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by Douglas Page ©2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
In 1958, the summer before my sophomore year in high school, my dad bought me three cars. One of the men he worked with at the post office in La Jolla sold him a 1947 Plymouth, a 1948 DeSoto, and a 1949 Dodge for a total of $50. The only one that had an engine that started was the Plymouth, but it’s right front fender was damaged badly. The DeSoto was scrapped for salvage weight at the Rose Canyon junk yard, the Plymouth was driven to our house in Clairemont and stored in the back yard. It was to be my first car. Later that summer, the Plymouth got a replacement fender whose paint didn’t match the rest of the car, but I drove it to school for two years anyway. I wasn’t in on the negotiation, but the Dodge was towed to my grandfather Art’s home in the Eucalyptus Hills north of Lakeside on the western edge of the Cuyamaca Mountains and parked on a flat area up the slope just east of the clothesline - close enough to the neighbor’s land that a border dispute soon erupted. The neighbor was Art’s daughter, my Aunt Margaret. She wasn’t the problem. The problem was her husband, my uncle, a thin volatile character named Floyd Addy. Everyone agreed that Addy was unstable, including my dad and Art, who rarely agreed on anything. Addy, an artist who drank white port wine and never finished anything he started, eloped with Margaret, my dad’s only sibling, when my dad was still in high school, thereby sealing Addy’s reputation as someone not to be trusted. Art despised him and only tolerated him because he was married to his only daughter. I was no judge of Addy’s stability, but the charge that he never finished anything was probably true. We lived only a few miles from Addy in Urbandale, before both families moved to California in the early 1950s. For years, the inside of Addy’s house was as naked as the statues he sculpted. Entire sections of plaster walls remained unfinished, the wood lath exposed like bare ribs. The largest section was at the bottom of the stairs, near the entrance to his art studio that housed a collection of
clay and porcelain statues of naked women that my pal Joe Lamb and I used for our sex education in grade school. The statues were armless and legless, some with no heads, but it wasn’t the arms or heads that interested us. When Joe and I were around 10 or 11 years old, we would bike over to Addy’s on summer days, ostensibly to play with my cousin Alayne, but the real purpose of these excursions was to get a glimpse of the statues in the studio. All we had otherwise to inform us of the wonders beneath women’s clothing were the naked slaves Joe clipped from a National Geographic and kept folded and buried in a laundry bag under a bottle cap collection in the back of his closet. Addy was never at home when Joe and I visited, but Aunt Margaret, an elegant lady with short stylish hair and a sad smile, always seemed happy to see us and made us lunch of fried green tomatoes, pickles, and cottage cheese that otherwise would have discouraged subsequent visits were it not for the studio full of naked women. Aunt Margaret had no sons, but she must have suspected she was contributing to our demise in some way because after a couple of visits the studio door was kept closed. We soon found other places closer to home to satisfy our nascent sexual curiosity. In our own neighborhood Bob Snider’s barn in the field across Roseland Dr. up by Pirate Rock became a favorite. Inside, centerfolds from a new magazine called Playboy were beginning to cover the bare slats between pegs where he hung horse tack. The faded blue Dodge sedan beat me to the Eucalyptus Hills that summer. After school was out the plan was for me to spend a week or two rebuilding the engine. My dad gave me a Motors Manual, my grandmother Lola provided the meals and the divan to sleep on and Art the tools and all the Camels I could smoke, on the condition that my mother not be informed about the Camels. Before the sun went down the second day, two things became clear. The Dodge was doomed for the junk yard after I snapped two head bolts, and Addy was going to be a problem. The afternoon of the second day, while Art was at work and Lola busy in the laundry, Addy approached, huffing and flapping. I was under the car, trying to disengage the flywheel. “I want you and that piece of crap off my property,” he stammered, after climbing the slope in a rush.
I scooted out from under the Dodge, holding an oily rag and a grimy ratchet. “Hey, Floyd,” I said. “I want you and that car off my land!” he spit, waving his right arm like he was deflecting a wasp. Sweat glistened off the eagle tattoo on his forearm. He wasn’t smiling. I had no idea what he was talking about. We were family. He took another step toward me, close enough that I could smell the liquor. He snorted, glaring at me with glossy, wild eyes wild. I felt a sharp stab of fear in my belly. Was this the man who could create such compelling figures with only some clay and his bare hands? Where was the delicacy now that formed those breasts so perfect they exactly fit a cupped hand? Who was this creature behaving like a trapped animal? This must be what they meant by instability. I’d never had a problem with Addy. Usually, he made me laugh. He often cursed like a seaman, especially around my mother, whom he knew it would offend. None of her brothers were much fun. Religious fanatics. This uncle, the only one on my dad’s side of the family, was a vulgar nonconformist. I may have been the only one on either side of the family that liked him. But, I wasn’t laughing that afternoon. Instead, I was scared. I stood there silently, wondering if I’d piss myself if he came even closer. The best thing, I sensed, was not to engage him, to stay calm. I wondered vaguely how he even knew where the property line was. There were no fences or stakes, and, unless you were a surveyor who somehow understood latitudes and longitudes down to rock level, there was no way to know where one lot ended and the other began. It seemed to me the stony hillside wasn’t much to fight over. Only the most determined sage and manzanita survived in a weary soil baked crisp and dry from exposure to the relentless southwestern sun. Nothing grew tall enough to make shade. In one sense, property lines were merely surveyor’s fiction. This was open land, on the threshold of San Diego’s wild back country. Art stored a .22 caliber rifle in the closet inside the back door and a collection of rattlesnake rattles in an empty pickle jar in the carport from snakes he’d shot, one of them shot while coiled around one of the poles that held up the
clothesline. Lola had heard its warning rattle one morning while hanging up wet clothes. Lola kept an extra pitcher of ice water in the refrigerator during the summer for the migrants - wetbacks, Art called them who moved clandestinely through the foothills to find work in the fields in the fertile valleys to the north. She couldn’t turn them away, she said, even though she was often alone on that remote hillside when one, two, or three knocked hesitantly at the rear entrance in the sweltering summer, asking politely for “Aqua?”. There were so many some seasons it was like the place was marked in some way as a Safe House by an underground migrant railroad. They would bow and nod and say “Muchas gracias, señora” when they accepted the ice water and a bonus bologna and cheese sandwich. Then they would back away and be gone, leaving her to wonder what would become of them and when they would eat next. “I’m working on the engine,” I said finally to Addy, pointing under the hood with the rachet. I hoped the quiver in my voice wasn’t noticeable. He paced back and forth along the right side of the Dodge, marking his claim in spittle, muttering to himself about land and rights and justice. Then he stopped abruptly by the front bumper. “The right side of this car is on my land,” he roared, pointing to the arid ground under the vehicle. “Get it off!” “Okay,” I nodded, as though I understood. The ranting continued. “Both of these tires are on private property. When you’re under the hood on this side you’re standing on my property. I want you off my land.” Just then, Lola appeared nearby with a basket of wet clothes. Addy spotted her over roof of the Dodge and shouted, “Get this kid and this car off my land.” Lola put the basket down near the clothesline and walked over to me and took me gently by the arm. “Come in now and get washed. Dinner’ll be ready soon,” she said. She didn’t look at Addy, who stood there defiantly, with his head forward in a challenge, snorting like a wounded bull.
This is not what Art envisioned when he bought the hillside in the late 1940s after tiring of the brutal Iowa winters. With his own hands and without any help he built a magnificent little home close enough to the top of the grade that he was sure those shadow hills way off in distance barely visible to the south, maybe 50 miles away, was Mexico. You couldn’t see Mexico from Urbandale. Closer, the view reached over Slaughterhouse Canyon toward the rough, rocky ridges of the Cuyamacas above the Barona Reservation. Closer still, across Rocoso Road and the valley down front, orange groves grew on arranged terraces with their red-tile mansions poking through the green. You couldn’t see orange groves from Urbandale, either. Art built the south and west sides of the house entirely of glass panels, so there wasn’t a room you could go in other than the toilet and not try for a glimpse of Mexico. Art’s idea when he bought the 15-acre hillside was that both of his children and their families would live within walking distance, a Page Family compound. He gave them both large lots adjoining his. Margaret and Addy developed their’s and moved in within a year or two. But my dad, who was given the lot with the best view, the one nearest the top of grade, balked. It was a long way from his Post Office job in La Jolla, but I don’t remember him agonizing much over the decision. I think he just didn’t want to live that close to his father, with whom he shared few common loves. There was a detectable fault line between them, cleaved in the past by an unspoken discord. For over a decade, the high lot just sat there, in the heat, unloved and unused, save for the rabbits and rattlesnakes. Then, when the property taxes became too much of a burden, or maybe to emphasize the resentment, my dad sold the lot to strangers. It broke Art’s heart. When Art came home from Convair an hour or so later Lola informed him of the incident with Addy by the Dodge. Silently, Art went to the closet near the back door, grabbed the rifle like he was going to shoot another snake and marched directly to Addy’s house, not bothering to detour around the yucca plants in the turnaround between the houses. When he returned a few minutes later, he put the gun away quietly and said, “He won’t bother you again.” Then we ate dinner, while Al Couppee called the Padre game off a Western Union ticker tape on KOGO. He hadn’t shot Addy that day but I think he’d wanted to,
and Addy knew it. When the confrontation was over, Addy understood if he ever accosted me again Art would kill him. Art never spoke of Addy again in my presence, and within a few months Margaret divorced him. For most of the rest of that June I lived on Lola’s divan and smoked Art’s filterless Camels while disassembling the Dodge engine, piece by piece, to see what was inside, until there was nothing left in the engine block but precision holes. All eight pistons were laid to rest shoulder to shoulder on the back seat. Lola liked the way I had covered them with grease rags, like sleeping children. When my summer vacation in the Eucalyptus Hills was over the Dodge was towed off the hillside and scrapped at the nearest junk yard. After he moved out, none of us ever saw Addy again. -end endjdp
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