Sunday, April 17

Dusting off the blog

Yesterday I was feeling very blue and very antisocial. I didn't want to be home. I didn't want any company. I was, however, feeling restless and wanted to go somewhere.

Initially, I took in a matinee of Source Code. I really liked it but it left me feeling even more sad because the character spends a lot of time wishing to speak to his father. I decided to go for a drive.

I grabbed my iPod, filled the tank with gas and drove.

Back in the 70's my family and I moved to a small desert town called Yucca Valley. It was a strange time in my life that I now recall like a faded dream. We went there for a job for Dad but stayed only 2 years until Dad was transferred back to "civilization" as I called it. To this day, when I hear people say they love the desert and it's beauty, I roll my eyes and ask if they've ever lived in it. The best thing I could say about the place was that the night skies were indeed lovely.

Of course, I was 11-13 years old when I lived there so I probably would have disapproved of most locations at that age. That being said, I was a pretty savvy kid, I knew it sucked. I managed to make friends and have a decent time there but I call it the "pop culture black hole" of my youth. These were the days before satellite tv and radio so it was very isolated. We would go to Palm Springs for shopping but otherwise there was not much going on out there except a nearby Marine base which, of course, is not good news for a 13 year old girl.

I have been meaning to drive back to Yucca Valley for 30 years just to check the place out. Yesterday, I finally made the drive. I had a vague idea of how to get there and some am/pm Diet Coke on ice so I was good to go. I drove along the 10 past the Morongo Casino and past the big dinosaur on the side of the road. Shandon, Howard and I made the trip out there a couple of years ago so I already knew it had changed a lot. When I lived nearby, that dinosaur and the big "eat" sign on the neighboring restaurant were the only structures out there. Now there is an entire community built around the casino and outlet mall.

I kept cruising down the 10 and eventually made the turn onto the 62. The 62 is actually kinda nice this time of year. Some flowers have bloomed and its wide flat expanse is impressive. A couple of miles in I came to the rock canyon that I often dream of. When we first drove out together as a family, and through that canyon, I remember Mom asking "Where IS this place?" From the back seat I famously groaned "God only knows!" Mom never forgot that moment and still laughs about it to this day. (It seems I was always like this.)

Next is a smaller version of The Grapevine to those familiar with Southern Californian highways. I traveled up the slow incline and knew my old childhood home was on the first street on the left once I crested the hill. I drove around in dull surprise as I took in the sad shape of my old neighborhood. It used to be known as The Country Club neighborhood because of it's proximity to the Yucca Valley Country Club and golf course, which now seems to have gone to seed.

I drove by the Paulsen's old house. It used to be a real desert beauty with a great pool out back. I remember the Paulsen's adopted a toy poodle when we were neighbors. The puppy was so small that one day it had cardiac arrest after sticking it's wee tongue in the tiny crevice between an extension cord and a plug... we're talking about a very small tongue. Mr. Paulsen drove like a madman to the vet with the unconscious pup in his lap as he administer CPR with his thumb pumping it's little chest. The dog survived and, as far as I know, lived a decent life.

I rounded the corner to our old house. It was a cool house when we lived there. I had a bedroom with large floor-to-ceiling corner windows. (I dream of that room sometimes too.) The house had a large open layout. Out back there were steps that lead down to a kidney shaped pool circled by tall pine trees. Those trees always sounded so nice when there was a desert breeze. We also had a small patch of grass which was rare for the area.

We got our first dog while living in that house. Dad would only agree to get a dog that didn't shed. We settled on a silky terrier that we acquired in Joshua Tree. He was so little when we brought him home that we thought a long name would be funny for him. We named him Sir Joshua Tree (our last name) but called him Joshua. His name was soon shortened to "The Wuh". He was a great little dog who took his breeding at a "ratter" very seriously. We never had critter problems when The Wuh was on the case. I miss The Wuh.

I'm sorry to report that our cool old house appears to have fallen on hard times. I didn't see any pine trees and the cactus and rock garden landscaping in the front has been replaced with a barren expanse. There was plywood covering some of the windows and the place may be abandoned.

I would never say I miss Yucca Valley but I did manage to cultivate some fond memories. Dad was the District Manager of the power company out there. When lightning storms hit, and created the inevitable power outage, it meant Dad had to go to work, day or night. That was a bummer but I do remember once when a storm knocked out the power, Mom, my bro and I fell to sleep on living room floor. We lit candles and starred out the big sliding glass doors as the storm came and lightning struck time and time again. Being at the top of the hill to the valley we had a great view.

I drove down the main drag of town past my favorite street name "Old Woman Springs Road". I don't know what the story is behind that name but I'd like to hear it some day. (I Googled it and found this info.)

Yucca Valley was never a booming community but it was a decent place to live back in the 70's. Best of all were the characters around town. We met some good ones. Mom is like me, she likes to hear people's stories and desert towns have some of the best. On the other hand, these characters can sometimes be shady. In fact, if I ever found myself in in trouble and in need of dumping a body, the outskirts of Yucca Valley might be a good place to start. Sadly, my first kiss was at a wired little place on the outskirts of Yucca Valley called Pioneertown. We were at a bluegrass festival out there and some drunken Hell's Angels type stumbled towards me and tongue kissed me. I was 13. I've dislike the taste of alcohol ever since. *shudder*

I was telling Norman about it today. Maybe a road trip out to Pioneertown is on order to wash the stink off that gross memory. Of course, we may never be heard from or seen again... it's that kind of off the beaten path kinda place, but it might be worth a try.

After seeing the old house, I needed to stretch my legs and get a bit to eat so I pulled into an Applebee's for an early dinner. It seemed the safest choice. I left the waiter a 50% tip because he's a waiter at the Yucca Valley Applebee's and I know that's gotta suck. Who knows, maybe he's led a particularly tough life and his job at Applebee's is a high point in his life. I don't know, I don't mean to judge. I'm just saying, after living in the town in the good old days, I don't envy him. Again, I don't mean to be too hard on the place but the recession doesn't seem to have done the place any favors. It's got to be tough living out there.

We moved back to "civilization" in the late 70's which was a tough transition for me. I eventually made friends and have even kept a few of them, Shandon and Kathleen being among them.

I've been missing Dad a lot lately which is why I've been so blue but I'm glad I made this little trip down memory lane. It impressed upon me the importance of not going back. It's fine to reminisce but you can never go back. I think 9 times out of 10 that's a good thing.


kb said...

I LOVE this post! Thanks for sharing this with us :)

Minnie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maryrose said...


I was looking on google for at some desert images today and saw a picture of the house we recently bought in Yucca Valley come up...we are the owners of your old home from the 70s...!

My husband Brian and I bought it in February last year and have been scratching our heads as to the best way to restore it. We look out at that barren expanse out front and wonder what was there before....

We would really like to be in contact with you if you are at all interested....we love the house and would like to bring it back to something approaching it's heyday.

It was fascinating to read your recollections about the pool, with the tall pine trees and your bedroom which we imagine is the one at the front of the house, with the vertical windows!

I wonder whether you have any old photos of the place from when you lived here?

I don't know if you know, but there is a building right over the pool now....we are planning to take it down as it isn't very attractive and is an unpermitted structure....we would really love to see pictures or hear your recollections about how the back area was landscaped etc. there are still the bones of a rock garden out back and we would love to get some hints as to how to best use these features.

Maryrose and Brian Crook.