Sunday, May 22, 2016

STRANGE THINGS IN A SMALL TOWN

The small California town where I went
to high school was nestled among these hills.
It still looks about the same as I remembered it.

My family moved numerous times when I was a child in Southern California. We lived in Glendora, Covina, Pomona, Anaheim - then the Small Rural Town, and finally back to Anaheim again.

Between the ages of 13 to 18 we lived in a small rural town nestled in the rolling hills, halfway between Orange County and Riverside.

Why don't you tell us the name of the small rural town, Jon?

Hell, you already know too much about me. I have to maintain some semblance of privacy. Besides, I don't want anyone delving into my high school records. Even though they were damn good.

Those six years were probably the best years of my young life. The town had a very quaint atmosphere and a sense of normalcy prevailed. We knew nearly everyone and had lots of friends, our neighbors were fantastic. If it wasn't for my father's usual violence and complete dysfunction, things would have been perfect.

I loved my high school and still keep in touch with a few of my old school friends. I always walked to school, which was nearly three miles one way. Two of my friends had motorcycles and they occasionally gave me a ride. Frank Kastin who lived on my street, and a black guy named Kenny Johnson.

I was an absolute nerd back then - - hopelessly tall, pathetically skinny, painfully self-conscious, astoundingly naive, and annoyingly bespectacled. In retrospect, it's extremely amusing to imagine me riding around town on a motorcycle with a black dude.


Yours truly at age sixteen.
I never wore my glasses, so I groped my way
through high school totally blind


So, what's strange about the small rural town, Jon?

You'd think a small rural town would be safe. Shortly after we first moved there, two big burly guys tried to break into our house in broad daylight. I was in the kitchen. They scaled the six-foot wall that enclosed our yard, came right into our screened-in patio, and tried to open the kitchen door. I pulled it shut and locked it, then yelled that I was going to call the police. They took off running and we never saw them again. I was thirteen at the time.

There was a Flasher in town. I had never personally seen him, but I'd heard plenty of stories. He had reportedly exposed himself to many unsuspecting strangers. Sometimes he was bold enough to knock on doors and flash his wares to whoever happened to answer. He was never caught.

There was the Wine Lady. At least that's what everyone called her. She was an alcoholic who wandered up and down the streets all day long while incessantly talking to herself. She often came past our house - - wildly gesticulating and having loud conversations with herself. At the time it seemed amusing. I didn't realize how pathetically serious it was.

I knew the Wine Lady's son Henry and his wife Sandy. They were nice, decent people who went to our church. Henry repeatedly tried to get help for his mother but to no avail. She was a hopeless cause.

A short block away from our house, on the corner, was a very old and tiny wooden house. It was occupied by an ancient lady known as Mrs. Brown. She was at least in her late 90's, possibly near 100. Mrs. Brown was  afraid to go to sleep at night, so she'd sit up all night long in a chair looking out the front window. One night she died in the chair. They found her stone cold dead, still staring out the window. Shortly afterwards the house was torn down. I rummaged through the remains and found some old newspapers from the first World War.

One summer night when I was fifteen, there was a murder only three houses down from where we lived. It was a rental house and we never knew exactly who lived there. On summer nights I very often sat outside on the curb in front of our house talking with friends.

On this particular night I was outside with two friends. Suddenly a loud argument interrupted the serenity of the evening. It was coming from the rental house. Two Mexican men came outside fighting. One stabbed the other with a butcher knife. He staggered, fell, and died on the sidewalk only a few yards away from us. It happened in an instant and we saw the whole thing. Later, we learned that they were fighting over a woman.

The large rusty blood stains remained on the sidewalk for a very long time. That autumn, every time I walked to school I'd cross the street before I got to the blood stains - - so I wouldn't have to walk on them.

Hey, I'm just getting warmed up. These are only a few of the strange things that happened in our small rural town.

And Linda - if you happen to be reading this, I love ya - because we share the memories.





14 comments:

  1. Those are quote some stories for a small town. When I come to California I've only ever in Northern California, mostly San Francisco, Napa, Sausalito and the like. Was the area you lived in safe? That break in would have left me scared stiff. Just recently we had a girl crossing the iron bridge that's connects new hope to Lambertville, with security booths at both ends. She entered the bridge on the new hope side, but never came off the other side! I haven't heard yet if they have found a body. Your wine lady reminds me of the opera lady who wondered the streets where I lived in downtown Harrisburg. She sang opera while walking, always had a hat on with flowers. I think she wasn't homeless, but lived in squalor like the Beales. I had heard in youth she was an aspiring opera singer, but her husband died, and she went looney. She complimented my window boxes once on one of her sojourns. Never talked much, just sang opera. I loved this post Jon. Forgive me I'm behind reading blogs....my social life was busy this week with festivities.

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  2. and the stuff you are describing can happen ANYWHERE in america. ya never know what lies below the surface...

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  3. What lies beneath, indeed! What a contrast to the tiny, homogeneous community in which I was raised. What a traumatic experience with the near break-in!

    I don't know whether to be sad on behalf of your Mrs. Brown ... or relieved. This hit close to home since DH has experienced episodes he won't come to bed because, "I'm afraid I'm not going to wake up."

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  4. Yes, what lies beneath. Seeing a murder that close up--whew! You were quick thinking to lock the door on the thugs. I moved so many times (over 30) after I left home those first 30 years that I don't remember where I was living, but there was an old lady who wandered the streets in what looked like an old prom dress or ball gown with a huge flowered hat and big dark work boots. She was always having a conversation with an invisible companion. Was quite sad. She looked so fragile. I haven't thought of her for years.

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  5. Jon,

    Yep, that's small town reality all right. I think we lived on the same street, our blocks were just 3,000 miles apart. I would not have guessed that picture was you at 16. The description could have been me, except I got ...or had...dark brown hair. I choose to keep my glasses on and avoid walking into telephone poles, but otherwise...

    Larry

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  6. Sounds like Delta Dawn lived in quite a few communities from your commenters. People can be so fragile. I can't remember anything exciting from my childhood and, knock on wood, hope that nothing exciting happens in my future. I just stopped reading a Facebook group about crime in our community. It was scaring the bejesus out of me. Ignorance is bliss, I say.

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  7. Crazy people walk by my house everyday carrying on conversions with the wind. They are usually on a synthetic party drug called flocka (bath salts). I read somewhere that music as we know it today would be completely different if it weren't for LSD in the '60's.
    Rock On crazy people!

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  8. When cell phones came out, it just looked like more people were talking loudly to themselves. Norma and I thought was a lot like when Reagan was Governor and shut down all the state-run mental hospitals.

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  9. Below the surface small town America is riddled with pathogens that eat at it's core. You witnessed first hand the effects. Interesting stories indeed.

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  10. Jon,
    What an interesting life you have had and continue to have. Of course your writing skills make writing about your memories come to life. I love reading about your history. Have you ever considered moving back to California? Living in California is a definite option for me, especially if at some time I get a diagnosis that I have some kind of terminal illness. California now has a right to die law. Not to sound morbid but what a wonderful place to die, California.
    You (and Lar) have given me inspiration to write about my early life. I too have those memories, albeit no murder. Deaths though and strange ladies and men who are indelibly in my memory bank.
    Ron

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  11. I have realised what it makes me think of. The background to a Ray Bradbury short story. I am not sure if he set his stories in California but whether he did or not I always imagined somewhere like you describe. Ray Bradbury's stories were part of the literary background to my teenage years.

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    1. I do believe that many of Bradbury's stories were set in - or influenced by - small California towns, since he was raised there.

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  12. How awful that you saw that guy get killed. I don't blame you for crossing the street to avoid walking on the bloodstain.

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  13. I always savor all of your comments, and I usually love to reply. I can only blame my laziness for not replying this time around.

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I love comments. Go ahead and leave one - I won't bite. But make sure you have a rabies shot just in case.