George Worthy

You know, living in the Salinas Valley is a pretty cool place to live. Except for the rain we have been enjoying lately, it is very much like the valley I grew up in. Well, maybe not as cool. In the summer we could ride our bikes to the nearest canal and spend the day splashing around in water that never cleared up, and were probably about half pesticides and the rest herbicides.

Then we would pick up our bikes and ride to the nearest grape field and eat Thompson seedless grapes till we were full. Did we know what was sprayed on the grapes while they were growing? Heck no. They just tasted so good we probably would have eaten them anyway.

My Pop would threaten us with all sorts of terrible consequences if he ever caught us. His threats were a little hollow because the worst he ever did was to take our bikes and make us walk home. Oh he might have chased us a little with a belt, but he never beat us. I don’t think that I suffered from any of the wonder chemicals, but perhaps something will pop up before the role is called up Yonder.

I have, in the three years I served in Vietnam, been in contact with a whole bunch of wonder chemicals that were haphazardly sprayed, dropped by planes, or somehow were exposed to our water system. There were a lot of boys that were not as lucky as I. They came home with terrible undiagnosed symptoms and diseases that came from their contact with these chemicals.

The chemical officers assigned to each division never came right out and told us that it was poison, but you can’t blame them because they were just doing what they were told. It would be a great day if one could go out to the Major General Gourley Veterans Clinic that was built in the old Fort Ord and not have a single soldier complaining of some mysterious malady. Unfortunately, this will probably not happen soon.

I was very lucky to not get hurt on any of the machines made back in the ’50s or ’60s. My pop was a pretty cool guy, but he didn’t really differentiate between his boys and the other men he had working in the fields. Shoot! It probably was good for me as far as he was concerned.

As I grew older, I felt a little strange when working on a potato digging machine. Almost every one I knew in high school knew of someone who had been crippled due to catching their foot in a chain or reaching for something while the machine was still moving. One of the things I had sort of forgot was how we were transported back in those days, which are now near extinction.

There was for a time when all transportation was dependent on the type of car you owned. There were periods when your Dad was working as hard as he could to buy a car or truck to carry his family around. In my family, there were four boys as well as my mom and dad. Obviously there was not room in almost any car of that period. 

Most every family I knew owned a pickup. Perhaps that is why I still love my old pickup. I can still remember when dad pulled up in that old 46 Ford pickup that he had bought over in San Luis Obispo; now that was a beautiful truck.

No matter the destination, when mom or dad got ready to go to the movie or out to dinner, which didn’t happen very often, we boys would all just jump in the back of his pickup and away we would go. Most of the time we made our youngest brother ride in the front because he was so small my parents must have thought we older boys would throw him out at a stop sign just to see him cry. We never did, but we would hold him over the tailgate by his feet until my mom would hear him scream.

No matter where we went as a family, it was just understood we would be riding in the back of our pickup. I remember one day as we were coming back from visiting a family down in Los Angeles and we were playing like we were going to throw my little brother out, a California Highway Patrolman came up behind us.

We all sat down on some seed sacks that dad had put in the back, so we didn’t have to sit on the hard floor. We were waving to the Patrolman and acting stupid drinking some soda and acting as if the bottles contained something else. He just laughed and pulled around us and bought us all some bubble gum at the next gas stop. Oh the fun we had when we didn’t know any better.

When I bought my truck many years ago, I had no idea I would be the father of boy children. My first child was a girl and she grew up the same way I did. I didn’t know another way. I taught her to drive on Metz Road while returning from work in King City.

I don’t think I am much different than some of the farmers in our valley. I’m sure that many young ladies sat on their father’s lap as he taught them to drive.

Then my wonderful wife, who often wondered why she said yes, gave me two wonderful boys. I didn’t know any other way to raise my boys than to teach them things I knew before they grew too old. I taught them to drive up at the dump. (I hope I’m not going to get blackballed when someone in charge reads this.) The one thing I really wanted them to do was to ride in the back of my truck. Then I read where it was against the law to ride in the back.

I’m not sure whether we had to quit carrying our pets in the back first, but I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to ride my boys or daughter in the back. In fact, it sort of made me a little vexed. I had been a Deputy Sheriff here in Monterey County, yet I knew of no deputy that had ever given out a ticket for the high crime of carrying a child in the back.

So I ran out to Alabams used cars, which was in the Alisal at that time, and pulled out a couple of seats from one of his cars. I bolted those seats down and drove out to the Highway Patrol office and asked the officer if I was legal. He said, “If you could figure out a way to hold them in, I guess it would be OK.” So I bolted the seats down and installed seatbelts for them. 

I thought I was pretty cool, except the boys were riding in the back one day when I got pulled over right outside of town on 101. He started on me about how I didn’t love my kids and it was dangerous, so I explained to him that his boss said it was OK.

He was trying to embarrass me in front of my kids. I was getting vexed. The boys must have thought we were all going to jail, as after the officer left they decided to ride up front with me. I just hope they can remember this as one of the many adventures we had together.

I’d really like to know if any of the farmers around here have ever carried their children in the back.

God Bless.

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Gonzales columnist George Worthy may be reached at [email protected].


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