Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME OUT OF BAKERSFIELD?



Until I was in my teens, I am not sure I even knew the town of Bakersfield existed.  I was born and raised in Long Beach, some 30 miles south of Los Angeles, and LA was about the limits of my world.  I didn’t listen to country music so I would not have heard that Bakersfield was the home of Buck Owens, whose music filled those airways.  We had oil all around us in Wilmington and Signal Hill; the fact that Bakersfield had boomed because of oil just wasn’t in my purview. 
But when the Maynards moved in down the street from us -  a large family with kids close to my age - Bakersfield sudden came on my screen.  That is where the family had come from, and as I got to know them they talked a lot about their home town.  Mom and Dad Maynard, Shields and Birdie, brought five children with them. They had two adult children who were living on their own at that time, which was in 1951.  Glenn was the oldest child at home; Ruth his sister was a year younger than I was, Audrey was a year younger than my sister, and the last remaining kid was little Norman, who was cute as a button but totally invisible among a bunch of teenagers.

The year that they lived in Long Beach before returning to Bakersfield was the year I began moving out of childhood.  I remember it as if it were yesterday.  I had not been interested in “boys” prior to that time.  I had never been around them, as my family was very girl-heavy.  Of course I develop an immediate crush of Glenn.    I thought he was gorgeous – dark black hair and long eyelashes, with a gentle southern sensibility towards females (his folks were from North Carolina originally) and an understanding and tolerance of silly girls from having two younger sisters.  Although most of my time was spent with Ruth, I did a lot of rubbing elbows with Glenn, mostly just leaning over the fender of his old car watching him work on it.  Ruth, bless her heart, just let me be!  I have no recollection of what she did or where she was all the time I was hanging around Glenn. 


Probably the most fun I ever had was when we spray-painted Glenn’s car.  Armed with fly-spray pump bottles filled with blue car paint, we sprayed every inch of his old car, turning it from beige into light blue.  From a distance the car looked good; from up close it felt as if one could read Braille letters all over it.   At the time, I don’t think it was drivable yet, but that didn’t matter. That car simply was the tool that enabled me to do what was probably a pitiful rendition of flirting, which was all new to me!.
Although Ruth and I attended different schools – I was in my first year of high school while she was in her last year of Junior High, we spent every spare minute together and became fast friends.  My sister and Audrey did likewise.  The Maynards became part of the Dobbins family, and the Dobbins girls added themselves to the Maynard family.  At the end of the school year, the Maynard family returned to Bakersfield.  The picture below is of my friend Ruth.

In July of 1952 Bakersfield experienced a 7.3 earthquake, which was felt in parts of Long Beach.  The Maynards invited me to come up to see the famous clock in the center of town, which had been severely damaged.  I can hardly believe it now, but my mother and father allowed me to get on a Greyhound bus and ride up to Bakersfield alone – in that day over the old Ridge Route – and stay with them a week.  That was the week that Bakersfield arrived on my map.

I learned what country music was; that was all I heard during that week.  There was no “Slow Boat to China” on the radio.  Only guitars, banjos and twang.  I had my first motorcycle ride.  The Maynard kids were friends with the Earnshaw twins, Robert and Roy, and one of them took me for a short ride on his cycle.  (I never told my mother this).  Glenn’s words of admonishment to his buddy was “DON’T SPIN THE WHEELS!”  I didn’t know what that meant, but of course the fellow did, Glenn heard it happen, and I learned fast!  What a thrill I had!  I had been told by Ruth that we would go swimming, so I should bring my bathing suit.  I assumed we would be swimming in something like “The Plunge” in Long Beach, a public swimming pool.  No, that wasn’t the Bakersfield way.  We piled in a car, still with the Earnshaws, and drove out to a reservoir in the fields somewhere east of Oildale, where we changed into our swimming suits behind the shelter of an open car door, crawled over (or under) an enclosure of some kind, and jumped into the pitch black water.  There were frogs in it.  Oh, ugh!  I could not believe what I was doing.  If my mother had any idea of what “Bakersfield” meant, she would have had a heart attack. 
The Maynards lived in a small house with a fenced yard.  They had a goose which guarded the house from anyone who tried to get to the front door.  There was a broom outside the door, and at the front gate.  When a person wanted to leave the house, it was necessary to grab the broom to shoo the goose away while that person made quickly for the gate.  The goose meant business.  I was a city girl who had never laid eyes on a goose before, and this one was a mean old fellow.  All this did was add to the memories I have of such a family as I felt I belonged to.

Luckily the Earnshaws and the Maynards were good kids.  We all observed the lines we had been raised with, and in the doing so, tame though it seems in light of today’s mores, I had a wonderful week that I’ve never forgotten.    And yes, I saw the clock.  It was a mess. 
Over the course of my teen years I made several trips up to visit them.  As we teens grew up and began marrying, we brought our families into the equation.  My first husband Joe and I drove up to Bakersfield several times with our first two kids – Sean and Erin – to visit Ruth and Ernie and their kids Susan and John.  And they drove down to see us in Long Beach, too.  Time went on and our lives broadened and changed; I didn’t see the Maynards any more but they never left my heart.

Of course, the internet has restored our contacts.  Their parents are no longer living, nor are mine.  My sister has died and so has Audrey.  But I was fortunate to be in Bakersfield last year with my Jerry and shared lunch with Ruth, Audrey and Glenn, and ALMOST with Norman, but he had to work that day.  We all produced old pictures and old stories and spent an afternoon of laughs.   Audrey has since passed away and I count myself lucky that I was able to spend that wonderful afternoon with her. 
So I have such a fondness in my heart for Bakersfield.  For me, Bakersfield is and always will be intimately connected with my friends, the Maynards.  It may be hot as a pistol in the summer, and still a bit country western for my ear, but to me it is the place of good memories and a good family – and what more could a girl want?
And yes, for those of you who wondered, Glenn was the first boy I ever kissed.  A single kiss on the front porch of my house, after a movie now long forgotten. 

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