I don’t know why, maybe it’s the snow we’ve gotten the past couple of days here in Denver, but I found my brain wandering back down some very old roads, leading me back to Fresno. Maybe it was my chat with Mark Oshrio that triggered it. I don’t know. Whatever the cause, I’ve been thinking about Fresno lately.
If you’ve been paying attention, I am not kind on Fresno. But it’s sort of like how I can talk shit about my family, but you can’t. Only, you can – I mean, if you want to talk shit about Fresno, be my guest. But, I always feel like I need to justify the unkind words I use about Fresno, and California in general, by adding a coda that I lived there most of my life, grew up there. So I can. Talk shit, that is.
Specifically, I’ve had this vivid memory of how I used to spend my time after school. A specific school. I was attending Our Lady of Victory, a Catholic school, and I remember how much I hated walking home. It was only a few blocks from the school to my house, or vice versa. We lived in a rental, a small rental, as I recall, but with a big backyard. There was detached garage. And I hated walking home from school.
Granted, I was in elementary school, and who didn’t hate walking anywhere at that age? The temperature was always hot. Damned hot. And I would be wearing my uniform consisting of black corduroy pants and a white, collard shirt – short sleeve – and lugging a backpack filled with whatever. I’d start walking with a passion, a zing to my step, but it would soon, within a block, perhaps half a block, turn into the most torturous and arduous excursion the human species had ever been forced to endure.
Sometimes I would change it up, walk this way, or that way, with friends, without, all to make it more bearable. It didn’t really work.
Eventually, dramatically, I would find my way home and enter the house, spent and sweating, and gulp down water from the tap, or tea from the pitcher, or, my favorite, milk. Whole milk. Cold and yummy. I’d drink the whole gallon if they’d let me. Which they wouldn’t. They being my mother and grandmother, or, Grams.
Mom would be up – probably. She worked nights as a cocktail waitress at the time. Wasn’t yet a bartender, though that was soon to come. If she were up, she’d be sitting at the kitchen table smoking, maybe eating, always drinking coffee. Grams would be in the living room watching her soaps. That’s important because I could not watch Scooby Doo, GI.Joe, The Transformers or Robotech until and unless she’d finished with her soaps.
Some sort of conversation would happen with mom, as this was the only time of the day she would really see me. Soon, she’d have to head into the bathroom to shower and get ready for work. Grams might make me a snack, peanut butter on something, or a liver sausage sandwich. There might be cucumbers soaking in a bowl of vinegar and sugar on the counter. I’d snack, and talk, and answer whatever questions were put to me with either eloquent booger jokes, or some sort of noncommittal shrug. Then I would head off to my room, sling my backpack onto the floor or bed without regard or care for the contents within, and change clothes. T-shirt. Blue jeans or shorts.
At this time, I had a particular passion and pastime; basketball.
Here’s the funny part, I would walk, happily, even energetically, BACK the way I’d just come and go to another school, Homan, to play basketball. The gates would be locked with thick chains, but never so much you couldn’t sneak through the gap, which I did, basketball in hand, and dash across the field to get the best court. There were many, but you wanted one of the big courts, not the half courts, even though you were only going to use the half court.
That’s complicated kid logic. Let’s not try to figure it out, okay?
I would stay there for hours. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Mom would come around in her blue LTF Ford around 5/5:30 to say goodbye before heading to work. It was a ritual with us. She’d honk or something, and I would stop what I was doing and run to the car. She would embarrass me with hugs and kisses, that whole parental unit thing. Yuck. And then head off to work while I ran back to the court.
The sun would be setting by the time I got back to the house. Grams would have dinner ready, and we’d sit down to each, but not before I washed my hands. They’d be black from the blacktop of the court.
I don’t know what has me thinking of this lately, but I have been. And I find it fascinating on many levels, not the least of which is how I don’t know any parents who would let their kids disappear for hours at a time anymore. Everyone is connected via cell phones and social media.
Back then, social media was playing basketball with friends, and sitting at the kitchen table with Grams, eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and telling her about shooting hoops…