Category Archives: growing up in California


Today would be Marilyn’s ninetieth birthday. This is the good, much-used Le Creuset she brought to my California home shortly before she was taken to Oregon, never again to live in California.


I cleaned this frying pan carefully yesterday so that I could cook something in her honor today. I haven’t seen it since we moved here nearly six years ago. What should I cook – zucchini? Swedish meatballs Italian meatballs? I haven’t decided yet.

Marilyn was smart, and creative although she often denied it. She could write. She could cook, and took a cooking class taught by a soprano in our church choir. She loved music, especially, I think, musical comedy, folk music, and light classics. And she could sing!

She was bitter, and could be cold. She had her reasons, I imagine. She was a mom, chaffeur, housewife. She struck out on her own bravely when she found herself single and no longer young.

She liked animals and enjoyed watching them and spending time with them. She loved to read, and read many historical novels.

I remember her most clearly doing crossword puzzles and the daily Scramble, lighting fires in her fireplace, watching Ellen on TV or her video of My Fair Lady, and laughing. She had a wonderful laugh.

Marilyn and Gail

She was beautiful. She was our mom.


My Little Sister and the Bin of Corn

Papa Eileen Poca048

The kids in our family had a haven of beauty and delight in the central valley of California. It was at our grandparents’ house, a place we called “the ranch”. Perhaps it would not be Everychild’s idea of heaven, but it was mine. It seemed that whatever childhood or teenage worries and stresses we might face during the week, the ranch was a place where we only thought about playing and having fun – with our parents, grandparents, cousins, aunt and uncle. There was Space there, and eucalyptus trees, a creek with fish and wild blackberries, a row boat, animals, games we played with cousins indoors and out, all in a relaxed and happy place. That’s the way it was for me.

I have a wonderful sister, Eileen, and this is a written snapshot of Eileen the child and a corn bin.

Gate At The RanchOur grandparents, Mary and Papa, created a homestead-like place, with chickens, cows and calves, a donkey, cats, dogs, and horses. Papa liked to buy and sell horses and cattle, as he had off and on since his boyhood in South Dakota.

All of us kids knew the rudiments of caring for the livestock, including watering and feeding them. We knew which barrels in the small dairy barn held which kind of feed. We also knew which of the feeds were the most delicious. To us!

My sister Eileen was the baby of our family, and in my eyes was ever the adorable child who could do no wrong. One time there was a wooden bin full of flattened and dried  flaky corn at the ranch, probably especially for feeding calves and to add to the other animals’ feed.

The bin was about four feet square, made of heavy plywood, as Eileen recalls. It was quite likely a re-used bin for peaches as they were picked in the peach orchards, by Mexican braceros, and it was filled with the processed corn, and made a lovely place to just sit. Eileen liked sitting there, to the probable dismay of our parents and grandparents. But nobody complained or punished the small, big-eyed child. Who would even think of it?

Our mother Marilyn, college educated, and well schooled in nutrition, must have been concerned about Eileen’s well, well-known “selective” eating habits which lasted well into her teen years, when she still chose to eat items like tortillas without toppings, and pasta, too, plain. I mean with nothing on it. Nothing! That’s just the way she was, the small, pale big-eyed little thing. Don’t worry. It didn’t last. In fact, Eileen may have caused some of the major worry herself, by going out to the barn early in the mornings, and filling up on – dried corn (!) from the corn bin, and then not wanting breakfast. And why would it occur to her to tell anyone? Perhaps it would have been a small comfort to our mother to know that Eileen was eating cattle feed in the early mornings!

And it was actually a family thing! Our grandpa was a good cook, and often prepared meals for himself and Mary. She said he was a better cook than she was. One thing he was famous for was a recipe for bran muffins, made from scratch, and featuring, what else, bran from the cow feed barrel. We counted ourselves very lucky to have a breakfast with the heavy, delicious, raisin-studded muffins, often served with local honey. 

And maybe this is a good place to end this little story. Eileen grew up bright and healthy, her tastes eventually widened, and perhaps it was all supported by farm feed for ruminants! Who knows?