Contentment in His Own Back Yard

<i> Merle Cunningham feels at home with his wood-burning stove, his collection of300 hymnals and a row of National Geographics going back to 1938. He made a career of staying in one place and he likes it that way. Cunningham, 86, and his wife, Gladys, live in Van Nuys. </i>

I was born in Troy, Ida. That’s a small community about 14 miles from Moscow, in northern Idaho. We lived on a 200-acre farm. It was a grain farm.

I liked it up there all right. If our house hadn’t burned down, chances are we might have stayed there. I was in high school, six miles away, when the house burned down.

We had to do something before the winter came on, so they decided to pull up stakes and move to California.


There was a family of five of us. My father’s health was awfully bad, and I did the driving. We had a Model T Ford. My mother had me sit up on a cushion, so I’d look a little older, I guess. I was 15.

It took us 18 days to get here. It had been raining a week or so, and the roads were in terrible shape. You could only make about 50 to 100 miles a day.

It was January of ’21 when we arrived in Van Nuys. The folks bought a small poultry farm, 2 1/2 acres out on Raymer Street, along the railroad.

It was all new to us, of course, to have mild winters and so forth. I’d seen 40 below zero and as much as 4 1/2 feet of snow up in Idaho.

I went to school at Van Nuys High School. I graduated there. And in fact our son and our granddaughter all graduated there--three generations of us.

I started to work for the Bank of Van Nuys the day after I graduated from high school. I was 17. Of course I learned as I went along, and if there was a new job, somebody would show you how to do it, but I didn’t have any special training.

I started work at $30 a month. But I had a paper route. In fact, I made more at the paper route than I did at the bank for a while.

I worked 47 years for that bank in Van Nuys. They later became the Van Nuys branch of the Security Trust and Savings and now Security Pacific Bank.

I was at a meeting when I’d only been there 35 years at that time, and the guy told me I didn’t have 35 years experience. I just had five years seven times--no ambition, no progress.

But I didn’t want to move, and I didn’t want a long commute. I walked half a mile to work, and I could walk home for lunch if I wanted to. So I just stayed there.

I lived out on Raymer Street with my parents until I married in 1934 and bought this place. I think I was 29 when I got married. I only paid $3,000 for this house. I had cash to pay for it when I bought it. I guess I wasn’t stingy, but let’s say I was frugal. And I didn’t have very much expense.

We’ve been in this house for almost 57 years. By the way, we can’t move because neither one of us ever threw anything away.

I retired in 1969. I’m in favor of it. I’ve had time to do what I want to do. Some people don’t seem to have any outside interests, and they get bored right away. I’ve not had any experience of that sort at all.

I’ve kept so busy here with the place that I don’t see how I had time to work. I’ve done quite a bit of traveling. I’ve got a motorhome out there that’s got 140,000 miles on it.

Also, I was treasurer of a church for quite a while and a nursing school that they operated and that sort of thing. I haven’t been bored at all.

I’m so far behind with my reading. Right there is a Saturday Evening Post, 1965, and that’s what I’m on. It’s kind of interesting to read here they’re predicting how Goldwater’s going to come out, when you know how it did come out.