I grew up on McKeever street in Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley in the same house for 23 years. The epitome of a Valley suburb, our street was as idyllic as any and held the hopes and dreams for all of us.
We were a young neighborhood. I think there were 15 neighborhood kids within a year or two of my own age, so birthday parties were packed. Everyone got along, at least until puberty.
McKeever street rested between Amestoy, a larger avenue and nestled between Index and Donmetz. There was only one outlet. McKeever street was gently bowed, like the cord on a bow and arrow pulled back taut. It ran from Amestoy up the street for 19 houses, where it then took a sharp 90 degree right turn to a stub of a street with 4 houses on one side and 2 on the other, called Aldea. Thus there was no proper end to McKeever. It jumped several main roads and picked up again in spots.
Our section in Granada Hills had ranch style house, 3 and 4 bedrooms, that, when we got a little older, we realized were actually all slight variations of the same models. Some had attached garages, some had detached garages, some had sliding glass doors that gave way to patios, some had enclosed patios, and some had patios that had been turned into another room in the house. Some houses were L-shaped one way, and then next door, the house was a backwards L-shape, but the same floor plan. All of the houses sat on lots with brick fences keeping the yards apart on three sides. They were all set very close together.
We walked to schools and back along McKeever street. We kicked rocks, raced boat ticks in the gutters when it rained, looked for the plus signs in the corner of the cement slabs that made up the sidewalk. If you stepped on the slab with a plus sign on it, your buddies got to punch you in the arm.
I lived in the 5th house on the south side of the street from Amestoy. My bedroom window looked out over McKeever Street. At the end of our driveway was a street lamp which we used for night time games of tag and hide and seek. My window looked out directly into the center of Wish Avenue, a cul-de-sac opposite our home with 6 houses in it of varying quality.
Many times I looked out my window through the dark brown stained shutters and wished for many things to happen along Wish Avenue.
We knew everyone, and they knew us. The manhole cover in the middle of Wish Avenue was home plate for our famous games of baseball. Until we were young teenagers, we could pull together a game of street ball with a tennis ball and a whiffle bat or sometimes a real baseball. A tree served as first base, we usually set down a paper plate or a piece of cardboard for 2nd based, a metal flip cover for the water main shut off for one of the cul de sac houses was 3rd base. By the time we became young teenagers, we were routinely hitting tennis balls over my yard and house into the swimming pool in my backyard. We had to switch to pure whiffle ball, and even then, my house served as the warning track because we had grown so adept at hitting the ball.
The corner lot of Wish Avenue opposite our house had the largest yard, and it was gently sloped, so we could play football during football season, mostly 2 on 2 Nerf ball.
McKeever street changed over the years, but mostly everyone kept their yards neat and clean, and there wasn’t a party house in sight. There were bullies up the street at the crux between McKeever and Aldea, which we ran past as fast as we could. Later, immigrants from Nicaragua moved in and I overheard parents talk about depreciating property values – people I had never thought could be racist at all.
But for the most part, everybody shared each other’s house. We could walk in to the house of our good friends without knocking, just as our swimming pool was designated a McKeever street community pool for friends.
We also saw our share of tragedies. On the corner of McKeever and Amestoy, an eccentric woman we named Witchiepoo lived alone. She would rarely wear anything but a nightgown, and she’d let herself into people’s homes in the morning to borrow sugar and sit and have a cup of coffee and smoke her cigarettes. One time following a night event at the local elementary school, my dad and I were walking home and the street was blocked off my police and fire engines. Witchiepoo had caught her house on fire smoking in bed and perished in the fire.
Also, in the middle of the block, a young man named Bruce sat on his short brick retaining wall at the end of his driveway playing his guitar. He was probably 6 or 7 years older than me, pleasant and kind, and not disposed to drama. He’d play most of the day. I don’t know if he worked, but he always had a song, a smile, and a kind “hello” for all of us. He rode on the back of a friend’s motorcycle one day. They were riding on Amestoy, which had a middle gutter that grew moss on it most of the year. The motorcycle slid in the moss and Bruce was thrown from the motorcycle and hit his head on the curb, dying almost instantly. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Finally, across the street and down two doors from my house lived the Brooks family, my second home. They had 4 daughters, including one my age, and a son, Lonnie, a few years older than me. One day shortly after 4th of July, Lonnie tried to make a firecracker out of a CO2 cannister and some gunpowder from his father’s bullet making machine. He lit it and the cannister exploded. A piece of the metal pierced his heart. People yelled and the mother of my best friend, who was a nurse, came out to calm everyone down. She took one look at him and his fluttering eyes and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Lonnie was 15 when he died. His parents were on vacation and we had to track them down to tell them to come home to that tragedy.
As a community, we faced a lot, but McKeever street was home to us all. I think the Brooks family stayed the longest. I loved my house and neighborhood so much, that I made my parents tell me if they were going to sell the house so I could buy it and keep it. When it came time for them to sell it, following the 1987 stock market crash, I was in no position to buy the house. My dad called me and said, “So I’m telling you that we’re going to sell the house, and wanted to let you know.” I told him that of course it was his house and it was okay. He said, “Good, because we already sold it.”
That ended my time on McKeever street. I have so many stories from my 23 years in one house on that street, and I will be spending the next 23 years telling them all.