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.
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.
In 1961, Petaluma opened Grant Elementary School near my home. I was 6 years old and fortunate to be in their first year kindergarten class. 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 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. For instance, see that flag pole in front of our school? The flag was only up when school was in session so when it wasn’t that flag pole rope was available for other use. 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’.
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 of the police radar, if not out of the doctor’s office, for literally 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 flag pole is available”.
“Not for me. My 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.”
So, with both my dog, Pam, Dad’s dog, Skip, and the other guys all in agreement, off we went. The willow trees were fully mature trees that were moderately fun to climb but had the extra attraction of being very secluded and these were ‘weeping willow’ trees that had wonderful 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. Very soon we all had our own whip and easily 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.
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, another really old ball and a still usable Frisbee. 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, and waited patiently. Skip was not very good at sitting and waiting, but the roof was weird to him and he stayed close by.
When we climbed back down that small tree, it became clear that Skip could not reverse his climb up. Hmm, he’s too heavy to carry and I didn’t have my rope today. We couldn’t ask around for help because who would help us without wanting 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 parents radar, so we had to figure this out ourselves.
“You know, this is the lowest part of the roof to the ground and the grass is soft and wet from the last rain.” Mike said. “Maybe he can just jump.”
Skip was renown 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. We ended up coxing him and he worked it out himself by checking different places along the roof edge, whining and finally bending low, and leaping.
His landing was horrible. Both front legs folded beneath his weight and angle of attack, forcing his chin deep into the grass and churned up a swath that caked both sides of mouth with mud. But Skip was a trooper and quickly shook it off and was back to normal. No more roofs for him though. Dad would not have been pleased if he got hurt and arguably he should have been that time.
“Let’s check out the water house above the playground.”
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 the 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 for that day and that water house was now on 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 no joy today.
The western side of that field was drainage for the next range of hills and what started as a small creek quickly became a 10-15 foot deep canyon in the earth 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 there were 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.
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 out and season after season, it would carve 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 water in the culvert, the whole floor inside would become covered with algae making it slippery, so you had to be careful about horsing around inside.
On this day, we weren’t hot enough for a swim, but I thought of a great way to give Skip one. When I called him to catch up from whatever horsing around he was doing further back and he came running in at near full speed, as I knew he would. I fully expected our full grown puppy to not understand anything about algae covered flooring so when he tried to stop – well – inertia would give us a fun show – and it did.
Skip really had only two speeds, walking like a sane creature, or running fast. I knew that braking from a Skip-speed run would be impossible on algae and both the pads of his paws and his hard toe nails were not up to the task of finding any 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 the pool.
The crowd of small boys went wild with cheers and applause. Pam, if you knew how to read her eyes, you could 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 whip-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 carefree days just like this one, for as long as possible.