Mike Madriaga 11 a.m., May 21
- Community Blog
It's a Smaller World
25 years later, things are so much smaller. I left Allied Gardens in 1981 when my Dad retired from working for the Navy at Ballast Point. Until that point, life along Galewood Street had been like the TV show "The Wonder Years". My canyon behind our house (yes, I considered it my canyon) was a dream adventure land for a young boy. We made rickety forts from old wood borrowed from wherever we could find it. We participated in rock throwing wars against other kids. We would turn those wars against ourselves if there were no other kids around. Still, the object was not to hit another kid. Your aim was to see how close you could get. For, if you actually hit someone, the kid went home crying and the fun was over. Our bikes were the mode of transportation. Before the era of over-scheduled activities of today, we instead were able create our own playtime. A church's grass yard became a football field. A dirt field became a racetrack. A neighbor's tangerine tree became a feast. We could spend an hour pretending to be the "Six Million Dollar Man" by each of us throwing slow motion punches and making incredible leaps while making the necessary "doo-doo-doo-doo" sounds. We were all Steve Austin at once. Our dreams were big and completely obtainable to our young minds. One year, we decided it would be a great idea to build tunnels to connect all of our houses. That idea lasted about ten inches into the hard dry San Diego soil. Another year, we decided that when we were older, we would pool our resources and buy Disneyland. Each of us picked which land we would live in and how we would set up our home. I picked Adventureland as my kingdom and the Haunted Mansion as my home. There were great friends. I learned about being independent from my friend Tommy who was the only child of a single mom who worked all the time as a waitress. Coming from a regimented household, I found it amazing that a kid could be trusted to feed himself and make it to school without parental guidance. My friend Peter provided the yard for us to play with our Hot Wheels cars after getting jazzed up by watching "Speed Racer". Peter's sister had Down Syndrome. Thanks to her, people with disabilities have always been just regular people to me.
After a 25-year life trip that took me to many points around the world and U.S., I walked back into my old neighborhood with my wife of 14 years last July. We hiked up the long, hot hill from the Grantville Transit station to a shopping center on Waring. Out of my past, like an old girlfriend, stood Fosters Freeze Ice Cream Shop. We bought a chocolate dipped cone and I showed her the water fountain on the side of the building that always had the coldest water around. I was amazed to see the dark, mysterious adult world of Pal Joey’s was still there. Gone was the Five and Dime store where I used to buy my capguns and Hot Wheels. The Korean Grocery across the street was now a family diner. But, there was Mona Lisa Pizza, my first introduction to the pie.
With sticky hands I led my wife along the sidewalks of my childhood. She smiled as I pointed out old friends homes or showed her where the best homes for trick-or-treat candy used to be. Then, we came upon my old house. Gone was the tree where I used to climb. Gone the lawn my Dad taught me how to carefully water. Gone were the dreams of being able to come back and reclaim my childhood. Everything had faded or grown smaller.
Then, I noticed an old man trimming his hedges next door. He looked like the man I knew as our neighbor back in the 70's. But there was no way it could be him. After all, he was old back then. I walked up to him and called his name. He turned and nodded with a smile. I told him my name and he did not recognize me. Then, I mentioned my Dad who had bought the house back in the 50's. You could see the mist of time clear from his eyes as he recognized the stepson that a retired Navy Master Chief brought home with his new wife back in 1971. My old neighbor, who was know in his 90's, said he had seen three families come and go since we left. So much time for which he was a constant. Leaving him with a warm handshake, we walked further on through my childhood. I showed her my old elementary school and junior high. We walked by my old Baptist Church on Zion Avenue, where I met my first girlfriend. Then, we caught a bus home to our new apartment in Clairemont. In reality, my old neighborhood seemed so much smaller now. But in my mind, it is still as big and wondrous as it ever was.