A TOM SAWYER WANNABE!

Tom Sawyer Was My Hero!

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were two of my favorite characters growing up. They got into lots of trouble, had off-the-wall adventures, and faced doomsday scenarios with many of their exploits. For some reason, and with no direct intentions of copying their lifestyle, my encounters as a young lad were similar. I wound up getting involved in numerous unconventional endeavors that were very much like the things they often did.

When I think back to the time in my life when I was just a kid in grammar school, I find it hard to imagine how I survived through it all. I was always getting into trouble for one thing or another. As far as I was concerned, the proper learning curve for my feeble mind was not available during my formative years and finally took hold much later in life. At least I think so!

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley area of Southern California after leaving New Orleans, I think my curiosity got the best of me more often than not. It was a time when I found different ways to make my life extremely interesting, to say the least. And some of the things I did were not always done on purpose.

California Or Bust!

Although being born in New Orleans, my dad had inspirations for becoming an actor in Hollywood. To fulfill that dream, he eventually moved our family westward in the early 1950’s. California was just starting to enter the housing boom back then and we just happened to live in a house where there was plenty of barren and open land surrounding us. A pelting rain storm or flash flood in the area was a regular occurrence, and just making your way around on foot was sometimes treacherous.

Sometimes I had to cross a big dip in the road which followed the contour of a dry creek bed on my way to school in the morning. As you might expect, it often had fast moving water flowing through it after a heavy rain. That area being high desert country meant the surrounding sandy soil would not absorb the excess water coming through. You could be up to your knees in turbulent rapids working your way towards the other side before reaching high ground. Some kids got knocked over by the torrent and got their clothes all wet, myself included, more than once. It was years later before the roadway was raised and an opening underneath was created to handle the maelstrom.

I also remember an area on that path that was covered with extremely tall and very thick strands of bamboo. Some kids previously had created some passageways through the thicket and make secret hiding places. I found myself getting involved with that same endeavor by doing my own cuttings with a friend, and it was hard work! But I guess that restriction doesn’t matter much when you are configuring a much needed hiding place where you can hangout. However, at nighttime everything was pitch black and that was when it really got spooky in there.

Fire! The Backyards On Fire!

An event that helped fuel my misadventures was the time when my dad decided that he wanted a built-in swimming pool in the back yard. However, instead of hiring a contractor for that task, he dug out the massive hole himself with the help of some friends (I think he promised them a booze party as a lure). To clear the area, they removed lots of tumbleweeds and piled them up along the fence way in the back of our very deep piece of property.

One day I had this brilliant mindset that required some information about the flammable characteristics of those weeds. I mean, would they really burn if given a chance? So, without giving the matter much thought, I lit a match and threw it on the pile. Bolstered by the fact that the air was very dry and a slight breeze had been sweeping through the area, it went up in blazes like a massive bonfire. Before I knew it, the nearby fence caught fire.

While entering into panic mode, I ran and sought a long hose that had enough length to reach the holocaust . Finding one, I ran towards that inferno as fast as I could and was able to extinguish the flames before too much damage took place. Our property and adjacent  ones close by were spared. I forget what punishment my dad laid on me, but I am sure it was something nasty, like whipping me with the very hose that saved the neighborhood.

The Ugly Tree House!

We eventually moved to another home about five miles away located at the end of a cul de sac. We had an orange orchard in the backyard and the lot across the street was filled with those type of trees. The farmer who owned all the land in the area at one time, still had his homestead and operation right next door to us. He once owned the lots our neighborhood homes was built on before selling them off to a developer. Since a good number of those trees remained after the houses were finished, we made good use of them by picking the fruit and making fresh juice whenever we so desired. I was the designated gofer who climbed up through the branches and picked the oranges.

As fate would have it, my few friends and I had rivals in the neighborhood who were always causing us trouble. So, we protected ourselves by building a convoluted “tree-house” style fortress in the backyard. For that task, we gathered up used lumber where we could find it and built the ugliest thing you ever saw.

After making it somewhat usable, we lined it with old carpet that began turning moldy over time and stunk somewhat after each rainstorm. To keep predatory humans (or tree climbing animals) out, we coated the outside with a chemical that had the odor of rotten eggs. That procedure worked so well, it kept us out too. Brilliant!

Homemade Go Karts To Die For!

Another thing I remember that took place while living in that second house was the construction of wooden go karts we called “coasters”.  We fabricated them using boards held together with nails to make up the frame. The axles were fashioned with discarded pieces of rebar rods attached to 2×6 lumber boards held fast to the frame with a single bolt and nut that allowed it to pivot. It was long enough in the front of the cart to make allowance for the steering process with our feet.

A rope handle attached to the frame kept us from falling off. There was no motor, so we made them go with the help of gravity. To make things interesting, we didn’t build them all that well. It was kid construction all the way through with no parental help involved!

For adventuresome pursuits, we would pull the contraptions along with ropes behind our bikes, something that was quite difficult, I might add. Seeking a proper foothills street for evaluating our contraptions, one was found that went up an incline about 10 degrees. Perfect, we thought for proving the value of our creations.

Death Defying Acts Of Foolhardy Behavior

So, we somehow coaxed our tired legs a bit more and drug them up towards highest point on that street. Then we hopped on each cart and steadied them by placing our feet on the pavement. When ready, we pulled our legs in and rode these death traps down the hill at high-speed. The only methods available that could stop these carts was either the expeditious use of the soles of our shoes sliding along violently on the pavement until forward progress was halted, or the unfortunate presence of an unforgiving barrier right in the path of our line of travel.

At the end of this road was a cross street that also doubled as a busy thoroughfare. Needless to say, there were several times we couldn’t stop the things in time and simply flew across the intersection out of control. These moments included instances when an approaching car would almost run us over. Drivers would swerve or hit their brakes hard to avoid killing us.

As you might guess, none of their follow-up commentaries were inspirational or print worthy. Yet, somehow we survived that brainless series of exploits with some very near misses. Thankfully, the cops were never called into action, and our parents never found out!

The Makeshift Barnyard And Fateful Flights To Freedom

What made life even more interesting was that the farmer, the one  I mentioned earlier, wound up befriending me. Since we sort of lived in a country style environment, he let me have a bunch of his pigeons so that I could take the buggers home and raise them (after I begged and pleaded with him). He knew that I had already built an enclosed pen for chickens and some ducks, so I guess he figured the winged poopers might seem like a no-brainer.

From him I learned that the birds would stay in and around your hutch permanently if you kept them contained for a certain period of time. I somehow determined that designated timespan was only a couple of weeks before letting them out. So I kept them cooped up for my guesstimated length of time before finally giving that theory a test.

So, I pulled the latch and opened the door. If, by now, you are guessing a worst case scenario took place, you’d be right! They flew straight back to the farmer’s house and that was that. Oh, and the concrete lined pond I built was quickly filled with water-clogging bird droppings and that finally ended my duck raising endeavor as well.

The Spooky Franken Cat

On top of all that, I could have bonded with Tom Sawyer even more so by the way I handled another undertaking. Having the wild notion of digging up dead cats and using their remains as an ominous warning sign attached to our treehouse door was another idiot endeavor.  After spotting their road killed bodies on a nearby highway, we hauled them home in a large bag.

We then “temporarily” buried the deceased felines in the orange groves.  This was done because we had sinister ulterior motives running through our minds. We decided that the skulls would ward off evil persons and invisible spirits from our prized treehouse.

After letting the dead bodies rot for a while, we dug them up. The heads would get removed and then cleaned out (phew). Creative methods were used to fasten them to the entry door to scare off adversaries. Not very appetizing now that I think about it. Kind of like Halloween would be perfect for this sort of exploit. Needless to say, we didn’t let anyone else know for fear of getting busted.

Fowl Pets!  

Pets were another issue. I did have a dog as a pet, but he got run over by a car while we were on vacation, so I wound up looking elsewhere for animalistic companionship. Horned toads (kind of like fat round lizards) were an option, but their food choice was flesh stinging ants, so I gave up that idea. Gophers were next, but kept digging holes in the yard. My dad nixed my idea after he found out I was pulling them out of traps he set. Al my parakeets either died from abuse or simply flew away when the cage door was left open. In the end, I always seemed to be burying any animal that I chose, so I gave up pets for awhile.

My dad did have his own chicken pen, but he was raising them for their meat and fresh eggs. I would get used to their being around our yard and tried making pets out of a few now and then. However, that scenario was doomed from the start. Chickens don’t make good pets and peck you when you pick them up. Still, I tried anyways and hated it when slaughter time arrived.

Dad would get together with his friends for the dirty deed. The method was simple. Hold the birds by the neck and fling the bodies forward snapping the head off. I didn’t enjoy those festivities since I had become attached to the birds while they were growing up. To make matters worse, I got stuck plucking off the feathers on many of them. It was hard on me and  sure was labor intensive. The fresh meat and eggs, however, really tasted good, so we ate them often.

Fooled Me Once!

One of my naive learning curves once took a blow when I trusted my father to teach me something about palm trees. The moment came while I was helping him build a “Tiki” style room addition in the back of the house. It was fashioned after similar ones he saw when making his previous movie on location. He got the inspiration from doing that particular movie in Hawaii.

One of the “souvenirs” he brought back was a big coconut. I asked him what was in it. He told me it was made of wood and “naturally” grew with 4 divided sections inside. One for cow’s milk, one for orange juice, one for rum, and one for the regular coconut milk you would normally find inside. I believed him, but he never opened it up so I wasn’t able to verify his tall tale. 

Finding out the truth later on, he laughed when I confronted him. He was always giving me the run around. I didn’t like the way he treated me or his unreasonable punishments when he found out about my wrongdoings, so I never confided in him (nor my mom, for that matter). I just kept him in the dark about my shenanigans as much as I could. Since I was always testing the waters on what I could get away with, I am alive today because of being so sneaky.

A Final Note On These Misadventures

There were other childhood events I could talk about, but I don’t want this blog to go on and on. I will end it for now. I didn’t get to build a log raft on the Mississippi River, nor explore an Injun Joes Cave, but I sure would have if given the chance. Traipsing through caves and old mine shafts would come later.

I didn’t have a frightful desperado terrorizing me, but harassments from local bullies were bad enough. I guess you don’t fully realize all you went through when you were young until those events get laid out on a piece of paper like I am doing now. Anyways, enough for now, so, Sela!

I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!

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