I guess when it comes to that, I’m a pretty lucky guy.
It’s not the first time I went back to the home I grew up in; to that blue collar street in Torrance, California, where my parents bought a home back in 1952-ish and raised a family.
But, for some reason, this time around really tugged on the memory strings.
Yeah, Mom & Dad bought that little 1200 square foot, 3-bedroom rambler in a brand-new development that was going into a field in this fast-growing suburb of Los Angeles. The story goes that they initially only had the choice of one home, the last one unsold, which was right on the busy street to the west. But then, a sale fell through on a home in the middle of the block and they purchased it with dad’s G.I. bill rate, for $11,9000. I remember as a kid, walking down the street to the Bank of America with their final house payment in hand. I want to say their monthly nut was around $86 a month.
I was the first to arrive, followed by two sisters who shared the room down the hall until I went off to college. Then, they finally got to have their own room. It’s so funny to go back now and realize how small things really are. Yet, at the time, it was all the house we needed.
The backyard, which as a child seemed huge, was probably only around 800 square feet. But it was where we played in the wading pool, ran around with the family dog, posed for pictures for the home movie camera and, again, it was all the backyard we needed.
Mom is just one of two people left in that neighborhood from when I grew up there. As my sister Debbie pointed out during this visit, as troublesome kids go, we were a pretty mild lot. She couldn’t resist bringing up the time I got caught sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night. “Snuck out? Through the window?”, mom remarked. “It’s a good thing you didn’t get hurt!” “Uh, mom,” Debbie continued, “he was sneaking out to go visit Bette, the neighbor girl across the street.” Thanks a lot, Deb.
But it was true, I made a couple of successful reconnaissance visits during the middle of the night, until one time I was caught. You would have thought I had committed mass murder, and that bust abruptly ended our 2am rendezvouses.
Yeah, the Fonti family across the street had three stunning daughters, and I had fallen madly in love with the middle one. That first-love romance continued until my second year in college, when she called one Thursday morning to let me know she had to break up with me because of a “sign from God.”
A couple of months later, she married the minister who helped her realize she had a sign from God.
But the rest of the homes up and down the street offered brighter memories. I had a gang of kids that I hung out with, back in the days when you’d leave home in the morning to go play and your only obligation was to be home in time for dinner. I always relied on Mr. Toman’s whistle, which he belted out around 5pm and we’d close out another day of adventures.
In my elementary school days, the gang consisted of Mike, the other Mike, Glen, Kelly, Kenny, Karen and her brother Dennis, and some other characters that came in and out over the years.
We played a lot of tennis ball baseball, keeping track of those homers that would sail over the house across the street. There was hide and seek, some football that started on lawns—but, when some of the older kid-less neighbors started yelling the classic, “Get off my lawn” we’d switch to playing on the asphalt of the street.
As we got older and a little more daring, we’d climb aboard our bicycles, ala ‘Stranger Things” and ride down to the elementary school or over to Del Amo shopping mall, where we once saw candidate for Governor Ronald Reagan speak from the back of a flatbed truck.
We traded baseball cards, we had fights, we went to movies on Saturday morning, and celebrated birthdays together. It’s like I was lucky enough to grow up in a normal neighborhood, doing the normal things kids should do, in a suburb of Los Angeles.
These days, I could never imagine just letting my kid wander around down there, without a military escort.
Oh, it’s not like a chunk of innocence wasn’t lost during those years; that’s a normal part of any childhood. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis–one of my friend’s lived at a house where they had a bomb shelter in the backyard. There was the JFK assassination, the Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, the Watts Riots, the Manson Murders, the Viet Nam War, the draft and so many other things. I remember thinking for a time that it was just the way the normal world was—wars, riots, every now and a then, a leader was shot to death. Those were your 1960s.
And here I was back at the scene of the crime.
Standing out in the front yard, I could look at each home, and each would generate its own memory. Right across the street, that’s where an older couple named the Kidds invited our family over to watch the Tournament of Roses parade on a real color TV. A couple doors down from them were Fred & Carol, a fun couple who ever now and then would invite us to come over and swim in their swimming pool. It was the only one on the block. Go the other direction, and that’s where Irv lived, nicknamed “the Bachelor” because he was single for years, although he married late in life. Way up at the far end of the street were the Slingerlands, who had a cute daughter named Pam, but I never really got to know her. For a couple of years, I hung out with Irene, who lived a few houses up. The kids teased her because she had such long toes, and gave her the nickname, “Bozo.”
Oh, man, how could I forget Raylene Crocker, who was the first next-door neighbor I played with? She was a year older and when I was 5 years old, she decided to plant a big old wet kiss on me. My very first.
We all remember that special street or lane where we spent those care-free days of our childhood. How lucky am I to be able to go back and visit the place mom and dad raised us? This time, the memories were thick and it made me realize that I better start writing these down somewhere before they get away.
And so I have.