Just past the uppermost corner of what we knew as “Dead Man’s Curve” was the entrance to an overgrown dirt road which led sharply down and away from the paved Mountain View. It crossed a seasonal creek and then made its way up the opposite bank toward Crest and the rural homes beneath. Due to the angular twists of the road and the rolling hills it cut across, it was almost invisible from anywhere other than the path itself. A half mile or so up the weed covered remnants of road, there was an abandoned quartz mine. If anyone remembered that it was there, they were too old to be bothered with such trivialities. I made several trips to the mine, soaking in the sun while sitting on the pile of quartz tailing, searching for the rare smoky and rose varieties of the crystal as well as the flaky remnants of mica. I took home the prize pieces I found, but left most of the piles undisturbed. The most important discovery from that time was that even in the junk filled fire breaks of the canyon, there were yet treasures to be found. My desire to uncover them was renewed with a verve that would carry me for years to come.
For a time, I would take wood Father had cut and throw it under the front porch. I was careful not to toss the cut boards into my windows, but it proved inevitable. Eventually it was decided that I could cut the wood as well as carry it to the aforementioned pile. The table saw Father had used was ancient and dilapidated. The electric motor was supplied by a threadbare, cloth insulated cable. What few bolts held the machine together barely did so via a wizardry I have never understood. The entire table wobbled to and fro, and the saw was quick to bite into even the softest woods. SInce this frightening monstrosity had become my responsibility, there were three sounds I learned to associate with the table saw: the scream of it cutting wood, the moan of the motor when it was overburdened, and the agonizing screech it made when it was bound up on wood too hard for it to cut. I was convinced that someday I would lose a finger or more to the contraption. I voiced this to Father but he was certain that I was simply trying to get out of work, and so for greater fear than loss of limb, I cut wood and carried it under the house for several hours each week. This was my daily chore most of the fair weathered months for the better part of the years I lived at home.
Mother had taken me to Toys R Us for some shopping. I looked over the Robotech figures, and was surprised to see Robotech dolls, not dissimilar from Cousin-L’s Barbie dolls. I mentioned to Mother that Sister might like the Dana Sterling doll, but she did little more than grunt at me. I already owned all the figures they had, so I spent my time exploring other isles. In the science section, I saw a high powered microscope which included several prepared slides, as well as a series of collection tools. I could imagine the many experiments possible with this tool, and so I told Mother that I really wanted it. Again, she responded with little interest, and so I thought it must be another dream destined to go unrealized. I put it out of my mind entirely, and so it came as nothing short of total shock when the giant box I unwrapped that Christmas turned out to be that same microscope. I enjoyed the insects and bacteria within the prepared slides, but the most exciting was looking at my own blood sample, which I obtained with my blood testing tools. One day, out of boredom, I looked at some tap water. Horrified beyond words at what I saw, I never again looked at anything through that microscope.
One of Father’s friends from work had recently gotten married, and he and his bride moved into the tile room next to my bedroom. During this time, I have no idea where Father’s machinery went, or even if it indeed went anywhere at all. Mr. H helped move a large wooden bookshelf into my room and install a door which locked from their side. The light from the tile room’s windows no longer filtered into my room. The sounds of arguments did. For a time, I covered my head with my pillow at night, but as the darkness of my room slowly became more appealing to the insects just outside my windows, this became a less appealing solution. They moved out after a few months, but the insects never did. One night, I threw open my blankets and hopped into bed. Situated less than an inch below my groin sat a baby scorpion, it’s tail fully extended in striking position. This would prove to be the last time I ever crawled into a bed without a thorough inspection.
My bedroom windows looked out onto the space under the front porch and to the pepper tree trunk which grew next to it. Most of the view was little more than blackness, with some spider webs, pepper leaves, and rocks for texture. Father decided it would be a good place to store the pile of wood we used to fuel the Franklin stove during the cooler winter months, and so dimensional lumber was added to the panorama. All summer, one of my principle chores was to cut wood for the pile, and all winter my chore was to gather wood from the pile to bring indoors. In this capacity, I was introduced to all manner of spider: grass, orb, black widow, and the horrifyingly well named wolf spider. For a while, I wore leather gloves while collecting the wood, but eventually I settled for taking a board and slamming it into the pile a few times to startle the spider population deeper into the mound of lumber.