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

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Huckleberry Days



     With all that is going on in the world, it's difficult to avoid negativity, so, at times, I find myself reflecting on the decade of the '50s; a time just prior to the onset of our national psychosis.  I thought I'd reflect on a few of my light-hearted memories from those great days when I was a kid.           

            I once wrote a book called, "The Huckleberry Days of the '50s" describing my personal experiences growing up in Los Gatos during the '50s.  Silicon Valley back then was a blanket of fruit trees.   Schools had to adjust their starting date based on the prune crop, because  most students worked picking apricots and prunes during the summer. 

            Blossom Hill Road, running from Los Gatos to San Jose, provided a panoramic view of blossoming fruit trees as far as the eye could see.  Those magnificent miles of orchards were the playground for young kids and a source of income for older kids.    

            The orchards and open fields served another purpose - forts.  The urge for young boys to build foxholes and forts seems to be universal.  I still remember those “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. 

            Miraculously this building urge hit all my friends at about the same time.  Our  neighborhoods were pock-marked with foxholes.  It looked like the area had been taken over by a hoard of large ground squirrels.  

            I remember my younger brother building a better fort than the one my buddy and I had built.  Tom is smart.  It takes brains to become a Captain for a major airline.  TWA honored him upon his retirement, which was rarely done. I've always been proud of him.  His mechanical skills blossomed early and I envied his fort. 

            Tom had the additional advantage of having a girl to share his domain.  Tom didn't know the unwritten law that forts were for boys only.  Girls were not allowed in a boy's fort.  But Tom hadn't yet grasped the concept that girls weren't boys.  He thought they were soft boys with long hair who ran funny.

            But ignorance of the law is no excuse.  To express our displeasure, my buddy and I lit Tom's fort on fire while he was inside playing doctor with his girlfriend.  The poor kid tripped over his stethoscope as they both scrambled out in a cloud of smoke.  

            If we had given him a few more minutes to finish his exam, he may have resolved any question he may have had as to why we didn't let soft boys who ran funny into our forts.  Of course, that attitude changed dramatically for all of us a few short years later, but by then we had forgotten how to build a fort.

            There is a lingering rumor that my fort-building buddy used Tom's stethoscope on dates in high school combining it with the reassuring ploy, "It's okay.  I'm a doctor." 
           
            We needed wood for our forts and we weren't adverse to commandeering wood anywhere we could find it.  A local contractor had just completed a house on the next street over from ours. The word on the street was that his house came up one bedroom and half a garage short.  He ran out of lumber.  The poor guy was still studying his wood order when I tossed the last of the camouflage over my hideout.

            I have a friend who was raised in Southern California where orange orchards covered the land.  He and his buddies built the mother of all foxholes.  It was deep.  It was huge.  And it was very well camouflaged.  One sunny day my friend and his buddies were making their daily trek to their underground home when they heard the sound of a tractor.  Suddenly they saw a tractor make a turn down the very row where this huge foxhole had been dug.  It was the farmer who owned the orchard blissfully guiding his tractor into fort-building history.

            The boys took off running as the tractor approached their camouflaged foxhole.  They looked back just in time to see the tractor disappear head first into the black hole.  That was many decades in the past.  Legend has it that the tractor is now buried under a shopping mall and when it's real quiet and the moon is full, they say you can hear the ghostly sounds of a tractor engine idling where orange trees once grew.   

            That's a true story, except for the ghost tractor, and I may have embellished the thing about burning down Tom's fort.  But that was the world I grew up in and it couldn't have been better.


16 comments:

  1. Great blog, Ralph. Brings back memories of fort building and picking prunes in San Jose.

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  2. So do I. The property behind our home was a vacant lot that provided years of digging without needing special permits or inspections.

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    1. I remember that lot. We had a good time in those days.

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  3. I was a master at hole digging. The last one I dug I camouflaged so well that that the cow belonging to a fellow, who kept her in a barn on the property, walked on top of the "roof" where I had planted grass, to do a little grazing. The boards collapsed and the cow fell in the hole. Good thing I wasn't in it, as usual. I was told he had to use his tractor to pull the cow out of the hole. I still don't know how true that is. I had gone to a lot of trouble digging that hole deep enough so I could walk around in it though.

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    1. Bob - I remember you telling me the story of that cow crashing through the roof of your hideout. Your foxhole sounds like it was a big as the one the tractor fell in that I described down the L.A. area. That was a true story much like yours. You have several great stories from those carefree days.

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  4. Growing up in Saratoga and running free in both Saratoga and Los Gatos are high points of my varied life. But I tell you what Ralph, listening you tell stories about those days makes me stop and wonder if i was in the same place? Why before long I think I'll start telling tales about rattlesnakes!

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    1. I should have told that story about the time you actually picked up a comatose rattle snake while picking prunes. That was a great story that you contributed to my book, "The Huckleberry Days..."

      Bob, who commented above, also wrote a chapter in the book regarding an encounter with a snake the size of a fire hose or something. There are a lot of great stories out there.

      You and Bob were the only contributing authors.

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  5. I was not looking to get included Ralph, only slyly suggesting that sometimes you do indeed embellish the stories. All within the bounds of honesty and integrity, of course! Hah!

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    1. You are included whether you like it or not, because we were all picking fruit and building forts back then. You're just the only guy who picked a rattlesnake.

      You're right. I do embellish stories. Tom really didn't have a stethoscope and who would believe that a tractor could run underground for 50 or 60 years. As you said, that's all within the bounds of honesty and integrity...but barely.

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  6. Ralph

    My fort was so strong that when the Cat, complete with disc, plowed over it, it did no damage to the fort.

    We built to last. We also took advantage of the local contractor who also, ran short of material. We used 2x6 tongue and grove, doug fir. We also had stud walls, and paneling instead of sheet rock. Sheet rock was not good under ground. We had a sub floor that would hold several inches of water beneath the floor, should the fort leak during the rain. It never did.

    Nice memories

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    1. I have to mention that Lee, the writer above, lived two houses from me when I was 3 years old and we were pals until I moved to Los Gatos at 8 years old. Lee was a champion wrestler at San Jose State College.

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    2. The comment above was written by Lee, although it indicates it was from me. The following one was also by Lee, although it too has my name as the writer. It's three in the morning and it's my mistake. I shouldn't do this when I'm half asleep.

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  7. When we moved from San Jose to Menlo park, all there was across the street were wheat field which of course became housing tracts. Lot of opportunity for building material
    Your description of the fruit trees was right on. I worked my way through high school and much of college working in the fruit ranches of Santa Clara County.

    Did you ever hear of the Blossom Express?? A train that left San Francisco and went to Santa Clara during the spring time so that passengers could see the blossoms.

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    1. Lee - I have heard of it, although I don't remember riding it.
      We had the most fertile soil in the world and rather than to continue to produce food for the world, we covered it with concrete. brilliant.

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    2. This may or may not be interesting, but Chuck and Lee, who both left comments here were both in kindergarten with me, so we have been friends for 70 years. Wow!

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