Among the things which have cropped up on the Internet are digital versions of old books I recall seeing on the shelves of the now-vanished 1910s-era public library in Alhambra, which had a fairly large collection of California history and memoirs. I'd only ever gotten around to reading a couple of those books, as in those days I was more inclined to experience California firsthand, wandering about its streets, than through the yellowing pages of old books. Now that the street I knew are hundreds of miles distant, I'm finding the digital versions of those books, never to yellow, interesting enough to dip into from time to time.
At the Library of Congress web site I've recently read Chapter Ten of a 1925 book called "Adobe Days" by Sarah Bixby-Smith, daughter of an early Long Beach family, in which she recounts a bit of her early life in a Los Angeles neighborhood which has now long since been obliterated by the construction of that monstrous agglomeration of bureaucratic office buildings known as Civic Center. I was particularly struck by these few paragraphs:
"This house still stands at the top of the precipice made by the cutting of First Street between Hill and Olive Streets.
"The lot in front was very steep, with zig-zag paths and terraces, in one of which was a grove of banana trees, where fruit formed, but, owing to insufficient heat, never ripened well. Do you know the cool freshness of the furled, new, pale green leaves? Or how delightful it is to help the wind shred the old ones into fringe? One by one the red and gray covers for the circled blossoms drop, and make fetching little leather caps for playing children.
"In those days the hill had not been hacked away to make streets, and where now is a great gash to let First Street through there was then a breezy, open hill-top, whereon grew brush and wild-flowers. The poppies in those days were eschscholtzias (the learning to spell the name was a feat of my eighth year), and were not subjected to the ignominy of being painted with poinsettias on fringed leather souvenirs for tourists. The yellow violets were gallitas, little roosters, perhaps because in the hands of children they fought to the death, their necks hooked together until one or the other was decapitated. The brodiaeas, or wild hyacinths, sometimes now called 'rubber-necks,' were then known to us all by the name cocomitas. I have been unable to find the derivation of this word, or even find it in print, but I spell it as it used to sound, and I like to think that it meant little cocoanuts, a diminutive from coco; but the etymologically wise cannot, because of the m in the middle of the word. But nature favors me, for the bulbs look like tiny hairy cocoanuts, and are good eating, with an odd sweetish taste. They were a much valued article of Indian food.
"Between the weeds and bushes there were bare spots of ground where, by careful searching, one might find faint circles about the size of a 'two-bit' piece. Wise ones knew that these marked the trap doors of tarantula nests. It was sport to try to pry one open, with mother spider holding it closed. We young vandals would dig out the nests, interested for a moment in the silky lining and the tiny babies and then would throw away the wrecked home of the gorgeous black velvet creatures that did no harm on the open hill side.
"North of us were several houses containing children--and here I found my first girl play-mates--Grace and Susie, Bertha and Eileen. The level street at Court and Hill--protected on three sides by grades too steep for horses, was our safe neighborhood playground. I never go through the tunnel that now has pierced the hill without hearing, above the roar of the Hollywood car, the patter of flying feet, the rhythms of the witch dances, the thud-thud of hop-scotch, the shouting boys and girls defending goals in Prisoner's Base, the old, old song of London Bridge, or the 'Intry mintry cutry corn' that determined who was 'it' for the twilight game of Hide-and-Seek--and then the varied toned bells in the hands of mothers who called the children home."
It's remarkable how much this reminded me of my own activities at about the same age, more than halfway through the next century (though unlike the young and, to my view, sometimes cruel Sarah Bixby I was aware that the California trapdoor spiders [warning to arachnophobes: SPIDERS!] whose small underground dwellings I often inspected, but never destroyed, were not tarantulas.) None of the mothers in my neighborhood had bells for summoning their children, either. Some of them had powerful lungs, though, and could be heard for some distance, making excuses difficult for any offspring reluctant to leave the evening games.
I don't suppose that such neighborhood games are all that common anymore, most kids these days being scattered thinly through the spread-out suburbs. The late minutes we spent playing, watching our shadows shrink as we ran toward the streetlight under which we always had the home base for our games, kids now are probably more likely to spend buckled into the back seat of Mom's SUV on their way home from organized soccer practice. It's probable that, in a way, I have more in common with the young Sarah Bixby of the 1870s, who died before I was born, than I do with many people now not too much younger than myself.
Well, now I've made myself sad. That's what I get for reading, I guess. I think I'll go watch television now.