My brothers dared me to do what they caught Jeff, a young kid from across the alley, doing one day.
He was eating dry Purina Dog Chow that we kept in a container on the patio to feed our dog Rusty.
Being 7 at the time, I thought my brothers must have dared him to do it.
A week later I found out that wasn’t the case.
There were four boys in Jeff’s family. All but the oldest had been sneaking into our yard to raid the dog food.
I asked my mother why they did it.
She made some off-the-cuff remark about boys being boys and then suggested the next time one of them came over to invite them in for a sandwich.
They lived directly behind us in an old two-bedroom house that had seen its better days. Their father worked at Gladding, McBean & Co. making clay sewer pipe. Years later, I realized their house defined the terms “fire hazard” and “drafty” among others. It was about the same time I understood that people went hungry every day, even in our neighborhood.
It was a neighborhood that once was typical of not just Lincoln but many valley towns such as Manteca.
There were three little cottages on the alley. In one lived a young couple, another a retired couple, and in the third a family I found out later was on welfare. When you’re a young kid it all looks normal. Mom always said the father worked on the railroad. Whether that is true, I couldn’t honestly say.
Another neighbor was a 70-year-old English teacher at Lincoln High with a tidy garden and a home full of books. She was still teaching not because she necessarily enjoyed it but she had no choice. The death of her husband had left her ill-prepared to handle retirement until she got in 30 years of teaching.
Up and down the block the occupations and backgrounds were as varied as the mismatched housing types. There was a Caltrans inspector, a business owner, immigrants from Mexico that lived in a house without a foundation they were slowly fixing up, a preacher, a delivery truck driver, an Aerojet worker, a family that proudly told of their trek to find farm work during the Great Depression from Oklahoma, a couple that immigrated from Portugal with the husband making sewer pipe as well, and a lawyer.
Our block was normal for Lincoln, although in some aspects it was more middle class than most. It was back in a time when the wealthiest family in town — one that owned a series of grain storage and feed operations through the Northern Sacramento Valley— lived next door to a teacher and directly across the street from a welfare recipient.
Such a combination — or social-economic mixes, as demographers would call it — could never exist in a typical new subdivision today.
You learned to embrace other cultures and people without even thinking about it. Handmade tamales on Friday nights brought over by Sophia Ruiz who played Yahtzee with my mom after work — they both got off at about 1 a.m. — were a normal staple.
You never thought because someone did something different that they were different.
It allowed you to literally be touched by all different walks of life and levels of wealth and not have any envy or to think you were somehow better than someone else.
Now that neighborhoods are determined more by wealth may be why we lose sight of what it is like to be in another’s shoes or to understand the trials and tribulations others face. Stealing was rare. Neighbors helped neighbors.
It wasn’t vanilla perfect in a Mayberry way, but it was OK.
And when you gave thanks on Thanksgiving, you understood just how fortunate you were.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.