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
And that's what I remember about