Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Orange Fights in the Orange Groves

A Typical Orange Grove in Southern California
OCThen reader Philip Slocum shares his memories of when the Santa Ana Winds blew.  He and his childhood buddies would wander into the orange groves and throw fallen oranges at each other...
There was a tin weather strip across the bottom of the door to the patio. When the hot winds would start to blow, late at night, the strip would vibrate and make a noise that sounded like all the lost souls in the world were in the back yard. I wasn’t afraid. To me that sound meant that oranges were falling in the groves.  
Spring training would start the next day. No, not baseball. I’m talking Orange Fighting here.  
The Santa Ana’s were the precursor to all things good in my life. They signified the beginning of the Christmas season. For as soon as the City would put up the Christmas lights along the streets of Santa Ana. The Santa Ana winds would blow them down. We would ride our bicycles, like avenging demon’s, south along Flower Street. Blown by the roaring winds. Only to struggle interminably against those same winds on the way back. The temperature would soar and the sun would shine and the winds would blow and the surf was Off-Shore. This was at Christmas mind you.  
I firmly believe that half the people in Southern California are there because of watching the Rose Bowl with girls in Bikinis in the crowd while they were stuck in their back East houses, besieged by snow. (they all moved the next day.)   
And the fragrant groves called to us. The groves were a place where parents didn’t stand a chance in hell of finding you. A place where you could spot a Navel Orange tree at 100 yards. (Why do they taste so much better right off the tree?) The groves were the place we ran to.  
We were a ragtag bunch of would be surfers, ball players, astronauts, firemen and race car drivers. There wasn’t a President, School teacher, Lawyer or Accountant in the bunch. Birds fled at the sight of us. For projectiles flew from our hands with thoughtless accuracy. If it moved or stood still for that matter, it was a target. We wore hand down camies from our Marine Corps fathers. Shoes? Our bare feet were tougher than leather. As uncaring as Kevlar. And the Oranges streaked from our hands. On hot afternoons, in the early twilight or in the light of the full moon, we ran down the green passages and played our games of war. I remember my mother being shocked by the perfectly circular bruises on my body. (an unripe orange can hurt, ouch). Oh, how I miss those carefree days.

The Orange Growers hated us. We probably deserved their hate. After all, we were playing with their crops and livelihood. They carried cameras into the groves and placed photos of blurred faces on the bulletin board at the local grocery store. We would steal the photos off the board before our parents could see them. And these same growers would give us jobs tending the Smudge Pots later in the season when the temperatures dropped below the freezing point. Cash was hard to come by in those days. Yet our needs were simple. Indeed, life seemed somehow simpler then. Have I changed? Or has everything changed.

Sometimes I stop at an Orange Grove somewhere off the beaten track and just walk those green hallways. I smell that glorious smell and think of the friends I had then. Glen died of a Brain tumor. Ken passed with Cancer. Doug has become a famous surf board builder. Larry is a Corporate type in California. Steve builds freeway walls. And me, I run a very exciting book store in Vietnam. There are no Orange groves in Santa Ana any more. I wish that there were. I wish that the kids of today could have a little of the freedom that we had running through the groves in the hot Santa Ana winds. 
Philip R Slocum,
Known to the gang as Randy.
P.S. My apologies to the Orange Growers of Southern California


  1. This brought back so many good memories. I lived on Kilson Dr. and would walk two blocks to be in the orange groves. The good old days are long gone.

  2. Great story...

  3. LOL...
    I, was raised in S/E Santa Ana between Bishop & McFadden, Halliday & Maple, 1947-1958.
    Graduated SAHS 1960.
    I, went into the "groves" only once. Huge spiders. NEVER again. LOL
    Thanks for the memorieeees.

  4. Thanks Phillip,
    Great Story, one I think many of us can relate to. Having grown up in an adobe house surrounded by Orange Groves in Anaheim near an almost-new Disneyland..and seeing the demise of it all to tract houses, (see the movie, King of California, with Michael Douglas), I know I can. Federico de California has a blog all about California PopCulture & History stories like this one, and I'd like to post your story on the Facebook page for the blog. Hope that's okay...your story reminds me of me ! Cheers ~ Federico

  5. "life seemed somehow simpler then"
    As a 20 year old guy, I can say the same thing for the 90's. I don't think people realize that the reason "life seemed somehow simpler then" was because they were a young KID!

  6. Yes indeed.Life was simpler then..and it wasn't just because we were kids... MY grandfather owned many of the orange groves that you may have played in. I got the idea to do the same ( chuck oranges at each other) from "other kids" I was told not to play with. Although my grandfather was never really upset. In those days times were good mostly as he grew for "Sunkist", And I never heard a complaint about loosing a few oranges.

    I too loved the smell of the air when the Santa Ana winds blew. It was like electricity to me and I was gone! And , nothing better that to hear the "smack of a rotten orange hitting one of your buddies. Yeah..it was a wonderful time. Thanks for these memories you shared. I haven't thought of the fun of those days in many years.

    I got such a picture in my head as well from you mentioning the Christmas lights being blown down...

  7. Great story!

    I used to live in Tustin near Santa Ana and remember the wonderful orange groves.
    They may be gone, but not forgotten!

    Happy Holidays

  8. I watched the orange groves get bulldozed to build the tract of homes that I lived in in Santa Ana in the 50's....I have a memory of "smudge pots".....I left Santa Ana in 1962....recently came back looking for orange groves....not there!

  9. Thank you. This made me smile and brought back so many memories of the orange groves. The smell, the taste, the bruises, the laughs, the tears... it was a great time in my life. Thanks for reminding me.

  10. Thank you for the wonderful and story and the memories that are so dear to so many. I know it's not much, but, there is one orange orchard left in Santa Ana. It's actually the original acreage from 1870 - 5 acres - and was owned by the same family from 1913 to 2006 - the Sexlingers. It is under threat of development but there is still hope that it can be saved. Like us on Facebook and share your memories on our page. www.facebook.com/theoldorangeorchardconservancy. Life is Good!


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