It is said that you are shaped by your environment, particularly the one in which you were raised. I wholeheartedly agree with this.
As a man I very often find myself referring back to places and things in my childhood, using them as a point of reference for comparison to where I am now as a husband and father. And I spend a lot of time reminiscing about that time as well, as those days hold some very good memories.
Growing up, our family was not by most standards “well off”. But even so, life was rich and good, and I often find myself wishing I could provide my kids as prosperous and inspiring an environment as the one I had growing up.
For me, history began in 1963, and the center of the universe was a street in a typical little suburban neighborhood at the north end of a town named Carmichael. It was a world ripe for exploration.
There are so many tales to tell, it’s hard to choose a single starting point. From the great expanse of our home’s back yard and thick jungle vines there that reached forty feet into the trees, to the enormous vacant field just behind the houses across the street, to stunts we pulled on Halloween nights that would be remembered forever, to trips with the family to destinations around California and long summer days spent with my buddy at the state fair.
Our house was built in 1958 as part of a small tract house development. My parents chose that particular house before it was built, based upon its location and layout. Our three-bedroom, two-bath ranch style home was scarcely over 1200 square feet, but it was huge to me. And the sizeable lot upon which it sat (far more generous than those found under new homes these days) provided a vast amount of room for exploration and creative play.
The extent of the known universe was, to me, bounded by sidewalks.
One of my earliest memories is of being pushed up and down those sidewalks in a stroller and playing with the blue and pink beads that ran along the front. My older brother delighted in steering me along, providing exercise for himself, a change of scenery and some adventure for me, and peace and quiet for our mother.
I knew that when we got to the top of the street it was time to turn around; going on up would take us around to the next street; the one behind our house. That would be Too Far. It might as well have been deepest, darkest Africa; it was unknowable territory. That part of my map would read “Here Be Dragons.”
But that little 150-yard excursion was plenty enough excitement for me. I liked keeping close to home; where my room was, where my family was, where I felt safe and secure.
One of the unique features of our house, out of all the houses on the street, was our driveway. All of the houses on the street were slightly elevated from the street level, and thus had sloped driveways. All except ours. Our house had the only flat, level driveway on the street. And because our garage was built parallel to the street, the driveway curved around to meet it. It was a veritable oceanic plane of smooth concrete.
This feature was a natural magnet for every kid on the block. For tricycle riding and chalk drawing, our driveway was the place to go. And of course in those days, there was no concern over the fact that random children would appear in the yard at various hours of the day or evening, as it was considered perfectly normal to let your kid wander off to a friend’s house, as long as they were back before dinner. My mother paid little attention to the number or identity of the children who were riding and/or drawing on her driveway at any given moment. During the first summers of my existence, the driveway became a landscape of bare backs and crew cuts hunched over massive aboriginal masterpieces.
In a few years my own crop of friends and I would take over the driveway, claiming it as our own venue for artistic expression, be it in the form of chalk, tempera paint, building projects or filmmaking. The driveway became the backdrop for a lot of epic cinematic tales, mostly involving my buddies showing off their kung-fu moves or shoes menacing innocent victims, brought to life through the magic of stop-motion.
But as my world expanded, the driveway would play a less central role as the grand and glorious vacant field took center stage.
Next: The Field and the Glass Road