When Campo Verde (Tia Juana) was rather young (the early 1940s) and there was no school in camp and there were no fences separating the Shell and Mene Grande camps from one another and the roads extended into each camp and everyone including the Shell and Mene Grande folks used the Creole club house and combination tennis courts and outdoor movie and the dike was 3 feet high, Creole provided yard maintenance service to the occupants.

Anyway, to continue, the yardmen worked out of “the hut”. That's where they kept the great rotary gas lawn mowers. They hung hammocks under the wild fig tree that shaded the building and took their noontime siestas there. There was a 55 gallon drum of gas on a raised metal frame adjacent to the side of the hut for the mowers. They also kept their machetes in the hut. The ground around the hut was barren and darkened in most areas by the oil soaked from oil changes for the mowers.

The hut was about 100 feet from the old club house and there was a gravel road that ran between it and the back of the club house where you could park a car or the delivery trucks serviced the club.

What role does the hut have in my memories of the camp? Well, I recall the yardmen working around the homes wearing cotton shirts and trousers that were stained brown from dirt, dirty alpagatas, worn and frayed straw hats. They swung the machetes cutting the grass that the mowers could not reach using a tree branch about three feet long with a hook to pull the grass aside as they cut it off at the base with the machete. I used my Dad's machete and a hooked stick to cut underbrush out on the “dredge” where we had forts back in the thick bunches of razor grass.

The mowers were unique to me. They had a large rotary blade in the front that whirled with a blur would throw grass clippings into the air in front of it. The yardman would stand astride a rod extending from each side of a single wheel that trailed behind the mower via a metal rod that connected by a swivel hitch. The yardman would grasp the two handles that attached to the mower and would direct it by pushing the handles to the left or right. The mower had two swiveling smaller front wheels and two large inflated back tires. I have seen something similar to these mowers used by golf courses today as they make a close, clean cut.

Ok, at the start of the day, I would watch the yardmen drive the mowers out of the hut and down the streets to cut yards. At noontime, they left, the mowers in the yards were stopped, and they went back to the hut for lunch and a siesta. That's when I would start a mower with a pull-cord which they tied to the handlebar and I would ride the mower up and down the street or through the yards. I was about 7 years old. I had real difficulty starting the motors as I was not very strong and then I did not have the strength to steer the darn things very well either and my driving ended when I ran one of the things into one of the drainage ditches that ran on each side of the road. (By the time you knew of the hut the street drainage ditches had probably been filled in and there were nice black-topped roads with concrete curbs.)

I used to visit the yardmen at the hut during their siesta when I could avoid having to have a siesta imposed upon me by my mother, which was not often. The wild fig tree was a great tree for several reasons. First, it had hundreds of spaghetti-like tendrils that it sent ground ward from its spreading limbs. So that was neat! Second, the very ends of the tendrils were pink and tender and were edible, so I loved to snack on them as I stood around talking to the yardmen. Third, the yardmen would bring their lunch to work in a variety of tin containers and it consisted mostly of over-ripe bananas, arepa, white cheese and in some instances they had that strong Venezuelan coffee and to this day I can see them squatting together on their haunches eating and talking and then getting into their string hammocks to doze.

I would sit under the tree and nibble on the tendril tips and watch the smallest birds I have ever seen flitting around among its branches. I think we used to call them “thumb-birds” because they were no bigger than our thumbs. They were white and yellow and had black markings similar to our Gold Finches.

The final thing I liked about the tree near the hut was that in the evening, following sun-set, birds by the hundreds used to flock to the tree and roost. When my brother and I - when I was older and we lived over by the new Staff School - left the club following the end of a movie, we walked by the tree on our way home and would listen to the birds shuffling and chirping in its boughs and, yes, of course, we would bombard the tree with rocks hoping to knock as many birds out of the tree as we possible could.

And that's what I remember about the hut.

 

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