Sunday, January 18, 2015

Before We Left For California - A Magpie Tale

My Step-Dad was the man who raised me, an honorable man who worked hard in his own way all his life. He was not that popular, being too straight laced and not at all religious until the end. I am told at the end, crushed by the pain of his bone cancer he got closer to God.

He was born in Perry, Oklahoma. Not long after he was born the family emigrated to California, chased by the Dust Bowl. They settled in a small farmer's village south of Ventura, a rural wide spot in the road known as Montalvo.

In the fifties, when we visited for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it was still basically rural and not like it is now. For one thing the water was so bad it was undrinkable and we all had bottled water.

My Dad's grandmother Nora owned the house. There were two bedrooms, with his grandmother in one and his mother and husband the other. My Dad and his brother had an add on room at the back that ran the full width of the house. Next door was one of his aunt's and uncle's, and across the street directly was another. Most of the family settled down on this road, being a bit more well to do than the typical picture of the Okies, the desperation migrants of the day.

Here's the house my Dad grew up in until he entered the Marines to fight at the last in World War II. It is the small beige one with the detached garage and the trash bin out front. No one in the family lives there now and it looks as if it is now an industrial site. In the fifties when I knew the house it was grassy in back, an extra deep lot as appears here, and there was vegetable plot and a broke down empty chicken house:

Before We Left For California

The sounds of your hands
on the pots, on the wide pans
tell me supper's near
and that's a good thing
I think, and so does the dog.
The cat's as always
aloof and even
haughty as if she cares not
at all but the bird
count is up lately.
We know she will dine with us.

So I grab your ass,
slide up to the small
of your back with my right hand,
fingers widely spread,
and with my left, take
you to me, whirling as if
we cannot collide
with the rest of it,
all the financials that suck
the life out of us.

‎January ‎18, ‎2015 11:10 AM


  1. the little details in this...makes it so tangible to the reader.

  2. seeing the little house makes this poem even more poignant

    1. If you work with the image, scrolling up and down the street you can get a sense of the house being rather narrow but longer than you might think it. It is rather like a trailer in this regard, with rooms stacked one after the other in line.

    2. Go to the right side (facing the house) and scan back. You will see what I mean. What you are looking at is the house I knew in the fifties though it may be very different inside. In those days there was a small front room right and bedroom left. On the left a bathroom between the two bedrooms, then a doorway into a kitchen area on the right and a walkway beside it on the left. Then there was a side door second entry into a large family/dining room. Then across the back part of the house a single bedroom big enough for two people in separate beds.

  3. I love the detail of the cat. Aloof, yes indeed.

    An aside: I live in Bakersfield, not far fro Weedpatch camp of Grapes of Wrath fame. I have quite a soft spot for all those in the dust bowl migration. Quite a time....

    1. Thank you. As I implied above, my experience of Okies demonstrated that not everyone was desperately poor in the migrations. My people bought a block of land and took over what is still the back end of the street. Where Beene Road ends is only the turn around further than where it ended in the fifties. But beyond that was agriculture all the way to the railroad in the distance that you can see on the map. They were land rich however and did not have very much more in California. They also revered education and both sons, My dad and his brother (the elder) were ultimately highly educated even though World War II got in the way. My dad was a educated public school administrator who ran a school district in Geyserville, Ca for a while but never succeeded in his PhD work. His elder brother was a professor of chemistry at the college level his whole working life. My dad almost made it as a pro footballer too, the 49ers.

  4. Scanning up and down Beene Road, it seems that the houses along each side are the same ones that were there in 1955. Possibly one or two have changed substantially but none of the others have. The stuff in the background all around is newer, all that trucking stuff and such. That industry has replaced what was agricultural in the fifties.

  5. I love the preamble to your gritty poem.

  6. Your words paint a very vivid picture for the readers. Great work with the prompt. :)

  7. Bee, it's easy to write from memory.

    Thank you, Tess.

    Enigma, I am pleased my writing is vivid for you. I hope I can continue producing quality.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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