Artist and guest columnist Keith Larson puts pen to sketchpad to bring back childhood memories of a tree fort he and his pals built at Washington Park.
My perfect day was actually three months long, a continuum of experiences created by the long honored tradition of giving kids and teachers a break in the summer. Days were spent in the present moment. As adults, don’t we hear a lot about “being in the now?” When I was 10 I didn’t worry about the past or the future when it was summer. Time was marked by, “Hey, what do you want to do now?” And so this special time in my life was structured only by what my friends and I could make up.
Perfect days started by lounging in front of the TV with elbows on the carpet and hands under your chin watching a variety of Hanna Barbara cartoon offerings, Wally Gator, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw and my favorite, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy.
I tended to be the one in my neighborhood who wanted to get the day started. Mothers, who were always at home, got the knock on the door quite early. “Can Scott come out and play?”
Grand Visions of Tree Forts and Kool-Aid Stands
“He’s still watching TV, but you can come in.” Parents sometimes were concerned about how much TV to let us watch. I was lucky—I had only one screen to compete with while trying to get my friend’s attention. But I had to paint grand visions of tree forts we could build or money-making schemes like Kool-Aid stands to get my buddies away from the cartoons.
Eventually I got at least one friend to put on play clothes so we could start the perfect day. I lived on Marino Pines. There was more forest back then behind the high school and Forest Grove School, which was near to my neighborhood. People dumped their old wood in these places, which was good for us because we could many times recycle the material into a tree house. Nails came from the hardware store in the Forest Hill Shopping Center. At that time they were sold by weight. I remember a friend’s dad showing us how to take old nails and bend them straight so they could be reused.
Where did we get our money? A Kool-Aid stand at the corner of 19th and Marino Pines was a pretty good business for us, as was collecting returnable bottles from the forest if we could find a store owner willing to bother with the load we pulled in a red Radio Flyer wagon. Besides money for building projects, there was always a need to finance our comic books, Jolly Rancher candies and bubble gum with cards included.
Finding Heaven in the Camp Store
Heaven for us was the camp store at the corner of 17 Mile Drive and Sinex. The store was adjacent to a collection of rental cabins that is now 17 Mile Drive Village. The camp store was a ways from my neighborhood, but it was worth it because of all the goodies sold there—comic books, candy, ice cream, trading cards.
Well that takes care of the morning. At home, Mom made lunch. I happened to like Campbell’s tomato soup with saltines on the side and a tuna sandwich. I don’t remember Mom asking me what I was doing all day; she probably assumed that if it was bad stuff she would hear about it later and would let Dad take care of it. The trouble we got into is another story and could fill up this column for weeks.
Summer afternoons were always celebrated with a few spur-of-the-moment baseball games. It seemed like we would always come up short on the number of players needed, so most of the time we used the time-honored ghost runner on first. We could really get into who was winning for awhile but at the end of the game it didn’t seem to matter much. Hitting the ball, getting on base and catching some fly balls were all that mattered.
Late afternoons found some of us in front of the tube, tuned in to KTVU out of Oakland, as Captain Satellite blasted off into space with a collection of old Warner Brother cartoons, games, contests, and commercials The captain encouraged us to try a 7-up ice cream float instead of using root beer, which I had while watching the show. Thanks, Mom, for getting the ingredients. We put a lot of trust in the Captain when he made suggestions.
I built my last tree house in 1969 with a friend behind the high school. Childhood came to a close on that Saturday after those few boards had been nailed in place. I recently found an original board that had fallen from the tree. The perfect day made a feeling in me that I have used to measure my other days There is nothing quite like the freedom to just make it up as you go along.
I’ll meet you down at the camp store then maybe we can smash a few pennies on the tracks when the train comes through Asilomar. Just thinking about those times can bring back the feeling of my perfect day in the Grove.
Join the Class, Write a Short Story for “Life in Pacific Grove”!
The next FREE “PG Writes!” memoir session will be Thursday, December 15, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Little House in Jewell Park. The theme is “Finding Food in PG: Markets, Restaurants, Gardening and Preserving, and the Farmer’s Market.” Don’t miss this chance to have your story included in “Life in Pacific Grove”, a 444 page book filled with stories by and for PG residents and visitors.
All proceeds will benefit the Pacific Grove Public Library.
Patricia Hamilton is available to give a presentation to your group, book club, service organization, friends and family, and lead a writing session to gather stories for the book, beginning January 15, 2017. Contact her at [email protected] to set up a date and time.