sixties memories

It was around early fall when most of us kids in the neighborhood had finally quit singing the words:"I'm 'enery the eighth I am", and concentrated on another year at school. 1965 was a profound summer for me. In a kid's world something is always going on, something new and different, but 1965 was the turning point. I finally got to see "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" on TV, I built The Creature model, discovered G.I. Joe, and inadvertently tossed a muddy pine cone into a neighbor girl's mother's mouth while she was yelling at us to stop throwing pine cones. It was a once in a lifetime shot, and providence prevailed in my favor as my Dad thought it was funny.

In the summer of 1965 I got my first Stingray bike built by my brother Pat. He used Schwinn parts and basically created for free, what parents were paying a lot of money for. I also got my first taste of an electric guitar owned by a neighbor boy. The first chord I learned was G - using only the high E string of course - and the first popular riff I figured out was: "Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. A few of us guys started our own band called "The Playboys" (omitting Gary Lewis as it would otherwise be plagarism), and although none of us could play any instrument, we meant well.

neighborhood block
S.E. 88th and Cora Street

There was also another first for me that year.

girl playing on monkey bars
In late September of 1965, I had a special friend named Christine. Everyone called her Christy. At the time I didn't really know her as a special friend; it took me awhile to understand the friendship. We both were in the fifth grade, and she was a tomboyish girl who mostly took interest in games that boys played. She didn't care for playing army, or army men, nor did she like playing with dolls. Christy's interests were in sports, mysteries, monsters, and adventure. She also had a younger brother, but he wasn't my age, so he and I never played together.

girlI noticed that some of the other girls weren't as friendly with her undoubtedly owing to her tomboyish ways. She was also taller than most of them which I'm sure didn't help. Christy and I got off to a fast start thanks to her aggressive cut-to-the-chase personality. Slowly, we headed toward that clumsy boyfriend-girlfriend stage in the guise of being ordinary day-to-day friends. Nothing was spoken about our "special friendship", it was merely something that existed and something we both were fully aware of. The "girlfriend/boyfriend" stage was a slippery slope, and a general rule of thumb among us kids was that it was best not to tread that terrain unless one was absolutely sure of his/her footing.

Christy still had her group, and I had mine, but when our collective groups called it quits for the day, we found each other to be far more dependable and entertaining. What I hadn't realized was that I was learning a new joy in life, and that was the joy of diversity. It came clear to me that not all of my friends needed to be boys! Better yet, if we were to accidentally slip into that boyfriend-girlfriend void where -countless ships and planes have disappeared into its mighty vortex - then it was best to be alone with each other in its inception.

Amazingly, Christy had far more stamina than my guy friends. She wouldn't quit when games got hard, or if good TV shows were on. One day, while playing baseball, Christy slid into second base with shorts on and skinned her thigh pretty bad. Aside from yelling in pain, she never complained about it. Let me explain this further: when I say "skinned her thigh", I mean it was like a major injury. It was a skin job where any one of my guy friends probably would have gone running for home. She just kept going.

In her own manner, Christy was far more interesting than most of my guy friends, and often more inventive. She could be unpredictable in her sense of adventure - which I liked tremendously - and her honesty really threw me for a loop. She didn't make up whopper stories, but rather told the truth. What we had in common the most were games like football, baseball, daredevil bike riding, skateboarding, monsters, adventures, and music. At the time, we'd both pretty much agreed that aside from "Mr.Tambourine Man" by The Byrds, and The Beach Boys'"California Girls", "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones was probably the greatest song of that summer   1.

kids at night
My favorite story about Christy is one of special hiding place in a small grove of trees that crested a steep dirt hill.

During this time, I lived on the corner of 88th and Cora Street. Our house was bordered by two dead end streets: Cora, and 88th. Cora Street concluded with a dead end guarded by three metal posts planted in the dirt. These posts prevented cars from trying to negotiate the severe dirt hill that served as a shortcut to Eastport Plaza - the shopping Mecca of Southeast Portland.

The hill led down to the back side of Eastport Plaza, and was fraught with peril, pot holes, prehistoric wheel ruts, relic rocks and dried dirt. It was steep, and led downward toward the left side of the Albertson's Store where we all bought our candy and ice cream cones. The hill was a neighborhood shortcut, and along the sides grew tall weeds and smaller groups of trees that seemed to pop up at random. In the baking summer heat, these trees provided marvelous canopies of shade.

This special hiding place consisted of a cluster of small trees with unkempt grass growing tall around their trunks. Before them was a small dirt clearing where a person could hide behind the foliage of grass, and low-hanging branches. There were many times when my friends and I ducked into this spot to avoid the bright summer sun to eat our ice cream cones, or make secret plans that would surely turn the world on its ear. It was also great fun to watch stupidly courageous kids try to go down the hill at high speeds on their bikes.

night sceneOne particular night, when it was very dark, and we'd been playing outside for about an hour, Christy and I decided to explore the hill hoping to find some new mystery. The street lights cast a blue-green glow on the mottled asphalt, and the air was a bit cooler than it had been a month previous. If you tried hard, you could exhale a puff of air and see a faint fog of breath in the night.

Yellow light from the windows of neighboring houses, showed activity inside. People acted out their lives in the silent pantomime as we sneaked about in the night, walking down toward the dead end of the hill. Sometimes television sets flickered white and blue, while other times, people sat at tables as neighbor moms labored in kitchens. Everything was so mysterious and adventurous! You could step into the shadow of a tree, even under the cool glow of the street light, and be basically invisible. It was just like acting out an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., or playing James Bond on a school night.

Christy and I were walking down the hill when we heard voices. They were guys' voices-older than ours-and getting closer. We ducked into our hiding place and squirreled ourselves away into the low brush. The voices were close now, and approaching the area where we were hiding.

Suddenly they emerged. I wasn't sure who they all were, but I could tell that some were members of the Marshall High School football team. They stopped not too far away from us, just out of the street lamp glow. Lighting cigarettes, they huffed, puffed, and talked tough. They enjoyed their vocabulary of expletives, and more than likely talked about whom they were going to "pound" next, and other high school guy things that didn't matter to us. 2
Even in the more carefree days of the sixties, it was always best stay away from the high school kids in the dark. 3 Needless to say, we were both quite scared, and stayed hidden while they hung out briefly. At times they felt so close that we could reach out and grab a pant leg or two, and often we wondered if they would see us through the leaves of the low branches. I think we both held our breaths until the moment they actually decided to move on.

In the dark we huddled together. I could see netted shadows of tree branches and leaves on Christy's face. Obviously, my face was likewise obscured by nature's camoflage. They continued smoking their cigarettes, and talking tougher. We listened, cashing in on every sentence, every plan, and watching them spout with facial expressions marked by a dour mix of tough and cool. Suddenly, one of the shorter guys moved closer under the street light; I recognized him. He was the big brother of one of the boys in my class. Finally, they ground their cigarette butts into the dirt and moved on, their voices and laughter fading into the safe distance.

They never did know we were there, and we had secret valuable information that could be used against these muscle-heads if we wanted. It was great to have that kind of power over them. Opportunities like that rarely visited. Though we did nothing about it, and told no one, the excitement of it all was extraordinary. Better yet was the fact that we swore a pact to keep it all secret. That evening, we continued to play hide and seek, and secret agent games in the dark until our parents called us in for the night.

girlEventually, my family moved yet again, and I never saw her again. We did have our own fun that could never be measured by feats of strength, daring, pre-adolescent stupidity, or reckless adventure. It was nice that she could break the "girl" mold that so estranged me from the opposite sex when growing up. It was even better to have that short, but true friendship that was unique, and to this day, incomparable.


Footnotes:

1. [1965 offered many hit songs that were hard for us to choose from. Hits like The Beatles' "Ticket to Ride", The Byrds' "Mr.Tambourine Man", Herman's Hermits' "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am", The Beach Boys' "California Girls" were great, but nothing compared to the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction". This song offered a powerfully simple guitar riff using a heavily "fuzzed" sound, and in general, rocked like nothing else imaginable for the time. 1]

2. [High school kids were so much older that the most of us had no interest in them whatsoever. In fact, unless they were someone's brother that shared a room with them, high-schoolers had nothing that we wanted. 2]

3. [High school kids could be dangerous; you never knew when a situation could go bad, or if they'd chase you, or if they'd even beat you up. 3]