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Short Stories: Down the Hill in Chula Vista

chula vista 1960s
Chula Vista, early 1960s. Front Row: My brother Bobby, my sister Robin, friend of Marijene’s, Aunt Marijene, and Butch. Back Row: Neighbor boy. Gotta love my gun, hat, and vest.

In the early 1960s, my dad packed up Mom and me, along with my younger brother and sister, and moved us to California. Dad was certain that California was a land of rainbows, and that a pot of gold awaited him in the Golden State. Three years later, as broke as when he arrived, Dad moved us back to Bryan, Ohio. In fact, Dad was so broke that he had to trade his pocket watch for a tank of gas in Illinois — just enough fuel to get us to Bryan.

We lived in several houses in California, one of which was a sprawling ranch house on a hill in Chula Vista. One day, my grandmother, Jeanette Rausch, and her daughter, Marijene, came to visit us. While Grandma and Mom were talking, my siblings and I went outside to play; “play” being climbing in the front seat of Grandma’s car.

I was sitting on the driver’s side of the car, and my sibling were next to me. I am sure both of them would say that it was no surprise that Butch (my family nickname) was in the driver’s seat. I was ALWAYS in the driver’s seat; the boss; the “man” in charge.

I had not yet shut the driver’s side door when I decided — as ornery six-year-old boys are wont to do — to grab the column shifter and put the transmission in neutral. Much to my youthful surprise, the car began rolling down the hill. Instead of trying to put the car in park or hit the brake, I bailed out of the open driver’s door, leaving Robin and Bobby in the car as it rolled down the hill.

The car picked up speed as it went down the hill, crashing through the neighbor’s fence and mowing over his beautiful poinsettias. The car continued rolling through his yard, ending up in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill.

Payday for my crime was swift in coming. Grandma was livid. I remember hearing her hollering as she spanked Robin and Bobby. I received no such whipping. I denied being in the car, despite the protestations of my siblings. Somebody had to pay. I was sure glad it was Robin and Bobby.


Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Oh, my! Two of my second cousins tried that. Dad woke up on a Saturday, and it was too quiet. He checked the house, headed towards the garage, and found the garage door open, one kid sitting on the seat holding the steering wheel with the key in the ignition and the other standing up on the gas pedal. They were 5 and 3. After that, the keys were always up very high.

  2. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    When I recall the shenanigans of childhood, I marvel at survival into my sixties!
    I always loved fire as a kid and we lived near a beach that was undeveloped back then and had lots of driftwood. We would spend weekends/summers on the the beach and always lighting fires in the wood. The Fire Department once had to attend because the fires got to the bank and up into the field above! Of course, no children in the neighborhood would admit to being within a mile of the beach during that fiasco. Then, there was a time when my young neighbor and I managed to climb into his attic and light a newsprint fire in a large bowl, for fun, you know. Well, parentals smelled smoke, all hell broke loose and I was banned from the location for a time. What’s wrong with a wee fire in an old, dried out attic full of flammables!

  3. Avatar

    Bruce, you were a naughty one!

    My husband is the middle one of 3 brothers. The oldest always tried to convince the younger ones to perpetrate actions that he thought might get them into trouble just to see what might happen. The results might be awesome or disastrous. My husband wouldn’t fall for the cajoling of the eldest, but the youngest was always up for a good experiment and would typically comply. One day the 3 piled unto the family station wagon, and the oldest dared his brothers to move the gear shift. The youngest complied, and the car rolled down the hill into the woods before crashing into a tree. All 3 kids were ok,but they were grounded for a long time….

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Bruce Gerencser