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The Educated Fly Rod (Part 2)

May Day of each year was an undeclared school holiday for high school boys as May 1st was the opening day of trout season, and nearly every boy skipped school that day whether they went fishing or not. I always eagerly awaited the opening of fishing season and every school day afternoon, while seated in class, I was afflicted with a tremendous itch to be out in our local trout streams. I was not the only one afflicted as many of my fishing buddies would be equally tormented. There was no football practice, basketball was over and we felt that we could best train for the track team by hurdling over rocks and doing the broad jump across the creek. One of my closest friends was Barney “Max” Barnett, who equally loved fishing. We would squirm until the 2:25 bell rang and by 2:30, we were out the door, heading for the creek. School was officially over at 3:30 but we were long gone by then.

One memorable trip began in 1939. Hitchhiking was popular, safe and easy then, and we caught a ride in a 1932 back Buick sedan heading for Alma, three miles upstream. (Alma is now a ghost town under the waters of Lexington Reservoir.) At the southern edge Alma, public land ended and the property of the private San Jose Water Company began. San Jose Water was very jealous of their land and patrolled it with horseback riders to keep out intruders—particularly young fishermen.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon when we arrived at the concrete seven-step fish ladder, and passing it put us in the off-limits stream. We gradually worked our way upstream, stopping at each of many rocky holes. As we cast our flies—either the productive Royal Coachman or Gray Hackle Yellow Body—into the pools, they were gobbled up by hungry, seven- to eight-inch rainbow trout. This was fishing as it should be and we soon filled our pockets with fresh trout. (We couldn’t carry a wicker creel; if searchers saw us, it would have made our illegal fishing completely obvious.)

We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves when we heard the clippity-clop of horse hooves coming downstream. We quickly hid in the bushes while the water company rider passed us (we were scarcely breathing). But now, our route of escape had been closed and the only alternative was through the brush, straight up the steep mountainside to the old Santa Cruz Highway. As we finally emerged, dirty, panting and scared, we arrived at the two-lane concrete road right in the middle of Father Riker’s Holy City Community (now a ghost town). We weren’t dilly-dallying, for fear the ranger might have heard us, so we promptly thrust out our thumbs, hoping to hitch a ride back to Los Gatos.

The second car approached, pulled over and stopped. It was a green Chevy sedan and as we got into the back seat we noticed that the driver was dressed in a matching forest green uniform. What startled us most was the shield-like patch on his shoulder that read “California Department of Fish and Game.” Our benefactor turned out to be the game warden. His first question was, “What are you boys doing up here?” As we were in the town of Holy City and dressed in our school uniforms, we explained that we were on assignment to write a story for the Los Gatos High School newspaper. He asked no further questions and we offered no conversation. We expected to be taken right to Juvenile Hall for fishing in restricted territory. As we entered Los Gatos, we asked to be let out at the corner of Main and Santa Cruz Avenue. Exiting the car, we heaved a big sigh of relief. As he started to drive off, the game warden’s parting words were, “Better be careful where you fish the next time.” We hadn’t fooled him one bit!

Fish and Snakehips’s Romantic Adventure

It is hard to realize today, when teenagers go to their proms in limousines and plan to spend a thousand dollars plus to attend, but in 1938, it was a whole lot different. It was in the ancient days, during the Great Depression and before World War II, when I was a young boy approaching manhood. The Junior Prom at Los Gatos High was approaching and my buddy, Bill “Fish” Hildebrand and I discussed attending. (When I was in high school, nearly everyone had a nickname. Bill was always called “Fish” and I was known as “Snakehips” because I was so skinny that if I turned sideways to the sun, I didn’t create a shadow). Bill and I were both on the football team and had earned our block sweaters and felt it was time to impress the ladies (Bill was a pretty good player and I kept the bench warm).

The proms were always held in the tiny school gym, which was decorated with crepe paper for the event, and the bids cost $3.50 per couple—a fortune at the time. In our family, there was no such thing as an “allowance,” and while I had heard the term from some of the rich kids, we had to work to earn the fee. In fact, in my family, I always thought that an allowance meant that your folks let you spend the money you earned for school supplies and clothes.

We invited two girls we had our eyes on. Bill invited Lois Lane, or “LL” as we called her, short for “Luscious Lips,” and I invited Shirley “Twin Peaks” Macadoo (she had earned the nickname for obvious reasons). To our surprise, the girls both accepted and we were full of anticipation.

The week before the dance, the gossip around school centered on what corsage each of the girls would wear. White gardenias were the most popular choice, while some of the rich boys were giving their dates a beautiful orchid. There was much discussion amongst the girls and panic set in with Bill and me. This was an unexpected expense and we had already spent all our money to pay the three and a half bucks, and it was out of the question to ask our folks for this extravagant waste of money.

Bill’s mother came to our rescue two days before the event. She had once worked in a flower shop and even had two unused gift flower boxes. Mrs. Hildebrand said that if we could locate suitable flowers, she would make the corsages. We immediately set out to find flowers and stopped to see neighbors who had a lovely garden. After we described our plight, they generously offered anything they grew. Mrs. H. wanted the flowers to be fresh, so on Friday afternoon, Bill and I picked the most beautiful gold and pink, double hibiscus blossoms and rushed them to the Hildebrand house. Mrs. H. did us proud and made beautiful corsages—so big that the girls had to wear them on their wrist instead of a breast.

LL and Twin Peaks were duly impressed, so much so that they bragged to the other girls about what their escorts had given them. Everything was going wonderfully and Bill and I were the toast of the ball until about 10 p.m. when the damned hibiscus blossoms thought it was night and closed themselves. Of course, the first to notice were the other girls, and pointed remarks were cast in our direction. “What happened to your flowers, dearie; are they supposed to look like that?”

Our dates couldn’t wait to get rid of the two cheapskates they were with and it was our last romantic adventure with Luscious Lips and Twin Peaks.