14 February 2009


Having outlined, at least briefly, my father's family, and my mother's, I was trying to think, "Who's left out?"

Oh - us, I guess :-)

We lived at 221 South Chester Avenue:

View Larger Map

But there was no enormous motorway crossing Chester Avenue at the time.

Bakersfield's population when I was a boy was slightly less than 30,000. I remember reading the sign as you entered the town - this must have been after the 1950 census - and I think it was something like 29,368. I am probably wrong about the '368' bit but I am pretty sure about the 29,000 part. Or maybe not. Maybe it was 10 times as large.

According to Wikipedia, Bakersfield's population at the beginning of 2008 was 328,692 - ten times as large - which astonishes me.

I don't know when my father and mother bought our house. Certainly I remember no other house in Bakersfield as a child, so I suppose they moved there before I was born.

My memories sometimes clash with those of my brother, so I will be interested to hear what he has to say about this. I recall the house as having some sort of plastered-on finish with tiny little sharp-edged stones, which you could pick out of the underlying plaster (tar, actually, I think). Did it have a front porch? I don't know. What I do remember, and am quite sure of, is the two great plane trees ('sycamores' we called them then, but I think 'plane' is the commoner name) in the front yard. I had the sort of bicycle that had no gears or hand-brakes. Instead, to brake it you pushed back on the pedals. Only my brakes were a bit worn and didn't stop the bicycle very much. So my favourite way of stopping was to ride onto the front lawn and jump off the bike, letting it crash into one of those trees.

Let me see - there was a driveway up the left side of the house, and a garage at the back. Behind the house there were two (I think) apricot trees - with a concreted patio that had lovely curving grooves in it that you could trace with your finger.

And a kind of garden shed, that was the scene of one my more memorable attempts at suicide. My father had tacked onto the back of this little shed a framework of laths, and had covered the whole thing with old curtains - tacked onto the laths. This was a playhouse for us.

One day - I do not know how old I was - eight, perhaps - we had managed, somehow, to get onto the roof of the shed. And there was this inviting cloth 'net' below us. Would it hold one, like a circus safety net, if one were to throw oneself onto it? Who among us would be the one to try the experimental approach to find the answer?

I suppose I cannot have been unconscious for long - perhaps not at all, just momentarily stunned when the wind was knocked out of me upon my hitting the ground. I do remember the distinctly hurt feelings I had when all those with me - was Peter one of them? - had scarpered the instant they saw that the 'safety net' had not worked, that I was lying on the ground - and that there might be adult trouble.

There were many opportunities for self-mutilation in that backyard. There was the time I tried to put out one of my eyes. But that will have to wait for next week.


Edgy said...

it's interesting just how little has changed... you lived (what seems to me) quite a long time ago, yet the antics and adventures of kids are timeless... I did enjoyed many similar episodes and my boys are re-enacting the same little dramas right now

thanks for posting mum and dad, as always I read every one. keep them coming!

John Thayer Jensen said...

Edgy, there are antics and adventures that we went through that I am not going to post on the blog! There is a limit to evil the Internet can endure!


Unitman said...

But don't worry, Eddy, I'll post Johnny's unpostables! For now, assuming I get it right when finished and this actually posts, a couple of notes re. the house at 221 Chester Avenue. Lena bought that property for Mom to live in while Dad was off in the Pacific -- for about $4,500.00. There were actually two separate parcels, 219 and 221 South Chester Avenue. Both are gone now, obliterated by the Freeway, the initial planning for which and the State's intention (which they ended up acting on) to take these and many other land parcels is what got Dad to thinking about "heading on" in the early 1950's. His initial investigative trip was up to Puget Sound, which Johnny went on but which Robin and I were apparently too young to go on, in 1952 I think. Dad looked at a 37-acre Island off Vancouver, British Columbia, partially developed (with a house and a dock), but which Mom and Dad finally decided was a little too remote and too antithetical to making a living at. So the next "vision" was the ranch in Oroville, which I think they stopped to look at on the way back from the drive to British Columbia. That of course ended up being the place Dad selected and to which we moved in the spring of 1954. Just before leaving Bakersfield, Dad had imported a small house to the previously empty 219 South Chester lot, and rented the structure to Mom's brother, Uncle Kenny, which he used as his office for his attorney business. "Squirt" was the son of Kenny's secretary, my age of a kid, who used to drink "Squirt" and read "love stories" that his mom read and dumped into a box next to her desk!

At that same time, Dad also started to build a new residence at the rear of the 219 South Chester lot, and got the foundation, stud walls and roofing finished, but then stopped at that point since the State had made it clear that they were going to take both lots per the power of eminent domain. That was when Dad also decided to sell the 40-ft ketch sailboat he had built in the backyard between 1946 and 1950. And so we all then moved to Oroville, for an exciting and wild 9-year stint before Dad came up with another plan, driven by insatiable wander lust (and the hope of avoiding being blown to bits by the Russians who Dad figured would surely target the new anti-missle missles that would be launched from the new anti-missle missle bases then being constructed just north of Chico, in the nearby Sutter Buttes, and at nearby Beale Air Force Base south of Oroville east of Marysville, California. That resulted in the January 1962 expedition by 2-wheel-drive pickup truck to Alaska, upon arrival to which Johnny and I put a "thumbs down", with Dad agreeing -- his initial idea was to "homestead!!!" Logically, a warmer place came into focus at the conclusion of that insane motoring trip, and the rest is (sort of) history.

Incidentally, you're totally right about the Bakersfield house we lived in -- it was pebble-infused stucco (I don't think it was 'tar'), with two English Sycamore trees in the front yard, and the two apricot trees in the rear concrete patio area. The apricots were great until they started falling on the ground and were attacked by the wasps, which would fight you for any downed apricot which you feet happened to touch -- I always lost.

One last thing you didn't mention, perhaps because it was our "secret" fort, was the two-story fort with escape tunnel that John Dewey and I built in the rear alley, to battle "the bad kids from Habert Court." We had dirt clod ammo -- boxes of it -- and when we were attacked would blast as many as we could until we were overrun, and then would escape back onto our own property behind the heavy-gauge wire fence through the tunnel, where we had heavier ammo in the form of small concrete chunks stored in one of Dad's nail barrels that we had relieved him of.

Oh, and you didn't mention the vampire guy who lived over on Habert Court. You took me over there one day around Halloween, knocked on his door, and had told me that when he answered to take a good look at his mouth! I did -- big "eye" teeth, which you convinced me were hollow and used for blood-sucking, so don't ever go over there by myself!

Oh, and what about the Pan American Airways tickets to the Moon you bought around this time (about 1952 or so) at the Bakersfield Carnival? Those would be worth some cash, Bud!

Take care, Love Peter

Unitman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unitman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.