Who Did You Think You Were ?


Derette Ann Ellis - "Derry"


In my earliest memory I was lying in my crib with my feet high in the air “Dear” {?} was shaking powder on me!  Next time I came to, I was eating toast (I was later told) at my neighbors breakfast table.  The first incident was soon after I was born and we lived on Queen Anne Place in Los Angeles, California.  The second incident was when I was just a little older and we lived on Wellington Road near L.A. high school.


The Methodist Hospital in L.A. was awaiting my arrival at 7:12 A.M. that Thursday, February 4, 1926 with my father in attendance, though Dr. Ross made him stay far back from my mother’s bedside.  I’m not sure who all was in attendance when I came home  but probably my grandmother Nan Nan (better known then as Elizabeth Sander Haynes) and my mother’s only sister, Aunt Betty.


My own sister did not arrive until May 4, 1928, also named Betty and whose middle name is Mae for Daddy’s sister Willie Mae Bobbitt, so by that time we lived at the Wellington Road address.


It was there I remember my mother’s emotional outburst as she rushed to the baby carriage on the front porch where my sister had just finished taking her bottle of fortified milk.  “That darn cat” she exclaimed as she hit at it to get off the buggy.  I can remember driving with my dad and a gunny sack full of cats way out of town to dump them hoping they would not return. Unfortunately they always did!


My mother, Henrietta Harshman Sander was born August 26, 1901 in Dayton, Ohio.  Her family went way back to – to Germany in the 1750s (note: see Harshman genealogy, 3 vols.) and was very prominent in Dayton.  My father, Dee Lamar Ellis, Jr. was born November 21, 1896 in Decatur, Texas and grew up in Camden, Arkansas. My mother graduated from Steel High in Dayton and later her family moved to Los Angeles Calif. where she attended Collegiate School for Girls, and then found employment with the Security First National Bank at Sixth and Spring in downtown Los Angeles.  My father remembers crossing the Texas-Arkansas border in a covered wagon sometime around the turn of the century.  My grandfather was an electrician and traveled a great deal.  His was a one room schoolhouse with wooden floorboards.  He aid the kids in the class would stamp their feet in unison and set the building to rocking.  The reason signs always say or said to walk your horse across the wooden bridges!  He remembered a family in the area by the name of Legg.  He went to school with their children, Harry and Ophelia.  He also spoke of the teacher calling roll.  She had the children spell out their names on pieces of paper and then would read them out loud to take attendance.  When someone was absent one of the pupils would fill in a name such as “Pat McCans” and the class would wait to see her reaction.  Dad said she was pretty smart and usually didn’t give them much satisfaction but they got a kick out of trying.  Dad’s uncle, Arthur Clyde Ellis was the sheriff of Camden and a typical western cowboy type with ruddy complexion and ten-gallon hat.  We loved sitting around listening to his tales of captures.


Sometime around the turn of the decade [1929-30] we moved from Wellington Road to 535 North Fuller Avenue – between Beverly Blvd. and Melrose.  It was during the depression and I can remember Nan Nan, my grandmother, feeding a sandwich to a beggar.  She had him do a little cleanup in the yard while she fixed him a sandwich.  No money but she never turned anyone away hungry and always gave them some task so they wouldn’t feel they were accepting charity.


My other grandmother came out for a visit about this time (she was Florence McAuley and I called her “Pom Pom”) and she took me to the beauty parlor and got me my first finger wave.  She opened a salon in Hollywood and gave facials, etc. too, and specialized in Max Factor products.  I remember during this depression period playing miniature golf which became so popular, counting NRA stickers  (National Recovery Act attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt) and my dad’s position at the bank being secure and our not being much affected by the economy.


I remember, too, the fun I had at the park nearby—swimming in a wading pool when it was so hot and our first snow in Los Angeles in the winter.  I went to Sunday School at the Christian church—it could have been a Methodist Church---and played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on my violin at a Christmas pageant.  I entered kindergarten when I was five years old, February 4, 1931 and having a lot of fun on the monkey bars on the playground.  One day the doorbell rang and I went with my grandmother Nan Nan to answer.  Several boys my age were there and when my grandmother said “yes”? one bully punched me in the stomach knocking the breath from me.  I know she scolded him but I don’t remember what happened after that.  All I can think of is I must have ticked him off with something I said at school.  I was a pretty independent youngster!


In February, 1931, at the age of five I entered kindergarten in mid-semester.  During the year I liked school a lot and because my parents fulfilled my curiosity and taught me to read as they read me stories I was more than eager to accompany Dear to the library for books.  In fact, by the time I was junior high age I was reading at least 40 or 50 books each summer.  My parents, specially Daddy, monitored my reading material and movies and I remember saying “see it’s required reading” when I was assigned to read Wuthering Heights in school.  Dad’s answer was “that was too morbid a book for you then—you’re older now!”


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