My name is Neva Sonia Carpenter. I was born in El Cerrito, across the bay from San Francisco, on June 16, 1928. It was a dry birth and because of this I was born with my limbs doubled up. The doctor said I would likely never have the use of them. Through much praying and working with my limbs by my parents, I was able to stand and start walking at the age of 2. I had a brother and two sisters all older than me; my brother is the only one not still living. From where I lived, I was able to watch the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay bridges being built.
I moved from El Cerrito to Merced the month I turned 14 years old and lived there during WWII. Our home was open to many servicemen, many my father brought home for a home cooked meal and some whom were not based there spending a night or two. Our home was called “Little U.S.O.” My first job was at the age of 14 picking grapes and peaches. While living there I also had jobs as a carhop, waitress, soda jerk, and my favorite job working for a jukebox company typing the title of the records and stacking the records to go to various businesses.
I moved from Merced in 1946, the middle of my junior year of high school to Fresno. I was brokenhearted when I left El Cerrito and again leaving Merced. My first job in Fresno, when I was 16, was running an orange stand located on Ashlan between Fulton and Broadway streets. The manager only came there at closing time. I worked for Mars Drive Inn as a carhop when they first opened. The year I graduated I worked at Montgomery Ward in the toy department.
I met my first husband, who worked in sporting goods, while working there. My last name was now Hicks. He later got a job at the post office by Courthouse Park. We had three daughters. During our marriage I worked again as a waitress at several places. My favorite job of all time during these years was working again for a jukebox company as a record operator. They had jukeboxes in some of the businesses where when the customer would put money in the box instead of the record playing: an operator would come on and ask what selection they would like to hear, giving them hundreds of choices. I had to learn how to find each record fast in order for the customer to hear their request before leaving. My last job during this marriage was as a nurse’s aide working at Hillcrest and then Hy-Lond nursing homes. We were married 21 years; halfway into the marriage he started drinking, which led to a divorce.
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I lost my home we were buying, which I loved and had to find another place for my girls and me to rent. I started doing private duty care in people’s homes. There was one time I was with an elderly woman in her home during the morning and early afternoon and from there I went to take care of a boy when he got home from school until his father got home from work.
Three years after my husband and I split up I married again, now having the last name of McCormick. He lived in Chowchilla which meant leaving my three girls and my 3-year-old granddaughter, who I had helped raise. It was very hard for me to leave them. I got a job again as an aide at Chowchilla Convalescent Hospital. That marriage lasted only a year and a half. This was in 1973.
I moved in with my oldest daughter and instead of me finding a job and her paying money for childcare she said that if I would take care of her daughter, she would pay what I would make as an aide. This was my last job until my granddaughter was in her teens.
In 1979 I became Mrs. Carpenter. I had finally found a man who treated me with loving care. We never had an argument. We both felt that you don’t hurt the person you love. In November of 1983 he had an exploratory operation that found he had lung cancer, which had gone to his brain. They gave him a year to live. He was gone in three weeks. He passed away the day before our 5th wedding anniversary.
In the ‘90s I had a four-day-a-week live-in job as a caregiver for an 85-year-old lady. I was there for 7 ½ years until she passed away in 2001. In 2002 I found I had colon cancer and came through with flying colors.
I have five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
In 2003 I was writing my special childhood memories for my girls to have. I wrote to Merced and El Cerrito asking if they had any pictures during those years and why I wanted them. A lady in Merced wanted to see what I had written and asked if she could put it in the Merced newspaper, which I agreed to. It was titled “Little U.S.O.”
I also heard from a man in El Cerrito who wanted to see what I had written. He traveled all over the US interviewing people who lived in El Cerrito during the early years. He called me saying that I “blew him away” with all I could remember.
He said he learned more from my writing about El Cerrito than from all the interviews he had put together, and I should have it published. I told him that there was no way I could afford to do that. He said, “Then I will pay for it.” I told him I didn’t think anyone would be interested to read about my childhood outside of my family and friends. He told me I was wrong.
It was published in 2006. Needless to say, I was thrilled.