Little Pink Houses
Joe Frazzette ~ Coming Soon!
Working Title: My Father's Son
This is an excerpt from one of my upcoming works.
CHAPTER JULY 1986 HIGHWAY 15N; BAKER, CA
It was a typical summer day in the middle of the desert with a scorching temperature hovering around one hundred and ten degrees. I had just graduated from college, a California State University, and was headed for Las Vegas, Nevada. Having just been hired by the Quaker Oats Company in an on-campus recruiting campaign, I was brought on-board to manage sales for the company in the southern Nevada market. I guess I could say the guidance and encouragement from my parents over the years had finally paid off. It was good to realize a little hard work and diligence could go a long way to making my life a little better. It’s hard to imagine now that I resisted going to college for a few years after I graduated from high school, but in the end it all worked well for me.
The small U-Haul I pulled behind my truck was packed with my belongings and when I finally unloaded at my new destination, I had to question why I had even brought some of that old stuff with me. There was a lot of junk in that load, but it was my junk and it included memories of growing up in Valinda. I was now headed for the first stage of my sales career and couldn’t have picked a better spot if I had to pick it myself. Luckily for me, the Quaker Oats Company called and they had the perfect location for the start of my career as a sales manager. What could have been better for a twenty-six year old bachelor than setting up shop in the city of entertainment? Sometimes I attribute the fact I stayed a bachelor for such a long time to the idea Las Vegas made me that way. Not so, I think it was just in my DNA and Las Vegas happened to be the perfect city for me at that time.
As I passed through Baker, California the world’s largest thermometer confirmed the temperature for me, one hundred and eight. The disc jockey had just put a set together that included John Mellencamps ‘Little Pink Houses’. I had the radio volume turned up and if the vocals had blasted any louder the speakers would have cracked on that old stereo I installed in my Toyota pick-up. My mind instantly traveled back in time and I reflected on the years I grew up in our old neighborhood, specifically our home on Helmsdale Avenue. Yeah, little pink houses for you and me. I couldn’t have described it any better myself. I was five years old and my parents had taken my sister and me for a ride into the San Gabriel Valley, to a little town called Valinda. This small town was nestled in between the cities of West Covina and La Puente, east of Los Angeles by about forty minutes. It was a new community; so new, the housing track we were going to move into still had dirt on every lot, with a little pink or white house trimmed in the opposite color. Mellencamp couldn’t have known I was raised in those lyrics he belted out as I sped northbound on that clear straightaway which took me through the dusty stop known as Baker, California. Oh but ain’t that America, home of the free.
That was certainly my America. Picture a five year old kid standing on the ledge of a hillside that bordered the next property. I watched as my new neighborhood friends, Joey and Tony had a mud fight in that soupy pig sty they made from the dirt lot which held their little white house. Yeah, they had a white one with black trim. Seems it didn’t quite fit with the rest of our little pink houses, but it did break up the monotony. After we moved into our new home, I quickly discovered the large number of kids in the neighborhood. The numbers were staggering, or it sure seemed that way. We had enough kids in the neighborhood to staff a couple of small army platoons, and we did just that. Back in the early days, there was enough dirt from the new building of homes to stock us with the tools we needed for our street wars. We used to fill pails with dirt and mix it with water to create mud bombs for the wars we had with Elsberry Street. Marie Cooley used to have a view from her kitchen window and when she saw the mud balls flying she would promptly call the moms in the neighborhood. It wasn’t long after we all had to quit, clean-up, and face the music when our fathers came home. The talk most of us got from our fathers was never too serious and the mud-slinging would commence again in a day or two.
When I was around twelve years old, I remember a few of the neighborhood guys used to make fun of our neighbor Stanley Eide. He was the guy with greasy hair and a greasy smile, yeah just like the song says. Stan would habitually make a stop at the local bar after work and when he arrived home, it was a funny sight. I recall a few times in which he didn’t make it to the front door. Nope, he would just pull up to the curb in front of his house, open the door, and fall out of his old Chevrolet Pick-up. It was hilarious to watch him do head dives; face first right on the black tar road. I know his wife Connie had to be embarrassed when she had to go out and pick his drunken ass up off the ground and drag him inside. Eventually, Connie left him, but things never got any better for old Stanley. His problems with booze didn’t do his sons any favors either, as they were ridiculed by many of the meaner kids in the neighborhood. Yeah, we had a few mean ones, but I was usually protected by the older friends I made. They would have my back in case I encountered the teasing or harassment of those bullies. I promised myself at that time I would be careful not to become an alcoholic, but some promises are made to be broken. Not that I did become a drunk, but I was the kid in our family that always pushed the envelope. I guess I was fortunate to have been born to my parents. Without them, who knows what direction I would have headed or where I might have ended.
I remember being selected as the bat-boy for the Dodgers at Fairgrove Little League. Our neighbor, Tony De La Paz asked my father if he would mind me joining the team he coached as their bat-boy. The Dodgers were in the majors, which was the division comprised of ten to twelve year old boys, and I was only seven at the time. I learned to play ball by practicing with the older kids and became a pretty good athlete myself. I became an All-Star baseball player in Little League, Senior League, as well as a starting infielder on my high school baseball team. I also played football and those skills were developed in the street games we held in the old neighborhood as well. It was touch football on the gravel, but every once in a while we would get enough kids to field two solid teams and go out to the grass field at Valinda School to engage in a tackle football game. Nobody ever got seriously hurt, but there were some bumps and bruises on several occasions. I liked getting the accolades from the older kids and used that to fuel my confidence when I entered high school and competed for a starting spot on the freshmen team. I was actually a four year starter at a private school which was held in high regard for its athletic teams. I thank the guys in the old neighborhood for helping me develop my athletic skills to not only play the two sports, but play them rather well. When I was old enough to drive, I recall my neighbor Gary Dennison making a comment about clearing the roads, trouble was coming. I laughed, but he must have known something was up when he said it. I ended up wrecking the Chevy Vega my dad gave me when I rear-ended a guy after picking up my brother from school. I was distraught when I called him, but my dad only wanted to know if my brother and I were okay. Once he confirmed neither one of us had an injury, he told me I needed to find work to pay for my own insurance. It was a good thing for him, because I ended up having a lead foot too. I averaged at least one speeding ticket every six months and he certainly didn’t want to have to cover that on his insurance premium.
Yeah, that old neighborhood holds many memories for me. I spent over fifteen years there and it still holds a piece of my soul. I’ll never forget Helmsdale Avenue, home of the free, the weekend barbeques, fourth of July parties, and so many kids I thought I might have been transported to a new world when I first showed up.
Ahh, but ain’t that America; little pink houses for you and me.