My Recollections
(Oscar and Agnes Conley)
By Richard Conley

          My first recollections are of life in Kansas where dad worked for Conoco Oil Company. We lived in Lyons, Kansas because, as dad told it, the company houses were being given to the younger men and their families. This created a hardship for dad because he had to pay rent and commute to work on the oil lease. He was a pumper, which included keeping the equipment maintained and the holding tanks painted. I remember him taking me and brother Jerry with him to work and we would play on the tower, climbing much too high for our own good. Dad would take along a rifle and if lucky would bring home a box of rabbits, which would be skinned and eaten.

          Jerry and I loved living in town. We lived directly behind a department store and around the corner from the movie house. A vivid recollection is one where Jerry and I went into the alley behind the house and picked up toys out of the trash because they were being thrown out by the merchants because they were made in Japan. Tops, BB guns, tea sets, dishes were our treasures. We didn't understand that war with Japan made these hateful items to the merchants.

          About this time, must have been April or May, dad decided to quit Conoco Oil and seek his fortunes in California. Doris and Theda were already in California. Theda had gone to live with Uncle Curt and Aunt Mag where she met and married Cecil Campbell. Dad's brother, Uncle Ollie, lived in Porterville, California where he had an orange grove. During the summer months he and his family would work in the fruit, which helped a lot financially when one had a large family. When dad decided to come to California the ones living at home were Jack, Norma, Lota Ann, Bill, Florene, Lorene, Wanda, Jerry, me, Charles and Jim. Dad took us in two loads, the first making the trek to California was Jack, Norma, Lota Ann, Bill, Florene, and Lorene. Mom and dad left Wanda to watch out after Jerry, me, Charles and Jim. Wanda must have been about 11 years old, a child herself. Of course mom and dad had friend who checked in on us periodically.

          I remember waiting for dad to come back to get us. We were told what day and I waited on the porch all day looking out through the rain waiting to see his car come into sight. When he arrived he brought a huge orange from California, we thought it was a pumpkin because it was so large. We didn't know, but it was one that had hung on the tree from the previous season and the rind was about an inch thick. Anyway, the grocer thought it was fantastic and put it in the window of his store with a sign that said, "California orange". We left for California the next day.

          The trip to California is a little blurred as I became ill with the mumps and ran a fever most of the way. I remember waking and looking out the window to the sight of the moon shining on water. I asked what it was and was told I was looking at the Great Salt Lake. I could care less because I was feeling miserable. I can't remember the exact month or day we arrived at Cool, California. Not that it was cool, but the town we were in was named Cool. It was cherry season and Uncle Ollie and his family were there picking cherries along with my brothers and sisters. I recall sleeping in a trailer with a tarp over it to keep the dampness off us at night.

          That summer we followed Ollie and his family and went to Los Altos, California to pick Apricots. We worked for a family named Burkhart. Two brothers had farms there, one Leonard the other Alton, Alton was the oldest. We camped on Alton's farm and picked apricots for him. The women worked in the cutting sheds preparing the apricots for sulphuring and drying. These for me were good times. The family was together and there was laughing and story telling.

          From Los Altos we traveled to Lakeport, California and worked in the pears. It was the hot part of the summer with temperatures in the 100s and the lake was a place to cool off in the afternoons and evenings. Usually we would work until three or four in the afternoon and then head for town and the lake. The first person I remember us working for was a Mr. Hamilton. He was a very nice man and took to Jerry and me. We were too small to pick pears so he had us carrying water to the workers and paid us, as I recall, fifty cents a day. Every afternoon he would go to check the packing house across town and took me and Jerry with him. He would always stop at the creamery and buy us a milk shake. We would tell him we were too dirty to go in and he would say that if anyone made a comment they would have to answer to him. Needless to say we became a little spoiled.

          Our summer trips working in the fruit varied from summer to summer, but usually the main crops we picked were cherries in the Spring, Apricots later in the Summer and finishing with pears at Lake county. I don't recall working at Cool more than the first summer, after that cherries were picked at either Stockton, or San Ardo. During the Fall and Winter we lived in and around Porterville. We went to school and dad worked in the olives and oranges, on weekends we were there working beside him, mom and the girls worked in the packing houses. We rented a small home the first year on highway 65 near Uncle Ollie, it was way too small for our large family. I remember waiting alongside the highway for the bus to pick us up and take us in town to school. The next year dad bought a home in town and we experienced the pleasures of city life. The small stucco house had a front porch and screened in back porch. I remember the front door had a diamond shaped window. Karen was born when we lived there and, in my sister Doris' recollections, she said mom and dad suffered a tragedy. The tragedy was that we lost Karen when she was less than a year old. I remember that she was sick and mom couldn't go with us to work in the fruit and when we came back at the end of the summer I had gained so much weight from drinking milk shakes provided by Mr. Hamilton that I was as round as a ball, mom said she hardly knew me. We lived out most of the war years in the little stucco house. Friday nights were spent listening to the Grand Ole Opree and drinking coke and eating popcorn. Lota Ann met Dale while cutting grapes and they were married. Norma left to live and work in Long Beach where she met and married Don Silbaugh. Jack met and married Gertrude. This left Bill (now the oldest one at home), Florene, Lorene, Wanda, Jerry, me, Charles and Jim.

          We moved to a home east of Porterville in a small community called Doyle Colony. Dad had a few acres and we were once again living in the country. Dad built in a room in the back of the garage and this became the bedroom for the older boys, Bill, Jerry, and me. Bill was in and out as he was ready to strike out on his own. He met and married Mary Ross and shortly thereafter joined the Navy. He made one trip, after boot training, to Japan. The war ended and he came home, thank goodness he saw the aftermath of the fighting and wasn't a part of it. I remember dad going to Long Beach to work in the shipyards one Winter during the war and we all missed him. When he came home he said he wouldn't be leaving the family again.

          Dad sold our house in Doyle Colony and bought a home in Strathmore. We only lived there a year or two. Dad planted strawberries and me and Jerry would ride on the running board of the car and jump off and run up to houses to sell the strawberries. We couldn't have made much money, but every little bit helped. Our next move was to a small house beside Uncle Ollie and Aunt Dora between Strathmore and Porterville. Uncle Ollie had a cement block house built and we lived in a small house next to him. Uncle Ollie raised pomegranates some cows and chickens. Me and my brothers had a great time with a lot of memories of watching pigs being ringed, to laughing at my brother trying to ride a calf. One incident I will never forget is when dad took Uncle Ollie to an auction (he would buy poor, or sickly cows and fatten them up) and he told me and Jerry to milk one of the cows while he was gone and not to forget. He showed us a pail and where the oats were. He said put a small amount of oats in the pail and the cow will stay while she is being milked. Well, Jerry or I had never milked a cow in our lives, but we said we would. When it came time to milk the cow we put oats in the pail and started trying to milk her, with little success. A pail of oats later and we still didn't have the cow milked, the cow lost interest and wandered off. Uncle Ollie was fit to be tied when he returned. Needless to say he never asked us to milk a cow again.

          Dad bought a small cabin closer to Porterville and started the process of enlarging it to fit the family. I remember watching him build the forms for the foundation for the cabin because it was only up on wooden blocks. It fascinated me to see him use a come-along and slowly move the cabin over onto the new cement foundation. Down came the back wall and bedrooms, kitchen and bath were added. The carpentry, plumbing and wiring were all done by dad. I remember Jerry and I had helped dad tear down an old barn to get the lumber to build this house. As I recall there was enough lumber for dad to sell to help pay part of the cost of building the house. The house was really too small and dad enclosed the front porch and made one end of it a bedroom for me and Jerry. Our standing joke was that we were the only ones who had fog in their bedroom. All that was over the screens was plastic covered panels. When the wind blew hard we would be off and running to catch up with the panels.

          Florene and Lorene met their future husbands Tom Moore and Dick Wells. They lived in Exeter, a little town about 30 miles away from where we lived. Neither of them owned a car and they would ride the greyhound bus to come see the girls. However, they did have a friend who owned a car and they would come and play card games at our house on weekends. Shortly after Lorene was married, Tom was drafted into the army and sent off to Germany. Funny, but I don't recall when Florene and Dick were married, I do know that Dick spent some time in the army, I think. Wanda met her future husband Melvin Scarbrough. He joined the Navy and was sent to Guam where he served for over a year. The Navy sent him to school in Pittsburgh and he stopped over in Porterville long enough to marry Wanda and take her with him. This now left Jerry, me, Charles and Jim at home. Saying this I realize I should have said, not married. Because Lorene was still at home with Tom off in Germany, also Norma returned because Don was called up to go to Korea. He had joined the Air Force reserves and his unit was called. Norma came home with her two children, Donny and Sandra. Dad didn't have enough room for them so he purchased a small cabin near Strathmore and pulled it to our house and attached it for another room. We called it the shotgun room and it is still there to this day.

          Jerry met Shirley Hockett while attending high school. He said when he asked her mother for her hand in marriage she said that he could marry her when he had a steady job. He joined the Navy and they were married on his leave after boot camp.

          Mom started having strokes when I was in high school. Dad and mom left early to go to Stockton to pick cherries and I was staying at home to finish school, as I recall Charles and Jim were with dad and mom. I received a telephone call telling me that mom had a stroke and I needed to leave for Stockton so I could start work as dad would be with mom at my sister Theda's house in Hayward. I left school early and went to Stockton. Mom was no better so I was left to take Charles and Jim to Medford, Oregon to pick pears, this was after picking apricots at Centerville, California. I had an old 1936 Oldsmobile with a straight eight engine in it, which was built like a tank. Lucky for me, Charles and Uncle Ollie, because when I was in Medford (pear season was almost over) I was taking my Uncle to the store and when we were on the main highway, slowing to make a left turn into town, a Buick hit us from behind and rolled the car two times sending us skidding off the highway on the top. Thank God none of us were hurt seriously. As I recall Uncle Ollie had a small scrape on his nose and his glasses were bent. After the accident Uncle Ollie scared a woman because his glasses were off and, being that he only had one eye (the eye was removed surgically years before due to infection) she thought he had knocked it out in the accident. I took Charles and Jim and boarded a greyhound bus for our trip home and my last year in high school.

          I joined the Navy in 1954, following in my brother Bill and Jerry's footsteps. This left just Charles and Jim at home. Charles married LaVonne Lamb while I was overseas in Japan. Jim joined the Navy shortly after graduating from high school and married Kay Patterson. This left no children at home. Dad and mom were alone for the first time in all their married life, or since having their first child. Mom and dad were never without having family around. Lota Ann lived next door and Ann and Dale were wonderful to look out after dad and mom. Mom had her leg amputated due to a sore that wouldn't heal, she had found she was a diabetic and took insulin the rest of her life.

          Mom died in 1958, the year I was married to Barbara Cookson. She was able to come to my wedding that year and see her last child married. She never lived long enough to know my children. After she died, dad was lost. He spent his time traveling from one child's house to the next. I was attending Chico State College when he came for a visit. He had two of Bill's children with him and was on his way to Oregon so they could make some money picking cherries. He spent the night with us and had breakfast the next day. I remember walking into the restaurant with dad and he put his arm around my waist as we walked in. Dad wasn't one to touch, or hug and this was special to me. The next day he went fishing in Quincy, California with brother Bill and nephews Gene and Steve. He started having pains. Brother Bill rushed him to town, but he died before the doctor arrived. What a life he had led.

          We lost Lota Ann to cancer in 1969, Jerry died of a heart attack at the young age of 49, this was in 1983. Jack had a heart attack and died in 1990 and Bill, also of a heart attack in 1994. Norma fought a battle with cancer and died in 1996 and sister Florene died in 1998 after a long illness.

          Well, this leaves Doris, Theda, Lorene, Wanda, me, Charles and Jim still alive as I write this. We are all getting to the golden years. I won't try to list all our ages, but I know that Doris is 82 and Jim is 60 and the rest of us fall in between. Mom and dad would have been proud of each of us. Their children have had professions in teaching, engineering, hospital administration, and some as private businessmen owning their own business, and all have been successful. The last two children of Oscar Sr. and Agnes Conley will retire this year. Charles and Jim both will retire from State jobs, Charles in engineering and Jim in hospital administration work.

          They would also be proud to know that we continue to have family reunions which are held every May. We haven't missed a year in over 40 years, and there are grand-children, great- grandchildren and great-great grandchildren attending. We are a large and loving family.

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