The rest of the story
The Spirit of Tehachapi
December 4, 2021
There used to be a radio program whose host gave news as it was supposed to have happened. After telling the tale, he would then say, "...and now, for the rest of the story." He would then give some interesting facts that completed the tale. His name was Paul Harvey.
I'm no Paul Harvey but it seems that when I hear someone telling a story of an experience of a local or long past happening, I often remember a little tidbit that was left out of the tale and I want to add it. Usually, I try to keep it to myself and not interrupt the person who is narrating their piece, but once in a while I cannot keep my mouth shut. It seems I feel the need to add a fact from the tale that was unknown by the teller. Sometimes, I keep my memories to myself, thinking it would be better forgotten by all.
Tidbit number one: I have a short story that fits the aforementioned word "tidbit" about a very kind man whose name was Pearson. I never knew his first name; he was just Mr. Pearson. Jon Hammond and Laura Weltin could fill in the "main" part of the story but this is what I know about him. In fact, I met Mr. Pearson first.
One day, when I was about nineteen, I happened to be in my parent's front yard on Curry Street and noticed a man driving up in a late model Cadillac. He stopped and got out and came into our yard. He told me he was a wholesale flower businessman in the Los Angeles area and was interested in putting in a lilac farm on Cherry Lane. He also said that white lilacs were always in great demand and could he have some cuttings from those in our yard. I didn't even ask my parents and just told him to take the cuttings. I may have told my parents later, but I'm not sure. Our yard, at that time, was bordered by vintage white lilac plants as tall as small trees.
Some months later, I answered the front door bell and it was Mr. Pearson again. He said the white lilac plants were doing fine and could he have some more cuttings. I said fine and we went into the front yard and conversed while he made the cuttings. I recall his wife was not feeling well that day and he was worried about her and sorry that he had brought her along.
I told him I was going to ride the train to L.A. that day to see my brother and sister-in-law. He said he'd drive me. He drove me right to their door in that beautiful Cadillac.
I never saw him again until the day of the earthquake in 1952. I was taking a lady who had been in the hospital to her home in Boron. Mr. Pearson was parked on the side of the highway on Mojave's main street. I pulled in behind him and we conversed briefly. He had driven up to check his property which was not damaged. I asked how his wife was and found she had died of cancer.
That is my "tidbit" about the man who started the lilac farm which, Laura Weltin tells me is still there! The "rest of the story" is the main story which takes in many years. Growing up on Cherry Lane, Laura's family knew him well but "I saw him first" and kept it a secret all these years.
Tidbit number two: On the corner of Curry Street and Highway 202 there used to be a sign. The sign was placed, at that time, on the corner to Curry Street and Highway 466, which took folks to Bakersfield in those days. Same location but different street names. Anyway, the sign said: "California Institution for Women... 14 Miles." The prison was a beautiful sight with its French Norman castle-like structure. A very lovely sight. tourists used to drive up here just to take pictures.
The State of California had a new rehabilitation program for the women, hoping to help them become useful citizens upon their release. They could attend school classes, learn dress making, cooking, gardening, bookkeeping, plus physical education including tennis and baseball. The "girls" who had attained the good behavior status were allowed to attend movies at the BeeKay Theatre with their Matron. We could always tell when the prisoners were at the movies as they had to sit in the middle back row next to the wall. A perfect view in the small theater.
There were some beautiful sewing and handiwork, made by the inmates, that one could buy in the prison gift shop. The ladies also did not wear prison uniforms but were allowed to wear nicely made, by themselves, cotton dresses.
Still setting the scene, I want to let you in on a remembrance of the late Laura Mae Hawkins Warner, as she once told it to me. When she was in Tehachapi High School she was known for being a good softball player. They had a good team. I don't know who thought it up, but somehow the ladies of the women's prison were scheduled to play the Tehachapi High team. Laura's words to me were: "They creamed us!" ( Haven't heard the term "creamed" in several decades but it used to mean, they beat the socks off their opponents. Hope it still means that.)
Tidbit number three: Still remembering the California Institution for Women, I recall one Christmas Eve in 1948. My sister-in-law wanted to visit her Aunt Nell who was a matron at the prison. My then-fiancé, Doyle Gracey, a U.S. Marine, drove myself, and my sister-in-law out to see her aunt.
Aunt Nell's "girls" were having a Christmas party in their large recreation room. The group of about twenty or so inhabitants of Aunt Nell's dormitory, were going to play musical chairs and, of course, we were invited to participate.
The music began and I was eliminated early as was my sister-in-law. As fate would have it, one lone chair remained and one inmate and one U.S. Marine remained. When the music stopped the Marine was directly in front of the chair. As a loyal member of the Corps he stepped aside and let the lady take the chair. My husband always said he had only played musical chairs once, and that was in prison!
Tidbit number four: Not many people are left who heard President Franklin Roosevelt's radio broadcast announcing the declaration of war on the empire of Japan after being attacked on December 7, 1941. We were at school on the Monday morning of Dec. 8. Mr. Wells, the principal, had installed a radio in the auditorium and assembled the whole student body to listen to the historical speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We listened to the president's impressive tones as he said it was a day that would live in "infamy." We elementary students were pretty young but we never forgot that morning and the fateful speech. I'm so glad that Mr. Wells was thoughtful and let us take part in that moment.
Tidbit number five: Another unknown moment. Not really an earth-shaking event, but it involves another president. I was out of school and working in the Bank of Tehachapi when it was still located on Green Street. Someone came into the bank about eleven o'clock one morning and said that President Harry Truman's train would be stopping for about thirty minutes. We locked the door of the bank, walked the half block to the depot and gathered behind the train. The president stepped out on the platform at the end of his train. He spoke a few words and thanked us for coming out to see him. He wanted us to meet his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret. It's the only time I have even seen a president in the flesh. It wasn't a "political" stop, the train had to take on water. As we were walking back to the bank and crossing main street I noticed the students from the grammar school lined up on the side of the street waving to the president. How thoughtful of Mr. Wells to think of doing that. I wish I had thought to thank him, but I never did.