My brothers and I grew up in the canyon. I don’t mean we were raised by wolves or anything. In fact, we had two very nice parents who loved us, fed us and kept us rather well.
What I mean is that we lived on the canyon, so that’s where we played. We went down in the morning, surfaced occasionally for food and basically had most of our childhood fun among the rocks and bushes.
Things were simpler then. There were a zillion kids in our neighborhood and I think my parents figured we had a bit of safety in our numbers. I know they worried about us as any parents do, but I’m not sure they were overly concerned about our romping through the brush in search of fun.
The mom across the street had a whistle and my mom had an old fashioned bell in the backyard. When we heard either of those sounding, we all knew it was time to emerge and make our way home. We got dirty, tired and hungry, but we usually came back in the same general state of health.
My son has nothing like that canyon in his life. While there is an open ridge up a little trail near our house, there is absolutely no way we would ever let him venture there alone. I’m not even sure we would if he were a neurotypical child. The world is just a different place now. Kids don’t go out by themselves anymore, at least, not autistic kids.
Today I took a walk with my friend’s dog and for some reason I got to thinking about that canyon. I miss it, the freedom of it I mean. Things happened in that canyon. Life happened in that canyon. I saw my first triple x-rated photos in that canyon.
Someone left a nudie magazine in the bushes straight down from our backyard. I never knew where it came from, but it was always there, as long as I can remember. If you wanted to see it, then you trudged down the path, crouched behind the bushes and turned the crackly pages. It had pictures of men and women, doing things I’m not sure I even understood. When you were through looking, you put it back and left it for the next kid.
I also saw a bobcat in that canyon. It completely freaked me out because it was massive in comparison to our housecats. Funny thing though, it wasn’t actually wild. It was somebody’s pet. Turns out it belonged to some guy up the street. He came down and put a cage trap in my parents’ backyard. Eventually he managed to catch it, but not before he caught a skunk and a few other critters looking for a quick meal from the bait in the back of the cage.
The neighbor boy was bitten by a rattlesnake in the canyon. That was a crazy day. We were pretty young, so I mostly just remember my mom herding me and three or four other kids into the back of a station wagon to go to the hospital. She had to drive so that the other mom could use a shoestring to tie off her son’s circulation above the snake bite. Scary. He came through it ok. I think.
My dad broke his leg trying to put out a fire at the top of the canyon. My mom had to drive our car down to the dead end to get him. That was really strange. I think that was the first time my dad needed a wheelchair. It wouldn’t be the last.
We used to go to school through the canyon. It was a lot faster than walking on the surface streets. When we got there, we would shimmy through a broken part of the chain link fence at the back of the field.
Everybody did it, so when they put some houses into the canyon years later, they made a gate and stairs back there too. The first time I ever used the new gate, the entire sidewalk in front of it was covered with snails. I never understood why and I never saw them again.
The canyon behind our home was magical. Most of it disappeared when they put in those houses and now there’s even a house at the top, right next door to my mom’s. A really nice woman lives there, but to me, her house is kind of symbolic of lost youth.
Part of my childhood was irreparably damaged by the harm done to that canyon, but there’s still enough open space left to make my mom’s house seem wilder than where we’re raising our son.
I hope he has something like this to write about when he grows up.