Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Monday, July 8, 2013

Dusty Memories

     “Welcome” to a new group of readers from the Los Gatos area in northern California.  These are mostly former classmates and old friends, so I thought I would focus on some of my memories from the “good ol’ days in Los Gatos.  Just a few quick bits and pieces.

            There are three subject areas on my blog and articles from each can be found in the archives, but I haven’t written many in the category labeled, “When I was a kid.” Back then, the wheel had just been invented and we were trying to see if we could make the first go-cart out of a wooden prune crate using those new round wheel things.  It’s hard to remember events from that long ago.  But many stories about growing up in the ‘50s can be found in my book, “The Huckleberry Days of the ‘50s - Growing up in Los Gatos.”  You can find the book on my website.

            There’s been a lot online about the remodel of the old theater in Los Gatos.  Many of us have dusty memories of that theater where you could watch a newsreel, a couple of cartoons, a serial, and two feature films for 25 cents.  In contrast with the positive memories, I remember a very embarrassing situation from those days at that old theater. 

            I was with a bunch of my rowdy teenage friends when we parked ourselves in the very center of the theater.  All went well until one of the guys was overcome by an acute attack of highly explosive flatulence.  The victim chose to proudly advertise his condition, taking advantage of the acoustic in the theater. Whether by design or chance, he hit critical mass during a quiet, romantic scene in the film.  The more he laughed, the more he contributed to a temporary hole in the ozone layer over Los Gatos.  He actually cleared out most of the main seating section. I wasn’t alone running for the exit. That’s a true story, but not a particularly good memory.  Maybe I should have told you about the popcorn instead.

            Some may remember the old railroad that went all the way from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz.  It was called the “Suntan Special.”  I remember running after freight trains with my buddies, jumping on the outside ladder, and hanging on all the way to the beach.  To avoid detection, just before we got to the terminal we’d jump off, hit the ground hard, and roll in the gravel. 

            And then there was the train trestle.  If you remember the old movie, “Stand by me,” where the kids were trying to cross a trestle as a train approached, you can relate to the anxiety we always felt when crossing that ominous structure located somewhere up by Felton.  If you missed a crossbeam and caught your leg in the gap, you’d have a major problem if a train was coming.  That was not a totally irrational fear, but in our early teens it was fun to imagine frightening scenarios.

            Snow in Los Gatos was unheard of until it hit Los Gatos and the summit area in the Santa Cruz range back in the ‘50s.  It was a great time to cut school and head for the white stuff.  I remember a carload of us loading up on snowballs and nailing car after car until we broke a windshield.  Jun Sasaki reminded me of this, but neither he nor I could remember who put the rock in the snowball.  The school administration was called and we all had to chip in to pay for a windshield replacement.

            I still remember the “fort-building” days and the competition between the ground-dwellers, who dug holes and camouflaged them, and the tree-dwellers, who had the advantage of prehensile tails for climbing.  The gopher guys usually did better, because the monkey guys didn’t have opposable thumbs and kept dropping their tools.  One of my friends built the mother of all foxholes - a huge and deep foxhole hideout in an orchard that was so well camouflaged an unsuspecting farmer drove his tractor into the foxhole head first.  That tractor is now buried under a shopping mall.

            I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I would bet that many of you have great stories from that glorious decade of the ‘50s and growing up in rural America.  For the younger readers - you missed all the fun, but if you know someone with gray hair, ask them to tell what the world was like before cell phones and video games.  You’ll be amazed. 

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  1. I need you folks who read Ralph's blog to help him/me/you out! Please, as I did, twice, buy his book! At Ralph's stage of life fact and/or fiction often run together! His book will serve as the judge of these latest blogs!

    The book is also devoid of many stories that would have Gayle chasing him around the mountains! It is possible, at Ralph's age, that he might "kiss & tell" in his blog, so again buy the book so you will have whole story!

    If he sells enough books he will not have to "go there" and tell all!

    If you really want the "down & dirty" call Tom Higgins! He probably can't remember either!

    1. Ed - Don't bring my poor brother Tom into this. He's sworn to silence. And "thanks" for mentioning my book, but that's really not what the blog was about. But you were right in saying that fact and fiction do get blurred at my age and your age, which is about the same. The thing I said about the ozone layer might have been a bit of literary license, but it helps the story.

  2. Hi guys! My memories of those mostly pre-teenage war years are always augmented by Ralph's memories or stories or fiction as you point out Ed.

    My favorite memory involve me and my late brother Allan, along with Bob Wells, the Davis brothers, Ray Giancola and I think Tom Cox. The battleground was in the large orchard by the Wells house and even extended up Cox Avenue. So it was big and included about 20 others besides those named.

    It was at this battle with multiple deep foxholes where we discovered that not only were BB guns great long range weapons but that San Jose area dirt clods were the equivalent of hand grenades in short range combat.

    Ahh, what memories!

    1. Malcolm -
      While you and your gang of cutthroats were waging war in the Saratoga area, Dick Whitaker and our merry band of warriors were doing our share in the war effort over in Los Gatos. When we were attending Van Meter school prior to moving into the junior high level, we spent lunch hour fighting in the orchard or tossing dirt clod at cars on Bascom Avenue.

      There's a certain pride in being a veteran of that period of civil unrest - mainly by pre-pubescent boys.

      July 9, 2013 at 1:31 PM

  3. I was more of a 'girlie' girl and a 'city slicker' so we didn't have the vacant fields in which you speak, or the railroad tracks.

    But you did get my curiosity aroused when you mentioned you built a go cart with those 'new round wheel things'.

    One day when I came home from school, I was going to skate over to my girlfriend's house. But to my surprise my skates had no wheels. They had been removed. By whom? My brother. He used them for the go cart he had built.

    What type of wheels did you use?

    Have you ever demonstrated to your grandchildren the playing cards on the bike tires fastened with a clothespins? Or how to build, and then learn to walk, with home made wooden stilts?

    Around the pre-teen stage, we made a lot of our own toys. It was not only a challenge, but anticipating to see if the final product would work, was exciting. You had a feeling of accomplishment.

    And of course, there was competition when you saw how the neighbor out built yours, and/or had more bottle caps, etc.

    Of course most of this has given way to electronic gadgets. Sad to say.

    1. Sharon - Yep. I did the card-in-the-spoke thing with my bike. We were stupid enough to think that if we coasted by adults, they would think we actually had motors on our bikes. And, thank you for reminding me, my dad made wooden stilts for us. Suddenly I remember clearly what they felt like. I had totally forgotten about that.
      I don't remember the wheels on our carts, but they must have been large enough to handle dirt roads, as well as paved roads.
      Thanks for more "dusty memories" from our youth.

    2. Are you sure Sharon Stone is not Ralph Higgins re-incarnated?

    3. It sounds like she had fun as a kid too.

    4. Hey, Hey Ed Wall. You may be somewhat right. I think I spent almost as much time at the Higgins ss I did my own home as a teenager.

    5. Sharon -
      My folks were the greatest in opening our home to the kids from the church. Tom and I were very fortunate having the parents we had. From cub scouts to boy scouts to church groups - they were involved in all of it.

  4. Ralph,

    You are so right. They were the BEST.

    I remember going to one of your football games, and your Mom was your biggest fan.

    I loved her.

    1. Thanks Sharon - You're right. My mother was my biggest fan and, as the daughter of Antonio Bacigalupi, she had the ability to express herself like a true Italian.