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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs

 

DOWN AT THE SWIMMING HOLE
8 August ‘05

One of the bigger beetles on one of the hotter days in Sand Valley crawls under my trailer. I place a lid of water next to the four-inch (with antennae) body and dash for a bug book. The Giant Palm Boring Beetle (Dinapate wrightii) swigs without lifting a chin for four minutes, and about-faces to thrust it’s abdomen into the lid. I get an idea.

Three hours later, I arrive by foot at a rock pool in a secret nook. Formed by cloudburst water rushing over a fifteen-foot cliff, the pool is one week old and will last another two. Right now it’s at its largest in decades – 20’ wide and 5’ deep.

It’s an ephemeral treasure, like life. Bird and animal tracks lead to the edge and, dropping my pack and drawers, I add my own. The sun swings overhead and maybe I doze.

A Dodge pickup backs to the water edge and out hop the Quicks. Ma tosses her pony tail and bawls, ‘Who’s in my swimmin’ hole?’ Boy Quick leaps and plants a blue umbrella in the pool center. Daughter Lilly-of-the-Valley gropes for the shore churned by two Weiner dogs. Beach Boys oldies blare from the radio.

‘It’s just me, Ma!’ I retort. Everyone defers to her 76-years and as the remaining original in the Valley. ‘We’ll, that’s all right then.’ The Quick’s escaped society to Sand Valley twenty-five years ago. They lived under a parachute shagged from an adjacent bombing range for the first six months. Then they raked the range for recyclable bomb fins and helicopter shells to buy two used trailers that were knocked together for a common living area. Dozens of dogs, cats, pet rats, snakes, turtles and birds live uncaged under one roof, plus a green-and-red Macaw that pulls a cord connected to a fan to cool the family. This has been called ‘the most comfortable home in the Valley’. The big bird must have struck today to launch them to the swimming hole.

‘I guess you ain’t heard the news,’ Ma cracks her wrinkles under the umbrella. ‘No, I didn’t,’ I admit. ‘About the old Chevy pickup,’ she continues. It was a vintage model a quarter-century ago on first shipping the family into the Valley.

‘One week ago we’d be sittin’ here in dry sand, but the family was in the old Chevy on the way home from a town run. Pa wheeled into Sand Valley in the late afternoon without a cloud above us. ‘Uh, oh!’ he gulped and jammed it into reverse. A three-foot wall of water chased us down the road!

‘It struck the truck head-on. Water swept around the sides. I’ve done laps but desert-born Lilly screamed ‘I can’t swim!’ The truck was in the road center that’s a wash, but we hadn’t heard about the cloudburst to the West. The river ran 20mph and mounted the doors. We rolled down the windows when it rose to them and one-at-a-time crawled onto the roof. The sun went down.

‘The roof shook every few minutes as the current undermined the front tires. The nose sank in the sand and water reached the windshield. It rained scorpions an’ mice. The three of us sat on the roof for three hours until the tide ebbed, and then waded 100 yards to the county road. We hailed a Border Patrol truck at midnight to take us to my sisters in town.’

‘The next mornin,’ inserts Boy Quick, ‘I went for the truck. The hood ornament was under sand. A shovel and come-along got it out four hours later, and I towed it leaking water all the way to Auntie Quicks. Tomorrow I’m going back to get it runnin’.’

I raise my brow. ‘I’ll hose the engine and front seat, change the oil, and put in new plugs. It’ll run like new,’ he claims.

Our attention turns to the sunshine and the oldies from the battered Dodge. It dawns on me that my shorts are ashore. Ma swims over to where I’m neck deep in water and murmurs, ‘Watch out for wildcats.’ Lilly-of-the-Valley myopically closes to study my face. Boy don’s goofy yellow goggles and dives. A screech interrupts the moment as the dogs fly. ‘We interrupt this program,’ a deep voice begins, ‘for an emergency broadcast from the national weather service. I repeat…’

Ma Qucik brings a finger to her lips and we wait silently. ‘This is an emergency watch for California Imperial County. A storm with golf ball-size hail and 60mph winds is approaching from the southwest. I repeat…’

Sand Valley lies in the heart of Imperial County. Boy scales the pool cliff without removing the goggles and yells down, ‘It sure is dark over there!’ It’s all the more remarkable for the sky above is clear and blue.

They pack up the umbrella and dogs, turn off the radio, and leave. I walk from the pool home to the bug. The cloudburst bypasses by and tomorrow dawns bright and sunny in the Valley of surprises.

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