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Pat Gracey: a Tehachapi treasure is about to turn 95

Land of Four Seasons

The Tehachapi Mountains are blessed with scenic landscapes, picturesque wildlife, interesting weather and four distinct seasons. But in addition to these natural features, one of the treasures of our area has always been its people, and one of the true diamonds is a wonderful lady named Patricia Gracey, who will turn 95 on September 2 of this year.

Pat Gracey was raised in Tehachapi and is a historian of our area, writing the Spirit of Tehachapi column for The Loop and writing in other endeavors. She writes the way she speaks: clear, interesting, factual and funny, drawing on her wealth of experiences and memories. Pat is delightful both in person and on paper.

Patricia Davis Gracey was born in Mojave on September 2, 1928, the youngest of four children born to Chauncey and Maude Davis, and was delivered at home in Mojave by Dr. Warren. Her father, Chauncey, was a World War I veteran who moved to California from Arkansas in 1921. The Davis family first came to Tehachapi in 1923, and then moved to Mojave in 1926 so that Chauncey could run a gas station there. The family moved back to Tehachapi in 1937, purchasing 160 acres in the Old Town Road area, near Grand Oaks Ranch.

During the Depression, work was hard to find. Chauncey worked for Southern Pacific Railroad in Mojave, and he got laid off. He enjoyed mining and was roaming in the desert and saw what he thought might be a mining operation, so he went over to see if they were hiring. It was during the Prohibition era, and it turned out to be a large-scale, illegal moonshining operation that included three 1,000-gallon tanks.

After Chauncey returned home to Mojave, a local businessman pulled up in the driveway and told him "So Chauncey, you've seen what's going on, what are we going to do about it?" Chauncey said "Well, I could use some work." So he was hired to help guard the still at night, and he made $55 a week cash, which was a lot of money in 1932. One night some men showed up to steal whiskey, and Chauncey had to fight them with his fists until he could run over to his Model T truck to get his 30-30 Winchester rifle and fire over their heads as they fled. Later the Feds closed in and so the operators shut down the still, and Chauncey's job went away.

On Christmas Day of 1940, the Davis family moved into a beautiful old home on the corner of Curry and F Streets. This big yellow house, lovingly maintained for many years by owner Gerry Starks, who is Pat's niece, was originally built in 1880 by the Gallinger brothers. In 1926, it was bought by Jim Brite and his wife Lucinda Caroline Brite, who was known as "Callie" when she was younger and as "Grandma Brite" by everyone in her later years.

Pat and her three siblings -- Everett, Evelyn and Thomas "Buster" Davis -- loved living in the center of town in the house with tall ceilings. Pat recalls the morning of April 26, 1946, when she stepped off the front porch to go to school in the morning -- and promptly sank up to her knees in a deep Tehachapi spring snowfall. "That was the only day during my entire school career that school was cancelled because of snow," Pat recalls. "We had plenty of snowy days, but they wouldn't cancel school. Kids in town who could make it came to school, and the ones who couldn't stayed home."

Pat would sometimes stay overnight at her friends' houses, and their moms would say Pat was welcome to stay if she'd get up in the morning and go to St. Malachy's Catholic Church with the family. "I don't think there was a Catholic woman in the universe who didn't want to go to the 6 a.m. Mass.," Pat remembers with a laugh. And Pat didn't mind getting up, because she enjoyed going.

After a few visits, Pat came home and told her mother "I really like that Catholic church." Her mother's reply was "They don't read the Bible," and Pat's quick response was "Well, neither do we," since the Davises weren't churchgoers. Catholics did read the Bible, actually, but it was an amusing rejoinder from the teenage girl.

The Davis family became Catholics themselves after Pat's brother Buster married a Catholic girl, and Pat and her parents joined the church in 1947. Pat has been a loyal member ever since, serving for seven years as church secretary under Monsignor Seamus McMullen, and writing the 100-year anniversary book about St. Malachy's.

Pat graduated from Tehachapi High School in 1946, one of 16 students who walked across the stage to receive her diploma. The THS Class of '46 should have included about 25 students, but some of the boys had enlisted in the military and had already left. "The military told the boys if they enlisted in January, they would still receive their diplomas in June as if they had stayed in school, so some of them did and they shipped out in February," Pat remembers. "Dick Johnson was the student body president, so after he and the other boys left, Hugh Vasquez had to fill out the rest of Dick's term. And we lost a few of our girls who got married as seniors -- in those days, you couldn't go to high school if you were married."

Pat recalls the closeness she felt with her small class of seniors: "We all got along and had real camaraderie. It was special. In fact, we were sad to graduate in some ways, because we knew we'd never be together like that again. It was bittersweet."

After she graduated, Pat went to work as a switchboard operator at the telephone office, which was located on Tehachapi Boulevard, just east of the current Kelcy's Restaurant, which at the time was Squire's Cafe. The total population of Tehachapi in those days was only about 1,500 people, and there were about 200 working telephones in the area.

Pat worked as a switchboard operator from 1946 to 1948, then she went to work as a teller and a secretary at the Bank of Tehachapi. "I went from knowing everyone's phone number to knowing everyone's bank balance," Pat recalls.

The person in charge of the bank, a title called Cashier, was a man named Steve Spencer. In the economic misogyny of the era, Pat made $125 to work as both a teller and secretary, while the man working right next to her made $250 a month.

Pat was working at the bank on that day in 1948 when President Harry Truman's whistle stop tour came through Tehachapi. Truman had been vice-president when President Franklin Roosevelt died, so he was sworn in to complete Roosevelt's term, and was then running to be elected for another term.

"Mr. Spencer told us 'Truman's coming through' so he closed the bank and we all walked over by the depot," Pat says. "There were only about 20 of us local residents standing there at the back of the train. President Truman stood out there and thanked us, he said 'This is my wife Bess, she's the boss. And this my daughter Margaret.' As the train rolled out of Tehachapi, President Truman waved to the schoolchildren who had been assembled to greet him."

On St. Patrick's Day, 1950, Pat married a Marine named Doyle Gracey. At that time, Pat was making $175 a month at the bank, which was more than the $110 a month that Doyle was making as a corporal in the Marine Corp. "Doyle said that the Marine Corp attitude at the time was 'If you needed a wife, we would have issued you one,' because the Marine Corp thought it would be better if you waited until you were made a sergeant before you got married," Pat explained.

Pat and Doyle had six children – five boys and girl: Merrill, Doyle, Ellen, James, John, Tom. Doyle went overseas five times, once during the war and four times after he and Pat married. He would be gone for a year at a time. Eventually the Graceys bought a house in Oceanside and Pat would stay there while Doyle was deployed.

Pat and Doyle came back in 1976, after Doyle was discharged in 1975. Pat became an active member of her hometown community. I remember her singing with her lovely soprano voice at the Tehachapi Heritage League musicale each year, and at various community gatherings and events. Pat warmly recalls singing with Anne Steele, a Bear Valley Springs resident who had been rehearsal accompanist at 20th Century Fox for 20 years. I can also remember Pat acting in Tehachapi Community Theater productions.

Pat Gracey continues to be a treasure of our community, a woman with a cheerful outlook and amazing recall. She has been an inspiration and role model to me and many others, and I'm grateful for our many years of friendship. Happy 95th Birthday, Pat! And thank you for loving and supporting Tehachapi for so many years.

Keep enjoying the beauty of life in the Tehachapi Mountains.

Jon Hammond is a fourth generation Kern County resident who has photographed and written about the Tehachapi Mountains for 38 years. He lives on a farm his family started in 1921, and is a speaker of Nuwä, the Tehachapi Indian language. He can be reached at [email protected].