed in the same clothes, sitting on the corner of the little sofa where he left me the night before. My bedclothes, toothbrush and comb were still in the shopping bag just a few feet away from me.

At first sight of him, I yelled out my question, “Is this trailer stabilized?”

He thought I was kidding.

I said, “Do I look like I’m kidding?” A flood of tears raced down my face. My eyes and bladder couldn’t hold any more water.

Vic put his arms around me, helped me to the bathroom, then down the two wobbly wooden steps out of our front door. He showed me where the trailer was indeed anchored to the foundation. He kissed my wet face. Soon he fixed and stabilized those steps. From then on, I felt safe in our illustrious home.

Vic got paid every two weeks, as did everyone in our neighborhood. That is why we didn’t feel any worse off than anybody else, even if on occasion we ate from cans containing food rations that were packed during World War II.

We experienced such bliss that being poor was an adventure. It was fun having to “make do.” We made curtain rods by stretching out wire clothes hangers for the curtain valances. The ends of the wires were twisted and hooked to nails attached to each side of the windows. “Voila!” We transformed the trailer in to our home.

Our bedroom barely accommodated the built-in, double-size bed, a little bassinet and two orange crates that we spray-painted white and stacked on top of each other for storing diapers in anticipation of the birth of our first baby, Yvette. I enjoyed going to the commissary. It made me feel so mature and independent to choose what “I” wanted to buy for our home.

Camp Pendleton photo

Camp Pendleton photo

Affordable entertainment was going to the free drive-in movies on Camp Pulgas Base; ironically and appropriately named. In Spanish, the word pulgas means fleas.

One of the drawbacks was having to leave the car windows rolled down to hear from the only speaker that was on the outside atop the projector shed. There were no individual car speakers.

Another small inconvenience was the mosquitoes. We had to take a net to put over us as we watched the movie to prevent being bitten by a multitude of mosquitoes that plagued the base that summer. Still, we’d cozy up and eat our homemade sandwiches, popcorn, and drank Kool-Aid.

The way in which we combated the mosquitoes at our trailer was to leave the light on in the bathroom at night and fill the bathtub with water. In the morning, we’d find swarms of them drowned. I never got more than a few mosquito bites. In fact, several neighbor girls on our street that were also pregnant didn’t get many mosquito bites either. My sweetheart, on the other hand, seemed like a main course for the little pests.

We didn’t own a TV. We played marathon games of Monopoly. In the morning, I’d love to bring Vic breakfast in bed. I served him fried baloney and eggs on a makeshift bed tray. By his goofy expression, I knew that it made him feel special. I wanted him to feel like the king of our trailer-home.

Our neighbor, Patricia, was a little older than I; she was about 18 or 19 years old. She showed me how to make a meatloaf. I was so excited to serve it to Vic for dinner. I didn’t own a loaf pan, so I made do by baking it in a heart shape cake pan. I frosted the meatloaf with mash potatoes and spelled out I love you with string beans on top of the potatoes. He was impressed and I was delighted.

The bliss we experienced living in the trailer was all too soon bittersweet. On a cool autumn morning, Vic got his “shipping out” orders and had to report to the barracks. We were given notice to vacate the trailer. Another couple waiting deployment was due to move in.

My record player, Elvis records, bassinet, Monopoly game, and other acquisitions were all stacked by the curb while I, sadly, waited with my 3-month-old baby daughter to be picked up by my mother and godfather, Uncle Brown, to take us back to my parent’s house.

Though their home was spacious with many conveniences, I had never felt more destitute having to leave our little home with its sense of fun and bliss that we created in the midst of our meager means. Still, it would all be meaningless if Vic could not be there to share it with our daughter and me.

Those early years taught me that love is unconditional; love is steadfast, and it perseveres not just in good times, but in time of trials as well.

In our nearly 60 years together, we’ve paid off our home, cars, RV and accumulated many possessions. Yet when I think of our happiest times, my mind wanders back to our small humble trailer filled with abundant laughter, creativity, and new self-discoveries that taught me the meaning of enduring love.

Yolanda Adele is a member of the writing class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. It is held off-campus at the Norwalk Senior Center.