Chapter 22

Sunday after Sunday, William showed more and more signs of the strain, of tense war days, while the Los Angeles Street work showed more signs of a growing restlessness.

Those who had helped finance the Mission work before were now interested in buying Liberty Bonds. William realized the time was approaching when he had to face the fact his ministry was ended.

He had brought "order out of chaos" as the LOS ANGELES TIMES phrased it. Granted it had not been the spectacular evangelism of the decade. No singing, no advance men, no well-trained ushers, or generous money support, no mass conversions, but plenty of new members to swell old church rosters.

In William's words, however, "many hearts had been reached." Violence had been subsided; indeed, the gentle had conquered the wild.

William toyed with the gold pieces he had kept in his pants pocket throughout the years of his ministry across the United States. Once again he recalled the promise of the Bible and quoted one more time:

I have been young and now am old;

yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken

nor his seed begging bread.

In the six years he had been gentling the street, he had offered the twenty-dollar gold piece every Sunday, offered it to any man who could bring to his attention one example of a Christian family in need. Yet there had not been one taker and the promise was still good. He put it in his pants pocket, shaking his head. His smiling countenance was covered with somberness.

"Annie, my darling. Children, my dears," he announced at the supper table. "I have something to say. There is nothing left but the gold pieces and God's work he will provide for his own."

"I have been thinking, Calvin, and soon, Everett, will be of age to joint the army. I want my sons to do everything for their country, but I cannot convince myself that God wants us to kill any man. I offered my services to the Cavalry to train the army's horses, but they would not take me. They said I was too old, but I am not too old to farm in the San Joaquin Valley, to raise produce for the needs of our country. If you are willing, I will put our house up for sale and we shall all farm together. There is a great need to supply food for the hungry here and 'Over There.'"

Annie whitened. She had never once disagreed with William. He had always "been right." She had done everything to help his work, economize, skimp, and save, never complaining for the lonely nights, when he didn't come home until nearly midnight, the budgeting to feed the poor, going without garments to clothe the ragged, only to hear him announce:

"I am going to farm."

Annie had always hated the Valley, but she said not a word. Perhaps it was because she, too, thought taking up farming would keep her sons out of the war. Perhaps it was the only way to get the children through college.

True to William's good fortune, he sold the home quickly and with enough profit to buy one hundred acres of land in Shafter, Kern County.

We all pitched in packing with a vigor, but when no one was around, Annie would sit on the piled-up boxes and cry her heart out for the little brick and stucco home with the long row of Shasta daisies that grew from the side street to the alley, the fan-palm trees edging the street and the garden, fragrant from General MacArthus roses that thrived in the side yard. Asparagus, peas and tomatoes grew in abundance in the backyard. "Our salt-of-the-earth Annie," as Aunt Bob referred to her, would never have another house like the one she had there.

I think she thought of me as being disloyal because I made no protest. But it was considered patriotic to lend a hand at raising food and many of my friends planned to become "farmerettes." So I felt I was doing my bit, too, and I was glad. I had joined a speaking group at Occidental College and was going about with other young people from theater to theater selling Liberty Bonds. Father had become a dollar-a-year-man, working for the government selling Liberty Bonds, too. He was "making the world safe for democracy," destroying once and for all the "Kurtur of might makes right."

"I told your father it would mean losing you," Mama said, eyeing me closely, trying to read the thoughts of my heart. "I said you would never go live on a farm."

She wanted so much to have one in the family share her dread of that hot, dry country. I think there still lingered the memory of that six months' pastorate at the Bakersfield Baptist Church and small blame to her!

So on a warm June morning, we set out for Shafter on the winding, then narrow, Ridge Route, across tawny mountains splotched with dark green of the scrub oak. The Model T Ford bravely climbed the crest of the horseshoe formed by the meeting of the two mountain ranges, the ragged Sierras with lofty snow-capped peaks, and the not-so-lofty but greener rolling ridges of the Coast range. It was an all-day trip in the loaded-down touring car. The sun drove straight down with stinging rays. The wind scurried through the curtainless car, and a blast from the fiery furnace that we could not escape.

Yet our black touring car labored up the steep grade, spouting and hissing angrily. Father was a ludicrous sight sitting straight and looking massive behind the little steering wheel so people could probably not help but think it was he that made the little car go and not the engine inside it.

When the Pass was reached, the car slowed down, and then screeched to a stop. He squeezed under the wheel and jumped out on the red road to fill the sputtering radiator with water from the burlap bag that had hung on the car door.

"Boiling! Never saw anything like it! We have too much of a load," he sputtered out. "All this junk! You women never throw your burdens away."

"It's the sun that makes it so hot," Annie retorted. "And this isn't junk."


"Memories," Annie corrected.

"Memories belong in the heart, not loaded in a Model T."

Still with all its burden of memories, the Model T made its last heroic effort to climb the summit. And did. There below lay the Valley, the terrible Valley, shimmering vibrantly in the sun. The good mountains would soon be hovering in the distance with black shadows settling on their peaks. And we would belong to the Valley, the hot, terrible, unconquerable Valley, the Valley that was to blossom someday as a rose.

"There it lies, the world's finest Valley. And do you know it's bigger than three New England states and can produce more food than all of New England. All it needs is water to make it the world's most productive valley."

"Yes," he boasted, "the world's finest Valley. I wish I could have been bringing you here in February or March when the entire floor of the oval Valley was covered with purple lupine and the red paint-brush. What a sight that would have been for you."

"Water! Doesn't seem to be any signs of that! Where is all this water to come from?" young brother Oliver asked.

"From the rain," Papa said, as though it were the simplest thing in the world.

"Does it rain much here?! I asked. (I knew there was only one rainy season in California and it wasn't summer. But this thirsty land could never have been visited recently by water, so desolate did it appear now.)

"No," Father said. "Only about three inches. But at the other end of the Valley, north of Sacramento, there's as much as one hundred inches of rain and snowfall."

"So how are they going to get the water here?" my sister, Elizabeth, asked.

"They will move it, wee sister," Papa said. "Someday they will move it."

We all accepted it without question. When Father spoke like that, he had a way of making you believe what he said, no matter how fantastic it sounded.

There must be others with this same faith, for as we sped along the beeline stretch of road across the prosperous Valley, men were planting along the public highway small cottonwood trees and watering the infant saplings to add some change of vegetation to the jimson week, the sage brush, and the brittle, stalked weeds with choking pods.

To us, Bakersfield looked like any other early California pioneer town, although not as attractive as the newer ones sprouting up in Southern California.

But I never saw Papa happier than when he ended the monotonous forty-mile "straightway" ride from the mountain pass across the parched fields to arrive at Bakersfield, a city he had loved from his younger days. He had to stop to say "hello" to old friends, of course, to tell them that at long last, he was to become a resident of Kern County.

"What a place this is for you," he told Annie. "Finest place in the world . . . wonderful country . . . no people like the Bakersfield people . . . honest, frank, open-hearted. How well I remember Bakersfield. Don't you, Annie?"

"Yes, I remember it," Annie said.

I thought I detected a touch of sarcasm in her voice, but I did not press the matter.

We left Bakersfield after a congenial lunch with hospitable friends. "That's the way fold are here," Father said proudly, glad to find the present was loyal to the past.

We then journeyed on, past the red-brick hospital, and across the bridge of the winding tree-shaded Kern River.

"A river!" wee sister called out excitedly.

"Why there's no water in it at all," Oliver said in disappointment.

"It's quite a river in the spring," my father came back. "You should see it then as it rushes down the narrow canyons from the hills. Why, I have seen this community flooded in the spring, but before long the wild river had receded so much that when summer came, there was hardly any water at all! And this summer's unusually dry! We haven't had a dry season like this in many years. There used to be a community of English people ahead at Rosedale. When we pass there you'll see the tall palm-lined driveway. All this was once part of the biggest irrigated farms in the world. The government will soon awaken to our needs for irrigation and this will again be the garden spot of the world. That is if they don't strike oil before."

"And how are we to get water on our place?" Annie wanted to know.

"Wait and you shall see, my dear. There's a surprise in store for you! We shall soon be at Shafter. another twenty miles and you shall see."

"I'm glad. I'm tired," mother replied. "I want to get home before dark so I can get things straightened up a bit before we retire."

The next twenty miles took us first past a few farms where chickens hid wherever they could find any shade, and pigs lay panting wherever a shadow fell.

Then there were no more farms--only dark green, resinous sage, in a land that was otherwise brown and beige. The only motion of life now was the skittering of gophers in their holes, or bounding leaps of long-eared jackrabbits from brush to brush.

Suddenly we saw Calvin and young Everett running to greet us, up behind the new, roughly-constructed one-room house they had hastily erected in preparation for our homecoming. They had plowed also, a few acres to give an aspect of pleasant activity to the landscape that had been so monotonously naked except for the never-ending sagebrush.

"It's beautiful," William said with enthusiasm. "The ranch will be level as a table top in no time."

"I want to see the surprise," Mama coaxed. I thought there was more bitterness than hopefulness in her voice. She knew it could not be the rough shack she had just seen.

"You shall see it, my dear," Papa replied, and as proudly as if he were showing her a marble castle. "It's the only ranch around that has one like it in Shafter, to be sure!"

"What?" Annie asked, looking all around her, but seeing nothing.

William walked a few steps beyond the house to stand on a concrete slab and, pouring out of a large pipe was a stream of water that rose from the ground.

"White gold!" William exclaimed joyously, and with a pleasant twinkle in his eyes. "Did you ever see anything like it? The Land Company sank this well as a test-well, to show the settlers coming here every day there's plenty of underground water. You never drank such water in all your life! Clear, pure water. Taste it."

Now his face wore the animated look of a man who had waited a lifetime for this moment. A ranch all his, a ranch that poured forth an abundance of water, and, because of this water, it would yield food--in abundance in fact. "This ranch will yield nine crops of alfalfa a year. Do you know what that means?"

The blank expression on Annie's face told him she didn't.

"It's a hydraulic pump," Everett explained, his brown eyes shining.

Mother could see both boys were happy and, although she didn't understand why, she relaxed. "And will I have to carry water into the house for my work?" she questioned, afraid of what the answer might be.

"Indeed you won't, will she boys?" William asked.

Calvin quickly caught the cue and replied, "We'll carry in a big bucketful every time we come near the house."

"That's right. I don't ever want to see your mother carrying water, or your sisters, either. White gold! White gold!" Father repeated joyously.

Mother, little sister and I set about to unpack and get the house in order while the men worked in the fields.

"To think we could have come here years ago when we were young and more able to endure such hardships," Annie mourned. "To think when your father is old enough to retire he should start at the very beginning, farming . . . it is such a hard life!"

But in spite of Mother's low spirits, there was a certain air of adventure about the undertaking. Once more we would have our own horses, and the boys' first job would be to build a corral and then a reservoir which we would use for irrigation as well as for swimming! We glanced at each other. Our faces seemed to agree it just wasn't going to be as difficult as it had appeared on the surface.

Calvin and Everett and eight-year-old Oliver raced to the corral to do the chores. That included milking the cow which was housed in a lean-to shed. feeding two plow horses, Old Sal and George, not to forget the collie, Mark, showing multiple signs of happiness that the family was again reunited.

Mother and I unpacked our provisions and set to preparing a good supper. Elizabeth, almost four, tried her best to set the table.

Papa was philosophizing there was nothing so bad a good meal couldn't made better.

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