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Tootie Anderson: a pioneer girl and community beacon

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

Leatta "Tootie" Anderson was the definition of a local resident: not only was she raised in Tehachapi, her mother Ola Cuddeback Ford was born here in 1901, and Ola's mother, Francis Tungate Cuddeback, was born in Old Town in about 1873.

Tootie's grandmother, Francis Tungate, was from an early ranching family and she married Jess Cuddeback, from another pioneer ranching family. At one time the Cuddebacks owned most of the land that now comprises Golden Hills.

For 71 years Tootie was married to Hooks Anderson, and the two of them perfectly complimented each other, a hard-working and interesting country couple who created their own rural paradise at their little Cherry Lane homestead.

Tootie was born on May 15, 1920, and her parents were John and Ola Dell Ford. Together with her brothers Mike and Jack Ford, Tootie was raised on a 160-acre ranch near Tehachapi Eastside Cemetery that the family purchased in 1927.

It was hard to support his family from the ranch alone, so John Ford also worked at the famed Yellow Aster Mine at Randsburg in the Mojave Desert northeast of Tehachapi, and Ola and the children would either stay and work at the ranch in Tehachapi or join John Ford in Randsburg.

Hooks and Tootie started going together when they were young teenagers, and Hooks would miss his girlfriend when the Ford family went to the desert. He didn't have a vehicle to go visit her, so would Hooks wait patiently until she returned? No, he would walk the 45 miles to Randsburg and then walk back to Tehachapi. Such dedication is hard to envision today.

Hooks and Tootie eloped in 1937, with the cooperation of aunt and uncle Brick and Laura Jones, who drove them to Nevada to marry.

They returned to Tehachapi as a married couple, and in 1938 they moved onto a parcel of land on Cherry Lane that had belonged to a moonshiner who had to sell it quickly – the moonshiner, Wilbur, had shot a local man in the tongue when he was caught with the man's wife.

A warrant had been issued for Wilbur's arrest, so he sold his property for $500 cash to Hooks Anderson and his brother Lawrence. The Anderson brothers divided the 10-acre property and Hooks and Tootie ended up with the piece that contained an enormous basement (where the still had been located) and a single little room.

Hooks got a job working at the Monolith Portland Cement Company and he and Tootie built a tidy house over the big basement. Over the years this hard-working couple transformed their property into a green and shady oasis that included fruit trees, a large and productive vegetable garden, chickens, planting beds for flowers and herbs, a big patio, even a hand-dug concrete swimming pool.

Tootie canned fruit and vegetables and made jams and jellies, preserving the bounty from their Tehachapi garden. Hooks hunted and fished and butchered livestock and there was always great food at the Andersons. They had two daughters, Della and Laura, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Tootie was a gem of a grandmother, attentive, kind and supportive without being judgmental. She knew what kids liked and didn't like and she understood when they felt shy or insecure. Without fussing over them, she made every child feel special and loved in her own soft-spoken way.

If you wanted to learn something, Tootie would teach you with patience and empathy. I learned about canning and cooking and herb gardening from her, and she was a wonderful teacher.

Tootie was a beacon of stability to her family and friends, welcoming them into her warm fragrant kitchen or cozy living room. She was both humble and strong, kind but tough. She was descended from Tehachapi pioneer stock and she loved her mountain home.

Tootie lived to be 90 and passed away in 2010 in the home where she had lived for more than 70 years.