When I was about four years old, we had one of the first televisions. It was an Emerson and had about a nine-inch screen. Of course, we were all taken with it. Dad likely bought it in 1948 or 49. It was a good TV. It lasted well into the 1960’s. I remember distinctly watching a program and realizing the next program I wanted to watch was on another channel. There were likely only two or three channels available. I asked Dad to change the station, as I was not allowed to touch the TV. Dad said, “I have to finish paying the bills or there won’t be any TV to watch.” In about a minute, he changed the station for me.
Lifetime friends from San Diego were the Pat and Bob Menke, Bob and Martha Shepherd and Bob and Suzette (Sazz) Wigely.
In 1949, we lived on Johnson Drive in La Mesa, California. I was playing across the street in front of our house. I saw a large, black car coming up the street and wondered who, on our modest street, would drive a car like that. As the car came close to me, I saw it was my Dad! The car was a 1949 Buick Roadmaster. I’ve been a car fan ever since. That Roadmaster took us to Washington State and back as well as on a number of local trips. It had portholes on the side and a spotlight which was controlled by the driver.
While we lived in La Mesa, Dad built a large redwood table. That table stayed with us for years, it seemed like forever. Margo and I used to carve on it, but it was often used for Sunday afternoon meals. I think he had it until well into the 1980’s. I have often though how talented Dad was to be able to build something like that and have it last for so many years.
In April, 1951, President Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. We watched MacArthur’s arrival in San Francisco on that small Emerson TV. Dad said, “You kids remember this. You are seeing history.” How true.
Somewhere, not far from La Mesa, Dad and Mom took us to a drive-in movie. They promised me that I would be able to see a Mickey Mouse cartoon and that we would not leave until the cartoon came on. I fell asleep before the cartoon came on. The next morning, I asked if they had seen the cartoon, thinking if I couldn’t see it, having my parents see it would be the next best thing. I was very upset when Dad told me that after I went to sleep the fog rolled in and everyone went home because no one could see the screen. I have wondered since if that is really the way it happened.
In our younger years, Dad and Mom always told us they loved us and that we were good kids.
Mom and Dad took Margo and I up somewhere around Alpine, in the mountains east of San Diego. It was a cold evening and obviously they wanted Margo and I to see snow for the first time. I wanted to taste it so grabbed a bunch of snow off of a sage plant. The snow tasted like sage so I wasn’t very happy.
After La Mesa, we moved to Laguna Beach. I always hated buttermilk. The house we lived in had a small breakfast nook, just large enough for four people. Some how, I was served buttermilk by mistake. I spewed it out all over our dinners. Dad was not happy. No one was happy.
Dad always had hopes that I would be a great athlete. While living in Laguna Beach, he taught me how to throw a football. I became very good at it. Years later, in eighth grade, I found my skills with a football disappeared when defensive linemen were in my face. It was one of Dad’s great disappointments.
Mom, Dad and I went over the hill to Anaheim, the closest theater. We saw “Winchester 73” with James Stewart. I was excited. I still remember the opening scene of the movie. I still like to watch it every now and then.
I started first grade in Laguna Beach, but before too long we moved to La Cresenta. Dad had the wanderlust (a family trait) and wanted to move to the desert. We examined a property somewhere in the Mojave Desert. I recall the big irrigation pond by the property, but did not like the desert. Shortly after we moved to Modesto. I liked Modesto.
When we moved to Modesto, Dad worked at being a part time farmer. We had 10 acres each of walnuts and grapes. The other 20 acres could be planted in other crops. When we moved into the old ranch house on Prescott Road, Mom told Dad that she’s be willing to live with Dad in a chicken coop. Dad told her, Here’s your chicken coop. It was an old Sears house and was quite rickety. There were smaller houses to the north and south of the house.
In Modesto, Dad wanted to find any job that was not related to the newspaper business. Nothing seemed to come up. Finally, the job of the assistant circulation manager of the Modesto Bee opened. Dad hesitantly applied and was hired. The circulation manager Dad worked under was Carl Bua. For ten years, Dad had a running battle with Carl. Frequently, Dad would come home and we all heard about the problems with Bua. I do not remember the nature of the problems, but finally Carl left the Bee and Dad immediately became circulation manager. The stresses were still there, but we heard little complaining about his job form that point on.
Modesto lifetime friends: Wayne and Dorothy Johnson, Jim and Edna Alexander, Chuck Rogers, Frank Pierson. There were many others who came later, but these were friends of our family when I was growing up who continued to be friends until Dad passed away. Brenda and I are still friends with young Jim and his wife Bea.
Dad was not afraid to rent out the north house. The south house wasn’t in the greatest shape. Sometimes he let people live there for free. The first person was a World War II vet named Don. Don had been in the Pacific theater and hated General Mac Arthur, who was worshipped in our home. He claimed that he had Mac Arthur in the sights of his rifle at one time, but couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. He left Dad with a Japanese rifle.
The other tenants I remember were a couple who helped out on our ranch. They were Juan and Belen Garcia. He didn’t speak much English, but Margo and I could get along with her. She was also very beautiful. We were fascinated by the way they did things. She was the first person I ever saw take a chicken by the neck, twirl it around her head to kill it and then cook it for dinner. She also cooked tortillas from scratch and cooked them over a fire. She gave some buttered and hot to Margo and me. They were delicious. Suddenly, one day, they were gone. Dad assumed they were illegal and that immigration authorities were on to them.
Dad’s parents were visiting one time and were staying in the south house. Suddenly, one morning, I saw my Grandfather Ross being carried into an ambulance on a stretcher. He had a severe heart attack. Grandpa Ross eventually recovered and went back to their home in the San Fernando Valley. Occasionally, the phone would ring early in the morning and Dad would run to pick it up with a stressed look on his face. Usually it was something else, but sometimes he would hang up and say that Grandpa had another heart attack. I remember thinking my grandparents, all of whom were in their late 50’s and 60’s, would die any day. Both grandfathers lived into their early 70’s and both grandmothers lived to be 80.
When friends and relatives would come to visit, they often stayed in the north house. My Rees grandparents lived there for a brief period.
The longest tenant was Bob Shepherd. Bob and his wife Martha had been family friends in San Diego in the late 40’s. Bob had been in the Pacific as a medic during some of the fiercest fighting. Then he went to Korea. There he became hooked on Benzedrine, lost his marriage and was in Atascadero for some time trying to dry out. He had nowhere to go and after a serious debate, my parents decided to take him in. Bob over came the bennies, but became an alcoholic. He was a great human being and a great friend to Dad and me. He ate dinner with us nightly and evolved into just being another member of the family. When my parents divorced in 1963, Bob held Dad together. They were roommates for several years.
My parents did a great job of fixing up the old house on Prescott Road. Although I’ve lived most of my life in much nicer places, that house is what I think of when I think of my childhood home. Dad and Mom put in a flower garden and a lawn. Dad loved to play golf and usually went out on Saturday mornings. My job was to mow the lawn, which wasn’t small. The lawn mower was an old gas powered reel mower. It was finicky at best and Dad was upset with me if he came home from golf and I hadn’t finished mowing the lawn. Usually, I hadn’t been able to start the mower. Watching him, I did learn how to clean a spark plug. Of course the mower had a carburetor, so adjusting that took some mechanical and artistic skills I didn’t possess. Dad thought I would disable the lawn mower so I didn’t have to mow the lawn. That wasn’t true. I’d have much rather finished the lawn than to suffer Dad’s wrath!
Our Prescott Rd. house had one bathtub. Dad figured we ought to join the 20th century and have a shower, so he built a shower onto the bathroom. I am still amazed he could do that. He plumbed it and plastered the walls then painted them. The plaster would do well until the paint started to come off, then the plaster would get wet and ooze off the shower walls. I remember taking a shower and being fascinated watching the plaster form into globs then go down the drain like a lava flow. Dad would eventually put more plaster on, paint it and the shower would be good again for a few weeks. That was the shower we used for ten years.
I don’t know if my problem was laziness (Dad’s bet!), an attention problem or just plain passive aggressiveness, but my grades in elementary school were not the best. Spelling was especially difficult for me (I’ve been rescued by spell check). It seems no matter how I tried, I could not get better than a “C” in spelling. We usually had trial tests on Wednesdays and a final test on Fridays. Dad considered himself a great speller, so was frustrated with me. On Wednesday nights, he’d go over the spelling words with me. It seemed the harder we worked together, the harder it became. After about 15 minutes of escalating frustration, he’d give up on me. In Dad’s defense, he always told us we were smart. I always believed that and his belief in us carried me a long way. Nevertheless, I was pleased to get to high school and not have any more spelling tests. I think Dad was happy too!
Dad always taught us to be respectful of other and to treat people well. He was down to earth and loved working with the Mexican nationals on our Prescott Road ranch. Others may have considered the Mexicans sub-human, but Dad respected them for their honesty and hard work. He took joy in buying a couple of cases of beer, icing the cans down then going out into the fields and shouting “Cervesa frio!” The workers took joy in that also! Consequently, I always respected Mexicans and had no particular prejudice against ethnic groups, especially Mexicans.
As mentioned in the autobiography, Dad was an ardent antique gun collector. We grew up hunting and shooting. Dad loved to fire off some of his black powder rifles and pistols. One time he went quail hunting with a black powder shotgun. I remember him firing at some quail at close range. We never found any of the quail, but I’ll bet some of those little birds came away with singed tail feathers.
Dad had an Army and Navy Colts. We were out on a side road just south of Knight’s Ferry. Dad decided it would be a good time and place to target practice with a couple of those pistols. As was done a hundred years before, Dad load caps on the nipples of the cylinder, put in black powder, a wad, some grease, then the bullet. He took a few shots and we could follow the bullets as they came out of the gun. He asked Mom if she wanted to take a shot and she did. When she shot, there was no sign she hit the target. Dad looked all over because she had a good aim. We all looked and looked and looked. Finally, Mom pointed to the end of the pistol and the bullet was hanging out of the end of the muzzle. We all laughed and Dad said, “Not enough powder and too much grease!”
My sister, Margo, was born in La Jolla, California. Mom shared a room with Suzette Wigely who’s daughter Ann was born the day after Margo. The Wigely’s became fast friends. Suzettte and her husband Bob owned the largest antique store west of the Missouri river. It was located in Encinitas, California. My parents were always interested in antiques, but their relationship with the Wigleys allowed them to make purchases at very reasonable prices. Eventually, our home was filled with precious primitive antique furniture. Tragically, the antique store burned down in the late 1950’s.
One of my fondest memories was our family sitting on the couch, putting our feet on a Wigley rustic coffee table and watching TV. Now that may not be considered too interactive, but we usually watched comedies together and it was fun to listen to my parents laugh. The shows I remember were Texaco Star Theater, You Bet Your Life, Red Skelton, The $64,000 Question, Have Gun Will Travel, Cheyenne, Maverick, The Twilight Zone, Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and the Dick Van Dyke Show. Of course, there were also movies. I well remember the night Dad introduced me to Marx Brothers movies.
When I turned 16, Uncle Harry and Aunt Ruby, who had kept Dad’s high school Model A, offered it back to us for the tidy sum of $100. We bought it, Dad, Bob Shepherd and I rebuilt the engine at night (I held the light) and eventually I drove it to high school. It was fun to drive that old car and I loved it, when it would run.
When I was 16, Dad sold the 40 acre property on Prescott Road and moved to Albers Road, 10 miles east of Modesto. There my parents built their dream house and eventually a swimming pool. He had doubled his money on the Prescott Road property in 10 years. He sold it for $2,500 an acre and was very pleased with the profit. Five years later it sold for $25,000 an acre. Dad took it in stride.
Shortly after I turned 16, I was allowed to take the family 1956 Buick out with friends. It was a Friday night. I had two guys in the front seat with me. One was drunk, had some spray wax and would spray cars as we drove down McHenry Avenue in Modesto. Some motorists caught my license plate number and Sunday night, we had a call from the police. I was to report to the police station on Tuesday morning for interrogation. I was scared to death. Mom thought it was the beginning of the end for me. Dad said, “That sounds like something I would have done in high school.” Mom was mad at him for saying that. Dad went to the police station with me and the police listened to my story. They told me to come back in a week for punishment. My grandparents Rees ran the local juvenile hall and I knew if I went there that my Grandpa Rees would kick me from one end of the hall to the other and back again. After an agonizing week, Dad and I went back to see the officers. They told me there would be no penalty, but if they ever saw me again they’d go real hard on me. That brought visions of my grandpa to mind. I wanted to be the best kid in Modesto, California. To my parents’ everlasting credit, I went out with the Buick the next Friday night. I knew they believed I would do the right thing. It gave me confidence in my relationship with them and I always appreciated the way Dad stood by me, not condoning the action, but supporting me as his son.
About the time I was 16, Dad and I began to talk a lot. No son is perfect. I continued to frustrate Dad over issues of grades and irresponsibility, but we connected. He taught me great values that have guided me throughout life. Honesty, integrity, commitment, responsibility, hard work, and the importance of friendships were all things he emphasized. Taking the time to talk, I know he loved me and was concerned about my future. He also continued to be very critical, but that was his nature and while I was raised very well, the criticisms left scars. Some one said that we all harm our children in certain ways. It was true of Dad, it is true of me and my children.
The three years on Albers Road were not particularly happy. We had a great house and everything going our way, but I knew Mom was not happy. She began to complain about Dad a lot. One time she told me, “Maybe I’ll leave him. Then what will he think!” I told her that would not accomplish anything. She seemed to agree. I had no idea what was going on in her mind or the conflicts she was facing. Neither did Dad.
Dad was 44 and Mom was 42. It was a time I was becoming more independent. I worked after school and would often stay in town to be with friends. Often, I would not come home unit eight, nine or later. Margo was busy in high school and was steady dating Jim Crum, who she would later marry. My parents were facing the fact that they weren’t kids any longer. I didn’t know it, but there was a fuse burning in my parents’ marriage that would soon cause the disintegration of our family.
In the summer of 1963, I had converted to the LDS Church and was interested in starting my independent life in Utah at BYU. Mom seemed anxious to help me to go. Things fell into place for me and in August of that year, I was on my way. On the morning I left, Dad said, “He’ll be back in six weeks.” It was a logical prediction, but was never more wrong.
Mom left Dad in October, 1963. She moved to New York City with Arnold Brenton, a man she had known for five to six years. The nature of Mom’s relationship with Arnold is known only to the two of them, but at age 42, she certainly thought the grass we greener in New York City.
Dad was devastated. One night, shortly after Mom left, he told me later he had a gun to his head. He thought about his two children, came to his senses and laid the gun aside.
Dad had a long, heavy depression after Mom left him. He talked to a lot of people. Many said they thought my parents would be the last people to divorce. A few close to Mom said they saw it coming. Dad had a friend who was the sheriff and one who was an FBI agent. Together they found the most phone calls between Modesto, California and New York City over the previous five years, were between Mom and Arnold Brenton. Mom had been plotting the divorce for a long time and was just waiting to get me out of town so she could move ahead. The relationship between Mom and Mr. Brenton was not long lived. She found he was no more faithful to her than he had been to his wife. When Dad found that out, he felt justified. But that episode is another story.
I came “home” to visit at Christmas, 1963. Dad picked me up in San Francisco and we spent all of the two weeks when he wasn’t working talking about the divorce. I did a lot of listening. Dad said between Bob Shepherd, a friend who moved in with Dad and me, we saved his life. Christmas, 1962 had been a wonderful time with extended family and lots of cousins around. It was one of my happiest days. Christmas, 1963 consisted of Dad, Margo and I eating dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Stockton.
For me, these years were in a way a golden era with Dad and I. I was no longer his irresponsible son, but his friend and confidant. We talked endlessly. I tried to support and help him in every way possible even though most of the time I was away at college. Summers were great. We travelled a bit, went to movies and ate a lot of hamburgers.
One night, we went to see the re-release of the movie Ben-Hur. The ending deals with the crucifixion of Christ and is quite powerful. As we were walking out, Dad muttered, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” It was a very quiet time.
Dad had moved us onto Bonita Circle in Modesto. We lived in a nice house that became home. In that house was Dad, me, when I was home from college, Bob Shepherd with an occasional visit from Bob Wigely, our friend from San Diego. Life around the house was either very quiet or an absolute circus. Bob Wigely would go into Bob Shepherd’s room when Bob was at work and sleep for days. More than frustrated, Bob Shepherd would be forced to sleep on the couch. It was not dull, but not an ideal environment for any of us. I always thought it was kind of Dad to give Bob Wigely a place to rest. Bob Shepherd had his own demons so could grudgingly understand the necessity of the arrangement.
Dad had begun to date after the divorce was final. He told me that he could get married anytime he wanted. There were a lot of lonely single women available and Dad would have been a catch. During the summer of 1965, he dated Cecilia Leedom. Cece, as she was known, did a lot to encourage Dad, build his confidence and put him back on his feet. Between being a smoker, having two kids and a questionable previous relationship, Dad’s relationship with Cece didn’t last. I liked her. She was kind, but definite and direct. Cece has very beautiful daughter, Gail, who was a few years young than I was. Dad and I used to discuss what would happen if he married Cece and I married Gail. It was crazy talk. As I recall, one time the four of us went out to dinner together, but that was the closest I came to a date with Gail. I always liked her, but I wasn’t interested in a dating relationship with her, nor she with me. She ran in a faster crowd than I did, even in my pre-Mormon days.
At the end of the summer, Dad agreed to take me back to Provo. After visiting with my grandparents, aunt and uncle in Sunland, Dad and I drove to Provo the long way around. We went to Bryce, Zion, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Page (we slept in the car right by the dam), and on to Monument Valley and Moab. For us, it was the trip of a lifetime, to that point and we reminisced about it for as long as he lived. I never dreamed I would return to Arizona, but we each returned to those places a number of times.
In the spring of 1965, I wrote Dad of my plans to go on a mission for the Church. I know he wasn’t happy, but realized I was making my own way in life. Dad was very supportive and although he did not agree with the tenants of my religion, he helped me all he could. The day I left in October, 1965 was sober for both of us. I had to board the train in Stockton. Dad said some very kind things. As I sat on the train, I watched him pull away in his car and wondered how hard this must have been for him. I felt guilty in a way, but knew I was doing the right thing.
In the spring of 1966, Dad met Maurine Chadwick White. She had been divorced and when her ex-husband found out that Dad was dating Maurine, he threatened Dad’s life. Dad took it in stride.
In Maurine, Dad found a women who was a contrast with Mom. She was direct, feisty, well travelled and educated. She came from a moneyed family which wasn’t a deal maker, but I’m sure had an appeal to Dad. Dad would not marry Maurine without the approval of his children. I always admired him for that. I returned home from my mission in October, 1967, Dad and Maurine married in March, 1969.
After Dad married, our relationship changed. Dad had a new wife and our personal discussions mostly stopped. That was very appropriate, but it was hard for me just because it was a change. It was nice to associate with Maurine’s family and feel like I again had extended family, although those relationships were never easy for any of us.
More and more, Dad and Maurine spent time in Arizona. We would often spend time with them, usually going out to eat. They liked to talk about their favorite restaurants and the waiters and waitresses who served them. As usually, Dad always had a story to tell.
Dad and Maurine did a lot of traveling. They made several trips to Europe and one to Hong Kong. Dad was most pleased to visit Scotland, the land of his ancestors. He felt very much at home there. Dad was always excited to tell about special things that happened to him on his travels. Standing on Hadrian’s Wall on the border of England and Scotland was a big thrill for him.
In the summer of 1978, Dad had open heart surgery for a leaky heart valve. The surgery was done in San Francisco. I asked him if I should come to be with him. He said, “There are so many people who are going to be here I already feel like it’s a wake.” I didn’t go. Dad recovered quickly and went on to lead an active life for another 15 years. He was always grateful to the pig whose valve allowed him to live.
In 1984, Dad and Maurine decided to more to Arizona. They owned a condo in Scottsdale and also rented a house while they looked for a home. They finally found a house in the desert about half a mile off of Shea Blvd. in Scottsdale. It was exactly south of where the Mayo Clinic now stands. Dad loved the desert. He built a critter pond in front of their big picture window. They could have a drink and have quail, coyotes, javalina and an occasional deer come in for a drink. It was a wonderful environment. Maurine worked as a psychologist for the Scottsdale schools.
In 1994, Dad and Maurine made a trip to Spain with Chuck Rogers and his wife. When Dad returned, he wasn’t his old self. Contacting doctors on his return, the pig valve in his heart had finally worn out. Dad had to have another valve replacement surgery. He was never the same after that surgery and the plastic valve that was put in kept him awake at night. He became quite depressed, but still climbed on the roof of his house to repair shake shingles. We all told him not to do that, but it was something he just had to do.
In the spring of 1997, Dad and Maurine went to Hawaii. They had a good time, but Dad was worn out when they returned. Something was wrong. Eventually, Dad was diagnosed with severe prostate cancer in August of that year. The doctor told Dad that he had the most aggressive form of prostate cancer he had ever seen. Dad went through radiation therapy, teasing the nurses and endearing himself to the staff.
On October 19, 1997, our family gathered at a restaurant in Mesa and had brunch to celebrate his birthday. Everyone put up a good front, but the feeling this would be Dad’s last birthday was palpable.
In early November, Dad was told that the radiation therapy had not been successful and that he possibly had six months to a year to live. I went to the doctor’s appointment with Dad and Maurine. It was a grim day. I did tell Dad, who had been careful about his diet that he could eat anything he wanted now. He took that with a smile.
Hospice was called in. Between the Hospice and Maurine, Dad was well taken care of. We had Thanksgiving and the day after, Brenda and I went out to see Dad. Maurine was gone and we had a great intimate talk. Brenda and I told Dad we loved him and he replied similarly. I told him when he passed to the other side that someone would come talk to him and that he should listen. He agreed.
Two days later, Maurine called, very stressed, and said that Dad had lost the ability to talk. I suppose it was the morphine given to him for pain. It was traumatic. The deterioration of my Dad was one of the hardest things imaginable to watch. This strong, macho man who had always been so solid was just a withering old man in a bathrobe.
One evening, Brenda and I were at Dad’s house. Margo was there. The four of us were trying to get Dad into bed. He could walk, but it was very halting. Suddenly, Dad stopped, drew himself up and gazed at me. He said loudly, “You’re next!” It was a little unsettling, but I realized he was trying to tell me that I would soon be the oldest male on the Ross line. I was four when my Great Grandpa Ross died, I was 23 when Grandpa Ross died, now 53, Dad would soon be gone.
One night just before Margo left, Dad was sitting on the toilet trying to have results. He had been in there a while. Margo nosed in and asked if he was Okay. He replied he was. Margo asked what he was thinking about expecting some profound answer. “Baseball,” Dad replied.
Dad passed away on the Morning of December 12, 1997. A few hours after Dad was gone, his grandson, Spencer Crum called. Dad’s second great grandchild, Madison Crum had been born. Her birth gave us some joy.
Maurine did not want to have a service for Dad during the holiday season, so a memorial service was held in January at Maurine’s home, the house where Dad died. Dad had been cremated and Bob Cushing marched up the hill behind the house to spread Dad’s ashes. A bag piper was playing “Amazing Grace.” As Bob opened the urn and tossed Dad’s ashes to the wind, the wind carried Dad’s ashes across the hilltop. For a brief moment, Dad was there. Everyone felt it. It was an amazing experience. There were tears around. It was a clear day with one little cloud behind the hill. Suddenly, there was a rainbow coming from that small cloud on to the top of the hill. No one has ever had a better send off!
I could write many more things, but will not. I am proud to be the son of Rodney Jackson Ross and to carry his name. I love him. Everyone did.
-Rodney J. Ross Jr., March, 2016