Friday, July 25, 2014

Van Nuys Ranch Memories

A ranch and it's buildings are not just simple wooden structures but repositories of cherished memories held throughout decades of time by those who lived there. Here are just a sampling of some of the rich family memories of this place . Although we no longer live there we are happy that the buildings still stand and help us to remember....

Auntie Soo Jan :

I recall moving from the old farm house that had asparagus pushing up through the floors and termite invasions every spring over to the big house when I was about 9 years old, which would be 1947 or so. The house was built soon after World War Two was over. There were 3 bedrooms downstairs and 4 bedrooms upstairs. Posie, Jack and Joan occupied the downstairs, while my Mom and Dad, Guy, myself had our own bedrooms, then Pingy and Soo-Yin shared the last one. Soo-Yin was just a toddler. I don’t recall Dorothy and Corrine ever living there, but they did come to visit. I thought that Dorothy lived in a house in San Fernando because I remember visiting there and playing with a little girl down the street until her mother forbade her to play with an oriental (remember that this was right after the War). Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Jack left the big house when he went away to college. Joan moved to her own house when she married Richard. After they left, Guy and I moved downstairs and Pingy and Soo-Yin had their own rooms upstairs. My job was to take care of Posie’s needs, like doing her hair and driving her around for her errands. She loved to go out every day to Van Nuys for shopping and she’d just buy one little thing so that she could go again the next day for her outing

Auntie Soo Yin:
In our new house I remember us kids skating on the flat rooftop above the indoor porch when our parents weren't home. There were no barriers to catch us if we were unable to stop at the roof's edge. Brother Guy would dare us to see how far we could skate to the edge. It was fun and exciting to do something we weren't suppose to do.
 I loved our homestead. Our ranch was self-sustaining. We had our own gas pump, an auto- and repair shop, fruit trees of nectarines, oranges, pears, apricots, lemons, figs, walnuts, etc. We grew strawberries, grapes, corn, and vegetables of all kind. Behind the big red barn that faces Vanowen St. we had a large chicken coop. It was filled with hens and one rooster (probably purchased from Uncle Ed's Holly Hatchery or Albert Zoraster's hatchery). The rooster was a trip. During eclipse he would go to sleep, then wake up to sunlight and crow. When he grew old he got day and night all messed up and crowed at the wrong times. We raised a pheasant in the coop, too. Then San Tong got a bright idea. In addition to fresh eggs and chicken meat, we could have delicious squab meals too. So he threw feed onto the floor of the coop and all the stray pigeons flew into the lair. Immediately he covered its top with chicken wire. San Tong had wooden nests built from floor to ceiling in the coop, the lower half was for the hens, and the upper half was for the pigeons--hundreds.
 As a toddler I would awaken from a nap, then my mother would take me out to see brother Jack's Morgan horse "Thunder," in a stable. I got to pet Thunder's nose and feed him some straw. I loved horses from then on. Each Spring our dog Bingo always found stray kittens born on our ranch. We would carry the kittens home in a field box, then divvy them up--one for each sibling. Brother Jack had a childhood friend, Jack White, with whom he went riding and exploring with. One day Thunder got stuck in quicksand and it took 5 Mexicans to pull the horse to safety.
 I loved Jack White's parents. Mrs. White was like Mrs. Santa Claus. She was plump and jolly, gray-haired, and blew a hardy laugh as she chugged up our driveway in her Model-T truck. At X-mas time she gave us wonderful storybooks, and when we visited her house on De Celis dirt road, she had the most amazing doll collection for you to see. They were a collector's dream.
 David Frazer was brother Guy's childhood friend. And David had a perky horse named "Brandy," which prompted Guy to press our father for a horse too. When he got Senator, he and David went horseback riding together. The Frazers lived across the street from us on Vanowen St., and I loved playing with their Red Settler dog, "Rafferty." Rafferty was so gentle and had the personality of "Marmaduke," a cartoon character. In the evenings David Frazer and other friends came to play football with Guy on our big front lawn.
On hot Summer evenings we'd have BBQ dinner in our outdoor bathhouse, which had a firepit, picnic table and benches, and Leong Shee's original black iron stove to cook on. We'd get our swimsuits out from lockers in the bathhouse, go for a swim in the pool, then shower in the stalls with toilets that San Tong had built. Those were family moments that San Tong enjoyed. He could balance a chair on one leg in his open palm and tread across the deep end of our pool. Jack was a champion gymnist in school, and he balanced me on his open palm, me on one foot with my hands folded across my chest. I liked doing that.

I think Dorothy and Corrine lived with us in the big new house--only for a short while before Corrine married Lansing, and before Dorothy left for school. Corrine had the bedroom next to Posie's because, as a child, I used to visit her bedroom so that she'd dab perfume behind my ears. She always had fancy perfumes. And she would insist that her mother wear silk stockings whenever Lansing came courting. Dorothy lived in the bedroom near Corrine's that was called the "den." When she was in a good mood I would ask her politely for a piece of candy. I knew that she always had candy in her bedroom. Later, her den room became Jack's, then Guy's becroom. And Corrine's room became Joan's, then Soo-Jan's bedroom. I think in the very early years Jack and Joan shared a bedroom upstairs (the one later to be Soo-Jan's, then Pingileen's, in which a window opened onto the roof of our indoor porch). And Soo-Jan and Guy shared a bedroom next door, the one that looked out to the front lawn. After our aunts moved away we got rooms to ourselves like in musical chairs.

Bob Yen ( My cousin and son of  my late Auntie Joan ) who like  me played at the ranch in our childhood:

I remember the excitement I felt every summer when, after a 10 hour drive through the desert, we’d finally arrive at the tall gates to the Ranch: the fence posts made from railroad ties, the smell of tall eucalyptus, the crunch of gravel under the tires as we drove toward the house, past the cottage, the barns, the gas pump and school house-- closer to the weeks of adventure that we had been anticipating all year with our young aunts, uncles and cousins.

 I remember the giant tortoise shell in the pool cabana, the turtles and fish my mother hand painted on the bottom of the swimming pool; climbing the trees on the northern boundary and throwing acorns at passing cars.

 I remember standing at the fence to the west of the house, calling to the black bull as the sun set in the distance and a cool breeze crossed my face.

 I remember the sound of my shoes on the metal grate by the side door--and just inside-- the smell of Ah Gung’s Stetsons and work gloves in the closet; the creak of the wooden stairs that led from the dining hall and its tall black, shaker chairs, up to Ah Gung’s and Ah Po’s bedroom.

 I remember the coolness of the moss by the front door and the smell of summer gardenias; the weight of the front door carved with a Chinese character and the lushness of the wine carpet in the living room.

 I remember the hammered iron rails on the stairway, and the way the banana tree looked through the round window against the blue sky at the top of the landing.

 I remember the rough feel of cracked leather on Ah Gung’s chair in the living room, and how smooth and soft the purple, silk tassels were on Ah Po’s vanity table upstairs as I laid on my back and tied them in knots.

 But as much as anything, I remember the softness of Ah Gung’s voice, and the roughness of his hands touching my face as he called my name. I miss it-- the innocence of that place and time--The Ranch.

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