“Is you my sistah?” (wt)

Houston, 1958 The ride from Houston was long, but at least the bus was air-conditioned. The ride gave him time to think about what he was leaving behind: an empty house, his belongings left sitting in the middle of the floor of the shell that had been his home with his wife and baby daughter, Barbara. Pitiful looking, that small box of his things. He’d borrowed a suitcase from a work buddy, placed the remnants of his life into it, shut the door, put the keys in the mailbox, and headed for the bus depot. He had an uncle, on his mama’s side, and a baby sister out West. Baby Sis was in Portland, Uncle in L.A. He bought a ticket for California. Uncle had a business and he was certain he would be welcome.

On the bus, he headed for a seat as close to the back and right side as he could. Finding an open seat next to a window, he folded himself into the seat, turned the hearing-aid in his left ear as low as he could, stuck his Stetson over his eyes, and promptly slept.

Los Angeles, 1955

“Where are we going?” Baby Sis to her friend, Mildred. “Somewhere the baby can breathe.” Many things had happened, many experiences had by Baby Sis after she ran away from Texas at 17. First, she tried Portland, but the place was too remote, her cousins too citified and straight-laced, always going to church and expecting her to wait on them hand and foot. She’d worked at Luby’s and had quite enough of cleaning up after other folks.

Within nine months, she moved to Los Angeles near her maternal Uncle. She met a Mama’s boy, married him, and soon left him for the peace that being on one’s own can bring. Met a Korea War Navy man, enjoyed his company, worked for a doctor as his office manager, birthed that little girl in the picture, moved into that house, started working in the garment industry. Always practical, and skilled at whatever she chose to turn her hand to, Baby Sis learned to sew. Work in the industry was plentiful, paid fairly well, and Boots was very supportive of her having to take care of a child on her own.

“You sit there and learn to operate the machine. Make some dresses for your little girl.”

It was Mildred who got her the job, introduced her to Boots, who was the first woman Baby Sis had ever met who owned a business as large as Maloney’s. Not only did they make garments, they designed, cut patterns, made first samples, as well as production runs.

The little house Mildred brought her to near Christmas that year was a godsend. Mildred couldn’t abide the single Baby Sis had rented when she came to LA.

“You need a separate bedroom or you’ll give the child lung troubles, breathing that cook smoke.”

The landlord was a Jehovah’s Witness. He and his wife were simple, good people. They rented the one-bedroom house to Baby Sis for less than the cost of the single. Mr. Lambert readily came if called to repair or address some problem, of which there were very few. Built in 1923, the house had hardwood floors, built-in cupboards in the kitchen, a meal counter that allowed conversation between the kitchen and the living room and one could sit at the counter and eat. The place was neat and tidy, like a little ship. Most people said it was like a doll’s house. Small front and back yards, with a clothesline out back, next to the workshop. Mr. Lambert had equipped his workshop with shelves, cabinets, and a sturdy table made of thick, dark wood. He worked wood and metal in that shop. Likely, he built the house out of that shop.

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