By Raymond Fernandez
I remember when I was six years old, driving from Huntington Park to La Mirada.
There was a strange smell that wafted thru the air that could only come from a cow or a dairy. There had been so many olive trees everywhere. I made me fix my eyes upon the sights. An olive tree was in front of every house and the sounds of La Mirada were quite amazing. The reverberations of passing trains to a young kid were breathtaking.
The street I grew up on was Biola. It stands for Bible Institute of Los Angeles, which is the local university and the largest employer in La Mirada. Back in the early 1900s, the same street was called Ranch Road, then eventually Holder Street.
I recall when we arrived at our new home and first laid eyes on that big olive tree. I had to climb it. I had so much fun that when climbing down from the branches I did not realize all the olive stains all over my pants. I remember running up the front door to the new house and opening it for the first time. What stood out was the unique fireplace, the pool, in the backyard, and the ceiling, of the home. I have not seen so many wood beams like that within a home. Everything about the home was so quaint.
Close by there was Rancho and Neff Park. In fact, around the corner Rancho had already been closed down as a school but we went there to play basketball and in all the fields. Then of course there was Neff Park – so many great memories were to had there. I recalling back in 1982, the year of the El Nino storms, the park flooded. I would run down there to go see my Uncle Danny play football with his friends and splash in the water.
Something which also stands out was the first day of school. I attended Hutchinson Elementary. From 1981 to 1987 I’d walk to the bus stop to get to school. I tried to walk back home, but as a six-year-old I became lost and thank God for a very nice family by the name of the Willafords who lived down the street on Biola. They called the cops and gave me a ride home since I knew my address.
The years at Hutchinson were amazing and fun. My best friend at the time was a guy by the name of Luis Garcia. He and his family lived close to Neff Park, and they took me in as one of their own. I will always think of them as my second family outside of home. They were always so kind to me and loving.
Luis and I had formed this little group of about four friends and we named ourselves the Dragons. We used to think we were like the A-Team. Our hot spot was always Neff Park. We would put on fatigues and run around with our rubber band guns and play army. Handball was also big for us at school and at Neff park. The barn at Neff was a place where we would play indoor hockey and do lots of arts and crafts. Those years were truly like the Wonder Years for us, or a scene from the movie ‘Stand By Me”. It was a formative time that I’ll always hold close to my heart.
La Mirada 1988 to 1993
After leaving Hutchinson and moving on as a 12 year old kid, La Mirada High School was a whole new world for me. By this time I was riding my bike around town and heading over to the La Mirada mall entrance #4, the movie house, the bowling alley, Noah’s Arcade, among other places. I was just a teen, but by time I had learned so much about life, betrayal, death, good times God etc.
The high school years were some cherished memories, racing around in my 1974 Mercedes 280. I met a guy named Frank Cicero who at that time became like family to me. The Ciceros owned Cicero’s restaurant and we always enjoyed eating there.
Two of the best moments for me in high school were when Lori Coleman and I and some friends from the other 1993 classmembers. We cut the chance to do a dance scene from the movie Grease to a song called, “We Go Together”. Coleman, who was homecoming queen, was my escort to the Powder Puff King contest, which I won handily.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge Jimmy Wilson who died tragically in 1992 from a car accident. Jimmy was quite close and a big loss for La Mirada. Also my friend Jason Samarin who will forever be missed as well. We lost him a few years back to cancer. Many others Frank Hernandez, Ryan Pennington, Melissa Thompson – may God give them eternal rest. These years again were ones of understanding, who I was ,and trying to stay out of trouble. I was shy and a bit of an introvert, a recluse even, dressed in black clothing. I’m quite happy that La Mirada saw the best in me and brought me out of my own world and let me experience something beautiful.