Rockdale

 Kevin Langdon

published in Noesis, the journal of the Mega Society, #176, February 2005 

 

We lived in other places before that—one of them was 1515 25th Avenue—but the place where I first ventured out on my own, as a child of five or six, was our house on Rockdale Drive, at the foot of Mount Davidson, in San Francisco. I’m sure there was danger even then but I was never aware of anything more dangerous than the neighborhood bullies and I wandered around within a mile or so of our house in all directions.

 The summit of Mount Davidson is the highest point in San Francisco . There is a huge cement cross there which was the subject of church-and-state litigation some years ago that attracted a lot of media attention, with the result that the small piece of land that the cross is actually on was bought from the city by an Armenian group and is now private property surrounded by park land.

 My memories of the time before Rockdale are less placed within an organized framework and most of them have a somewhat dreamlike sense of moments outside time. There is light, my mother and father, some recollection of the “look and feel” of the flats we occupied, memories of my mother taking me out to the park, around the city, and to many interesting places. There are also some darker memories, not of abuse but of a sense of my ignorance of the world and the principles on which it is constructed and states of existential angst, as early as age one.

 Rockdale drive is joined in a Y formation by Chaves. We were a few houses up the outside of the right branch of the Y. The foot of the Y is a dead end and on our side of the street the houses back directly onto Mount Davidson Park . Just below the intersection there’s a set of stone steps leading up into the park.

  Mount Davidson is strange, mysterious, and alluring, a small rainforest in the middle of San Francisco . At one time I actually believed that I had come into contact with magical beings there. Who knows? Maybe I had.

 This was a magical time for me, the early 1950’s.

 My folks had a large room built for me in the basement. I loved the isolation; in my room I felt free to indulge my creativity in various ways—building with my blocks and my erector set, drawing and painting, telling myself elaborate stories illustrated with toy soldiers, blocks, marbles, and whatever objects were at hand, playing games by myself and inventing new games, reading, etc.

My dad used to get down on the floor and play with the me. He taught my sister and me many games and both my mom and dad read us stories, and made some up too.

 My sister and I were supported in many ways by my parents. We were stimulated, amused, protected, given emotional support, disciplined, and challenged. My father’s ego collided with mine over disciplinary matters, and I’m sure that contributed to the extreme distaste for authority I’ve had since I was a boy. But I’m very grateful for the preparation for living I got from my parents.

 A neighbor across the street from us and slightly up our branch of the Y was very fond of children and used to invite us in for games and refreshments. I remember many games of cards and dominoes in her dining room. She took a special interest in me and encouraged my interest in playing and inventing games.

 Even though we went to several separate schools there was a strong sense of community among the kids in the neighborhood. We played at one another’s houses, we played in the street, on the sidewalks and in the back yards, and we played in Mount Davidson Park . I felt more strongly connected to these neighborhood children than to many of my school classmates.

 We played cowboys and Indians, spacemen, and other ruleless fantasy adventures, as children do, and also competitive games with more formal rule sets. The neighborhood kids got together almost every afternoon. I have fond memories of playing Kick-the-Can by twilight, waiting for the calls to dinner that would end the game.

 My sense of time now had an orientation. I was growing up—excruciatingly slowly but it was clear that I’d probably be a grown-up someday. I wasn’t prepared for what a rocky ride it was to be, but few children are.

 There was an order to the day, the week, the month, and the season. Easter, the Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas, and other holidays colored home, neighborhood, and school environments in cyclic progression. Each holiday was celebrated in a special way. The Fourth and Halloween were particularly neighborhood affairs. (Having heard tales from another generation of a time when Trick or Treat was taken seriously, I was a little disappointed that by the time my generation inherited the tradition it was all treats and the really fun part wasn’t being practiced any more.)

 All was not sweetness and light. There were bullies that beat me up on my way to school (I had a serious physical disability that made me easy prey). And there were such cruel delights (common in boys of a certain age) as blowing up insects with fire crackers. School itself was frustrating to me, as it seemed that everything moved in slow motion and left off just where it might have started to get interesting, and I acted out a lot. There was “good” and “bad” in my life, but many of my social needs were being met by the generally-very-understanding children that I’d known for many years.

 Later, when we moved north 30 miles to a suburban development, I was without this social safety net. Some of those kids were crude and mean (though there were some very nice ones too) and I had a hard time adjusting to my new social environment.

 During my Rockdale period, I was fortunate to have five “best friends”: Chuckie, Edward, Stan, Ralph, and Diane.

 My sister Valerie is 3.3 years younger than I am; Chuckie is right in between our ages and was a close friend of both of us. He lived three doors up the street. We played mostly physical games. Sometimes we ganged up on my sister. I remember chanting with Chuckie, “We’re big men and she’s a little girl!” Later, Chuckie and his family moved to Petaluma , about 40 miles north of San Francisco , and every so often we’d go visit them there. It was still mostly a farming area and they had a house and some outbuildings on a large plot of land. Chuckie’s dad had a fancy model train set in the attic. It was always lots of fun to visit them.

 Edward is about three years older than me. We had great fun playing all kinds of elaborate indoor and outdoor games. Edward and I created elaborate imaginary worlds. We mapped the neighborhood, including all the back yards and secret places to hide or make our way from one to another, and sometimes we’d organize games involving all the neighborhood kids.

 Stan and Ralph were in my class in school. I got together with each of them after school frequently and played games. Stan and I invented a variation on Monopoly, a game we particularly liked. Sometimes a game would go on for days. Stan and I were part of a larger circle of friends who used to play in a wild area not far from Stan’s house. There was an exhilarating sense of freedom in roaming around with the other boys, amusing ourselves with whatever was at hand or on our minds. And the minds of this particular circle of boys were, on the whole, quite innocent. Ralph was in the same class but was less connected with this group, more introspective, and I remember him being with us in our outdoor adventures only infrequently.

 Diane was my main female friend among my classmates. She was very kind and protective of the shy kid that I was then. She excelled in academics and we shared many intellectual interests.

 How little these words convey. These people were important to me during a certain period of my childhood and touched me deeply. I’ve been in touch with all of these friends of my childhood except Chuckie since I’ve been what is called “grown up,” but I’ve found it difficult to really reconnect with people I’ve known in the past in general; I think people are very sensitive to “relationship overload” and jealous of the time it takes to keep a relationship going, and this causes an unconscious aversion to extending oneself to do so. I intend to persevere in reconnecting with my old friends. I think there is deep value in thus honoring the bonds of friendship.

 I graduated from Miraloma Elementary School in 1954 but instead of going to Junior High the next year, I attended a K-8 country school (suddenly almost exclusively occupied by transplanted city kids) when our family moved north to Marin County, the next chapter in my life.

 

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