FREE AS THE FISH…………                                         JULY 29, 2013




Since last week’s edition of “Mondays With Melitas,” I realized there were a few items I had left out.  I had felt badly because I didn’t give more space to Charlie.

After Aunt Mae’s house on the hill was built 1925/1926, we went more often over to the Point to check in with Charlie Free mainly because Aunt Mae was entertaining more and that was cause for more lobster and abalone drop-offs.  Those guests were fed the best.  The lobster, as I mentioned before, was one course of the dinner — prime rib would be another course — plus all the other delightful food, such as a cup of soup, a salad, vegetables with the beef, and maybe flan for dessert.

At this time, Aunt Mae and Titán were about 50 years old so they were able to make the trek around the Point to the Villa on the Rocks quite easily, but with much more care than I.  The “Villa” refers to the rickety old fishing shack where Charlie had taken up residency several years earlier.   It didn’t take me long to skitter over the rocks;  that made me the scout, so to speak, announcing our arrival.  I would always greet him with much enthusiasm, and he, in turn would wave and call to me. It had to be loud to be heard above the surf crashing on the rocks.

While the folks were conducting their business about lobsters, or just visiting, or just announcing that it was time for the eviction notice to be delivered, I would be scrounging around the waters edge looking for seashells or the rocks that I took a shine to.

Sometimes Charlie would be fiddling around mending a fish net, or fixing a lobster trap.  He had lines hung about 10 or 12 feet high to hang his nets.  He had an old dingy there to get to his lobster traps, or go see about grabbing off some abalone.  If he was out pulling up lobster traps, we would watch him, then he would come to shore as quickly as he could. He probably didn’t want to keep Aunt Mae waiting, and he had no way of knowing what “business” it was this visit.

Charlie Free was an unkempt sort of guy.  His work clothes were old raggedy pants, maybe an old underwear top — for all I know he may’ve had on an whole one-piece thing — holes and all, his skin was already wrinkled from the days and years in the sun, and quite swarthy, his hair was a sunburned brown worn longer than the average man.  He was about 5’ 5” in height, no fat on his bones.  Sometimes he would wear a knit cap, and his hair would be straggling out from under.  This was how he looked at his “place of business.”  What else can you expect if you have to bathe in the surf? — and since I never went inside his pad, I don’t have the slightest idea about plumbing, and other niceties of life. You couldn’t very well have a septic tank put in under all those rocks. If I compared him to the folks, he was younger — just more miles on him.

And just like a big-time entrepreneur, he delivered.  He would come chugging, and huffing and puffing up the hill to Aunt Mae’s in an ancient beat up pickup truck. He had on his dress-up clothes — not much better than his fishing ensemble.  They were dry. The trousers were dark brown nubby fabric, and his jacket had probably at some point matched the pants, but maybe he used the jacket more over the years if he didn’t have  something to wear to keep warm. Summing it all up, Charlie was a very nice, polite guy.  And a free spirit to top it off.

I can’t remember how long Charlie Free lived the good life on that stretch of ocean front.  He could’ve been there until they started building the Marina, and he would’ve been one of the first to vacate.  I wonder if the Sheriff had to remove him lock, stock, fishing nets, lobster traps, and barrels if he had any.  It would be like old times when Aunt Mae had to sic the authorities on him so the property would remain hers.  Her Point was first to go — it was a huge amount of earth to flatten so a big jetty could be built out into the sea.

For me, it was a sad day to see it go.  What price Progress.

MELITAS FORSTER                                      “MONDAYS WITH MELITAS”

The picture accompanying this story is of Aunt Mae’s Hill in San Juan Capistrano. It was above the State Hwy. on the east side at the bridge over San Juan Creek. It shows the road up to the site.  On the right of the home there is the free-standing 4-car garage.  In back, all those hills — you can see the path-like roads.  In the old days, that area is where Titán and I would travel on horseback, checking the fences.  Also where I learned to drive the 1923 Hupmobile.  The landscaping is being added at the time this picture was taken.

If you have any questions for me, please ask.


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