Slice Of Life - by RayB. Installment No.1 Downey Street in the 60's...

For us kids, my five brothers and I, Downey Street was basically our world, giving us friends, comraderie, fun and sometimes adventure. It was a small one way street- flat at the bottom and rising up to a hill at the top, and like a hole in the wall it was barely perceptible to those whom either did not know where it was or did not live there. But it was our street and our home and as we thought at the time, our place. The majority of the families that lived there on Downey street were like our family, regular working class folks that owned the homes they lived in and had alot of children as was the norm in those days. There were many Black families that lived there and some of the names they had were very colorful, such as Junebug and Ivory, Moline and Mama LeBeaux, Edward Charles and Winky. Most of our relationships as we were coming up came from being around the Black folks we lived with as neighbors and friends during those times. I can still hear the sounds of the kids playing out in the street or even see them sitting all together talking on someone's front stairs. Still now I can smell the aroma of soul food cooking from the houses and can taste Mrs. Tookas' mini pies that she baked every week to sell for her church. Our next door neighbor MaryLou used to chew tobacco and spit it out as she watered the collard greens that she grew in her backyard, and Mr. Jack used to limp around like Grampa McCoy because one of his legs was shorter than the other. Mr. Jack even made it into the newspaper one time when he stopped a robbery at Walter Wong's Market. Across the street at dinner time you could hear Mrs. Robinson calling her kids to come eat- Mary Ann! Linda Marie! Robin Elaine! Sheila Ann! Edward Charles! Velma Lee! And at dinner time there would be no one outside at all because it was the same all up and down the street, and we all had to be there inside the house for dinner. But that's not all, there was much much more to see and feel and be. That was Downey street in the 60's, a place where we are from and always be...

I just wanted to give you a small visual of our slice and some of the kids we shared our lives with.   Back in the day pictures were rarely taken on the block (except for Ray) he occasionally carried a camera, here is a slice that he captured.  This shot is down the street from the house we grew up in.

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Slice of Life - by RayB. Installment No. 2 "Dave"

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He was the dumbest smart guy we ever knew, and he could do almost anything he set his mind to if he wanted.  He could fix just about anything, from cars to stereos to toasters to vacuum cleaners and more.  He taught us all more about life, what to do and what not to do more than anything or anyone could ever have.  He was Dave, our oldest brother.  We can feel his presence in our hearts and minds. He was thirty-three when he died; yet he seemed so much older than that, his body ravaged by years of consumption of everything that our society deems taboo.  Dave was a loving guy with a good heart, but he lacked self control and discipline and he had the propensity for doing all the wrong things in life.  Too fast and too hard he lived, and in the end he paid the ultimate price.  He had it all and lost it all right before our very eyes, and nothing we did or said would ever make a difference.  Even tough love wasn’t enough. Perhaps our darkest days as a family were when he was caught in the nightmare world of Heroin addiction.  We experienced first hand the rape of the will and soul that heroin inflicts, tearing apart the fabric of the heart and mind.   Heroin not only takes a toll on the addict; it has a way of working its insidious reach on loved ones too.  Amazingly, at one point he know that he had to do something or else, and after he finally escaped heroin he enlisted in the United States Army at thirty years of age! I still marvel to this day that he went to boot camp with all these kids so much younger than he and he made it.  Yet that was as far as he could go, and he had to get out and come home. He always came home when he couldn’t face a challenge or needed something to fall back on.

Home was his escape from the world.

Peach Cobbler…I’ll always remember his peach cobbler, though.  Here he was out of his mind needing a heroin fix, and getting his mind off of it by baking a peach cobbler.  And what a peach cobbler it was! It looked and tasted like a great chef’s concoction.  He was good at a lot of things and that was the paradox that he was, a good person prone to do bad things.  Through him we found out things about ourselves that would become indelible lessons never forgotten, and serve as reminders of memories of Dave’s legacy.  He was our brother, our teacher, and in some ways our mentor.  But he was still the dumbest smart guy we ever knew.


I remember the running water
And his legs under the cool running water.
I guess the gout had really had its way.
I did not bother to scold or scorn,
Merely just the token "You OK?"
Not much I could do by that time
Life as an addict is a different life
I guess the abuse, the heights
Will greet you at the crossroads
Life was different then
He was still alive and she was
Already down a half
My life at the time heightened
And now a forced hand to
Show you the way
I used to wonder if the Man
Was playing a game with me
Saying "You want more?"
On the way home I saw into his eyes
They had that reserved look
And the words "I saw lights"
I knew right away
Life has not been the same
All I could say was "No more please"



Slice of Life - by RayB. Installment No. 3 "A Trip to Icehouse"

There is a campground off Highway 50 past the town of Placerville, about twenty-five or thirty miles from Lake Tahoe called Icehouse Lake.

For many years we made our annual camping trek from San Francisco up to Icehouse Lake for one or two weeks during the summertime.   At first we took the white valiant station wagon loaded down with all sorts of camping gear, Mom and Dad, and all six of us kids all packed up and squeezed in, filling the car until it practically burst at the seams.  Always on the night before we were to go, we would load up the car.    Dad would make sure that everything was in order, and he had it down to a science and to the smallest detail. Coleman stove, lanterns, sleeping bags, tent and accessories all accounted for and ready. 

Our journey began around three or four in the early morning, in the darkness before dawn silent except for our furtive movements and the banter of last minute details that had to be taken care of. Then, we would go.  My first marker was always the Oil Refinery in Hercules, standing there like silent sentinels guarding the hillsides in the darkness.  The smell of the Refinery was all around, permeating the pre dawn air with the pungent odor of the oil refining process.  Past them we went on.  When Dad would switch from I-80 to Hwy 50 at Sacramento would be my second marker, and I knew we were really on the way.  We were putting more space and distance from the house, and were getting further away from home.  Then there was Sam’s on Hwy 50, with the sawdust on the floor and the gold rush motif where we’d stop for breakfast. Sam’s seemed like it was there forever and was a permanent Sierra place.  It was also our first encounter as kids with a breakfast buffet.  The next stop was the town of Placerville where Dad stopped at a supermarket so Mom could buy most of the perishable food supply for our camp stay.  By then the sun was getting up slowly and the landscape started to take shape.  The last stage was the drive from Hwy 50 up to Icehouse Lake itself, and on the sides of the road and well into the distance we were told that this area was the last remaining remnants of an ancient Petrified Forest.  I can recall straining my eyes to see if the trees were really stone.

When we finally arrived at Icehouse Lake it was time to set up camp, and I’ll always remember starting with the tent…