"My mother was a Spaniard. Castilian. She moved to Mexico from the old country with her family when she was a little girl and I think she was about 24 when she came to the States. I know she couldn't speak much English, and that Spanish was the first language I learned to speak, too. She had a lot of musical talent, though, and she had a sister who was a concert pianist. They tried to make a musician out of me. They started me on the piano when I was 4, and I had to practice two hours every day. By the time I was 6 I was so sick of looking at a piano I couldn't stand it any more, so I quit. Sometimes, now," Bobby says softly, "I wish I hadn't."
By now the Cox family, including a younger brother and sister, were living in south Los Angeles, a tough lower-class neighborhood almost downtown. "We didn't live in the slums," says Bobby, "and we always had three squares a day—although I guess we had to push sometimes. But it was a pretty tough part of town. People keep writing stories now about how all the kids I grew up with ended up in the pen. I don't think that's right. Oh, I've heard about one who was sent up for peddling dope and another that got into some other trouble, but mostly I think they turned out all right.
"Sure, I was picked up once for driving a car that didn't belong to me, but you know how boys are. And, pretty soon, all I could think about was sports. The Coliseum was only a few blocks away and I must have been over there three times a week. I used to watch UCLA and Southern Cal and the Rams. It was great. I don't guess there was ever a better place for a kid to see really good football."
If Bobby did not come from a broken home, there were times when it Was certainly badly bent. "I don't want to say anything against my folks," he says, "because, after all, they are my folks. They were good people who just had a lot of bad luck. But that Irish and Spanish blood—well, I don't know. Sometimes things around there got pretty hot." And he sadly shakes his Irish-Spanish head. "Anyway, when I was 14, right after I finished grade school, I headed out on my own."
That summer Bobby wandered back and forth up and down the West Coast. He stayed in San Francisco a few days and then went on to Portland, where he worked for a while in a cafe. "The Coney Island Caf� on Union Boulevard," he grins. "Boy, I'll never forget that place." Eventually he wound up in Walla Walla, Wash., in the home of a Dr. Hill, who was an old family friend.
His parents followed him to Walla Walla that fall and tried to get Bobby to come home. He said no, he wanted to stay there and go to school. And in the next four years he found more friends than he had ever expected to find in his entire life.
"I guess people felt sorry for me," Bobby says now. "Anyway, they were wonderful. I don't know what I might have turned out to be if they hadn't helped me so much, but I know that whatever I do for the rest of my life that's good, I'll owe it all to them."
After Dr. Hill died, there was Ben Flather, a farmer; Don Carlson, manager of a branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Walla Walla; Mrs. Robert Gallivan, who taught Bobby English; Murray Taggert, the district attorney; and his high school football coach, Felix Fletcher.
"Sometimes I lived with one of them and sometimes another," says Bobby. "It was just like having five homes. Oh, I had to work, all right. I worked on the farm and in an icehouse and a service station and I drove a truck and finally Mr. Carlson got me a job as a brakeman on the railroad. But I always had someplace to go.
"I had clothes at every one of the places and at Christmas I had five Christmases. I was part of the family, just like one of their own kids. I remember Mrs. Gallivan used to talk to me about books and art and music. She would tell me about a concert or an opera or an art show and I would go and see it. Sometimes I didn't know what it was all about, but I would sit there and listen or watch anyway, and I'm sure it didn't hurt me."