The heat shimmered over the road that June day in 1961 as we drove into El Centro, California. It was 120 degrees in the shade and the locals told us you could cook an egg on the sidewalk. I believed them. In those days, El Centro was a small town located just a few miles from the Mexican border and surrounded by farms. My dad had just completed his training as a Navy Supply Officer and this was his first assignment. I had just turned 11 and my brother, Jim, 9. We had never lived on a base before. So with both excitement and apprehension we entered the new world of the Naval Air Facility near El Centro. Our first lesson occurred at the gate. My dad told us that we could go out the gate, but we would not be allowed back in unless we showed proper military identification. I looked from the guard's guns to the high barbed wire top fence surrounding the base. I knew then that my life would be different.
To our right as we drove in were hangers with huge planes in front of them. Part of the plane opened and you could drive jeeps inside. We found out that the Blue Angels practiced here during the winter. Maybe this would be a fun place.
We drove directly to our officers quarters. Our new home was an apartment in a long, stucco, robin's egg blue building. Each of the four apartments in the building had a small living room, and kitchen with a back door out to the clothes line where we could hang out our clothes. We also had three bedrooms; one for my parents, one for my brother, and one for me, and a bathroom. We had an oleander bush by the front door and some grass out front. (This is me on our door step with our dog, Teddy. You can just barely see our bush.) Across from our building was the Bachelor Officer Housing. It was a big white one story building with bedrooms inside .(Dad told me. I never went in.)
Beyond that was the Officers Club. Kids didn't go inside. There was a small outdoor pool, dressing rooms, and pool chairs. At 1 pm the pool opened, and all the officer's kids jumped in. That's where we kids spent our summers. Sometimes, I ordered a Shirley Temple (7 Up with a little cherry juice) from the snack window. They played teen music. My favorite song was "Cherie" because it was my name. I felt so grown up!
I had a room all of my own! My mom and dad found a small dressing table at a second hand store and fixed it up for me. Dad painted the table white, and my mom made a pink ruffled skirt for it, along with a pink ruffled bedspread and curtains. I had two crystal lamps on my dressing table. This is one of them. (the shade was white but just looks yellow in the picture)
One day, I heard this loud BOOM! It sounded close. Soon, I saw the base ambulance come rushing up. They entered the apartment next door and came out with someone on a stretcher who they took to the base hospital. Later, I found out that a girl who was a couple of years older than me, had turned on gas to the stove, but didn't light the oven quick enough, and the gas exploded. She was ok in a few months, but till then, each time I saw her red face with eyebrows and eyelashes burned off, I vowed NEVER to light our stove.
We had linoleum floors. We owned a large green cotton rug which we rolled up and brought with us whenever we moved. We put it in the living room, and smaller rugs in the bedrooms. I had a white furry rug. After my mom put wax on the linoleum, I ran our buffer machine over the floor to polish it. It was sort of fun, but seemed to take a long time, and the shine didn't last very long.
I sometimes hung the laundry out on the lines behind our apartment. There was a certain way to do it. You put up a sheet or towels, then on the next line in we hung our underwear. On the front line we hung more towels, pants, or shirts to give privacy.
We also dug pit forts in the dirt field while lizards darted around us. Sometimes I held one in my hand and petted it. I like lizards. They are alert and have soft tummies.
By the housing was a play area called "Tiny Town". It was a bit old and broken when I was there and the gate was chained closed. Of course, this didn't stop us kids from getting in and playing in the little stores and church.
Behind the housing was another dirt area, then there was the indoor EM (enlisted man's) pool. It was Olympic sized. This is where I took my Junior Lifesaving course. I had to jump in and "save" someone. I also had to swim an entire mile without stopping. I thought I was going to die, but I did it!
This is a picture of the EM pool. In the distance was our housing. Across from the EM pool was the Commissary (grocery store and pharmacy), and a large movie theater. We saw movies there with our parents. Beyond that was the rest of the base, the Dispensary (hospital) and offices. My dad worked in the Supply office, but we kids were not allowed there. We did go to the Mess Hall (cafeteria) once and ate Thanksgiving dinner. There was lots of food, but not as good as mom's.
I did go to the hospital once to have a spinal tap to see if I had spinal meningitis- I didn't, but I got to ride home in an ambulance and had to lie flat for 24 hours. The ride was fun, but I got bored not being even allowed to have a pillow so I could see the TV better. Mono (mononucleosis) had spread across the base. Everyone got it, but I didn't recover as fast as everyone else. I had to sit in the sunshine a lot and rest, and then I was ok.
I enjoyed the excitement of base living. I got to watch the parachuters jump. One older jumper told me that he had broken every bone in his body at least once. He said that the dangerous part is landing. The wind can catch the parachute before they can gather it up and drag them a ways. That's where the injuries happened. Most of all I loved the freedom we had on the base. As long as we stayed out of restricted areas (airfield, offices etc), we could go where we wanted. It was great!