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Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Wreck in the Canyon

         Imagination always trumps reality when you're a kid.  Why settle for some mundane explanation when the fantastical will surely make far more sense?   That's the way I saw the abandoned car in the canyon behind the school I attended in the early 1960s in San Diego, California.

         San Diego was far less developed at that time and the vast neighborhoods that were growing on Clairemont Mesa were interwoven with a network of canyons that seemed wild and mysterious to us kids.  During recess at Riley Elementary School I would sometimes stand at the chain link fence that separated the playground from the depths of one such canyon and gaze into the wild place.

          Across the canyon I could see what I had been told was Kearney Mesa--another developing area with more houses and businesses.  That might as well had been another far off country separated by the undeveloped canyon.  Kearney Mesa was interesting, but the canyon lured my sense of adventure.

          At the bottom of the canyon was an old car that I had decided had crashed at the foot of a dirt road that pitched steeply from the opposite rim of the canyon down the embankment to the canyon floor where it forked into diverging directions.  I was convinced that the car had lost control many years ago to come to its current resting place.  Undoubtedly the bodies of the occupants were still inside.  At the very least, perhaps the unfortunate victims had managed to get out to safety, having left something of value in the car.  I knew that I must eventually get to this car so that I could make my tremendous discovery and become a hero.

         Unsure as to why no one else seemed to have noticed the wrecked car in the canyon, I would periodically go to the playground fence, my fingers poking through the mesh as I grasped hold and furtively surveyed the expanse of the canyon.  Finally, my gaze would rest upon the old car.  When summer came I was going to go down there to check it out.

          The canyon was like a playground to me.  I never saw any of the other neighborhood kids down there, but I guess it was just so big that we never encountered each other,  Then again maybe it was such a treacherous ordeal getting down there that none of the other kids were brave enough to go.  I was an adventurer and a climb down a brush covered canyon slope was not going to hinder me.

           After summer had arrived, I organized my expedition of fellow explorers.  My younger sister, Joy, and our friend Ross, who lived across the street from us, agreed to accompany me to the site.  On that morning we went to the school, which was closed for the summer, and made our way along the outside of the playground fence until we found what appeared to be a trail down into the canyon.  We wended our way into the canyon, always on the lookout for rattlesnakes.

          My body tingled with anticipation as we neared the old car.  Dust kicked up by our steps quickly settled in the dry stillness of the warm morning.  Crossing the dirt road in the canyon bottom, we found ourselves standing before the rusting hulk of a car of unknown make or date.  There were no bodies--not even skeletal remains.  There was not even a sign of dried blood.   The occupants had apparently escaped with their lives.

           We discussed among ourselves what we might be looking for now in this wreck.  Circling the car and peering inside it was pretty obvious that there was nothing left in the car.  The cracked and torn weathered upholstery smelled musty dusty.  The glove compartment was empty--not even a map.  I would have at least liked to have found an old map.  The gauges were still intact in the dashboard.  If there had been a way to remove them I would have done so.  I would have liked to have had the gauges.

          Looking around the crash site we could see a few old beer bottles and little else other than the brown dry vegetation that blanketed most of the canyon.    I concluded that the car had been there for a very long time--perhaps before I was born, which had been about ten years prior to this day.  There was no cache of gold or stash of cash.  There was not even a bit of loose change on the floorboard.  Our mission here was finished.

          The sun was climbing high.  The midday heat and the dry dusty canyon was making us thirsty.  A cold bottle of Coca-Cola would have been nice right then.  We decided to head back home.  There wasn't any Coke there, but there was sure to be some Kool-Aid and that would be good too--so would some lunch for that matter.

          Before heading back up the canyon trail, I stopped to look up the dirt road that disappeared into the canyon.  That road probably hadn't been travelled since the days of stagecoaches and cowboys on horseback.  I wouldn't go there on this day, but I decided that one day I'd be back to explore where that road went.  I was pretty sure that there was probably a long lost band of Indians living up there somewhere.
       
           What kind of adventures spurred by imagination did you have as a child?   We roamed pretty freely as children never feeling very unsafe:  How do you think today's environment affects the imagination of children? 

            On Saturday I will have my first special post as I play "tag" and acknowledge an award.  I hope you will join my then.

       

35 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Hi Lee you were missed yesterday.

My adventures as a child was I either was playing the piano or at the library as I loved reading,I did have a dog called Bouncer who I used to take for a walk a few times a day mainly
in the long grass on a large waste land behind our house. How he loved to run freely.
As my grandparents looked after me while mum was working where I could go was very limited,
But I had a wonderful childhood all the same.

I did enjoy your escapades as a child. strange how ones formative years remain with you.

Have a lovely day.
Yvonne.

DEZMOND said...

"Undoubtedly the bodies of the occupants were still inside"

you see this is the charming, natural and easygoing humour that only great narrators have.

I don't think I had any adventures as a kid. I didn't have any other kids in my block, so I was pretty much left alone all the time, so I was constantly drawing and painting. But I did live across a cemetery, I guess that sounds at least spooky if not adventurous :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Nothing dashes imagination like cold, hard reality. Bummer you didn't find anything.

Jules said...

A well painted childhood tale. You were adventurous and I was too. But to answer your question, I worry about imagination of the younger ones. Seems they don't trust themselves anymore or we as adults have forgotten how to.

Great post Lee. :D
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Mary said...

I think childhood imagination may suffer these days since children aren't as free to roam with their make-believe.
Isn't it amazing the parts of our childhood that stick in the backs of our minds? Fun memory, thanks for sharing.

Mary

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Stephen T. McCarthy said...

r-LEE-b ~
Your story made me smile because it was so much like one of my own.

Mine takes place not too far north of yours - in Orange County, California. And mine is not early '60s, but late '60s - more like 1967. But again there was an abandoned old wreck of a car in a large field across from the fenced playground of an elementary school. (Many apartment buildings now occupy the site of that former field.)

But myself and a few other kids would sometimes visit that rusting hulk on weekends and scrounge for clay in the area with which to mold small sculptures. And when the wind was blowing, it would whistle through small gaps and cracks in the abandoned wreckage of the car, which - OF COURSE! - proved to all of us that the car was haunted!

The name we gave to that dead automobile? Why, "the haunted car", naturally!

The times and places may be different, but the stories and imaginations of little kids are similar.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Andrew Green said...

There used to be some old construction fencing in a floodplain near my childhood home....
It stuck out of the ground in a triangular shape, and I always thought as a kid that it was a sunken pirate ship. I wondered why no one ever checked it out for treasure.

Madeleine said...

What a fabulous story. It sounds like potential material for my up coming Cinderella's Shoe blogfest. I was gripped by your story as my imagination was much like yours. My brothers and I roamed miles away from home, as children . A lot of my fantasies were romantic and many of them involved finding an abandoned puppy and being allowed to take it home and keep it. :O)

Laura Eno said...

Boy, did you bring back some memories. In the '60s I used to walk down the railroad tracks in La Mesa. San Diego was a very safe place to roam back then.

Liza said...

I picture the movie version of Grease when they are racing down Thunder Road when I see this picture.

Lynda Young said...

Loved your adventure. Most of my adventures happened in my head.

Margaret Duarte said...

As a child, I was fortunate to live on a farm, and because I had seven younger brothers and sisters, I roamed the property practically supervision free. Exploring was my life. There was always an adventure waiting for me around the corner. We built forts out of hay bales. We swung from ropes attached to trees. We swam in ditches. My granddaughters today have far less freedom. Though I seldom watched televsion as a child, my granddaughters watch a lot of it (mostly educational). They do live on a farm, thank goodness, but do not roam freely. Their parents and I would not allow it. As a result, the girls will probably have more "school smarts" than I did as a child, but possibly won't have the imagination. Only time will tell.

Arlee Bird said...

Yvonne -- I'm appreciating the extra time I have now. I read often when I wasn't playing. I also played my violin, but not as much as I should have to become good at it.

Dezmond -- Sounds like you had a more scholarly arty childhood. No wonder you became a professor. I wonder if vampires roamed the cemetary?

Alex -- I'm not sure I'd really have liked to have found bodies, but a stash of treasure would have been pretty cool.

Jules -- Children are much more protected than we were and for good reason. These are more restraining times for children and their imaginations are guided more by outside forces like TV and modern technology. Ours was a simpler time that encouraged daydreams.

Mary -- You confirm what I just said to Jules. Many of my childhood memories are more vivid than adult memories, probably because I had more time to savor the experiences and think about them.

Asadisae --Thanks for you visit to this blog and to all of the others you visited on this day.

Arlee Bird said...

StMc-- I think we've determined that you and I have had many parallel experiences in our lives.
Old abandoned cars have always fascinated me. They don't seem to be as common as they once were as far as just being out in fields and in open spaces, but I still like to see them if they are there. An old car always has some kind of story that we'll rarely ever know.

Andrew -- Kids are smarter than adults. They can always see the real story that the adults now longer recognize.

Madeleine -- I'll have to check out your blogfest, although I have presumably sworn off for a while.

Laura -- Now the canyons where I used to roam have mostly been developed, although a large portion has been preserved by the city of San Diego as a natural park with hiking trails. I want to go back one day and just hike the trails and feel the aura that I used to experience as a child.

Liza -- Maybe the car had actually belonged to a teenager in the 50s. It must have lost the race.

Lynda -- Most of my adventures really happened in my head as I turned my surroundings into something more than they really were.

Margaret -- Farm life always seem romantic to me. I think parents today are much more protective today than we were. I mean I was well cared for, but I did get some free rein to take some chances and do what seemed like daring things. I think often adults had more of an eye on me than I thought, but my mind was freer. A lot of kids today are smart as far as intellect, but maybe they haven't had a chance to be silly kids as much as I remember things being.

a sojourner said...

getting into and searching old barns and old houses/shacks were a pastime for us. the only problem is one day i took it to a new level and the state police calling....

really enjoyed reading this article, Lee!:)

a sojourner said...

meant to say the state police came calling! my mother saved my butt from being put into reform school.

Diana said...

Oh how I loved your adventure Arlee. What went through my mind was what your mother would have thought if she knew what you were doing!
Things were much different when we were children. We went everywhere! My Katie was 13 before I let her go by herself to our local library, 3 blocks from the house. My how times have changed.
Love Di ♥

Debbie said...

Wonderful!
I think today's kids are lucky if they develop an imagination at all. I do worry about who our visionaries of the future will be.

DiscConnected said...

Lee-

We spent a lot of summers at the Jersey shore growing up.

In Cape May, New Jersey, there was (is?) an abandoned bunker or fort of some kind, I from from WWII (the big one) that we would play in and around.

It became fodder for many summer days and evenings. We'd play games of Capture The Flag around it (not the paint ball game, this was a more combatant version of tag).

Those Jersey summers spanned most of my early years, stretching into my mid twenties.

Of course, as adolescence kicked the hormones in, other diversions occupied those summer days and nights.

Beer, women and song.

And certain smoking weeds.

LC

Jess said...

Hey Lee,

Thanks for stopping by Falling Leaflets. Loved this post about the car in the canyon :)

Marguerite said...

Loved this post about your childhood adventures. Growing up on the bayou was one adventure after another. Boating, fishing, swimming, and lots of parties! My kids grew up on the Atlantic Ocean, so they had lots of adventures, too.

Arlee Bird said...

Bud -- Yes, sometimes we got a bit foolhardy as we got older, but I guess you and I both had a higher power taking care of us.

Diana -- I surprised that my mother and the other mothers weren't more concerned about what we were doing, but that's the way it was.

Debbie -- Imagination did fuel the visionary ideas. Hopefully they will continue to keep coming.

Larry -- I do know what you are talking about -- as we get older our interests and explorations change.

Jess -- Glad you could come by for the visit.

Marguerite-- The bayous I'm sure held plenty of adventures for young'uns. And parties I guess means lots of that good cajun food that you're always teasing me with.

Elaine AM Smith said...

Hi Arlee
Thanks for dropping by and following.
I grew up in Corby, Northamptonshire - this town has woods. In my mind the woods were in the middle of town. Took a twenty minute walk to get there, but so did the trek to the town centre. The summer before the move, two of my brothers and I went out after breakfast, got back in time for tea and spent whole days in the woods; we ran wild. I was the middle child in the group, and I was seven.
The town we moved to was in the countryside, surrounded by fields. We didn't venture beyond the town boundaries because our love of pig and arable farming was less refined. Market day at the farmers' market? I can smell it from here. :s

Ellie said...

I loved your adventure; I think mine mostly were near the shore line, digging and looking for treasure. There were rumors that Davy Jones, had been in Maine and left his. I was always riding to the wharf to see who was there, was anyone catching fish. One time there was a huge jellyfish; Everyone rushed to see it, it had attached itself to the wharf. It was amazing and huge, pink like a huge wad of gum. I didn't swim for a long, time after seeing this. I'd say it was 3' in diameter. It hung out for quite a while. Everyone was talking, about how big it was and what else was in the water. Then the JAWS movie surfaced and created more fear and trepidation.

Children today, don't have the same opportunities. WE as a society are more educated and hence fearful. Pedophiles have always existed; Everyone thinks there are more.
I'm not so sure, just back in my youth the media didn't print or discuss this type of news.
Computer games may have broaden or stifled imagination; It is according to the child. I can remember my parents thinking TV was what stifled us. "Go outside,when I was your age,I would be outdoors from sunrise to sunset. They would have to drag me indoors. You kids don't have any imagination." Let's not forget they walked 5 mls uphill to school, in a blinding snowstorm, barefoot ;-D !~

Karen Lange said...

It was a different world when we were kids, wasn't it? My sister, friends, and I would roam our neighborhood pretty freely, but I wouldn't recommend it now. Our adventures included playing houseboat in a two story outbuilding in our back yard. When the boys from across the street would play with us, it'd be a pirate ship.
Have a great weekend,
Karen

Carol Kilgore said...

I would've been inspired by that old car, too. I think kids today miss out on a lot by not being able to run around and play freely in the neighborhood. We had such good times.

The Words Crafter said...

What a great adventure and imagination! When I was growing up, Grandma kept us "cousins" and we roamed everywhere.

There was an antique vanity that contained several old newspapers. One detailed a gruesome murder and we would make up stories about what really happened and see who could be the scariest....

The mobile society we live in today doesn't offer quite the network that I remember growing up. And as for pedophiles and what not, they existed 40 years ago....they just weren't talked about. TV, cable, video games, internet...all keep children indoors and more isolated. And the toys and games are already laid out for them, no need to use much imagination. This is a primary concern for us teachers....

I feel they miss out on a lot...

Did you ever go and explore the dirt road?

Arlee Bird said...

Elaine -- The woods are some of the greatest places to stir the imagination--even as an adult.

Ellie-- I do think there are greater dangers facing children in our time for many different reasons. There is much to be said for kids playing outside and taking control over their own imaginations instead of letting electronics run them.

Karen -- Girls could always put a different spin on things than boys would.

Carol -- As kids we went all over the neighborhood, but I think we were pretty careful. Nothing bad ever happened.

Words Crafter -- I guess I did go up the road eventually, but it was just more canyon with no lost Indian tribes. Now a freeway runs where that dirt road used to be and the neighborhoods are even more sprawling. My old school is there but I don't think it's an elementary school anymore. I go down to San Diego every few years and I usually try to include a visit to the old neighborhood.

Paula Slade said...

The biggest adventure I had as a kid was biking about 2 miles from home to a treacherous building lot that had been piled high with large dirt and gravel mounds, repeatedly running my bicycle down the hill until I took quite a tumble. (After all these years I still have cinders in my knee to prove it.)

I think crime statistics as well as over use of television and computers curtail a great amount of creativity for children.

Had to chuckle Lee - my grammar school was Riley School too. :)

notesfromnadir said...

I love how you built this up to where I was thinking that you would find skeletons in the car! But it was clear that others had gotten there 1st & had picked it over like car repair enthusiasts usually do.

At least you got some Kool Aid for your efforts. & maybe 1 day you'll follow that canyon trail.

I had lots of adventures when I was a kid -- too many to share here! :)

Arlee Bird said...

Paula -- Some of my biggest kid adventures were the bicycling ones. Yes, I too liked the daredevil stunts. I also liked to go on lengthy bicycling treks or "bike hikes" that would last all day. Years ago it was very popular to name schools after poets and authors; now there are a lot of schools named for activists and politicians which I think is a sad statement for education.

Lisa -- KoolAid was such a popular drink when I was a kid. It was something like two quarts of water and 2 cups of sugar before they started making the presweetened stuff.
I still get filled with wanderlust when I see a mysterious road just beckoning me to follow it. Haven't grown up that much I guess except now I have a car. Maybe one of your upcoming books can recount some of those childhood adventures.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Arlee .. I loved that picture story ... I could 'hear' your thoughts about what was there, and I could be with the three of you as you went on your adventure .. very evocative. Times and places change so much .. with all the development .. thanks loved reading this.

We too used to wander off into the woods and streams and explore .. loved being free as you say .. happy days .. Hilary

Bess Weatherby said...

Hi Lee, I found your blog via Iggi and Gabi's blogparty. I love your story -- sometimes I feel like the world was just so much more fascinating when I was a kid, and even a random empty field was just an adventure waiting to happen.

Books, I think, help bring us back to that place, where things are not quite what they seem.

I'm looking forward to reading more from you :)

Cheers,

~ Bess

Arlee Bird said...

Hilary -- Thanks for visiting. Oh, to be able to wander and wonder as we did when we were children.

Bess -- Books do have a power to take us far beyond our daily lives when we let them. Thanks for visiting.