IDK, What Do You Want To Do

I called his name as loud as I could because from inside this wide culvert, beneath the street, the walls would both distort and limit the range of my voice. He would certainly come with enthusiasm if he heard me and for this idea, his enthusiasm was the whole point. Quickly, he appeared well down the tree-covered creek, but he couldn’t see me in the shadow, so I called him again and he sprang to follow my voice, accelerating as fast as he could as I knew he would. As soon as he was inside, he was able to see me and ran even faster. ‘Oh Skip’ I thought. ‘I love you dearly, but you can be such a sucker some times’ as I stepped aside to the concrete wall and let the laws of physics take over to finish this stunt.

german shorthair pointer

Skip was my dad’s ‘adult puppy’, so called because even at a fully grown at 55 pounds, Skip had the life attitude of a puppy, always playful, thrilled to be alive, responsive to and anxious to please everyone around him. I don’t think he had either a mean or suspicious gene in his whole body.

grant-school.jpg

In 1961, Petaluma opened Grant Elementary School near my home. I was 6 years old and fortunate to be in their first kindergarten class – only 4 blocks from home. Thus, Grant School became the starting point for many of our adventures.

Entertainment was more difficult in those days, what with streaming video limited to broadcast only, black and white, on a huge television located most likely in your living room and your selection, in Petaluma, was any of 3 stations which had nothing worth watching during the mid-day. This meant, we were often on our own to find something worth doing. I learned early that if I did not find some way of staying out of my parents’ hair, they would sign me up for stuff and their first choice was sports.

Boring ! ! !

So, the great outdoors, anywhere within walking distance of home became my first choice of playgrounds. We’d meet at Grant School and from there our imagination was our only limitation. For instance, see that flagpole in front of Grant’s administration office? It was only up when school was in session so – if school was closed, that flagpole rope was available for other uses. We would untie it, stand back about where that kid in the photo is standing and run around the pole until we had enough speed to lift our legs and see how far we could swing before having to ‘touch down’. We gave extra credit for leaving a tennis shoe skid mark on the concrete.

By the time I was 10 and in the 4th grade, we had pretty much located all the main attractions nearby. See that small mountain behind the school in the photo? That was ‘The Hill’ and it was the best amusement park around. It had the best box sliding slope, the best oak trees for climbing, and one of the few nearby buckeye trees for buckeye-bashing. This one hillside kept us off the local police radar, if not out of the doctor’s office, literally for years.

So, here’s how one day unfolded for the gang who had been banished from their homes one spring Saturday in 1966.

“So – what do you guys want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

“The flagpole is always fun”.

“Not for me. Mom can see it from our living room, and I caught hell for swinging on it last week.”

“I vote for the willow trees back behind the 5th and 6th grade rooms”.

“Yea. Let’s do it.”

weeping willow tree

This day, I had both my dog, Pam, and Dad’s dog, Skip, with me. All the other guys agreed so off we went.

Those willow trees were fully mature and were moderately fun to climb but had the extra attraction of being secluded so we could create as much fun, mess and havoc as we desired. These ‘weeping willow’ trees had those iconic long, thin, flexible branches that drooped sometimes for 15-20 feet. We would break off a suitable branch, strip off all the leaves except a few at the very end and thus create a long, thin, flexible whip. Within minutes, we had created our own whips and an hour was burned practicing whipping the support poles to the covered corridor between the special ed rooms and our 4th grade classroom. The dogs pretty much just stayed clear of the action. Pam maintained her constant expression of tolerance for the boys she felt responsible for. Skip just stayed alert for anything that anyone might want of him.

When we finished whipping the poles, someone said, “Hey, I still have a ball on the roof near 2nd grade. Let’s go find it.” In the corner where the corridor met the 5th grade wing was a small, but hearty tree that gave us easy access to the roof. We were up it in seconds, but when I looked back to see what the dogs were doing, I was surprised to see Skip trying to follow me.

Crazy dog! But what the heck? Maybe he can do it.

I climbed back down to coach him along and, wow, he did make it. The guys got a big kick out of having Skip up on the roof with us and we not only found that missing ball, but all kinds of other dubious treasures consisting mostly of elastic hair bands of various sizes and colors that had been shot up here like giant rubber bands leaving some young girl in tears over her lost hair band no doubt.

Maybe we should collect them and sell them back. . .

We found a really old soft ball that was no longer soft and a still usable Frisbee. Treasures collected, we sat swinging our legs over the edge, looking over the willow tree yard and talked over what should be our next effort. Pam sat below us, waiting patiently. Skip was not very good at sitting and waiting, but the roof felt weird to him, so he stayed close by.

When it was time to move on, we climbed back down that small tree, but it was clear that Skip could not reverse his climb up. Hmm, he’s too heavy to carry and I don’t have my rope today.

We couldn’t ask around for help because anyone who could help us would want to know why the dog was on the roof in the first place and how did he even get up there. Recall that we were out here to stay off of parent’s radar and in this light, taking him up with us no longer seemed like a good idea. We had to solve this ourselves.

“You know,” Mike said. “This is the lowest part of the roof to the ground and the grass is soft from the rain last night. Maybe he can just jump.”

Now, Skip was renowned for his ability to jump, but I wondered if this was a good idea. It was easily 12 feet from edge to ground and none of us wanted to try and catch a 55-pound flying dog.

“Okay. Let’s try.” We coxed him along – which he could never resist, and he worked it out himself by checking different places along the roof edge, whining loudly until finally bending low, and leaping.

Oh no! I thought as the sight of dad’s precious hunting dog, the dog who trusts me and would do anything I ask – is flying like a 55-pound rock. I’m so screwed.

His landing was horrible. On touchdown, both front legs folded beneath his weight and his somewhat lateral velocity, forced his chin deep into the grass where his face churned up a swath of sod that caked both sides of his mouth with mud, leaving a dog-chin shaped trench that is likely is visible still today.

“Ugh – Skip are you okay?”

But Skip, always the trooper, quickly shook it off and was back to normal. No more roofs for him though.

“Let’s check out the water house above the playground,” suggested Rick.

A few of us groaned because it was always boring and was fully visible to the houses downhill. The owner of the water house had to be in one of those homes. Rick would always remind us of the time when someone shot at him with a shotgun loaded with salt. Rick wasn’t hit, but his dad told him that it would sting like crazy if he had been, so tempting this fate was not high on our list.

But we agreed to climb the steepest part of the wall behind the asphalted playground and jump the dilapidated fence between the top of the hill and that water house. I never saw the use for these water houses. There were several around our territory, but they were all in ruins. They contained only stagnate water and garbage. They were interesting to look at for maybe a few minutes. I thought this one was boring except for today when BAM!

It had to be that guy who shot at Rick before. We all jumped and ran. Both Pam and Skip were hunting dogs so they went into hunting mode and tried to determine where the dead bird might be. I frantically called to them as I ran with the gang up and over the fence away from both the shooter and the school. Rick was not allowed to make any more suggestions that day and the water house was added to our ‘Don’t Even Think Of It’ list.

Our next destination was over the hills south of the school to the huge field just south of the intersection of Sunnyslope Road and “I” street. We liked to walk or run across this field with Skip because there were lots of rabbits and after jumping, running was Skip’s favorite thing. He was our own canine version of the Road Runner. If, a rabbit popped up and ran, he would give Skip quite a run and we would enjoy the show but, sadly, no joy today.

The western side of that field was drainage for a range of hills and what started as a small creek, once, northeast of Sunnyslope Road quickly became a 10 to15-foot-deep canyon where the water ran off to the north towards the Petaluma River.

Surrounding this deep creek were a variety of trees some of which lent themselves to rope swings, and multiple places where the water would pool enough for pollywogs or, later in the season, what we called ‘polly-frogs’, because, of course as pollywogs grew up, they grew legs and became frogs so making small dams and catching them for temporary collections was always fun.

pollywogs.jpg

polly frog

This deep creek passed beneath “I” Street via a large rectangular culvert. No matter how hot the day, even when the creek was dry, the shade of this culvert was always welcome and when there was any water, there was a large pool on the output side where the water would drop and season after season, it had carved out a pool large enough for a gang of boys to strip down to their jockeys and enjoy a refreshing swim. It was low enough to barely be visible from the road and deep enough for a decent swim.

When there was any water in the culvert, the whole floor inside would become covered with slippery algae, so even we had to be careful about horsing around inside.

Today wasn’t hot enough for a swim, but I thought of a fun way to give Skip one.

When I called him to catch up from whatever horsing-around he was doing further back, as I said earlier, he came running at near full speed, as I knew he would. I fully expected our full-grown puppy to not understand anything about the algae covering the ground, so when he tried to stop – well – inertia would give us a fun show – and it did.

The other boys saw what was coming, so they pressed back against the walls to make room for my 55-pound canine projectile. Skip really had only two speeds, walking like a sane creature, or running insanely fast. I knew that braking from a Skip-speed run would be impossible on algae; all of his paws and toenails would not be up to the task of finding enough friction. He immediately went into a skid with all four legs spread, his body spun until he got the edge of the culvert floor and tumbled sideways almost 4 feet into our swimming pool.

The crowd of small boys went wild with cheers and applause. Pam, if you knew how to read her eyes, you would have read, “Pathetic son, just pathetic.”

Skip surfaced and swam to the shore to shake off and the rest of the day became non-memorable in the light of our road runner adult puppy doing such a spectacular skid and wipe-out through and out of that slippery culvert.

I came away with my own answer to the question of what I wanted to do that day. I wanted to keep living these carefree days with my dogs and friends for as long as humanly possible


GW bio card 4

5 thoughts on “IDK, What Do You Want To Do

  1. Oh, how I really enjoyed that little glimpse into childhood. The big thing when I was younger was actually climbing anything and everything from the town hall building, to the church steeple, to the cliffs down at the gorge. My mom was too busy boozing and drugging to notice me, so as long as I stayed out of a jail cell she pretty much left me alone. I had a fascination for old, abandoned buildings, too. Sometimes I had a dog, sometimes not.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Call it a BLESSED day. See ya next week! I’ve finally met up with my muse… and she has a story she wants me to write! hehe!

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s