Sometimes when I’m awed and amazed by the power, utility and reach of the internet and social media, I need to rein in my enthusiasm and remind myself to not act like a rube who’s totally blown away by that electric toothbrush.
The most recent amazement came over the past week when for some reason my earliest memories of childhood have started simmering in my noggin. Those memories have remained strong, and as far as I can tell, virtually unchanged since they were formed 58-59 years ago in a middle-class neighborhood within shouting distance of downtown Denver, Colorado.
Some of what I remember bears a closer resemblance to the Our Gang/Little Rascals series of shorts from the ’20s and ’30s than a big-city neighborhood circa 1960-61. For example, at the seasoned age of 6, I remember eluding a police manhunt in our neighborhood (more on that later).
One of the strongest memories is of my very first friend, Ricky. We did everything together, and his younger and older brothers palled around with some of my brothers. A first-generation Mexican-American family (my later conclusion), they lived across Grape Street from our family and down one lot. Ricky’s mom often would invite us kids into her kitchen and serve us delicious homemade flour tortillas, slathered in butter. The family owned a restaurant in downtown Denver I thought at the time.
One time Ricky and I were playing with matches behind my family’s garage, and right in the middle of these good times, spotted my mom walking down the sidewalk across the street, heading toward the Herreras’ house. She looked over and shouted, “What are you two doing over there?” Thinking quickly, I hollered, “Looking at ants!”
With all these memories floating around recently (perhaps it’s my long-term memory filling in while my short-term memory goes for a walk), the other day I thought what the hell, I’ll see if I can track down Ricky after all these years. So I Googled his family's name and Denver, and found a 2009 obituary for a fourth brother, who was born in 1961 (around the time we moved East). Listed as survivors were the names of Ricky (Richard), his other two brothers, and his sister Carol. All still live in Denver, apparently.
Inspired, I went to Google Maps (thanks, Google) and found Stedman Elementary School, where I attended kindergarten and first grade from 1960-62. Then, based on memories of walking several blocks to and from school every day, I located our old house at the corner of Grape Street and 29th Avenue. Shifting to Google Street View enabled me to take a virtual tour of the old neighborhood, including the rear of that garage where Ricky and I got busted for playing with matches.
One of the coolest parts of this excursion was taking a virtual walk up and down the alley that connected our block with the one where the Herreras lived. Lots of memories in and around that alley, including:
• Ricky and I finding an old cat carcass with no eyes in the backyard of a dilapidated, old, abandoned house a few lots down the alley from ours. We were sure it was haunted.
• The stretch of alley where my older brothers and their friends engaged in ferocious crabapple fights with another gang of kids at the other end of the alley. Sometimes we “little guys” would be ordered to spy on those other kids, and would bring back eyewitness reports of them snapping their souvenir bullwhips menacingly. I have a vague memory of my little brother Colin and I being captured by the other gang, and held till our older brothers set us free.
• The backyard at the other end of the alley where one day our older brothers decided to play a practical joke on their vacationing friend, Pat Monaghan. Colin and I tagged along and watched as they buried two or three lawn tools under a pile of grass clippings. Neighbors must have called the cops because next thing we knew, we were scampering home, thinking the police were after us. I remember my older brothers telling Colin and me to change shirts, and for some unfathomable reason we went out again, wearing the different shirts. At one point as we walked down the sidewalk, a group of adults from the neighborhood stopped and asked us if we had seen the vandals who had been terrorizing the neighborhood. We shrugged and went about our business, which apparently involved strolling around during this police and vigilante manhunt for the dangerous criminals who had covered up a few rakes and shovels with grass clippings.
You can say these ancient memories are likely unreliable and maybe they are, but what I’m relating now is pretty much the same way I’ve been telling these stories since they happened.
Oh, and I did reach out to Ricky on Facebook with a friend request. So far no dice, and I can hardly blame him.