Looking back I think the elementary class field trip to the Farmer’s Market was another small but important step of my coming of age in the world outside Torrance, California…
1959—The Farmer’s Market, Los Angeles, California
The bus driver let out the Walteria Elementary school fifth grade class in the parking lot on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Third Street. Led by our teacher Mrs. Shoulder we marched over to our assembly area beneath the clock tower.
<feature photo of the farmer’s Market by pinterest.com
Our class consisted of twenty-one students. Today, sixteen students were present. The others didn’t come because their parents didn’t sign the permission forms (I knew that Buddy Welch had the measles, Debbie Shultz went out of town with her family, and Johnny Reyes’s mom couldn’t afford the lunch fee). When I asked mom for the dollar and fifty-cent lunch fee she gave me that worried look before later retrieving coins out of the mayonnaise jar above the refrigerator (that no one was supposed to know about).
“Six quarters,” she had said and handed me the coins. “Don’t lose them. They’re your responsibility now.”
Mrs. Shoulder held up a handful of papers. She caught everyone’s eyes and said, “You students who signed up for lunch at Dupar’s restaurant please go stand next to Miss Adkins.”
Most of the students gathered around the teacher’s aide. The word had gotten around that Dupar’s served the best pancakes in the world, even at lunchtime. The adventurous students like me didn’t know what kind of food we were going to get. My class partner Lynn and I had agreed to take a chance.
“The rest of you will be go with me,” Mrs. Shoulder said. “After lunch you can all explore the market but stay close to me or Miss Adkins. We will all return here to the clock tower. Listen close. Everyone knows where the clock tower is. If you get lost just ask. Is that clear?”
The class said in concert, “Yes, Mrs. Shoulder.”
In my haste to follow Mrs. Shoulder on our adventure I almost tripped over Chucky Kellogg. Both he and Lynn laughed. Mom told me that when I got embarrassed the whole world could see. I looked away, but continued to pursue our teacher on the adventure.
You wouldn’t know it from the street. The Farmer’s Market was a different world inside. Walkways shaded by awnings, like dark alleys, let to small colorful shops and restaurant stalls. Their odors advertised food that I had never heard of before, from all parts of the world. We passed a different odor at each walkway intersection.
Mrs. Shoulder smiled at us five bewildered students. Words could not explain my excitement. I had never seen so much neat stuff in one place. Mom only cooked corn beef and cabbage once a year on St. Patrick’s Day. I could have it today! Or real Mexican food—tacos, enchilada’s, or dad’s favorite tamales. A barbecue? We usually had that on special occasions like a family picnic or the 4th of July.
Mrs. Shoulder stopped and pointed. “Students, this is a Farmer’s Market landmark. Patsy’s Pizza is a favorite lunch spot of Frank Sinatra.”
She raised her eyes and said approvingly, “The pizza comes with a salad and a drink, too.”
I took the bait and raised my hand. I was the only one. Lynn said she loved what Mrs. Shoulder was having—the corn beef platter at a place called Magee’s. Chucky Kellogg laughed and told everyone he was having the barbecued chicken.
Mrs. Shoulder asked me, “What do you want on your pizza?”
I froze. I had never had pizza before.
As I shook my head I could feel my face turning red. The other kids laughed.
Mrs. Shoulder smiled and said, “Why don’t you point to the slice you want?”
I pointed at what she called pepperoni pizza. They gave me a bowl of salad, too; along with a Pepsi drink in a tall glass with ice.
I sat at the long picnic table by myself while Mrs. Shoulder helped the other kids select their food. I looked down at the slice of pepperoni pizza. I wasn’t sure how to eat it. I didn’t want to embarrass myself again.
As luck would have it a man sitting at a table not too far away had ordered pizza, too. I waited patiently to see what method he used to eat it. Just then Chucky Kellogg sat down in front of me with his barbecued chicken platter.
“I got potato salad, too,” he said, as I stared at my big slice of pizza.
I loved potato salad. I could no longer see the guy with the pizza behind Chucky. I glimpsed around him. The guy was talking to his wife who sat beside him.
“Why aren’t you eating your pizza?” Chucky said.
Chucky laughed and grabbed a spoonful of potato salad.
I leaned over to the left. The guy with the pizza kept talking.
Chucky laid down his drumstick and said, “Well?”
He nodded. “Aren’t you going to eat the pizza?”
I didn’t know what to do. They gave me a knife and fork with it, but the fork could have been just for the tomato salad. I lifted the fork and took a bite of salad.
Lynn returned with her corned beef platter. It had my favorite corn bread shaped like a muffin with it. Why didn’t I order the corn beef platter?
She said, “Why aren’t you eating your pizza?”
Now I was in a fix. The guy with the pizza behind Chucky wouldn’t stop talking.
“It was too hot,” I said to Lynn and Chucky. They both looked surprised.
Mrs. Shoulder and the rest of the class returned. She said to me, “Is your pizza okay?”
She added, “You can use—”
I leaned and glanced at the guy behind Chucky. He had the pizza in his hand.
I grabbed the pizza and took a bite of the most delicious bread I had ever tasted before Mrs. Shoulder could finish her sentence…
Author note of June 18th 2018:
In the author’s soon to be published novel Portuguese Bend several scenes occur at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, 1959. One of the his favorite places to go the Farmer’s Market started up in 1934… Its rich history is shown on the wall just before the east exit. Many Hollywood stars regularly visited the market including Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, and the aforementioned Frank Sinatra who was pals with Patsy (Patsy’s Pizza).