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When we weren’t playing “cowboys and Indians” or swimming at Sunbeam Lake or riding with Mom and Auntie Honey in the jalopy, we four boys kept ourselves busy with productive projects. With both Dad and Uncle Ernie in the construction trades, we all learned how to wield a hammer very early on.

A neighbor who lived across the street (which was Old Highway 80) noticed our industrious ways one day and came over to offer me (since I was the oldest boy) a way to make some change besides selling watermelons. I wish I could remember his name, but I think I called him Old Ben (Kenobi, maybe?).

He had a little business making BBQ tools with redwood handles—long spatulas, tongs, and skewers. He said I could help him sand the redwood handles and he would pay so many cents per handle. Mom and Dad said okay, and I had the first paying job of my young life. It was fun work, and I made a few bucks to buy anything I wanted.
Some people still had iceboxes in those days, especially the folks who lived in trailers at the Pioneer Trailer Park. I remember the iceman who delivered ice to the residents. He wore a protective leather pad on his back and slung the big blocks of ice over his shoulder with a huge pair of ice tongs. I wish I had a photo of that well-known El Centro iceman, but I was able to find this “reasonable facsimile” on Jake Jakubuwski’s “Doodlemeister.com.”

As soon as we kids saw the iceman approaching we would gather around his truck like you’ve seen lots of kids do with all ice cream men everywhere. We clamored for pieces of ice, and the iceman would finally give in once we turned around and let him “boot” us on the backside. Of course, he was known far and wide as “old kick-in-the-pants.”

My substitute-teacher wife has told me that kids are quite skilled at doing stupid things, and that brings me to my final Pioneer Trailer Park tale in which my 8-year-old self proved her axiom. When I came upon a mangled garter snake in the yard one day, I gathered it up and went to the house to show someone. My unsuspecting, pregnant-with-my-new-cousin-Albert Auntie Honey sat in an armchair with her back to me just inside the door. With a silly smile on my face, I dropped that defunct reptile just over her left shoulder into her lap. Screaming and chaos ensued! For my “innocent?” but stupid prank, I received a couple of well-deserved swats from Mom. Live and learn.
Here’s what the Pioneer Trailer Park looks like these days:

NEXT WEEK: The families move again.