Remember where you came from

A Twitter friend asked the question: If you could live in any state in America, which one would you choose?

I’m assuming she figured that her audience all lived in the United States, or else she might have asked “where in the world would you choose to live?”

I was born in California and have lived my entire life here and would continue to do so, no matter where else I could choose. I would always choose California because that is what my family did almost 85 years ago.

My parents came with two small children, with all of their belongings packed into a Model A Ford, from Arkansas. They had buried a baby boy who died of diphtheria, before there was a vaccine. They left family, friends, and a job my dad had with Welch Grape Farm. Neither of my parents were well educated. My dad could not read or write. And yet, they packed up and drove across country to California to start over.

It amazes me to think of doing something like this. My sister, 17 years older than me, would tell me stories of how hard it was when they first arrived. They camped under trees. They worked wherever they could find a job. My dad, a trained vine pruner, sought work in the grape fields and was able make a living.

It was only during the Franklin Roosevelt presidency, when work programs were instigated, that he got a well-paying job breaking up old, and installing new sidewalks in Fresno. He not only made a living but also saved enough to buy his own vineyard, and from there, their life in California became successful.

By the time I was born, they had sold the vineyard and bought open land so as to farm other crops. My dad became a successful cotton farmer as well as built the house they lived in, and where I lived until I was 18. The man who couldn’t read or write, but who could do plumbing, electrical, construction, and grow crops.

California provided a free education for me from kindergarten to twelfth grade. I applied for and received a California State Scholarship which paid for my four years of college at Fresno State University. After working 13 years in industry, I went back to that college and got a teaching credential and worked in a state-funded high school for the next 22 years. I owe my success and prosperity to California, just as my parents before me did. Why would I ever leave.


17 responses to “Remember where you came from

  1. An amazing story–shades of Grapes of Wrath.

    • Oh, very much so. My mother read Grapes of Wrath when I brought it home from the library and said it was all true and was the experience they had witnessed and been part of. This all happened years before I was born. My sister would say that she and our brother were raised by different parents than the ones I knew.

  2. That was my first thought on reading your story….plus how your father was a self made man. Keeping their memory alive is a great thing to do.

  3. What an amazing family you had! Your dad was definitely gifted and courageous. He would be even more proud to see what you have done and are doing with your life.

    • Thank you. My mother lived long enough to see me become a teacher, something she wanted for me since I was a child. It was just not something I was ready for until I was almost 40

  4. My husband’s maternal line is from Oklahoma. His mother was among over a dozen children literally given away on a street corner when their mother died.

    My family has been in Oregon for six generation, and though I spent most of my early schooling in Washington State, I was born in Oregon and have live here most of my life. Sometimes my husband and I threaten to move to another country, but that’s not happening. I have visited all over the U.S. and there are many places I can imagine staying for a few weeks or months, but Oregon will always be home.

  5. This is an incredible story! Thank you for sharing! Your parents were courageous, and I admire their dreams, hard work, and perseverance.

    • My dad worked his entire life. I never knew him to take a day off unless it was to take me to the zoo or a visiting family to Yosemite. During downtime from the farm, he painted or worked on our church’s building which he had helped to build and my mother was a charter member. When his cotton crop was all picked he worked at the gin, where he was a co-op member. Then in the cold winters he hired himself out to prune vineyards for which he had been trained.

  6. I don’t have the extensive connection to California that you do, as my family background here only goes as far as when my mom moved to California from Oklahoma, when I was six-months old, after my father left her for another woman, but I too would choose California for the mostly good weather and because I’m not adventurous. CA is all I know. What happened to the house your dad built? Is it still standing? Does anyone live there?

  7. Interesting story and not atypical of its time. California was good to my family, too. My father was unemployed for several years after graduating from college and getting married in 1929–NOT the best year for college grads or much of anyone else for that matter! He joined the predecessor to Safeway Stores eventually and stayed with them until his retirement some 40 years later.

    I lived in California (the SF Bay/Silicon Valley areas) until I was 31 Y/O. Following divorce #1, I met a man via what had to be the great-grandmother of “computerized” dating. By means of a long, pixelated questionnaire, I got matched with a remote-site construction engineer/manager who specialized in blowing up real estate to construct dams and the like. He got a new job shortly thereafter; we moved to Washington State in 1968, then “north to Alaska” we went (by single-engine boat🌊) for the next 9 months.

    Ultimately, his career definitely turned out to be incompatible for a city girl who worked full time, like me. The final straw: I elected to stay put rather than accompany him to the next project site–on Adak in the Aleutian Islands. Divorce #2 ensued.

    I haven’t been back to California. I miss it from time to time but realize I couldn’t afford to live there anyway. My current city is expensive now, too, but still isn’t quite as pricey. I married a native Washingtonian in 1978–divorce #3 won’t happen.

    • My husband’s father was stationed on Adak during WWII. He flew planes out of there.

      • That’s an interesting coincidence. I looked it up on a map when my ex said, “Pack up. We’re going to Adak for a year or two”. I had just started a new full-time job, and I said, “Nope. YOU’re going to Adak.” It looked like the end of the world to me, although I’m sure it’s not to the residents.

  8. Fascinating history. I was born in California and spent many years growing up in Fairfield, near an air base where my dad was stationed. Then we moved to Georgia. Pretty much a nomadic childhood. Loved hearing about your parents, especially your dad, a self-made success story. 🙂

  9. A fascinating story. Thanks for sharing it.

  10. Thank you for sharing this story. I enjoyed reading it.

  11. I can see why CA is your preferred place

    I grew up on the Central Plateau of the NI, New Zealand. My parents had a farm, then they sold it an moved to the biggest town (small place) to live out their days. But they moved to the city, Auckland for some reason I can’t fathom – later returning to their home town.

    At one point a decade or two ago, I thought to move there but my brother thought “not a good idea” – the town was no longer thriving and I would find it difficult in the winter.

    I’m not sure if there is one particular place I would like to live in New Zealand – there are good and bad parts – as an elder I’m conscious of my elder needs…

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