Opinion

That was the life... growing up on a dead end | The Latte Guy | April 9

I grew up on a street that the developer who built our neighborhood probably would have described as a cul-de-sac, which I believe is a French word for a “sack of culls,” which makes no sense and thereby proves that it is French in origin. Those of us who actually lived on the street called it a dead end.

In Spanish, such a street is called a “sal si puedes,” which translates as “get out if you can” in English, and get out we all did. Of the 12 families who lived on our street during my formative years, my mom is the only original owner still living there. She has now lived in the same house for 55 years.

Growing up on a dead end was a great thing for a kid. Our street had no through traffic, which means we were free to play baseball, football, kick the can and hide-and-go seek in the street any time we wanted. We launched fireworks from a manhole cover on the street on Fourth of July.

There was another cul-de-sac one block over from us, and although we knew the kids who lived there, we didn’t fraternize much with them. We would challenge them to the occasional game of flag football or baseball. And once in a while we’d go to their street and hang out at the Rodriguez’s house because they had a pomegranate tree in their yard.

We’d eat the seeds out of a couple of ripe pomegranates, invariably staining the front of our white T-shirts, until somebody would toss a partially eaten pomegranate at someone and a full-on pomegranate war would break out.

The same thing would happen at the Adams house, except they had apricot rather than pomegranate trees. Ditto the Souleks and their kumquats, the Westgarths and their plums and the Rudometkins and their avocados.

On many warm summer afternoons, my dad would load about a dozen of us kids into our old ’55 Mercury and we’d drive up to the Whittier Hills, which at the time consisted of abandoned citrus orchards and oil fields. It wouldn’t be long before a lemon and oranges war would break out.

Looking back now, I think I see a pattern in our behavior. It’s a good thing no one in the neighborhood owned a grapefruit tree or some of us might not have made it to adulthood.

When I lived there, each house on the block had a large elm tree in its front yard. Kids would climb up into the trees with a sack full of water balloons, which we would then drop on the heads of unsuspecting neighbors walking by. Small wonder that people taking an evening stroll tended to walk in the middle of the street.

All but one of those big old elms is now gone. Unlike her new neighbors, mom has never felt the need to cut down a perfectly healthy tree just to keep it from dropping leaves on her front yard.

The elm trees and all of the kids are gone, but not much else has changed about the house I grew up in. There’s still the gazebo in the back yard that my brother and I helped our dad build, and the brick patio that we built is still there. We spent many a summer hour pulling weeds from between the bricks before we were allowed to grab our water balloons and head for the trees.

The bedroom we shared has now been converted into what you’d call a sunroom in that it’s a room with a couple of chairs and it gets a lot of sun. It is strategically located between the bathroom and kitchen along a hallway that connects the other two bedrooms to the rest of the house.

During the time all six of us lived there, it could easily be mistaken for a wide spot in the hallway were it not for the bunk beds that clung to one wall and the pile of blue jeans, wrinkled T-shirts, and well-worn baseball gloves that routinely littered the floor and were piled on every other flat surface in the room, of which there were precious few.

My sisters shared the other bedroom, which was at the end of the hallway rather than a part of it. It gave them a semblance of privacy, or as much privacy as six people living in a small house with one shower can reasonably expect to have enjoyed.

It was a great childhood, and if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it all over again. Only I’d stay away from the pomegranate tree.

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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