Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Deareljay and Johnny-Mike's Excellent Adventures
My birthday arrives this week and, with every succeeding birthday, I become more nostalgic about everything that's gone before. I have been writing recently about how, as I get older, the fog of ancient activity is lifted and the memories of long ago come flooding back in technicolor brilliance.
Some of my fondest memories are of the years when we had so little of the material world that the love and essence of family became paramount. This week my brother and his wife sent me a photo collage of our extended family. It is absolutely true that every picture tells a story, for as I looked upon the faces staring back at me from that lovely collage, I was taken back to a time and place when the warm cocoon of family enveloped me, protected me...and loved me.
My brother and I are the only ones left from our immediate family. Since we live a distance apart I have to keep up with him through the ether realms of Facebook. But, as I said, as we get older God peels back the fog and affords us a clear-eyed view of the golden days of youth. My, some of them were indeed golden.
I remember when our little town of Selma was a pastoral playground and the weekend streets and sidewalks belonged to kids. In the days before "Mortal Combat" and other video games, we created our own fun and adventure.
My brother and I lived just a block from the canal that runs along Mill street (?). Hot summer days would find us sneaking down to the canal and plunging into the swift flowing and ice cold water. Dumb but fun.
When Safeway opened a grocery store two blocks from our house on "C" street we rode our bikes down there and checked out our next foray. What we found was a loading dock behind the store. Safeway had been ingenious enough to build the loading dock below street level. Directly behind the store they had laid your standard eight inch wide curbing set right on the edge of the loading dock drop-off. Our youthful minds looked over our thee inch wide balloon bike tires, took a sharpshooter's assessment of that eight inch curbing, factored in a six or eight foot drop off to the dock below, and somehow decided we'd like to ride our bikes on that curbing, with the goal not to bring our bikes, and our fragile selves, toward crashing down on the hard concrete of loading dock below. Somehow we survived several early evenings of mayhem. Dumb but fun.
One hot summer night my neighbor friend, Corky, my brother, John, and I, were sleeping out in the back yard. We kept talking about how hot it was, and how nice it would be to be swimming in the city pool. We wondered if it would be possible to sneak into the pool at night and have a swim. Apparently someone equally stupid had those same thoughts because the city had erected an eight foot fence around the pool. Undaunted, we got our swim suits and walked the six blocks or so to the park and pool. Upon arrival we reconointed the area and discovered a hole in their security. Just adjacent to the pool fence was a set of wooden bleachers. We deducted that if we were to climb the first set of bleachers we could leap from them, to the pool fence and over into aquatic nirvana. It worked! Well, kinda. When I leaped from the bleachers to the fence I brought with me a four inch hunk of wood embedded into the sole of my left foot. About the girth of a No. 2 pencil this was far beyond "splinter" class. We're talking real lumber here. Never the less, we were in and spent a good half hour dog paddling and swimming all over that pool!
We then left and I limped home, taking with me a hunk of pine in the bottom of my foot. Now keep in mind, when you're ten years old you have no knowledge of tetanus so the only concern I had was how to get that hunk of lumber out of my foot without the aid, or knowledge of my mom. I haven't a clue how I masked the pronounced limp I had for a good summer month, but somehow I got away with it. Eventually, the pressure from walking, and the accompanying tissue damage around a foreign object, caused the skin on the bottom of my foot to begin splitting, allowing access to the wood chip. I recall soaking the foot in a tub of water which softened the skin around the wood and allowed me to painlessly remove it from my foot. Through the rest of the summer I had a deep and pronounced open ridge on the bottom of my foot and, thankfully, eventually it filled in and I returned to "pre-pool trespass" shape. Dumb but fun.
I've saved our best "excellent adventure" for last. If you look at this pool photo, you'll see a sand colored building in the background. That building was the old Selma High School gymnasium. Flowing northward on those same grounds was the old Selma High School. The old high school was a majestic multi-story building that extended for a good city block. When city officials floated a bond to build a new high school they condemned this proud and majestic old building. Now, for those of you who don't understand, there is very little more intriguing to a young boy than the idea of checking out a condemned building. One morning, my friends Augie and Corky and my brother, John and I strolled down the two blocks from our home to the old school. We began assessing potential access areas and quickly found a broken window and crawled through to an area that was probably the storage basement. Allowing our eyes to adjust to the dark we moved past a strange looking contraption that looked like a children's slide. For the moment we by-passed it and began moving up the various floors of the building, mesmerized by old school papers and books and chalkboards and the refuse typical of an abandoned school.
We finally came upon what today would be termed "emergency exits". What we found when we opened those doors would result in a good hour of entertainment, better than any Disney or carnival ride! What we found was a huge, multi-floor emergency slide that was once used to ferry high school youth through the bowels of the building and safely away from a potential fire. We immediately grasped the idea of a long, long slide through the depths of the building. We calculated the distance from top to bottom and grasped some rudimentary idea of the speed one's body could be catapulted through the depths. And we were just smart enough to be a little afraid. Alas, not afraid enough. Certainly not smart enough to think that, if some maintenance man had disconnected the slide at any level of the building we would be plunged, flailing in open air to our deaths far below. I believe it was Augie who first put his life in jeopardy by entering the chute and taking the first plunge. Once we heard from far below that he was still alive, we too entered the chute and slid and were swept in all directions in our descent!
After everyone had taken the first plunge we were eager to do it again and again. Finally, tiring of it, we crawled back out the back of the old school and stood grinning at each other and squinting our eyes in the bright summer sun. We laughed like hyenas, then took a look at ourselves. We were black ghosts, our faces covered in soot, our clothes blanketed in soot. I don't remember how we got home without being caught, how we got cleaned up without being caught, or how we got those clothes clean enough to be deemed "normal wear and tear" for my mom's laundry day. But, God, did we have fun. We didn't come to vandalize, we broke no windows and we took nothing from that old school, except a wonderful memory to endure a lifetime.
Dumb but fun.