“You Can Never Forget a Friend”

It’s long been said that you never forget the neighborhood kids you grew up with and I wholeheartedly agree. Those early friendships are forged in an innocence so pure they can never be lost. I have never forgotten the friends who I grew up with. We were together from early pre-school age until I moved away when I was ten but I still remember them as if it were yesterday. There were six of us all the same age, Mike North, Larry Anderson, Bobby Holmes, Danny and Bobby Magdalenes and me. We played together all the time and were really great friends.

The five of us grew up together in Baldwin Park, on California Ave, a quiet, little street maybe a little more than a quarter of a mile long. There were around 20 or more houses on either side of the street which made for a lot of kids. Back then the road was only one lane wide with maybe 8 feet of gravel on each shoulder. Best of all California Ave didn’t go through, it dead-ended about six houses past ours. There were never any cars except in the early AM when dads were heading off to work and kids were off to school, then again around 4:30 when dads were getting home. It was perfect for kids.

We really had a great time growing up there. Today the street is just like every other residential street. Its two lanes wide with curbs, gutters, sidewalks and even street lamps. I drove down good old California Ave with my dad a few years back. I hardly recognized it. No warm and fuzzy feelings, it didn’t even feel nostalgic. A few of the houses still looked the same but the magic was gone, its aura had changed completely. Even our old house at 14613(still remember the address) was gone. It burned down several years ago when a paper recycler on the street behind it caught fire.  Pretty sad really, but the place sure rocked when we were kids.

Of all the guys Bobby Holmes was my best friend. He lived right across the street from me, we spent the most time together. We had a blast! Bobby was one of the first kids I remember meeting on the street. I was out in the front yard with my mom looking at the old California pepper tree and he came on over and joined us. He told us how much fun all the kids had playing up in the tree. He climbed up the old, twisted, double trunk onto a low hanging branch and I went up right behind him. By the end of the afternoon a friendship was born. After that we played together all the time. His house was the only place my mom allowed me to go into.

Bobby and I used to have an awesome time together. Neither of us was in school yet so we had all the time in the world to play. Back then Westerns series dominated nightly TV. So playing cowboys and Indians was our favorite pastime. We played all the time. I remember this one time we were playing together in my backyard we must have been around 4. We were both cowboys fight a band of imaginary Indians. After a long battle we made a truce and smoked the peace pipe with the Indians. We were having a ceremony and were going to do something that we’d heard about on one of the TV shows, we were going to bury the hatchet. We knew it had something to do with peace so we were literally burying a small red rubber Indian hatchet in a mound of construction sand my dad had behind the garage.

I suppose we should have seen it coming but we were little kids and didn’t. I had a kids shovel and was busy digging and Bobby had a regular hoe with a busted handle which made it kid-size, but the hoe had a sharp point on the broken end of the handle. Bobby was moving it back and forth pulling sand out of the hole. Long story short, when I thought the hole was deep enough I put down the shovel and bent over to pick up the hatchet from the ground. I guess I should have let Bobby know what I was doing.

Unfortunately for me I bent over behind the moving hoe and the sharp handle caught me in the eyebrow above my right eye. A half inch lower and I would have probably lost an eye. I grabbed at my face and stayed bent over in pain. The whole time Bobby was asking me if I was okay. I finally stood up and turned to face him. I pulled my hands away and I could feel the blood running down my face. (You know how those face and forehead cuts bleed) The look I saw on poor Bobby’s face was pure terror! He stared at me for a split second, dropped the hoe and ran towards his house like he was on fire! I went inside crying to my mom.

My mom took good care of me. First she hugged me really tight, then she got angry, then she got a towel and a bowl of water. She cleaned the cut then put a gauze pad over it and held pressure on the cut. Within ten minutes or so it had stopped bleeding, so she taped a new pad over it and I was saved. About that time there was a knock on the door. It was Bobby. Apparently he had ran home and hid. His mom had heard him come in so she found him and he told he what happened. She sent him back to my house immediately. She was standing out near the pepper tree to make sure he went up to the door. Bobby was so relieved to see that I was okay. It was quite an adventure but one worthy of sharing with a best friend.

Yes we had quite a friendship. His dad was a contractor so there was always scraps of lumber in Bobby’s garage. My dad was a truck driver so he also had bits of lumber stored. What was cool about both our dads was that they didn’t mind if we used the scraps to build things. In fact they encouraged it. Bobby and I built a ladder in my backyard so we could get over the wall easier to that rich, wild piece of wilderness behind the houses that continued to go undeveloped. We loved it back there, our personal playground. We also built a platform up in the old pepper tree out front. It wasn’t big maybe four by six or so about 15 feet off the ground. It was our clubhouse, at least the floor to it anyway. The rest of it never happened.

Yeah he and I built a lot of things over the years, crate box carts, a fort roof to cover a section of the trench we’d dug in the vacant lot. Some of the other guys helped with that as well. But my all- time favorite thing that we built was a rocket ship. Actually it was more like the nosecone or space capsule and it turned out awesome! It was a Saturday and Bobby’s mom had gotten a new refrigerator and clothes washer delivered. His dad was busy hooking everything up and had put the boxes and other packing materials in the backyard. Bobby and I had been playing over in the field when the stuff arrived. When we finished we headed over to Bobby’s house I guess we must have been about 8 or 9 at the time. We walked into his backyard and saw all the cardboard and stuff and saw potential. We looked at each other with this look that said “Wow! What do you want to build?”

Well I don’t remember now who thought of it but it was an excellent idea. The country was in the midst of a space race with Russia and all the talk was about rockets, astronauts and space capsules. That’s right, we built a cardboard and wood space capsule. It was incredible! We taped the washer and fridge box together, cut out windows and used some lumber to create a dashboard control center for our space craft, complete with painted on dials and two astronaut seats, two wooden kitchen chairs laid on their backs. All the window openings we cut were covered with clear plastic courtesy of Bobby’s dad. We even had an American flag pinned to the side of the capsule and USA painted below it. It was really first class.

When it got dark Bobby’s dad brought in some drop lights and an extension cord so we could plug in the portable TV. By dinner time we were belted into our chairs exploring the vastness of space. We were even allowed to eat our dinner in the capsule, of course they made us sit up to eat. By that time Bobby and I were talking about asking our parents if we could spend the night in the capsule. Surprise, surprise, my over-protective mom allowed. The impossible had happened! We watched TV, then later we sat there in the dark, in the wee hours of the morning, staring at the sky above and talking about stars and planets. Yeah we spent the night in space. But let me tell you, one thing I clearly remember is sleeping in a wooden chair tilted all the way back is extremely uncomfortable.  Only kids right?

I will never forget Bobby Holmes. He was a good friend. It was a blast knowing him. My only regret is that I didn’t maintain contact with him. I have no idea what became of him. That would never happen today. With social media we could have remained friends. But I moved in 1960. Back then a seven mile move was like moving to the other side of the world. By the time I could drive I’d moved on. I have tried Googling him several times over the years, but no luck. Oh well, It is what it is. I will always remember him. He was my first ever best friend who wasn’t related to me. That honor falls on my cousin David and that’s a whole other story for another day.

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