Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Robert Coombs Interview
Narrator: Robert Coombs Andrews
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: SeaTac, Washington
Date: August 2, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-crobert-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, and then I understand, not too long after you and your twin were born you, your family moved.

RC: Yes. We moved to Sacramento. My father was a very creative person. He liked to invent things. It was at the time when radio (was invented). The first radios were these little battery-operated things, you know. If you could get KDKA Pittsburgh in California, it was a great triumph. So I had that fun of hearing music and things like that on a homemade radio. The Christian Science Monitor, at that time, had a drawing. I remember my father looking at this drawing of how to make a radio, and he did. So that became his career. He was a farmer before but that became his career and he had quite a large area in the top department store in Sacramento where he was selling radios when they came in, in a big swoop just like TVs did, you know, in later years.

AI: That is so interesting.

RC: We lived in North Sacramento for a while and then we were forced out of our house because of floods. An early memory was getting up one morning and (...) walking into the living room and all the furniture was stacked up and I thought, "Well, what's going on here?" I looked out the front door and the water was rippling at the bottom of the porch step.

AI: Oh my.

RC: It had come across (...) the street. The river was (...) maybe about two miles from us. But it was an open area and the water overflowed. My father maintained, "We're not gonna live here to go through this (...) again." And so we moved into Sacramento, into East Sacramento. And that's where I still live -- not there in the same home, but I still live in East Sacramento. I was in the first grade then and went through the public schools of Sacramento.

AI: Can you describe a little bit of what Sacramento looked like at that time when you were in grade school?

RC: Well, Sacramento was rather small compared to what it is today. It was the capital of the state, so that was one thing that made it different from other cities in the state. But, it also was sort of homey. People knew everyone. (...) My father was well-known in the community and he was eager to sell radios to people because he knew that their lives would be made better for the kind of entertainment that was available. He also had a yen to be on water. He loved to race speedboats. At one time we had a very large garage and there were always two or three speedboats in there beside the car. On Mother's Day one year he had gotten a new, a new motorboat and he wanted to try it out and my mother didn't want him to. She was fearful. She, somehow (...) had a, had a premonition. "This was my day," she said to him, "Now, no. Do that some other time." He (said), "Oh, I've got to go out and try that boat." He lost his life on the river. A cruiser came by and was not in the position that it should have been and created waves as he was testing his boat. (...) The waves caused the motor to fly out of the water and it hit him on the head and he was drowned on Mother's Day. That changed our whole lives. We were desolate.

AI: How sad. How, what a terrible shock that must've been.

RC: It was. My twin was not able to sit at the table at night. Fortunately we had a wonderful neighbor, who worked for the social welfare office for the state and she realized that there was an emotion there that had to be tempered in one way or another. So my twin had her dinners next door for, oh, it must have been six months until she finally was able to sit down with the rest of us at the dinner table. Because my father always served our plates, that was the old-fashioned way, and we would remonstrate sometimes at the helpings that were given to us. [Laughs] "Well, this is good for you. You've got to eat it. (...) I want you to clean your plate," was usually the comment. (...) It was like living with two families because my older brothers were in high school when that happened and my twin and I were nine. My mother had to go to work. My father (had insisted) that we all have a college education. My mother met that request of his. (...) All four of us tried to do well in school because my father felt that if school asks something of us it was our responsibility to give back the very best we could. He wouldn't tolerate any nonsense about that. And all four of us, basically, were good students.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.