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 kids thought that the world made sense. The Lone Ranger didn’t kill the bank robber. He just shot the gun out of the robber’s hand at 200 yards and it didn’t even hurt. Good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. Life was simple.
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 — dirt-clod wars, prune and apricot fights … and forts. The urge for young boys to build foxholes and forts seemed to be universal back then.The blue prints for fort building were rolled up somewhere in a boy’s DNA ready to blossom at just the right time. If the urge to build a fort hits too early, a small child will become obsessed with hiding behind furniture or under blankets hung over chairs.If it hits too late the unfortunate young man may find himself living in tunnels under New York City or the sewer system of Chicago.
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 seemed to have the advantage of prehensile tails for climbing. The hole diggers usually did better, because the tree dwellers didn’t have opposable thumbs and kept dropping their tools. Our neighborhoods were pockmarked with foxholes. It looked like the area had been taken over by a hoard of large ground squirrels.
My younger brother, Tom, built a beautiful fort. Tom had the 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 just 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 the questions he had as to what these sweet creatures who ran funny were. 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 tree 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 foxhole 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 a 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 legend of the ghost tractor, and I may have embellished other things a bit, but that was the world I grew up in and it couldn’t have been a better time to be a kid.