Shared Stories: Spinach and Apple Pie

Simple pleasures often provide us with the richest memories. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Yolanda Gonzales reflects on childhood memories of baloney sandwiches, Saturday mornings, and even spinach!  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Yolanda Gonzales

The year was 1967 and I was eight years old. We lived in Compton, Calif., on Maple Street, near some train tracks. The cross street was Wilmington or Willowbrook.

Our two-bedroom house was small, considering how many lived in it. My father worked as a gardener and my mother was a homemaker.

There were eight children living at home ranging from 6 to 17 years old. I was 8 years old at that time. My youngest sister Laura was 6 and my brother Louis was 7. My older siblings at home were Gloria, 9, Gilbert, 11, Ricky, 13, and two half-sisters, Mary, 15, and Ophelia who was 17.  

My mother had 14 children in all, but the six older ones did not live with us. Three of my older sisters were married at that time. There were also two older brothers I never knew, and one older sister I never met.

I really don’t know how we managed to fit in that little house, but we did. I remember bunk beds; two slept on the bottom and one on the top. Mary and Ophelia slept in the living room, and my parents had their own room. We didn’t have much, but I guess we had each other.
A normal day would be with the children going to school. Mary and Ophelia went to a high school, so they went without us. I and my other siblings walked on our own and we had to cross “those train tracks.” 

I remember sometimes being chased by dogs. It seemed back then that all dogs were loose, not like today where they have to be on a leash. We would start off walking and the next thing we knew, we were all scattered because of those dogs! Till this day, I am afraid of dogs.
My mother would send my father off to work with a lunch of baloney sandwiches.  Good ol’ baloney sandwiches! He had this tin lunch box with the handle on top. To me it had a shape like a mailbox. 

My mother would always fix him two sandwiches, and he would always bring one home. Maybe two were too much? Or maybe because he knew I would want one?

That poor sandwich sat in that lunch box all day! But you know, that was the best sandwich I ever ate! It was soggy by the end of the day. It had lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and mustard, and of course, the baloney.

Call me weird, but something about that sandwich sitting all day made it taste so good (to me, of course)! The smell of the mustard was the best part; and till this day, the smell of mustard takes me back to that time.

Saturday mornings were the best! I remember waking up and hearing the sound of a lawn mower. What a sound! I knew my dad was up and about, cleaning the yard and working hard. Yes, even till this day, I love the sound of a lawn mower, especially on a Saturday morning!
My mother would also be up and about with her house dress on, pulling the curtains down from the windows so they could be washed. She would be sweeping the floors so they could be mopped.

I could hardly wait to go play outside with my sisters. We would play house, jump rope, hopscotch, and of course, skate! We would sing songs as we jumped rope. Skating was so much fun. We felt like we were flying.

My brothers would play with their toy army men and their marbles and play football out on the street. Ofelia and Mary were older, so they were into music and boys. They listened to music like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Motown. They really liked their music.

Come nightfall, my siblings and I would huddle up in front of the television to watch our TV shows. We watched shows like the Little Rascals, My Three Sons, The Brady Bunch, and so many others. My parents would watch Columbo and Bonanza and the news.

But while we watched our TV shows, my father would be in the garage drinking his beer and listening to his music. He liked music like Tommy Dorsey and Tony Bennett. His favorite was Frank Sinatra.

My mother would be in the kitchen fixing dinner. I really don’t remember what meal she cooked, but I do remember that spinach we had to eat. We had to finish it, too, in order to have our dessert – which would be apple pie.

I remember one time we were all sitting at the dinner table, still eating, and I had to go to the restroom. When I came back I noticed that there was much more spinach on my plate. I wanted to cry! Come to find out, my brother Louie had scrapped most of his spinach onto my plate.

Well, I always wanted the dessert, so I guess I had no trouble finishing the spinach. And, yes, you guessed it. Till this day I love apple pie!