Autobiography of W. E. Smith.

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Autobiography of William Edward Smith

Chapter 3, part 2, Hollywood

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Now another event was about to take place and form a new era and beginning of a family epoch. Mother was feeling the strain of child care, household duties and dairy maid, coupled with a frigid and tropical climate, summer and winter, and we had grave concern for her health. Grandma being willing to sell the old house, Aunt Lulu having passed away, and my Pop and Mom and three sisters having again moved to California, that wanderlust again seized me and we started pointing our noses toward California, a dream I had in the back of my head since the Catalina episode on that rock. God surely had been good to us and He must have had a calling for us in California. A ready buyer was found for the house and I made an announcement to my boss, Mr. S. S. Delano, who was a good friend. His comment was, "You are going to an awful hot place," and handed me $100 to help pay expenses. My salary was then the fabulous sum of $100 per month. We had about half a car load of furniture which we prepared for shipment. That furniture was destined to do a lot of traveling before it was all burned up.

We arrived in Los Angeles the night of April 1, 1905, and were met by the Smiths and MacDonalds6. We rode across the continent in a tourist sleeper and were fairly comfortable with our three small children -- Elizabeth, Dudley, and Edward -- the eldest being about four.

6. Sister Sadie's husband was Norman MacDonald.
Things were popping fast now and Papa had to find a job. It was the beginning of a hectic career. Little did we know what was ahead of us. My brother George told me the Pacific Mercantile Company in Hollywood needed a bookkeeper and he could "probably get me the job." It paid $100 per month and it looked fine. The store was in an old two-story frame house; it would take Charles Dickens to adequately describe it. While we had a cash register, the boss seemed to distrust everybody and carried the money in his pocket. It was a MESS from A-Z. But I took hold. Never having been a bookkeeper or storekeeper, I was somewhat handicapped. My first experience was wrapping a loaf of French bread -- try it some time. I lasted just one month in that place and was fired because he had "sold the Sherman store." "Nuff-sed." That's once I got mad and quit that man like a hot potato, but later on he became a very fine friend. When one's righteous indignation is aroused something happens. Jesus' was when he took a lash and beat all those tradesmen out of the temple. Don't underestimate your indignation but keep it handy in your pocket. That blow could not get us down.

We had bought two lots and built a shed on one of them as temporary housing. It was a one-room affair built up on stilts about a foot high, with a roof on it, a door and window in it, and one short step up to get into it. We thought it would do for a stable or garage by-and-by. That was May 15, 1905. It was the first "house" built in that tract with nothing around it for blocks -- on Estelle Avenue, now Los Palmas, near Wilson Avenue, now DeLongpre. We being the pioneers, the real estate men gave us a little closer price on the lots, because we were going to "build right away" and they wanted their tract to show activity. Our first little house did not add much to it. I believe it is still standing there in Hollywood. A few months later we started to build a three-bedroom house with a modern BATHROOM. It was a nice home and that house is still occupying its original spot. Many very happy days were enjoyed in that home and Elizabeth, Dudley and Edward and Grandma grew in wisdom and stature.

The world with all its business opportunities threw wide its doors to me, but having no capital I was somewhat handicapped. There was another grocery store in Hollywood in those days and they needed a clerk. I got the job, having had "some experience." I was learning the grocery business more and more and thinking seriously of making it my career. In fact, after about six months the store was sold to a Los Angeles chain store, which I think had about two stores in the chain. Anyway our store manager told me to learn all I could as some day he was going to move out and I would get his job. I was then a clerk at $14 per week; he was paid $100 per month and it seemed to me like a bag of gold at the end of the rainbow. It really turned out to be such. One Saturday night in January 1906 -- it was cold and had been raining all day -- we were all tired and just about ready to close up when Los Angeles called up and said to the manager, "You are paying your bookkeeper too much money. I am sending you a new one Monday morning. Pay him $12 per week."

We were now very typical of the vast influx of Easterners into California, people who sold out in the East going West with their entire fortune in their pockets, hoping to make it grow into more fortunes. The first thing to do was to buy one of those "cozy California homes," which generally took all the capital, as was our case, and the next thing was to find employment. There were so many of us in this class it made labor about the cheapest commodity there was. We had to work for most anything we could get. So goes supply and demand.

I was ambitious to get into business of my own, vowing never to treat my employees as I had been treated. I had a very small beginning. My bicycle was my sole means of transportation. I divided Hollywood into four sections, east, west, north and south, covering each section once a week, selling coffee, tea, shoestrings, pins, needles, spices, extracts and anything else I could carry on my bike. That was a nice, clean independent little business. I was on my own clearing some $18 per week and business was getting better. Mother's health was improving and the clouds were showing a silver lining.

My Mercantile friend had been doing some expanding himself in the meantime, having built a new store and stocked it with a full line of general merchandise. But he had labor troubles. He stopped me on the street one day and told me of his bookkeeper who was "robbing him blind." My sympathy went out to him after he expressed his faith in my honesty and integrity. Results: he offered me $150 per month with the privilege of putting my own price on anything I wanted out of the store. We truly felt God had opened another window in Heaven and showered us with His blessing.

And also just about that time another package fell out of that window of Heaven. One morning when Mother waked up she found another sleepy little fellow in bed with her. We were so proud of that gift that we called James Scobee in honor of his grandpa on Mamma's side. To this day that name Scobee has never forsaken him. I cannot say just what that name signifies but his character grew and developed and his destiny is shaping itself. I think more will be said in these memoirs about this fine boy before the curtain is drawn. And so now there were seven hungry mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, minds and wills to control and educate and shelter.

We had a horse and surrey which we had acquired in my business. I had need of it as the bike was too small. Also, this possession added prestige to the family, as a Cadillac does today, and that was one of the things a rising young man in Hollywood should have: prestige. Houses and horses and automobiles were mere accessories. My prestige led me up also in our church relationship in Hollywood. In those days we had a fine congregation of the most "influential" people. They sensed my willingness to become a "wheel horse," and I was placed on the building committee. The church was then meeting in the Masonic Hall. We selected a new site and today those towering steeples of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood stand as a memorial to those pioneers who "had a mind to work" and help "build the walls of Jericho." I was made the first Superintendent of that Sunday school and ordained an elder by Dr. Patterson -- the Sky Pilot.

Those were very memorable days and those memories have a deep place in my subconscious mind. The new store in which I had found employment was as modern as any general merchandise store of today, but something must have been the matter with its management. My boss decided on a vacation to Catalina for a week. He told me he had never run away from his business before, but felt he could leave it with me, since my honesty and integrity had been proven. The vacation stretched to two weeks, and the business was still solvent when he returned. Hollywood was getting too modern for him so he concluded one day to sell out. He did!!! Again it became my lot to become unemployed, as I was sold out with the business. However, I had been making hay against such a day as this, and so now being fortified against this emergency, my experience was my best asset. Financially I had none. A few years later we had an old farmer friend Mr. Everett who told me one day that if you ever lose anything, the best place to find it is to go look where you lost it. And so I found my experience helped a lot.

I found a vacant store on Hollywood Boulevard next to an undertaker's establishment, and I concluded that spot must be the place I was to make my fortune in the grocery business. How could I do that without any money? In the earlier days in California it was a common practice to "trade out" one's talents or commodities to someone for his. I needed shelving for my store and since a shoe store was selling out I traded groceries for shelving. I was no carpenter, I had a friend who was, so we traded groceries for carpenter-work. I needed hay for the horses and traded groceries for hay, etc. A life insurance policy came in handy to help finance a horse and delivery wagon. This outfit proved to be an asset to my prestige in our social life. The horse was a large bob-tailed nag, having stylish bearing. The wagon was of the Park variety, a two-seater, the rear one used on Sundays only. It was comparable to the station wagon of today and shined brightly too. It was a perfect picture with Mother and Grandma and Papa, and Elizabeth, Dudley, Edward and Scobee animating the outfit, and we trailed into church with our heads held high.

My own grocery store was a going business; at least I thought so. Of course we kept books. More horses and wagons were bought; Old Billie the bay, Harry the sorrel, Dick the brown, and Babe the runaway. One feature of the modern grocery was the team of little mules, Punch and Judy. Nobody knew their ages but I believe everybody in Hollywood knew those mules. They were a little slow but we always knew where to find them. They afterward died on The Ranch.

The new house we built had become inadequate and our prosperity prompted us to sell it and build bigger and better. This we did in 1907. This house had two BATHROOMS, one for each floor for convenience sake. This home is located at 1943 Wilcox Ave., Hollywood, and has been the seat of many changes and abuse.

Another accessory to the family was a cow. What is life in a family without a cow?

I do not remember if it was because we had more milk than we could use and needed help, or that the stars and moon began chasing each other around in the solar system causing the heavens again to blossom forth, for a California thunder-storm washed another beaming, bouncing, beautiful baby boy into our household March 14, 1908. There was an uncle in the family who took quite an interest in this little fellow, so we called him Norman. This boy came into this world "on the crest of the tide," and if I had not been present to rescue him he may not have landed safely. The doctor who came later complimented me on my bravery. Norman has meant much to our household and has given us all lessons in neatness.

The Grim Reaper seemed to leave us in the hands of God, and He was very good to us -- so good in fact that he must have put a bug in the ear of that old long-legged bird to keep an eye on us and not overlook us with his wares. And it didn't. I mean it did. It didn't overlook us but on April 22, 1910, it did leave us another package which we kept and named Ralph Ruggles, the Ralph after the doctor and the Ruggles for Grandma. That baby was so quiet and modest I think he must have felt embarrassed in yelling for his meals. God had a purpose in welding this link in the family chain. He is now an ordained elder in the Presbyterian church.

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