By the time I reached the intersection of Foothill and Lone Hill there were several other cars on the street. It felt good to know I was no longer alone. As I sat there waiting for the light to change, it suddenly hit me! I remembered where I had seen the tree before! I was overcome with a sense of urgency and though I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening, I knew I must return to the road at once. I no longer wanted to go home. Somehow I sensed that the truth that awaited me there would be far more shocking than anything the road had to offer. I turned the car around and started back to Sierra Madre and the road.
I decided on an alternate route back to the mystery road. I took old Foothill to Lorraine, then north to Sierra Madre so as to approach the road from the west. This route took me through the heart of Glendora. The streets were a whirlwind of activity, people walking their dogs, bicycling, mowing lawns, washing cars, a typical So Cal Saturday morning. As I watched the activity around me, I began to feel a renewed sense of security and doubted the reality of my earlier experience. I was nearly convinced that the entire episode had been the product of an overactive imagination, a daydream of some sort gone wild, but that feeling was short lived, for the further north I drove, the fewer people I saw, and by the time I reached the stop sign at Sierra Madre the streets were again, completely deserted.
Slowly I made a right onto Sierra Madre and made my way around the barrier. The mystery road (if it truly existed) would be coming into view shortly. I began to feel extremely apprehensive. A cold sweat covered the back of my neck and my hands trembled against the steering wheel. I so wanted to turn around and get the hell out of there, but my need for understanding outweighed my fear, and I knew the road, as mysterious as it was, could provide the answers I sought.
I was beyond nervous. A massive shiver coursed through my body like an electric shock, a real bone rattler. I’m not sure why, apprehension perhaps. As I approached the bend at Valley Center I slammed on my brakes! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, or more to the point, what I wasn’t seeing. There, dead ahead, where the road had been less than twenty minutes before, stood the ruins of a ranch style home. The road and tree were gone! They had simply vanished. I was stunned, certain that I was indeed losing my mind. I couldn’t begin to understand what had happened. Before I had a chance to really dwell on my predicament, I noticed a car in my rear view mirror, the first and only other car I’d seen on Sierra Madre. It was maneuvering around the barricade, but the car never cleared it. In the next few moments the world again changed. As I watched, the scene in front of me took on the same mirage shimmer I’d seen earlier, and right before my eyes the ruined home faded away and the tree and road returned, and as I glanced at the rear view mirror, the car at the barricade did a slow fade and was gone.
For several minutes I sat there confused and disbelieving, this could not be happening. I kept thinking that I must be going mad. I shook my head trying to gather my thoughts, then proceeded slowly towards the road. Everything looked exactly as it had when I’d been there earlier. I pulled across the highway and parked my car in the same spot as before except that I was facing east towards the road, instead of away from it. I sat there for the longest time just staring at the pepper tree. I’d been right, I had seen it before, many, many times. I got out of the car and walked towards it.
As I grew closer I could smell its familiar fragrance. A smell, that as a child, I had come to love. This was the tree of my youth. The first tree I ever climbed, the first tree I’d fallen out of, the same pepper tree that stood in the front yard between my house and that of our neighbors when I was a child, same size, same shape, same tree, no doubt about it. How could it possibly be here? How had it been transported from California St. in the Baldwin Park of my past, to the foothills of Glendora? and why?
I closed my eyes and could see the pepper tree in all its glory as it was back in the summer of 61, just a few months before our new home was finished and we left California Street forever. I could see the thick, knotted rope my dad had given us hanging from the upper branches. We used it to swing from our side of the tree to a small, wooden landing built between two large branches, just beyond the fire hydrant on the neighbors side. The landing was actually the floor of a club house my friends and I never got around to finishing. There had been five of us, Bobbie Holmes, Michael North, Larry and Tommy Anderson, and myself. We were all about the same age and had grown up together on the one lane, dead end street. We were the best of friends, inseparable pals. There were others, of course, Ruben Romero, Bobby Winston and the Magdalinez brothers, Danny and Bobby, who often played with us, but we were the originals, the five musketeers, one for all, and all for one, and the pepper tree had been one of our favorite places to play. I remember all those hot summer days when we’d open up the fire hydrant, and take turns swinging through the stream of water, hooting and hollering and having fun until inevitably our next door neighbor Mr. Day would come storming out wrench in hand, and shut it all down. Most times he would rant and rave and curse at us for opening the hydrant and wasting water, but every once in awhile he would actually allow each of us a few more passes through the water before turning it off, and on one extremely rare occasion, he actually joined us.
To be continued Wednesday 5/18/2011