Photo by Rachael Crowe
For a while, as a kid, it seemed I was destined to be a loner. True, I had a goofy sense of humor and a wild imagination, but I mostly used them to amuse myself. Anyone who’d met me at age six would have pegged me for a classic introvert. But something happened at age seven that turned me into a functional (or is that dysfunctional?) extrovert.
That “something” was named Jeff.
La Mirada was so new that, like the proverbial airplane being built as it flies, the neighborhood was still going up around us. The next block was nothing but wood frames on freshly-poured slabs (“basements?” Not in SoCal). My parents called it an “eyesore.” But all I saw was giant Tinker Toys beckoning to be climbed on when the construction bosses weren’t looking! I played alone, but I had fun.
But the real adventure was just out my bedroom window. “The Field” across the street was a cluster of gently rolling hills, once covered with commercially-grown flowers, now thigh-high (chest-high for a kid) in weeds, and dotted with scrub oaks and precariously leaning shacks. The latter had once been occupied by braceros, seasonal Mexican farmworkers who’d lived in them during the flower-picking season. One family was still there when I first explored the Field. I played pantomime games with their kids (we didn’t speak the same language). But they were gone by Christmas.
There was a big cheery sign labelling this as the future home of “La Mirada Creek Park,” with work due to begin in “in six months!” When we moved away ten years later, half a dozen matching signs had come and gone, each becoming sun-bleached and riddled with BB gun holes, only to be replaced by the next. (The park, now quite beautiful, was finally built a year after we left.)
Every few years or so the Field would catch fire, and the streets surrounding it would be filled with singed rabbits, pheasants and coyotes, and panicking snakes slithering down the curbs. The grown-ups complained about the danger and delays. But the kids rejoiced. My first week in La Mirada was a series of solo adventures in the Field. But then I had to go back to school and…
La Pluma Elementary was full of strangers.
Until my second week, that is, when Jeff a.k.a. “Sunshine” Ward, the world’s biggest extrovert and class-clown extraordinaire, said,
“Let’s be friends!”