Each year around this time I am reminded of Claude Owens who died in a motorcycle wreck at the top of Sheep Creek Road in Phelan on the day of the All Star Game in 1984. I shouldn't say died---rather, he was killed by a drunk driver. It was a tragic loss the left me stunned for years.
Claude was the big brother of Calvin, one of my best friends growing up in Phelan. He was about four or five years older than us and we really looked up to him. He was big, tough, and intimidating (to me at least), but we also had a lot of fun with hunting, swimming in the aqueduct, wrestling, shooting, and doing all that desert stuff.
Claude was always involved in things that seemed mysterious to me.
He lived in Hawaii with his mom for a long time doing who knows what.
He ran with a biker gang in the desert for a while and got in a big shoot out at the abandoned house down the road from us.
He rolled a water truck at a mine in Boron, or Trona, or some god-forsaken place like that.
He drove a nail right through his hand with a nail gun.
He showed up unexpectedly and saved us the night we saw a ghost at the Snowbird.
I drove Ron, Claude and Calvin's dad, to Claude's funeral. It was at Memorial Lawns or Forest Hills or one of those huge industrial graveyards outside of LA. The funeral was a strange mix of desert folk, stiff in their fancy clothes, and Claude's relatives from Tonga sitting under the trees on woven mats (Claude and Calvin are half Tongan).
Driving home, I tried to avoid the turn where Claude was killed when we arrived in Phelan, but it's almost impossible to do since there is only one road into town. Plus, I was following Calvin and didn't want him to think we veered off the side of the road or something.
As we got to the top of Sheep Creek where Claude died, everyone in the car got silent and I snuck a sideways glance at Ron with me in the front seat. Ron was a pretty tough guy too, but as we rounded the corner where he lost his eldest son, I saw one big tear slowly rolling down his cheek.
To me, it was the biggest tear in the world.