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Cruisin’ Salinas

Enormous sycamore and maple trees sigh and swish by as I cycle the sidewalks of a Salinas neighborhood that reminds me, poignantly, of my childhood.

Pungent privet and tangy jasmine further remind me of the red hot asphalt that burned my bare toes, 5-cent lemonade stands, clacking playing cards clipped to my bike spokes by clothes pins, skating contests (back when skates were little metal platforms with four wheels that we strapped over our Keds) . . .

There’s a sprinkler ahead and, by gum, I decide to breeze through it. Now my pants are soaked and I’m grinning. A 50-something four-eyed woman lost in a reverie. Br-r-ing! br-r-ring! goes her bike bell to anyone who will listen. Watch them grin . . .


See Spot.

See Spot chase after Susan, nipping at her leg.

Go, Susan, go.

See Susan run.

See Susan whiz by a tree and grab a plump plum.

See Susan grin as the juice sluices down her chin.

OK, I confess! I swipe fruit from trees in the summer and that’s why I’m not telling where this particular neighborhood is. Come to think of it, I swipe fruit in fall too. One day in particular stands out: there is a neat little home surrounded by a low split-rail fence that corrals a few trees loaded with ripe green apples. Just one little apple won’t hurt. They have so many to spare. So I cycle up, choose the juiciest looking one, and snag it.

From out of nowhere comes a crabby voice, “Hey, you, lady! Stop stealing my apples, do you hear me? I’m sick and tired of it.”

I am aghast! I have never before plucked an apple from this property. I’m almost positive.

Then I do something god-motivated. I make an amends. I circle around, park my bike and walk up to the door.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry. I was just feelin’ like a kid again (actually, a menopausal woman) and I couldn’t help myself. I mean, I saw so many on the ground I figured you wouldn’t miss one.”

I hand her back the apple and she glowers.

“I’ve seen you from my window before. Thief!”

“Really, it wasn’t me. It has to be someone else who looks like me because this is the very first time I’ve swiped one of your apples. Honest.”

She slams the door and I continue on my adventure, swearing never again to steal fruit – from that old crab apple, anyway.

In the next block several swallow tailed butterflies, little yellow kites, flutter just out of arm’s reach and I think of my mother, whose soul drifted away 12 years ago to this day. I think of the mouth watering pies she made, especially ruby cherry, with the crusts pinched just so and sugar sprinkled on the tops; how she was such a child herself that she took any excuse to play with my two sisters and me, and to decorate the house for Halloween, Easter, birthdays – anything.

She had her own rendition of the Twist, and we’d tease her mercilessly when she tried to sing.

She never could discipline us, so she left that for “wait till your dad comes home.” But she would mock battle with us and become exasperated as we ganged up on her in the supermarket, dumping any kind of candy or sugary cereal we wanted to into the cart.

It was this compassionate mother who also bandaged our arms and legs after we got seriously scratched as a result of teasing the female family cat, Tuffy.

Mom was such a playful hostess, serving trays of sandwiches with the crusts trimmed off, that our friends were always hanging out at our house and in our Central Valley pool.

One day, she even went to the extent of making miniature pies for us to sell at our front yard stand. And she only laughed when, instead, we had a pie throwing contest.

. . . I’m on a roll, as I pass under a sycamore that shades a tree house, remembering the tree house dad had a carpenter build for us. Nostalgia is gripping my chest, as can happen when you have accrued memories of a lot of stuff over the years. I remember the boyfriends we sneaked in, learning to smoke my first cigarettes there, getting whipped with a peach limb for enticing my younger sister to crawl toward the trap door by using the back side of the ladder.

She remembers it differently: that I encouraged her to climb out the window, and while she was hanging, I started plucking her fingers from the ledge.

Nonsense! However, her wailing got me a whopping . . .

Now I pass a fire station and remember how, several years ago, I hopped a curb there, did a flying Wallenda, and landed at the feet of a gorgeous (is there any other kind?) fireman who bandaged me up and told me to quit riding on the sidewalks.

I was truly banged up and have the scars to prove it. They match those that I incurred when, at age 11, I did a ballerina trick on my blue Schwinn, “Look, ma! No hands, no feet” and lost it on a newly graveled street.

The folks, as always on a Friday night, were having a cocktail party when I dragged in the door, blood streaming from every orifice, “Mo-o-o-m! I cra-a-ashed.”

I confess, even now I purposely ride with no hands sometimes to prove to myself that I still can. It exercises my mental pauses and reinforces my physical skills.

However, the cop who cruised up silently behind me yesterday didn’t buy it. Nearly startled off my bike, I heard his bullhorn, “Put your hands DOWN!”

“But, sir, isn’t your line supposed to be: put your hands up?”

He wasn’t laughing and neither was I. He could have cruised ahead of me and motioned me over instead of scaring the wits out of me from behind.

At any rate, I will close this little tour with this “inspiration”: Try acting like a kid again. It’s good for the soul, your balance and your brain. Just make sure no cops or crabby old ladies are watching . . .



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