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Mission City Voices: Orchard & Creek

The mighty Lawrence Expressway began life as the humble Lawrence Station Road. I grew up in Santa Clara during the early 1960s. Before Benton Street connected to Lawrence, my block dead-ended at Calabazas Creek and had houses only on one side of the narrow street, and a large orchard on the other side.

Besides playing out in the street, two of our favorite places to go for fun were the orchard and the creek. After school, on weekends, and during the summer months we spent countless hours in those two spots. The fruit orchard covered a huge area, in excess of a half a mile square, and was filled with cherry trees as well as a few pear trees, walnut trees, and the miscellaneous plum or almond tree. My friends and I would roam through the orchard together and eat overripe pears picked up from where they had fallen. We’d uproot four-foot-high mustard greens and use them as spears to throw at one another. We threw dirt clods or rocks at targets (everything was a target), squish our toes in the mud of irrigation channels, and collect abandoned truck tires, stacking them to make forts. Deep in the orchard, under a huge cherry tree we found a garbage heap of used cans of various sizes, from one to fifteen gallons. My friend and I selected the relatively clean empty cans and arranged them in a tight semi-circle. Then we took turns sitting on an upturned can and using sticks to bang out our drum solos. What a cacophony we made!

Even better than the orchard, our favorite place for entertainment was the creek. I loved spending time there and would go down into the creek at every opportunity. In the summer we would pass the entire day down there. For hours and hours we climbed up and down its banks. At the top of the bank we would wedge a stick into a crack to collapse the face of the bank making our own “special effects” mini-avalanches. The creek bed was a giraffe’s hide of dried mud. We’d lever up the polygonal sections of the creek bed searching for treasure. One time my friend uncovered a maelstrom of salamanders – the first and only time I’ve ever seen salamanders.

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Another favorite creek activity was to throw a stick into the flowing creek water and then hurl rocks at the slowly moving target in an effort to sink it. It was a contest to see who could claim to have the superior aim. The favored tactic was to throw our rocks as fast as we could, trying to best our opponent with a combination of skill and luck. Most of the time there wasn’t enough water to have any flow, so our targets were put into a stagnant pool of creek water. When this fun started to pale, one of us would inevitably heave a large stone into the water near our unsuspecting companion. Let me tell you that having your white tee shirt splashed with gross-out, smelly, green pond scum led to many an enthused chase through the creek!

Cavorting in the creek was for us an endless source of fun and fascination. We saw dragonflies of various colors and sizes flitting across the scummy water. The large dragonflies were either bright orange or turquoise. They were about four inches long and as fat as a ballpoint pen. Their size made them easy to see, but their speed made it difficult to follow their flight. On good days we’d see one or two of those. During the right time of year there were always lots of the smaller, thinner dragonflies that were a deep blue color. Those were about an inch-and-a-half long. They flew slower and rested frequently.

A big chunk of our creek time was employed in looking for “good junk” that others had lost or thrown out. Refuse of interest included such things as whiffle balls, kick balls, baseballs, footballs, and glass soda bottles. The latter we would take to the grocery store for the redemption value and spend all the money on candy, jerky, and soda. Each and every day in the creek was filled with the joy of walking, running, hiking, climbing, jumping, throwing and exploring.

Things eventually changed. The Army Corp of Engineers turned the creek into a cement canal. We got involved in organized sports. In Junior High we became interested in girls. Then, college, careers, and newly-birthed children – all good things. But I’ll never forget the fun and adventures of those few short years when we lived in our own Eden.

Mission City Voices

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1 Comment
  1. NeldaMerrill 2 months ago
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    I remember growing up in San Jose around Strawberry Park Drive and Borina I remember when Borina dead ended with prune orchard there was no Lawrence express way and when they were putting on San Tomas expressway and it dead ended for a long time before it was completed, and I 280 freeway was not complete, and what is known now as Santana row was Town and Country shopping center, and the old valley fair shopping center, before blackford high school was there

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