The Wonder Years
Summers in Modesto were good and hot. It's common to have 100º temperatures. While living in the semi-country rural area, we would walk down to the canal, which had a bridge, of sorts, where the road crossed over it. Also, a cool 8" water pipe that you could walk out on, next to the bridge and dive off of. Steps built into the side of the concrete wall. Excellent. Perfect. Many a fun filled time at that swim place. Sometimes the water would be so high that there would only be about an inch of clearance under the bridge. Of course, the big boys would be swimming all the way under the bridge, from one side to the other... sometimes just drifting through and taking air from that one inch gap underneath, between the water and the bottom of the bridge. Other times, there was no air space at all, which meant you had to hold your breath long enough to swim all the way under the bridge to the other side. This was major macho stuff, stuff that "newly learned swimmer," Mikey, was kept from doing (and rightfully so). Mom could rarely handle knowing I was swimming at all, much less in a canal. It seemed like every year or so, the city would lose a child to those canals. Still, they were a wonderful place for a kid. Boys, especially. On occasion, we would go to a city pool, but mostly we loved the canals. Free, accessible, no chlorine, quick adventure and lots of fun. At the height of the summer heat, it would be so hot that, on the way back home, we would walk on the white line in the middle of the road cause it was cooler on our bare feet.
A Main Buddy
Another good, good friend of mine was Alvin Eppler. We knew each other from church. We spent our entire middle to late childhood together. I spent many Sunday afternoons, after church, at his house and would go back to church in the evening. Sometimes, I would "stay over" until the next day. Alternatively, he'd come to my house. We played baseball together. Mostly, we just played catch with our mitts, or go swim in the canal. That's actually where I learned how to swim. My mom didn't swim and was so afraid of it, that I didn't learn how to swim until I was 11 years old. Then, it was only due to some ornery boys, lying to me about the depth of the canal. It happened on the way home from school one day. You know the deal, "Oh yeah, Allsup. Come on in. See, I'm standing on the bottom right now. Come on in." Wrong! Total b.s. but it got me in and I learned to tread water and dog paddle. After that, I was a fool for it and began to swim a lot.
Alvin's folks once had a place on Paradise Road, where the property backed right up to the Tuolumne river. They had a small, green colored, wood flatbed boat, that we could oar around in. Great adventure, with the trees hanging over the river at some places. Fishing, exploring and stuff. Alvin had a pump pellet gun that he used when trying to shoot carp. As they came to the surface, they made this disgusting "sucking" sound. Sometimes we'd each make a sandwich and take it with us, peanut butter or bologna and cheese. They always tasted great.
Alvin had a big red quarter horse. I got on him once and he took off with me, headed out across the road, stepped on the pavement, then slipped, and both me and the horse went down on the road. Ouch! Did not feel good. Scraped my elbows and knees pretty bad. My knee was weird for a couple of days, so I milked it as much as possible. Didn't want to get in trouble for the horse in the street thing. I used one crutch for awhile, but it didn't fly. Nobody was buying it, so I had to give up the crutch routine. Knee did hurt, though. It's a cold world.
After passing the NRA gun safety course
On one occasion, I was at Alvin Eppler's house and his older brother Gerald, was working on a shotgun in the living room. It was a 12 gauge pump shotgun and I thought he was cleaning it, but actually, he was having trouble with the pumping mechanism on it, which fed the shell into the firing chamber. Alvin and I were sitting across from Gerald on the couch. The only shotgun shells in the house were some metal jacketed ones called, "double ott" shells. The BB's inside the shell were the size of a 1/4" split-shot, used for fishing. They were so big that there probably weren't more than 8 or 10 BB's in the entire shell. Gerald needed to test the pump mechanism to try and fix it. He shoved one of those double ott shells in and proceeded to "cock" it, which put the shell into the chamber and making it ready for firing. When he did this, the gun went off, blowing a 1" hole right through the floor. It hit directly between the legs of Alvin and me. You could see the layers of the sub flooring exposed with that perfect, angled hole, all the way through the floor. Gerald turned a "chalky-flushed white," as he grasped the potential of what had just happened. We ALL turned "chalky-white," shaken by the loudness and the potential of what could have been. Fortunately, Gerald had done what good gun handlers do. He had the gun pointed down and not really pointing at anyone... kind of. I saw him years later and ribbed him about it. Whew!! That was a close one.
A Classic in Nature
While still thinking and writing of these times at Alvin's house, on Paradise Road, one scene in particular comes to mind that must be alluded to here. I'm talking about one of the truly funniest things I have ever seen in my life. Something that some of you have seen and all of you SHOULD see, due to its inherently funny nature. One of the wonders of nature, that was meant for all. Forgive my French, but I'm speaking of the old "Two dogs screwing and getting stuck" routine. Yes, indeedie. Someone NEEDS to speak of this wonderfully funny looking situation that occurs in nature. It is the only time I have been privileged to see it happen and it is forever stamped in my mind. It only takes once. Something I can mentally refer to, when needing a chuckle. There was a male dog and a female, "bitch" dog. Not big dogs, just average size, similar to a Cocker. Anyway, they had their sex and the male's penis had gotten swollen at the base, during the time of ejaculation, (or whatever) and they were stuck. Kind of nature's way of insuring impregnation of the species, I suppose. Something only associated with dogs, as far as I know (I haven't researched Rhino's yet). With these two dogs, something else had happened. The male had stepped over with his left back foot and was still stuck, but was now facing backwards. Butt to butt. Pee-pee to pee-pee. Have you got this picture in your mind? Okay. With things like that ... the female freaks out ... pulling the poor male around the yard, backwards. He's yelping and crying and scratching the sparsely filled in lawn, as she literally starts running around with him. This went on for 5 or 6 minutes, until they came to a tree stump in the middle of the yard. They hit it, on the run, and popped apart, with her going one way and him going the other. I cracked up. Laughed my butt off. I had heard about this, but really didn't believe it until I saw it. That poor male dog's "love unit" was purple and bruised, and in the only way available to him, he cleaned and soothed the battered tool of love. (Easy there, Pilgrim!) And I'm not talking Handiwipes. Definitely young boy story stuff. What a show. What a simply GRAND show. It was nature in its most simplistic and enduring reality, so you couldn't get into too much trouble over laughing at it. To those that haven't seen this routine, I wish you the best. Maybe there's still time. I doubt you'll see it in the mall. Keep your eyes open and be alert. God made some inherently funny stuff, and I'm just sure he meant for us to chuckle about it now and then. This is just about as good as it gets.
Another fond memory is a having a REAL hay ride in the country, at a Halloween party in approximately 1958. It was about 5 miles East of Empire, California, and then South to the river. A warm/cool autumn night in October, with a large yellow milky-orange moon in the sky, and only a hint of stringy cloud clusters floating in front of it from time to time. The idea was to show up at the party and park far enough away so your cars wouldn't be recognized, then walk into the barn in full costume. Low lights from the candles in the pumpkins and maybe a kerosene lantern going. Shadows climbing up the wall, bales of hay to sit on, orange and black candies in bowls and corn stalks standing up against the barn walls for decor. The homemade costumes were the best part of all. The code of silence went on for quite a while, trying to figure out who was who, masks and everything. People would do that, come in, walk around a bit, then sit down and just stare at each other. Make weird movements, putting each other on and trying to fool each other. Rose and Ray Walters, a couple from church, threw the party. We kids, (preteens, maybe 11 or 12) got to ride on this old, open, flatbed wagon, filled with bales of hay and loose straw. There was a team of horses and someone drove the wagon away from the house, then down the dirt field road. The subtle smell of grapevines was all around. Large walnut trees and moon shadows, no breeze at all, just still and quiet. Into the dark night air, that was lit only by the soft moonlight. All you heard was the sound of the horses, the wheels turning, and an occasional dog barking way off in the distance. A Halloween moon that, incredibly, seemed to follow you as you made your way past row after row of grapevines and into the turns. Hard to explain. Ever see that phenomenon, where the moon follows you? A great thing. A child's thing. Even 60 year old kids like it. The night time, permeating the youngster's thoughts. The time of life when, "that girl" at church just had you mesmerized. You know the kind. A time when just riding in the dark, fairly close to her, was romantic as hell, er... I mean, heck. Finding it awkward to even speak to her, but you do and it's stuff you dream on, but rarely admit just how much to your buddies ... at first.
The Ornery Side of Rural Living
Sunlight melts this romanticized moonlight setting and it became a normal ranch again, once daylight reared its ugly head. One Sunday afternoon, at the very same place where the Halloween party took place, we (little Ray Walters and I) walked over to the closest neighbor's place, about a quarter of a mile away, got up on his fence and took turns shooting his prize Hereford bulls with our BB guns ... right in the balls! Oh yes, brilliant as usual. This was Sunday afternoon, boy orneriness at its worst. The 2 bulls were pinned up in a very small board coral, with us sitting up on the fence next to them. Patoosh!, went the BB guns. Oof!, went the bull, as his balls jumped and twanged with pain. They would jerk and moan loudly, as we laughed our ignorant young butts off. Can you imagine the pain of those poor animals? What a couple of mean little shits we were. All in the name of fun and rural comedy. Beyond that, the farmer made money from breeding those bulls. Other farmers would bring their young heifers to him to be bred and pay handsomely for the service. I doubt he understood why they "just weren't in the mood" for about a week or so. Hopefully they didn't go sterile over that incident. The next few years would verify a nasty streak of orneriness in me. Prank playing stuff that would get your butt whipped with a belt really, really good, if you got caught. You know, the fun stuff.
Just a word or two on a male thing that, for generations, has just been inherent to being a boy.
NO, NOT THAT THING!! This is something else. Young boys, left to their own doing, ultimately end up in a peeing contest. It's true. A boy thing, peeing for distance, don't ya know. Ten to 15 feet was no problem. The "compression" of youth is staggering, a thing of pride. Something that deteriorates with age, or so they say. These contests, without fail, always ended up with the ol' "pinch the weenie till hurts" routine. Holding it back, as you're pushing out with your bladder and stomach muscles, and then let it fly. Twenty feet was not uncommon, when the full technique was applied correctly. Of course, you had to stay behind the line. There WERE rules. Cheating wasn't even considered. No need. All boys make a good showing at these events. An institution, of sorts, among the male gender. I have no doubt that old "Wolfgang Amadeus" (Mozart) himself pinched the weenie in his day, too ... while going for the gold.
Music? Oh there was music, but not being made by me. At least, not with an instrument. Singing at church and doodling at home on the piano. That was it. What there WAS, was RECORDS and RADIOS. Hi-Fi's. Not stereo yet. Mono High Fidelity (Hi-Fi). A record player and a speaker, all in one and 45 rpm records were new. You'd put a stack of them on the big round black spindle that slipped down over the regular spindle, then put the handle down over them to secure the records. The changing mechanism is still a cool thing to this day. Forever cool. Inherently cool. Kind of like trains. No record stores that I recall. You'd buy a record at Woolworth's or Sears. The cooler parents would let you sneak dance at a church party, now and then. A definite "no no," but some people just like to live on the edge. Wild and dangerous, don'tcha know? You could still buy 78 rpm records in the stores. Transistor radios had just come out, too. Things were changing in the 50's. Not so much with the older set, but with the youngsters. The BABY BOOMERS. The ones born after the war. That's World War II, kiddos. A generation of kids and their "jungle music" that they called ... rock n roll.