The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson

CARMICHAEL, continued

without comments


I hate cooked carrots: I love ‘em raw, or in carrot & raisin salad, but they (and most root-veggies) take on a bad flavor when cooked. Now, my folks generally would put up with my tantrum when Mom served carrots, asking me to “just eat a few”, but I was a stubborn tyke and they usually gave up. So, I thought it was a particularly bad choice to serve carrots on my BIRTHDAY, and I absolutely refused to eat any of them. My Dad must have had a bad day, because he was determined; so, as never before (or ever again), he took me out into the kitchen and forced those damn carrots down my throat! I suspect you know what’s coming: as soon as Dad turned his back, I launched those friggin carrots (and everything else in my stomach) all over the floor. My Mom (who I am sure was aghast at Dad’s behavior) made him clean up the mess. I never had to eat carrots again!

Raw Carrots



Our little spread of five acres had mostly almond trees, which — by golly — produced almonds! The problem was, we could not afford to have them harvested by others: we did it ourselves. Mostly, I was too young to get involved with the heavy work, but I could be pressed into service removing the hulls. (We sold the nuts to a co-op: they fetched a better price if they had no hulls, and money was tight in those days). Gad, how I hated that work! It was dirty, the fuzz got into your eyes, nose, and elsewhere causing severe itching. It should come as no surprise that I still do not like almonds!


Across the road from our place was a group of olive trees. No one ever harvested them: they were just there. But, although olives eventually turn black while still on the tree, they taste HORRIBLE: olives must be “cured” before they become edible. But one of our favorite little tricks was to put a couple of the UNcured olives in the dish of olives Mom like to have if we had guests. We boys knew which ones were uncured, but the guests didn’t. With much giggling we’d watch a guest try to get one of the bad olives down without revealing they tasted awful. Mom, of course got on to us soon enough and would carefully inspect the dishes of olives she put out, thus ending that little prank.


But we had lots of other pranks! One was to put a table-spoon of vinegar into the coffee urn at church socials. It does nothing to the flavor of the coffee, but it makes any added cream curdle. Here we were in the middle of farm country, where fresh cream was the very finest, but it curdled. We three really were hellions, and  soon became suspect whenever anything “went wrong”.


All of us loathed beef-kidneys and beef-liver. I still do! But Dad loved them, so Mom would buy them from time to time. She always left them out prominently, so the three of us would be absolutely beastly all day, and would be punished by being put to bed without any dinner. Mom always relented, and allowed us to come down later to eat bread and milk with sugar and cinnamon on top, which we all loved. Only many years later did I realize the whole thing with entrails was a charade: when Mom & Dad wanted a quiet dinner alone, serving something we hated was their way of getting it!


On the other hand, we all loved tongue, and in a farm community, they were plentiful and cheap.

The only problem was, we kids got the back part, where there were all those veins and things that were kinda “icky”. It took me many years to appreciate the fact Mom saved the front—the good part—to put in Dad’s sandwiches which he always took to work.It was the same thing with chicken: we had one in some form every Sunday. But there were three of us boys and only two drumsticks. So we fought over who got what part and who had the take the back (”yuck”). The second-joint (thigh) we never saw! These were set aside for Dad to take to work. Once I got away from home and discovered chicken thighs, I couldn’t get enough of them. I still can’t…

Mom took very good care of my Dad: he got the goodies while we got the scraps. Not that we were not well fed: all through the war we had beef on the table because we raised and slaughtered our own cows.

raw beef tongues at the butcher's

Beef Tongue


Shortly after we moved to Carmichael, I tripped while running and happened to fall on a board that had a rusty nail sticking up: that nail went right into my left knee. Ouch! The local Doctor fixed me up, and as I was young, things healed quickly enough. Nevertheless, I malingered long after I was able to walk without a limp, and climbed the stairs to my bedroom on all-four. So, one day,  Mom casually remarked, “If that knee of yours doesn’t heal, you won’t be able to go with us to the Fair.”

World's Fair Treasure Island

World's Fair Treasure Island 1940

“The Fair” was the World’s Fair on Treasure Island, held over into most of 1940. Needless to say, my “wounded knee” healed right up, and our little family of five spent a day at the Fair. I still have the 16mm films Dad took there, which form the real basis for my memories of the event.


My upbringing on the farm led to my writing Animal Crackers, (1993) (it’s on Nifty), and a neighbor’s old Fordson tractor, like this one

Fordson Tractor 1942

Old Fordson Tractor 1942

is mentioned in Heartbreak Motel (2002), except that Ted’s Fordson, once new like this, had long since become a massive pile of rust. Still, the first harbinger of Spring for me was always finding Ted grinding the valves, getting it ready for spring discing, as I dropped in to beg for cookies from his wife.


A neighbor had a bull that he kept for breeding purposes. When there was a cow in heat around, he acted as all bulls do, but the rest of the time he was as docile as a lamb.

Dad used to have students from the city out to the farm now and then: city-slickers, we called them, and we had a series of tricks to pull, besides the raw olives mentioned earlier. One of these was to visit the American River that flowed not far from us. There were any number of ways to get there, but our favorite was through our neighbor’s paddock. As we walked along the fence to a stile, we would explain that the bull was ferocious, and if he moved towards us, we had to run as fast as we could back to the stile.

The bull was curious, of course, about anyone who came into his territory, so inevitably he’d start moving toward our little group: “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES” we’d shout and watch our friends run helter-skelter back to and over the fence. When they stopped and looked back, we’d be hanging all over that bull; I was usually up on his back.


We didn’t have any horses ourselves, but many people in the community did, so learning about horses came naturally. One of the girls I’ll call Betty at our school lived on a spread with quite a few horses, and she was as “horsey” a person as I’ve ever known. Her “doodling” in the margins of papers and so forth was always sketches of horses. She was a tall, lanky blond, and with my interest already turning away from females, I was not much interested in her. But I was interested in the horses, particularly in the huge dongs the stallions had.

I never knew  why, but whenever I visited Betty’s place and she showed me her horses, the stallions always dropped for her. It was probably a matter of pheromones, but of course she might have been diddling those beasts herself, something I really wanted to try but was too ashamed to admit and afraid to ask.

That pleasure – jerking off a real horse –  was provided by a guy in my 5th-grade class I’ll call Carl. He had this ancient old beast, near dead, that could still “get it up” when Carl went to work under his belly, and once or twice he let me “get a grip”. These events found their way into two of my stories. Likewise, the old black dog that we called “Bouncer” and several others through the years provided a bit of kinky entertainment for me, as well as “entertainment value” in some of my stories.


While Dad was teaching, he had summers free. He loved to drive, but during the war, with gasoline rationed, our excursions were somewhat curtailed. Nevertheless, most summers we managed to get to Bliss Park at the south-west end of Lake Tahoe, where we spent the entire season. In those war years, we might see one or two other families camping there in the course of a whole summer! Nowadays, you have to make reservations in advance! As a closely knit family, the lack of other folks around didn’t bother us a bit!


From time to time, we would drive to San Francisco, mostly I think to let Mom do a bit of shopping. I don’t recall what my brothers did, but Dad would give me a pocket-full of nickels and I would ride cable-cars and iron monsters all morning, all by my self. I had to be at Compton’s Cafeteria for lunch, then I could get a few more hours of riding before we set off for home. Those old streetcars were fabulous machines, very basic but built to last. Hurtling through the dark tunnels was exciting, but the cable-cars on the hills were great fun as well. In those days a little kid like me could ride the running-board just like the “big folks” and no one said boo about it!

We occasionally went out to Ocean Beach, since the ocean was something we did not see every day:

Little Bruce at Ocean Beach

That’s little me at Ocean Beach, oblivious to the rip-tides.

Although the Oakland Bay Bridge was in place, Dad loved the ferries, and we usually got to San Francisco on the Vallejo or Benicia auto ferry. Once the car was secured, the rest of my folks would go topside to enjoy the views and freshets. Not me! I made a bee-line for the nearest opening through which I could watch the huge steam engines at work down in the hold. Even then I was already a size-queen! I never saw the San Francisco sky-line: when the whole ferry shuddered as the engines reversed, I knew the folks would soon be by to collect me to continue the trip.


I no longer know what the pageant was about, but it seems I was “Uncle Sam”, and I could very well have “wanted” George, there on my left: he was very handsome and liked to toss me over his shoulders for rides around the house.

Me and George

George was one of Dad’s students who had been to our home often, and who was home on leave from the US Army: this was 1942. My folks were absolutely color-blind: we had all sorts of students out to the farm as the years rolled by, which probably accounts for my own eclectic preferences later on. About those, much more will be said in due time.


Toward the end of my sixth year in Elementary School, Dad began dickering on a pair of cabins near Lake Tahoe: there were two cabins on a single lot, one just for sleeping. The owner let us use the cabins one weekend, hoping to seal the deal no doubt, but for other reasons that did not happen. I remember the occasion well, however for ONE event that remains seared in my memory, and which likewise explains some of my later, and current, preferences.

A college classmate of my Dad was passing through the weekend we spent in that cabin, so they went along with us. These folks had several kids, including one fellow they had adopted while working in India. He was about 16 at the time, quite tall and very brown. As I lay half-awake one morning on my cot in the sleeping room of the cabin, Presad walked through the room on his way to the toilet, clad only in a pair of bright white Y-fronts pushed out to their limit by his morning piss-hard. What a splendid sight!

A lovely sight!

I thought it one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, even though I did not fully understand what was going on beneath that sparkling fabric. I’ve since learned, of course, and I thank the internet daily for the thousands of similar images of hunky guys clad in shorts that I have on my hard-drive. I actually have more pictures of guys dressed (well, more or less) than of them nude.


Dad taught at UC Berkeley that summer: we exchanged homes with a Cal Prof, so we lived in El Cerrito. I quickly found the “F” end-of-the-line station for the Key-System trains that ran to San Francisco, and spent whole days riding back and forth: if I did not de-train at either end, I could ride paying only once. Usually I was right up front, and now and then the motorman would put up the shade that covered the window into his cab, so I could watch his operation. I was in hog-heaven! Naturally, I wanted to be a Motorman  ”when I grew up”.

The key-System trains were massive affairs, built like the proverbial brick latrines, and they ran for years and years. Just three sets remain: two at the Railway Museum in Rio Vista, CA, and one badly deteriorated one in the Orange County Railway Museum, Perris, CA:

Key-System Train

The Key-System Train, Orange County Railway Museum, California

Key-Systems Train Detail

Key-Systems Train Detail

Superficially, these resembled the Boeing-Vertol train-sets now used by MUNI, but they were more massively built. Most were scrapped when the system was shut down in 1958. In its place we have BART, train-sets of which are now being replaced after less than 20 years of use. We once knew how to build things to last, but not any more!

The summer of 46 was also noteworthy, because while living in El Cerrito, we learned Mom had cancer, which proved fatal five years later.

To be continued …

PeeYes: I’ll try to add to this blog most Fridays, that being a day off for me.



Written by Bruce

December 12th, 2009 at 11:26 pm