I came from a place with freeway signs on sides of hills called Linda Vista, Chula Vista and Bonita. Spanish words on English signs. I could read English. I knew their meaning but not the point of the name. I knew what they looked like even if I'd never been to Bonita. These places were filled with houses and stores and all the traffic between them. Streets at the tops of the canyons and highways at the bottom. Pitched roads up steep canyons and the busy connectors between them. I saw from the eyes of a school kid. I never thought to take in the views. It's where I grew up.
My parents worked hard, my father in the navy and my mother an executive secretary. Both were usually at work. My grandmother watched us when they were gone. She lived up the stairs she could only be carried down. She'd had a stroke a few years before. Right after my grandpa died. Paralyzed half her body, she walked with a walker. It never occurred to me she was trapped. My dad would carry his frail mother down the small flight of stairs then wind down the longer flight and set her bird-like frame into the waiting wheelchair.
He'd wheel her outside to our brand-new 1978 Ford LTD V-8 station wagon, white with maroon leather interior with seats in the very back that folded out and faced each other. Yep. Ashtrays back there, too. My older sister and I would fight over who got the trip back there. My dad really would pull over, drop the tailgate, and let my mom spank us right on the side of the road if we made too much noise. She didn't throw shoes. She used them. Rapidly.
We'd take grandma to Tijuana, across the border into Mexico, just to have her hair done. She'd sit under the whispering plastic dome around her head while we waited. The salon smelled so bad. My sisters laughed gleefully when I once said it smelled like dead tacos. I smelled dead tacos all the way home. No eucalyptus nor ocean breeze gets my mind retreating like the smell of Tijuana. It's permanent.
While we were waiting, we'd ask my mom for some money to buy some Mexican pickles. There'd be a guy on the corner with a cart selling peeled cucumbers, cut in quarters lengthwise, doused in lemon and sprinkled with salt and chili pepper. The wax paper kept the juice and chili salt mixture off your lap. I never wasted a drop. The only other thing I remember about Tijuana besides chipped paint, power lines, and Spanish words on Spanish signs was that I couldn't wait to get back home. Back to the canyons.
My dad would park our big white wagon onto our sloped driveway. The driveway, made for roller skates and rolling starts, was not for wheel chairs. It reclined my grandma back into the maroon leather and my dad would reverse the process getting her back into her recliner upstairs. I'd go play.
I grew up on the side of Murphy Canyon facing Jack Murphy Stadium. I would watch the fireworks after sporting events. Explosions would light up the night sky above the bright lights of the stadium. I would crawl through my window onto the gently-sloped roof ledge and feel the colored bursts at my level. They were in the distance but you could still hear the cheers.
We were only one street down from the canyon mesa. The mesa was flat and dry, edged like the top had been sliced off with a bread knife. Steep sloping sides coated and patched with ice plants and eucalyptus trees. Low desert plants filled in the rest. My friends, Gary, and Gerald, and Tyrone, and Kevin, and Gigi, and Beth and all their friends would hang out in the big park next to our house. The houses shared walls and looked mostly the same. There was another smaller park on our street with metal swings and a fast metal slide. It had moms and toddlers.
The big park was a flat area overlooking the winding streets below. It was big enough for two full-length basketball courts, some tennis courts, a softball field with no grass, and a sand-filled area containing timber-built swings, a wide metal slide, and two log pirate ships. The pirate ships had ship wheels to pretend and rooms underneath to confine our prisoners. Maybe only one was the pirate ship and the other an armed naval ship, both engaged in a pitched battle.
Off my port quarter was the tractor tire swing chained at three points and spun until I'd laughingly beg for someone to stop the spinning. Like tickling, there was a point where it wasn't fun anymore. I'd fall off and let the sandy ground hold my head for a bit.
The paved walking path started near the tether ball poles and park fence rising past our little back yard below. The street above us ended the neighborhood. Streets had names like Patriot, Middleman, Yorktown, and Tea Party Lane. The four-lane road beyond them dead-ended at the edge of the canyon overlooking Mission Valley. From there sandy trails took you either way winding down the canyon slope.
We never strayed far. We would look for pools of water and collect tadpoles in jars and bring them home to grow legs. That smell comes back quickly, too. We'd leave them in jars of water and run off with sawed-off cardboard boxes used as sleds to slide down the ice plant slopes behind houses on the edge of the canyon. We'd take Lemonheads, Jolly Rancher sticks and bandages with us. The ice cream man blared his music several times a day during the summers. He sold breads and pastries, too.
I'd know my parents were home when my dad would let out an ear-piercing whistle. The kind where he'd put two fingers to his lips and really let me know I should be on my way. It was time to go home.
It had pretty views. It was where I grew up.