Written by Dale Buchanan
I have been blessed for over a year to share stories about the members of Big Red. I am writing this memoir more or less under duress. To write about myself was not a part of my commission. 😊 I had not been here long when I was approached to write a weekly piece in the Grape Leaf. I loved it from the beginning and I love it still.
Your reception as an audience of readers has been remarkable. Likewise, those of you who have shared your stories in such an open and honest fashion have made my task all the more pleasant.
For about two years I have been just Gayle Thornton’s friend, and I was thriving on the anonymity. Recently the pressure has mounted with questions like: Who are you? And statements like: It’s not fair for you to not let us know more about you than a simple I am Gayle’s friend. These friendly suggestions have increased to something akin to threats like: Either you tell us your story or we will get someone to do it for you. So, I have yielded and here is my story:
“My dad came to California during the Great Depression on a boxcar. He joined his brother in an abandoned hotel in Rolinda—a small village west of Fresno and east of Kerman. My mom’s folks were from Oklahoma and as a clan they had squatted in that building and were eking out an existence in the fields of the valley. It was there in a cotton patch that Shelby met Lenora, and with her father’s permission, they were soon married.
Time passed and I was born in Fresno County Hospital. Mom and dad were living in Hi-way City—a farm laborers’ village bounded by the old Hwy. 99 and Shaw Avenue. By the time I got there, the village consisted of two dirt streets—State and Mission—that cut the little burg into four blocks. The houses were boxcars that local farmers had pushed onto the lots for the Okie farm workers. One of those boxcars was my first home.
Things got some better. Dad got a job driving a truck, and mom sorted peaches and figs in the summer and picked cotton in the fall. They were able to make payments on the lot and borrow money to remodel the boxcar. By the time I started school, the boxcar was no longer recognizable as such—just a little shanty house like all the rest. I lived in that boxcar house until I was eighteen. Mom and dad died there.
Hi-way City was a horrible place to live but a great place to grow up. The streets were filled with urchins with no idea that they were all dirt poor. We all went to Teague Elementary School during the school year and worked on the surrounding farms during the summer. My first bike was put together with parts salvaged from the dump. Our swimming was done in the Herndon Canal. We roller skated with strap-on skates on the rough and bumpy oil street in the summer and in the winter we splashed and waded in the knee-deep water that ran beside those narrow little oil-covered streets.
My grandfather bought the lot next door to our boxcar house and constructed an Oklahoma style clapboard house, so I grew up next door to Grandpa and Grandma Hamett. Their front door and refrigerator were always open to me. When mom worked, my little sister Gwen and I were always cared for, spoiled, and loved by Grandma. Grandpa was a lay preacher in the fundamentalist church the family attended. At fourteen he was taking me along to preach short sermons at the small churches on his Sunday route. Sad to say, Grandpa would not be happy to know that his righteous religious teaching did not stick too well with me.
I was supposed to be the first in our clan to go to college. That never happened. In the sixth grade a family from Arkansas moved into a house on Polk Street. They had a daughter named Jewel. She became my little Jewel and eventually the mother of my children.
Jewel and I were married in July 1960 following graduation from Central High School. She bore us two children and made our house a home. I learned my construction trade. We built a new house and bought two cars. David was in kindergarten and Tracy was three years old when I got the call that my little Jewel had crashed that new car. My beloved Jewel was dead, Tracy would probably not survive, and David was seriously but not critically injured. The children survived and after many years in a tailspin, I am finally recovered from anger and depression. I have met a lovely woman and regained most of my shattered faith.
This is my story and I am sticking to it 😊