Now that I’m retired, I have more time to devote to my second favorite passion, local history. (My first favorite passion is, of course, my wife.) Something that I have wanted to do for many years is to record oral histories with our longtime residents. I have over the years done a few, but it is time consuming. I’ve vowed to increase my efforts, though.
I was recently contacted by the family of Norma Potter and I arranged to sit down with her. Norma, now very close to 100 years old, had been in the valley since 1932. When I went to Norma’s house, I was surprised to find her a woman who looked 30 years younger than “nearly 100” as advertised. She stood strong and upright, walked quickly and with confidence. And she had had the brightest blue eyes! I wish I knew her secret of eternal youth.
After I recorded an interview with Norma, I took her and her family over to look at the ruins of the old Crystal Plunge swimming pool in the abandoned Mountain Oaks resort. Norma swam in that pool back in the ’30s, and she had no idea it still existed. Again, Norma’s youthful exuberance; when we arrived at the overgrown pool ruins, she charged up the hillside ahead of us. She filled me in on details about the pool that are lost to time.
But getting back to the interview and Norma’s memories; I was pleased to find that she had already written down her memories in a small booklet charmingly called “It’s All About Me.” And I was doubly pleased to discover that she is a darn good writer. So rather than paraphrase what Norma told me verbally, for the next few weeks I’ll reprint excerpts from her memoirs. I’ll insert my comments in [brackets]. Her story begins in 1931:
“In 1931 we moved to a house on Glendale Avenue where we hardly got settled and enrolled in Marshall Elementary School when Pop was advised by the family doctor to move Mother and me up to the valley area because of our severe asthma. He found a place to stay for us to stay for two nights while they went house hunting. We moved into 3300 Montrose Ave. on the third day. Mother and I felt better right away and continued to improve over time. We were in this house long enough for Pop to put in a fishpond with goldfish in the front yard. I can still remember checking the ice in the winter and wondering why the fish didn’t freeze also. Mother, Mama [grandmother], Jeanne [sister] and I went to a large garden and pond shop of some kind on San Fernando Road to get plants for Pop’s new pond. I promptly fell in one of the larger ponds and came up with moss hanging from my hair and a big grin on my face and said, ‘I’ve still got my gum!’
“So off we went to Lincoln (1932). Jeanne and I both loved this school. It was our fourth and favorite grammar school. It was small, countryfied and I couldn’t possibly get lost. The monkey bars were at the rear of the playground and a special challenge that had to be met, even if my underpants did show. I remember learning ‘The Sailor’s Hornpipe’ [a traditional British dance] for one Mayday celebration. I can still hear the music in my head, and even remember a couple of the steps.
“We moved just as I was ready to start junior high. I hated to leave this neighborhood and all my friends [who] were so much fun. All of the kids used to gather in front of our house under the streetlight in the evenings to play ‘kick the can.’ The sound of ‘Myrt and Marge’ music [a popular radio soap opera] coming from the radio in most of the houses was our signal to call it quits for the night.”
Next week Norma recounts the events of 1933: the Long Beach Earthquake, the San Gabriel Mountains aflame and the New Year’s Flood.