But on his death Jan. 23, where my mind wandered was elsewhere — back to 1543 Wall St. and the dead-end block of Wall between Beverly Place and Carlton Way. That is where the Matthews family lived and where Tom — 17 months older than I — and I grew up.
When we moved there in 1938, that stretch of Wall was “way out there in Parker Acres.” No paved streets, a few sidewalks here and there and a septic tank in every backyard. OK, it wasn’t close to being a rundown area, since most of the homes were new, and besides, we liked it a lot there.
One of the sidewalks was in front of our house. There, the kids in the neighborhood, including “the Matthews boys,” raced box scooters up and down the block. The scooters had roller skates screwed onto the front and back of a two-by-four with a wooden lug box, often with handles, at the front.
We had box scooters, and so did Jim Dunwoody, who lived around the corner on West Beverly, and Pat and Carol Ellis and Jimmy Shaeffer, who lived on both sides of Wall on Carlton Way.
Later, Jeannie and Johnny Sattler moved into a Wall Street home, and sometimes Jay Mattson would come down from Bessie Avenue and Merritt Herring from Parker Avenue a few blocks away.
Bicycles were our standard mode of transportation. I’m talking about Western Flyers, which seemed adept at dodging potholes in the unpaved streets.
And I can’t forget Bugs. Jet black, he was a mix of French bulldog and Boston terrier. A great family dog who roamed around the neighborhood with all of us, but he did have French bulldog fighting genes. That meant that when another dog entered the neighborhood, Bugs would attack. Bugs would go for the intruder’s neck and hold on. Sometimes we could pull him off the other dog, but not always. After hearing cries, “Bugs is in a fight,” my mother would run out of the house and sprinkle pepper on his nose, so he would sneeze and let loose. It worked some of the time, but more effective was grabbing the garden hose and pouring water on his snout, so he would gasp for breath and release his grip.
In those days, Parker Acres had a goodly number of vacant lots, and during most winters and early spring, a healthy crop of volunteer grass would grow in them. Pulling up a handful of grass would yield a clump of mud at the end, and when the mud was molded into a ball, these came to be known as clods.
And clod fights would be a major activity in the winter and spring months. We’d fight among ourselves and sometimes with the dreaded “Rudkins” from Parker Avenue. As best as I can remember, no one was close to being seriously injured, fortunately.
Kick-the-can was a summertime event, mostly in early evenings, and trips over to Harmon Park, sometimes for tackle football, were part of the activity schedule.
As we grew older, athletics became a bigger part of my brother’s life. He was a natural athlete who grew tall. Basketball became an early favorite, and our dad had a basketball hoop and backboard put up in our backyard. Tom spent hours shooting baskets, skills that served him well when he played at Tracy High and Modesto Junior College.
And then came the pole-vault pit. Before moving to Tracy in 1937, we lived in Ontario in Southern California. Two blocks from our house was the Graber olive farm, and son Bill Graber was a world-record-holding pole-vaulter from USC who just missed winning a medal in the 1932 Olympics. Anyway, our dad, a track and field fan, would tell us about him.
Those tales no doubt propelled Tom into pole-vaulting on the track team when he was at Tracy High. There were no flexible fiberglass poles in those days, but the traditional bamboo
poles were being replaced by more durable aluminum ones. Our folks bought one for Tom.
To practice his pole-vaulting skills, Tom built a pole-vault pit in our backyard, with wood standards for the crossbar and sawdust in the pit where he would land.
As he pulled himself over the bar and pushed the aluminum pole back to the ground, we could hear a “clang” that resonated throughout the neighborhood. For several hours in the afternoon and often into the twilight, we would hear the “clang” of the aluminum pole.
Jerry Ferrera came over from his home on Carlton and tried his hand at it, and I did, too. But neither of us could match my brother’s ability.
As with the basketball hoop, the hours spent pole-vaulting in our backyard served my brother well. He placed first in a number of track meets and was the first pole-vaulter at Tracy High to clear 10 feet.
To this day, when I hear the “clang” of aluminum — as when tents are being erected for the Bean Festival — I think of my brother running along the pathway leading to the pole-vaulting pit and pushing that pole to the ground. And that, of course, triggers a lot of other memories of growing up “way out in Parker Acres” — with my brother Tom.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracy press.com.