Monterey - Harry Baya
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Last updated May 12, 2020

Chapter 5: Monterey

As the school year wound down in the spring of 1953 we began to look forward to moving to Monterey and then to Venezuela.   As a U.S. Army officer my father got 30 days of “leave” (civilians call it “vacation”) each year.  Since this included weekends this meant he got 4 weeks and 2 days each year.  The army permitted accumulating leave.  I think Daddy had built up some leave while we were in England.  In any case I think we spent a fair amount of time in Tampa and Abingdon during the summer of 1953.  This is probably the time I remember spending out on the lake puttering around with a row boat and a little outboard motor.  At some point Uncle Ed, my father’s mother’s brother, Ed Bending, taught me how to row a boat.  

Daddy had been told he should buy an impressive car for use in Venezuela.  He bought a used (probably 1950 or 1951) Packard.  It was a light green color and had a hood over the front window and fancy fins.  Before we went to Caracas he had it painted black and it did come across as a kind of fancy limousine.

The picture below is more or less the way it looked.  I remember the rear fins as being more ornate than in the picture below, but that is probably just the way it seemed to me.


We rode to California in the big Packard.  This was before air conditioning was common in cars and it was hot in the car.  Along the way we stopped at the Grand Canyon at a great lodge that I liked a lot.  We walked down a few hundred feet but did not go all the way down into the canyon on the mules.   The lodge was staffed by college kids and I talked to a few of them.  There were boys and girls and it looked like the best summer job in the world.  The canyon was breath takingly beautiful, especially at sunset. 

The next day we drove to the other side of the canyon and daddy arranged for three of us (Madge, Daddy and me) to fly over the canyon in a small plane.  It was my first airplane trip ever and was quite a thrill.  I remember that it was a clear day and we were flying toward the canyon over very flat land and it seemed to me that we were fairly high up.  When the plane flew over the edge of the canyon where the land dropped away it was scary and exciting.  It was as if the land had been holding us up and when it dropped away I felt like we should fall.

We also went to an Indian village, or at least a tourist store with Indian things.  I bought a belt that was made up of colored beads and I wore it for many years.   We also went to Las Vegas and I remember playing slot machines for the first time, probably in a gas station.

One day we parked the car and walked across the border to Juarez, Mexico.  It was hot and dusty.  Apparently it was possible to by whisky in Juarez at a good price and each person was allowed to bring back one bottle – I guess without paying any import tax.   Each of the four of us, including Madge and me, carried a bottle back.   That amused me.

We either drove through Death Valley or some other very hot dessert that took hours to get through.  There was some concern that the car might overheat and I kind of remember that we hung a bag of water over the grill in the front of the car.

I had turned 14 that summer and was growing up.  Madge and I were usually in the back seat together.  I remember at some point she complained that I smelled bad.  I had no idea what her problem was.  Mother had to explain to me that now that I was growing up I would sometimes smell bad when I sweated.  News to me.  I learned about deoderant.  I believe the kind I used was like a wax stick that was rubbed on the arm pits.   So much to learn.

We arrived in Monterey and moved into our house in a housing area area outside of the town of Monterey and near to Fort Ord.  Fort Ord was then a very large post with thousands of soldiers.  I think it was a training area.  Wikipedia states that at one time there were 50,000 troops on the installation.

My memory is that the name of housing area was Pacific Grove, but I found the following  address in my father’s orders: 217 McDermaid Street, Bayview Park, Monterey, Calif: [ Google Earth cannot find this address ] .  We were near a beach we would walk to from our neighborhood.  We were only a few miles from the entrance to Fort Ord.

There were hundreds of similar houses in a nice quiet neighborhood.  There were no stores or any kind of commercial place anywhere near.  For example there was nowhere within walking distance to buy a CocaCola.   I know that many of the families living there were in the army and it’s possible that every family there was an army family.

The beach was about a ten minute walk and when the weather was good a bunch of kids from the area would go down to the beach.  We were there in the fall and over the winter.  I remember that we were there for Christmas.   The weather on the beach was often bleak and windy, and sometime foggy.   There was a highway we crossed to get to the beach and the beach was hundreds of yards wide, and parts of it contained huge sand dunes.   We would run up the dunes and disappear from site.  It was easy to feel lost, but you could always get back to the ocean and find your way home.  The beach area was also sometimes foggy and this gave it a kind of mystical feel.

There were signs warning us that the beach had been used for Artillery practice and we should not go into some areas because there might be unexploded shells.  We ignored the signs and never saw a shell.

The water was cold and I don’t think I ever swam in it.

We played football on the flat part of the beach.  I remember that we were playing tackle and I was on the offensive line.  I got hit in the face by someone’s head and knocked down, possibly knocked out.  Another player told me that it was my fault and that you should never raise your head and face forward during a play if you were on the line because the other player would run into you with the top of his head.  I learned.

Madge and I were enrolled in a Catholic school in Monterey, the Junipero Memorial High School. It must have closed since then.  I cannot find any record of it with Google.   I attended that school for the first half of 9th grade.  I remember that I took, and liked, Spanish.  Most of the friends from our neighborhood went to the public school.  One of the girls in my school had been in 8th grade with me in Carlisle and I liked her.  Her name was Teresa Metz and her father, Pop Metz, and my father were friends.  Teresa was not interested in me.

The Spies family was also in Monterey because they were going to, I think, Peru, and their father was also studying Spanish with my father.  They were in the Army Language School in the Persidio, an old fort, in Monterey.  Some of my father’s Spanish instructors were exiles from Latin American countries and I recall that daddy was approached by some who wanted him to help plan a revolution in their country.

I was active in the boy scouts while in Monterey, probably Explorer scouts, and I have a number of memories associated with them.  Fort Ord had an army football team and played other posts.  Home games were kind of a big deal on the post and were attended by thousands of people (or so it seemed to me) in a good size stadium.   We, the scouts, sold ice cream during the games.   I think they were 1 quart, or maybe ½ quart boxes.   I remember that we were very busy during the game and could make what seemed like a lot of money to us, like $15 or $20 in a game.

I also remember that we sometimes played basketball at scout meetings and this was new to me.  I remember that the older boys used to swear a lot and that was also new to me. I tried to swear and it turned out that it was something I had to learn.  I discovered that some phrases were used only in a particular context.  Even though the words might describe a particular sexual act, it was not appropriate to use other words meaning the same thing, or to use those words in a different way.  I don’t remember the details but I do remember that the first few times I tried to swear others either laughed at me or looked at me like I was doing something inappropriate.  I think some of the older boys tried to coach me a little.  This was one of the areas my two years in England did not prepare me for.

I remember that we had Morse code sets from the army  and practiced sending  messages back and forth.  I got my Morse Code merit badge.

One time we had a kind of Jamboree where a number of different scout groups got together.  I’m pretty sure we set up Morse code wire connections between our group and one or more other groups hundreds of feet away.  I remember unrolling a large spool of wire, and of checking the line for breaks when out connection stopped working.

We were at the gathering of scouts one evening around dusk and a grass fire had started nearby.  All the scouts in the area went to help fight it.  We were hitting the flames with jackets and shirts and were slowing it down.  One of my group’s U.S. Army jeeps pulled up and it had a hand pump fire extinguisher in it.   We got it out and pumped liquid on the fire.  Big surprise!  The container had gasoline in it and when it was pumped on the fire the flame got big.   I think someone got in trouble for that.  Eventually a fire truck pulled up and quickly put out the blaze.   My memory of seeing gasoline pumped on a fire has stayed with me as a kind of metaphor.  The gas was in it because it was used to help start camp fires. 

I don’t remember a lot about the school I was in.  I do remember that during the sports period we played touch football.  This too was fairly new to me and I was interested in passing and catching.  At one point I was a wide receiver and was racing down the field to catch a pass.  I think I caught it before the person chasing me pushed me out of bounds.  Unfortunately he pushed me so that I ran into the end of a stone wall.  I was lucky and was not badly hurt but that took a while to sort out because I was hurt and it could have been really bad.  I think the boy who pushed me got in serious trouble for doing it.

During my entire childhood, going back to Falls Church, Fairlington, England, Carlisle and Monterey Madge and I were Catholics.   We attended Catholic schools in Falls Church, England and Monterey.  Mother was an Episcopal from Abingdon, Virginia and my father was a Catholic from Tampa, Florida.  When my parents married mother had agreed that we would be raised Catholic.   This meant that we went to Catholic Mass every Sunday and on church feast days like Christmas.   We also had go to confession and take communion to meet some sort of requirement, including Easter and Christmas.  Mother did not go to Mass with us.   We continued to go to Mass on Sunday when we lived in Caracas.

Another thing that happened with the scouts was that we went on a hike up in the mountains near Monterey.  These were not high mountains but they were rugged,  hilly terrain and we were miles from civilization most of the time.   We carried our camping gear and food and I think the hike lasted at least three nights.  It was quite an adventure.  I remember that we stayed in a kind of base camp the first night.  We had army pup-tents and sleeping bags.   That first night we heard a mountain lion, or something like it, and that was a little scary, and certainly contributed to the sense of adventure.

We hiked for hours each day and had blisters and sore muscles but it was not all that difficult.   No one dropped out.  After a day or two most of us came down with poison ivy.  We don’t know how we all got it but our best guess was that somehow it got put in the fire and the smoke got us.  That’s what we thought then.. though it seems unlikely now.  In any case nearly everyone, including the adult leaders got it.  It was mostly on my arms as I recall.   A few of the boys got it in their crotch and after a day they could not walk easily.  A jeep came up and drove them out.  When I got home from the hike it was near Christmas.  I remember that I thought it was a great experience and was glad to get home.  Mother put calamine lotion on my poison ivy and it was not that big a problem.

While were living in Monterey we went on a car trip to San Francisco and I was impressed with the city and the bay.   We saw Alcatraz, but I can’t remember whether or not we took a ferry over and walked around.  I do remember driving around the Presidio, an old fort overlooking the bay.

We also drove around the Monterey area and I remember seeing the Pebble Beach golf course running along the ocean shore and thinking how beautiful it looked.

I think while I was there I read two Steinbeck novels set in that area.  One was ”Of Mice and Men”.  I remember reading about drinking Chianti wine.  I had never had more than a sip of alcohol and this seemed adventuresome and kind of romantic to me.

I don’t think we had a TV, but friends did and we would get together to watch Dragnet.  This was my  first real exposure to TV and TV shows, though I had seen “Howdy Doody” on Mrs. Shelton’s TV in Fairlington in 1949.   As it turned out this was the only TV I saw until I returned from Venezuela in 1957.  Even then it turned out that I did not watch TV while at M.I.T. for six years and not all that much when I was home on vacations.  After that I was in the Army for two years in Germany, so I kind of missed a lot of American culture from time I was 11 till I was 24.

I had a number of friends in our neighborhood in Monterey.  The only name I remember was Bob Hand.  I remember there were a boy and girl pair of twins I liked a lot and talked to a lot.  It was fun to talk to them because they kind of reacted like one person where the voice could come from either one.  There was also a fun bright girl a little older than me who said she was going to be a movie star.  I wonder if she made it.

My sister had girl friends and I thought they were attractive.  One of the girls who lived just a block or so away had a younger sister my age and I think I took her to a dance.  Madge had at least one slumber party and I remember that I felt kind of naughty seeing all the girls in the pajamas.

One vivid memory occurred when I was in my room sleeping one afternoon.  Madge and some of her friends burst into the room yelling “The Russians are coming!  The Russians are coming!”.  It scared me half to death and I jumped up kind of crazy like.  They loved it and I think even I was amused.   I wonder if I thought it was funny at the time because other times in life I have not responded well to some kinds of teasing.

My father was there six months so I guess we left in January.  I don’t recall the drive back across the U.S. and the visits to Tampa and Abingdon.   The next thing I remember was that we were again in army transient housing in Brooklyn before going to Venezuela.  I remember that while we were there we went to Cony Island amusement park and rode rides – I remember a big Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and big wheel that spun around so that you were pressed against the wall while the floor dropped away below you.

I remember that one of the rides had an exit that people came out through and an area where people were lined up high on both side to watch those coming out.   I was out watching when my mother came through and the big entertainment was that someone could push a switch and blow womens’ skirts up to expose their underwear.  I watched as they got mother.   Then I remember that as she came out a woman reached out to her and mother was pulled up to watch others get similarly embarrassed.  This was in 1953 so mother was 45.

Uncle Harry and Aunt Tillie came up from Tampa to see us off and I remember waving to them on the dock as our ship, the Grace Line Santa Rosa, pulled away from the dock.  I Googled the ship and found that she was built in 1932, was 505 feet long and was built to carry around 250 passengers.  It’s interesting to me that this is about 100 feet shorter than the USNS General Rose that took us to England.

It’s also interesting that this was, to me, a big luxery liner. My son Paul now works as the cruise director on Oceania cruise ships and in his previous cruise line, Celebrity, they carry around 3000 passengers.  Bigger cruise ships carry more than 5000 passengers.

We sailed from New York city to La Guaira, Venezuela, the port city about an hour or two down the mountain from Caracas.  I loved the cruise.  After a few days the weather was warm and I spent time at the pool.  The food was great.  I remember we spent one night in the harbor at Curacao (or was it Aruba)  There was a Catholic priest on the ship.  By serving as priest for the cruise he got free passage and this was a rare vacation for him.  He served a parish in Harlem in New York city and  he spoke of the contrast between his somewhat bleak life there and this cruise.   He and I became friends and I visited him in New York during my freshman year in college.