Took my friend Ana who is originally from Croatia to the summit of Mount Diablo last week. Ana is a traveling nurse and is staying at my mom’s cottage while working at John Muir. She doesn’t have a car and relies on a few of us to take her to fun Bay Area attractions on her days off. It is fun for me since I like exploring new places and enjoy going back to my favorite retreats. This week it happened to be Mount Diablo State Park.
Ana had heard of this special place from her friend who loves to hike and lives in Santa Cruz. He told her you must check this place out, so it was on her bucket list of #thingstodo in the Bay Area.
At first, we were limited on time so I drove us to Las Trampas where we hiked with another friend Mica. Mica is from Czech Republic and is here studying computer science. I met her recently and decided she and Ana should meet. So after several attempts, we were able to find an open morning to hike together. Mica had a previous engagement, so we cut our visit short.
Anna’s heart was set on driving up to the summit of Mount Diablo, so off we went after dropping Mica off at her car. They enjoyed a nice chat about their home countries and how much they love living in California. I spent much of my teenage years working on top Mount Diablo at Turtle Rock Ranch and told Ana some stories about my time working there.
When I was 14 years old or so, my older sister Susan and I were asked by our neighbor Jim Sumpter if we wanted part time summer jobs working in his snack shack at Turtle Rock Ranch. Of course we were excited at the opportunity and agreed to help him out. Every Saturday and Sunday morning @ 8AM, Mr Sumpter would pick us up in his truck. We would make a few stops to buy ice, meats and candy at wholesale stores in Concord before heading up the mountain.
Turtle Rock Ranch was a recreational playground which companies, schools, churches held their summer picnics. It was my first real experience with catering large groups of people remembering the Innkeeper Linda making salads in huge plastic garbage bins. We served the most delicious BBQ ribs, and chicken alongside all the fixings liked baked beans, potato salad, green salad and bread.
But most of all, I remember working in the snack shack where we gave out sodas, chips, Fudge Bar and Crunch Bar Ice creams, Cracker Jack Caramel Popcorn, Hershey’s Chocolate Bars, long red licorice ropes, frozen snow cones and much much more. All people had to do was give us a ticket and we would give them their cold drink or treat. And the best part was being able to eat whatever we wanted.
At the end of the night, after a long day of working on our feet in the Concord summer heat, Mr sumpter would drive us home. Many nights we would see tarantulas crossing the windy street, yet I never came across one myself. Jimmy’s father passed away on Thanksgiving two years later and the Ranch was closed. We no longer worked there and by then had better paying jobs. I worked at Mr. Steak Restaurant as a hostess, then a waitress and my sister worked at Top Notch a local stationary store, then a clothing store in the Sun Valley Mall.
My family loved the Sumpter family. Not only were we neighbors, but trusted friends. My other would allow their adult son Jimmy to drive us to school in the morning and pick us up in the afternoon. Jimmy lived with his parents and grandmother and had survived polio as a child. Since my father had abandoned us in June of 1980 the summer of my freshman year, we didn’t have a way to get to school in the morning. Jimmy was considered disabled, but was able to drive, and loved taking us to school in his fancy Camaro. I know, nowadays no one would ever trust a neighbor to be near their kids, but Jimmy and his parents were like family to us.
My mother relied on him a lot, and my sisters and I were happy to not have to ride the bus or ride our bikes to school which was a mile away, in the cold winter weather. We even spent our afternoons after school in Jimmy’s parents’ garage where he sold candy out of the trunk of his car. I know, it sounds unreal, but it’s true.
Jimmy began by selling jelly beans to the neighbor kids. We would congregate there, tell stories and hang out. Nothing bad ever happened there. Eventually, we got tired of jelly beans, and he began selling all sorts of candy, cold sodas and ice cream out of the freezer in his garage.
Our teen days were fun, full of hard work and making money. We loved working at the ranch on the weekends and hanging out at Jimmy’s after school. We ate and ate, spent our savings on candy, soda and ice cream, but loved every second of it. Eventually, my mom sold the house on Grove Way, because she couldn’t afford the taxes. I remember telling Jimmy’s mother when she was ill in the hospital, that we would look after her son Jimmy after she was gone. She died soon after.
Even though my mom, sister and brother moved to Orinda and eventually Walnut Creek, we would stop by Jimmy’s house to visit. He stuttered, chain smoked and had a huge bird who kept him company. The Kellenhofer’s who lived next door cooked, cleaned and cared for him. I can still remember the mounds of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and bottles of Coke which lined his fridge. He had a horrible diet and ate at fast food restaurants by going through the drive through much of the time.
But, I digress. I have many memories of Turtle Rock Ranch on Mount Diablo. Ana loved visiting the summit and I hope she enjoys her time while living in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, Turtle Rock Ranch is closed, the house is uninhabitable and the ranger Bruce Erickson said that they use the land for storage of dead trees, equipment, etc… I’m grateful for all the good memories I have from working on Mt. Diablo and I’m happy I was able to give Anna a little glimpse of my childhood.
Thank you for following my blog and for reading my story. It’s fun for me to share my life , recipes and experiences with you. Please leave my a comment below about your favorite first job, your latest hiking adventure or whatever you please.