Today marks my second entry in blogging my book on “MisAdventures.” In my last subchapter, I was prepared to begin my wandering ways by leaving our backyard and venturing into the graveyard next door, which I normally capitalize as Graveyard since it was a special place during my growing up years. If you have been reading my blog for a while, it’s likely you have read today’s tale. I like to include it in my Halloween stories.
The Graveyard was out the backdoor and across the alley. We lived with its ghostly white reminders of our mortality day and night. Ancient tombstones with fading epitaphs whispered of those who had come to seek their fortune in California’s Gold Rush and stayed for eternity. Time had given their resting place a sense of permanence and even peace. But not all of the graves were old. Occasionally a fresh body was planted on the opposite side of the cemetery. I stayed far away; the newly dead are restless.
At some time in the past, Heavenly Trees, an import from China, had been planted to shade aging bones. They behaved like weeds. Chop them down and they sprang back up twice as thick. Since clearing the trees provided Diamond Springs Boy Scout Troop 95 with a community project every few years, they retaliated by forming a visually impenetrable mass of green in summer and an army of sticks in winter. Trailing Myrtle, a cover plant with Jurassic aspirations, hid the ground in deep, leafy foliage.
During the day, it took little imagination to change this lush growth into a jungle playground populated with ferocious tigers, bone crushing boas, and half-starved cannibals. My brother Marshall and I considered the Graveyard an extension of our backyard. Since it was within easy calling distance of the house, our parents apparently had a similar perspective. Or maybe, it was out of sight out of mind. The skinny Heavenly Trees made great spears for fending off the beasts and for throwing at each other, at least they did until we put one through Lee Kinser’s hand. Neither Lee nor his parents were happy. Spear throwing was crossed off our play schedule. We turned to hurling black walnuts at each other instead. They grew in abundance on the trees in our front yard. Plus, we could toss them at passing cars on Highway 49. The first set of screeching brakes brought that activity to a halt.
Night was different in the Graveyard; it became a place of mystery and danger. Dead people abandoned their underground chambers and slithered up through the ground. A local test of boyhood bravery was to go into the Graveyard after dark and walk over myrtle-hidden graves, taunting the inhabitants. Slight depressions announced where they lived. Marshall persuaded me to accompany him there on a moonless night. I entered with foreboding: fearing the dark, fearing the tombstones and fearing the ghosts. Half way through I heard a muzzled sound. Someone, or thing, was stalking us.
“Hey Marsh, what was that?” I whispered urgently.
“Your imagination, Curt,” was the disdainful reply.
Crunch! Something was behind a tombstone and it was not my imagination. Marshall heard it too. We went crashing out of the Graveyard with the creature of the night in swift pursuit, wagging his tail.
“I knew it was Tickle all of the time,” Marsh claimed. Yeah, sure you did.
By the time I was six, I was venturing into the Graveyard on my own. One of my first memories was spying on Mr. Fitzgerald, a neighbor who lived across the alley. He’s dead now— and has been for decades— but at the time he was a bent old man who liked to putter around outside. A Black Locust tree, perched on the edge of the Graveyard, provided an excellent lookout to watch him while he worked. One particular incident stands out in my mind. I had climbed into the Black Locust tree and was staring down into his yard. It was a fall day and dark clouds heavy with rain were marching in from the Pacific while distant thunder announced their approach. A stiff, cool breeze had sent yellow leaves dancing across the ground.
Mr. Fitzgerald wore a heavy coat to fight off the chill. I watched him shuffle around in his backyard as he sharpened his axe on a foot operated grinding wheel and then chopped kindling on an old oak stump. When he had painfully bent down to pick up the pieces and carry them into his woodshed, I had scrambled down from the tree so I could continue to spy on him though a knothole. I must have made some noise, or maybe I blocked the sunlight from streaming into the shed. He stopped stacking wood and stared intently at where I was, as though he could see through the weathered boards. It frightened me.
I took off like a spooked rabbit and disappeared into the safety of our house. Mr. Fitzgerald was intriguing, but his age and frailty spoke of death.
MONDAY’S POST: I visit the land of vampires and werewolves on the Washington coast.
WEDNESDAY’S POST: It’s back to the beautiful Island of Santorini on another photographic essay.
FRIDAY’S POST: Happy Holidays
32 thoughts on “A Ghostly Playground… Blogging My Book on MisAdventures: Part 2”
Simple days Curt, gone forever, I feel sad for children today who will never enjoy such days!
It’s hard not to be a bit nostalgic as I write, Andrew. I do like the fact that when our grandchildren come here they are quick to get outside and explore. And you ought to see our classic water gun fights! Kids are still kids, given half a chance. But much of their life is filled with organized events, and the ever present technology. As for me, I certainly miss those simple days. Theoretically, I could have them again. I am retired, after all. Wonder why I spend all of this time blogging and working on writing? Hmmm. –Curt
It is like looking in a mirror Curt!
I like that.
My mother used to organise a neighbourhood water fight on the 4th of July—girls versus the boys. It lasted for 15 minutes or until the referee (my mum) got wet.
Fun, Peggy. And good for your mom! My Peggy refills the boys water pistols for them so they consider it wise not to spray her. 🙂 All of the rest of us get soaked! The more epic battles must go on for an hour. –Curt
Curt this is fabulous writing. I was transported to your side reading of all of your shenanigans. Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan I was allowed to play most anywhere and thus there was much similar exploring. Although I don’t recall any stabbing of other children’s hands or throwing objects at cars. Just saying. 🙂
Laughing, Sue. And thanks. The freedom to wander and explore is a blessing, no doubt about it. Ours was also the freedom to get into mischief, to be little savages, so to speak. Fortunately, I grew out of that. Well, let me rephrase that… I grew out of that for the most part. 🙂 –Curt
Like Andrew said, childhood adventures today are nothing like this. If my parents had any idea what we were up to, or how far away from home we wandered in the course of a day… well, I guess they wouldn’t care anymore now than they did then. 😉
I find the difference quite interesting, Juliann, and a bit sad. As I mentioned in my response to Alison, I think that today’s parents are more paranoid than they need to be because of all the media sensationalism as much as they are by any real dangers. None of this argues that parents don’t need to use common sense in guiding their children. –Curt
If only I listened to my mother and kept a journal of some sort, but at least I’ll get to enjoy your nostalgia!! Love this one, Curt!
My active journal keeping would take place later, G. But these are the stories of family legend that have lived on, the ones that were burned into my memory banks and can now be retold as my memory dictates. Thanks! –Curt
I think you were a wild child 🙂 but it was a time when it was still safe for children to roam freely, and me and my siblings did too. We would play for hours in the empty lots behind our house.
Yep. 🙂 I find the concept of safety, interesting. I’m not convinced it is much different, Alison. I think that our perception has changed because of all the media sensationalism. I think parents become overly paranoid and sadly pass that paranoia on to their children. –Curt
Yes, ITA. So sad.
When a tale is great it’s more than okay to tell it again. And to read it again too. I still love how you depict your brotherly relationship with Marshall 🙂
And yes, any sound when we are young, especially in eerie settings, triggers our vivid imaginations. I’m sure Mr. Fitzgerald would have scared me too. In fact, there was one Mr. Fitzgerald in my young life, only called a French name.
Thanks, Evelyne. My goal is to blog the book in order, which includes several of my old posts. The farther back I reach in my blogging history, the less likely it will be that people will have read the stories. Seven years in the world of blogging is a long time! Mr. Fitzgerald had been Superintendent of Schools for the county I lived in several decades before I was born, back in the early 1900s. I am pretty sure that he was well-aware of the little kid next door who spied on him. 🙂 His wife and I would become friends during my teenage years when she was in her 80s/90s, which was a fun twist. –Curt
Old posts can be real treasures. I started many years ago too!
And here you have another story with Mrs. Fitzgerald:)
I love reading your stories about growing up with the Graveyard by your house. It reminds me of my friends and I and the shenanigans we got into. My neighborhood friends and I used to pretend this grassy alleyway behind our houses was a graveyard. We called it “Deadman’s Garden.”
Thanks, Jamie. Kids have such wonderful imaginations. Including a ‘fright factor’ always adds spice. Deadman’s Garden is appropriately freaky. 🙂 –Curt
What a fun adventure. Looks like you sent quite a few folks down memory lane. Diamond Springs? Is that California? near Placerville? What a lovely place to grow up. I spent quite a few happy years in that general neighborhood.
It is indeed, Gunta. We moved there when I was one plus and I didn’t leave until I went away to Berkeley. I still go back on occasion. Where did you live and when?
I worked for the welfare dept. in San Francisco until 1974, then transferred to Placerville. From there I moved to Pollock Pines, but fondly remember Poor Reds in Diamond Springs from those days. I grew up in Boston, so the wild west was a great adventure and escape. When city living started to wear me down P’ville was my first successful attempt at a more sedate environment. I remember the drives all over El Dorado and surrounding counties to this day. There was that sense of freedom that I’d been yearning for.
When 1980 came around I found myself settled in Utah… long story there, but it’s such a relief to be back near foam and sea and surf again!
Poor Reds was one of our go-to places growing up. The home of Golden Cadillacs. 🙂 It has been totally renovated but I haven’t had a chance to go there yet. I lived in Sacramento for a number of years so the foothills and the Sierra’s were always available. Sounds like you have done your share of wandering. Our son is with the Coast Guard in Connecticut, so we have been able to explore Boston a bit as well. –Curt
Childhood, a place we all have in common! Evocative piece, Curt, must do another on the theme myself. Now where’s my memory hat?
Some stories hang around forever, Dave. Long after my dad started having trouble remembering the day before, he could still remember his childhood when he was 80 years younger. –Curt
Yes, after a certain age – I’m past it! – it’s harder making new memories than accessing old ones.
That’s why I am 74 going on 16, Dave. I still want new memories! –Curt
Isn’t it amazing the clarity of memories from childhood. A great slice of life piece Curt. Thank you and all the best forward of writing your collection of MsAdventures.
I believe that the clarity reflects our open and inquisitive minds at that age, JoHanna. Of course there is much we forget, but the things we remember linger brightly. Thank you. –Curt
Curt, this is brilliantly recalled and written- certain sentences just stand out, such as: “Occasionally a fresh body was planted on the opposite side of the cemetery. I stayed far away; the newly dead are restless.”
You bring the reader right there with you into the graveyard aged six. I’m just glad the house is nice and warm as I was starting to get a bit chilly reading this! You were a brave young lad and what escapades for you!
Thanks Annika. I’ve always enjoyed story telling and our childhood home provided lots. There were certainly tough times growing up, but we were privileged to live where we could roam to our hearts’ content. –Curt