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.

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