Escaping in the Dark

I was born with good luck on my shoulder and it has been there ever since

By Warren Miller

In 1930 we were northbound on a very narrow two-lane road in the San Fernando Valley California called Ventura Boulevard. All of our family’s entire possessions were jammed in the car because we had once again moved in the middle of the night to avoid paying back rent.

My father had a dream though of resurrecting his radio show that was canceled in Oakland. The show was called Cy Toosie’s Farm.

After traveling through orange orchards and other farms, a two-story building appeared in the distance. We turned left on Havenhurst and on the side of a hill in the distance stood the imposing Encino Country Club. As a young kid it seemed like a castle with the adjoining stables, a swimming pool and a lake of about 4 acres.

Instead of my two sisters and me sleeping on mattresses on the floor, we each had our own bedrooms with attached bathrooms. In the center of all this luxury was a massive dining room and a ballroom ready for big bands and dances of that era. The kitchen was equally large and capable of preparing meals for about 100 people at one sitting. It was a one-mile walk to the Encino grade school that had three grades in each small room, with one teacher for each grade, one janitor, and a very large gravel playground.

I could write an entire book about those two years: helping to herd horses on Saturday or Sunday and earning 10 cents a day.

During the couple years that the family lived in Encino every day was a new experience for me. I roamed the nearby hills and got as far away from the country club building as possible, but I made sure that I could get back home before dark so I could get dinner which often were just leftovers when I was late.

The recording studio in the dance hall that my father thought he could pull together into a nightclub never happened. The only event that ever took place that I remember was one Christmas when they had a dance and admission was 25 cents per couple or a can of food.

The dance was very successful, but for some reason, he never staged the second one. Nor was there ever a broadcast from the ballroom/sound studio.

Sometime in the second spring of living the good life I found myself once again in the backseat of the car with my two sisters and all of our worldly possessions skipping out on a lot of unpaid back rent.

This time we settled in a three-bedroom house in Las Felis, below the Griffith Park planetarium – one bedroom for my parents, another bedroom for my sisters, the third bedroom for a five-dollar-a-month bachelor friend of my parents. I still had my blanket and my mattress in the hall, still living the good life.

This is when my grandmother once again came to my rescue by giving me my first pair of roller skates for my 10th birthday. I was so excited about the skates that I was strapping them on long before the sun came up the next morning.

My mother was working for the WPA at the time and the government decided to give all the women 20 cents a week to sharpen their scissors. My mother gathered them up and one day a week she would wake me up at 4:30 a.m. and I would roller skate the two miles to my grandparents’ house so my grandfather could sharpen the scissors in his machine shop. While he did that, my grandmother cooked me a bowl of hot oatmeal and I got to sleep for 45 minutes before roller skating back to meet my mother at the streetcar stop so she could take the scissors back to work.

As I’ve said many times, I was born with good luck on my shoulder and it has been there ever since.

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