If you had been there, you’d know what I’m talking about—ten miles out of town, last house on the right, the end of a dead-end, railroad tracks delineating Murphy Road’s termination. We kids had a half-mile walk along that pock-marked road lined with sky-blue chicory weed and yellow star thistle to the school bus stop. If you crossed the highway and walked another half-mile you passed through a peach orchard and ran into another dead end—a levee and the Feather River. Heading back home took you past scattered, rundown houses, a couple nicer ones, a few trailers, one-time small farms, the outbuildings in disrepair, and the Mexicans’ place with chickens pecking around the yard and a tied dog that lunged whenever anyone came near. Boxed in, so to speak, by tracks on one side and the river on the other, the outlook seemed limited.
My mom and step father bought the small stucco house on ten acres in 1955. It had two bedrooms and one bath. There were five of us kids, me being the oldest. That first year the flood waters threatened to break through the levee and everyone in the community had to find refuge in a school gymnasium and wait for the water to recede. I busied myself fixing and serving tuna sandwiches to the other refugees, and felt somewhat self-important. The Feather River spared our home that time, but those ten flat acres remained derelict and unused. And though my step-father had dreams of utilizing the land with a couple beef cattle and a milk cow, the acreage remained idle during my four years on Murphy Road, choked with star thistle and pesky fox tails that worked their way into our cocker spaniel’s ears.