Tony Basques


Middle school

Previous chapter: Childhood

A photo of me and Dad in front of a movie theater
Dad and me, 1940

Eventually I had to make a decision. I felt sorry for my dad. Barbara was with my mom. I wasn't happy in Oakland. It wasn't an escape. I just felt sorry for my dad. I asked Mom if I could go live with Dad. I broke her heart. I know I did. But I'll never forget how kind and how thoughtful she was. She allowed me to do it.

So I went to live with my dad and his mom, Maria Perez Perry. She was from Zafarraya in Granada. She didn't speak any English. So I had to speak Spanish in the house. I figure that's where I learned the bulk of it because my Dad spoke Spanish to her. Me and my dad spoke English, though.

Living with Grandma was an accommodation. She would wash clothes and she would cook and she kind of took care of the house. Not very well but you know, she wasn't young. She would go down with her shopping bag and do shopping on Mission Street. My dad would get mad at her a lot. She did silly things. Leave a pot on the stove. Overcook things. Innocent things but I can remember their little tiffs.

My dad really did take good care of me. He worked hard. He'd come home and cook. He liked his wine. He'd always fall asleep on the sofa, a chair. Kind of a way for him to relax.

Bad memory. It was my birthday and I had the mumps. Mumps was like measles but it was swollen glands. It seemed to me I had mumps on one birthday and measles on another birthday. My grandmother never forgave my mother for getting divorced. They were not on good terms. My mom comes to the house to see how I am. My grandmother wouldn't let her in. They were screaming at each other. I can remember my mom shouting, "I'm his mother and I'm going to see him!" My grandmother shouting, "no, not in the house, you're not coming in the house!" My mother prevailed and she got up to my bedside and she was all frazzled. I haven't thought of that for years. Interesting that I'm reflecting on this. I think she felt like the bad person because she left my dad.

Even though they were separated, they cared about their children. They really, really did.

I would see my mom maybe 2 or 3 times a month. I would either take the train over to see her or she would come to my grandmother's and we would have dinner there. It wasn't a daily thing but it was periodic. I always feel guilty and I always admired her for her willingness to accommodate me. I felt sorry for my dad. He was by himself.

This is when I started Monroe Elementary school. I think it was 4th grade. It's in the Excelsior. There was an Excelsior elementary and a Monroe elementary. Clara Tregenza, my future wife, lived across the street from Monroe. It was Corpus Christi Parish.

The exterior of Monroe school
Monroe elementary (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

I was in the Scouts. Troop 43. I started out as a Cub Scout. We had meetings in the church hall. You had your den mother. We did hikes, which was a remarkable experience for me. And then you start working for merit badges.

It was the first time I did any camping. I'd never been in a sleeping bag before. I never had a sleeping bag. I told my dad that I had to get a sleeping bag. Being as frugal as he was, he took an Indian blanket and a big needle, and he sewed it. He made a sleeping bag. I was impressed. Shows how naive I was.

I remember we were at Sigmund Stern Grove. On the corner of 19th and Sloat. It's a huge, huge park. Big trees and everything. That was the first time in my life I camped out. I remember the scout master walking by as we're getting into our sleeping bags. I remember being cold. But I thought to myself, "well, I don't know any better. I've never done this before." Meanwhile the scout master is watching me get into this blanket. He said to me, "I don't think you're gonna make it in this." I think he gave me his sleeping bag for the night. I'm sure he did. I always remember that as an act of generosity and thoughtfulness.

A photo of a road with many trees
Eucalyptus Drive, Stern Grove (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

In Sigmund Stern Grove there were buildings and they had arts and crafts in the buildings. We had instructors teach us rope tying. I remember coloring in a certain book about scouting. Someone must have cooked for us. We were too young.

A Victorian building surrounded by trees
Trocadero Inn, Stern Grove (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

I had a pretty good life growing up at my dad's. 363 Edenburgh is where we lived. We had a lot of kids on our street. The Espostos alone made a lot. Kids came from around the corner, too, on Madrid. Excelsior playground was 3 blocks from where I lived. I probably spent all of my waking hours at that park if I wasn't in school. I would only go home to eat something and then go back to the park. We'd play every game known to man with a lot of kids. Softball. Basketball. They had a great park director, too. His name was Andy. They would organize field trips. It was good. Wholesome.

It was during those years I met my best friend to this day, Ronnie Riggs. He lives in Merced. During the war we had metal drives for the war effort. We sold war bonds. We had savings stamps. We got wrapped up into the war effort, selling stamps at Monroe. I remember Mrs. Baines and Mrs. Horn, my two teachers. I don't know if I met my future wife Clara right then and there but I started to play soccer. Probably one of the first organized teams I played on. In the schoolyard. And I played soccer in junior high school. That was at James Denman junior high. That's where I met the Espostos. The Espostos to this day still have a few restaurants up and down the Peninsula. The Espostos had about 9 or 10 kids and they lived 2 doors down from Clara. We would play games at nighttime in the street with the streetlight: One foot off the gutter, Kick the can, to name a couple.

My dad was very generous. He was loving. He was a very emotional man. It wasn't much that would give him some cause for tears. When I had friends over we would play a game called Spoons in the dining room. One time my dad had just refinished the dining room table. He painted it and painted it. We were playing and, I forget how the game works, but there's a part where you grab the spoon. So my dad went out to grab a spoon and he put a gouge in the beautiful table top. He laughed.

We had a tandem garage. We could park five cars in that garage. On one occasion Dad was making the showcases for the candy store in the garage. He had the frame and the glass. I had my baseball glove and my ball. The garage had cement foundation. I would throw it like Steve McQueen did in the movie and it would bounce back. I was doing that and Dad was working. Then, he said, "oh look at the little mouse." I threw my ball at the mouse and it went KATUNK KATUNK... right through the glass. Dad started to laugh. You had to be there. I was astounded. This little mouse created that big problem. I deserved to be kicked to the moon but he just laughed. I couldn't believe it.

Another time, however, wasn't so funny. My dad had a planter in the entryway to our home on Edinburgh Street. My sister Barbara knocked it over and the dirt went all over the living room. My dad came out of the kitchen to see what had happened. I got the first and only slap of my life. Right in the face. He was so mad. What made it worse was when he found out it was Barbara. That hurt him more. My feelings were so hurt.

Dad helped me build a coaster, which was a piece of 1x10 and 2 pieces of 2x4s with ball bearings for wheels. We'd go to machine shops to see if they had any used bearings. And then you'd sit on it and ride. You had to have a rope to hold on. You asked about brakes? No such thing. To tell you how naive we were. We would go around the corner on Brazil. Somebody would be on Edinburgh and somebody else on Madrid to let us know if any cars were coming. "OK! Tony's gonna come down." I'm coming and all of a sudden a car would pull out... "STOOOOOP!" Like I said, we had no brakes. We'd have to go into the curb or into a house or something. It's amazing we didn't get killed. Those things went fast.

We also had what were called Pushes. You get a 2x4 and another 2x4. We'd take our skates. Separate them. Nail the front half on the bottom. Nail the back half on the bottom. The 2x4 had a piece of dowel or broom handle. We'd put bottle caps so we had decorations on the front. Kinda like skateboards. There'd be times where there were 8 or 9 of us guys going down hill. You couldn't turn the front. You were on your own. It was a piece of wood. You lean, and you lean, and you lean.

Clara came into my life when I was 12 or 13. She lived right on the block where we'd play. There was no chemistry, I just knew her. As I mentioned earlier I was playing soccer. We won the championship and they were gonna have a banquet. So I asked Clara if she would like to come to the banquet. That was our first date. She was 3 years younger. Did I hold her hand? Probably not. The banquet was on Ocean Avenue, a block off of Mission. I couldn't tell you anything about it. They may have had sandwiches or something. We got trophies. We walked there and we walked home.

Clara's first holy communion photo
Clara's first holy communion

There were times we went to the show. She looooooved to go to the dances at Glen Park recreation center. There was a kid named Rossi. Angelo Rossi. He could really dance. We'd go to Glen Park and she would dance with him. I mean I danced, but not as good as him.

Clara's parents were Arthur and Adeline. They were both born in San Francisco. Arthur was from the Marina district, Cow Hollow to be precise. Adeline was from the Excelsior, the Outer Mission, Colma. Clara's father's ancestors were from Cornwall, England. They were British. Clara was named after an aunt in England, Clara Daniels. Everyone thinks the name Tregenza is Italian. It's British. There's a Tregenza castle in England. Clara's father was a laborer. He worked on the streetcars for a while. And then during the war he got a job in the shipyards. Ship production. The war effort. He worked for Dinwiddie construction, which was a big construction company. He might have been a teetotaler. He'd go downstairs and sneak a drink once in a while. Because his wife Adeline didn't like it when he drank. Clara was like the little sister because her 2 brothers and her sister were much older. So she was spoiled. She was really spoiled.

Clara's dad, Arthur, loved boxing. They didn't have a TV. He would go down on Mission Street in our neighborhood. During the advent of TV, one of the furniture stores would turn on a TV and put it in the front window. There'd always be 5, 6, 7 people just watching. And they'd have the fights on. I remember he'd go down and watch the fights. He loved it.

A retail store for home appliances
Klor's TV store on Mission Street, 1954 (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

During the Depression Clara's family was pretty poor so the brothers worked in the CCC camps. California Conservation Corps. It was designed to provide needy families with work opportunities for children so they could be fed and cared for.

There were parties. Parties where we'd play spin the bottle. Hoo hoo hoo! My first kiss was with Lilian Riva. She and I were very good friends. Not romantic but she was at the party. I can't imagine what that kiss was. It was horrible for me because I was so shy. I was really shy.

They also had dances at the rec centers. Once in a while at school they'd have dances. We had a group of kids who played at Balboa called the Blue Boys. They were a dance band. They were good.

I was in a dance band, too. I played the trumpet. My dad played the trumpet, too. Played at home all the time. He would play at Italian picnics. He would play at El Patio ballroom. He would play at Sweets Ballroom. We played duets. He'd play, I was learning to play. We'd play the scale together. He didn't need music. I needed the music. One of the first songs I played with him on the trumpet was American Patrol. He would play song after song after song. No sheet music. He had his band. Band players. I used to go to rehearsals and watch them on Lombard Street.

During World War II, there was national patriotism which I don't think could exist today. It was a war effort everyone was involved in. Everyone got in the effort. A lot of pride. They had the Rosie the Riveters, the women who were working out in Hunter's Point. Clara's father, Arthur, worked at Hunter's Point. It paid good money. It was good labor. They were building ships for the war effort. Liberty ships. They had to get ships built fast because they were carrying troops or carrying cargo for the war effort.

2 men and 1 woman working on electronics
Splicers at Hunters Point, 1943 (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)
The interior of a machine shop
Machine shop, Hunters Point, 1943 (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

The war theoretically started in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor but it had started in Europe before that because Hitler was moving into Poland. So when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor the United States declared war and we went into a period while I was in high school of rationing. You couldn't get butter. You couldn't get sugar. You couldn't get, well, if you got meat, it was rationed. Depending on the size of your family you'd get these ration tickets and you could go to the market, you could get a pound of sugar. There were certain things you couldn't get because they were going to the troops.

Instead of butter you'd get this margarine. Lard. It was white. In a big #10 can. And they'd give you a little packet of coloring, it was kind of golden. It poured into the lard and with your hands you'd mix it. Made it look like butter. We did not have a refrigerator back then. It was a cooler. A pantry that had a screen behind it that let cold air in. I remember the margarine was there. Then we got an icebox. The icemen would deliver ice to your ice box. They'd have big hooks, and they'd hook the ice on and they'd have a leather vest. In those days they walked into the house, put it in the ice box, and leave. Like the milkman, he would leave milk. He'd walk in. I'd never know how much we paid. But it was nice to have an ice box. As far as the milk they'd just leave it on your porch or front door. You'd have a rack and if you put 3 empty bottles they would replace the 3 empty bottles. They delivered other things, too. Cream. And the milk bottle. Glass. On the top 2 inches was the cream. That is where we got our cream. Dad had coffee, I think my grandmother drank tea. I remember regularly the milk being delivered.

To support the war effort we collected tin foil because it was used for manufacturing armaments. Tin cans. Rubber bands. Metal. Something else, I can't think of it. Metal was a big, big thing. Scrap metal. They had collection areas, something like they do now with recycling. However they had these stations and Ronnie Riggs, who lived on the same block as me, probably my dearest friend at the time, we knew a lady who had a discarded water heater. In those days the water heaters were all metal. It was junk and she said we could have it. We had to get it down to the collection station. When I say down, we had to go down some hills, and that thing weighed a ton. So what do we do? We're rolling it down, and every once in a while it would slip, and it would take off, and God knows if it hit any cars, went off in the middle of the street. But we got it down to Mission Street and rolled it over. And we really felt pretty good. Ronnie and I are still good friends. He now lives in Merced. We talk at our birthdays.

Two boys and a dog next to a pile of metal
Two San Francisco boys collecting scrap metal (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

It was not unusual for people to be very conservative. Gasoline. My dad had a little pickup truck, a Model T, and I remember he had a stamp. I think it was an A or B stamp. You'd go to the gas station and the stamp represented your occupation. If you needed your car for work you got a certain stamp. If it was just for pleasure you'd get another stamp. Since he had the grocery store at the time he got the work stamp. You'd go to the gas station and you could probably pump 2 gallons. I think gasoline was maybe 5 or 10 cents a gallon. Rationing.

By now my dad's working at See's Candy. He had to close the candy store on Ocean Avenue because he couldn't get sugar. It was going to the war effort. See's could get it because they had contracts with the military. Of course in the C rations there was a chocolate bar, and See's was one of the big manufacturers. When my dad closed the store he was immediately hired by See's as their head candymaker. So he's working at See's now, which was on Market Street, where Valencia meets Market. That's where the factory was.

There was a war bond issuance supporting the war. War bonds cost you $18.75 and in 10 years they'd be worth $25. And it all went to the war effort. We couldn't afford to buy the bonds outright but we did get the war stamps. In his paycheck, my dad could opt to have war bonds deducted or stamps, like green stamps. They'd give us booklets for the stamps. Each stamp was $1. When you got your book filled you would turn it into a bank and you'd get a war bond. Every once in a while I'd put 50 cents in. For my birthday I got some money. Money from the tooth fairy. I think there was a time when we probably had 15 or 20 war bonds. And after 10 years we cashed them in.

Soldiers in full combat gear and a fighter plane in the middle of a San Francisco street
War bond drive, Post Street, 1943 (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

We had practice air raids. Clara's father was an air raid warden. He wore a helmet. He had a whistle. He had a sidepack where he carried flashlights and a whistle. His job was to go around during the practice air raid. If there was light coming from your house, you would hear about it. He'd hit the house with a stick or something and yell "get that light out!" We had shades made. Blackout shades. If you were gonna have lights on, you had to have that shade down. Because in a bombing raid you can't let the bombers know that there's people down below. So everything was dark. No cars driving. Everything stopped. Lights out.

A man in a gas mask and a helmet whirling a clacker
Air raid warden conducting a test, 1942 (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

I saw the Japanese internment artifacts at Tanforan. In San Bruno. It was really sad, because one of my closest friends was Japanese. I don't remember his name. Somehow we became good friends. He lived on Mission Street. His family had a laundry. "The Japs" were so hated. Now we're having brothers and sisters going into the service and getting killed. If a family lost someone in the war they would have a beautiful ribbon hanging in the window. No, it was like a shade, white with gold edge, and it had a star. That meant you had someone that was killed in the war. Every once in a while you'd see a house with one of these shades. Then they also had the same type of thing with the flag. That meant you had someone serving in the military. And that was not uncommon. I know that we had military installations near Half Moon Bay. Clara's brother, Tom, was stationed at one of those installations. It was like a bunker.

Japanese American teenage boys playing football in jeans and T-shirts
Japanese Americans playing touch football at the Tanforan internment camp (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

When I say there was a national patriotism, I mean there was a lot of camaraderie. People reaching out. They had what was called cantines. When the military came into town on leave, a lot of the women volunteered at these cantines. They'd make coffee, donuts, sandwiches. It was a place for guys who maybe just came from a horrible situation to be treated kindly and remember civilian life. A lot of romances started in those cantines.

San Francisco was a major hub of military activity. We had the Presidio. We had the naval shipyard at Hunters Point. There were military men pretty much always on Market street. Visiting, you know. We're talking about national patriotism.

I remember once shortly after the war they found a torpedo that had washed up on the shore near the Golden Gate bridge. That was pretty threatening. I don't know how it happened but it washed up.

Men dragging a torpedo out of the water
Navy demolition experts dragging the head of a Japanese torpedo to shore (Image credit: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library)

We'd see patriotic war movies at the Granada theater in the Excelsior district. Movies about Guadalcanal, Wake Island, Iwo Jima. John Wayne was big in those. He was the captain, he was the military. "The Japs" were our enemy. We also saw movies at the El Rey in Ingleside. There was always a double feature. After the first movie there would be an intermission. During the intermission there would be an actor or actress on the screen, asking us to contribute to the war effort. Jimmie Stewart was big on that. Gene Kelly too. Some of the beautiful women. "Please, donate. The ushers are going to be coming by." They had these oatmeal containers, they'd pass these down the aisles and you could hear clunk, coins going in. It'd take 'em maybe 5 minutes to go through the show. That money would go to the war effort. As I said, national patriotism. There would always be "The News Of The Day." Or "The March Of Time," with music. Those were the logos. They would show pictures of battle. Dunkirk. The Battle of the Bulge. Bombings. Aircraft carriers. Ships being sunk in the Pacific. Nazis. The Normandy Landing, where we lost so many troops. There would be soldiers floating in the water. Maybe we saw those things later. Whether they showed that at that time, I don't remember. Any thing to excite patriotic revenge.

One of my middle school portraits
Me in middle school

Being 10 or 11 I was too young to be drafted. My father had to go down and register for the draft. He was born in 1904, this is 1941 or 1942. So he was 37 or 38. He was classified what they call 4F. In other words, they had his name and information but he wasn't on the cycle to be drafted. He was married. He was older. He had children. They didn't want to take someone that age. Most of the guys that were drafted were 18 to 23. They had all kinds of different classifications. I remember going with him to the auditorium of the local grammar school where he registered. I was proud. My dad was registering for the draft. We had neighbors, go into the service. The Fuskas brothers. It was like having family go in.

For college-aged men it was not unusual at the onset to be taken out of college. Some time, depending where you were academically, you could finish up on the condition that you'd go to officers training with a college degree. Which was OK. And ROTC was big in the high schools. I played in the ROTC band. We had to wear uniforms and march.

Next chapter: High school