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.