UNITED STATES—Terrible rains came. Unhoused people in tents in the high school field got drenched. At my parents’ house they worked in the rain to board the hole in front where there had been a chimney. “Dad kind of stood around and watched,” my mom noted. He shut down with the earthquake. It still comes up in conversation that he was never the same after the earthquake.
Besides the terrifying aftershocks, there loomed a catastrophic threat for my family. The Jefsen Hotel, that my parents had worked so hard to get, was red-tagged for the wreckers ball. No wonder dad went into his shell. The possibility of the Jefsen being demolished was heart stopping. Acquiring the old hotel that housed the drug store had strapped my parents and consigned us to a very austere childhood, though we kids were ignorant of it at the time.
It later turned out that the gadgets that linked us to the times, such as the Bell and Howell Super 8 camera, so significant for creating my first stories, had been bonuses from one of the store’s pharmaceutical suppliers, likewise the cheapo General Electric portable stereo. Blame the Jefsen. We kids couldn’t see the asset and future it represented. We only saw that we were the last people on the block to get a color TV.
After the earthquake, my mom, without any engineering degree, looked around the empty boarded building and decided that the old brick building full of window bays upstairs and a round cupola on the upstairs corner, was too good a building to tear down.
Mom went to the city, and they were deaf to her plea to review the red-tagged status. “They were going crazy tearing down buildings,” my mom observed. Large swathes of Main Street were torn down and became idle space for decades. The Stoesser Block, Chas. Ford Co. and St. Patrick’s church all came down. Mom took a chance and got on the phone with State Senator Henry Mello. They wouldn’t have hot water at the house for a year after the quake, but the phone worked. Thank heaven.
Henry Mello had clout. Mom’s phone call saved the Jefsen and with it their retirement.
Drug store employees like Jack Eddy helped. In the rain, they moved a lot of vials, bottles and stock from the pharmacy to the new and much smaller location. My sister and dad wheeled to safe from the old store. In the wake of the earthquake and its aftershocks, faithful Jack Eddy got grouchy. Jack should never have helped; he had a bad back after stumbling off a stepladder in 1948. The independent pharmacists were a close-knit group—Eddie Stoic (Rexall) and Les Byers (East Lake Pharmacy) helped my dad move stuff. Teachers Pat and Dick Bendix of E.A. Hall Middle School offered school kids to help get the store together. All their combined muscle got Johnson Drug running again quickly and saved my dad from retirement.
The “retirement” of my dad was a perennial problem people in my family who loved to chew on. “What will Ken do for retirement?” was a conundrum on par with the riddle of the Sphinx. When my dad was held against those who avidly pursued a hobby or fished or collected things or traveled endlessly, it was inconceivable. They wanted in vain to picture a man on a cruise ship.
Something in them prevented them from imagining a retirement that was more going for coffee and sitting at home in a massage chair and watching TV. The question of dad’s retirement was a scab that people masochistically picked on for years. For my part, my wish for him, knowing that he thrived on his work, was that he be granted the health and power to work at the pharmacy counter till he was 70.
To be continued…