The orange groves that surrounded Riverside were every bit a part of its culture as the old plantation houses and the snow-capped mountains. The groves became in bedded in our every day lives. We walked through them to get to school. We traveled down there paths to get to friends houses. We hung out in them at night. There was a lore to them that always held a certain mystique.
Back in a time before big screen t.v. Video games and Ipods. We had rock fights, rubber band guns, and tumble weeds wars. The orange groves were like the forbidden playground. The grown ups always told us to stay out of them, but we never did.
The fog use to lay thick within the trees. The smell of citrus and pesticides filled the air. They were home to only the outcasts of the desert. Rattle snakes, scorpions, black widows, wild dogs that ran in packs whose howls echoed through the canyon walls. It was also home to many tales of monsters, ghosts, outlaws and shallow graves.
One rainy afternoon after church a few families gathered at an old farm-house to cook out and socialize. The kids were running around and getting restless. Some of the older children decided to take a walk through the grove to an old shack the stood somewhere just beyond the creek. The younger boys were told they couldn’t go, but we didn’t listen. We followed them into the mist of the fog.
Our shoes were muddy and our clothes were damp. The chemical from the insecticide made our eyes water and the southern California smog burned our lungs. But we continued to follow the bigger kids. I was 8 or 9 at the time. There was a little blond-haired kid with us, he must have been 5 maybe 6. He had on these ugly hammy-down shoes that were too big for him and they kept slipping off his feet.
We finally got to the creek that ran through a small section of the canyon. We could hear loud crashing sounds coming from the other side of the hill. When we got to the top we saw an old wood shack that was rotted and falling apart. The older boys were throwing rocks at it trying to get it to fall.
They threw rocks and tree branches. They kicked it and pushed it. You could hear the wood snapping and cracking. In all the excitement the younger kids joined in and started throwing anything they could lift at the side of the house.
Just then the walls began to fold. It sounded like a huge tree dropping in the woods. SLAM! It hit the ground so hard that dust kicked up and pushed the fog back into the trees. We were all jumping about and cheering. Wet from what was now rain coming down. There must have been 10 boys there that afternoon. The joy of destruction was so great that the older ones seemed to not even care that we had followed them into the grove.
Just then I heard one of the kids call to another. I could see his face turn white as he ran to the other side of the house. I knew right away something was wrong. The laughter and the cheers had stopped. I went to move but one of the boys told me to stop and not to take another step. They tried to lift the fallen wall but even with all of them together they couldn’t budge it. Then one of them went running passed me as fast as he could back towards the farm.
I watched the boy as he ran, and when he was out of sight I turned back towards the others, and that’s when I saw it. The shoe. Muddy and alone. My heart weighed heavy as it dropped. I knew the little blonde haired boy was under that wall.
They said a nail sticking from a board went right through his forehead as the house came down on top of him. We all stood in silence as we waited for help to arrive.
We never did gathered again after church. It would be years before I would go back into the grove. The parents of the boy would move away soon after. The older boys would never forgive themselves. The parents would not either.