Growing up OC

When I think about where I grew up, my memories of course are somewhat limited to a small geography.  I mean, kids think about things in terms of going to the park, or how far it is to Wendy’s house, and will this trip be on foot or can a bike make it go faster/easier/more fun?  I grew up in a part of Orange County that was going through a development boom during the 70s.  Much of the OC was doing this during the 70s, but where I lived had been an asparagus field until our house was built.  Somewhere there are pictures of the house actually being built.  I loved the smell of the construction materials, the fresh cut wood, the dry wall, plaster, mastic, and other things used in new home construction. I have a small memory of coming around the corner to our street on the last day of moving, just knowing we would not go back to the old house.  I was 3 when we moved in and by the time I was 4 I had fallen down the stairs at least once.  These were not the days of baby gates.  We had a straight staircase with a tile entry at the bottom, e.g. a gangway to head trauma.  Fortunately the falls did not bust my noggin.  A school was built right across the street from our house, which at the time was great for walking to school, but now that many students come from outside the area via bus or Mom-taxi, the traffic is horrendous and is the bane of my parents’ lives.

Around the corner and across the street from our house is Fountain Valley Hospital, but on the same side of the street was a bean field.  It was rumored that the owner of the bean field had a big dog and a shotgun, and that he would either shoot or have his dog maim trespassing children who wanted to cut the corner to get to the other tract of houses “way over there” where Hillary lived. The street was one of those that sort of drifted out of asphalt and up to a dirt path on the sides; there were no sidewalks, curbs or gutters.  There was a margin of weeds between the street and the dirt path, which was probably about 2 feet higher than street level but seemed like the Cliffs of Dover to my youngster’s depth perception.  There were no trees, no shade, and the path was baked in the sun and hardpacked from the people who walked it.  About midway on this path is the spot where some 25 years later a woman will be killed in a “mistaken identity” murder-for-hire while she is out on her walk.  On that other corner was Mile Square Park – a safe park for little kids growing up in the OC back in the 70s.  Back then it was baseball, football and frisbee instead of soccer, soccer and more soccer.  My peers and I remember when “the new section” was built and how marvelous it was!  There were new structures to climb, new paths to explore…  Then some boy had to go and jump fall off the top of the tower there and die, and it was ruined forever, probably long gone by now.  In the center of Mile Square was the landing strip where the land sailers would race and the helicopters from Los Alamitos Air Station would do night landing practices.  We became used to the sounds of helicopters, which was a good thing once the hospital became a regional trauma center.

All around us were fields – strawberry, beans, asparagus, other.  I don’t really know what these other crops were and probably I should but I don’t think I’ll ever bother to find out.  We could see the fireworks from Disneyland early on, but now they have been completely obscured by development and we only hear them at 9:35 pm.  There are fewer and fewer fields and more and more strip malls and indistrial centers (ugh, currently in various stages of vacancy).  Where there now is a Costco shopping center was a field.  The Sam’s Club location used to be the Gemco where we got our school clothes and I bought my very first record (Madonna for those who are interested).  The Market Basket is now a Drug Emporium.  The empty fields around the hospital are developed with office buildings, senior housing and a college headquarters. 

Our membership number at Los Caballeros is a really low number.  I don’t know where they are now in their numbers, but ours is 4-digit and starts with 1.  When we joined, they had a rinky dink building, practically a shanty, 5 or 10 tennis courts, and big dreams, but nothing else.  The industrial complexes that surround Los Cab, even the post office, did not exist.  I recall the building of the Olympic sized pool and the setbacks due to heavy rains raising the water table which was transversed by the deep end of the pool.  It sure was glorious once finished though! 

There were stables along the river trail, acres of open space, fewer traffic lights and much less traffic.  Yes, it was a different time in OC and in my little world where I grew up.  I am going to try to turn this into a repeating theme but for right now it’s too much to boil down.  I don’t even think I’ve captured much of the essence of being 7 in the OC in 1975.  It even smelled different than it does now.  I’m amazed to realize that I remember the smell of OC in the 70s.  It was hot, dusty, flowery, fruity, construction-y.  It smelled of transition, I guess.


3 thoughts on “Growing up OC

  1. I remember the first time I took the bus home from Monroe School. Northcutt wasn’t finished. I got on the wrong bus. It went past where I was supposed to get off, there was Mom standing on the corner in that white dress with the red poka-dots on it watching it go by on Warner Avenue. It went around the corner on Euclid and stopped at Hillary’s street. I got off and walked back around the corner across the dirt path then down Mt. Hope to Sandstone. Well, I never got on THAT bus again. I also remember standing on the fire hydrant at the end of our street and waving at Hillary and the crowd at the end of her street. There are houses there now but it was a bean field then. That was when I was in 1st Grade. Our house was brand new. You could hear it settle as the new wood and structure became “one” with each other.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. People who didn’t grow up here wouldn’t understand how much OC has changed. I still LOVE it here but sometimes I long for those strawberry fields :)
    Great post!

  3. If you get a chance to watch the show on PBS called “Things That Aren’t There”. It has a lot of history of Los Angeles in the 30-60’s. There is also some OC and other areas in it too. They also made a sequel. LOL

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