Chapter 2: The Arrival
Don begins the chapter by describing his normal Sunday morning routine, which was to attend Sunday school. His mother, a Christian Scientist, may have wished him to be raised in that faith. He states that the church was “across town,” and the First Church of Christ Scientist, located at 2nd and Laurel Streets, would have been a streetcar ride to the opposite side of Balboa Park from Mrs. Grant’s. Just as a child might have, Bots focuses on the Bible stories he learned rather than recalling any spiritual teachings.
Mrs. Grant tells the Pratts that Bots has been living there with her “for the past three years.” Bots thinks to himself that it had only been two years he had been “under her wing.” The photo of Warren and Don and a third boy at the beginning of this chapter prove that the boys were in Mrs. Grant’s care at least as early as 1915. Why Don is making a point here of having Mrs. Grant mistaken in her claim of an additional year is not clear. Whether three years or two, the time frame does not add up with Frankie arriving in 1915—if he is the boy in the 1915 photos—and the year Don has his novel take place.
When Bots describes the movies he and his friends make, Mrs. Grant asks the Pratts if they have seen “the latest Douglas Fairbanks picture, Double Trouble.” This popular Fairbanks film was released in December 1915, the year “Frankie” (or another boy) joined the Freeman boys in Mrs. Grant’s home in Chula Vista. Mrs. Pratt states that the last film they had seen was Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink, which was released in December 1916. During Bots’ tour of his yard for Frankie, he points out the Stacey home where Geraldine lives. He notes that Mrs. Stacey teaches piano. Geraldine’s real mother, Mary Staley, is listed in the 1920 Census as a “music teacher.” Bots tells Frankie that Mrs. Grant is a fifth-grade teacher at Emerson School. We know the real Mrs. Grant taught fifth graders, but we have not been able to verify that she worked at Emerson. San Diego’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School was located at 3575 National Avenue, about 3 miles from Kalmia Street.
Chapter 3: The Ouija Board
The Ouija board was an acceptable “tool” among Christians:
"Spiritualism worked for Americans: it was compatible with Christian dogma, meaning one could hold a séance on Saturday night and have no qualms about going to church the next day….The 1910s and 1920s, with the devastations of World War I and the manic years of the Jazz Age and prohibition, witnessed a surge in Ouija popularity. It was so normal that in May 1920, Norman Rockwell, illustrator of blissful 20th century domesticity, depicted a man and a woman, Ouija board on their knees, communing with the beyond on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post." A Lester Purer is associated with a Mabel T. in records and in newspaper articles; in fact, he marries her, and they eventually move to Escondido, CA. Lester’s Ancestry.com information places his early years in Illinois and does not suggest a connection with Belle Grant when she lived in Cassopolis. As mentioned earlier, it was Belle’s husband, Henry, who worked there in a bank. Lester’s age—he was born in 1902 in Illinois—would make it possible for him to have visited San Diego in his late teens, as the fictional Lester did. While we have not found information about his military service, it is possible he served in World War I and then returned home to Illinois to attend the university (he is listed as a freshman in the 1922 yearbook). Bots imagines hiding out at the clothing store where his father worked. Don’s father, Mortimer Roy Freeman, worked in a variety of stores in San Diego from the time he and wife Hazel moved to California until the Depression. From the San Diego city directories and the U.S. Census we learn that he worked—usually as a salesman, but sometimes as a tailor—at the Lion Clothing Company (1904-6), the Marston Department Store (1907), the Ives Clothing Co. (1910), Samuel Lesinsky (1911-1919—and perhaps beyond—the directories stopped listing places of employment in 1920).
Chapter 4: The Wonder Salesman
“I’ll be glad to show you how well Wonder Wiper works when applied to any surface – wood, leather, or metal,” the door-to-door salesman tells Mrs. Grant. Advertisements for a “Wonder-Mist” appeared in the Los Angeles Times beginning in 1916 and continued through at least 1918. While it was primarily for cars, the manufacturers found that it also worked well on furniture, though only on the wood!