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Squeezing Out a Memory

Mother and one aunt lived in Los Angeles, one aunt in Fowler, two aunts in Fresno, and the last of the six Pifer girls in Chowchilla: A sisterhood chain down Old Highway 99. Their children (the cousins) migrated up and down that road every summer almost at will to mix and match, occasionally by bus or train, but usually by car driven at speeds unheard of today except by cars being chased by police while TV station helicopters whirr overhead.

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Going north, you climbed up the grade from LA to Gorman and then started the long twist of the grapevine hitting the great drop above Bakersfield where it was pedal to the metal on an empty road, only slowing down for the tinier three block main streets equipped with stop signs and cruising through Bakersfield to look at the bridge that it took Buck Owens to save.

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With that drop came the heat in an age when auto air conditioning was high speeds and open windows. When the heat became too great we started looking for them. The great orange blobs dotting the landscape and the howls would start: Stop, please stop …. oh please, please, please.

In the searing summer heat of the San Joaquin, those orange blobs had an elixer of such heavenly proportions as to make children weep when without halting one faded in the rear view mirror. When you stopped there was the flimsy wooden Mammoth Orange with a window. It meant shade, a glass filled with ice and fresh squeezed juice from oranges that had been on the trees just that morning. In the blazing sun and rural valley dust, it was the most remarkable drink ever served with just the right acid bite to quench thirst.

It is over fifty years later now. But every once in a while you will see one of the giant oranges dusted and boarded up. Only a few still exist, and almost too late there is a move to preserve the few that remain in museums, while a couple are still trying to stay open for business, just in case you find yourself in Chowchilla or heading over Pacheco Pass to Los Banos.

To this day, when I order a breakfast juice or a champagne Mimosa for breakfast or brunch, I judge the quality of a restaurant by one question, “Is your orange juice fresh squeezed?”

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Remains of a Bucket List

Reprint of an old blog post.

Somewhere a long time ago, I started reading.  I don’t remember learning to do it.  Others  told me I was about three when I grabbed the Bumper Book that had been a Christmas gift and said imperiously, “I’ll read it to you!”  This meant that I started first grade at five with a reading level of a 3rd grader.  This is not meant to take any bows for something that couldn’t be helped except that I was one of those lucky children who looked down at black marks on paper and realized they made pictures in your head.

That five year old had a radio and the hits of the time being what they were, Bing Crosby put other pictures in my head with Far Away Places with strange sounding names and somehow that song got married to the poems of Banjo Patterson and a place way far away from California named Australia.

The one poem by Banjo that stuck with me more than any other was Clancy of the Overflow.  I wanted to see those drovers at work on the wide spaces, and a curiosity turned into an obsession.  I had to go to Australia.  In the meantime if there was a novel or history book about the place it got read (If you want a list, it’s a long one).  Then there were the movies from The Sundowners to Australia.  Just to add in more music, along came the amazing Peter Allen and the man who played him in the Boy From Oz, Hugh Jackman.  Add in the wide range of art has had me scrambling for images from Albert Namatijira, one of the first recognized aboriginal artists to modern works by Nathan Mundraby (He’s on Facebook and you can watch him in action on You Tube).

Along the way I have been disabused of any romanticism about this now very modern country, but the history and the spaces are still there and I still want to go.  In the meantime some of the poems and songs by or about Australians.

Leave it to Peter to write a song that will make you homesick for a place you have never seen.

So 70 years after that three year old learned to read, I still really really want to go to that far away place.  I’ve removed a lot of items from the bucket list, but that one remains.

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Memorial Day 2021

“Least we never forget those who gave with thier last full measure of devotion the Ultimate Sacrifice for Country Duty and Honor”

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Alvin Ailey & Dance for Black History Month

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