Settled in Santa Barbara

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One reason for our family leaving Pennsylvania for California in 1964 was so my sons could get college educations. The cost for my oldest to attend Temple University, Pa., for one year was over $2,000, an enormous amount back then.

Looking back I don’t know how we did it when I worked 60-hour weeks. The two oldest boys, Don Jr. and Doug supplemented family income with busboy paychecks from the Blue Bell Inn, where I worked as a waitress. I knew this couldn’t continue. When I found out how inexpensive college costs were for California residents, the decision to move west was easy.

Don Jr. looked at the different locations for “unknown, Roslyn Sheer disbeliiversities” and wanted to go to a campus on the Pacific coast, hence the decision to go to Santa Barbara. Ignorance is bliss. We had no idea Santa Barbara had two primarily classes of people, the wealthy and the not so wealthy. The final leg of our journey was southbound from San Francisco along the beautiful California coast. We had high expectations and dreams, and little money left.

As we passed through Big Sur, we noticed a restaurant, believe it or not, called the “Blue Bell Inn,” where we had breakfast. Our young waitress, Kathy, had an eastern accent. Curious, we asked her where she had lived. She replied, “Oh, a small town in Pennsylvania you wouldn’t know; we too had once lived in tiny Roslyn, Pa. We began to ask more about her family.

Kathy, along with her sister Sue, had gone to St. John of the Cross Catholic School, my children to Roslyn’s public school. Kathy’s father was a colonel at Fort Ord, Ca. When in Roslyn, her family went to the Willow Grove Naval Station to swim and see movies. My husband Don was then in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Our family swam and went to the same movie theater.

Can you believe this? Here we were, thousands of miles from “home” talking to someone that had been so close for all those years, yet now meeting for the first time. To top this, my son Doug’s birthday and Sue’s were the same. So for two years, in 1964 and 1965, Doug took the train from Santa Barbara to Big Sur, to take Sue out to celebrate their birthdays.

We found a brand new apartment high up on a hill that overlooked the Pacific. I couldn’t believe our luck finding such a nice place with a stove and refrigerator at a reasonable price. But we needed furniture and on that first day headed for the ever-present Salvation Army.

I bought beds and an extra single bed to use as a sofa in the living room, a lounge chair, lamp, TV and a table with six chairs for the dining area, all used, of course. Bookshelves were made of shelving and cinderblocks. We were so low on money I used our camping gear to cook that consisted of one pan and two pots. We then scrounged around the store to find dishes, glasses, flatware and the assorted bowls we needed.

Unloading the car of all the linen, clothes and other items took a little time, but by late afternoon on that first day, we had just one more chore. We needed food and found a very nice supermarket where our purchases included everything I thought we would need for two or three days. Only then did we head “home” where I cooked our first meal in Santa Barbara.

The next morning I checked our finances. We had left the east with $1,000, and I had won $100 in Reno. After paying the rent, buying furniture and the food we had $100 left. While I knew I should be out looking for work, right at that moment, all the boys could think about was going down to the beach and so we did just that. I sat, looking out at the beautiful blue water, and suddenly I was very frightened. What had I done?

My little Dean, all 8 years of him, came up to me and said, “I’m so glad we’re here, mommie, I just love our new home.” Fear faded. The very next day I got a job waiting tables, Doug got one at the Santa Barbara Inn as a busboy and Don, Jr. signed up for college and a weekend job washing cars. A new life had begun for my five sons and me.

The rest is now history.

Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.


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