I asked my brother, Tom Claycomb, to write this guest post. Mostly because he’s older and actually remembers the incident and he’s a darn good writer. Should have his own blog (hint, hint) for his stories and poetry.
In the early 1950’s my father’s grave suddenly appeared in our driveway. It surprised all of us – especially my father. He would have been about 36 or 37 years of age then and far too vibrant to be dead. But it was a nicely constructed grave complete with a redwood marker that read, “Frank – Died 1885.”
Two boots stuck out of the mound of dirt at the end opposite the tombstone and a bottled red geranium flower adorned about where his chest would be. Too bad the grave was located right in the middle of the driveway and would have to be relocated if the family car was going to be parked in the usual spot. Mom and Dad had been out that evening at a party of friends – probably playing canasta or charades and maybe indulging in a couple of vodka gimlets. Arriving home, their car crested over the hill at the top of the long driveway and the headlights announced the new graveyard. Did they whistle past the grave as they walked to our front door? I don’t know – I was fast asleep and apparently had been all during the construction project. I suppose I was the logical guardian of our home since my bedroom was located in the screened porch near the new grave. My sisters Jean and Donna slept through it too – but their bedrooms were further away inside the house. Our boxer dog Lindy apparently enjoyed the project, or the workers, and gave us no alert.
The crime scene investigation began the next morning. Clearly someone had taken our wheelbarrow out of the shed and hauled several loads of dirt from our garden to build the grave. The flower came from our porch – maybe my sisters should have heard it happen! But the tombstone, or redwood board, was obviously real. Does the real Frank now lie in an unmarked grave? 1885 was about the time that our local gold rush took place in and around the mountain town of Julian. Maybe it came from the backcountry grave of an itinerant miner who was known only as “Frank.” Or it could have belonged to a Luiseno Indian from the San Diego Mission who was given a Christian name – but only a first name? The source of the grave marker has gone to the grave with the perpetrator. But the perpetrator himself was fairly easy to identify. Dad could immediately rule out all of the friends at that evening’s party. That narrowed it down to just a few that might have motivation and a mindset for such an act. Then, of those few, who most owed a payback to Dad? That would be Hal Johnson.
Did Dad have this coming? Oh yeah! Did Dad’s mind work in the same conniving fashion as Hal’s? You bet! I know this because I was recruited by my father at the tender age of 10 or 11 in a couple of his escapades. For example there was the 18 pound turkey that Dad sold to Hal. We raised turkeys on the ranch in those days and dressed them to sell to neighbors and friends. But Hal’s turkey order was filled with the carcass of one of my bantam chickens that was stuffed with lead weights. We delivered the “turkey” in a closed box, collected Hal’s money, and were well on the way home before Hal inspected his purchase.
Then there was the rabbit episode. I raised rabbits then too. For those of you not familiar with the life cycle of domestic rabbits I will just say that the phrase, “Long in the tooth,” might have originated with them. As they age, caged rabbits can develop front teeth that overlap from top to bottom and turn what was once a cuddly white fur ball into a fanged carnivorous looking attack rodent. There wasn’t much of a market for geriatric rabbit meat so I was OK with Dad’s idea to “gift” two of them to Hal. The delivery was done in the dead of night and the rabbits dropped into the small fenced back yard of Hal’s El Cajon home. Our party line phone rang early the next morning with Hal demanding that Dad remove his critters because he sure wasn’t going to touch them. Funny how Hal knew it was done by Dad.
So yeah, Dad knew his grave had been planned and built by Hal Johnson. Did Dad retaliate? Probably. Dad and Hal worked together at the same company. Who knows what went on between them during working hours? I inherited the grave marker when Dad really did die. I built a replica grave, complete with a pair of my old cowboy boots, out by our fire pit. Frank – Died 1885. For parties I add a geranium in an old Log Cabin syrup bottle. Hal would be proud. Dad would probably just shake his head and begin scheming on how best to get me back. ~~~Tom Claycomb
Thanks, big brother!