A Little Bit of Heaven-My Garden of Eden...
Once again, whilst perusing my Journal, (Jims Journal) I have come across something about which I had all but forgotten. I just have to post it. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed living it! It starts right after I moved to South Conejo Avenue, the Airport District, aka, Little Okie.
The first kids I met were twins, a boy and a girl named Alice and Albert Runyan. They were called Sonny and Sissy. I lived on South Conejo and they lived around the corner on Bonnie Brae.
They were very skinny, just opposite of me in build. Sissy was a pleasant girl and Sonny was the fastest runner in the world. With the foul mouth he had, he had to be fast on his feet.
Mother thought he was a great kid because, after he became acquainted with her, he would run by the house and tease her by saying,” Georgie, Porgie, Puddin’ an’ pie, kissed the boys and made them cry!” and she would run after him for a little ways like she was going to get him then she would laugh and laugh, like it was the funniest thing she had ever seen.
* It must have been summer time when I first met them because we regularly went to the river (Tuolumne River) to swim and spend the day. We mostly went to the Legion Park, which ran for half a mile along the river, from South Conejo Avenue, west to Empire Avenue. It was a very nice park, with restrooms and dressing rooms at the east end. The River immediately became my special friend. My River Angel always watched over me while I was there.
The east end of the park was called, “The Big End,” and the west end, at the Legion Hall, was called, “The little End." I’m not sure why. Maybe because there was more distance from the road to the water at the Big End than at the Little End, and so, more park grass area.*
Almost everything with which we came in contact, i.e., treed areas, pastures, dump grounds, bridges and many other things had specific names.
Across the road from our house was an open, grassy field, empty except for a small building just at a fence, which ran along the other side of the street. Farther out in the field was a wrecked fighter plane. That area was ‘the field.’ All of the area was an airport that had been closed down and out of use.
Farther over from the field were hangers, unused but still standing. Sonny, Sissy and I explored them thoroughly and played there from time to time. Later the airport would be opened up to crop duster planes, and still later, refurbished and opened up to commercial planes. But now, the airplane runway was used as a drag strip for hot-rodders. It was exciting and very noisy at times.
Up the road from our house, where Conejo makes a bend because of a canal outlet, (the canal was underground there and the gates and valves were above ground) was the "Bus Stop." The city bus, which said on its marquee,” Airport, via La Loma,” used that corner as the southernmost stop on its loop from town and back. Its driver was a man named, Mr. Reynolds. He was a very nice man and was always polite and courteous to everyone, even us okies.
Down the hill on Conejo, toward the park were homes of people I would later know but the one house that had a name was the big brick house where Uncle Dan Bagley lived called,“Wheeler’s Ranch.”
Right around the south corner from our house and on the right (everything was on the right because of the field) was Roller’s Store, a small market where we waited for the school bus. Mr. and Mrs. Roller lived next door on Connie Way. After I started to school, I usually took lunch money, and I would buy an apple each morning while I waited for the bus. Sometimes I bought a Mission Grape soda or a little wax figure filled with flavored sugar water.
Below Wheeler’s Ranch was a slough (pronounced-sloo,- like shoe) that the road crossed. It was called,”The Slough.” It was about three hundred feet wide and had many willow trees on it. They were black willow and they were called,’ the Willows.’ Us kids used to go down to the willows and climb up to the top of the highest ones and grab the end and jump off and ride the trees to the ground. They were so limber that it seemed impossible to break one of them.
Just up the hill from the willows, on the east side of the road, was an open field where the city trash was dumped. Tree trunks and grapevines were also dumped there. This place was called,"The Dump." We found a lot of great things in the dump and built forts among the tree stumps and grapevines.
The main things we looked for were funny books and magazines. But we also found clothes and other things worth keeping. The old saying,” One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” was true.
I remember finding some violets there and bringing them home and mother planted them in an old tire filled with dirt. They grew very well and were beautiful.
On down the road toward the park, where the road curved to the right, was a pipe that came out of the bank and dumped water into the river. It was the underground canal that comes down from the bus stop. This place is called,” the Pipe.” It was a popular swimming place because the water was fairly deep where it dumped into the river and we could dive off it into the river.
Down the river from the Legion Hall was a creek that emptied into the river. It was called Dry Creek.
Off Santa Ana Avenue was a winery called the Gallo Winery. Down from Gallo’s, toward a cherry orchard was an old single story building with a finished basement. It was a large building, probably two thousand sguare feet and had many rooms on each side of a long hall that ran the entire length of the building. Each room had a closet alcove with a small door in each closet that opened into the next room. The building sat alone in the middle of an open field. This was called,” The Whorehouse,” because we thought that was what it had been at one time.
*There is a story I may tell later about the Whore House.*
Up the river is where I spent most of my life from age seven to age thirteen or so. The first field east of the pipe had a huge oak tree in the middle of it and not much else. That was called,” the Oak Tree.”
On up from the oak tree was the first wooded area. This area was fairly small, although the trees were thick and tall. It was about three quarters of a mile east from Conejo Avenue, where Conejo curved to the right and became something else as it headed to Legion Park which started about one fourth of a mile west of the curve. That area was called,” The Little Jungle.”
The river there was lined with huge oak trees and the Little Jungle had many Oaks as well as cottonwoods and willows and other trees.
Then came a fenced pasture where some horses were kept. This was called,” The Horse Pasture.”
On up from there was “The Big Jungle.” That is where I spent most of my time when I wasn’t in the river. The big jungle had many trees of all kinds grouped tightly together. Growing on the big jungle trees were wild grapevines. They were extremely thick and had been growing there for six thousand years. I know this because they were so thick that they made a plush carpet on top of the trees and, if you were careful, you could (and we did) walk and crawl on top of the trees without falling through.
It was a wonderful place of magic for me, a loner for the most part, where I could be anything or anyone I wished, limited only by my imagination. (And there was no limit to my imagination) I was Tarzan the Ape-Man or anyone else I wished to be. The big jungle was the Garden of Eden all over again for me.
Just at the edge of the big jungle, on the bank of the river, was a deep, wide pile of concrete blocks that had been dumped around a pipe coming out of the ground. Water came out of the pipe all the time. It never stopped flowing. This was called,” The Artesian Well.”
On up the river about half a mile or so was “The Hughson Bridge.” This was usually the farthest we would go up the river.
Underneath the Hughson Bridge, on the north side, was a sheer bank of pure clay that was called, "Clay Banks." It was about a hundred feet long and ten or so feet deep and was full of holes that must have been made by crawdads because crawdads were what lived in them.
A way to get the crawdads out of the holes was to stick your hand into the hole and, when one of them clamped onto your hand, pull it out with the crawdad attached. Most people would only do this once because the pinchers of the crawdads were very sharp and strong.
Sometimes they would let go at once and you had to act swiftly to get it before it fell back into the river. You had to grab it just right across the back to keep from getting pinched again. Other times we would have to pry the pincher apart. Either way it wasn’t fun after the first or second time.
This was an age where innocence was commonplace and pleasure for me was as easy as watching the morning sun come up and as close as the pipe or the big jungle!
I’ll stop here for now. Maybe later I’ll tell you an adventure of some things that took place there, in my Garden of Eden!