Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remembering Peter Decker

This is not about the famous fictional detective, but instead about a childhood friend. Peter Decker is pictured in the photo, he is standing on the right and his friend Scott is on the left.

It's been raining for a couple of weeks in California and usually at least once during the rains I am reminded of Peter who we lost during a rainy season.

It was March 1978. I had just started high school and Peter, a year younger, was still in junior high. That year the rains were heavy and relentless. Our horses were in knee deep mud and the bottom part of our orchard was a river a couple feet deep. This was Southern California and NOT normal.

At one point during that time, I was in a car driving past the nearby country club golf course - part of which you can see from the street (Yorba Linda Blvd). A very impressive impromptu river was flowing down the middle of it. While being duly amazed, , I didn't think much more abut it. Peter and our mutual friend Scott, took one look at that and thought what many young boys thought. Rafting!

But there is a common tenant in river running: Know the route - usually by visually inspecting it from the shore. This, of course, didn't occur to the boys. All they saw was a good time, and who could blame them?

The boys fashioned a raft or rafts out of something (I'm not sure what), and started down. As with most flowing water, it was going much faster than they expected. At the end of this section of the golf course (around Kellogg Dr. you can see a sat photo here.) the river of water hurtled into a drain pipe. Scott bailed off, but Peter was sucked into the drain pipe. At this point, this would have been a traumatic, but survivable event. What turned it into tragedy was that for reasons I have never understood, there was a metal grate at the end of that pipe (and only one end), and Peter drowned.

These days such a scenario has wrongful death written all over it but being a grieving kid, I don't know what happened in that regard if anything.

Peter was like any Junior High School boy, A perfect tormentor of girls near his age. Our friendship was just as typically combative. He would relentlessly tease me and I'd beg for him to stop or go away. That year we were in different schools so I hadn't seen much of him, but just a few days before he died chance had it that our buses let out at the same time and we walked home together. This was not a happy experience for me. We lived on country blocks and I just double checked the distance with Google. 1000' of Peter torment (more that 3 football fields). What's amazing is that I have absolutely no recollection of what he said, but rest assured it was content-free - things like mangling my name, or making up ridiculous scenarios and asking questions about them mostly having to do with if it's something I would do/contemplate. The usual crap.

But then we'd reached my house (his was 3 houses further), and he suddenly dropped his barrage. Asked me a normal question about my day and we actually had a brief, but genuine conversation which was highly unusual. And we parted on civil terms. Even said polite goodbyes to each other which at the time I found to be a pleasant surprise. A few days later he was dead, and I'm left to wig out about it for every rainy season for the rest of my life.

[Edit much later
Google has been scanning old newspapers and I have found an article that references the incident. The location is wrong, but the date is 1978. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19780306&id=AuIbAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dWcEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3291,2734876&hl=en]

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was attending Yorba Linda Jr. High the year Peter died (I think it was 1977) It was the rainest season that I have ever seen in my 45 years on earth. I remember that it really freaked me out that he died that way. I always think of him when it rains hard too.

Kathy, Scott's sister said...

Your memorial blog was Great Ellen, I to think so often of what could have been that horrible rainy day. Everytime it rains like that in Yorba Linda, I think of Peter, I have such found memories of building forts both in tree's and below the ground in the field. Playing football and eating Cherrio's at his home with his brothers. I know he is watching over all of us and is happy and peaceful in God's arms along with members of our familys.

Parkview Teacher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellen said...

I was just about to respond to that deleted comment. You asked if I knew the boy that had climbed on the grasshopper oil derek. I didn't know that boy.

Dan Jones said...

Peter was a jackass. That said, he probably didn't deserve to die. All the Nationball games he cheated in, and all the poor comments he laid out on everybody maybe came back to haunt him.

Shanna McBurney said...

So crazy what you can find on the Internet. I was just remembering Peter Decker after reading an article about the zanje system of water distribution that operated in Los Angeles during the 19th century. My memory was that he had died earlier, maybe 1972. He was in my fourth grade class at school. I certainly could be remembering incorrectly but I had a recollection of the specific classroom and home room teacher at the time we were notified of his death. In any case, I still think of him during the rains as well. I agree with a previous poster that he was a very mean kid. A real bully that you would steer clear of if at all possible. I like to think he would have outgrown that and gone on to be a wonderful man. He was someone's son and I can't imagine how painful the experience must have been for them. Anyway, thanks for writing the article. It's intriguing to think about how many of us who have no knowledge of each other are nonetheless shaped and affected by shared experiences such as this.

Ellen said...

Thank you for your insightful comment Shanna. Google is on a mission to scan all of history and I found a newspaper that references the incident. The location is incorrect, but the year was 1978 and I will edit my post. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19780306&id=AuIbAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dWcEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3291,2734876&hl=en