EDITOR’S NOTE: When an email comes in from Chuck McLaughlin asking if I’d be interested in sharing some of his life stories, the immediate response was an emphatic YES, PLEASE!! So enjoy the beginning of a series from Charles “Chuck” McLaughlin, one of our wise, knowledgeable and colorful village elders. Chuck is famous for overseeing the ubiquitous North Coast BBQ – see the Pioneer’s YouTube channel for a series of interviews we did with Chuck, one is linked below, for more about the BBQ. And watch for more R&R…
By Charles McLaughlin
Before beginning a few lines tickling the toes of the Muses, please let me introduce myself. I’m a smack-dab-in the- middle Gemini born back-in-the-day days of the early 20th century. Where? Well, in the southern end of the great central valley of California called the San Joaquin and in the then small country town of Bakersfield. You know, the home of Buck Owens and good gig spot for traveling guitar wrestlers, such as Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys.
Bakersfield, then and now, a butt of jokes and belittlement the likes of which didn’t and still don’t go over too well with the locals. But you’ve got to understand that Bakersfield was out in the sticks, so to speak, surrounded by towns like Oildale, Pumpkin Center, Weedpatch and other pass-through, didn’t notice, types! So it sort of invited such degradation. Yet, you know, this compilation of crudity was the very spot made famous by John Steinbeck’s great book Grapes of Wrath, literally the towns’ only claim to fame.
In any event, there I was…born on the wrong side of town (East Bakersfield) on Jefferson Street in an old but cute little craftsman house that was quite popular back then to discerning folks. In fact, when we, my Dad, Mom, my sister and brother and I finally moved to the right side of town, we moved into the same kind of house on E Street, two blocks from the main entrance to the largest land-holding company in the country: the Kern County Land Company. And it was there Charles Lee McLaughlin (me) met his life-long friend and mentor Rob Suender, a young boy well-versed in local biological wonders, flora and fauna, found within the seeming endless land company wilderness.
Yes sir, my friends, Rob saved me from culture shock of biblical proportions! My Mom had just driven us down from San Francisco to Bakersfield in a 1932 Chevy sedan in the middle of Summer, a gawd awful time to drive anywhere in the lower San Joaquin. We arrived at around nine o’clock at night and stepped out of the car into a furnace of heat unknown in the Bay area. 90 degrees at 9 pm! Can you imagine that? Straight from our San Francisco flat at the corner of Stanyan and Carl street, a few short blocks from the main entrance to the paradise of Golden Gate Park to the antithetical desert-like hell of Bakersfield!
A yellow light was burning on the front porch and clouds of June bugs were buzzing around the screen door, some stuck to it and others paying frenzied homage to the light above. Couldn’t help stepping on some and that wasn’t too pleasant either and to top it off, when we opened the door and turned on the front room light, crickets by the hundreds scampered into niches and crannies here and there! Never saw such a thing before, especially in our flat on Stanyan that housed four generations of our family! That’s right. My Great grandmother, Grandparents, Mother and her three kids all lived together, that is, until great-grandma Hunt died in her rocking chair one Sunday morning in i933. Hunt was her maiden name. One of her three daughters married a Seymour, who fathered my Mother and she married my Dad. And here I am ramblin’ away on my computer in Nehalem, Oregon nearly 89 years after moving to Bakersfield!
Of course a lot of things happened between then and now and I’m hoping you readers out there may be interested in some of those things You know, what were times like back then, were they as challenging as they are today, what were schools like and what did we do for entertainment before television and stuff like that? Well, I’ve got some things to say about that and plenty more because, as I said earlier, I’m a Gemini and those of us under that sign dig a lot of wells and not many of them are deep! In other words, we’re interested in so many things we get a smattering of this and that and then move on to something else. So we have a little to say about a lot of things but don’t expect us to be walking encyclopedias about everything. Though what we do know has helped us get around in this sometimes crazy world. So if you’re interested, hang around and I’ll get back to you soon with some life experiences and first-hand observations about back-in-the-day and perhaps up to today sometimes as well. Bye for now.