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by Ron Cruger
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We had just moved to this small town, coming from the Bronx, New York. Moving to this southern
California town after spending our lives in the Bronx was more than cultural shock. To us we had arrived at a place we didn’t know
existed. The Bronx: Covered with cement from here to there. The Bronx: A melting pot of races and religions. Tall buildings. The hustle
and bustle. Big business. The Bronx: Tough and aggressive.
Now we were in this southern
California town called Inglewood. Founded a couple of hundred years ago by Spanish explorers. The explorers settled in Inglewood because
of the treasure they found leaking from the ground – water. Pure, clean water. Water – bubbling from wells that sustained life. Water
– worth more than the gold they were initially seeking.
It was 1945 and I had not yet reached
my teens. Mom and dad had lived all of their lives in or near the Bronx. I had known only one address in my life – Faile Street, in
Faile Street was home to Italians, Jews and Puerto Ricans. Each group had denigrating
names for the others but they were not spoken from hatred. They were more like nicknames. Somehow they were accepted. The groups even
called themselves by these adopted names.
Now we were living in Inglewood. There were trees
and open fields, oil wells, trailer courts, rocks and dirt. Our neighbors, the Chavez family, had a horse, “Big-Enough,” a sway-backed
nag of unknown peerage. During summer months, when the bean fields grew and the beans picked families all over Inglewood would hire
the Chavez family to bring “Big Enough” and a harrow to their fields to plow under the harvested bean plants, which would help nurture
the healthy soil for the next crop of beans.
A few times in the warm summer months, after
we had lived in Inglewood for a few years, Ruben Chavez, the eldest son asked me if I would like to go with him and his sister, Artemisa
to plow some fields in the northern part of Inglewood. “Big Enough” pulled a trailer containing the harrow and the three young youngsters
right smack up Inglewood’s main thoroughfare, La Brea Avenue.
Cars would pass us as “Big
Enough” clopped up La Brea Avenue. Often friends and family of the Chavezes would pass us, honking and waving at the strange sight
of a horse pulling a trailer on a four lane highway.
The former New Yorkers learned to
eat tacos, enchiladas, chili rellenos and salsa. They experimented with the feverishly hot chili peppers that the Chavez family mixed
with almost all foods and digested with hardly a second thought as the ex-New Yorkers’ faces turned red and then suffered extreme
discomfort immediately and again later.
One of my contributions to family life was to ride
my bicycle up Eucalyptus Avenue, carrying the shopping list from my mother. My destination was the sparkling new, spacious Safeway
store. Each entry on my shopping list was accompanied by a price that my mom knew. Never once, in all those Inglewood years did she
miss an exact price. On a recent return to Inglewood I parked and went into that same store, now a vegetable market, and to my surprise,
about the same size as a modern day 7-11 store. Not the sprawling, supermarket I had remembered.
A few months after moving to Inglewood my grandmother left New York and joined us. In September of our first year my sister was born
Our small, aged, wooden house barely held the now 5 members of the family.
Our clothing style changed from Bronx decorum to southern California relaxed.
Sears replaced Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Gimbels as our fashion centers. For the first time we wore jeans and T-shirts. We watered
our lawn and pulled weeds. Dad, going overboard, built a chicken coop and stocked it with hens and roosters. He built and stocked
rabbit pens. He even built a coop of sorts and bought some ducks. For my initial birthday in our new town I was given an official
Red Ryder BB gun. I had become somewhat of a daredevil marksman, as long as the quarry was a shiny tin can sitting on a fence, not
too far away.
Three blocks away from our home was “Skunk Hollow.” The area doesn’t exist
anymore. It was once the original home of the Mexicans in Inglewood. It was, indeed, a hollow, although I don’t know if skunks ever
For me, it was always an adventurous, romantic trip to “Skunk Hollow.” It
was as close as I could get to being in a turn of the century old Mexican village. The weathered wooden church, The Iglesia Sion Evangelica,
was the center of life in the small village. Sundays would find almost all the Mexicans from “Skunk Hollow” jammed into the rough
hewn wooden pews. Women, men and children all wore their finest clothing as they sang and prayed together.
I had acquired some Mexican friends who lived in “Skunk Hollow.” Nobody knew and nobody asked how Kelly Gomez got his first name.
One day, 6 years after we moved to Inglewood, Kelly appeared at our front door with the two Guerrero brothers and their father. My
mother invited them in and offered everyone cool drinks. Something important was happening. Mr. Guerrero looked at me and then said,
“We would like you to play with our softball team, ‘The Toreadors,’ what do you think?” I needed no details. “Yes.” I answered. I
would be the first non-Mexican to play with “The Toreadors” I was honored as “The Toreadors” were famous all over southern California.
Known for their aggressive play and tight teamwork. The team traveled all over the state to large crowds. I was in softball heaven.
The years rolled by. Inglewood, for many years remained a peaceful, quiet town. We moved
into a larger house, over by Centinela Park. One day, as I walked downtown with Gilbert “Fuzzy” Rodriquez I noticed some workman at
our local Penneys store. They were removing the original creaking wooden floors and replacing them with modern tile. This was the
beginning of the many changes that were brought to our small town.
Eventually, one small
wooden house at a time was torn down in “Skunk Hollow.” When two or three were leveled small brick factories were built in their place.
One day the revered Iglesia Sion Evangelica fell to the hammers and crow bars of progress. The winding dirt road was paved. The trains
that regularly went by “Skunk Hollow” were now a rarity. The old train station, up the street from “Skunk Hollow” was shuttered and
seldom was heard the chugging of a train along those old tracks.
Kelly Gomez and his family
moved away. The Chavez family spread out all over southern California. The Guerrero family members moved to nicer homes in the area.
Gilbert “Fuzzy” Rodriquez was killed by drug peddlers. We stayed in our small home by the park until marriage and death brought their
Once in a while, when we get together, an old friend of mine from those days in
Inglewood and I will talk about the things we remember about “Skunk Hollow” and Inglewood the way it used to be. Two old men remembering
a special place at a special time