George Worthy

Did you get to see the blowout by the Eagles? My beautiful bride and I watched it until we started to think it was a lost cause and then we took a little nap. After the game, I took out the trash. It was pretty grey by that time and the weather was threatening rain again and the temps were headed down. It was kind of strange to be so cold, but what do I know? 

The strange thing was that I kept thinking about the rain we had back over in Wasco many years ago. It may not rain a lot here in the good old Salinas Valley, but when it does we have bridges disappear and crops ruined. Over in Wasco, it is pretty cool when it rains. Not because the bridges get blown out, but just to have the water. 

In fact, in all the years I lived in my place of birth there was only one time folks got all excited because Poso Creek was supposed to jump its banks. My family and I lived on Palm Avenue, a well-maintained road that leads straight north out of Wasco. It passes by the airport and used to end at Poso Creek, which would only run after a heavy rain.

The scarcity of water kept the creek from jumping its banks, but when the weather dried out it was a great place to shoot jackrabbits and an occasional coyote. It was a young boy’s favorite place to go when you didn’t have a friend who lived close by.

Let me tell you about a time when the creek jumped its banks and folks that lived on Palm Avenue and the farmers that raised potatoes and cotton to the north of Wasco started to get a little concerned. Nobody thought that disaster was close, but they recognized that the news and radio started telling us that the Kern River had flowed from the east to the west out of Bakersfield down toward us. We all expected Poso Creek to jump its banks and flood thousands of acres of farmland.

I was pretty young to be concerned, and I didn’t think much of all the hoopla being battered. I was out in the pen getting ready to milk the cow when a fellow who everybody liked stopped at my house. I could tell there was someone strange around as the dogs were letting us know.

I walked around the house to see who was there and was surprised to see it was Gerald Larimore. Gerald was a kind of hero to kids my age. He came by our house everyday at about a hundred miles an hour in his ’55 Chevy. Later, in 1958 he bought one of the fastest Chevy cars made and thrilled us even more because we knew from the big kids talking that no one could catch him.

I got home from school before he came by, but I would sit out by the edge of Palm Avenue waiting for him. He would always wave and smile, and when he did, you felt older. He told my mom and dad that there was a real chance that the creek may jump its banks, which would have cost his family almost all the potatoes they had planted. He asked if my dad would tell my two older brothers that they were forming sandbags to bolster the banks as the surge came down the creek.

I immediately stepped up and informed him that I could help. My mom was not thrilled about that. She had lost everyone in her family when she was 9 years old. The car her family was in slipped off the bank of a river down in El Centro and she and her dad were the only survivors. Fortunately, my dad had no problem telling Gerald that we would help. I was too dumb to be scared so I got to go too. 

A truck was coming around all the folks that lived anywhere near Poso Creek telling anyone that wanted transportation that they would have coffee and sandwiches for the crew. Mom wouldn’t let me go, so my dad had to drive me to the place where trucks were bringing sand and bags to a location on Poso Creek, a little north of where we expected the surge to peak. My brothers kept their eyes on me as per their instructions of my mom. I was actually too young to carry a sandbag, but I could carry bags to the fillers.

I was the youngest kid there, although there were some high school students. I thought I had died and went to heaven. I was having a problem to keep from laughing just because I was accepted by all the workers that night. Just imagine little old me doing such serious work, I think my chest grew an inch.

Then, as things often do, it was getting late, then it was dark. I didn’t like coffee, which, besides water, was the only drink available. We got a break every once in a while when the sacks had run out or the sand truck was late getting back. Then all of a sudden I started to get really tired. Then the water ran out and I started to drink a cup of coffee. I did not compute how grownups could drink that swill.

As the fading light turned from late evening to full darkness, most of the time I was taking coffee to the fillers and the fellows carrying sandbags to the edge of the creek. As I write this, I can truly imagine the roar of that creek. It was almost mesmerizing. My oldest brother, who had been keeping an eye on me for my mother, found me almost asleep on a pile of sandbags and he said it was time to go home.

He was right. I was so tired that he made me stand by him just so he could report back to my mom. It was about that time that I asked what time it was. I was pretty surprised to hear that I had been there for about seven hours. I told my brother I would stay on the pile of sacks if he would let me stay. I would fall asleep and then wake up when someone came close to the bags. 

I kept hearing fellows say it was almost crested and it looked as though we had things under control. Then, in this little creek, things started coming down from Bakersfield. Almost all the men had flashlights and would watch to see if anyone was caught in the debris. Hearing someone say that has a way of waking you up. I didn’t see anything but dead chickens, dogs, cats and many other jetsam and flotsam that were interesting to see for a few minutes. The water was still churning making noise, but I had about had it.

I swallowed my pride and went and asked my older brother if he would take me home. He turned to me and said, “You just stay here on these sacks. Don’t for any reason try to see the creek and I’ll come and get you.” So a few minutes later he was shaking my arm. “Come on, mom is going to be worried.” I asked him what time it was and he said it was 5:30. “You stayed up all night.”

He was right that my mom was worried, but since there were no phones anywhere near, she didn’t see me until I got home and crawled out of my dad’s pickup.

Three days later the creek was still flowing, but the farmers were no longer worried. My brother took me down to the creek and it was still churning up all sorts of things in water that was white because of all the alkaline it picked up. It was weird. It was also the very first time I had stayed up all night.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been a big thing to you, but to a little kid that lived in the country, it was a first. I walked a little taller and thought I was pretty cool. I can’t say my dad or mom thought I had done something special, but to stay up all night and work with the guys, it was a big deal to me. Do you remember the first time you stayed up all night?

God Bless.

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


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