Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Looking Back: One Little Neighborhood

Today is my 39th birthday.  It seems amazing to me that time has gone by so quickly with no way to slow it down.  In my life I have loved looking forward to what comes next and to the great and wonderful things I can do and experience.  Since one of the next things in my future is the age of 40, I think I’ll spend some time looking back, way back—not for too long, just long enough to affirm how wonderfully blessed I am.

When I was a very young person my parents moved from the Salt Lake Valley to the small town of Duchesne in eastern Utah.  Duchesne, for me, is a magical place.  Honestly, I can’t think of wanting to grow up anywhere else.  It’s comforting to a young boy to feel like he knows almost everyone around him and that everyone knows him.  In that small town environment I wasn’t restricted to the house or the yard except when there were chores, homework, or I had misbehaved.  Oh, and generally on Sundays I stayed around the house.  

Duchesne, UT

After living in Duchesne for a couple of years my parents bought their first home in what was referred to as the subdivision on the southeast side of town.  Looking back I like to think that I lived in the ‘burbs.  It was a great place to live.  With lots of houses there were plenty of children my age.  The Strawberry River bordered the subdivision on the west and north sides.  A small mountain range, part of the Tavaputs Plateau, ran along the south side.  A piece of land belonging to a local construction company was on the east side.  Truly it was a playground fit for a young boy and all of his friends.  In that neighborhood alone we had bike trails, two tree houses, a sledding hill (used for sledding and jumping bikes), and several hiking trails leading up into the mountains.

The sledding hill was a major attraction for the children, both summer and winter.  In the winter we would gather with our sleds and tubes to slide down the hill, clearing the jump at the bottom with as much speed as we could muster.  Steering was always important.  Too far to the left and you would land in a Russian Olive Tree with its unforgiving thorns, thorns just as likely to tear apart a tube as flesh.  Plastic sleds and toboggans were fun, but dangerous.  They didn’t pick up much speed and they were impossible to steer.  The round ones were fun because of the excitement and danger.  Often they would spin so you would go down the hill backwards and they were faster than the other plastic varieties. 

For speed, the best option was generally the old flyers, wood sleds with metal rails.  By far they were the fastest and they could be steered.  Speed was the danger…that and the hard and sharp edges of the sled.  More than one child lost control, crashing into others, flipping, or landing in the Russian Olive Tree.  Whenever there was blood on the sledding hill, there was a good chance a flyer was involved.  Invariably the flyers won the jumping contest.  They could fly further than any other type of sled. 

Old tire tubes were the most fun and safest option.  If you brought a tube, you were expected to bring the wax for the bottom as well.  Wax was the secret to speed on tubes.  The wax had to be reapplied on a regular basis to keep the friction down and the speed up.  Tubes were the HOVs (high occupancy vehicles) of the sledding hill.  If one was coming down, you got out of the way because there could be anywhere from one to eight people on it.  

It always paid to be friends with someone who brought a sled, especially if you didn't have one. 

Fun at the sledding hill was the type that stuck to you and wouldn’t let you leave.  I would stay for hours at a time, as long as I could stand the cold.  Usually I wouldn’t leave that hill on Saturdays until the dark forced us off or my mother called me home.  Usually while I was on the hill, climbing up and sliding down, I didn’t notice the cold.  As soon as I would get home and pull off all of my wet winter clothes, the 10,000 pinpricks of pain would course through my fingers, toes, ears, and nose.  Tears would fill my eyes and I would whimper while I sat next to our big, black fireplace in the front room changing into dry clothes.  I was always amazed at the pain that would come from running lukewarm or cool water over my frigid fingers.

During the summer months, we would meet on occasion at the sledding hill to jump our bikes.  Enough speed could be generated coming down the hill to jump an amazing distance at the bottom.  For a couple of years I was too cautious (chicken) to take any serious jumps off of the hill.  I’d watch in awe as my friends and older kids went faster down the hill and jumped further and further.  Part of my fear was failing miserably in front of all of my friends and peers.  One day I was the only one at the hill for some reason.  I climbed the hill with my bike and coasted down, gently gliding over the bump at the bottom.  Several times I repeated the process, increasing my speed by increments.  Eventually I was making substantial jumps.  Finally I reached the point where I would pedal all the way down the hill and pull myself into a lengthy jump at just the right time.  I couldn’t wait to show my friends. 

On my last jump, although I don’t think I planned on it being my last, I decided to do a few tricks in the air.  For this inaugural occasion I decided to turn my handlebars one direction and then straighten them out just before I landed.  Speeding down the hill I hit the jump and pulled back with all my might.  It was my highest jump yet.  In the air I turned my wheel and looked down.  I was so impressed with the height and distance of my jump that, sadly, I threw my timing off and I landed before I turned the wheel straight again.  The last thing I remember was my turned wheel hitting the ground and flying over my handlebars head first into the ground.  I know it knocked me out simply because I remember waking up.  My face was a little scraped up and something felt loose in my jaw.  The bike lay on the ground about ten or twelve feet in front of me.  Slowly I picked myself up and rode slowly home.  It would be another year before I was willing to try the jumps again.

I miss being a child in that neighborhood.  Countless times I knocked on friends’ doors to ask, “Can so and so come out and play?”  Countless times my friends knocked on my door to ask, “Can Jarad come out and play?”  Often a friend would show up while I was in the middle of stacking firewood or weeding the garden to see if I could join them on some adventure.  Trying to leave before the work was done was pointless.  Usually they would join in to help me complete my job.  I did the same.  In that neighborhood I knew that at any time another adult there could stop me in my tracks for any improper behavior.  When they did I hoped they would correct me on the spot without feeling the need to inform my parents.  Sometimes, however, it was serious enough that they spoke with my parents.  Luckily I never got into too much trouble.

The Subdivision

Oh, the hours I spent with friends in the mountains.  We would hike and explore for hours.  There were two Devil’s Soup Bowls on the face of the mountain.  One near our neighborhood and one near the County Fairgrounds.  The debate always raged about which one was the real Devil’s Soup Bowl and which was the fake.  In those hills we built huts, tracked animals, looked for Sasquatch, avoided snakes (usually successfully), checked out the television tower, and once hiked several miles up Indian Canyon.  One time someone even managed to spray starter fluid in his eye from a rusty old can.  Poor kid ran screaming all the way home, up and down hills for about two miles.  By the time we got there we had to explain to his mother what had happened because he still couldn’t speak a coherent word.

I have so many wonderful memories from those hills.  One day I was hiking on the face of the mountain with a friend.  I had my brand new cowboy hat, recently purchased at the fair.  We were up above the fairgrounds, kind of close the fake Devil’s Soup Bowl.  A sudden gust of wind blew my hat off of my head and over a cliff.  The cliff stretched too far for me to climb around, so I took out my rope and tied it to a large rock.  My plan was to repel down the face of the cliff to my hat and climb back up.  I had seen it happen on the television set so many times that I was sure I could do it.  The cliff was only ten to fifteen feet high.  I’m not sure how I planned on getting back up. 

As I prepared to go over the edge, my friend kept trying to talk me out of it, but I was committed.  With the rope wrapped around my waist I leaned back and prepared to go over.  Before I could take a step I distinctly heard these words, “Jarad, don’t do it!”

I shook my head and slid down further to the edge.  Again, I heard distinctly the words, “Jarad, don’t do it.  Stop!”

“Did you hear that?” I said to my friend.

“Hear what?  I didn’t hear anything.  But, I don’t think you should do it.”

Looking down at the cliff, I considered it one more time.  Again the words: “Jarad, stop!  Don’t do it!”

That was enough for me.  I remembered all of my lessons from Primary and sacrament meeting.  I untied my rope, stashed it back in my backpack, and abandoned my hat.  Several hours later at home, my dad grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “It’s a good thing you didn’t go over that cliff.  Your rope didn’t even reach the bottom.”

Confused, I asked, “How did you know about the cliff?”

“We were watching you from the backyard.”

“How could you see me?”  It was about a half a mile or more away.

“With the binoculars.  Why were you trying to go over the cliff?”

“To get my cowboy hat.  The wind blew it off.”

"Was that you telling me not to climb off the cliff?"

"Yes.  I was yelling as loud as I could."

So many more memories.  Dirt clod wars.  I believe we had three of them and usually spilled blood at some point.  Working for Porter Merrill on his farm and in his garden.  Fishing the river.  Camping out in tents or under the stars for nights on end in the front or backyard.  All of that and more in one little neighborhood.


Albert Foster said...

I drove through there this afternoon and had a ton of memories come back. I like your commentary on the devil soup bowls. I remember the time that your dog got our chickens and we buried one in your backyard. Years after you moved I went over there to find its remains. No luck. It was always a mystery to me of where it went. It's sad to now see my parents move from there. It was a good place for kids.

Jarad said...

Albert, those memories hit me whenever I'm able to drive through our neighborhood. Honestly, I'm jealous of my friends who live there or get to go through on a regular basis. I would love to go spend a day just hiking up in the hills.

Marilyn Sandperl said...

Great writing, Jarad! I just loved reading this piece. I also have a lot of nostalgia for Duchesne, although I was already grown when I moved there. Yet I still experienced a certain "coming of age" while there. I was exactly your age when I moved. After leaving, I continued my subscription to the Uintah Basin Standard for close to 10 years just so I could read Orinda Gee's column to see who's 'motoring to doctors' appointments' each week! It's sad to think that Porter Merrill is gone (and the Fosters moved away!!!)