We went to the annual Old Timers Barbecue on Sunday in San Miguel. The Lions Club there puts it on, and if you admit you’re over 80 they give you a free dinner. Mamie and I attended with our daughter, Sandy, who is far from 80, I hasten to add.
I feel honored to be an old-timer, but I don’t know exactly what it means. My guess is old-timers are people with old things in common. If for some crazy reason we’d all bared our left shoulders Sunday, you’d have seen many small, round, white scars.
They’re from smallpox vaccinations, which were once almost universal. And they worked. Smallpox was wiped out worldwide.
Old-timers also remember when movie theaters and public swimming pools were closed during summer polio epidemics. What a relief it was to get polio vaccine for our children and ourselves.
Old-timers also remember looking at the North County hills at night and seeing pitch darkness, except for the occasional lights of Caterpillar tractors discing the soil in the almond orchards. Now at night our hills continually sparkle.
At one time almond orchards covered 25,000 acres of the North County. Many were east of the Salinas River where we all now know the rain is skimpy. Most of those orchards lasted only 25 to 35 years. They weren’t irrigated.
Old-timers also remember when Paso Robles had just one bridge over the Salinas River: the narrow, iron, 13th Street Bridge. To go to Shandon or the San Joaquin Valley you made a quick left turn from the bridge and then a quick right on what was sometimes called Highway 41 or 466 or both.
And many of us old-timers remember the storms and flooding in February 1969. The rushing high water threatened many North County bridges and collapsed a few, including the Salinas River bridge in San Miguel.
I remember one night seeing the Estrella River swirling angrily behind a bridge abutment while local men dumped rocks, junk and even barbed wire into the gap, trying to save their bridge.
We old-timers remember when Highway 101 had just two lanes and was also El Camino Real in Atascadero, Main Street in Templeton, Spring Street in Paso Robles and Mission Street in San Miguel.
And many of us old-timers fondly remember when our cars’ front seats were “bench” seats, not today’s bucket seats separated by the shifter and parking-brake lever. On a bench seat your sweetheart could sit close beside you as you drove, ate at a drive-in restaurant or looked at a drive-in movie.
Old-timers share many memories, which probably explains why old friends are the best friends.