I sat listening to the river for several more minutes, then headed back down the mountain. I turned left on Azusa-San Gabriel Canyon Road and headed south towards the ranch. The one acre ranch, owned by Art’s dad, was part of a much larger avocado grove, and one of our favorite places to hang out back in the day. We spent a lot of time there, kicking back and drinking beer, a lot of beer. It was also a great night spot to spend some time with our girlfriends, which we often did. Yeah, we had some good times at the ranch, some really great times.
I drove by slowly and couldn’t believe how different the ranch looked. It was nothing at all like the lush, green, little piece of paradise that I remembered. There were far fewer trees and most of those were small and sparsely covered with foliage. Could this have really been the site of all those good times? It sure didn’t appear to be. So much for memories.
I headed back down San Gabriel and hit the signal at Sierra Madre. I could see my mom’s old restaurant Angela’s. in the small strip mall across the street. My mom really loved that place and always seemed so happy there. I could almost she her inside throwing together one of her famous pizzas or grinders. I wish they’d never sold it. I know they had their reasons, but maybe things would have turned out differently if they hadn’t, maybe she’d still be alive. Way too many maybe’s. God I miss her…
I pulled over and stopped in front of some apartments on the south side of San Gabriel. Raylene and I had lived there for about a year when we were first married. Our apartment still looked exactly like it had when we lived there. I shook my head remembering our time there. Could it have really been thirty years ago? It didn’t seem possible. Where did all the time go?
At Foothill Blvd I made a left and continued on my little trip down memory lane. Driving past the city hall I couldn’t believe how little it had changed. It still looked exactly as it had in the sixties. When we were kids there had been an enormous evergreen on the front lawn. It must have been fifty feet tall! Every winter it was transformed into a giant Christmas tree complete with lights, ornaments and a large gold star on top and a live manger scene in front of it. It was incredible! The tree blew down in the big wind storm of 68 and though it was replaced, it was never quite the same.
I continued east past Baker’s (now called California Burger), Whites Funeral Home, St Frances of Rome Church, and the Foothill Drive-In. The drive in had closed several years ago and was purchased by Azusa Pacific University. As teens we use to go to the swap meet at the drive-in nearly every Sunday. My parents thought I was going to the 10:15 mass to sing with the school choir and were more than happy to let me go. I’d usually meet my cousin Dave, Pete Smith or some of the other guys in front of the church, then we’d go in and stand near the glass doors in the back until just after the sermon, grab a bulletin, then make a quick exit and head for the swap meet. The quicky church stop was just in case we got the third degree from our parents, we could, give them a bulletin, tell them about the sermon, who the priest was and what color vestments he was wearing. It was a perfect plan. We never once got caught.
After the swap meet we’d usually stop at McDonald’s for a burger and fries or go across the street to A&W for a root beer. Sometimes we’d go up to Azusa Lanes, which was next to the drive in and buy cigarettes from the vending machine. Like the drive in, McDonalds, A&W and the bowling alley were now only memories.
I made a right on Rockvale, made my way back to Cerritos Ave and drove by Azusa High School, my alma matre. Actually I had attended Bishop Amat until the middle of my junior year then transferred out, but that’s another story.
My one and only year at Azusa High was a strange but memorable one. My apathy nearly cost me graduation. Two weeks before the ceremony my mom received a letter from Mr. Jackson, my counselor, informing her that I had failed a class and would not be graduating. She was irate. When I got home that day she was laying in wait. While in the bathroom I heard my car start up, so I cut things short and quickly headed outside. I found that my mom had pulled my car into the garage and was padlocking the door. “What’s wrong? What did I do ?” I shouted. She wouldn’t answer me. She was on a mission.
Next she went into my room and began gathering up my clothes and carrying them into the garage. She tossed them into the small storage room that would serve as my new bedroom. Dave and I had cleaned out the room a few summers before to serve as our private little sanctuary. She had moved in a folding cot and taken out the few remaining tools my dad still kept in there and replaced them with me! I kept asking her why, but she wouldn’t responded.
After several trips all my stuff was in the garage. She then went back in the house and returned a few minutes later with the letter she’d received. She proceeded to lay out the terms of my new restricted life. Since I was not graduating, I was grounded indefinitely, I would no longer have a room in the house, I could not eat with the family, my car was gone, and last but not least, I would have to move out as soon as I turned 18. I tried to explain to my mom that I could go to summer school and still get my diploma, but she wouldn’t listen to me and walked away. It was bizarre. For the next two weeks I was like a ghost, going into the house after everyone else had eaten, scavenging the left-overs, showering, then disappearing back into my little dungeon in the garage. It was horrible. My mom was not speaking to me at all, and my dad, well my dad, was the same as always, a hard nose.
If not for the kindness of one of my teacher’s just three hours before graduation, I wouldn’t have walked. On graduation day, I went to see the teacher who had failed me. The class I failed was a zero period data processing class. the only class available at that time. I arrived at Mr. Harbo’s classroom around 3:15. There were two other seniors at his door waiting to see him. We could hear Harbo inside chewing on someone pretty harshly. A moment later a girl came out crying. Seeing that, the other students simply walked away and suddenly I was next. “Sausedo, what do you want?” Harbo yelled, “Get in here.”
Reluctantly I went in and asked if there was anything I could do to pass his class and graduate. I half expected him to burst out laughing, instead he glared at me, picked up his grade book, and went into a loud, lengthy, lecture that addressed my poor attendance, lack of interest, and low test scores. I can still hear his booming voice “What do you expect, you were absent twenty times, late a dozen times, and when you were here, all you did was sleep or fool around in the back of the room with Lloyd and Mill.” “As for test and assignments, your highest test score was a 63% and you’re missing most of your assignments. You earned your F young man.” By the time he finished I was convinced that he was right, I truly deserved to fail and my hopes of convincing him otherwise were simply ridiculous. None the less I tried to explain that the only reason I took the class was because I needed the credits to graduate and that I had no real interest in computers, and had no intention of becoming involved with them in the future. He shook his head and told me that there was nothing he could do, so I got up and left.
On my way out I muttered under my breath, “you just don’t understand.” Harbo heard me, called me back in and asked what it was that he didn’t understand. I proceeded to tell him about my situation at home and all my mom had done. When I finished he looked at me kind of funny and said, “You’re kidding right?” I shook my head no. He sighed and motioned me to sit back down. “I’ll be right back,” he said and left the room. I found out years later that he had called my mom to verify my story. He was gone about fifteen minutes, came back and gave me a passing grade. I couldn’t thank him enough, and promised him that I would stay away from computers, not realizing that twenty five years later nearly everything would be computer related and that my job would involve working on a computers everyday. Talk about irony! Three hours before graduation I had been given a reprieve and was able to graduate with my class and receive my diploma. Thanks Harbo! Like I said before, it was a strange year. Stranger still, is the fact that I am now a guidance counselor at Azusa High. Who would have ever thought…
End of part 2