EDITOR’S NOTE: And the stories continue … here’s the continuing saga from Chuck McLaughlin about his early days as we meander through the McLaughlin history book. See link below for the first story, if you missed it. And hop over to the Pioneer’s YouTube channel for several video interviews with Chuck. More R&R
By Charles McLaughlin
Well, here I am. Back again and in case you didn’t recognize me in the photo at the top with my head half-chopped off, I’m the guy who looks like he’s playing some licks on an invisible guitar and wearing some weird-looking chaps that were evidently still in fashion in unlikely places back then. It was my seventh birthday and my Grandma Loraine Seymour, bless her heart, took this photo for posterity because we were a notorious gang of thugs infamously known as the “Stanyan Street Stinkers.” On that auspicious day two Mormon boys showed up with their rifles and a side-kick from somewhere down on the flatland near the Height. After gobbling down some of Grandma’s superb lemon meringue pie and some vanilla ice cream, we took off to plunder downhill innocents unaware of their impending doom. That sort of sets the scene for you but, heck, I forgot to tell you this all happened on the northwest corner of Stanyan and Carl streets in a vacant lot big enough to corral a hundred head of cattle. Now, don’t get me wrong. There weren’t any cattle around at all ‘cause cattle had been replaced by street cars and other up-town gadgets. But that lot was huge and served as playground and hangout many a day back then.
There’s a little history to tell about the lot, too. On the sidewalk running along Carl Street abutting the lot there was what would look like to more modern folk an iron sewer cover. One of those big round things you see a lot in big cities. But this wasn’t any old common sewer cover. No sir. It was a cover that opened up to allow delivery of coal to the house that had once stood there! The coal would slide down a wooden chute and into the basement of the house and when they needed it to burn in their stoves and fireplace they would send someone downstairs to fetch it. That person would load a coal scuttle, place it in a contraption they called a dumb-waiter, pull on a rope that caused the scuttle and coal to go upstairs like an elevator and from there taken wherever it was to be used! Cool! However, a thingamajig usually reserved for the wealthy and not for the likes of the lower middle class McLaughlins and Seymours!
Time now to begin were I left off rendering and rambling last time.
Sometimes we lived in San Francisco and times we lived in Bakersfield. And I’m guessing you might want to know why we sort of bounced around like that? Well, even if you didn’t I feel compelled to tell you anyway because it was at a point in our family life that wasn’t too pleasant and darn near tore us apart forever! You see, around 1931 we set our sails toward a little town northeast of Bakersfield plopped in the lower part of the Owens Valley on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. It’s called Bishop and was a tiny thing with just enough amenities to keep you from passing right on by. My Dad had been offered a job at the only bank in town and for some reason decided we should settle down there and see what fortune had in store.
He and Mom were outdoor types, backpackers and campers. They liked canyon rivers to fish and swim in, High Chaparral to hike in and mountains to climb. It so happens that Bishop is nestled a few miles from the trailhead that leads upward to Kearsarge Pass (11,700 ft.) and higher elevations of the highest peak in contiguous United States: Mt.Whitney (14, 505 ft.). So they found Bishop provided a possible doorway to their kind of living and we settled in there for a couple of years. Then the proverbial stuff hit the fan!
Dad, out of the blue, came up with the crazy-ass idea that he could perform a little sleight-of-hand with the bank’s money and get away with it! Of course, he didn’t get away with it and was busted at work, tried, convicted, sentenced to 15 years and jailed at San Quentin prison in April, 1933. Needless to say, Mom was devastated, we kids too young to really understand what had happened and what it meant for the family. Mom chose to bail out of Bishop and head for San Francisco and the safety of her parents’ home on Stanyan Street. San Quentin was close by in Marin County and made visitation possible and that’s why we landed in San Francisco! And while we’re there, it might be a good time to talk about what San Francisco was like for some folks in “them-thar-days,” as the saying goes.