1947 - 1948


When Bob was 16 months old, Van wrote that he was going to be stationed in San Francisco, CA for a while and to get things together and pack the car for the trip. We bought the car when he was home the previous time, and I had learned to drive.  It was a stick shift and I had an awful time, but I did get my license.  So in September, he came home by train and we had eight days to make the trip cross-country from Massachusetts to California.  Of course, there were no super highways then, only 2 lane roads.  We did about 700 miles a day even with the problems with the car.  A broken water hose, and about three flat tires (one a time).


We arrived at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco and were assigned a Quonset Hut, fully furnished, 2 bedrooms, small kitchen and bath and very clean.  One night, while doing the dishes after supper, I happened to look at the ceiling.  It was brown, the living room ceiling was white, so I looked again and the ceiling was moving.  The whole ceiling was full of roaches.  I never saw so many bugs before in my life. First, the rats at Ocracoke and now roaches. The next day. Van told the office and they sprayed, but it didn’t do any good, they just went to the other half of the Quonset.  The people on the other side of the Quonset must have complained, and had their half sprayed and they came back to our half.  As long as they stayed on the ceiling, I could put up with it.  We were only in the Navy Yard a month when we moved to a permanent apartment in Richmond, CA across the Bay Bridge.

Van & Bobby on Alshain ‘47 

Just before we moved, we traded our Ford for a Lincoln that Van wanted in the worst way. The car was bigger and more comfortable than the Ford and lots of new changes for me to learn for driving, also.  When Van left to go to sea, on the U.S.S. Alshain, AKA 55, we drove from Richmond to Hunter’s Point for him to catch the ship to leave.  He drove the car on the dock, turned it around and let me in the driver’s seat for the first time.  We said our “Good-byes” and I drove it for the first time.  The shift was on the steering column instead of the floor.  It also had a turn signal.  We had been using our hand out of the window to give turn change warnings.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I parked on the side of the road and tried to figure how it worked.  No luck.  I used my hand singles until I found someone who knew. 

Van was attached to the Alshain, a cargo vessel, which would make trips to China and back every six months.  The apartments were old barrack housing for the people that worked in the shipyard during the war.  There was a big living room and big bedroom, tiny kitchen and average bath.  You could get the furniture you needed from Supply, which was nice, because we didn’t have to buy anything.  We had our first California Christmas there and the weather was so great, just like springtime.  When he left after New Year’s day, I didn’t know if I was pregnant or not, but I soon found out that I was.


The laundry building was located in the middle of all the barrack buildings for use by everyone. One day they gave out boxes of Tide, a new detergent. So the day I tried Tide, I used the same amount I always used.  About 15 minutes after I put my clothes in the washer, I was sitting on the front steps of the building watching Bob play, when this Japanese lady came running out to me asking if I had clothes in the machine.  When I said “Yes”, she said, “Come”.  I ran to the laundry room and you can’t imagine what I saw.  Soapsuds were running out of the machine and down the sidewalk.  What a mess!   I didn’t have to use soap for weeks after.

Everything was going along smoothly until one night when I picked up Bob to put him in the kitchen sink to give him his bath, something snapped.  (We only had a shower.) After I put him to bed, I went down to my neighbor and mentioned it.  She said that she would drive me to the clinic the next day just to be sure.  Well, the doctor told me to stay in bed for at least a week and see what happens.  Well, I had more problems, and when I phoned, he told me to go the Oak Knoll Hospital right away.  One neighbor said she would care for Bob in the daytime and the other said she would take him at night.  One neighbor said she and her husband would drive me there.  Thank the Lord for caring neighbors.  Just as I got on the examination table, I lost the baby.  Never asked if it was a boy or girl.  Guess, at that time, I didn’t know they could tell. I was in the hospital about ten days. Had minor surgery before I could go home.  I wanted Van’s mother to come out and stay with me awhile, but she wouldn’t come.  My mother would have come, but she had just left the hospital herself. Brother Bill was in the air force and when he heard, he went to the Red Cross to see if he could come out to help.  The Red Cross sent an aide out to check the circumstances, etc. and she said he couldn’t get permission to come since I wasn’t confined to bed, etc.  But she stayed with me an hour or so and I felt so much better after our long talk.


Short time later I began to notice that Bob’s eyes were starting to cross. At first, I thought it was my imagination, but when my friend Sally mentioned it, I took Bob to the Navy doctor.  Bob wouldn’t behave when the doctor tried to check him, so he lost his patience with him and said to come back later when he learned to sit quietly.  He was used to checking sailors and couldn’t handle children, I guess.  So in November, when the ship was going to China again, and the holidays were coming, I decided to go home.  Bob and I flew from San Francisco to New York.  I had to hold him all the way and he wasn’t feeling too good either, but it kept him quiet. Since we had to stop in New York, I decided to visit Van’ mother.  Bob hadn’t seen much of his Grandmother and this was a good time.  I was sure glad to get to New York.  His Grandmother bought him a snowsuit because New York was cold, and we were only dressed for California weather.


We went to see the Macy’s parade while there.  The Macy Parade is one of the largest parades in the country.  It has huge balloon figures, lots of music and dances.  A different type of parade.  That was the only time I saw it in person.  I’ve seen it on TV many times since.  Then back to Massachusetts and home again. I never realized how many times my parents had to put up with me and my family coming and going home.  My mother was always happier when I was around and she loved the children.  My father never said much, but was so helpful when I needed anything.


When I left California, I left the car with Van, and since it needed some work, he found a garage where he could leave it and have it repair while he was gone.  When he came back with orders for Maryland, he took the car and with five other Navy men drove across country to Massachusetts.

Van and Bob 1948

Bob before eye operation

Grandma Fagan (Ellen's mom)

Bob and Ellen at Betty's Wedding




updated: 20.11.2011