In 1974 Simi Valley was still a small town; there were track homes, but where we lived those were surrounded by citrus orchards and free range cattle country. At the top of our street, three houses away was the ‘field’ open country that ‘Old Man Runkle’ owned. It was really owned by the three Runkle brothers. The eldest was ornery, he looked like one of the old cowboys you see in the movies. He was always dressed in jeans wrapped in light brown leather chaps, a duster more often than not, and a well worn gray cowboy hat. His face seemed weathered with time but that could be just because every time we saw him we were running from him and he had that stern ‘I’m going to get you little shits’ look on his face as he galloped after us on his horse. Yes, he was the one who would chase us off his land and shoot our butt’s full of salt rock with his shotgun, Old Man Runkle.
I lived with my Dad, Evil-Step Mother who dressed like a pioneer woman down to the ribbon neck choker with a cameo on it and four step-sisters in a two story, somewhat colonial looking four pillar style house with two massive entrance doors. My room was on the first floor between the kitchen and the two car garage. I was also directly under the master bedroom where I spent many a night trying to block out the muffled sounds of grunts, grinds, Oh-oh-oh’s and moaning.
My evil-step mother loved cats, and I do mean plural, CATS! Not some stray or some kitten that a friend might give you, no she had this thing for the obnoxious Persian cats that had hair similar to her underarm hair only about four inches longer. The cat hair got everywhere and on everything, I swear I hated it! I almost didn’t need to wear a jacket when it was cold because all the cat hairs that would be on me.
My step-mother prided herself on her cats. She had cream colored, some sort of tabby stripped white and black one and a ‘Blue’ one she paid $500.00 for; Dang thing looked gray to me but what the hell did I know about ‘Pure Breed Persian Pusses.’ I was just a dumb kid.
One day I came home and my step-mother and step-sisters were all giddy playing and talking in high squeaky voices to these two little Siamese Cats; bigger than kittens but not yet full grown cats. She had bought TWO MORE cats to make the house smell even better than it already did with the current three.
It was summer break and some weeks after she got the two cats that I would wake up hearing my step mother and sisters screaming at the top of their lungs; it was as if someone was being murdered. When I ran from my room and out the front door of our house, I was just in time to see two German Shepard’s finish mangling the two Siamese cats. Seems someone left the door open and the cats decided to explore the outside world.
For whatever reason, I chased the dogs away and through the sobbing of my evil step-mother and step-sisters, I was ordered to bury her now dead cats. It was truly a Cinderfella moment, I went back in the house put on my shoes, grabbed a brown paper grocery bag and a shovel. Scooped the cats up one at a time and dropped in the bag and buried them out in the field. I didn’t really dig a deep hole because the ground in Simi Valley in the summer time is like rock and besides I was hardly awake yet; so it was a shallow grave that I stacked rocks on so no animals would dig them up. Why I cared I don’t know.
As time went on everyone forgot about the incident and I had bigger things to deal with like the two giant Saint Bernard’s my dad traded for the Australian Cattle dog Jeff Hearst (Patty’s cousin) gave me. But that’s another story for another time.
It was a time before computers; still the early days of electronics. Sears Roebuck still sent out catalogs and kept the IT calculators behind the glass doors of a display case because absolutely no one in Simi Valley could afford it. We got one of the first Microwave Ovens; it was four times the size of today’s microwave ovens and had a ginormous dial, when it was on it bussed and hummed like vibrator with new batteries in the bottom of a tin pot. We of course NEVER used it because it consumed way too much electricity and if we spent money cooking food then my step mother could not afford to buy another cat. But it did work well in conjunction with the chained and pad locked refrigerator because you couldn’t get food out too cook anyhow unless my step-mother unlocked it.
So all I’m just sayin’ is we boys, because girls were not allowed in the sun as my step-mother would say, spent our days out getting into mischief and exploring the ‘Great Unknown’ hunting and fishing; or rolling friends down hills in tractor tires.
It was about this time my friend Alan and I became
obsessed extremely interested in animal skulls. It started out innocent enough, we saw a bull skull mounted on the outside of a barn and thought that was pretty cool. We headed out into the field where we knew some dead cows had long rotted away and collected the skulls. At the time I was taking a mail order course from Northwestern School of Taxidermy; a course I found in a comic book or Boy’s Life magazine. There was a section on bleaching skulls as I recall.It’s been so long I could be wrong it could have been from another book I had, whatever the case we had instructions on how to bleach skulls and prepare them so bugs didn’t take up residence in them. The cow skulls came out great held our interest for at least 10 minutes after they were done.
Since we hunted quite a bit we slowly added to our collections; different bird skulls, raccoon, skunk, rabbit, squirrel, coyote, and more. I kept mine on a shelf in my room that was next to the door that leads to the garage, well organized I might add; lined up from largest to smallest. My room was also the passage way between the kitchen and the garage so as people walked though they got to look at me if I was in there and the shelf of skulls as they passed through.
One day I was admiring my collection of skulls and was going over in my head what – oh – what could I get next to add to my collection. Then a stupid cat came in the room and a light bulb came one BLING! Hey! I should go dig up those two Siamese Cat’s and quicker than Flash Gordon I was out the door with a shovel digging up these two cats I’d buried some 7 or 8 months prior.
With heads in hand, I headed home with a big smile on my face[pun intended]. With a few flicks of a knife I scraped off what little dry skin and flesh was left and got them in the beaching container. Two days later I had beautiful cat skulls ready for display.
I placed them on my shelf and since they were ‘new’ prominently displayed of course. Later that day I was lying on my bed reading something and my step-mother walked in with a laundry basket of dirty clothes she was going to wash. She stopped at my shelf and said “Oh?…These are new” and picked up one of the cat skulls and after examining it she said “These look like cat skulls” no shit I thought to myself and then responded, “they are” I said with a smile, “the skulls of your two Siamese kittens.”