Carnett: Basking in memories of growing up on the island

"Jimmy, don't swing on that gate!"

That was an oft-repeated admonition of my childhood.

My brother, Bill, and I sauntered down memory lane last week as we walked the perimeter of Balboa Island. Sun-splashed and glorious, it was a day like many I remember from decades ago.

I lived on Marine Avenue with my family for the first seven years of my life, from 1945 to 1952. Brother Billy came along in 1947.

Bill drove up last week from San Diego and picked me up at my Costa Mesa dwelling. We made our way to the island together for the first time in 25 years. Our intent was to baste ourselves in island memories.

Crossing the island bridge triggered Bill's first memory.

"I remember — after we moved to Costa Mesa — riding my bike with my buddies, Pete and Don, to the island," he related with gusto. "We'd walk to the middle of the bridge, spot for one another and jump into the bay. It was a blast!"

We pulled onto the island and found a parking spot off Marine, on Park Avenue. We walked into Wilma's Patio restaurant on Marine for breakfast. It's directly across the street from Hershey's Market. Our dad worked at Hershey's in 1945 and '46 — his first civilian job after the military.

We reminisced that Wilma's used to be the Jolly Roger. Unfortunately, the JR was nothing more than a chimera to our family. Dad was too cheap to take us there. I didn't make it through the front doors until college.

My grandparents bought the Marine Avenue house in 1942 for $7,000. Dad, a GI at Santa Ana Army Air Base, married mom in 1944. They rented the apartment behind my grandparents' house, and I came along in '45.

After breakfast at Wilma's, Bill and I walked east to the Grand Canal, a narrow body of water separating Balboa Island and Little Island.

"I loved that canal," I told Bill. "It was a thrill for a 5-year-old to swim from one island to the other."

"Remember how we used to skip sand dollars across the canal?" Bill responded. "I recall once throwing a sand dollar at a house on Little Island. It exploded on a window … but no damage."

We then followed the sidewalk in a counterclockwise direction for a mile and a half around the island. I noted a beach on North Bay Front where Bill and I used to swim with our friends, Johnny and Billy Scott.

We kept walking, then paused at the Balboa Island Ferry at the end of Agate Avenue.

"I remember walking with Mom and Dad from Marine to the ferry," I told Bill. "I was about 4. I'd be running along South Bay Front, and Mom and Dad would be behind, pushing you in a stroller. We'd cross the bay on the ferry and eat ice cream at the Fun Zone."

Not a bad life, circa 1949.

We commented that the boats moored at the docks and in the bay surrounding the island seemed bigger and more numerous than in '49.

We walked the South Bay Front sidewalk to "our beach," at the end of Marine Avenue. It was there that we learned to swim. That was also where we discovered how to maneuver Uncle Bob's awesome homemade paddleboard.

We turned north and walked up Marine Avenue. We pointed out houses — as best we could recall — of our old playmates in that one-block neighborhood: Mel, Joyce, Meredith, Burr, Cathy, Michael and Vinnie.

The gate in front of our house that we used to swing on was gone, but the entrance was still there. The house has been remodeled, but the original outline is unmistakable.

"It seems so long ago," Bill murmured.

"Hey, remember when Mom almost burned the house down the day after Christmas?" I laughed.

"How could I forget?" Bill chuckled. "Mom packed the tree and all the wrapping paper into the fireplace. The fire billowed several feet into the living room and singed the ceiling!"

We're not waiting another 25 years for our next island visit.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World