Cousin’s L and B spent most of the week at the bottom of the canyon with their mother and her new husband. Aunt-T owned a hair salon which she operated out of a tiny building situated across the street from the bar which Uncle-E had made his second home. One of her neighbors was hosting swimming lessons for children. After the class, we shared snacks and some free swimming time. The teacher said I was a natural and that she’d never seen anyone take to the water with such ease.
S2, Cousin-L, and I were playing in the creek, where it ran through Old Ironside’s park. Mother watched from the single picnic table as Sister and Brother ran circles around the steep, metal slide. As we waded through the cool water, scores of tiny frogs fled from the disturbance created. Cousin-L skipped from rock to rock, weaving some fantastic tale I don’t recall. S2 held a yellow plastic bucket and directed me to the straggling frogs, which I scooped up and dumped into her custody. Later, we took them to my house and put them into a terrarium I had carefully prepared with soil, water, and greens. Three survived the transition, but I don’t remember their names.
One of the endcaps in Mr. A’s store was set up as a magazine rack. Most of the books displayed there were of little interest, but the rack nearest the floor was the one I wasn’t supposed to look at. These were the adult magazines. I was assured they were quite shameful, but often those covers contained the only interesting colors in the dimly lit shop. One of those pictures especially grabbed my attention. The two blond women were obviously twins. They had bright eyes and wide smiles, but it was the composition of the photo that I found so intriguing. The girls wore a matching yellow babydoll set, one the top, the other the bottom, but posed in such a way as to sidestep any obscenity laws. I was fascinated by the energy and artistry of the shot, and mentioned this to R2. Somehow his older sister caught wind of this and teased me about it relentlessly, which was more confusing than hurtful to me.
Despite the Mediterranean climate of San Diego’s coastal regions, the nearby Laguna mountains often received a light dusting of snow. Every few years, there would be enough snowfall to allow for several days worth of sledding. Father drove me and Sister up to a picnic area in the mountains. The hillside, usually verdant with life was covered in white. There were only a small handful of other families there, and so for the most part we had the mountain to ourselves. Father and Sister threw snowballs at each other as I dragged a battered old plastic sled up the hill. Seeing how much fun I was having, Sister insisted she have a turn with the sled. Father waited at the bottom of the hill while Sister and I hiked to the line of trees near the summit. I let Sister slide down the hill, but then realized that I was there without a sled. Waiting for Sister to bring the sled back up, I looked around the trees I was standing under. Almost immediately, I found a strip of plywood almost as long as my leg. One end was curved at an angle and there were plastic strips screwed to the side opposite the warp. I threw the board down in the snow so that the curved end faced downhill. Effortlessly, it started sliding down the hill and so I sat down on it, with my feet resting on the warp. Though my found sled was harder to control than the one Sister had filched, it made up for its lack of maneuverability in sheer speed. When I reached the bottom of the hill, I jumped up with my newfound sled and ran over to Father. “Look what I found!” I called out to him. He looked over the board casually and told me “It’s a skateboard, but someone took the wheels off.” The three of us played together for another hour or so, and then loaded into the car and headed home. No one had come to claim the skateboard and so I took it with me.
During our family vacation to Utah, we stopped by an ancient lava bed. The road meandered through a dense conifer forest. The parking area was surrounded by pine trees which reached up to a blue sky. A short walk down a trail and suddenly the forest was replaced by miles of shattered volcanic igneous rock, the uniformity of the grey stone broken only by the green and red lichen growing thereon. A sign had some interesting facts, which I read as sister ran back and forth along the edge of the enormous pile of rock.
Almost every day, Father would take me to school on the back of his motorcycle. I wore the same helmet I used when riding off road. The ride was enjoyable to me, as Father was an excellent motorcyclist, and rode through the hills at an exhilarating speed. One day, just a block from school, I saw a woman walking up the concrete paved hill. She was wearing an impossibly short skirt and dark sunglasses. I thought she looked so cool.
In the pediatrician’s office, there were two arcade cabinets, which were free to us kids. Asteroids was my favorite. I looked forward to playing it every time I was in the waiting room. One day, the office was running behind and so no one came out to call my name and interrupt my game. An hour and a half later, I still had not lost even one life, and the score was a number so large I didn’t know whether it even had a name or not. I knew then, that if left unperturbed, I could earn any score I wished on that game. It was only a matter of opportunity, of time.
The trail head was the most boring thing I had seen at Zion Canyon. Sister spun in circles as we walked a wide, blacktop paved, straight-as-an-arrow trail, which led us toward the massive promontory overlooking the canyon below. Despite the obvious change in altitude required to reach even the lower ridge, the path had little incline. I wasn’t entirely convinced were were on the correct trail, but eventually it met the base of the cliff and with a marked increase in inclination, began a series of switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. The day’s boredom was officially over. Looking back down the wiggles, it occurred to me that one could jump from the edge of one switchback and entirely miss the one directly below. In only a few minutes of walking, we had reached a dizzying height. Eventually, the paved path emptied out onto a moderate sized landing of red sandstone. “We made it to the top” I declared as sister squealed in delight, throwing her hands out as she ran a wide circle around my legs. The landing was wide enough that several groups of hikers could rest easily, but narrow enough that unless I looked down at my feet, blue sky filled my entire field of vision. The feeling of exposure made me uneasy. I sat down so that the sky below couldn’t suck me off the ledge and to the canyon floor some thousand feet straight down. Father walked confidently out onto the landing. Looking around he said “No, we still have to cross the ridge. That’s the top, over there.” He pointed across a razor narrow ridge, at a block of rock which was indeed clearly the summit. My stomach sank as I imagined walking across that ridge, narrow as a sidewalk, vertical as building, jagged as a tooth. As nervous as I was, Sister took off down the path at a near run. Mother yelled at her to hold Father’s hand, and the two of them started across the broken blocks of rock which served as the trail. Mother would remain on the landing with Brother, so I had to decide quickly if I would go to the summit, or stay behind. I swallowed back my fear, and set out with much trepidation. There was a guide chain I could hold onto, but my sweating palms didn’t give much assurance that I could actually keep my grip, should it be needed. To both my left and right, I could see the ground below,as distant as the view from an airplane window. Despite my fear, I forged onward. After several feet, the chain guide ended abruptly at a notch in the rock, where I had to choose whether I would take a wide step across, or sit down, step in, and climb up the other side. I crouched down and in a feeble voice called out “…dad?” “What?” Father called back. “I need help.” He turned and faced me for a moment, “Just step across, it’s easy.” I looked again at the notch and had to admit “I’m scared.” even as Sister pulled on Father’s hand in her excitement to continue. “Well, either come now or go back and wait with your mom.” he told me. Carefully, I turned around and made my way back to the landing. I sat on a rock next to Mother as she held Brother in her arms. I looked down at the canyon floor, feeling rather dejected that my sister who had yet to start school was already brave enough to tread where only angels land.
After a few days, we were to take a break from fishing and do some hiking at Zion National Park, which was about a two hour drive through the mountains. I was taking a nap on the carpeted floor of the van when suddenly there was a loud noise. Father made a sarcastically pained expression, something like “wonderful” or “great” and pulled over to the side of the road. It sounded like the motor had shut off, and we coasted a little way down the hill before Father pulled onto a wider patch of shoulder. I asked him what had happened and he tersely explained that the transmission had just failed. He jumped out of the van, and disappeared underneath as he assessed the situation. Shortly, Father returned, looked over a Utah map, and decided to try to make it to the next town. He put the van into low gear and drove along the side of the road, the van being unable to go any faster than about twenty miles per hour. It felt like hours before Father pulled into the parking lot of a small gas station and repair shop. The rest of us waited in the van as father went in to talk to the attendant. Mother leaned her head against the passenger door frame as Brother and Sister restlessly struggled to look out the windshield. After a few minutes, Father returned, pulled the van in front of the small garage, and got out to have a conversation with Mother. Shortly, they returned and as Mother began packing a bag, Father explained “It’s going to take a few days for the parts to get out here, so we’ll be staying with the mechanic’s family.” I remember that the man and his wife seemed not much older than my own parents, and that they had six children who were mostly older than myself. The two boys who were closest to my age took me down to a swimming hole, and we spent most of the next few afternoons swimming around the muddy pond. I remember swimming with those boys, and little else of that time. After what felt like a vacation within a vacation, the van was repaired and we drove back to our camp site in the mountains. Father was depressed at the amount of money he’d spent on the repairs, and that disappointment hung like a cloud over the rest of the time we spent in Utah that year.