16 May 2009


I am tired of writing about Bakersfield! There is, in fact, so much more I could write: about the change of school buildings (which I mentioned) and its consequences; about the people I knew in school; about my abortive (less than one year) career as a pianist, but my then starting the trumpet (cornet, actually, but I didn't even know the difference until I was long an adult) - around age 8, I think - which, of course, has had significant, if not always happy, consequences.

But although I spent the first twelve years of my life in Bakersfield, I don't think of it as my 'home town.' Oroville is that.

Although - very much a side comment - the countryside one grows up in may play a rĂ´le in forming our archetypical model of what the 'normal' world is like that we don't understand. I recall a very startling experience that may point to that:

In 1977 - when we were living in Yap - I received the current edition of Scientific American (I was a subscriber at the time) and the cover photograph ... well, I hardly know what to say about my reaction. I felt almost as though I had received an electric shock.

The cover was not, one would have thought, anything remarkable. It was a dusty reddish-brown landscape - gum trees on the horizon - very flat. I was drawn to it as to something archaic, out of the distant past.

It was Minter Field in Shafter, 29 Km (Wikipedia says) northwest of Bakersfield. It was where the Gossamer Condor made its flight and won the Kremer prize. So far as I know, I had never seen that particular bit of landscape in my life - but something in that photography said 'home' to me. It was the landscape around Bakersfield.

Nevertheless, when I think of my home town, I think of Oroville.

My father and mother were both born and reared in Bakersfield. Both their pairs of parents had moved there, so that it was not as though they went back several generations. Nevertheless, it was home.

In about 1952 or 1953 - Peter may remember. In fact I think he once said 1951. Anyway, about that time, my father and mother drove, with me - I had been sure Peter and Robin were with us, but Peter says 'no' - to Canada. Canada was a very exotic concept to me then - and perhaps to my father, who was not yet 40 years old. And my father had the idea of buying an island - a whole island! - and building a tourist resort on it.

The family story is that my father - who was, remember, an optometrist - had a customer come to him because she said her prescription - the correction in her spectacle lenses - was too 'weak.' So he made her new glasses. She brought them back, saying they were still too weak. He made new ones. These she also brought back, saying they were not satisfactory, she wanted her original glasses back - and wasn't going to pay for any of the work done.

It is, as I say, a family story. What exactly lies behind it I do not know. I have always wondered about this 'mid-life' crisis in my father's life. Did he resent being an optometrist? His father had abandoned his mother when he was a boy, leaving her with the optometric business. Did he study optometry out of a sense of duty to take over the family business?

I don't know, of course. We went to Canada and I remember it as a wonderful experience, from a boy's perspective. We drove to Vancouver, then took a ferry to Vancouver Island, drove the length of the island to take another ferry to Saltspring Island, and drove the length of that. There we were met by a man in a boat who already had a tourist resort on Secretary Island - and he wanted to sell "Little Secretary Island" to my father.

What made my father imagine he could succeed in this I don't know. In the event he decided he could not. So in 1954, he bought a farm in Northern California, in a little town called Oroville.

10 May 2009


No time to write anything this week-end, alas. We have been busier than usual, somehow, including going up to Eddie's and Eveline's today, Sunday the 10th. Indeed, the next six weeks look like being really busy, but we shall see.

Just notes:

  • it has suddenly turned quite cold. 5 degrees a couple of nights (41F for you northerners), and the last few days stormy, blustery, rainy, lightning.
  • Ka'ai and Kaleo are coming in this evening - may be here already. Not sure what we will be doing with them, but we will certainly see them. They are doing the tourist thing - I think including visiting the South Island, which is more than Susan and I have done in the 36-plus years we have lived here.

I must confess to spending time frivolously - though there are some of you who will not think it frivolous. Some months ago I bought off Amazon - on sale - a four-DVD set comprising the 1981 BBC television mini-series "Brideshead Revisited." Susan and I have loved the book for years. The Wikipedia article quotes Waugh himself as saying that the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace'."

Susan likes watching films, television programmes, and such-like, so I thought I would get this for her.

I made the mistake of watching the first episode (of eleven) with her. I am captured. We watched Episode 6 this evening - 5 to go.

All of which explains in part why I have been so busy. I recall something Eddie said today to us, when we were discussing the book, which he has read: he didn't want it to finish.

I know what he meant.

03 May 2009


I attended my first four years of elementary school - first grade through fourth grade - at Roosevelt Elementary. My expectation was, naturally, that I would be there until I went to high school.

Then came the Big Earthquake (if you go to that link, you will just get the Wikipedia about the town itself, but down a bit on the page is the heading "1952 earthquake"). The page says it struck on 21 July, 1952 at 4:52AM, and that would appear to have been a Monday. My memory is that Peter and I shared a bedroom. I am always a little less than rock solid about things that long ago, but I think we slept in iron bedsteads with casters and that the bedroom had a wooden floor. And I have a vague memory of our beds rolling back and forth in the room like the clapper in a bell. But it could all be reconstructed memory.

My father - memory tells me - set out from his and my mother's bedroom down the corridor (towards the back of the house - Peter, is this correct? Facing the front of the house, our bedrooms were on the right side, ours at the back?) to our room - but kept falling down because of the earthquake. By the time he got there, I suppose, the worst was over.

I do not recall being afraid at all. I do recall this being the most fun and exciting thing that had happened to me in a long while.

Our house had an external brick chimney-cum-fireplace, on the driveway side. It was all fallen to bits! The Wikipedia page mentions a water tower coming down. I don't know if they are referring to the one in our neighbourhood, but there certainly was one. This was great! We went over there and the streets were flooded with water from it. And there had been a great clock tower in the middle of highway 99, which ran right down the middle of Bakersfield - as Chester Avenue, the street we lived on - and that was collapsed. A vague sort of memory tells me that it was actually on top of a car but ... well, pretty vague memories.

At 3:42PM on Friday 22 August came a major aftershock. We - at least I - was on a ladder in John and Steven Dewey's back yard - next-door neighbour - picking plums, I think. The earthquake came, the ladder fell - and I believe I didn't fall because by the time I was off the ladder the ground had come up to meet me.

But see note above about memory :-)

My mother told me, about the Friday afternoon shock, that she was in the local supermarket when it happened; that (naturally) shelves full of goods all tumbled down on the floor; that a woman lost her head and began swinging her shopping cart in the air; but that my mother, once the 'quake was over, calmly went to check out.

My mother's behaviour is plausible; a woman swing a steel shopping cart over her head is not. Perhaps I got the story wrong. Or perhaps my mother only meant a little personal carrying basket. Don't know, but these are the things that stick in my head.

But the earthquake made a longer-term difference to me. It changed my school.

They said that there was a crack in the wall of one of the buildings at Roosevelt. I remember - and have no doubt about this memory - talking with my great-Aunt Anna (Lena's sister) years later - when my father and I drove to Bakersfield to start dismantling the house he had partly built behind his office - northern summer of 1961, it might have been. Anna had been principal at one of the schools in Bakersfield. She told me, rather snippily, that the whole idea that Roosevelt had been damaged in the earthquake was nonsense, and that that crack had been there for years before the earthquake!

Whether or no, they closed our school and we went to Castro Lane Elementary.

But Castro Lane already had its own students. So they did it by splitting the day. I think we went in the morning, and the original students of the school went in the afternoon. I don't think I minded much, but Castro Lane was on the edge of town. In autumn and spring - but particularly in autumn - there are dust storms. We were a lot more affected by them at Castro Lane than at Roosevelt.

I was really jealous, though, of the kids from other schools. Some of them - don't know which schools - got to go to school in tents on the courthouse lawn! Imagine that - school in tents! How unbelievably cool!

Somewhere in this time - Peter commented on it but I can't find his comment - our Dad had the idea of moving to Canada.