By Annlia Hill
Late night and early morning low clouds and fog along the coast, aka May Gray and June Gloom. It has been this way for centuries.
As the morning fog burned off, the surf called. The Alley Kids were in the water from morning until dusk, sometimes in the moonlight. Their water “toys” consisted of discarded automobile tire inner tubes. With legs gripping a partially inflated inner tube folded in half to form a saddle, they would joust and wrestle to knock each other off. Or they would get inside the ring of the tube, lean back on one side and draw their knees uptight against the other side. Thus encased, they would roll and tumble over the waves or float feet-first into the waves and be tumbled backward.
The city constructed a raft offshore just outside the breakers at Main Beach. It was fun to swim out to it, climb aboard, rest and sun oneself and then dive off. However, the Alley Kids didn’t want to go all the way to Main Beach; it was a half-mile swim. So they built their own. Driftwood planks were nailed together for the platform, empty 5-gallon cans were added underneath for buoyancy, and an automobile engine was fastened with rope or cable to anchor it. Perfect!
The older boys did “sandsliding” on their stomachs. When a receding wave left a film of water covering the smooth sand (no pebbles or rocks), they would run at full speed, fall forward on their arched chests and plane for several feet. But ouch! Sometimes there was a hidden rock.
Body surfing was more fun, and the Alley Kids were good at it. As the swells rose, someone would call “Shooter,” and all would attempt to ride the wave to the shore. Of course, no one had heard of fins or wet suits in those bygone days, and surfboards were too large, heavy and expensive. It remained for Hobie, the little kid of the neighborhood, to perfect the surfboard years later for the next generation (another neighborhood story).
On calm days, the kids would gather around Mrs. Pritchet to listen to her stories. She sat in her folding chair, the only one in the neighborhood. Oh, the stories she told. She claimed to have been a nurse in an insane asylum in England. She told of a patient who climbed onto the canopy over her bed one night and was staring down at her when she awoke, of an escaped patient who so frightened a young bride-to-be that her hair turned snow white, of a haunted house in which a voice would say “nurse” at each step when she climbed the stairs. She claimed to have nursed Buffalo Bill, and she would read fortunes in a cup of tea leaves. Were her stories truth or fiction?
Sometimes, the younger kids played under the Price house to escape the morning mists or the midday heat. It was built on a slope with a large open space underneath enclosed by lattice. The boys opened the little door in the latticework, crawled in and carved out a little town with roads and houses in the sandstone. Brightly colored “TootsieToy” cars and trucks bought at the local dime store for 10¢ ran on the roads. Fun for years until excavation became so extensive that it threatened to undercut the pilings on which the house rested. The choice was simple – the house or “Tootsie” town.
Sea life was plentiful. Nelson swam with a sea lion. Some (including Slim Summerville at Sleepy Hollow and Mr. Gooch at Oak Street) fished from the shore. Others paid 50¢ for a day’s fishing on the barge reached by a little tender loaded at the Laguna Beach Pier. All that was needed was a long bamboo pole with eight to 10 feet of line, a hook and bait. Mostly the catch was mackerel, but also bonito, barracuda and bass. Just flip the pole back so the catch flew over the fishermen’s heads, landing on the deck. Along the shore, in the crevices between rocks, abalone was harvested with a big knife or tire iron to pry them off the rocks. Octopi, sea slugs, sea anemones, crabs and eels were plentiful. But despite all that, wieners remained the main fare at neighborhood get-togethers.
In the summers, the Alley Kids were at the beach, in the water, having fun.
Annlia is a 50-year resident of Laguna Beach and married to a fourth-generation Lagunan. Having walked nearly every street and alley in town, she has observed firsthand the artistic charm and imagination of residents.