I made it to the fifth grade. It wasn’t easy. In fact I hated school. A lot of kids gave me a hard time, and many of the teachers were no better. I remembered my father telling me how important it was to finish school, so I endured. My step father John was a little more easy-going about education.
“It is your life, you do what you think is best for you. Just choose a future that will make you happy.” Life is short, he would explain. It is the way of the Pochis to be happy in life.
I guess he was right, except for one thing. I remember those evenings with my father and Roberto. We would sit in silence and gazed at the Milky Way in the desert air. In between those moments of silence he would explain to us about the importance of education. John’s way is not a bad way to think about life in general, but I have always had this feeling that we weren’t put on this planet to be happy.
I had some good friends growing up. Ernest and his brother Hugo were among them. They lived in next door to us on C Street. Ernest and I remained friends through the years until Father Time came for him many years ago. Bob Eccles and I remained a good friends. He had bright red hair and lots of freckles. There were others in our neighborhood circle of friends.
My brother Roberto was older than me. By now he was over twenty years old and was living on his own. He got a job working for Peoples Lumber here in Oxnard.
Christmas time was coming quickly and the whole town seemed eager for its arrival. The city organizers put together a Christmas celebration in the old Community Hall. Volunteers decorated one of the tall pine trees that was in the plaza. They put a lot of ornaments and tinsel and colored lights.
I did not know about the celebration but Ernest told me about it, and he and Hugo were going. They invited me to come along.
“Come on Charlie. It will be fun! Everybody will be there! Santa Claus will be there and he’s giving all the kids that show up a free present!” Ernest had a way of making things seem like a good idea.
My mama said it was okay to go. The Community Center was a few blocks away so we started walking.
Photograph Courtesy of the Oxnard Public Library
This picture shows C Street about that time. Our house was near those trees in the background. The Community centre was behind us about a block. The streets in the town were not paved yet. Every once in a while, especially in the rainy part of the year, they would bring in wagon loads of crushed clamshells.
“Hey Charlie! Did you forget to put on your shoes?”
It was getting dark and it was getting cold.
“I like bare feet.” I tried to sound convincing as the three of us walked over there. The truth was I got one pair of shoes each year and I had to make them last. A lot of boys in town went around barefooted for the same reason.
When we got there the brothers were very excited and at first it was a lot of fun. For the first time I saw children and grown-ups bobbing for apples in a galvanized metal tub. I learned about playing musical chairs. There was a game called Pin the Tail on the Donkey. There were other fun things to do.
Santa Claus finally showed up and he began to pass out toys to the boys and girls. We got in line to get ours. There were sparkles and the other kids’ eyes. However, when I got to the front of the line a couple of grown-ups took me outside.
“Your kind are not welcome here. Go home.” The men told me. He sounded angry and I did not understand why, at the time. I stood there by myself crying.
Later, Ernest and Hugo and I got together and we went home.
I walked all the way home with a lump in my throat, and I used all my strength to not cry in front of them.
“Where is your present?” Ernest asked me.
“I saw Bobby back there. I gave him the present and he took it home for me.”
I did not like lying to my friends.
How could I tell them?