In 1952 I was 14 years old and lived with my parents in a rented house (2-room + bath with sheet linoleum on the wood floor) in Carlsbad, NM. It seemed big to us, since we had been living in a 28 ft. trailer since 1947 when we left the cold, damp climate of Pennsylvania, pulling our home behind us with Dad’s old, but powerful Lincoln Zephyr, with a homemade dolly between it and the trailer to take some of the weight and make it easier to turn.
Dad and his Lincoln
We had lived for 8 months in Mobile, AL, then 3 years in Ft. Worth, TX, but the humidity seemed to follow us. Finding the drier climate that we needed and a job as an auto mechanic for my dad in Carlsbad, we had lived in a trailer park called “Dun Roamin’” until school was about to start. Dad managed to sell the trailer and we rented the 2-room house from a couple whom we met at the small Methodist church we had found.
It was within walking distance of my school and our church, which were pretty much the institutions around which our lives revolved at that time. Both of the rooms in the house served multiple purposes, of course. Half of the front room served as my parents’ bedroom with one closet that was back-to-back with mine in the back room. The other half of the front room had a sofa which could fold out as a bed, and an old studio piano that my dad had bought for me the previous year.
The back room had an army cot for me on one wall beside the window, with just enough space to open my closet, which had 2 racks for hanging clothes and a chest of drawers for knits and underwear. The rest of the back room was a kitchen with table and chairs for meals or anything else we needed a table for. Dad used to roll his cigarettes there out of pre-cut papers with one glued edge and Prince Albert pipe tobacco, on a small manual machine. I used to roll them for him sometimes, too. My mother must have had her wringer washer there, but since she was friends with the landlady next door, she often used her new automatic washer. (I don’t think we ever had anything new, except for our clothes, since Mom was an excellent seamstress.)
Between the two rooms was a hall no longer than 8 ft. On one side was the bathroom with toilet, sink, and shower. (When I graduated to high school, it was too far away for me to walk. So we moved to a slightly larger rented house where we had private bedrooms and I could still walk to and from school if I had to.)
But while we were living in the 2-room house, I had just started 9th grade when we received word that my grandmother in Pennsylvania had died. Back then, nobody questioned a request for 3 weeks off from school for a death in the family out of state. Nobody that we knew got on an airplane and flew across the country and back for a funeral, and even though my dad had once earned a pilot’s license for single-engine planes, he had neither the money nor the trust in a plane that he could not fly himself, to make the trip by air. We loaded his beloved old Lincoln Zephyr with suitcases and food, and we drove for 5 days each way, to spend about a week with family that we had not seen since 1947.
(Not the Actual TV Set)
On the way back, we carried one of the first TV sets ever made: a Dumont black-and-white model with a 9-inch round screen. It sat in the corner of the front bedroom, so we could sit on the couch and watch it. The set was connected to a large antenna on a pole just outside the corner window. In those days, the antenna had to be turned in order to receive signals from the 2 or 3 stations that were available, which was tedious if you had to go outside to do it while someone else monitored the picture on the screen. So my dad rigged a system of gears and a bicycle chain through the bottom of the wooden window frame, with a locking handle that he could turn from inside the house while looking at the TV screen. (I often wonder what he could have achieved if he had not left school after the 8th grade.)
There was no cable TV in 1952, so our viewing was limited to local news or events and recorded shows that the local stations bought. Sometimes enormous antenna towers were erected in an effort to receive distant signals. (Compare that with present-day satellite systems which can relay signals from around the world.)
But one Sunday, my dad became a celebrity, and was written up in the local newspaper because he had been able to tune in on part of a World Series baseball game by way of a signal received in Mexico City reflected off a massive low overcast sitting over just the right area to “skip” to our antenna. The broadcast was in Spanish, though the game was being played in California, USA.
We were not yet living in New Mexico when the UFO crash-landed near Roswell, about 70 miles away from Carlsbad. We heard speculation about it, but I can’t recall that anyone I knew talked about it much. It is a much bigger deal now than it ever was then.