Mere snatches of memory when I lived in Watsonville on Mariposa Street. It was surbubia, all the lots the same square footage, with open front yards and fenced backyards. The houses differed by the type of wood fences surrounding the backyards.
Two houses over on our block lived the Pine boys: Scott, my age, Mark, a year younger and my favorite, and the youngest was Bruce, my sister’s age. Two memories stick out about Mark, none about his brothers. Mark and I got along famously as children. Simply walking the cement between our houses became boring, so we often climbed the backyard fence and crawled across neighboring fences to reach our backyards.
Mother told me the amusing story of hearing me screaming one day. She entered our backyard only to see me hollering at the top of my lungs for Help! Having slipped on the fence, one of the pointed posts thrust its way between my pantleg and my leg. I was fully stuck, hanging in the air, and screaming.
Ever experience the giggles? I had invited Mark to dinner with my family. For some odd reason the Giggles struck us both. Sitting, trying to do the right thing, and we giggle. We couldn’t stop. Our sides hurt, we couldn’t stop. I think we giggled for a half hour. Neither of us knew what we were giggling about.
A sad remembrance intervenes. Our cat, Ruby, had kittens. I was led to believe that cats always land on their feet. I put it to the test with a kitten. Whenever I remember this story, it brings sadness. After tossing a kitten a few times, it died. I either didn’t learn the truth or was told something else about why the kitten died. When I was older, I asked about it and was told why the kitten died. I regret the deaths of animals I have caused.
In the summer of my seventh year, we moved to Rio Del Mar, a country suburb between Watsonville and Santa Cruz. Rio, as it is known, is located on the oceanside of a highway known as Highway One. This highway runs north and south along most the coastline in California. Highway One then was a two-lane road with the occasional middle lane to share a passing lane.
My Dad remembered it this way: he had bought a lot and was pondering how to build a house on that lot. One day he drove out to look at his lot and someone was building a house on it. Vic Bogaard, the owner of Bogaard Construction, had decided to build Knute’s house without his permission or his cash. They worked the details out later as they finished the house.
We moved into a neighborhood of strangeness, from the city to the country. School was a walking mile, more empty lots than houses, new streets, mostly empty fields. The main road, Clubhouse Drive, was paved until it crossed the pine tree hedged golf course where it became a dirt road leading to the railroad tracks. From the railroad tracks to the uncut cliffs overlooking Monterey Bay lay the strawberry fields with a clean beach beneath the cliffs known then as Hidden Beach.
It was a new world. New sounds at all hours and the roaring of the ocean deep in the night. I can’t count the number of dreams of escaping tidal waves with that occasional feet stuck in quicksand.
This new split-level two-story house was immense. Each of us had our own bedroom, with all bedrooms on the second story. The huge kitchen, dining room and living room were on the split. The first story was split by a two-car garage and the family room.
The beasts of the land were deer, jack rabbits, bob-cats, hawks, owls, gophers, with the beach dwellers of birds, seagulls, clams, sand crabs, and the wandering seals. It was a place of great adventure. Seascape as it is known today did not exist; it was open grassy in spring and summer, muddy in the fall and winter, fields that extended from the sloping hills to the beach.
I met my first friend, Jeff Stapleton, in my backyard. His backyard was opposite ours surrounded with a six-foot high fence. His backyard was split in half, the closest part was grass and yard, the back half was a huge sandlot. A perfect place for yougsters to play hours in the sand with their metal trucks.
It was the end of the summer of 1960, with the true end of summer always marked by a return to school. I don’t remember our first arrival to school whether I walked with Jeff, or was driven. Knowing my life, I believe I walked with Jeff.
That was also the year I discovered I was highly allergic to poison sumac, called poison oak on the west coast. If you’ve never had it, count yourself destined to enjoy young life. Poison oak is a bush that jumps up from the ground in springtime, with thousands of greasy-looking leaves. That oil is what you recieve when you brush against it.
The year I joined the Cub Scouts with my friend Jeff, marks the time I spent blinded by poison oak. One of the den mothers had a son named Jeff Burda. A group of us were playing and he heard the whistle from the train. Somehow he managed to get us all excited to go see the train as it would pass. So we ran like fury to the tracks. He chose a spot to ascend to the tracks. There were other much better places but for some odd reason everyone was following Jeff that day. He leapt into the bushes and we followed, crawling up the hill through the sumac to the tracks, in time to see the train pass with it’s lumbering noise, and clack-clacks of wheels over cracks of tracks.
I spent the next two weeks covered head to toe in poison oak. Cumulative was the sumac swelling my eyes shut and blinding me for three days. Once I recovered, I chose to never follow Burda again, I stopped being a cub scout, and I put into deep memory exactly what poison oak looks like in all its shapes, forms, and oils.
In those days, it was calamine lotion for skin irritations. I think I was allergic to that salve as well. It did nothing for me, but irritate my skin even more. In the mid-60’s, Ralph Salin, a family friend and skin doctor treated my poison oak with Synalar, a brand name I memorized and later discovered it’s not the brand name, it’s the contents within the tube. During the spring and early summer months, I and cortisone were the best of friends. Much later in life, a soap was invented that can only be classified as a miracle cure against sumac. Thank you Father for letting someone invent Tecnu.
The golf course now known as Seascape runs through Rio Del Mar. One could say, that the golf course defined Rio, but that’s a bit far from reality. One could also say, Seascape defines organized crime, and one wouldn’t be far from wrong.
As people moved in to populate the land, they bought their stuff packed in boxes. It is amazing to me that we would drag these boxes miles to the top of the hills, slide and roll down the hills, briusing ourselves and laughing, eager to leap up the hill to repeat the event. A day was great when we would discover a discarded refrigerator container, the perfect sled for the far away hills, it was a better box that charmed us, stayed together longer so we could slide and roll in a box down a hill.
The farmer that owned the strawberry fields on the cliffs sold his life to a company that proceeded to prepare the land for houses. These self same were not happy to allow us surfers freedom to walk across their land. They paid for their abuse dearly; dozens of us would gather to play the Game. Whomever ended the night with the most surveyor flags, won the Game.
The first company sold its land to a ruthless company named Seascape. Why ruthless? It was our misfortune that these ilk were allowed presence on our lands. Seascape immediately and illegally cut down the cliffs, and cut a swath down to the beach, also an illegal action. The first company was nice compared to this Seascape, owned by the Teamsters Union.
Santa Cruz and Capitola have long been known to those of the underworld. Al Capone’s brother lived in Capitola. During prohibition, the Santa Cruz police would escort trucks to the border of Santa Cruz county, where they were met by police of San Mateo county. Prohibition hurt only the poor and middle class, rarely the rich.
Between the summers of seventh grade, we enticed the ocean. Of the four friends I had, one friend dared with me, to swim the ocean, no matter the weather. As I look back on that time, it could have been a dare we took and won. Or perhaps it was an unspoken challenge. there was easily a hundred more things to do than suffer this daily pain while tempting the power of the ocean.
When school started in September till it let out in June, every day we would meet afterschool, walk down to the beach, and swim out past where the waves would break.
Be it during a storm, a rain, a fog, or a howl, we would run home, toss our school clothes aside, hop into t-shirts and cut-offs (old jeans cut off around the knees), grab a towel and skeedadle down to Hidden Beach. We would swim until our lips, fingers, and feet turned blue with cold. We would walk like zombies out of the water, numb and cold, reach our spot, plop down, and shiver until the pins and needles were gone from our extremities, and walk the mile back home. I don’t know why we suffered thus carelessly, niether of us ever thought it was dangeous, we know it was very painful fun.
I know I did this feat, I think it was only Vince Pellerin that joined me in the battle. Neither of us backed down from the challenge, likewise neither of us remembers who started it, we know school letting out for the summer ended this profound battle of wills.
Or was it a desire to die. I don’t know. I know that my seventh year of school was a terrible trial for me. My world had fallen apart, hate ruled, love was absent.
One morning I awoke certain of what I wanted to do for my life, for my living, forever. I wanted to write. I wanted to follow my heroes, Jack London, Jules Verne, on their path to glory. I bounded down the stairs to the kitchen excited beyond words, stunned at my revelation. At the table, I voiced my desire. Had you been there, you would have thought I said I wanted to be a mass murderer. Not only was my true love fiercely squashed, it was vanquished.
Of human love I saw between my mother and my father I ran away from as fast as my feet would fly. If that was love, I wanted nothing to do with it. Looking back through those years, I see two very sad people, both on legal drugs, ever avoiding the truth, constantly weaving lies, bubbling ignorance as it were the correct path.
None of my life under my parent’s roof was about what I wanted, the things we did together were always what they wanted to do, I was overlooked.