On Saturdays, Larry and I confronted our biggest decision of the week: how to spend our 25 cent allowance. We could go to the movies, especially if "Francis the Talking Mule" was playing at the Palm Theater or anything with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. (It wouldn't be a Disney movie like "Davy Crockett" or "Bambi " because we would have planned for the arrival of those weeks prior to their showing in Imperial Beach.)
More often than not, we would take a walk to the store: Dissenger's or the Imperial Beach Market or Sullivan's on First Street. Even which store to choose was a big decision. We loved Dissenger's, but the proprietors were so crabby! Imperial Beach Market was just a market. Sullivan's was farther away (two blocks more) and a bigger store too, but so impersonal and ominous. The cold cement floors of Sullivan's and the coolness of the two-story building made it seem unwelcoming.
Dissenger's was a beach bungalow built of wood. The floorboards creaked and clomped when you entered. It was painted green on the outside, sharing the block with several other green bungalows. Each housed a different business although maybe one of them was still a home.
So off we would go, down Evergreen Avenue, the two blocks to the beach. We would look into the yards of the neighbors as we went: the Newmans next door with dirt for a front lawn, the Grossengers, the Strains catty-corner, home of the hated Susie Strain and the imp Tommy Strain and somewhere in the middle Michael Strain. Susie was my rival, younger than me, and always competing for Larry's attention. I burned with jealousy when he even looked at her! Michael was my age, a second grade nerd. His brother Tommy earned Joyce's wrath by coming over to slip and slide on our newly waxed floors, pronouncing, "We aren't allowed to do this at our house."
We would peek into the yard of the hydrangea lady, look in awe at the wooden house that sat on the lot where I believed Mama's house had burned down when she was little (it was actually north of Palm), sneak past the Christian Science Reading Room. We probably thought they would kidnap us and convert us.
The corner had a café and a donut display, but usually we passed that by. On to Dissenger's across the street. Inside, the dimly lit counters did not exactly display their wares, but just smelling the dusty, woodeny, beachy aroma heightened our anticipation. Sunlight filtered into the store from side windows. Dust motes swirled on the sunbeams. Behind the counter were the cigarettes and cigars. Up front, a treasure trove: candies! We always swore their candy tasted best, probably because it had mellowed with time. The crabby old Disssengers never seemed happy to have customers. They snapped up the candy money and sent us on our way. Did they think we would steal from them?
"Look" candy bars safely purchased and broken into pieces, we would wander along First Street toward Palm Avenue to envy those with the beach homes. One home had a sheltered garden with white lattice fencing and a bird bath. There was also a trailer park, where our family friends the Sontags lived. We thought they must be rich, for they owned one of those Thunderbirds with the porthole window. Did our father ever envy them!
Passing the trailer park, next along the street was a house with a stable. The horses were not really visible, but we imagined them. I was going through my horse lovers' stage, having read Black Beauty. Larry always said he thought that was the story of an African princess, and I never knew if he was pulling my leg.
We both wished for horses. As usual, Larry chose a name first. He said he would name his horse "Sayonara." Since I couldn't have that name, the best name ever for a horse, I chose "Moonlight" for mine. Larry probably had gotten to ride horses when he went to YMCA camp. (To this day, I have never ridden a horse.)
Chewing our Look bars, we might go up to the old boardwalk. It had collapsed over several winters, and thus was a tempting spot for kids. When the sand was right and piled high enough, we could climb up on the short segment that was still standing and then dare each other to jump off into the sand.
Or we might go sit under the opening section with its jumbled boulders and slatted rough lumber. It was cool under the boardwalk, smelling of tar, seaweed, and wood. The sand was damp there; we never stayed long, but it seemed like a secret clubhouse to my active imagination. I always felt daring going into that cave-like, dim den, for more than likely, we had been ordered not to go anywhere near the old boardwalk.
We rounded out our morning walk by taking a short cut back through Grandmother's yard. We came up through the rubble of the far-back backyard with its paint cans, ladders, and tools all tossed this way and that in stark contrast to our meticulously ordered garage at home. We walked on past the stone building with its exotic outside toilet, the outdoor wash room with its sour smell, up to the back door of Grandmother's house.
Grandmother would be sitting at the table drinking tea or having coffee with our mom. Or she would be sitting in her chair in the front room reading. She always had on a pretty outfit of stylish pants with a sweater or a dress from Kippy's, that is, unless we arrived so early that she was still in one of her beloved chenille robes.
We could count on three hours there at least if Mama was over visiting with her mom. We might be cold and wet and itchy with salt water, but complaining was of no use. We'd plop down with a book or climb the plum tree. Life was a prose poem to simplicity and love.