Monday, September 30, 2019

Aunt Smitty Two

Effie (Smitty) at 16 years old
When we last we left off, our youngish mother had moved to Hollywood to open a boarding house in the very early 30s.

Well, once in Hollywood, her son worked in a small engine repair shop. It was here he probably fell in with the flash types of the period, drinking and partying. Because in the 1930s, small engine repair included motorcycles, and young Bert Lewis had a way with motorcycles, money and women. 

He was particularly good with Harley Davidsons. So good in fact, that when Harley Davidson licensed their motorcycles to Japan (under the brand name RRRR) Bert was invited to go to Japan. He spent about 3 or 4 years there, as a mechanic for motorcycle racers.

(He told his mother that he “raced” motorcycles in Japan, a lie she happily shared. But Bert was well over 6 feet and much heavier than the Japanese racers. That would not have worked in the land of motorcycle racing.)

In 1937, he was deported, along with most other Americans, from Japan. In the intervening years, Smitty had relocated her boarding house to Fresno. Away from all the temptations of Hollywood for her son. It didn’t work, of course, and Bert stayed in California. My grandfather, his best friend, showed up during this with the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) building roads in Malibu. After the work ended, my grandfather went back to Illinois South (Cairo) married my grandmother Zela and came out to Los Angeles.

Bert supplied them with a motorcycle to putter around with.

Smitty in uniform
Smitty, on the other hand, took advantage of the depression in the mid-west and convinced many of her older residence to move to the clean air of the Central Valley and the charms of Fresno. I cannot imagine their disappointment in reaching the promised land.

This situation lasted until the 1970s, a while after I entered the scene. In the very early 1970s, Smitty’s last few boarders passed. And he “grandfathered” in rooming house / hospice center was closed. We ent up to help her move her stuff and she ventured down to my grandmother’s house.

I was given a gorgeous rocking chair. And, since I was still very hyperactive, I loved it. I used it all the time. It had a homemade crest on the back panel and the seat. Smitty came to the house and I thanked her profusely and told how much I loved it.

She took it back the next day. And just to be sure I wouldn’t ever enjoy it as much, she replaced the needlepoint with (I shit you not) red velvet. I do want to add the old witch’s legs were to short for the chair, so she never used it.

At this point in the very late 60s early 70s, her plan was to live with her son in Culver City. This was much to the chagrin of the current Mrs. Lewis, Bert wife, Jane.

Here we must discuss Jane a bit. Jane was fabulous. Jane worked / managed the cigar counter at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (site of the first few Academy Awards). She was a few years older that Bert and kind of wild. Bert was wild before he met Jane, but Smitty blamed Jane for ever bad habit Bert had.

Without Jane, Smitty would complain, Bert wouldn’t be a drunk, wouldn’t smoke and wouldn’t have been war profiteer (different story). So it was odd that Jane was the family member that tried to convince Bert to let his mother live with them. She would succeed at this for a few weeks, then Smitty would be back at Zela’s for a few months.

Bert died in 1970 (liver damage) and Smitty was at a bit of a lose as to what to do with herself. She continued to bounce between Jane’s and Zela’s, both in-laws as her son Bert and her nephew Ham were passed. Once or twice she would take a bio as, what we would know call a home health care worker, but she referred to as nurse.  In high I was drafted into service as she helped an older man, but needed someone to bath him once a week and shove in the preparation H tube.

It was embarrassing for both of us, but we persevered.

After the final few patients died, Smitty got an elderly apartment (you know designed for the aged) in Venice Beach. She lived there a few years, until she went really crazy. Zela would be called everyone and then from the home to come out and take care of her. Zela lived in Anaheim, so this was quite the schlep.

Mother Brown, Smitty's Mentor
I was called from UCLA once. I went over and she was screaming out the window, and wouldn’t answer the door. They brought me in, and I filled out the paperwork to enter without permission, at which point she turned to me and said, “Some poor lady is screaming out there.”

She couldn’t hear you from the couch, but she was convinced she could hear African Americans whispering and plotting to kill her 2 stories down  and 3 apartments over.

She was nuts her entire live, but we had some pleasant times. She was a big fan of Ellery Queen’s Perry Mason books and she loaned them to me. This is where I learned Perry Mason the book detective was VERY different from Perry Mason on TV. Much more of a womanizer and funster than Raymond Burr.  That’s probably why I called Warren William from the old movies so much more.

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