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Major lived a block behind me, with a vacant lot between. Unless the weather kept us inside, we created our own entertainment outside.

Gardena, California, is located 15 miles south of the Los Angeles City Hall. The terrain was vacant lots, Japanese "truck farms" and houses separated by fields. We had a small number of essential stores, and a movie theatre dedicated in 1939 with Lucille Ball in attendance.

The elementary school was a mile from my home. We walked there every day through fields of wheat and vacant lots.

The school garden, with plots of flowers and vegetables, needed care; that's where Major and I became good friends.

Major was a very slow learner and I had a skill of annoying the teacher. So, quite often, we wound up in the garden at the same time, and both enjoyed it.

Major lived a block behind me, with a vacant lot between. The only entertainment inside our homes was a radio. Unless the weather kept us inside, we created our own entertainment outside.

My home was on two city lots. On the back was a two-car garage with a huge pepper tree on each side. My father supplied us with nails and boards. He said, "It's the cheapest thing I can do to keep you busy." We had bent nails and boards with tons of nail holes from past projects.

The fruit of our labor produced a tree house, which included a rope hoist with a bucket on it so my dog, Skippy, could join us. He wasn't happy during the lift.

Under the other pepper tree was our clubhouse, constructed with scraps of board and the same bent used nails. We, along with Skippy, slept in it many times.

Spring brought new interests. In an open field we would dig a cave. My mother wouldn't let me dig a real cave. Her rule was we could dig a hole and put boards and dirt over the top. We entered through a crawl space.

Winds eased in from the Pacific Ocean and the weeds in the fields grew tall. It was homemade kite season. We took twigs from the willow tree, newspaper, flour paste, rags for the kite tail and knot filled string. Major and I would feel the wind begin to grow, hide in the tall grass with only the string and kit flying in view. I don't know who he dreamed he was, but I was either Flash Gordon or Charles Lindberg.

Roller skates were clamped on to our shoes for sidewalk skating. When skates wore out, we nailed them onto a 2x4, an apple box on top, with wooden handles, and had our own scooter. We also took empty tin cans and bent them to hold on to our shoes, why I don't really know; maybe for the noise when we walked.

Parents were firm; no gambling. So we enjoyed games of competition: marbles, milk bottle caps, penny toss, etc., but never played for "keeps."

Major and I weren't too interested in girls then. They had their jump rope, hopscotch and jacks. We sometimes did join them for games like "kick the can," "hide and seek," and "hit the bat." "Spin the bottle" came later.

A vacant field was our baseball diamond. Pieces of cardboard were bases, pitching mound and home plate. The distance between bases, home plate and pitcher's mound was questionable. If two or three showed up it was "hit the Bat." As more showed up, "work up" would take over.

Our play day was over when mom's loud voice shouted out, "It's time for dinner."

My family moved to Utah in 1944. Major and I lost contact. I saw him when I returned to LA to attend college, then drafted into the U. S. Army. Major was married and working at a stable, something he always wanted to do, be around horses. He was in the National Guard. He had found a life he always wanted and I was headed towards the one I wanted; both wound up in Korea.

We were given opportunities to create, find comrades, learn to compete and to share. We were content with very little. We may have been poor in material things, but rich in the things that really matter: love, honor and fellowship.

Fred Benton is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


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