After reading Laurie’s last blog entry and then discovering all the other tales he shared, I elected to share a few of my stories of my childhood while growing up in the northern Mohave Desert in California.
I am Richard David Joyce Jr born to Richard David Joyce born to Martin Joyce.
The U.S. Navy commissioned a new base to be built in a very remote area of the Mohave Desert in 1940’s. The base was called the Naval Ordinance Test Station(NOTS) at China Lake, California. My Dad was stationed there in 1946 and it was there where he met my Mom, Lenore Sturgeon. They were married in November, 1946 and instead of shipping out with Dad when he was ordered to sea. My Mom and I along with my step brother and sister stayed in China Lake until Dad was discharged.
Although, there was a very small community that existed outside of the base, it could not meet the needs of all the civilians that worked for the Navy. Thus, the Navy granted the civilians many of the same privileges as the military personal. This included our housing, schools, medical services, dental services, commissary where we would buy our food, clothes, and other necessities, barber shop, movie theater, swim center, tennis courts, golf course and sports fields for basketball, baseball, softball, American football.
Housing was provided based on pay grade, the same as the military. This was a big factor in growing up on the base.
When Dad was discharged from the Navy, he returned to China Lake and was hired as a firefighter. We were able to move into a row house that I knew as the prefabs. This was the lowest level of housing for families available on the base.
I was very, very young when we lived in the prefabs and my memories are very limited. The roads were not paved and we really did not have yards. I can remember small front porches where we would sit and play. I remember hearing tales of my older step brother burning his leg badly while playing with a blow torch. What I remember most while living in the prefabs is eating homemade popsicles made by freezing coolaide in ice trays that had a toothpick stuck in each cube to where when the ice cubes were popped out of the tray each cube had a toothpick to hold the flavored ice cube.
Dad worked hard and soon his pay grade allowed us to move into a duplex called the Hawthornes.
The Navy did an exceptional job in building the community within the base. With the Hawthones, we had paved streets, street lights, fire plugs, front and back yards, many, many shade and fruit trees, and alleys with our dumpster (trash containers) and power lines. It is here where I have my fondest childhood memories. It is here where I grew up with many of the same kids that lived eight to ten streets away from my house.
Kids in my neighborhood were always outside unless we were in school, eating a meal, or sleeping. Across the street from my house, we had a fire plug that was protected by round four posts connected by a top rail also made from 5 inch pipe. This protective rail provided a great place to sit with our feet resting on the fire plug. This was always home base, no matter what game we were playing. It was always the place to meet to figure out what we would be doing next. Over the years we made rubber band guns using old bike inner tubes cut to make a lot of rubber bands that were linked together to fit our guns. We would also take old sheets, cut out a front and back, sew them together to make uniforms. If we weren’t playing army, or cowboys and indians, or cops and robbers, we would be building stilts, digging tunnels in someones back yard, or creating “rivers” with a water hose to race our hand made boats.
When we weren’t hanging at the home base, we were playing baseball, touch football, swimming, or going to a movie.
Summer evenings were always the best. I lived a couple of miles away from the baseball diamonds, swimming pools, and movie theater. we would walk through the neighborhoods helping ourselves to the fresh fruit hanging over the various backyard fences. It was always too easy to eat too many apricots or grapes making ourselves sick to our stomachs. It didn’t matter which baseball teams were playing, we always knew someone that was playing. We did have a 10 pm curfew and we were always at home before curfew.
I lived in the Hawthornes until I entered the seventh grade. Dad had earned enough promotions to allow us to move up into a nicer duplex but the live long friendships had already been established. Even though I lost my home base from being across the street, I would continue to meet my friends on some field ready to play whatever game was in season.
Images from High Desert Memories
“The first phase of housing development at China Lake is complete in April l948. Located in the distant South portion of NOTS are the Prefabs, Hawthorns and Duplexes. The Prefabs were gone by Summer l963. The New Duplexes weren’t completed for another four years. Left to Right Center is the Officers Club, Bank, Library, Commissary, Navy X, Theater, Enlisted Men’s club and Station Pool. Burroughs High was located one block South. Good shade trees were a few years away.”
Notice as you look from the top of the picture to the bottom, the lower pay grade housing is the furthest from the Commissary (grocery/ general store), Theater, and Swimming Pool which is located in the center of the picture. Navy Officers and top Scientists housing is located in the bottom left.
The second picture was taken in 1964. The Prefabs no longer existed. For me, this picture shows all the neighborhoods and all our trees. Here is the caption for the second picture.
“ Development was fairly complete at NOTS by l964 with the new Burroughs High School adjacent to Wherry Housing (top L), the New Duplexes and the All Faith Chapel (lower center). Ridgecrest and China Lake Blvds and the Midway can be located the distance. A noticeable increase in cars and parking lots can be found.
In the bottom left is a better picture of the Navy Officer housing along with the Officer Club that had it’s own beautiful outside swimming pool.