Terra Linda

 Kevin Langdon

 published in Noesis, the journal of the Mega Society, #177, June 2005

 

“Terra Linda” is Latin/Spanish for “ beautiful land,” and the valley of that name is indeed beautiful —but it was more beautiful before it got excessively built-up, after the time to which this account refers, the mid-to- late 1950’s ( even the signature oak at the freeway exit is long gone).

  They ’d spoken about moving to the suburbs, but I was shocked when my mom and dad told me that we were moving from our house on Rockdale Drive in San Francisco to Marin County , north of San Francisco , across the Golden Gate Bridge . This would uproot my whole life, except my relationships with family and a few family friends , and I was both apprehensive and excited about the prospect at the same time.

 Instead of attending Aptos Junior High School in San Francisco I would be in the 7th grade in a K-8 country school which had suddenly become a transplanted city school , because most of the kids belonged to families who had moved in to this new subdivision of tract homes.

 When we moved in construction was still going on. I remember seeing bulldozers rumbling by where back fences had not yet been built behind our house. There was dust everywhere. It was a joke around Terra Linda that the name meant pretty dirty .”

 Construction was an overwhelming presence for our first few months in the valley, not only at home but at school and in the surrounding area where we kids used to play . The construction sites and large equipment exerted a certain fascination, alongside our social microcosm and the natural world of the creek, the fields, the trees, and the hills. Some of us just played around the new construction but other kids vandalized it .

 The small country school was a shock, with several grades together in one classroom. There was only one eighth-grader, Tom Hurwitz, and some fifth- and sixth-graders along with the four or five of us seventh-graders. At the rehearsal for the graduation ceremony at the end of the first year, I tied Tom’s shoelaces together. When he got up to give his speech he moved his feet in tiny little steps and everybody laughed (especially Tom). Incredibly, I didn’t get in trouble. Tom went on to be the star of the golf team at San Rafael High School .

 Dennie B. Willis, the sadistic principal of the school , doubled as a part -time classroom teacher. He was unfair, punitive, and vindictive (and a lousy teacher, too). I hated his authoritarian rule and rebelled against it at every opportunity . But I was also a “ traffic boy,” charged with keeping kids safe going to and from our school . It was interesting work and I enjoyed it .

 My father was President of the school board for that small suburban district. The school district was having severe growing pains and he felt that he needed to get involved . He was a hospital administrator and had very strong organizational skills . Under his direction the problems began to get resolved .

 My dad wanted my sister and me to experience a less urban lifestyle, and he definitely succeeded in that . I have many memories of roaming the hills, lying in the grass, and rafting in the creek, where frogs were everywhere. Sometimes I explored the area with some of the other kids but most of the time I was alone . This gave me lots of time for reflection.

 There was still a working farm on one side of the creek. A couple of times some of us got into the large barn where there was some machinery that ran on tracks , for moving supplies around. We played with the machinery but we didn’t do any damage .

  Among the kids my age , there were two who were particularly physically able and charismatic and two groups formed around them. I was in the group surrounding Joe Melton, the son of an Air Force officer. The other group centered around Ralph “Biff” Moore and tended to be more rebellious. ( It certainly wasn’t typical of me to be on the more conservative team anywhere, but I was in this case .)

 At that time, the Air Force had a stunt-flying team called the Sabre Knights. I saw them perform at Hamilton Air Force Base , just a few miles up Highway 101 (this base was closed many years ago). Joe organized some of us into a group, also called “the Sabre Knights,” which rode bicycles in formation. We practiced quite a bit and got pretty good at it (but, of course , the wild wheels-off-the-ground maneuvers common today were practically unknown then ).

 My two great loves during that period were Joe’s sister Pam and Toni Guerrero. I took Toni to a dance once but I never really got anywhere with either of them. Such were the trials of a young nerd . Toni became Biff’s girlfriend and Pam got involved with Tom Rundberg, who lived across the street from us.

 There was a vacant house not far from Toni’s house where the kids used to hang out. Some of those who had coupled up used to kiss and make out there. In addition to Biff and Toni and Tom and Pam, Joe was involved with Toni’s sister Ramona (“Mo”). I had no partner and was the odd man out. Because of this, on a day when the rest of the kids were there but Pam hadn’t arrived yet, someone had the bright idea of sending me to fetch Pam.

  I walked over to the Meltons’ house. When I got there and asked for Pam, her mother asked me what was going on. I was annoyed by the situation, especially being sent to fetch a girl I liked for another guy. I remember my exact words: “Joe’s kissing Mo, Biff’s kissing To, and Tom’s waiting impatiently to kiss Pam.” “ Well , he can keep on waiting !” replied Mrs. Melton. The other kids were mad at me for a while but they knew they ’d had it coming and the incident was soon forgotten .

 Tom and I were friends , too. We used to get together to play and invent games . Tom’s father and mother were Swedish immigrants. Per Rundberg, the father, was a loud , obnoxious drunk who went to parties and hit on the women; my dad saved him from getting punched out for it on more than one occasion . What I didn’t know but found out one evening was that when he got drunk enough he groped children too. I got out of there very quickly . In retrospect, I should have gone to the police.

 On another occasion , I was visiting Tom in front of his house. He had a basket flimsily attached to the front of his bike with some wire. I was trying to fix the wire so that the basket would be attached more securely but I cut the wire in the wrong place and it came loose . Tom started to cry and just then his father came out the front door. He asked Tom what was going on and he said, “Kevin cut my bike wire!”

 At that , Per hauled off and hit me on the side of the head. I got up and told him to fuck himself. He came toward me again and I ran across the street to my house. As I ran in the front door I heard him raging at my mom and dad and they told him to stick it , too, in somewhat more polite language. After we’d discussed the situation, my dad said that I shouldn’t have used such bad language but that he was proud of me for standing up to Mr. Rundberg. After that , I wasn’t allowed to play at the Rundbergs’ any more. Once again, I should have gone to the police.

  Later , after they grew up, Tom and Pete became Scientologists and had their parents declared “suppressive persons” by the Church of Scientology .

 We had two very satisfactory cats in Terra Linda, Pussy Willow, a female tabby, and Furry Purry, a part -Persian grey neutered male with long thick grey hair. Pussy Willow was a fearsome huntress and brought home many of her trophies; Furry Purry was a lover, not a fighter.

While we lived in Terra Linda, my dad bought a 28-foot cabin cruiser. It was his pride and joy and the family would go boating on many weekends, weather permitting. I hated it . I was afraid of being at close quarters with my dad for hours on end (because he would sometimes get mad at me and I ’d have no place to get away from him; he was never abusive, just strict , and sometimes wrong according to my perceptions at the time, some of which seem more accurate than others in retrospect), often seasick, and bored out of my mind. It took a lot of boring maintenance work , too.

There were two “bad” girls, Cathy and Barbara, in our school . They fought and cursed and were rumored to do other things. One day Cathy had a fit over something and climbed up to the top of the water tower on the hill near our school and threatened to jump to her death. The sheriff’s department and the fire department came out in force . It was quite a circus and Cathy had her day in the center ring.

The next day, Barbara did the exact same thing.

One day Tom’s brother Pete and I were roaming around in the hills. Cathy’s brother Brian and two of his friends were in the same general area and they vandalized some construction equipment. They were apprehended by the sheriff’s department. Brian told them that we had done most of the damage and they were just following our lead , and Pete and I were picked up by a sheriff’s car.

There were two deputies in the car and they tried to pressure us into “ confessing .” “Those other boys were man enough to confess ,” said one of the deputies, and Pete Rundberg started to cry. I didn’t feel like crying. I was angry at this injustice . The deputies released us into the custody of our parents.

That evening it developed that a friend of our family , Dorothy Brown, the mother of my sister’s and my friends Craig and Bonnie, had seen the whole thing out her kitchen window. Brian was exposed as the liar he was, and Pete and I were vindicated (naturally, the pigs didn’t apologize ).

The next day, Craig and I were riding our bicycles when we spotted Brian on his bike. We chased the little rat a couple of miles to the cemetery , where he gave us the slip . Then , that evening, my mom got an angry call from Brian’s mom; it seems that he’d ridden his bicycle several miles further and then called her to pick him up. Oddly enough , my mom wasn’t very sympathetic to the mother of the rat.

While we lived in Terra Linda we attended Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church. The pastor was a priest with a fondness for liquor. My father called him Father Red Nose and made fun of his hypocrisy and stupidity, as when he railed about the people who didn’t come to mass on Sunday to the people who did.

As the years went by my dad became more and more cynical about religion and he eventually abandoned it altogether . I could see his point about the external form, but that wasn’t what interested me . I felt something in church, something that I couldn’t explain , but it was the stirring of what later became a search for something greater than my ordinary day-to-day experience and led to a number of interesting discoveries beyond the scope of this account.

I graduated from the 8th grade in 1956 and I was off to San Rafael High School . Our family moved from Terra Linda to Lucas Valley , the next valley north, an Eichler development which had avoided some of the mistakes that had been made in Terra Linda (overdevelopment, poor construction, inferior floor plans , etc.).

 

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