Ken Schwartz's Stories - "Life at Lark Ellen" - Page 3
We could hardly wait for the Fourth of July. We drew down our accounts to buy firecrackers. Firecrackers were legal back then. So we bought a supply of 'Ladyfingers,' which were the best buy, but we also splurged and bought a few 'Cherry Bombs' and a couple 'Radio Bombs.' Everybody who was not on a home-stay loaded into autos and with picnic baskets headed for Santa Monica's Palisades Park. On the ocean side of Palisades Park was a sheer cliff with perhaps a 75 to 100 foot drop. We scrambled for positions along the open-bar railing, lit our punk (lighter) and began lighting firecrackers and throwing them over the cliff. It was the Revolutionary War all over again. The explosions were noisy. Dangerous? Sure! But very, very thrilling for 9 12 year-olds. Some boy would usually get burned and more than one complained about the ringing in his ears when a firecracker exploded prematurely.
In the summers, we went to Camp Seeley in the San Bernardino Mountains for two weeks. Lion Club members drove us to camp in brand-new wood-sided station wagons. Today, those classic wood-sided station wagons are affectionately called woodies. I think Camp Seeley was a YMCA camp. It had a mess hall and a swimming pool. We slept on cots under the pine and fir trees. We had handicrafts and we took nature hikes. And, best of all, we had campfires at night, big, roaring campfires in which we could visualize all sorts images in the swirling fire and smoke. Magic!
When Christmas time approached, our handyman would take a couple of older boys and disappear for several hours to harvest pussy willow branches out of local streambeds. In his tool shed he had a gas burner, which he lit, and with practiced eye ran each pussy willow branch back and forth through the flame until it darkened and the sheaths covering the seed pods became brittle enough to be pinched off without damaging the bright white fuzzy bud. Each branch was about three feet long with buds about every four inches. We boys pinched off the sheaths and then tied the branches in bundles of eight. I seem to remember each boy got six bundles to take out into the community to sell for 25-cents. The money from these sales went into our 'accounts' for purchasing Christmas gifts. Some boys were super salesmen and sold far more than six bundles. I wasn't so good and counted myself lucky to sell six.