Memories of Azusa: The Last Days of Summer

The last days of summer are always the best. I suppose it’s the realization that our vacation is about to end that motivates us to try and get the most from those final days. We get up earlier, play harder, and stay up later, in a futile effort to hang on to summer for just a little while longer, before school starts up again.

As a young boy growing up in Azusa, I found it very difficult to give up my summers and get back into the routine of school. Summer would usually follow me into the classroom at St. Frances of Rome where I’d spend much of my time daydreaming about the fun things I could be doing  instead of school work. It always took me several weeks before school finally got my full attention. By then I was usually behind in my work and it would take me all triad to catch up. Sometimes I never did.

By the fourth week of school, while most students were busy worrying about tests or  homework, I’d be more concerned with how many school days were left until our first day off.  By January my friends could always count on me to know exactly how many days remained until summer freed us once again. Sometimes when especially bored I even calculated the number of hours, minutes, and yes even the seconds.

I don’t remember ever being concerned about how tough teachers were, or how much homework they gave, I simply didn’t care.  Not that I was a bad student,  I really wasn’t.  I managed to pull C’s or better. I did what I had to do to get me through until June came rolling in. I lived for summer vacation. School was just something I did between summers. Something I had to do.

crossAt times I would sit staring out the window at the San Gabriel Mountains that lie just north of the city, lost in memories of summer. I loved those mountains, I still do. In those days the air quality was much worse than it is today, so they were usually hidden behind a thick shroud of smog or haze. But when the warm Santa Ana winds blew, the mountains looked incredible, so lush and green, painted against a rich blue canvas. They looked close enough to touch. On those special, Santa Ana days  I always felt lucky to live in Azusa “the Canyon City”, happy to be alive.

12345I spent many a summer day up in those mountains. My friends and I would ride our bikes up to the end of  Hilltop Drive and ditch them in the bushes. Then we’d hike up the fire break to Seven Pines. From there we’d look down on Azusa and across the valley, admiring the view. Sometimes we’d hike over to the big “A” on a nearby hillside.  You could see the “A” from miles away. As legend had it back in the late 50’s a group of Azusa high school football players hiked up the hillside and cleared the brush to form the “A”. Then chalked it so it could be seen easily. Each year new players would go up and chalk the “A”. It was a tradition.

Sometimes we’d  take our BB guns with us and hunt for birds, rabbit or lizards. Birds were our primary target. There were plenty of them in the foothills. I remember one particular outing we were near Seven Pines and hadn’t seen anything worth shooting at. Out of sheer boredom, I picked up my single pump Daisy and, after scanning the area, had my shirtless cousin Jeff in my sights. He was with a couple of the guys about 80 yards away and had no idea what was coming. The last thing I remember before I pulled the trigger was my cousin Dave taunting me. “Come on I dare you to do it. You’re too far away to hit him anyway.”

I never expected to hit him, but he was down hill from us and the breeze was blowing in the right direction. I aimed high, pulled the trigger and nailed him right in the chest. Boy was he pissed.  He came charging up the mountain at me with rage in his eyes. I don’t think I ever ran so fast in my life. Eventually he cooled off and gave up the chase. Later, when I approached him, begging for forgiveness, he wrestled me to the ground and roughed me up a bit. It wasn’t so bad. He was a big guy so it could have been much worse.

Memorial_Park_Recreation_CenterOn days when we weren’t in the canyon, you could find us at  Memorial Park Recreation Center, the “rec” as we use to call it,  playing carroms, ping pong, volleyball or basketball. There was always something happening at the ‘rec.’ Angeleno Street (between Second and Third) was also a popular hangout. We spent many nights sitting on Angeleno talking about girls, cars, and yes, even our futures. When we were old enough to drive we’d drive deep into the mountains and find a place where we could just sit around and talk. Many nights we’d go up to the East Fork bridge to watch shooting stars. I remember the mountain skies being so clear, and filled with stars….  I remember so many things….

I guess that’s one of the reasons I choose to work in Azusa. I never realized just how much I love this town. It feels good to be able to give something back to the community I grew up in. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I’d still be here all these years later. I’d always dreamed of moving away. All these years later I’m still dreaming, but I have no regrets, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing, proud to be have been a guidance counselor for 15 years at Azusa High School.

Just a thought,

JS

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