by Jim Bulls
It was the summer of 1964. My family was on our annual pilgrimage back to Texas and Oklahoma. This year, though, instead of heading to Texas first, we stopped in Tulsa to give Grandma’s yard a major trim and clean-up, and get the house ready for the coming winter. After a few weeks with Grandma, we headed to Texas to visit my Dad’s family, including my cousin Dennis Parish. At the end of summer, when we headed home, Denny and two of his friends would be leaving with us–they would be attending Reedley College in the fall.
Denny and his family had been to Reedley numerous times over the years to visit the Bulls and the Emerys. My Dad and my Aunt Geneva Emery were Denny’s mom’s brother and sister. Between me, and my Emery cousins (Mary, Ralph and LaDanta), Denny knew Reedley pretty much inside and out. He always vowed that he was coming here to go to college.
During Denny’s senior year at Earth-Springlake High School, he talked two of his friends into joining him at Reedley College in the fall. Ronnie Williamson had relatives in Dinuba, so he was no stranger to the Central Valley, but Lonnie English had never been to California.
It was during the first part of August when we began the convoy to California. All three boys were driving their own cars so they would have transportation when they got to Reedley. My parents were in the fourth car, following in case there was trouble on the way. I acted as the relief driver. The trip was uneventful, but in fact time passed quickly since there were more people to watch for and keep track of.
Earth, Texas, and Reedley share agriculture as their major economy. As we entered the South Valley, the Texas boys thought California looked pretty much like home. At that time, both areas specialized in row crop farming, and, of course, there were walking beam oil pumps all over Texas. Seeing the oil pumps among the cotton, corn and milo maize reminded them of home in the Texas panhandle. For miles and miles, all you can see is flat land in that area. Little towns have names like Plainview, Levelland, and Earth. And flat land was all you could see when the boys entered California. The urban haze hid the mountains from view.
Once we entered Fresno County, that all changed. There were vineyards and orchards, and even vegetables. Everything was decidedly different from Earth, Texas. It looked different to me as well, seeing things through their eyes.
Denny was living with Aunt Geneva in Reedley, Ronnie with his aunt in Dinuba, and Lonnie rented a little house across the road from Aunt Geneva so she could keep watch on him. In 1964, Earth had a population of about 1100 souls and was predominantly Anglo-Saxon. Coming to live in a town of 8000 or so, with a population made up of 12 to 15 different ethnic groups was a totally new experience. And they still had yet to shed their Stetsons, cowboy shirts, and the hand-tooled belts with their name on the back that they all made in 4-H.
As far as I was concerned, the first order of business after getting registered for college, was to have the three get acquainted with my friends, a multi-ethnic group. They all had their own opinions and prejudices about Texans. One day a bunch of us were cruising around Reedley in my old Cadillac. Denny, Lonnie and my friend Raul Andazola were sitting in the back seat. All of a sudden Raul broke out in uncontrollable laughter. We finally got him calmed down enough to ask what was so funny. He said “Who would have thought a Mexican could have so much fun sitting between two Texans!”
Of course, besides college there were extracurricular activities. We all went to the hot rod winter nationals at Pomona, and there were a lot of trips to the Central Coast. But Lonnie was mesmerized by the mountains. The first time he saw the mountains after the haze lifted, he was infatuated. There is nothing like our beautiful Sierra Nevadas, especially with the snow glittering on the saw tooth ridge. And there is nothing like it in Texas. There are a few mountains in the panhandle, more like rock uprisings, and they do have snow. However, the closest you come to a ski resort is to be pulled behind a car along the bar ditch, while on snow skis and using a water ski tow rope. When Kings Canyon wasn’t snowed in you could find Lonnie heading to the hills at least one day out of the weekend.
My cousin Denny embraced the surfer movement. This once stereotypical “cowboy” gave up Bob Wells and Willie Nelson for the Beach Boys, and his western clothes for striped t-shirts, board shorts and flip-flops. I don’t think he ever dyed his hair blonde though. He found himself an old woody station wagon somewhere. It never ran, but it made for great photo ops especially when Denny added a broken-down, flea market surfboard!
At Christmas time, Ronnie went back to Earth. He never quite made the adjustment to living in California. He probably preferred a Wolverine Burger over a Mars double-decker. He didn’t return the following semester.
At the end of the spring semester, we waved goodbye to Denny and Lonnie, as they headed back to Texas for the summer. Lonnie had every intention of returning to finish his sophomore year, but something called love got in the way. His brother who owned a flooring company in Lubbock put him to work. The last time I saw Lonnie, he said he always regretted not coming back to Reedley.
Denny went home in full surfer regalia minus the Woody. All his Texas friends wanted to know where he surfed. “Reedley Beach.” he replied. “That’s halfway between Pismo Beach and Big Sur.” His friends were awed. Of course, he forgot to mention that Reedley Beach is about hundred miles inland and on the Kings River!
Denny did return to Reedley in the fall. He graduated from Reedley College, Fresno State and then was drafted. Fortunately he was drafted into the Navy and did his sea duty on an Avenger Class mine sweeper (a sister ship to the USS Lucid I have written about in the past). Although he is retired, he and his wife work for an oil company as gate guards. They have to log in every truck arriving to the well site and log them out when they leave. Denny runs the day shift and his wife does the night shift. If the truckers are good and don’t make a lot of dust when they leave, she gives them a candy bar. Boy do they pout when they don’t get their candy.
As I was browsing through the 1964-65 Reedley College Tiger Yearbook, reminiscing about our experiences, I ran across a photo of this girl. We ran in different circles, but I knew who she was. Never thought back then that I would end up marrying her. Yes, Diana was a co-editor of the 1964-65 Tiger. I have to mention that because she is the one who corrects my spelling and grammar and helps make sure that my meanderings make sense. She is reading this right now and thinking “This is stupid.”
Check out more Reedley history articles by Jim in our Hometown History section.