Friday, June 19, 2009

2. The "Ole' Donellen Place"

Here we are at our new home

The year is 1952. The San Fernando Valley, with its historic downtown mission, is just starting to be developed. Our particular rural township is called Panorama City. Noble Avenue is a dirt road, with horse trails. A border of tall trees edge the properties, along both sides of our shady street (sidewalks will soon level these wide pathways, taking the mighty eucalyptus corridor down with them, but not quite yet). I love to stand in a clear field and twirl in circles, until the rim of far-away-purple-mountains seem so clear and close that I can almost touch them. On our weekly auto trips to the dairy, driving through orange and walnut groves, my brother and I sit in the back seat arguing over whether to get chocolate milk or ice cream, once we reach the dairy. On the way home we stop for fruit at a roadside stand.

My friend, Nancy, lives 3 doors down. Her older brother, David, is big enough to watch over us when we walk to school, Our Lady of Peace, just over a mile away. On the way home--after getting candy at the liquor store with our "milk money"--we stop to play in vacant lots. I love how pampas grass grows in tall clumps along the way. As I soon discover, these 'ceremonial staffs' will cut your hands if you try to free them from from their strong root base. There is so much wide open space to explore everywhere. Off Burnett Road there's one hill, above a ravine that's great for sliding down on a piece of nearby cardboard. But our best adventures happen down at 'The Wash'. The wooden bridge, is easy to climb over. Sometimes we lose track of time down in its sandy basin. I love exploring pathways along the high banks and climbing oak trees--especially after a rain, when creek waters flow.

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Ah yes...those were the days! But looking back, now, I must admit that nothing could surpass the ever-evolving promise of the Van Nuys Drive-in movie theater--its looming mural, a window into the time cowboys roamed rancheros, in unspoiled wilderness. How oblivious we were, like the mute stillness of the empty movie screen itself, to time's impending leap over the precipice of our white-washed world. We were the generation who would innocently light that torch one day but this was long before the bubble of post-war dreams would burst. This was the time of birds chirping in the frosty morning, wooden swings hanging on long ropes from tall tree branches, and good old fashion fun.

Every now and then, on a warm night, while owls hooted as we played 'hide & seek', our parents would come outside to present us with the greatest possible surprise: "Do you kids wanna go to the drive-in?" So we'd get into our PJ's, grab some pillows, a blanket, then pile into the car. After waiting in the long line of cars to get in, we would drive around debating over the best place to park. Then we rushed to the playground area, beneath the big white screen. There, along with other kids (in their PJ's too!) we played on swings, jungle-gym, merry-go-round and sand box--as daylight hours waned. Afterward, we'd get hot dogs & popcorn at the snack bar, then return to our car, to settle in for the cartoons. Mom & Dad would argue over how loud to make the 'radio-box' speaker, which hung over the window as we rolled it up against the cooling night. I will always remember how safe I felt in those moments. Even with the angry sound of Marlon Brando's voice, in On the Waterfront, my brother and I had no problem falling asleep in the back seat.