Friday, August 18, 2006

Jesus Saves, and the Little Red Truck

In 1949 we moved to Point Arena on the Pacific Coast of northern California. We didn’t travel much after that. It took five years before we coaxed Mom to travel south again on Highway 1 and cross the Jenner Grade north of the mouth of the Russian River on our way to a holiday in San Francisco. Pop didn’t go south and take Ron and me with him very much during that time either. On the few times we went south, I always looked for the red pickup truck at the bottom of the cliff, its front end washed by Pacific waves, at about mile marker 28 at the southern end of the Jenner Grade. In my mind the red pickup was a 1940 International Harvester, with a spotlight on the driver's side, because that was the one Pop bought shortly after our arrival in Point Arena.

I never heard many of the details of the accident, but found out the following. The driver survived. He went over the side when he dozed off, and his door popped open and he was thrown out soon after he started his descent. Although the hillside is steep, it is not nearly as steep as the cliffs on the Jenner Grade further north. The pickup plowed down the hillside, slowed down by brush and rocks, until its 600-hundred feet journey ended suddenly when its front end met ocean rocks and sand. There it stayed for years, at a 45 degree angle, its front end washed by waves at high tide, the rear end resting higher up on the base of the cliff, a vivid reminder of the perils of a careless moment while driving on the coast highway.

Just a couple of miles further south on Highway 1, about halfway between the two tortuous switch-back turns that we joked were so tight that a student in the front of the bus could shake hands with one in the back, there was a rock outcropping on which was simply marked with white paint, “Jesus Saves.” Years later, as I frequently drove along this stretch of road connecting Point Arena with all the world outside, usually late at night, often in thick fog, I always felt a wave of relief and well being when my eyes caught “Jesus Saves” in the dim light of our ancient cars’ headlights. I didn’t think it was a religious experience, but maybe it was. But in those days, northern California was very dark at night, and you could drive long stretches of road along the coast and think you were the only person awake for a hundred miles. In the dark, and in thick fog, it was easy to become disoriented. The radio was more of an irritant than entertainment -- its reception of stations varied between almost understandable to totally annoying static. It was a wonderful feeling on the long drive to be able, at least at one point, to know exactly where you were. When I saw “Jesus Saves,” I knew.

I knew, and at that point, at that time, on that journey, what more did I need to know? Another hour and I would be warm and comfortable with friends and family, in another hour I would be home.

Thanks, unknown, unknowable kind person who for many years came back to this tiny spot to refresh your message of hope to the world. Probably no one ever told you what a relief it was to see your message on a dark foggy night, but you knew.

I wish it was still there.

More stories from "The Good Old Days."

Point Arena Apprentice Poker Players - One day we thought we would be the big boys.
The Great Point Arena Fire of 1954 - Everyone likes to help
Pete Bjornavik, a Point Arena character - Fun to be around
Gopher Capital of the World? - There's a bit of larceny in all of us
1960 NCAA Basketball Championships - Thanks, "Chub" Ohleyer - A very generous man
Sweethearts Dance 1960 - Bad weather makes a special memory
Number, Please? - Personal connections before the dial telephone
Puddles the Pup - A big part of the best childhood in the whole world
You Gotta Ring Them Bells - Some wedding nights you don't forget, but you try!
After The Summer of 1954 - 7th and 8th grade, 60 students, one great teacher
The House We Built - Brother Ron and I dug the basement in 1954, with help from "Prince"
The Old High School - When we came to Pt. Arena in 1949, we lived in one big room of an abandoned high school building

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