It’s cold. But not too bad. Bill Burtis, my new step father, decides to go up in the mountains and get our own tree. It’s 1958. I’m seven years old.
Along with us in his single cab, 2-wheel-drive half-ton pickup work truck is his drinking pal, Dan Doyle. In the bed of the truck are three of my pals. The Spell brothers, Gary and Greg and the worst kid in Burbank, Gary Hughes. Hughes and I became good pals years later while serving time on a Sheriff’s work detail in Saugus, but, fun times later.
We’re in our warmest clothes in the back of an open pickup rolling for the National Forest. As we cruised for the mountains we had to shove shovels, picks and cement finishing tools out of our asses. This adventure came after half of case of beer and my mom’s nagging about no tree.
A quick stop at a stop and go for gas, more beer and beef Jerky sticks - we needed some supplies. We’re soon winding up a twisty mountain road called Big Tujunga Canyon. We noticed it was suddenly a bit colder in the open bed. We zipped up our jackets and got under a canvas tarp wedged next to a tool box. No one wanted to stop this fantastic adventure. Bill and Dan were still in T-shirts with their smokes stuck in their rolled up short sleeves. Those old truck heaters kicked ass.
We find a dirt road off the small paved road and take a right up the rutted trail. Up, up, we go. The road was rutted, but passable. Now were all standing up looking over the cab of the truck. YEAH! This was more like it! After a few miles we have some trees surrounding us. Some of them pretty tall.
Since the truck couldn’t go much farther, Bill stops, gets out and yells. ‘Out boys. Let’s get our tree’! We all pile out and run around like chickens with their heads cut off. Up at a higher elevation the rain had turned the ground muddy and slick. We loved it, at first. The magic tree is soon found and we all took turns cutting it down with a small handsaw used to trim cement forms.
As we drag it up the steep hillside to the truck, it starts to rain. By the time we get it loaded and tied down, it’s really starting to come down. Then, it turns to snow. Now our muddy clothes got really cold.
As I knocked on the glass of the rear window Bill’s voice can be heard loud and clear. ‘GET OUT OF THE REAR VIEW MIRROR’! Since there was no way to turn around we had to BACK DOWN the entire side of that mountain. Good planning. The Coors talking, as usual. Now tree branches are slapping into us as the truck bobs and weaves like Jerry Quarry against Floyd Patterson.
As we build up speed that truck jumped, bucked and slid like crazy. We were all hanging on for dear life. At one point we went off the trail, knocked down some saplings, spun almost completely around, then we’re going down the trail the right way, all without stopping. As we finally make it to the paved road the way is blocked by a Forestry Service truck.
As we shivered in the back, Bill and Dan get out to see whats up. We can hear the entire conversation….
Forestry man: ‘It’s illegal to harvest tree’s in a national forest unless for firewood and you have the correct permits’!
Dan Doyle: ‘Oh really? I can get shot at for three years to protect these fucking trees but can’t cut one for my kids for Christmas’? Bill Burtis cuts in…. 'Hey, don’t use that kind of language. It’s unnecessary. Especially around kids’! (Even while totally enraged with me over the years he never used profanity. The belt or a switch, but no cursing). The Forestry guy likes this. He asks Bill if he served.
Pretty soon their all pals yakking about where they did combat. Bill gives him a couple of beers and we’re back on the road. Except now we’re all packed in the single cab. We had to twist and turn when Bill went to shift the floor shift arm.
Back in civilization we pull into a Bob’s Big Boy on San Fernando Road. We all got burgers, fries and cherry cokes. We arrive back home victorious warriors. My mom grabs me as Bill and Dan head inside with a fresh case of beer, my pals eating Snickers and swilling cokes. ‘Well, how much was that tree’? I told her, ‘I think fifty bucks. He said only the best for you’! Mom seemed happy for a change……
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