by Jack Foster Mancilla
Because he is dead and because he was my friend.
I first met Pat Kraska when his family moved into the Deluz Homes military housing across the street from my family at 326-A Marine Drive. Pat was big for his age, but he was friendly, and he came over and spoke to me first. His size was a little scary for me. I thought he was a couple years older than I was, but we were in the same grade. We both wound up in Etta Karns fifth grade class.
Pat was unruly in school and was almost always in trouble, but he did have a kind of excitement. We walked home together once in a while, and I became a little unruly myself. It was kind of interesting.
We used to play on the “Big Rocks” over the hill behind the building that I lived in. One warm summer day Pat, and I was out on the rocks just laying in the warm sun like big lizards on a rock. Pat pulled out a pack of his father’s cigarettes and some matches and lit up. Smoke puffed out of his lungs, and he looked at me with a sparkily smile in his eyes. He was kind of funny. He did not offer me a cigarette, not that I had ever smoked before, but he looked as if he had been smoking for twenty years. Funny because we were only in the fifth grade. The long afternoon wore on and Pat finally offered me a cigarette and a light. I refused, but by that time Pat would not take “No” for an answer and he eventually persuaded me to smoke. Pat had decided it was time for me to learn to smoke.
As my Irish grandmother said about people like Pat, “He has a little bit of the devil in him.” I nearly died from that first inhalation of cigarette smoke, but I did keep up a good if slightly green, front. With my head dizzy and a few butterflies twitching around in my stomach we returned home. Pat slipped me a stick of chewing gum. Cool! Mom and Dad never even noticed. Pat asked if I could come over and spend the night. Unsuspecting, my mom and dad gave their permission.
Soon after that Pat moved away and I did not see him at all until I was in the 8th grade, and we were both going to Potter Jr. High School. By that time our family’s had both moved to Fallbrook. We lived quite a way from each other on the same side of town.
Pat had continued smoking and had started drinking. I had not smoked since I had last seen Pat. Pat came by our house on Santa Margarita Dr. and asked me if I had a smoke. I had none. Pat asked if my dad had anything to smoke. I was thinking to myself that “some things never change.” After a little hemming and hawing, I found a couple of my dads big green cigars.
Pat and I decided to get out of the house because the cigars stank, and we did not want to get caught. At least, that is what I told Pat. I just wanted to get away from the house in case anyone came home, I did not want anyone seeing me smoking cigars with Pat Kraska. We went out into the grove a little way and looked for a good place. We found a really good avocado tree that was roomy under the canopy and had a couple strong branches for us to lay and sit on. The tree hid us from the prying eyes of little brothers and sisters. We felt comfortable and safe in there, so we lit the stinky things up. “Gag me.” They were awful. That was way worse than the cigarettes years before. We smoked them anyway. Or to be more precise, Pat smoked his and relaxed on his branch while I pretended to smoke mine forcing myself to not throw up.
That is what we were doing when all of a sudden my father’s head poked into the safety of our tree hideout. I do not know how many people have ever had to eat a cigar, ash, and all, but if I thought I was sick before, I had another think coming.
After the cigar incident, I mostly did not hang around with Pat. Some might say that I had finally learned my lesson; I don’t know.
While we were in High school, Pat and I were light years apart. Pat would occasionally come by the house after he had been drinking and asked my mom if he could take out my sister. You can figure out for yourself, what my mom had to say. But, the truth is Pat was nice about it. He was friendly and when my mom said no, he thanked her then he turned and walked away.
I saw Pat on the side of the street several times after that. He was hanging out in the little park in Downtown Fallbrook and people called him “Pud.” I spoke with Pat only once after High School. It was in 1994, about 30 years after I last spoke with Pat. I was going into an auto parts store in Fallbrook to get something when Pat came into the auto parts store. He called me by name as if the years were hours. Time is relative.
Did I know Pat Kraska? I knew him. I cannot say I knew him very well, but I miss the child in him. Pat Kraska was a friend through many years. Pat Kraska taught me how to smoke and I miss him.