|OUT THERE ON THE RIVER OF LIFE:
Taft: Departures and Returns
Two families which were products of a migration lured by agriculture and oil; two families now without a father; two mothers with children and little education; seven children waiting to find what life held for them.
In the Hannon family, Linda, always shy, became quieter and found a new commitment to Christ. Buttressed with her faith, she made her way through these difficult years into high school where she met and eventually married Bob Reed, a handsome, strong young man with plans for a future and the focus and energy to make them real.
The Reeds were migrants from Licking, Missouri, and they left for the same reasons that hundreds of thousands of others left the Mid-West: to find a better way of living. They moved into South Taft, where brothers, Bob and Doyle grew up and enjoyed hunting, fishing and athletics. Bob was an exceptional basketball player and a member of the Taft High Valley Champions of 1952. One teammate, Charlie Hanna, described Bob as the best pure shooter on the team. He could consistently bury shots that in today’s game would be three point baskets.
Interestingly enough, Bob also had a role to play in one of the horticultural stories that continues to make people just shake their heads about Taft. Impressed with one of the grapefruits that he shared from a neighbor’s tree, Bob planted a seed from it in the ground alongside their home in South Taft. Amazingly, it sprouted, rooted and grew.
Over the years, it prospered from his father’s care, the climate and the fertilizers that were spread into its soil. In time it bore fruit, an unusually sweet, high quality grapefruit. Because of its quality and the protective way in which the tree sheltered its fruit under the leaves, protecting it from frosts, it ultimately came to be registered by the California Agricultural Department as a distinct type of grapefruit, the Reed Grapefruit. Today, the original tree that Bob planted still stands in the yard in South Taft, and trees which were grown from cuttings off this tree have been planted as far away as Northern Africa.
Bob and Linda married as soon as she graduated from high school. Both worked, raised three children (Duff, Jodi and Susan) and lived happily for the 44+ years of their marriage. Bob became first a police officer, and then wanting to have more time with his family, went into education. He taught, coached and led young people throughout his lifetime in the schools, most of these years spent at Taft High School. Linda progressed through a series of jobs: bank teller, receptionist, secretary, and finally, executive secretary to the General Manager of Bechtel Petroleum Operations, Inc. at the Naval Petroleum Reserve in Elk Hills.
In 1985, Bob had a heart attack and by 1995 damage caused by that attack required heart surgery which led to kidney and heart failure. He died March 20, 2000.
In the Snyder household, death was a powerful wind that also swept us into new roles and new perceptions of life. I wrote later about the morning after my father died.
I awakened to the stillness in the house and went looking for my mother. I found her crouched over the heating vent in the floor, in her nightgown and wrap, just huddled there saying nothing. “Did daddy die,” I asked? She just nodded, “yes.”
In that moment, my life changed irrevocably, although I am sure that for many decades I did not quite see what began that morning. I do know that I had extremely intense feelings about how I felt about my father’s death, and how I wanted other people to view me, in the light of his death. I did not grieve his death as I should have, nor did I appreciate the admiration that others had for my father. He was gone. I felt robbed. I did not like it.
For me, the death of my father seemed confirmation that religion had abandoned our family, and that the church was an impotent, irrelevant institution. I began to drift away from Catholicism and progressed fitfully through high school, and then college, many colleges: Taft Junior College; Fresno State College; San Jose State College; University of Colorado, Boulder.
I married Susan L. Bockrath in 1961, of St. Louis, whom I met at C.U. We too raised three children, (Rick, Rand and Jessica) living most of our married years on rural property raising horses and enjoying the privacy of the hillsides. Susan was an artist, a writer, and an equestrian. After we married, I completed my PhD. (C.U., 1966) and taught American history at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
On September 1, 2001, Susan died from complications of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and after several months traveling and finishing up my teaching assignments, I migrated too, to Vancouver, Washington, where I taught at WSU-Vancouver and wrote of my travels on this web site.
In June, 2002, shortly after returning from a trip to Madrid with my sister, Rosalie, I received an email from Linda Hannon Reed. She was creating a web page for the Taft High Class of 1955, and she wanted to know if I would like her to link my page with hers.
It was a gentle, thoughtful and polite inquiry which reverberates in the lives of us both to this day. A reply, (yes) and questions about “how has life been with you” followed by mutual discoveries about family, loss, death and grieving. Answers…and more questions….and more answers. Out of interest, shared experiences and a certain growing intrigue in the co-respondent, our emails continued. Within two weeks, they were daily exchanges, and within two months, I decided to travel to Bakersfield to meet this lady eye-to-eye, and see which one of us really was the taller. After all, we had gone to high school together, so to speak. ?
A meal to share; a moment to assess; an instant to decide; an evening to talk; an hour to feel; a set of music at the Crystal Palace; a gentle, thoughtful time and then a polite “thank you for a lovely evening”, a handshake and a goodnight.
We were friends, and in the language of exploration, I came to learn just how closely Linda was connected to the earth of Arvin, the oil fields of Taft and the Streets of Bakersfield. A cousin on her mother’s side of the family, Bill Woods, was a bone fide promoter and creator of the Bakersfield Sound in Country Western music. His venue, The Blackboard, became home to countless local artists who were encouraged to develop their musical signatures.
He played many instruments in many groups, had his own radio show, and supported the new, raw sounds of western music that came to be known as the Bakersfield style of country. He encouraged Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and helped to make Bakersfield the center of a kind of music that really went back to its roots: the fields, the migrant, the lonely and the determined.
All this (agriculture, oil, horticulture and country music) was a part of Linda’s heritage; mine was more about football, the rivalry between Taft and Bakersfield, and the intensities of sports. Linda’s heritage can be captured with grapefruit at breakfast, with a drive along Stockdale Highway, in C/W song after song after song. Mine is found in just one movie, a film made by another Taftian, Ron Shelton, "The Best of Times". There was a lot about Linda that I did not know and the more that I found out, the more I wanted to learn.
Linda agreed to meet me in Minneapolis about a month later. There I showed her much of the landscape of my way of life for 35 years, and introduced her to my friend, Jim Parker. We went through the Walker Museum, walked the grounds, attended a play, “The Good Boys” which examined the needs of children through the eyes of two fathers, one black, one white; one successful, one not. We walked the Mall of America, enjoyed our first movie together, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and found an easy pleasure in one another’s company. We were moving beyond friendship, and walking across a parking lot, I told Linda that I loved her. Some things you just don’t plan.
I visited her again in Bakersfield, in early October 2002. We found ourselves driving over to Arvin, taking in the Dust Bowl Celebration, walking the grounds that Steinbeck wrote about and identifying the household articles of the 1930s and early 1940s which we hold special in our memories.
We spent the day there, in Arvin, at the migrant labor camp, revisiting images of our youth, memories of family tales, reminiscing about the happenstance of placement. How did our grandparents come to this land, and how did we, as a couple, come to be here, together on an October day that could fit George Strait’s lyric in "Blue, Clear Sky".
Here stand the huts which her parents may have seen, but never lived in. Around us lies the land, which her grandfather farmed and from which he raised a family. Wandering and looking at the instruments of camp life, we imagine loneliness; listening to their music, we feel heartache; watching the Sons of the San Joaquin we feel connected to the country-western traditions, the Bakersfield Sound that traces its lineage back to those hard days of the 1930s.
Perhaps most moving of all were the pictures of Florence Owen, some revisited, but some seen for the very first time. The simplicity of her courage; the honesty of her insight; the intelligence of her sense of placement in time…and history, were as powerful today as they were that day in the 1930s when Dorothea Lange took pictures that tell us more than 10,000 words.
I visited Linda again in late October 2002, and we walked Pioneer Village, visiting and gently touching buildings of another time, the remnants of the oil community which we shared in Taft, and the oddities of “real life” in the 1930s and 40s.
To our surprise and great appreciation, the Pioneer Village’s “one room schoolhouse” was in use that day, as elementary students from a Bakersfield School experienced their lessons taught as they used to be “in the good old days.” A few of them worked independently at their desks; others under the direct instruction of the teacher learned to read the old fashioned way….through phonics. It really does work!
On another visit, we visited the Oil Museum in Taft, and appreciated again the transition in the oil fields from the wooden derricks to the more modern steel ones; from steam powered “bobbing ducks” to electric ones.
Almost as though it were waiting for us to show up, we learned that there was a Norman Rockwell Exhibit at the Bakersfield Art Museum. The selection of works-- some original, some prints-- reminded us both of the way in which we remembered our youth, the values which we believe that we had been taught, and the purity of a child’s look, or an adult’s commitment.
And toward the end of the visit, we ventured over to Taft, to attend the Cowboy Poet’s Roundup, intrigued by the power of simple words to convey honesty, courage, commitment and companionship. Our lives were finding meaning in one another’s interests. Our spirits were blending and we were courting.
The following day, we went to Valley Baptist Church, and I continued to explore a spiritual sense within myself that had long been buried by disappointments with the institution of the Catholic Church and by “life.” But Linda’s faith and her quiet way of living it, had reawakened my interest in a religious exploration. The sermon that day was about choices that we make in life as we come to various “forks in the road.” What path to choose? The popular path, or the trail less traveled. I began thinking a lot about that.
I invited Linda to come up to Vancouver to visit me. So quickly had our relationship developed that it seemed to me that a time had come to make a decision. I felt that we were indeed at a place where two paths beckoned.
Were we going forward or were we going to “maintain” our relationship where it was? I had in mind that we needed to move forward, and I wanted to propose marriage, which these days may be the path less traveled by many couples. But it was the choice for me, the fork I wanted to take. So, in a flurry of activity, I visited the barber, scouted out 3 different locations for a special dinner (rejecting two of them) and then bought a diamond engagement ring which I carefully concealed in my pocket.
When Linda arrived, I took her to eat at the Red Lion Inn where their dining room sat encircled with glass windows that gave a powerful view of the Columbia River and the lights of the city of Portland across the waters. There I proposed and she accepted! ! ! It was such a joyous evening. We were so warmed in our certainty that we had found one another at the right time in our lives. It had only taken us 64 years of living, but as we joked, better late than never.
What remained then was a veritable hillside to be sculpted. We needed to make many decisions: about where to live; about when to move; about financial arrangements for our two sets of children; about the way of life that we intended to pursue; about where to get married; about when to get married; about how to get married (elope or wedding party).
I knew Taft; I did not know Bakersfield. Another visit in early December and I began to see a city where once I had known only a rival. In my day, there were two high schools in Bakersfield, and one of them, East Bakersfield High, was only a few years old. Now, nearly 300,000 people send their children to 13 high schools.
Bakersfield College was the heavyweight in football during the 1950s, and while Taft had come to rival it for a time, the Renegades had the field to themselves now….in junior college circles. But across town, the new kid on the block was Cal State-Bakersfield. University life had come to the southern San Joaquin and it was both needed and appreciated.
Professional hockey brought out thousands of fans to the new Centennial Gardens, and I found that one no longer needed to drive to Los Angeles to enjoy first rate entertainment.
Cher and Cyndi Lauper appeared in concert…in Bakersfield! I could remember when seeing Fats Domino at the Sunset Gardens was the highlight of the weekend’s entertainment. Buck Owens had moved from national television to his own well attended Crystal Palace, and we spent another evening enjoying his music and dancing a little to the western songs that we grew up on, and a newer one that seemed particularly fitting: Together Again.
In the end, we decided that I would move to Bakersfield as soon as possible; that we would elope; that our children were provided for and could look after themselves; and that whatever the destiny that God had planned for us, we were willing instruments of the lives that we had yet to live.
|TOP: MUTT, JUDY, ILA
BOTTOM: LINDA, MELVIN, (1945)
|CLAIRE, WITH THREE (1943)
L-R, ROSALIE, DICK, JOSEPH
|NOW THERE WERE FOUR:
JOYCE BORN IN 1946
|LINDA, AGE 4|
|DICK, AGE 4|
|JOSEPH AND DICK, 1941|
|LINDA, TRIKE RIDER|
|DICK, TOWING JOSEPH ON HIS TRIKE, BEFORE WAR DRIVE TOOK RUBBER|
|GRADUATION DAY, 1955
NOTE THE SURPRISED LOOK ON HIS FACE.
|GRADUATION PHOTO, 1955|
|SUSIE (TANNER) ZIEL, BILL RYAN, LINDA|
|L-R: MURRAY JOHNSON, EUGENE SQUIRES, BILL RYAN, DICK|
|THE REED GRAPEFRUIT TREE, ORIGINAL PLANTING. (PHOTO TAKEN 2002, TAFT CALIFORNIA)|
|REED GRAPEFRUT, REGISTRATION|
|SUSAN LOUISE BOCKRATH|
|AT THE BLACKBOARD, BILL WOODS FAR RIGHT|
|BILL WOODS ON COVER OF DUST BOWL JOURNAL|
|THE WELCOME SIGNS WERE NOT OUT IN THE 1930S|
|HOME ON LEAVE: Take a good look at the body language of each member of this picture. It tells quite a story.|
|WASHING DISHES WITH A SINGLE FAUCET|
|TRAVELING LIGHT FROM OKLAHOMA|
|BAKERSFIELD BELL TOWER PRESERVED AT PIONEER VILLAGE|
|PIANO, CENTER OF ATTENTION BEFORE RADIO|
|WHEN AN "ICEBOX" WAS AN ICEBOX|
|ONE ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE IN PIONEER VILLAGE AND TODAY, IT IS USED AS IT USED TO BE|
|MARRIAGE GOWN...MUST FIT JUST RIGHT|
|LOVELY CHURCH, PIONEER VILLAGE
NICE PLACE IN WHICH TO BE MARRIED