John Parks

John Parks My grandparents moved to Vallejo from Dunsmuir when my grandfather got work as a welder at Mare Island in 1917.  They lived at 214 Illinois Street, where my father, Charlie Parks grew up.  I was born in 1944 and my brother, Cris, was born a year later.  Shortly after his birth our dad was drafted into the army and left for training and work at White Sands, New Mexico where rockets were being developed.  I remember Vallejo as a young child in the late 1940s. 
 
We lived at 10 Winslow Avenue.  A neighbor across the street, Ms. Leora Zundel, still lives there!  We little boys in that neighborhood played "cowboys and indians" almost every day out in the open fields behind our house, an area that once been part of a golf course.   I first saw television on that street when I was 4 or 5 years old.  Most days a certain family invited all the neighborhood kids over at 5 p.m. to watch the Kukla, Fran, and Ollie show.   A star character on this show was a puppet named "Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent".
 
Tuolumne Street ended at the Mormon Church and there was a dirt road from there to the Fleming family's ranch house which sat where the grocery store is now.   About where Toyon Drive is now was a big dirt circle where motor cyclists would come for informal racing.   We could hear their engines all the way over at our house. 
 
A very exciting place for young kids then was "Pumpkin Center" which was a small, but permanent, amusement park for little children at the north-east corner of Georgia Street and then Highway 40.   It had fun rides, including a small ferris wheel, cars you pretended to drive, boats that went around in water, and, most exciting, real pony rides where they strapped you into a saddle and off you went for three or four loops around the oval corral.  I learned just this year that those mechanical rides were built by the father of Gail Rasmussen, a popular girl in my high school class (1962) right in their back yard!
 
I remember the "Rolling Store" that visited neighborhoods all over town.  It was a bus that a man converted into a convenience store.  Mostly they sold basic food items.  But I always got very excited when it came because our mom usually bought me and my brother an "Eskimo Pie" ice cream on a stick.  I learned recently from our "Monday Update" (an old-time Vallejoans newsletter published by Harry Diavatis) that the owner of the Rolling Store also had a daughter in the class of '62, Linda Lewis. 
 
The Carnegie library was a neat old building.  It had a nice smell and creaky wooden floors.  For a little kid it was an impressive place that inclined you to respect books.
 
There was a small hill downtown south of Georgia Street where the first capitol building once stood.  This hill was leveled as part of the city's redevelopment in the 60s.  The Vallejo Women’s Club had an attractive old building on that little hill. My brother had accordion recitals there.  As for lower Georgia Street, us kids were not allowed down there. You didn’t go west of Sacramento Street.
 
I started kindergarten in 1949.  My first four years were at Roosevelt School which was at the corner of Amador and Nebraska across from a big vacant lot where the Presbyterian Church is now.  This old school only went through third grade.  It had old fashioned, wooden student desks with inkwells and linked to each other front and back.  For fourth grade some of us went to Highland and others went to Grant.
 
We sometimes played "army war" or "cops and robbers".  World Ward Two was still a big part of the culture. They were many war movies and lots of war surplus things available to buy.  Shipbuilding and repairs were going full steam at Mare Island.  Vallejo was very much a Navy town.  Several relatives worked at Mare Island and one uncle had been a Navy officer.
 
Most boys had a yo-yo.  Each spring many guys got a new one and practiced tricks.  Marbles were very big with boys then.  There were 3 basic games: circles, pots, or chase.  If you hit someone’s marble out of the circle you kept it, so good players would win lots of marbles and had tons of them at home.  At school we played kick ball, tetherball, dodge ball and four square -- before school, at recess, and at lunch time.  At home the kids often played hide and seek.    My brother and I listened, on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m., to a kids' radio show called Big John and Sparky.  This show always included a march song, and they encouraged kids to march around the house.  Cris and I would always march while clanging pan lids for cymbals, and beating a big pot with a spoon for a drum. 
 
There were remains of old wooden docks and piers along the town's waterfront.  I went fishing on my 8th birthday at the Lemon Street pier and caught a colorful perch -- a catch that kind of surprised the oldtimers there.  
 
Most of us who spent our first years in Vallejo during the 1940s have very fond memories of those days.  Things were simpler then, but just as good!