I had to do it, the time had come, so I walked stoutly to the middle of the Oak Avenue overcrossing and stepped over the rail, took a long look around me at my hometown of Greenfield, California, then jumped to the dirt below.
That would be a pretty good opening line for a short story, maybe even a novel; but in this case, it is a dramatic rendering of an actual act. I did jump off that overcrossing and I did land on the dirt below, but I wasn’t the only one who braved that particular feat that day, there were a couple other stout, or stupid, youngsters involved.
It was the year 1960, maybe 1961, General Eisenhower was still President “I Like Ike” and his national freeway building project had finally reached the Salinas Valley, where there were to be stretches of new freeway build bypassing the downtown areas of each of the seven Valley towns; from Chualar to San Ardo there was construction taking place to achieve this goal.
The logical choice of bypass area in Greenfield was between Fourth and Fifth streets, as this stretch of land, from south of Thorne Road to south of Elm Avenue, was surprisingly devoid of structures. I don’t know the exact number, but it involved, if memory serves, two barns and four, or five, houses and part of a dairy.
Also, that block denotes the last “city block” on the east side of town, a city block in the older section of Greenfield usually consisted of four houses with an alley in between. From Fourth Street east (and from 11th Street west) the “country blocks” begin and run to First Street and 14th Street, respectively.
I can’t recite to you the distance of a country block, but estimate they are at least three times the length. So, the engineers made their decision and in a matter of days the big equipment rolled into what was once stomping grounds for The Fifth Street Gang, of which I was a proud member, and was fast becoming a playground of a whole different nature: now there were massive yellow ground-moving hunks of metal, which far outshined the monkey bars at school and even rivaled the climbing allure of the Pepper and Eucalyptus trees that had occupied the area for decades.
As stated, this area was sparse of buildings in the late 1950s and early 1960s so had large empty areas, much of it small rises and falls of terrain, lots of plant life if weeds are considered as such, rife with low hung Pepper trees whose branches drooping to ground level made ready-made forts or hiding places.
We, the Gang also aforementioned, dug tunnels, not a recommended activity at all when the soil is sandy, and we climbed what Eucalyptus trees we could at our age and generally ran amok in the area from Walnut to Elm avenues; keeping in mind at that time all the avenues in town ran unobstructed east and west, only Apple and Maple were not afforded overcrossings so got split into two sections.
The construction of the freeway bypass eventually reached a point where the Oak Avenue overcrossing was completed, well before asphalt lanes were laid, and a large pile of sand (for future concrete use) had been deposited in the area between where the lanes would run. It was onto this pile we leaped from the overcrossing, making sure we landed near the top on the side when we hit, we just slid down the side of the sand pile. Landing dead center on top of the pile was not only not fun, but could be quite painful; trust me.
Now, if by chance you have gone back up to the top of the column and re-read the title, you are wondering what all this has to do with a pet or a peeve. Well, it is this. Before the freeway came through the whole of the above-described area was stray cat land, feral cat land. The nasty little things bred like, well like stray cats, and populated, nay, overpopulated the whole landscape with feral, fevered felines.
As a child I remember laying in bed at night and hearing cat fights or, even more unsettling, the sounds of tomcats wooing (a polite usage) and comingling (an even more polite usage) with females. The sight of cats with torn and mangled ears or tails, cats favoring damaged limbs or outright missing limbs, and cats with only one eye were common. The odor of dead cat wafted through the neighborhood many times a year; more often in the warmer summer days.
I remember being warned not to get close to any cat we didn’t know, and we didn’t know many. I recall dogs of my youth, my family’s and the neighbors, but very few cat owners. We were told stories of cat scratch fever and how a cat would climb up into a bassinette and sit on a sleeping baby’s chest to smell the milk breath and the combination could cause brain damage or asphyxiation.
I don’t know how true that is, but I vividly recall one day when some of the ladies were outside talking as ladies do who live closely (or did then and there on Fifth Street) when we witnessed a cat jump into a crib set up in a driveway, not 30 yards from the mother, but that mother yelled “Oh, my baby!” and covered the ground in half a tick (and though Virginia no longer reads this column, my bet is she would recall that day).
So, there you have it. My pet pet peeve are cats. I have no fondness for them nor they me. I have no desire to be around them. If you own one, cool. Keep it indoors so it doesn’t use other people’s property as neither sandbox nor bedroom nor maternity room. If you think this harsh, one day I will tell you about some cats I did like; until then, get a dog.
Take care. Peace.