My family moved to Val Verde from Santa Monica in 1944-45, primarily because my father was appointed pastor of the Macedonia Church of God In Christ, which remains in operation to this day. My father also thought that raising children in a smaller, less densely populated area would enhance the chances of growing up to be productive citizens by avoiding what he perceived to be the too-numerous pitfalls of urban life.
My parents were devout Christians. My father, Shelby Sr., worked full time, holding various jobs over the years in addition to his pastoral duties. My mom, Rosie Lee, worked part-time as domestic in Newhall.
We were a family of four — Mom and Dad, me and a brother, Horace, who was one year younger. We were brought up with strong moral values because of the conservative Christian philosophy of my dad's church.
One of my lessons of a lifetime came when I inadvertently took a pencil home from church. My mom had me return it and say I had stolen it. She believed in the absolute definition that stealing is depriving one of his property without specific permission, regardless of intention. I was crushed. I had no intention to steal; I had simply forgotten to put down the pencil down before I left church.
I never forgot the embarrassment of the incident, and how harsh it felt at the time. But I learned beyond a reasonable doubt what stealing was about, and why it's included in the Ten Commandments.
* * *
Looking back, I did not realize how poor we were. My parents never held more than minimum-wage jobs, and some folks on welfare seemed better off than us.
We lived in two houses over those years. The first was a small, rented, two-bedroom, one-bath house on the corner of the only road between Val Verde and Hasley Canyon. The second house my father built. It was somewhat larger — although small, by today's standards — and included a dining room and other minimal amenities.
During the year or two it took to build our new house, we lived in a one-room, all-purpose tent with a two-hole outhouse toilet and no running water. At the time, I did not realize the health hazard of having an outhouse and water source in the same yard, but we had learned a very important safety lesson from past experience: The old hole was too full; thus the dirt covering was too shallow.
The lesson came from an incident at a new home we had owned in Texas in the early 1940s. We had an outhouse that was relocated in the back yard. The old hole had not been dug deep enough, because my brother sank almost to his waist while playing. It took a couple of days to get him cleaned up, and the lesson served us well in Val Verde because it took several years to afford the construction of a new septic tank.
We never owned a television or telephone because of conservative church values, combined with limited resources. Evenings were spent doing chores, homework and occasionally gathering around the radio for entertainment.
I recall learning how to drive at a very young age — twelve or thirteen — not for fun or recreational use, but to help my father transport Mom to and from work and shopping during the summers, which tended to free up weekends for church events. Naturally, we could afford only one car. My father often worked second- or third-shift jobs and slept during the day, so I was the chosen one.
* * *
My mom did house cleaning for at least one of my schoolmates' parents that I knew of; perhaps there were others. The fact that I was able to excel academically and athletically tended to mask the class difference between me and many of my more privileged schoolmates.
I'm sure there were others who lived middle or lower-middle class, but we were so isolated in Val Verde that it appeared the whole world was better off.
We were generally pretty confined in Val Verde. My only outings during the summer were my chauffeuring chores, driving Mom to Newhall. Of course, during school, we got out to Newhall five days a week. Wow!
I became quite a proficient swimmer, taking every opportunity when not working or chauffeuring to spend time at the Olympic-size pool provided at Val Verde Park.
I was a three-sport, four-year letterman (football, basketball and track) at Hart High School and managed to find time to be a member of the Key Club and Varsity Club, and serve as senior class president. I occasionally made the academic honor society. My days were always long, beginning at 6:30 or 7 a.m., with a twelve-mile school bus ride to Hart, classes until 3 p.m. or so, followed by two to three hours of sports practice, returning home by bus at 6 or 6:30 p.m.
I sometimes hitch-hiked home when I missed the late bus or it didn't run. One Friday after an away game at Fillmore High School, I had the bus driver drop me off at Tip's restaurant at Castaic Junction, where I worked all night (the third shift).
That was a 24-hour day of activity without sleep. I didn't even give it a second thought at the time. Looking back, it seems a little harsh, but I endured.
* * *
I had decided to take a college preparatory course because of my early demonstrated capabilities in elementary and junior high, even though I didn't have a clue as to how my family could afford college. I knew little, if anything, about the potential for academic or athletic scholarships.
I took an aptitude test sometime near the end of my junior year or the beginning of my senior year (1952-53). My scores were high in math and science, indicating career potential in technical fields such as engineering, physics or other sciences.
I was reminded of the "Jackie Robinson phenomenon" — the removal of legal and social barriers that prevented blacks from participating in professional sports, beginning with baseball in 1946-47 and spreading to football, basketball and others by the early 1950s. The Jackie Robinson phenomenon had not included the technical professions by the time I was ready to graduate from Hart in 1953.
The "good old days" served a useful purpose in my life. I learned to strive for success in spite of the odds.
It is said that life's experiences determine one's character — which I can't deny. However, it may be more about how one reacts to circumstances — the choices one makes — that has more to do with whether one overcomes or succumbs to the issues of the day.
I would not prescribe the social climate of my era; we've come too far to turn back the clock.
* * *
Shelby Jacobs retired from Rockwell in 1996 after a 40-year aerospace career. He now lives in Oceanside, California.