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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Lazywoods Road


Lazywoods Road

It’s been a couple years since I’ve written a blog piece. I managed to complete my first book (“Out of My Kitchen.” More about that in subsequent pieces, I’m sure). But for some unknown or obscure reason, the blog has been neglected. This will not continue, as I still have a lot to write and put out there for anyone who’s interested in reading it.


The articles that precede this one, are the original entries from both my “LSCooks, Stir It Up” and “Kitchen Generations” blogs. I began these in 2008, while living in Bend, Oregon, and the last entry was in early 2017, shortly after moving to Florida. The subject matter was literally all over the map, but there’s a distinct leaning toward cooking and entertaining, as well as family and friends. 


The new blog is called Lazywoods Road; a place that is near and dear to me and harkens up some wonderful memories from my youth. My grandparents had lived in San Mateo (California) for decades but decided to move to the Santa Cruz Mountains when I was about six or seven. They originally lived up the Empire Grade in the Bonnie Doon neighborhood. But after a few years of dodging the deer, and both slow and dangerously fast drivers up and down the steep grade, they opted to move to the house on Lazywoods Road, which was a couple miles outside of Felton. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the area, this is a quaint little hamlet in the redwoods, just off the San Lorenzo River, about 15 miles from Santa Cruz, and 65 miles south of San Francisco. 


The Lazywoods house was a small country home with an abundance of trees and foliage, and both a view and easy access to the river, which flowed directly behind it. It would be the final home for my paternal grandfather (Grandpa Gene), as well as their wonderful dog Susie, who I grew up with. My grandmother would have subsequent dogs, and would eventually remarry and move to Watsonville, but the memories of the home have remained near and dear to me for all these many years since. 


I believe I was seven when they moved there. My grandmother was still working as a school secretary in Santa Cruz, and days spent there were split between hanging with my grandfather or playing in one of two pools in Felton. One of the pools was part of a motel, where I believe my grandmother was friends with the owners, and we got to swim for free. The other pool, Felton Acres, was a bigger public pool on the other side of town. It was much more crowded than the little motel pool but was memorable to me as the place I taught myself to swim. I’d been going to the two pools for a few weeks, and since we were often left alone (this would never happen today!) with minimal supervision, we had to wear life jackets. But it soon dawned on me that swimming couldn’t be that difficult, and one afternoon I just removed my life jacket and proceeded to swim around in the pool. A vast improvement, as now I could go anywhere in the pool, and not just the “shallow end.” Plus, I could now jump off the diving board! Swimming lessons? What’s that?


The “we” I’m referring to, were the next-door neighbors, Christie and Nancy Murray. Christie was about my age, and Nancy was maybe a year younger, and the three of us became fast friends, spending most of our days together, either at the pools, or in and around the river. I spent the better part of every summer there, as well as many holidays and winter and spring breaks. While I had an abundance of friends in Daly City, where I grew up, Felton offered an escape from both the summer fog, and my ever-increasing number of sisters. Ultimately, I had five younger sisters, and breaks and sunshine, and hanging with the Murray girls became my preference. 


Two doors up from my grandparents’ house was an older Irish gentleman named Pat Farley. Pat was probably in his seventies but managed to get onto the river for some paddling, almost daily. He had a rowboat that was roughly ten or twelve feet long, but had enough room for himself, as well as the three of us. And he’d love to smoke his bent pipe with a big white bowl and row us up and down the San Lorenzo, maneuvering around the plentiful rocks, and avoiding anything bigger than a ripple in the river. 


We also spent lots of time in the river, swimming and playing on the banks. But a rude awakening was about to happen, the first time my grandfather asked if I wanted to go “crawdad” fishing. I wasn’t initially aware that we were swimming and walking among a healthy number of crayfish (crawdads). The mini-lobsters would generally get out of your way, but if you happened to step on or disturb one of them, they did have a couple pinchers that could inflict pain on an unsuspecting seven-year-old’s foot. 


After my grandmother went to work, my grandfather would make me a great breakfast, and then we’d take a ride to neighboring Ben Lomond, where we’d shop for lunch and dinner supplies at Ellis’ Market. Lunch would consist of sandwich supplies or a hamburger for me, and a kidney, liver, or some other god-awful “innards” for himself. With all the cooking I’ve done, and exotic ingredients I’ve experimented with, I’ve never been able to entertain the notion of eating anything resembling “offal.” I think it’s an awful choice of something to be consumed. 


In addition to lunch and dinner ingredients, he’d occasionally pick up a little piece of liver that was specifically earmarked to be crawdad bait. It was simply a matter of baiting a hook at the end of a string, hanging from a stick, and dipping it to the bottom of the river, right off the bank. He had a big net, and when one of us had a bite, we’d raise the stick, and he’d net the little critter. It was easy to fill his sturdy old creel, and after an hour or two, we’d have a huge catch. Like preparing lobster, they were dropped into a big pot of boiling water for a few minutes, then transferred to a baking sheet to cool and dry. While I never understood his love of ripping the heads off and sucking down the green, nasty tomalley (which shouldn’t be confused with tamale!), I loved the meat from the claws and tails. Just like mini bites of lobster, dipped in butter with a little lemon, they were always a treat. 


Late one summer, after spending virtually all of it at Lazywoods, my mom asked if I could stay a couple weeks into the upcoming school year, as she was about to give birth to sisters number three and four, the twins. My mom was 5’5” and normally about 125 pounds, but shot up to 175 or so, with her pregnancies. Big babies, lots of water, and she came home looking reasonably normal. But this time was different. She was up to nearly 200 pounds, and I began telling all my friends she was going to have twins. And this was early in the summer, long before she knew this to be true. She found out a couple weeks before they were born, but I knew it months earlier. Just had a feeling. 


What this meant, was that I’d have to start fourth grade at nearby San Lorenzo Valley Elementary, instead of Westlake School, where I was scheduled to be in Miss Spellenberg’s class. I’d be the “new kid” at San Lorenzo, and then the “late kid”, when I got back to Daly City. At least I knew most of the kids at Westlake School, but that wasn’t the case in Felton. I knew Christie and Nancy, both of whom were in different classes than me, and that was it. But at least we could walk to and from school together. 

This is something else that’s changed over the decades: I always walked or rode my bike to and from school. The only exception was if it was pouring rain, or when Fernando Rivera or Ben Franklin Junior High were more than five miles away, and we had to take a bus. Parents (or grandparents) simply weren’t concerned with their children being abducted or getting into trouble on their way to or from school. We were allowed (make that encouraged) to go out and play, come home for lunch, then go back out until dinner. It wasn’t unusual for us to walk into town (a couple miles), to the little store in Ben Lomond (across the highway, and two miles the other direction), or just hang around in and around the river, all day. 

After a couple weeks at the new school in Felton, it was back to Daly City, Westlake School, and life with what was now FOUR sisters in the little house on Grandview. But winter break was only a couple months away, and I was confident that I’d spend two more wonderful weeks in the country house on Lazywoods Road.


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