When MC the Cat Refused to Have His Danglies Cut Off

MC the cat always refused to have his photo taken. I think that he was afraid of a paternity suit. So, I went to Creative Commons and found this picture that looks very much like MC as a kitten. The don’t-mess-with-me look fits perfectly.

Today’s blog-a-book tale is about our ‘other’ cat, MC. No story about the Graveyard is complete without him. He was the exact opposite of Demon. She was as dark as the Graveyard on a moonless night; he was as white as the ghosts that lived there. She was loving and tame while he was as wild as a domestic cat can be— a throwback to his ancient ancestors. His one passion in life was spreading his seeds as far and wide as he could travel and still make it home for dinner. He was a tomcat’s Tomcat, a legend in his own mind.  

His one challenge was his small size, which meant that he often came out on the losing end in his battles with larger toms. He would arrive home beat up and battered. One time a chunk of his ear was missing. Another time it was the tip of his tail. I encouraged my Cocker Spaniel, Tickle, to break up the fights to minimize the damage. He loved his job. He would dash to the door at the first yowling and fly off our porch in full bark when I turned his loose. Other than giving Tickle a purpose in life, his efforts had little impact, however.

Pop decided that drastic measures were called for. MC would have to have to lose his offending appendages. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of money in our household for veterinary bills. But there was a solution. We were a do-it-yourself kind of family. For example, cocker puppies are supposed to have their tails cut off fairly soon after birth. My dad would take the litter, tie thread tightly around their tails, and then break out the tool he used for cutting tin. Snip, YIP! And it was over.  

Obviously, neutering a full-grown tom cat was a bit more difficult. Our Italian neighbor, Papa Passerini, offered an Old Country solution.  

“All you need is a pair of tin snips, a burlap bag, gloves, a pocket knife and a rope,” he suggested. Alarm bells should have gone off— massive alarm bells heard all the way to Italy. But they didn’t. We moved ahead with the medical procedure.

While MC had never been a paragon of feline domesticity, he’d at least let me pat him on the head if food was involved— as long as I was quick and limited myself to one pat. He even managed a brief purr when I picked him up the morning of his ‘operation’ and carried him up to Passerini’s. Any previous pretensions of tolerating people ceased instantly, though, when his legs were tied up and he was dumped into the dark gunny sack.  

When Pop cut a slit in the burlap with his pocket knife and reached a gloved hand through, he was met by claws of fury. MC had shed his ropes faster than Houdini. No one, but no one, was going to grab him by the testicles and cut them off with a pair of tin snips. He clawed his way out of the bag and became a white blur as he disappeared into the Graveyard. And there he would stay. After that, I would only see him at dinner time and then only after I had put his food down and walked several feet away.

The good news, from MC’s perspective, was that he was able to continue his tomcatting ways with all parts of his anatomy intact right up until he reached old age and quietly wandered off to tomcat heaven, where, rumor has it, he was twice as big, had eternal youth, and a long line of lovely female cats stretched off to infinity eagerly awaiting him. It’s probably fake news.

Next Monday’s blog-a-book post from It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Me features my sister Nancy Jo and the attack of the graveyard ghost. Did you hear her scream? It’s very scary and you won’t want to miss it.

NEXT POSTS:

Wednesday’s Blog-a-Book Post from The Bush Devil Ate Sam: I challenge the Berkeley establishment to no avail. John Kennedy’s death has a deep impact on my fellow students and me.

Friday’s Travel BogI It’s a wrap on my Harris Beach series with gorgeous sunsets and the ever-interesting Key Hole Rock.

The Banning of the Ghost Guard…The Shameless Shenanigans of Pat and Demon

Poor Pat. Living with me did have its drawbacks, especially when I had a camera in hand. Being a rescue dog, however, she was eternally grateful and willing to pose for me. Reluctantly. Behind her is the wood stove we used for heat and, above Pat’s tail, our first TV. It was a while ago. Grin.

Pat the Greyhound set the stage for the banning of the Ghost Guard from my bed.

The night of the skunk was an exception to Pat’s normal stay-at-home routine. As usual, I had crawled into bed with an assortment of animals. That evening, it was minus Pat. Good, she took up a lot of room. Somewhere around midnight, I half way awoke as she hopped up on the bed, completed three dog turns, and snuggled down. Consciousness made a quantum leap as my nose was assailed by an unmistakable perfume.

“Seems we have a skunk visiting,” I told Pat and reached down to scratch her head. The fur was moist. As I pulled my hand back, the skunk suddenly got much closer. Now, I was totally awake. Ms. Greyhound had been bullying the wrong pussycat. It was a night to sleep inside. In fact, Marshall had a roommate for several days. I don’t know how many times I washed that hand but I do know that the bedding was tossed and Pat learned what a tomato juice bath was. When I finally made it back outside, the animals were put on notice: One more problem and off they went. 

Then Demon the Black Cat made her contribution.

She was well into middle age by this time and there had been no pause in kitten production. This was a time before spaying became common. Every few months, Demon shelled out another litter. She had long since finished overpopulating Diamond and was working on surrounding communities. We were teetering on becoming known as the Cat Family of Diamond Springs. My father reverted to drastic measures. Demon was not pleased. She started hiding her kittens and became a master at subterfuge. If someone tried to follow her, she would stop and nonchalantly give herself a bath, her whole body, one lick at a time. Then she would wander off in the opposite direction.

Mother paid me in cookies to track Demon down. When the Graveyard was her destination, I had a flat tombstone I would stand on as a lookout. There was an added advantage; Demon didn’t check for people perched on tombstones. Who would? Eventually, the missing litter would be discovered. I felt like Daniel Boone.

Demon’s special home delivery took place the same summer Pat had her close encounter with the skunk. As noted earlier, my attitude about bed companions had become testy. I wasn’t above rolling over quickly to see how many I could dislodge. A really good roll would net three or four. Sleeping with me was like living on the San Andreas Fault.

I did feel guilt over routing Demon. Once again, she was pregnant. I watched her balloon out. By this time, I was a veteran of the birthing process and found it interesting rather than troublesome. One night I had awakened to Pat howling, found that she was delivering puppies, and sat up with her through the process. Another time I had gone out with Tom Murphy, our grocer, and assisted in the delivery of a calf that wanted to come out the wrong way. It was messy, up to the elbow work. Remember the coke I stole from his store on my 5 AM walk home from Rudy and Robert’s? Tom was repaid many tines over.

I really didn’t expect to be around for the arrival of Demon’s kittens. That would take place in some hidden nook. One should never make assumptions. 

It started as a normal night. Roll over, kick the animals off, and go to sleep. Wake up and repeat the process. It was not a normal morning. I woke up with wet feet.  

“What the heck!” I exclaimed as I sat up quickly, dislodging Pat in the process. Demon looked innocently back at me from the foot of the bed. Okay, nothing suggested why my feet were wet. Then I noticed movement. Demon was not alone. Several little black clones were lined up for breakfast. Demon had delivered her litter on the bed and my feet were awash in afterbirth.

That did it.  My bed was not a home for wayward dogs who encountered the business end of skunks and it certainly wasn’t designed as a maternity ward for unwed cats. I bought a water pistol and initiated a campaign of terror. Any four-legged critter on the bed became fair game. The cats learned quickly; getting shot with a water pistol was not their idea of a proper bath. The dogs were more resistant. Usually it took several squirts and then I would get the look: big brown eyes accusing me of dark deeds. But I was tough and my canine companions eventually vacated the premises as well.

As soon as I fell asleep, however, the whole menagerie, fleas and all, would quietly slip back up on the bed.

NEXT POST:

Blog a Book Wednesday… From “The Bush Devil Ate Sam” : A student revolution with world-wide implications was about to begin at Berkeley. As a student on campus it would have a dramatic impact on my world view and be an important factor in my joining the Peace Corps. I discuss how I gradually became involved and provide background information.

Ode to a Grecian Urinal… Life at UC Berkeley in the 60s

In last Wednesday’s blog-a-book post from “The Bush Devil Ate Sam,” I arrived at UC Berkeley and provided a view of my life in the surrounding community. Today I will take you onto campus and provide a broader view of my life as a student.

I had a number of classes at Wheeler Hall shown here, including one with over a thousand students. The campus’s iconic Campanile is peaking out behind. (Photo by UC Berkeley.)

My ambitions at Berkeley far exceeded the time and energy I had. There were student politics to jump into, classes to master, a relationship to support, bookstores to explore, cappuccino to consume and a thousand causes to sort out. Moderation was not an option. I did understand that my primary reason for being there was to learn and I soon discovered that learning was defined differently than at Sierra. 

But first, I had to find my classes. Berkeley seemed like a maze to me. Single buildings had more classrooms than were found on Sierra’s campus, and each building held its own secrets. The Life Science building, for example, displayed enough jars of pickled fetuses to stop the heart of a pro-lifer and give me nightmares.  

Even the social science buildings had surprises. I was searching for a political science class in Wheeler Hall when I came upon a string of marble encased urinals in the basement. I decided there was enough marble to refurbish the Parthenon, which led my mind to contemplate penning a new poem, ‘Ode to a Grecian Urinal.’  My apology to Keats. Stream of conscious thinking can be dangerous. 

I finally found the class and discovered I had over 1000 classmates. It was located in a large auditorium I had passed by because my mind hadn’t been able to comprehend a classroom of that size. The professor, Peter Odegard, was a star in the field of political science and frequently received standing ovations for his stirring lectures. In another life, he had served as President of Reed College in Oregon. His lectures inspired me but there was scant chance I would ever meet the man. Personal contact was through graduate teaching assistants, folks struggling to complete their own education while being paid minimum wages to interact with us. 

I had one class that was so large we had to sit in another classroom and watch the professor on television. This was mass education on a grand scale and the University’s job, according to Clark Kerr, the University President, was the mass production of educated people to go out and fill slots in society. 

It was easy to be overwhelmed. I was assigned 15 books in one class and actually thought I was expected to buy and read each one in detail. I was a fast reader but not that fast, nor that wealthy. It would take a year to master the art of skimming, buying old books, using commercially prepared notes and pursuing all of the other tricks of the trade that getting a higher education at Berkeley entailed.

For all of that, there was an excitement to the classes that was lacking at Sierra. I might be sharing my professor with a thousand other students, but he or she might also be a confidante of Presidents. Did I learn more than I had at Sierra? I actually don’t think so, but I did have a sense of being part of what was happening in the world and this made what I was learning seem more real.

Life quickly evolved into a routine that primarily consisted of attending classes and studying. Mainly I lived in the Bancroft Library with occasional forays over to Café Med. Friday nights were reserved for Jo Ann. We had met at Sierra College and decided to attend Berkeley together. We struggled to spend time with each other, to find moments of privacy, and to bridge the gaps that our new life was creating. Even though we had gone off to the University together and now lived less than a mile apart, we saw less of each other than we had at Sierra when we lived 30 miles apart. Dates, given my super tight survival budget, normally consisted of going out for pizza at Laval’s or a hamburger at Larry Blake’s or at Si’s Charbroiler. Later, when we both turned 21, beer was added to the menu. On rare occasions, we would go to a movie. One that I remember was the Italian film “8 ½” directed by Federico Fellini and starring Marcello Mastroianni. Its surrealistic, artsy nature seemed to match our university experience.

Sunday mornings, in lieu of church, I would go for hikes up in the hills behind Berkeley. Grassy knolls provided views of San Francisco and the Bay. The beauty and quiet provided my mind with an opportunity to contemplate what was happening in my life, to gain perspective. There was solace to be found in the woods.

Participating in student politics at UC was an added burden I didn’t need. But I had been student body president at Sierra and gamely jumped into the fray. The dormitories were new; so, the residents were new. They hadn’t had time to get to know each other. The fact that I was a community college transfer made little difference. Within a week of my arrival, I was president of Priestly Hall. I quickly learned that my new role of mastering football chants and organizing parties was boring in comparison to what was happening in the real world. That was about to change as I struggled to make the position of dorm president more relevant— and get in trouble.  That will be the subject of my post next Wednesday.

NEXT POST

Friday’s Travel Blog: I will continue our exploration of Harris Beach State Park near Brookings by focusing in on sea stacks, including Goat Island, home to over 100,000 nesting seabirds. 

The Go-To Ghost Guard: Demon and Pat

Pat the Greyhound looking quite elegant. You can see why she would take up a lot of space on a one person army cot. I named her after the driver of the local Greyhound Bus.

In my last blog-a-book post from “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me,” I related how I moved outside during the summer and hired the family pets to protect me from the ghosts that lived across the alley from us in the jungle-like graveyard. While several animals participated in this critically important duty, two stood out for their steadfast commitment: Demon the Black Cat and Pat the Stray Greyhound.

Demon, the alpha family cat, was as black as the darkest night. As such, she was appropriately named and attired for graveyard duty. In fact, she spent a good deal of her life there, stalking mice, lizards, birds and anything else she could get her claws into with impunity. Captured prey would then be brought home for approval. My job was to dispose of the half-eaten carcasses. I would sometimes tie a string around the dead animals and drag them around the yard, giving Demon more play time. (Okay, I was a bit weird, but I received high marks from the cat.) Depopulating the Graveyard was not Demon’s claim to fame, however; motherhood was. She had kittens often and everywhere. I suspect that half of the cats living in El Dorado County today can trace their lineage back to her.

Demon was well colored and named for graveyard duty. I think her claws were about to reach out and scratch the photographer, me.

Two instances of kitten production bring back vivid memories. The first took place on the living room floor. Demon was a young cat at that time and a neophyte at motherhood. Her impending delivery was quite apparent from her large belly and ceaseless exploration of clothes hampers, cupboards and other dark places. 

With high hopes of avoiding a misplaced litter, Mother arranged her bedroom closet as a maternity ward. Several times each day it was my duty to show Demon her new home. I would carefully pick up the very pregnant cat, carry her to the closet, and deposit her in a box filled with well-used clothes. Demon didn’t buy the program.  It seems my bedside manner was faulty. She would climb out of the box, glare at me, and stalk out of the bedroom.

When the joyous day finally arrived, I was home alone.  Demon was practicing her would-be-mother waddle-walk across the living room when she suddenly stopped, squawked and squatted. Neither she nor I was ready for what followed. After all, how prepared can a young kid and a first-time mother be for birth? In a massive surprise to both of us, a tiny black bundle of fur emerged from Demon’s undercarriage. Surging emotions paralyzed my seven-year-old mind. One thought stood out, the closet! If Demon hadn’t memorized her delivery lessons, I had.

I jumped across the room, grabbed Demon by the nape of the neck, and raced for Mother’s bedroom. As fast as I ran, it wasn’t fast enough. In the middle of the kitchen, the new arrival completed its journey and was heading for a crash landing. Somewhere, somehow between Demon and the floor, I caught a warm, wet ball of fur in my free hand. After that, the memory fades. I know the three of us made it to the closet. 

Demon accepted her new home and four more kittens followed the first, although in a less dramatic way. The population explosion was underway. I’ll cover Demon’s other memorable kitten delivery in my post next Monday. It, too, was forever etched in to my mind.

Pat the Greyhound joined our family as a stray. For weeks, Mother had watched this large, starving dog wander the countryside catching jack rabbits and ground squirrels for food. One day she stopped the car, opened the door and invited Pat home for a meal.

“Oh, it is just until she gains a little weight,” Mother explained to one very disgruntled Pop. He already believed the size of our pet menagerie was far too large. People were known to drop off unwanted cats in front of our house knowing that they would find a home. As Pat put on the pounds, Mother modified her strategy. “Oh, but it would break Curt’s heart if we had to give her away.” She was a master at manipulation. Pat, who I named after the local Greyhound bus driver, had become my dog. 

Like all of our pets, she lived outside. It was Pop’s rule; pets were limited to daytime visitation rights only. Demon had been an exception imposed by Mother. Since there were no leash laws, Pat was free to come and go as she pleased. Mainly she chose to hang around with her food dish in sight. 

In next Monday’s post, I tell the story of how the shenanigans of Pat and Demon led to the Ghost Guard being kicked off my bed. 

NEXT POSTS

Wednesday’s Blog-a-Book Post from “The Bush Devil Ate Sam”: Life at Berkeley gets complicated…

Friday’s Travel Blog: The dramatic sea stacks at Harris Beach State Park including the largest island off the Oregon coast and an intriguing hole in a rock. 

Hitchhiking Barnacles and Other Tide Pool Wonders at Harris Beach, Oregon

It’s more tide pool fun at Oregon’s Harris Beach State Park in my travel blog today. Both Peggy and I took the photos.

Four volcano-like barnacles plus mussels at Harris Beach State Park.

Barnacles are a bane to sailors, limpets and anyone else they can hitch a ride with. Latching onto hulls, they seriously interfere with a boat’s efficiency at moving through water and have to be scraped off. Limpets just have to live with their passengers.

Limpets move so slowly that their progress is not impacted by barnacles, but still, I can’t imagine that they are happy to have hitchhikers.
The limpet was one of several that Peggy and I found on a rock. Hermit crabs and other denizens of tide pools love to eat limpets but getting them off rocks can be a considerable challenge. They shoot out the water from under their shells and create a tight, almost unbreakable vacuum. I know. I’ve tried.
Lots of barnacles here. Now, imagine them on the bottom of a boat. There used to be a rather nasty punishment ship captains would use on miscreant sailors called keel-hauling. A rope would be attached to the sailor and he would be dragged under the boat. If barnacles were present, I doubt that much skin would be left. I think I would prefer walking the plank.
Barnacles are joined by mussels and goose neck barnacles in this photo. Goose neck barnacles, the guys with the fingernail looking shells, are considered a delicacy in Portugal and Spain. They were also eaten by the indigenous peoples of California and probably Oregon. Also, note the barnacles attached to the mussel shells.
Turban snails are common along the Pacific Coast. Their empty shells are a favorite home of hermit crabs, which are what you see here, hiking along on their crab legs. As a kid, I used to pry an occasional limpet off of a rock and toss it into a tide pool. The limpets had little appreciation for my boy-enhanced curiosity, but the hermit crabs would come rushing in from far and near for the feast.
Peggy loves a batch of mussels cooked up in salt and garlic water. My dad did as well. He used to gather them fresh off the rocks near where he lived on the Oregon Coast and cook them. He tried to feed them to me. No thanks. I am not a fan of most shellfish. I think the snail seen here shares my wife’s and his taste. It has a specially adapted organ that can drill through the snail’s shell for a tasty meal. Buzz, buzz, slurp, slurp.
Just for fun, who do you think made these tracks across the sand? I’m going for crabs with their small claw feet.
I’ll close today with the sea grass that Peggy and I found growing in abundance between the tide pools. We had expected to find seaweed, not grass. This grass has returned to the ocean from land and adapted to living in saltwater. We found it quite attractive.
Another example. Next Friday I will return to Harris Beach and feature it’s dramatic sea stacks.

NEXT POST:

Blog a Book Monday… “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me” : In my last post from the book, I wrote about how I had moved outside in the summer to experience nature up close and personal, a successful venture that was tainted somewhat by the ghosts that lived in the graveyard next door. I ended up hiring the family pets for protection. On Monday I will introduce my top protectors, Pat the Stray Greyhound and Demon the Black Cat.

Berkeley… We Are Not In Diamond Springs Anymore Toto

I transferred from Sierra College to Berkeley in 1963. Here I am looking proud in my UC sweatshirt.

My wandering off to Berkeley in the fall of 1963 introduced me to a totally different world compared to my childhood home of Diamond Springs with its population of 750 and nearby Placerville with a population of 4,000. Sierra College got me out of the sticks, but just barely. I rode a school bus there and the kids came from small rural communities not much different from Diamond and Placerville.

Telegraph Avenue became my Mecca at Berkeley. Exotic smells emanated from a dozen different ethnic restaurants, while numerous languages assaulted my ears. I quickly discovered the Café Mediterraneum. In an era before Starbucks made coffee houses safe for middleclass America, Café Med was an original. It was a microcosm of Berkeley, filled with offbeat characters, esoteric discussions and great coffee. I became addicted to both the cappuccino and the atmosphere. I would grab my coffee and climb the narrow wooden stairs in back for a coveted balcony seat where I would watch the ebb and flow of the city’s unique flotsam. 

Cafe Mediterraneum as it looked on my last visit a few years ago.

A quick jaunt across Telegraph produced another treasure, Cody’s Bookstore. Started on a shoestring by the Cody family in the 50s, it had become one of America’s premier bookstores by the mid-sixties. I saved my explorations for Saturdays when there was time to indulge my passion for books. I would disappear inside and become lost to everything except the next title.

I was equally fascinated by the ever-changing kaleidoscope of soapbox oratory provided at the south entrance to the campus on the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph. During any given hour, a dozen speakers could be found there espousing as many causes. I considered it high entertainment and would sit on the steps of the Student Union and listen during breaks from my studies. Over one lunch period, I reported in a letter home, I listened to a student who had spent her summer working in the South registering voters, a black South African talking about apartheid, a socialist railing against the evils of capitalism, a capitalist railing against the evils of socialism and a Bible thumper detailing out the many paths Berkeley students were following to hell. Apparently, there were too many to count.

Many of the speakers urged that there was more to college life than studies, football and parties. Change was in the wind and we should be part of it. Work for fair housing in Berkeley; oppose the unfair hiring practices at Safeway; picket the Oakland Tribune, sign up to help in Goldwater’s political campaign. Join CORE, SNCC, SLATE, SDS, YAF or a world of other acronyms. I struggled to take it all in, absorb it through my pores. It certainly wasn’t Kansas, Toto, nor was it Diamond Springs, Placerville or Sierra College.

To simplify my first year, I opted to live in a college dorm. I would have a room, a bed and regular meals. The University assigned me to Priestly Hall, which was ideally located a block away from campus and a block away from Telegraph Avenue. Three other dorms, one for men and two for women, comprised our corner of the universe. Co-ed living accommodations were still in the future. Strict House Mothers existed to enforce the rules and protect their charges. Women were only allowed on the first floor of the men’s residence hall. Slipping one up to your room was an expellable offense.

Each dorm was nine stories high, brand-new and exactly the same as the others. One of the grad students responsible for our well-being immediately dubbed them monstrosities of oblivion. My sixth-floor room came complete with a roommate, Clifford Marks. Cliff was a slightly built young man with bright red hair, freckles and a mischievous personality. Later, we would share an apartment. Like me, he was a political science major. Eventually, he too would join the Peace Corps.

For entertainment, we could watch the antics of the girls in the dorm directly across from us. If we were lucky, they might wave. One evening a pair of roommates pulled their shade, set up a lamp between them and the window. And undressed. Slowly. It was a surprise our building didn’t fall over, given that every guy in the dorm was glued to the windows on the women’s dorm side.

But all of these were the lighter side of Berkeley and college life. I was soon to learn how serious academics were at UC— and that a revolution was brewing. I’ll continue my story next Wednesday.

Friday’s Travel Blog Post: I finish off Peggy’s and my exploration of the tide pools of Harris Beach, Oregon. The shells of turban snails provide dandy homes for hermit crabs, limpets are masters of creating a vacuum, barnacles suggest why keel-hauling might make walking the plank seem like a stroll in the park, and we find acres of grass growing where we only expected seaweed.

How to Keep Ghosts at Bay… Blogging a Book

We tend to think of ‘wilderness’ as wild, remote lands. In truth, you can find a bit of wilderness in your back yard or a community park if you are willing to sit quietly and let nature come to life. This is another tale from the book I am blogging: “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of me.”

I started sleeping outside in elementary school and would continue to for years. Here I am on a summer afternoon reading a Western. If you look closely, you can see US Army stamped on the back of the cot. It was of World War II vintage. My mother thought it was humorous to emphasize my big feet in her photo.

Between the third and fourth grade, I discovered a new way to enjoy nature. I moved my bedroom outdoors. It was partially to avoid sharing a room with Marshall and partially to escape my father’s house-shaking snores. But the real reason was that I loved being outdoors. I would move out as soon as school was over and stay until school started, or longer, if weather permitted.

At first, I slept on the ground in a cheap cotton sleeping bag. The ground was hard, the nights cool and the mosquitoes persistent, but these were minor drawbacks. I was free. If I had to pee, I’d climb out of the sleeping bag and find the nearest bush. If I woke up thirsty, a convenient garden hose was nearby. I would go to sleep watching the stars and listening to a giant bullfrog that lived in the ditch in front of our house. I would wake to cool morning air and chirping robins. Life was good. And then it got better. My grandparents bought me a real bed— a wood framed, steel spring army cot complete with mattress. I think that they may have been disturbed that their grandson lived outside and slept on the ground.

My paradise was marred by one thing, the Graveyard. It was always there on the edge of my sight.  White tombstones glared at me. As hard as I would pretend, the cemetery and its frightful inhabitants would not go away. So, I developed an elaborate set of defenses. The simplest was to sleep facing the opposite direction or to hide under the covers, ostrich like. A more sophisticated approach was to locate the bed where I couldn’t see the Graveyard.  Our well-seasoned cars worked in a pinch, but they weren’t quite large enough. Bits and pieces of the Graveyard would creep around their sides, peek over their tops and slink under their bottoms. A trellis built by my father, Pop, was much better. Its luxurious growth of honeysuckle created the perfect Graveyard screen. I set up a permanent residence behind it.

But even the trellis wasn’t enough to calm my imagination. I decided to hire protection. It came in the form of various family pets. Their job was to chase the ghosts away. Payment was made by allowing them to sleep on my bed. Apparently, the scheme worked. At least no ghosts attacked me during the years I slept outside. 

One of the family pets I hired for protection from ghosts. It’s hard to imagine that a ghost would find a fat cocker spaniel named Happy that liked to roll over on her back and get her tummy rubbed much of a threat.

The downside was I didn’t have much room. Two dogs, three cats, and me on a one-person army cot constituted a menagerie, or a zoo, if you counted the fleas. It was difficult to move. At first, I was very careful not to disturb my sleeping companions. I became a circus contortionist, frozen in place with body parts pointed in every direction. If this meant a restless night, so be it. It was a small price to pay for keeping the ghosts at bay.

Gradually, my attitude changed. I grew larger, the bed space shrank, and animals started sleeping on top of me. Meanwhile, the ghosts, who tend to hassle little people more than they do big people, became less of a threat. Therefore, I needed less protection. Neither of these factors led to the final banning of the animal kingdom, however. It was the shameless shenanigans of Demon the Cat and Pat the Greyhound that I will write about next Monday.

NEXT POSTS:

Blog-a-Book Wednesday… “The Bush Devil Ate Sam”: I’m off to UC Berkeley where a world-wide student revolution is about to take place. I find myself a lone voice in student government advocating for the right of students to participate in Civil Right’s demonstrations.

Travel Blog Friday… I’ve introduced you to the star fish and sea anemones that reside in the tide pools at Harris Beach State Park. Next I will feature the other denizens that Peggy and I found.

Held at Gunpoint: Training for Berkeley, and the Peace Corps… Part 2

In my last blog-a-book story from “The Bush Devil Ate Sam,” I introduced the tale about getting caught in a laundry takeover by armed men in South Lake Tahoe, California where I was working at the time. Today, I will conclude that story.

Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and noted for its clear blue water, Lake Tahoe is one of the top resort areas in the world. The laundry I worked at was located in South Lake Tahoe. This map also shows the route I followed from Placerville to the Lake along Highway 50. Three years ago, I hiked from I-80 to Highway 50 through the mountains as part of the 750 miles I backpacked to celebrate my 75th Birthday.

My humdrum, ant-like existence of delivering linens to the motels of South Lake Tahoe came to a dramatic end the morning I heard the roar of laundry trucks firing up an hour before they were supposed to. I threw on my clothes, sidestepped the gunman guarding my door and jumped into my car. The guard immediately repositioned himself as a hood ornament and looked threatening. Guys with guns can do that.

“Don’t be worried, Curt,” a familiar voice told me.

“Right,” I thought as I checked out the tough looking goon. I turned my head and spotted Woody, our lead driver. “What in the hell is going on?” I demanded.

“We’ve taken over the laundry,” Woody replied casually. 

The next question followed naturally: Who in the hell constituted we? Woody had an answer for that, too.

“I work for the people that Douvres screwed when he took the laundry back,” he told me. “We’re here legally. These armed men are professional security guards we hired to protect our interests.” Apparently Woody had been quietly arranging a coup while taking Roger’s money.  

“I am leaving now,” I informed Woody.

“I don’t think so,” Woody replied. “Relax, it will all be over in a few hours and you can go to work for us.”

I was beginning to feel like I had been caught up in a B-grade movie. 

“Woody, you are not going to shoot me,” I said with a lot more confidence than I felt. “Tell the man to get out of my way.” I was irritated to the point of irrationality. I turned on the car and started rolling forward. At the last possible moment, when it was clear that I intended to keep going, Woody motioned for his man to move. I was glad they couldn’t hear my sigh of relief over the sound of the engine.

Once away from the laundry, I shoved the gas pedal down and made a dash for Cefalu’s house. I knocked on the door of the dark house and was surprised to find Roger open it in his pajamas. He’d come up the night before.

“What’s wrong, Curt,” he said sounding a little alarmed. Obviously, I wouldn’t show up at 6:30 a.m. to wish him good morning.

“Your laundry has been taken over by armed men,” I blurted out and then quickly filled in the details. Roger responded with an incredibly imaginative stream of swearwords. He grabbed his jacket, yelled for his daughter to call the sheriff and told me to jump in his truck. There are three red lights between where Cefalu lived and the laundry. We ran them all. Our truck screeched to a halt in front of the office and Roger jumped out with me close behind.

Fine, I thought to myself. I just escaped from this place and here I am back providing muscle back up for an angry man who is probably going to pop someone in the nose and get us both shot. Fortunately, there were a lot of words before any action, and the Sheriff’s deputy showed up with siren blasting. It would all be settled in court. I was still in one piece and my experience at facing armed men would make a good story. I had no clue at the time that it would also help prepare me for facing men with guns as a student at Berkeley and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.

Roger and John were successful at winning the court battle but things continued to be crazy at the laundry. I returned to my more peaceful job of driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe. All’s well that ends well, but the insanity of the laundry takeover was about to be replaced by the insanity of being at Berkeley in the 1960s when the University was at the center of a world-wide student rebellion. Join me next Wednesday as I head off to UC.

NEXT BLOGS

Friday’s Travel Blog Post: The sea anenomes are marching off to war at Harris Beach on Oregon’s coast plus other fascinating creatures that hang out in the tide pools of the Pacific Northwest.

On a Pitch-Black Night, Something Stalked Us in the Graveyard…

A bit older than five, I find that the Graveyard next to where I was raised no longer holds the terror it did for me as a child. Plus they have cut down all of the heavenly trees and ripped out the myrtle. It is no longer a jungle playground for local kids. What’s the fun in that?

My first ‘wilderness’ was the Graveyard. It 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, the trees 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. 

The thick growing heavenly trees and trailing myrtle gave the Graveyard the appearance of a jungle when I was growing up. Compare this with the photo above!

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 had a similar perspective. Either that or they were glad to get rid of us. The skinny heavenly trees made great spears for fending off the beasts, or throwing at each other. At least they did until we put one through a playmate’s hand. Neither he 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. Screeching brakes and one really pissed-off guy 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. Halfway 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 her tail.

“I knew it was the dog all of the time,” Marsh claimed. Yeah, sure you did.

By the time I was five, I had made my first tentative trips into the Graveyard. One of my early 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 tree and was staring down into his yard. It was a fall day. 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 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— and the dead people who lived in the Graveyard. 

I will continue my tales of the Graveyard next Monday and relate how I moved outside to sleep under the stars in the summer. Unfortunately, the ghost continued to hassle me and I was forced to hire the family pets for protection.

NEXT POSTS

Blog-a-Book Wednesday…”The Bush Devil Ate Sam”: I complete my story on the laundry takeover at South Lake Tahoe where I was held at gunpoint. I drive my 54 Chevy toward the man holding a rifle who is standing in front of the car. Will he shoot me or get out of the way? That’s the question.

Travel Blog Friday... I return to my series on Oregon’s Harris Beach State Park where Peggy and I continue our exploration of tide pools.