Memories of Ranch Life
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by Frank Shortt
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Sharon, a pretty Iberian lass, was raised in a tank house on her grandfather’s apricot and walnut
ranch like so many of her friends in the Warm Springs area of the San Francisco South Bay. She could tell us many things if she was
a mind to.
Like; when apricot harvest time arrived and things had to be done according to sanitation
requirements and the health of eventual consumers. Drying trays were laid out resembling bare-boned skeletons, after being washed
carefully and spread out in the California sun to dry. These awaited the picked and deftly-cut fruit to soon be placed carefully,
row upon row, like babies in a maternity ward.
The picked fruit was then sulphured, to prevent
darkening, placed in the sun to dry, and had to be watched carefully to prevent vermin from stealing it. The men of the ranch had
to go out occasionally and move the fruit around to allow uniform drying. Buyers then came, sorting the fruit according to size and
quality, placing them in wooden boxes to transport to the canneries. The apricots eventually ended up as dried fruit or preserves
for man’s consumption.
Sharon could tell of hoboes, from local train tracks, walking up to the
ranch house door. Most of them always waited politely for her grandmother to give them a handout, which usually consisted of a peanut
butter sandwich and possibly creamed coffee or milk in an old fruit jar. Sometimes, if they had eaten pancakes that morning, they
would receive leftover pancakes with some kind of preserves. Grandmother never sent them away hungry! Grandfather did not wish for
strangers to pick fruit from the trees as they damaged the trees in the process, breaking limbs and wasting fruit. He would say, “if
they want fruit, let them ask and I will pick it.” Grandfather was not a stingy person.
of the countryside at night produced many noises. Sometimes it sounded like prowlers, sometimes like rats gnawing, or raccoons foraging
in the trash pile. Should anyone complain to grandpa he would say, “leave them be! Who is inside is inside, who is outside is out.
Those noises cannot hurt us here inside these strong walls that were built by my own hand to repel weather and harm!”
When walnut season arrived there was much to do. The walnuts had to be picked and placed in wooden boxes to be shipped to the huller,
Mr. Hamilton. After the hulled walnuts arrived safely back to the ranch, they were placed in huge burlap sacks which were then sown
with heavy twine with large, curved needles made for that purpose. The walnuts were then bought by processors to be used for packing
or sent to bakeries for baked goods.
Sadness reigned as both grandfather and grandmother passed
on and the ranch had to be sold to divide among the heirs. Much could be told of all the labor that went into this ranch for upkeep,
production, and livability. Those not living there had not the connection as did the ones who made this their home. Sharon, at eleven,
hated to leave the only place she had known as home to be transplanted to East San Jose among total strangers. San Jose never had
the hold on her as did the ranch.
Sharon remembered, “No more apricots to care for and process.
No more riding the tractor with Uncle Frank. No more playing under walnut trees in the hot sun with fruit boxes as furniture. No more
playing store with bottle caps from the local restaurant used as money. Only the basement cobwebs remain with scribbling left on the
walls where rainy days were spent playing school with siblings.” These were her thoughts as she left the premises.
A huge Asian shopping center abides where once the ranch house stood. Souls of her Portuguese ancestors are walked upon each day with
not a thought of what was once a productive ranch!